How Sports Broadcasting Should Work

I was watching the French Open this morning on the Tennis Channel when the live coverage suddenly ended and I was told to switch over to NBC to catch the end of the Djokovic match. Now I understand the two companies must have had some agreement on how to split the coverage at Roland Garros, but it seemed arbitrary and unnatural, not to mention annoying

So this got me thinking: wouldn’t sports broadcasting be better without exclusivity? For starters we won’t have to switch channels in the middle of a match. More importantly, we can actually have real competition over quality of commentary, production values, and most of all price. If you like Marv Albert and Steve Kerr’s commentary over Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen you can watch the game on TNT instead of ESPN because they will both have it. Broadcasters will no longer be able to extort money from cable and satellite providers (I’m looking at you ESPN) because there will be multiple sources for the same content. Overall I think it would encourage more choices and a better end product for users.

Of course, it would be equally silly to have five or six different camera crews all physically competing for the best camera angles and positions. That’s why the actual camera work needs to be decoupled from the broadcasters. At most major sports venues, the camera locations are pretty much set; some of them are even built into the arena or stadium itself. These cameras are always on and there’s little innovation or variety that can come out of how this raw footage is captured. What leagues can then do is license this feed out to broadcasters to overlay with their own graphics, commentary, etc. They can decide which camera to cut to for each play and when to go to commercial. I haven’t crunched any numbers, but financially it may not hurt the leagues that much. Sure they lose out on their current lucrative TV contracts but they could make that up by working out smaller licensing deals with multiple networks. It doesn’t even have to be a network- they could potentially choose to democratize it and provide the feed to anyone who’s willing to pay. That way amateurs can compete with the big boys to provide the best viewing experience.

The only real losers in this scenario would be the incumbents who will have to work for their audience instead of relying on their exclusive contract.  They will most likely see their margins shrink as they will have less bargaining power over cable and satellite companies. However for a network that is weak in sports and wants to air more NFL or NBA games, this could be an attractive way to break in. I understand this is a very idealistic proposition and the status quo benefits a lot of stakeholders. But like anything in sports, there’s always next year, right?

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Time to Clean House

As a die hard Orlando Magic, it pains me to say that it’s over. We had a great run in the second half of the 2000s, culminating in the franchise’s second trip to the Finals. The team had the best center in the NBA and was fun to watch, but in light of recent events, I don’t think the team can go anywhere with its current leadership and roster. I was slightly hopeful after Dwight announced he would stay for next season, but now I am convinced the Magic need to clean house, starting with GM Otis Smith. Smith has made one stupid move after another and I feel the need to list all his blunders:

  • Signing Rashard Lewis to a ridiculous contract– I don’t necessarily disagree with the Lewis signing itself. In fact, I think he was a key reason why the team was able to make it to the Finals in ’09 because no one could figure out how to stop Dwight without leaving Rashard Lewis wide open for corner 3’s. However, he was ridiculously overpaid, so much so that even now he’s the second highest paid player in the NBA behind Kobe.
  • Blowing up the Finals Team The ’09 Finals were closer than the final series score. The Magic were one missed Courtney Lee layup from being tied 1-1 going back to Orlando. It’s also important to remember that All-Star PG Jameer Nelson was rushed back from injury and ineffective that series. The team was young and had an exciting offense as well as one of the top defenses in the league. The right move would have been to tinker with a few minor FA signings, trades, or draft picks.
  • Trading for Vince Carter- The rationale for acquiring Vince Carter was the Magic needed a wing scorer who could create his own shot. Unfortunately VC was already past that stage of his career and provided only slightly better offense but worse defense than Courtney Lee and much worse play-making than Hedo. It turns out the best player to come out of that deal was not VC, but Ryan Anderson, a cap space throw-in by the Nets.
  • Letting perimeter defenders go– In the seasons since reaching the Finals, Smith traded away Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus and let Matt Barnes walk. These were all tough perimeter defenders that helped take pressure off Dwight Howard and could knock down open 3’s on the other end. No wonder the defense has gotten worse.
  • Not re-signing Turkoglu because he was asking for too much, then trading for him 2 years later– The rationale behind letting Hedo go after the Finals run was because he was old and asking for too much. So Otis Smith decides to trade for him 2 years later under the same size contract? It makes no sense at all. If the trade had just been Jason Richardson for VC I would’ve have been okay with it, but giving Marcin Gortat and Pietrus up for Turkoglu? He is still a serviceable player but nowhere near the clutch play-maker he was during the Finals run. Also, Smith did nothing to fill the void at backup center since that trade
  • Trading for Gilbert Arenas- Rashard Lewis’s contract was bad, but two wrongs don’t make a right. At least Lewis could make shots and still caused some matchup problems. Arenas on the other hand was out of shape, had just been suspended, and even during his prime was nothing more than a poor man’s AI (ball hog who put up big numbers because he took so many shots). Last fall he was amnestied after the lockout.
  • Signing Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson– These are both examples of FA money wasted on players who don’t fit with the team’s style of play and don’t really do anything well. Duhon plays okay defense but can’t shoot and doesn’t initiate the offense well. Quentin Richardson (Otis Smith seems to think if 1 Richardson is good, 2 must be better) only has good career numbers because he played with Steve Nash in Phoenix. He hasn’t done anything since.
  • Trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis– Otis Smith must have been fooled by the playoffs a few years ago when Big Baby lit up the Magic in place of an injured KG. Davis is undersized, out of shape and in general a poor fit for the team. He’s not as good of a shooter as Bass and has a worse contract.

With so many bad moves, it’s no surprise that the Magic have regressed every season since going to the Finals. Smith has failed to build a good team around Dwight, instead panicking like the Cavs did and making shortsighted moves for questionable or washed up veterans. In the process he has put the Magic payroll in a quagmire with lots of bad contracts and few tradeable assets. If anyone deserves blame for the Magic’s problems, it should be Smith.

Sadly, I have to say both Stan and Dwight have to go as well. After announcing that Dwight wanted him fired, Stan Van Gundy will never have the full respect and authority over his players he needs to lead the team. At the same time, no coach will want to come into a situation with the team’s superstar questioning his coach like that. The team needs to trade Dwight for draft picks, expiring contracts, and/or a few up and coming players. It needs to continue to shed contracts and get some good lottery picks. It will be painful, much like the post-T-mac years, but it’s something that needs to be done. I stuck with the Magic when we lost 19 straight games, I will remain loyal during this rebuilding phase as well.

(Not So) Recent Tech Roundup

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, but I finally got around to posting here again. A lot of tech announcements have come out during the last few months and instead of doing the in depth analysis of one or two news stories, I thought I would do a rapid fire quick reaction to each item and go back to them in the future if I think they warrant more discussion:

Spotify– I’ve been a vocal fan of this service before it came to the U.S. since I got to try it out in the UK. However, I’m still a little hesitant to pay for the premium streaming service. I admit streaming is very nice, but think about this: if you ever stop paying the subscription for any reason (cash is tight or Spotify goes out of business, which is entirely possible) you’re left with nothing. Yes buying a lot of music can be expensive too, but most people aren’t starting from scratch. You already have a decent mp3 library and maybe even some CDs still lying around. Also, unlike video, music is something that has a lot of replay value. Therefore you’re not constantly seeking new songs to listen to. Finally, Spotify’s library still has a lot of holes, and I’m not just talking about obscure indy music. Coldplay did not release their latest album on Spotify because they didn’t like the financial terms. So you still have to buy some music anyway. For now I’m using Google Music, which lets you upload your music and stream it on any laptop or Android device. It gives me the convenience of streaming while maintaining ownership of my music without a monthly fee.

Apple Education announcement– Many people know that I have always been critical of Apple and I was skeptical after hearing this announcement. Will it be successful for Apple bottom line? Sure it’s Apple. But will it really improve and revolutionize education as they claim? Not necessarily, especially since a large part of the problem in this country is the gap between wealthy and poor school districts. I did some quick back of the envelope type calculations and it’s hard to see how this will save school districts any money.

Let’s assume a typical K-12 textbook cost $150 and the school district can use it for 5 years before it is outdated or worn out. Let’s say a student takes 5 classes each year. Therefore, the annual cost per student under this traditional model is $150.

Now let’s see what happens if a school district decides to supply iPads to its students. We will assume that each student will get their own device and each student will have to pay for a copy of the e-textbook every year. I’m also going to be generous here and assume the iPads will be subsidized, either by the government or Apple, to a very low $300 for the 16G Wifi model  and the price ceiling on e-textbooks will remain at $15. In this scenario, we get an annual cost per student of $135.

This is a slight saving of $15 per student annually which could really add up for large school districts. However, we left out a few things from this quick exercise and made very optimistic assumptions about others. First off, there’s no guarantee educational iPads will be subsidized at all, much less by $200. Nor will e-textbook prices remain at a low $15. If these sales start significantly cannibalizing print sales, I can’t see the publishing companies just standing by idly. In addition, we’re assuming that an iPad will last 5 years. Aside from usual wear and tear (which you know will happen when you’re dealing with kids), tablet technology is progressing rapidly. If Apple continues its release cycle of at least one a year for iPads, the current iPad 2 will long be obsolete by 2017. And let’s not forget that not all schools have Wifi and schools will still need money for traditional computers. I don’t care how good the iPad becomes, there’s no way you’re writing an essay on it. Financially, it’s hard to see this model working in its present state.

Changes to Google search– A lot of hoopla was made over Google’s privacy policy change, but I think people should be more upset about Google’s efforts to make search social and individualized. To me, a big part of Google search’s appeal was that it was agnostic. It didn’t matter who was doing the search, you would all get the same results because its what Google’s algorithms objectively believed were the most relevant. If Google has its way though, everyone would in theory have different search results even if they looked up the same term. This is fine for a social network like Facebook, but for a search engine it just seems wrong. If not done properly, it could seriously erode the value of Google. Imagine how detrimental it would be if I used Google to look up a certain product, explore vacation destinations, or research a political candidate and I only got one side of the story. Philosophically, it represents a greater danger of “socializing” everything. In my opinion, part of the beauty of the Internet is to explore new information and ideas outside your worldview. For example, you can spend hours using the random article feature on Wikipedia to learn all sorts of random facts about anything and everything. By filtering the Internet based only on what you already know and like, you’re creating something that may be comfortable but closed minded.

Facebook IPO– Yes, everyone’s asking two questions: Will Facebook’s IPO soar like Google’s and should I get in on it? From an outsider’s perspective, I would say “yes” and “maybe.” I’m sure Facebook will pop like most IPOs, but there’s almost chance you will get in on it if you’re an average investor. Most of these shares will be going to employees and large institutional investors and by the time you get your hands on them, you will already be paying the post-pop price. Long term, I don’t think Facebook will fizzle like Linkedin, Zynga, and Groupon. It’s too big and demand is too high to run out of momentum. I don’t think we’re going to see run away growth a la Google’s early years either, at least not yet. Remember, Facebook did a lot of its growing as a private company and is already really saturated in its existing markets. However, I think they have two trump cards that can give them a long term boost. First, Facebook currently does not serve ads on its mobile site and apps. As mobile becomes ever more important though, I have no doubt they will monetize it eventually and see a financial windfall from it. Second, Facebook has yet to crack China and several other Asian markets. While American tech companies have had a mixed record in China, it would be one of the few ways for Facebook to significantly grow its user base. For Facebook shareholders, it will all be about timing and patience. Wait for the initial buzz to subside to buy in and then hold for one of these major events to happen.

Jeremy Lin– Not a tech story at all, but couldn’t resist. First off, I like this kid and I hope he succeeds. He’s smart and plays his heart out. Despite beating the Lakers though, I still think he’s overhyped and unlikely to be the Knick’s savior by any means. Let’s not forget that he’s putting these numbers up on a Knicks team with their top 2 scorers out. They’re desperate for any positive signs in an otherwise disappointing season, and he plays for D’antoni whose offense is really friendly for quick PGs who can shoot and make good decisions with the ball. We don’t know if he’ll still be effective once Carmelo and Stoudamire return, we don’t know if he can sustain this kind of effort over a full season, much less multiple season and probably most importantly he’s had a lot of turnovers, sometimes as many as his assists. I still think he can be an effective backup because of his smarts and handles. I can see him having a solid NBA career an energetic spark off the bench like J.J. Barea or Leandro Barbosa, but I wouldn’t bet on much more than that.

The Epic Magic Trade

Yesterday, the Orlando Magic traded Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, and Mickael Pietrus to the Suns for Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark and then sent Rashard Lewis to the Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. As an ardent Magic fan, I can’t help but comment on these trades and voice my displeasure at what Otis Smith has done.

My main beef with these moves is they don’t make us better. We haven’t played well since that stomach virus took out half of our rotation, but we’re still one of the top teams in the East and there’s no need to panic when we’ve been successful with the same core for several years now. In fact, the only trade I would’ve made is for another top 10 player like Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony. A massive shakeup like this mid-season  is risky for chemistry and team unity. It also makes no sense financially because VC’s contract is not guaranteed next year and we’re getting the awful contracts of Turkoglu and Arenas in return.

If it was just the Suns trade, I still wouldn’t be thrilled but at least I’d be okay with it. Straight up Richardson is an upgrade over VC and they do a lot of the same things. There’s some reason to believe that Turkoglu can play like he did two years ago with Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard again so it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Aside from the financial implications, my only concern is throwing Gortat in the deal. We’re really thin at center right now behind Howard and completely screwed if he gets hurt or into foul trouble.

My bigger problem is with the Wizards trade. Gun incident aside, I’m not a fan of Arenas as a basketball player. To me, he’s never been more than a poor man’s Allen Iverson. He scores a lot, but doesn’t make his teammates better and takes too many bad shots. Position-wise he’s a poor fit for this team. Jameer is definitely our starting PG and Arenas isn’t good enough of a shooter to be our starting SG. I guess I can see him as a sixth man, but we’re still paying him too much. Plus he had that injury a few years ago that’s hurt his athleticism. I just can’t see him being a contributor when he couldn’t be effective next to John Wall in Washington. While Lewis has been playing horribly this year and I always thought he was overplayed, at least he can be a mismatch on offense and stretch the floor.

Most importantly, the trades do nothing to address the main reason for the Magic’s recent slide: poor defense. None of these guys are good defenders whereas we gave up Mickael Pietrus who did a solid job against Lebron and Kobe in the playoffs. In fact I’m worried that we’ve traded or let go of defenders like Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes these last few years and replaced them with mediocre shooters. I don’t know who’s going to guard Lebron, Wade, Pierce or Allen in the playoffs. I also want to see us get a backup center preferably by trading Quentin Richardson or Chris Duhon if we want any chance against the Celtics or Lakers.

Overall I’m not a fan of the new look Magic. They might be a fun team in NBA Live, but there’s not enough size and defense for a real playoff run. I completely agree with Bill Simmons’ assessment of what Orlando should’ve done. But hey maybe Arenas will turn his game around. I wasn’t a fan of the Vick signing either but it’s worked out (for the most part) since then.

Sports Bucket List

My sports withdrawal has gotten me thinking about what events I would like to see in person. Pretty soon, I started making a bucket list of all the sporting events I would like to attend during my life. Currently I only have a few basketball, football games, and the French Open (US Open soon) under my belt, but I’m going to make it a goal in life to attend all of these events:
  • NBA Finals game
  • Super Bowl
  • College Football Bowl game
  • Final Four game
  • All four tennis Grand Slams
  • Premiere League match
  • Champions League match
  • World Cup
  • Summer Olympics
  • Winter Olympics
  • World Series game

Best Sports Time Zone

Well, it’s that time of year again. The weather outside may be beautiful, but in terms of sports I follow, this is the worst time of year. Basketball season is still months away and even the free agency buzz has died down. Football won’t get started until September either. There are no tennis Grand Slams until the US Open (which I got tickets to!) Even though I picked up a little bit of football (soccer) over the last year, the World Cup is over and the Premiere League doesn’t come back until August. In other words, for the next few weeks, there’s absolutely nothing going on in the sporting world that I care about.

So I thought this would be a good time to reflect on something I’ve been thinking about over the past year. Having lived in several different timezones, I’ve started to notice that some of them are good for watching certain sports while others are not. So if I had a choice as a sports fan, which timezone would I live in? At the moment, I’m going to leave out DVR and ESPN3 replays because as someone who checks social media and news sites several times a day it’s just not practical to hide from the results.

Let’s start with the East Coast of the US. With a large population and TV market, a lot of sports are tailored to this region’s prime time. Most basketball games take place from 7-11pm in the evening and football games are on Sunday afternoon. In other words, these are times when people are home and able to watch these games. With tennis, it depends on the tournament. Australian Open is just weird because the Land Down Under is so far away (which is why I don’t usually watch much of this Grand Slam). The US Open is obviously perfect on the East Coast because it takes place in New York. Wimbledon and French Open aren’t too bad. The 5-6 hour difference with Europe means you can at the very least catch the evening matches in the afternoon. For the same reason European football (soccer) is watchable if you’re willing to get up early occasionally. However, things aren’t perfect. The second game of an NBA doubleheader can go well past midnight on the East Coast, and even in college I sometimes have a hard time staying up if I have an early class the next morning.

So let’s examine some other regions. This past year, I was in Europe for a large part of the time. The main advantage over there is obviously soccer. All the big match-ups are in prime time, including this year’s World Cup thanks to South Africa being in a nearby timezone. Even if you’re in England watching a La Liga match, it’s not too bad because there’s only an hour difference. The same holds for the French Open and Wimbledon. With American sports though, I found it’s a lot harder because the time difference works against you. Afternoon football games were watchable because it was evening in Europe, but basketball was really hard especially in the playoffs. I stayed up once to watch the Magic-Celtics series and I literally saw the sun rise before it was over.

That’s not a problem here on the West Coast. When I was younger, I always wished I lived in the Pacific timezone because then I could watch the late game of NBA doubleheaders at a reasonable hour. You have to remember a few years ago the West was much better than the East with teams like the Lakers, Mavs, Spurs, Suns, Rockets, and Jazz in their prime, although the East has fielded more quality teams lately. However, there are a lot of disadvantages here too. For one, watching soccer and tennis is hard. I did get to see some of the World Cup, but the early matches are often over before I woke up for work and even the latest matches finish in the early afternoon. Likewise, I watched very little Wimbledon this year, partly because it conflicted with the World Cup, but also because play usually finished before I was up on the weekends. I won’t be here for football season, but I imagine the 1:00pm games are a little early on a Sunday morning.

This is the same problem with China’s timezone (the entire country is under Beijing Standard Time). Since I’ve mostly gone back during the summer, there hasn’t been much sports to watch, but I do remember trying to watch the NBA Finals one year. While the NBA TV broadcast did use the classic NBA on NBC music, it was really early in the morning. I just can’t get used to the idea of watching sports in the morning. Likewise, soccer games are during the midnight and early morning hours when people usually sleep.

So it appears that all things considered, the East Coast has the edge. Other timezones I’ve stayed in are good for certain sports, but EST seems to give me the best bang for my buck. Of course, I could be biased because I’ve lived on the East Coast most of my life and followed sports and teams in the timezone as a result. Anyway, I guess you can’t have everything.

Lakers-Celtics Finals: Where have we seen this before?

Well look who’s back in the NBA Finals? Since the 80s, we haven’t seen much of the best rivalry in basketball as each team took turns being mediocre, but now it appears there’s a revival as this will be the second time these two teams meet in 3 years. As a Magic fan, it pains me to see the Celtics representing the East instead of Dwight and the gang, but as a basketball fan, I couldn’t ask for a better match-up. So who am I picking?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first (because this is my blog) a little side note about the Magic. I had my doubts going into their series against the Celtics. As I said in this blog, I thought the Magic had the talent to win, but my worst fear was that they would end up like the Cavs from last year, in that they swept through the first two rounds too easily and were unprepared for a challenging team in the conference finals. I think that’s exactly what happened. The Magic had it too easy and had way too much time off. They just looked out of sync, committing stupid turnovers, and didn’t hit shots they usually make. Individual players had strong games, but overall the whole team never got rolling. On the other hand, the Celtics played a tough series against Cleveland and had much more momentum and rhythm going in. All in all it took the Magic too long (first 3 games) to get going.

As for next year, I have no idea what’s going to happen to the Magic. We don’t have any major free agency departures and no real cap space to go after big free agents. At #29 in the draft, I doubt we’ll get anyone who can immediately have an impact. As for trades, all our players are either untradeable or guys we would have no desire to trade. As I see it, Nelson, Howard and Lewis are the core and untouchable (Lewis is also untradeable). I would like to get rid of Vince because his inconsistent offense doesn’t make up for his lack of defense, but I don’t think we could get anything better for him. The other shooters on the wing are replaceable, but we don’t need more JJ Redicks or Mickael Pietruses, but rather someone who can score and create (in other words what VC should have been). I just don’t see a readily available player we could trade for (although Manu Ginobili, if the Spurs are willing to part with him, is risky but intriguing). Maybe we can find a taker for Gortat. I don’t know what major moves we can make to improve unless we blow the whole team up. This really worries me.

Anyway, on to the Finals prediction. Let me first say that I have no love for the Lakers while Boston is a team I can respect and occasionally like since well (I do spend most of my time up there now). If health was not a factor, I would easily pick the Celtics. Lakers can’t stop quick point guards so Rajon Rondo would have a field day. The Big Three are all doing their thing and if Davis, Tony Allen, and Nate can contribute something off the bench, the Lakers are in trouble. Kobe Bryant can only take you so far and I still think the rest of that roster has a tendency to disappear when it matters without him.

However, seeing as the Magic did inflict some serious physical blows to the Celtics (Davis, Rasheed, Daniels, Rondo) and some…technical troubles (Perkins), all the aforementioned advantages go away, especially Rondo. I still think it will be a competitive series and I don’t want the Lakers to repeat, but I have a feeling the Celtics’ age and health will finally catch up to them. LA in 7.

I hope I’m wrong though. Beat LA!