Sunday, January 13, 2013

Critique of YES Network NBA Telecast

In November 2012, the New Jersey Nets relocated their team from their temporary Newark arena to a permanent location in downtown Brooklyn. The Atlantic Yards entertainment complex and high-rise office building construction project pitted yuppie against yuppie, as residents fought for preserving their vision of Brooklyn amidst radical change promulgated by an overzealous real estate developer and a Russian oligarch. Before moving the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball franchise to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, the team's owner Walter O'Malley wanted to build a domed ballpark at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, the current site of the Brooklyn Nets arena. That vision never came to be, but the flagpole from Ebbets Field now towers over that intersection, welcoming fans to the stadium and bridging the fifty-plus years between Brooklyn's two professional sports franchises.

The Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) network owns the broadcasting rights for all Brooklyn Nets basketball games, which they have held since the Nets played in a half-empty stadium in the northern New Jersey industrial swamp. The move to Brooklyn inspired the team's majority owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, a 47-year-old Russian billionaire oligarch with a passion for jet-skiing, to invest $330 million in long-term contracts for marquee players such as Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The on-court product has been elevated this season, as the team has risen from the cellar of the Eastern Conference to a 21-15 record. Shortly before the move to Brooklyn, the YES network extended its contract with the Nets franchise through the 2031-2032 season and doubled its annual rate for broadcasting rights from $10 million per season to $20 million per season. Sadly, despite the glitzy new stadium, star talent, and local buzz, the YES network Nets telecasts have been laughably deficient and rarely augment fan understanding of the action.

In sports telecasting, there are usually two announcers: the play-by-play commentator and the color commentator. The play-by-play broadcaster typically says the information that is on the viewer's screen and sets up the color commentator for insightful critiques. In this two performer arrangement, the color broadcaster is expected to provide the majority of the analysis and contextualize the individual game within the team's season and the landscape of the league. Perhaps the best sports broadcasting team is the SNY group who does New York Mets games. The play-by-play commentator, Gary Cohen, grew up in Long Island idolizing the team and rarely pushes the limits of what a play-by-play announcer should do; he ensures the game has a narrative flow and does an effective job of posing questions for the two color commentators. The two color broadcasters are Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, who were teammates on the 1986 Mets championship team. Darling, a Yale-educated pitcher who speaks French, provides most of the pitching analysis while the first baseman Keith Hernandez offers most of the hitting insight. SNY has achieved a perfect balance because Darling and Hernandez have a natural rapport from years in the clubhouse together, and they offer different but complementary perspectives on the team.

The YES network basketball telecasts are almost the polar opposite of the SNY baseball broadcasts. The analysts are not informative in the slightest and fail to defend the screen and roll of social friction. The primary YES network play-by-play commentator is Ian Eagle, a 19-year NBA broadcasting veteran who somehow has nothing useful to say about the league. His counterpart is Mike Fratello, a smug former coach who rarely explains basketball schemes to the viewers and throws around industry terms without defining them. At best, Fratello is the professor who does great research but cannot teach, and at worst, he is severely incompetent at his job. Here is a sample of the tension between these two men:
During a different Nets game, here is Fratello attempting to explain the Nets offense to casual basketball fans. Note how incoherent his explanation is:
Of course, the audio in the YES network telecasts is first rate and the multitude of cameras provides conclusive evidence each time there is a disputed call. I will be the first to admit that the director, producers, and sound engineers of the YES basketball broadcasts do terrific work. But the play-by-play and color commentators are the prism through which the game is presented to fans, and I am truly baffled that a lucrative regional sports network such as YES cannot find better talent. As a Brooklyn Nets fan, I am disappointed that the YES network is unable to hire broadcasters who can analyze the game in understandable terms. But alas, even a $20 million annual investment is not enough to guarantee competence or cohesive explanations.

No comments:

Post a Comment