Since FSN Pittsburgh became ROOT Sports Pittsburgh back on April 1, viewers have witnessed a lot of changes in the way Pirate and Penguin broadcasts are brought into their homes. As Dejan Kovacevic writes today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that's no coincidence. From Lacee Collins' hard-hitting interview with a kid coloring in a ROOT Sports sign in the stands to a river of fan shots focusing on revelers doing anything from keeping score to picking their noses, all of it is targeted at "relating to the fan."
General manager Shawn McClintock characterizes the network's mission this way.
"We didn't just want to change the logo and the microphone flags," McClintock said. "We're fans, and we make no apologies for that. We're not ESPN, which has to play it neutral between two teams. The Penguins and Pirates are our oxygen, just like our viewers. And our goal is to give the fan what they'd want to see if they had our access."
That's all well and good, except it seems the only access ROOT appears to be offering fans sometimes is a window to look at other fans through. Personally, I've learned to mute the TV whenever Collins interviews someone in the stands. It's nothing against her, she's just doing her job, but her job is ... well ... dumb. Too often, fluffy stories from fans at the game are taking away from the action on the field, and it makes the broadcasts hard to watch.
Don't expect much of that to change any time soon, though. It's almost exactly what McClintock wants from the broadcasts.
"The ballpark and arena are where the excitement is, and we want to bring the guy off the couch into that," he said. "Sports is the ultimate reality TV, and fans' emotions and reactions are part of that, right down to a dad explaining the game to his son. But there's a balance there with how often we do it."
There better be a balance, and it better weigh heavily toward the action on the field, because I don't think I'm alone when I say sports is my escape from reality TV (oh-so-painfully offered on the other 457 channels available through my Dish Network subscription), not an extension of it.
Do I mind a nice shot of a dad explaining the game to his kid? Absolutely not. Do I like seeing a funny sign late in a stinker sometimes? Sure. Those moments are supposed to be spontaneous, though. They shouldn't be following a "Hey, let's get a shot of the fans in now" script. Too often, it's as if ROOT Sports will carry a camera through the stands to induce folks to do whatever they can to get on TV. That's not excitement about the game, that's a distraction from it. It's fake and forced, and it shouldn't be mucking up the broadcast of a live sporting event.
I'm sure McClintock is a nice, enthusiastic guy. I understand the goal of reaching out to the audience. But there are better ways to do that than introducing me to Pete from Munhall who carries his lucky rabbit's foot to every game or showing me a marriage proposal in the stands as the network did last weeked. Game presentation tools like the AGH slow motion camera and the Range Resources strike zone have been great additions to broadcasts. Ultimately, keeping focus on those kinds of things and enhancing the game experience is the best work ROOT Sports can do. Let's hope they realize that before this thing turns into "Jersey North Shore."