Too many sports TV and radio shows for the average fan

ESPN's Skip Bayless is shown in this undated ESPN's Skip Bayless is shown in this undated frame grab from video. Photo Credit: ESPN

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Check, please. Thank you, but we're good. Seriously: No mas!

There now is more than enough sports-related media content in America to keep every man, woman and child occupied for many hours more than the 24 each of us is allotted per day.

Since the turn of this millennium alone, the accumulation of sports stuff has taken a turn toward the absurd.

(Timeout: As I am writing, NBC Sports Network sent word its much-anticipated -- at least by NBC Sports Network -- show "The Crossover," starring Michelle Beadle, premieres Jan. 28. OK, back to the column.)

Just one sliver of the silliness: Counting radio simulcasts, the NFL Network, MLB Network, Golf Channel, ESPN2, NBCSN and MSG televise morning talk shows.

And that doesn't include radio-only chat; CBS launched a national network this week, complete with its own morning team (not heard in New York) of Tiki Barber, Brandon Tierney and Dana Jacobson. NBC also has a new radio network.

Later this year, Fox will launch a national all-sports cable TV network -- replacing Speed -- to join ESPN, NBC and CBS. Then there's the Internet . . .

I could go on, and probably should, because many of you never have watched or so much as heard of some outlets attempting to carve a niche.

Suffice to say every major media company, pro sports league (or team), college conference and/or upstate New York curling club wants its own channel and has come to believe it has a God-given right to one.

It would be harmless if not for the fact there is an associated cost. Distributors such as Cablevision, which owns Newsday, pay a monthly fee per subscriber to carry channels, a revenue source far more important to the bottom line than advertising.

Although sports channels tend to be the most expensive -- with ESPN atop the list -- in many cases the fee is small. But it adds up, and is paid even by people with no interest in sports.

Major content providers use their leverage to gain wide distribution for lesser channels and . . . voila: Overload.

They laughed in 1979 when ESPN started an all-sports TV channel, and they were wrong. They laughed in 1987 when WFAN started an all-sports radio channel, and they were wrong. I'm laughing in 2013, and I'm not wrong.

Even for those among us who do not waste time sleeping, eating, working, talking to relatives and watching "Mad Men," it is impossible to keep up, and high quality programming gets lost in the clutter.

To get the industry's take I assembled a panel that included David Berson, president of CBS Sports Network; Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports Network, and Jamie Horowitz, VP of original programming for ESPN.

Let's start with Horowitz, overseer of "First Take" and the man charged with developing even more shows for the Worldwide Leader.

"Rarely do you sit around saying, 'Boy, we need a new restaurant,' " he said. "But any time a popular restaurant is created serving delicious food with interesting clientele, everyone is happy it is there. So it's not a question of, is there enough? The question is, can you make compelling content that people want?"

NBC Sports Network, the re-branded Versus, launched Jan. 2, 2012, and had a promising start fueled by the NHL and Olympics. But it endured a difficult, NHL-free fourth quarter, averaging a mere 50,000 viewers.

"We never expected it would take as long as it has," Miller said of the lockout. "We always thought it would be a tweak and a fix."

Miller said the larger goal is to "super-serve" fans of often under-covered sports, among them horse racing, IndyCar and Formula One racing and cycling. (The network recently added English Premier League soccer.)

"There is an abundant amount of content out there," he said. "That's why you need to be strategic and selective in how you build your brand."

Miller pooh-poohed the much-discussed notion of taking on ESPN in the short term. "To compete with them head to head is folly," he said. "I think anybody who expects to do that is in a lot of trouble."

Berson, a former ESPN executive, said, "I do not think we're at the point where there is too much, nor close to that point." The reason, he said, is technological advances have made it possible for content to be additive.

CBS Sports Network has not endured low ratings like NBC's cable channel, only because it does not yet even subscribe to Nielsen as it seeks viewership traction.

The process can be maddening. CBS worked hard to promote "NFL Monday QB," a show that featured its A-list stable of quarterbacks-turned-analysts, including Phil Simms.

It's a show Berson said he is "very proud of." You probably have not seen it. "We're in it for the long haul," he said. "We understand this isn't an overnight fix."

CBS' cable arm's next big thing is to provide heavy coverage leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. "Over 50 hours of live programming," Berson said. "Fans want that."

Perhaps, but they can get similar stuff on ESPN or NFL Network.

How will people have time for all of this moving forward? Said Berson: "We'll come in with CBS-branded dream insertion."

He was joking. I think.

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