Watchdog

Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.

Latest posts from

Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985 after a two-year stint covering college hockey for The Anchorage Times in Alaska. From 1985-90 he covered New York City high school sports, then spent five years as Newsday's beat writer for St. John's and Big East basketball. From 1995-2005 he covered the Giants before leaving that beat to become a reporter, columnist and feature writer focused on off-field topics such as sports media and business. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. 30, 2005.

Barclays Center sprouts 'For Sale' sign

A general view of the Barclays Center before

A general view of the Barclays Center before the start of the Barclays Center Classic on Nov. 9, 2012. (Credit: Getty Images)

Barclays Center, current home of the Nets and future home of the Islanders, is up for sale, Sports Business Daily reported Monday.

The report said the investment bank Evercore Partners is expected by next week to begin selling Forest City Enterprises' 55-percent stake in the arena.

SBD cited investment banking sources' estimates of a top valuation for the building of $750 million.

Barclays Center was named Sports Facility of the Year for 2013 at the Sports Business Awards. Based on ticket sales for concerts in the first six months of 2014, it is the most popular arena in the country, SBD reported.

Forest City, which is controlled by the Nets' former majority owner, Bruce Ratner, also owns 20 percent of the Nets themselves. Evercore also has been shopping that on the market, so far unsuccessfully, in part because of the Nets' heavy financial losses.

Ratner was the force behind the construction of Barclays in the first place, a long, expensive battle that finally resulted in its opening two years ago.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Barclays Center sprouts 'For Sale' sign

A general view of the Barclays Center before

A general view of the Barclays Center before the start of the Barclays Center Classic on Nov. 9, 2012. (Credit: Getty Images)

Travel deals

Barclays Center, current home of the Nets and future home of the Islanders, is up for sale, Sports Business Daily reported Monday.

The report said the investment bank Evercore Partners is expected by next week to begin selling Forest City Enterprises' 55-percent stake in the arena.

SBD cited investment banking sources' estimates of a top valuation for the building of $750 million.

Barclays Center was named Sports Facility of the Year for 2013 at the Sports Business Awards. Based on ticket sales for concerts in the first six months of 2014, it is the most popular arena in the country, SBD reported.

Forest City, which is controlled by the Nets' former majority owner, Bruce Ratner, also owns 20 percent of the Nets themselves. Evercore also has been shopping that on the market, so far unsuccessfully, in part because of the Nets' heavy financial losses.

Ratner was the force behind the construction of Barclays in the first place, a long, expensive battle that finally resulted in its opening two years ago.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Large stake in Barclays Center up for sale

A general view of the Barclays Center before

A general view of the Barclays Center before the start of the Barclays Center Classic on Nov. 9, 2012. (Credit: Getty Images)

Travel deals

Barclays Center, current home of the Nets and future home of the Islanders, is up for sale, Sports Business Daily reported Monday.

The report said the investment bank Evercore Partners is expected by next week to begin selling Forest City Enterprises' 55-percent stake in the arena.

SBD cited investment banking sources' estimates of a top valuation for the building of $750 million.

Barclays Center was named Sports Facility of the Year for 2013 at the Sports Business Awards and based on ticket sales for concerts in the first six months of 2014 is the most popular arena in the country, SBD reported.

Forest City, which is controlled by the Nets' former majority owner, Bruce Ratner, also owns 20 percent of the Nets themselves, and Evercore also has been shopping that on the market, so far unsuccessfully, in part because of the Nets' heavy financial losses.

Ratner was the force behind the construction of Barclays in the first place, a long, expensive battle that finally resulted in its opening two years ago.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Great World Series games trump big markets for Fox Sports executives

The Kansas City Royals grounds crew waters down

The Kansas City Royals grounds crew waters down the infield dirt next to the freshly painted 2014 World Series logo before Saturday's practice for the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 18, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. (Credit: AP / John Sleezer)

Sure, it helps a TV network to have big-market, big-name teams meet for the championship, regardless of the sport. But ask any executive whether he or she would rather have a marquee matchup or a long, close series and the answer always will be the latter.

The 2014 World Series is no exception, even with the star-challenged, 31st-ranked-TV-market Kansas City Royals in the final against the San Francisco Giants.

"You really just hope for good games, night after night, good, tight games, and you get to that Game 6, you get to that Game 7, which will capture the whole country's attention," Fox Sports president Eric Shanks said Monday.

The trick will be introducing the broader audience for the Fall Classic to the relevant story lines, especially that of the Royals, while not annoying or boring those who have been watching since April, or at least late September.

"There are obviously more people under the tent now, and you have to treat it that way," play-by-play man Joe Buck said. "But you also have to walk a fine line of not insulting the core viewer . . . It's a juggling act."

Ratings for the World Series have been drifting downward since the Royals last were in it in 1985, and this year there is an added wrinkle in the quest for viewers.

In the past, Fox carried one of the League Championship Series, during which it ushered fans toward Fox for the World Series. This year, only one of the five NLCS games was shown on Fox, the rest on Fox Sports 1.

Shanks said he was pleased with fans' understanding and acceptance of the new schedule, including the ratings on the cable channel, which is in far fewer homes than Fox's broadcast outlet.

"Going into it we had hoped or had expectations that Fox Sports 1 would perform at the same rate hopefully that Turner broadcasts have done in the past, even though Turner is in 10 million more homes,'' Shanks said.

"The rate at which people found these games was actually higher than the rate at which they found games on Turner . . . I think we're really pleased at the position we're in, especially considering that it's Year One.''

Shanks noted a "significant number of viewers" probably hadn't watched Fox Sports 1 at all before it carried the LCS. Now they theoretically will be more familiar with it and its channel location moving forward.

Buck will be calling his 17th World Series, and his first without analyst Tim McCarver beside him. He and his new partners, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci, joined Shanks on a pre-Series conference call and all concerned agreed the new three-man booth has been a success.

Shanks lauded the chemistry among them, which he said has been so good, it has inspired high-fives among Fox executives after games.

"You don't know until you get in there under fire, but it's worked out exactly as I had hoped," Buck said of the new booth. "It just could not have gone better for the first year."

Reynolds and Verducci both credited Buck with making it work. "He's driving this," Verducci said.

Reynolds said he and Verducci, who covered baseball for Newsday in the late 1980s and early 90s, have spoken about going from watching games near one another in press boxes to calling them on national television.

"For us to be able to do it on TV now is really cool," Reynolds said.

In the end, the Series will be judged more for what happens on the field than in the booth. The Fox announcers are cautiously optimistic the Giants and Royals will uphold their end.

"Even if you don't have a rooting interest," Verducci said, "it's infectious to see the way these two teams play baseball."

Erin Andrews and former Newsday sports intern Ken Rosenthal will work the Series as reporters. Former SNY Mets reporter Kevin Burkhardt will anchor Fox's pregame and postgame coverage on-site, featuring Nick Swisher, Gabe Kapler and Frank Thomas for all games and David Ortiz for Games 1 and 2.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The Jerry Seinfeld-Al Dukes connection

Al Dukes produces WFAN's morning show with Boomer

Al Dukes produces WFAN's morning show with Boomer and Carton on Wednesday, October 15, 2014. (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Jerry Seinfeld has more than 2.5 million followers on Twitter but follows a mere 68 accounts, many of them with a connection to baseball in general and the Mets in particular.

Not an easy lineup to crack.

So it was that several years ago when Al Dukes, producer of WFAN's "Boomer & Carton" morning show, saw that Seinfeld had begun following him, it was a thrill for a longtime fan.

"I was very excited about it; my heart was beating," Dukes recalled Wednesday, shortly after Seinfeld had called into the show. "It was like 3 o'clock in the morning and I was in Jersey City waiting for [update man] Jerry [Recco] when we were carpooling in and I saw it and I was like, 'My God!' "

Seinfeld for many years has been an avowed fan of WFAN's Steve Somers, periodically calling into his show. Now he has adopted the morning show, as well.

"I know he loves sports radio and he listens to the show when he's in town," Dukes said. "He had called a couple of times. Craig [Carton] was goofing on his show 'The Marriage Ref' one time and he just called in after hearing that to defend the show. He's called in a couple of times out of the blue and he's been great to me on Twitter."

In July, Dukes suddenly noticed a spike in his followers count. "It was crazy," he said. "I started getting all these followers and I was like, what did I do? It's either good or bad."

It turned out Seinfeld had been asked in a USA Today interview to recommend a Twitter follow and said this:

"I really like a guy who produces a sports talk radio show in New York called 'Boomer & Carton.' His Twitter handle is @alsboringtweets. I think he's just about the best tweet artist. He's just a regular guy, but he talks about regular things in a way that, to me, is what tweeting should be."

Dukes met Seinfeld last year at a benefit Carton hosted at Gotham Comedy Club when Carton brought him on stage to introduce the comedian. "He knew I was such a huge fan, so it was pretty cool," Dukes said.

When Seinfeld called in Wednesday of this week, he agreed to appear at a fundraising comedy show Carton was hosting that night for his "Tic Toc Stop Foundation."

Dukes spent some time with Seinfeld before his set. Mostly, they talked about coffee, one of the centerpieces of Seinfeld's current web series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

"He's really into coffee," said Dukes, who discussed with him everything from Keurig machines to French press systems. "I asked him about what is his feeling on the French press -- not a fan."

The two also discussed the local sports teams, but not Seinfeld's eponymous TV program.

"I never talk to him about the TV show," Dukes said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Just a coincidence that LeBron James-produced show aired parental abuse episode

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers warms

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers warms up before game against Maccabi Tel Aviv at Quicken Loans Arena on Oct. 5, 2014 in Cleveland. (Credit: Getty Images / Jason Miller)

"Survivor's Remorse," an adult comedy on Starz about a pro basketball star, has A-list producers that include LeBron James and MLB commissioner runner-up Tom Werner, sharp writing and an appealing cast.

But the people behind the show cannot predict the future. So the fact last Saturday's episode centered on abusive parental discipline, with a reference to a "switch," was pure coincidence. Adrian Peterson had nothing to do with it.

"It's weird because we shot the show in March, and the current events are happening right now," James told Cleveland.com before the Oct. 4 premiere.

"People will see it and say, 'Oh, they bit right off of what is going on right now,' and actually, if you know, to tape a show it takes months and months in advance. We actually did a reading in January."

The show is halfway through its initial six-episode run. Starz has announced a 10-episode second season

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The many sounds of Eddie Scozzare, 'button pusher' for WFAN's 'Boomer and Carton' show

Eddie Scozzare, a producer and board operator for

Eddie Scozzare, a producer and board operator for WFAN's morning show with Boomer and Carton, operates the board during the show on Wednesday, October 15, 2014. (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Eddie Scozzare considered the digital detritus before him and likened it to an overcrowded attic, where one never knows what might turn up under an old golf bag or suitcase or hatbox.

One problem: "God forbid when I die and someone has to come in and clean it out," he said.

Then again, he added, "I guess it is job security."

That is because there likely is no one alive who could figure out Scozzare's filing system for the audio "drops" he uses to augment WFAN's "Boomer and Carton" morning show.

And even if there were, the trick would be pulling the trigger fast enough to make it funny.

"Sometimes I don't know how he gets to them so quickly," producer Al Dukes said. "Like a drop of Boomer [Esiason] saying something completely ridiculous, taken out of context, he's got that labeled under 'Boomer' and there are 200."

Not quite. There actually are about 700 clips in the folder reserved for "Virtual Boomer," containing all manner of Esiason utterances.

That is separate from the primary "treasure trove" Scozzare uses to insert words and sounds from assorted sports personalities, living and dead, real and fictional. The count there: nearly 2,500, featuring John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman, Mike Francesa, Forrest Gump, George Steinbrenner, Michael Jackson, ALF, Pauly D . . . well, pretty much everyone and anyone.

As he scrolled through after Wednesday's show, Scozzare noted dozens of files he ought to delete or move because they are outdated or irrelevant or just out of sequence.

For example: Joe Benigno appears under "B" for Benigno, and also "J" for Joe.

And all that is located on one of two computers Scozzare uses. The other houses 50 evergreen clips, from Chris Russo calling Dukes "Al Hughes" to Omar Minaya's famously convoluted explanation of the Mets' pitching rotation to update man Jerry Recco apologizing for a play-by-play mistake.

How does he keep all this straight?

"I really don't know the bio-science behind it. It's just some people can do certain things and they are practiced and trained and it must become part of how their brain works, I guess," he said. "There are people who can play 50 chess games at once and win, or who can count cards or whatever.

"I just have a skill -- and it's not perfect, by the way. There are many times I don't think of something or can't get to the drop in time. And knowing when to pull back and not force it is as important as being able to drop it properly."

Scozzare's job is multifaceted, including playing and logging commercials and overseeing the technical aspects of the show, but his emails describe him as "Button Pusher for Boomer & Carton."

He began experimenting with funky drops in his first full-time job at WFAN, with Steve Somers' overnight show in 1991. But the technology then made such gimmicks a time-consuming chore.

"Now Boomer will say something and within sometimes 30 seconds I've got it isolated and ready to go," he said.

Scozzare, 47, joined Esiason and Carton shortly after their show launched in 2007 and only gradually integrated himself into the on-air production.

The first widely used clip was of Russo mangling Dukes' name. Soon Scozzare added one in which Esiason used somewhat off-color language. Esiason initially was not happy about it, but he soon bought in.

"That is a credit to him, to change and allow us to not only make fun of him but also to have him say some pretty risqué things," Scozzare said.

Over time the digital list grew, as did its prominence.

"I had to earn that trust, so that's why I sort of built it up slowly over the years," Scozzare said. "That was a credit to Craig to give me a leash slowly and then he kind of saw what I do. After a few years, he gave me free rein and he trusts me."

Said Carton: "He gets a little out of control sometimes. His ego gets the best of him. But we hope with Eddie he just gets more than 50 percent of them right and doesn't interrupt what we're doing."

Scozzare said getting a reaction out of the hosts "makes it all worth it and fun."

"The best part is when he does it when we're not expecting it, when we haven't set it up and it works naturally and organically," Carton said, "so it's absolutely a part of the show, and it's not going to go away."

It's a wonder Scozzare can function at all, given a schedule that has him rising at 1 a.m., watching "SportsCenter" to get caught up, leaving his home in New Jersey at 2:30 and (on a good day) finding a parking spot near the studio by 3:40.

He said it helps keep him sharp that he is on live radio for four hours each day, with no choice but to keep up.

"There is a little bit of pressure because it is live radio, but it's more fun than anything else," he said. "I don't know what the life expectancy of an air traffic controller is, but I can't imagine it's that long in that job, with people's lives literally in your hands.

"That's the only thing I can compare it to is something like that, where you're constantly aware of what's going on. But obviously if I screw up, no one's going to die."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield predicted Royals' playoff success

In this April 4, 2010 file photo, former

In this April 4, 2010 file photo, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez greets the crowd before throwing the ceremonial first pitch. (Credit: AP)

Way back on Sept. 29 -- eight Royals playoff victories ago -- Newsday asked Turner analysts Pedro Martinez and Gary Sheffield on a conference call to assess the underdog's postseason prospects.

Both answered wisely, as it has turned out.

Martinez: "I think Kansas City has as good of a chance as anybody ... believe it or not, it's all about momentum, and Kansas City has that right now. If I was Kansas City, I would try to maintain my focus, keep the momentum going and use the energy that those young guys have.

"That's what they bring to the table -- a lot of energy, nothing to lose and a lot to gain by being there. This is a team you go out there relaxed against, thinking these kids are not going to be a big deal and then, before you know it, they've got you in the hole."

Sheffield: "When you look at the Kansas City Royals, you have to give props to the organization, the way they've built this team. They started with everyday players, moved parts and took their prospects and moved them for veteran players.

"When they brought over [pitcher] James Shields, a move that wasn't popular [at the time] ... when they gave up an everyday player for a pitcher, people thought they needed young players. When you see these guys developing and you have a veteran pitcher on the mound, keeping you in ballgames and helping to lead that staff, the guys come behind him and try to go out and do what he does every day. That breathes confidence into young players.

"One thing that makes Kansas City so dangerous is they have a bunch of young players that are riding a high right now. Their confidence level is going to go sky high. They're not thinking about the pressure of the playoffs; they're just thinking about being relevant in Major League Baseball. Now they are a relevant team. When they get into postseason play, they are just going to play free."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Mike Francesa: Fox Sports 1 'destroyed the continuity' of WFAN simulcast

Mike Francesa is shown in his home in

Mike Francesa is shown in his home in Manhasset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

Mike Francesa said on the air Thursday he would be willing to take less money to have his WFAN show simulcast on Fox Sports 1 more consistently but insisted the matter is out of his hands.

Francesa's show was simulcast Thursday, but the ongoing problem arose when two callers asked him about it during the first hour of the show.

"I can't discuss it," he told the first caller. "It's out of my hands. It's been taken out of my hands . . . The point is I can't add to it because I am no longer part of the negotiation. I have nothing to do with it. It's out of my hands now."

When the caller suggested he "run as quickly as possible" from Fox Sports 1, Francesa said, "How would I do that? I can't do that. I have a contract."

Told by the caller that the simulcast preemptions -- most often for live soccer coverage -- have been bad for his brand, the host said, "I totally agree, but it's not the point. I have to be here every day. If I'm here it's going to be on TV.

"What do you want me to do? I can't leave. I have a contract to honor. I have a contract. I understand that . . . I've already raised all those things many times that you've brought up. There's nothing you can say that I haven't said.

"But I am no longer in charge of its destiny. I wasn't anyway but I'm no longer even an active part of the destiny. Again, all I can do is show up and do what I do. I have a contract. There's nothing I can do.

"I have a contract with both places, with FAN and with Fox, so that's it. There's nothing I can do. So I'm at their whim. Like next week we're on once. There's nothing I can tell you. It's not my scheduling."

When a second caller followed up by agreeing with the first, Francesa said, "Listen, we are never on. I understand that. Listen, they have destroyed the continuity of a simulcast that was on [YES] for 12 years. I understand that. We all agree. None of us are disagreeing.

"Listen, do you know how many letters and calls I've had? I get it everywhere I go. Now when I go anywhere all I hear is this. That's all I hear. If I go into an office building the secretary says it to me. They stop me on the street and say it to me. No matter where I go that's all I hear about is that you're never on."

When the caller described Francesa's simulcast as iconic, he said, "Listen, I appreciate that and they've disrupted that and I really do feel bad for the audience. I didn't ask for anything except for the audience to be protected here. I didn't ask for any more money."

Asked why his Sunday morning NFL show is not simulcast on TV, he said, "Because I don't own the right to put it on. It's been sold.

"I do get the money, which I can't say I don't because I do. But I'd take less and put it on every day, but I can't do anything about it. There's nothing I can do."

CBS Radio, which owns WFAN, declined to comment on Francesa's remarks.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Travis Hamonic tells his story on ESPN's 'E:60'

Travis Hamonic looks on against the Florida Panthers in the first period of a game at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Related media

Travis Hamonic, left, battles Justin DiBenedetto on the Travis Hamonic

Travel deals

John Minton III does not get to many Islanders games anymore, having long since moved from Commack, where he grew up, to Bristol, Connecticut, home of a certain famous sports television network where he works.

But there he was Saturday night inside raucous Nassau Coliseum for the 43rd and final Islanders opener there, around so many old friends who are ticket-holders that it seemed like "a little bit of a high school reunion."

Minton was not there to socialize, though. He is the feature producer behind a rare nationally televised piece that centers on an Islander, in this case defenseman Travis Hamonic, and was at the old barn shooting some final scenes.

Actually, "rare" is an understatement. The segment on Hamonic that is to premiere Wednesday night on "E:60" is unprecedented for the 7-year-old ESPN news magazine program.

So naturally it took a powerful story to convince all concerned that the rest of America would care to learn more about Hamonic. The idea dates to spring 2013 and evolved as he grew more comfortable with sharing his story.

"He agreed after some initial discussions that he was ready to tell it," Minton said. "This was going to be a new experience for him at that time, because it was going to be an all-in project in a lot of ways."

The core of Hamonic's story -- and of the "E:60" piece -- is his relationship with his father, Gerald, and the aftermath of his death from a heart attack in 2000. Travis was 10; his father was 44.

Interviews with Travis, his mother and two of his three siblings make it clear how deeply felt the loss was and remains for the youngest in the family by several years.

But the sudden death of a relatively young parent is not unusual. What makes his story compelling is how he channels his grief as a professional at hockey's highest level.

Hamonic, 24, is in his third season hosting a child who has lost a parent or loved one -- as well as his or her family -- at every Islanders home game.

The idea is to brighten not only the child's day but Hamonic's, too.

"What I do think is unusual with this is it's a mutually beneficial experience for both Travis and the kids," Minton said.

The producer views it as a universal tale that is only coincidentally tied to hockey and to where Hamonic grew up on a farm in a small town called St. Malo, south of Winnipeg.

Hamonic, who scored a goal in the Islanders' opener Friday, always has been known as mature beyond his age. "I turned 32 this year," Minton said, "and I feel like I'm Travis' junior a lot of times."

The result is evident on-screen in the "E:60" story, for which Jeremy Schaap is the reporter and Dave Lynch the editor. Beyond the merits of the story itself, it was a bonus for Minton that he got to chronicle one about an Islander.

He referred to the Rangers only as "the other option" in declaring his Islanders-fan bona fides, even if he is not old enough to recall the Stanley Cup years.

"I survived the fisherman logo," he said, adding that he arrived in the middle of the Cup run in 1982 and thus was "born into the dynasty."

Still, was there any hesitation in giving over a chunk of national TV time to a team that does not resonate much beyond the western shore of the East River?

"I don't think there was much discussion involved in that; I think we looked at the story in and of itself," he said. "We felt it was a story we could really bring to life."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sports videos: Today's picks

Sports on TV

advertisement | advertise on newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Neil Best on Twitter

advertisement | advertise on newsday