Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Fox revamps MLB coverage with new channel, schedule, announcers

FOX Sports lifts the curtain on 2014 by

FOX Sports lifts the curtain on 2014 by announcing that Emmy Award-winning play-by-play broadcaster, Joe Buck, the voice of MLB on FOX since its inception, is joined by analysts Harold Reynolds (pictured) and Tom Verducci as the new lead game broadcast team for MLB on FOX. Credit: Fox

Fox's public relations department is calling 2014 "a whole new ballgame" for its partnership with Major League Baseball, and so it is. But some of it is a tad difficult to explain without turning one's brain into TMI tapioca.

Let's try, shall we?

First, the uncomplicated part: The network has taken a sharp turn in its lead broadcast team, replacing the iconic Tim McCarver with a three-man booth, with Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci joining Joe Buck.

Putting a non-former-player in an analyst role for the World Series is unconventional, to say the least, something Howard Cosell is believed to be the last man to do.

Verducci, who before he was a famous Sports Illustrated baseball writer was a famous Newsday writer, is no Cosell when it comes to shtick and bombast. But he knows the game thoroughly and is expected to offer a statistics-oriented take, an area that is not a strength for Reynolds. Plus he has excellent hair.

"I think there is definitely a place for advanced metrics in a broadcast," Verducci said. "But you don't want to introduce AP calculus during the game."

Buck said he found during rehearsal games that "Tom was looking at it from a different viewpoint, and that's why it really worked. That's why it made sense to do it this way. If it wasn't him, it would be a two-man booth."

Fox's other personnel move of local note was tabbing as its lead studio host Kevin Burkhardt, who will cut back somewhat on his schedule as SNY's Mets reporter.

The other key element of the game plan involves shifting much of the game coverage from Fox to Fox Sports 1, the cable upstart to which the network hopes to drive viewer traffic with marquee live events.

Net effect: Double the overall games over last season, but about half as many on Fox's flagship broadcast channel.

"Right now, everything we do is designed to balance our assets between broadcast and cable," said Mike Mulvihill, Fox's senior VP of programming and research.

"We're trying to build that [cable] business and trying to establish ourselves as the new home of baseball, but at the same time, we don't want to abandon our broadcast business."

Fox will carry 12 games on its broadcast channel, eight of them in prime time featuring Buck's crew and starting May 24, which is down from 26 in 2013. Fox Sports 1 will carry 52 games, mostly on Saturdays, beginning this Saturday.

The FS1 slate includes two types of games. In one, the channel will show games that also are seen in home markets with the usual local announcing crew on regional sports networks such as YES and SNY.

The other type, of which there will be 26 -- one per week -- will be exclusive to FS1 and not seen on local outlets. These will be restricted to games that involve two teams that play on Fox-owned RSNs.

So for example, four Yankees games that otherwise would have been on YES -- of which Fox now owns 80 percent -- instead will be seen exclusively on FS1, starting April 26 against the Angels.

"It's a new thing in this contract [with MLB] and a new thing in sports television generally," Mulvihill said.

The Yankees currently are scheduled for seven total appearances on Fox or FS1 and the Mets one. But with more total games now on TV and more teams of interest, the old days of the Yankees and Red Sox dominating the schedule are over. The Pirates and Nationals each have seven games scheduled.

"From a fan perspective, it is a little bit more complicated,'' Mulvihill said, "but the bottom line is it is more games on a national basis."

New York Sports