Friday, July 10, 2009

WHAT IN GOD'S NAME ARE THEY THINKING OVER THERE AT LIBERTY SPORTS GROUP (FSN)?



CLEARING MY DESK


Editorial Commentary
By Angelo Spagnolo, Publisher

The most personable and knowledgable sports commentator this city has ever known...and that takes in a lot of great people...just found his popular show cancelled after a record 18 seasons here in Pittsburgh. Anyone who has half an ounce of sports knowledge immediately knows to whom I'm referring: The great gentleman of Pittsburgh sports, Stan Savran.
ABOVE: I had the wonderful opportunity recently to cross paths with two of my favorites in Pittsburgh sportscasting, Stan Savran (right) and Guy Junker (left). They're as affable in person as they always appear on television...something that a lot of personalities have a way of "forgetting". At least these two guys are still on the air with ESPN. But the way things are going on the local sports scene, don't hold your breath on how long that will last.

"Savran on Sports Beat" is the longest-running locally-produced show in Pittsburgh history and it is inconceivable that a man of Savran's stature in the sports community and the show's popularity in general would have him lose his job, but that indeed is what is happening. Once again, it's all about money.

Savran, I'm sure, is already getting paid a fair penny for the quality work that he churns out on an everyday basis, but this decision is probably more about utilizing a network program instead of running local programming. The cost difference is not only significant from the standpoint of production cost, but the local station will also benefit from the national advertising revenues without the production expense. From the aspect of what show costs more and what show will generate more profit for the station, it's probably safe to say that replacing Stan Savran was the thing to do. But what about viewers? Doesn't FSN want them?

FSN is going to lose a TON of viewers over this. Stan Savran allowed FSN to grab the reins of the local sports viewer whether it was football, baseball, hockey, college football or basketball. If it was local, Stan was on top of it. He's a big part of why Pittsburgh is such a strong sports market. The fact that Pittsburgh sports lovers can tune in to "Sports Beat" five nights per week and get truly caught up on the goings-on in Pittsburgh sports is a luxury we'll have to learn to live without. FSN has always been a Pittsburgh-first sports station. Apparently they've decided to go the way of ESPN if they've determined that the biggest name in Pittsburgh sports is expendable.

In all likelihood, the bean counters at Liberty Sports Group are probably figuring that they'll be able to have their cake and eat it too: They won't have the expense of Savran they reason, or the production of the show and they'll collect the revenue from the network programming. WRONG. Their ratings are going to take a massive tumble. Who cares what the LA Lakers are doing or the Chicago Cubs? Pittsburgh fans want programming that focuses on the local teams. Besides, that's already readily-available on four different ESPN channels. Who needs it on a fifth one?


ABOVE: STAN! LOVE THE SHOW!!! We won't get to hear that melodious phrase after Monday night's last show. Incidentally, Stan is the only good thing ever to come out of Cleveland ever!

In retrospect, this move should come as no surprise at all. This same local management has already A) Sacked a Hall of Fame hockey broadcaster, Mike Lange and B) Failed to renew Stan's broadcasting partner, Guy Junker, in another cost-cutting move a few years back.

Good people always land on their feet, so here's hoping that there's some TV executive with half a brain who gets "Sports Beat" back on the air after the final show airs Monday at 6:30 p.m. on FSN.

So just how popular was Stan Savran? A "Mondesi's House.com" poll of their readers last year showed him with an 85% approval rating...and the guy still lost his job!

If you agree with me that this was an extreme injustice that was done to Stan, you can email FSN to thank them for cancelling his show, clearly a Pittsburgh institution at: feedback@libertysportsgroup.com. Let's fill up that mailbox repeatedly!!!

AND WHILE WE"RE PASSING OUT BLAME...

Of course ESPN radio is no better. They recently moved one hour of Stan and Guy from the radio to their computer podcast so that we could get one more hour of Colin Cowherd (whose constant NBA blathering is totally annoying) and grab some national ad bucks there too. They also canned the popular Jim Colony recently, another long-tenured personality in another cost-cutting move.

While we're on the subject of firing people, anyone who ever listened to Mark Madden figured that he'd get his come-uppance one day and sure enough, he did after making his infamous "Ted Kennedy remark". However, Madden has resurfaced on 105.9 the "X" in a "bizarro-world" format where he plays a grunge rock song and then airs a couple pre-recorded phone calls. While Madden can still amuse me with his abuse of callers, I can't get past the "music" that must be tolerated in order to listen to him. Why would this station turn Madden into a part-time disc jockey instead of letting him do his thing which, right or wrong, attracted a ton of listeners at ESPN?

It seems that the people running these stations really are clueless as to what the people in this city want. As long as it will save them a dollar, they'll do it. The public be damned.

Apparently the brass at these stations feel that the public will continue to listen to whatever cheaper pre-packaged, non-Pittsburgh, programming they put out there. I for one could care less and won't watch or listen to any of these shows. I guess I'm too provincial for that. Give me the Stan and Guys, the Myrons, the Bob Princes, the Mike Langes even the Mark Maddens. But don't force-feed me shows like Colin Cowherd, Mike & Mike or whatever national show FSN has planned for Stan's present time slot. These stations are making a huge mistake and the best thing you can do is voice your outrage to them and even better, take your viewing or listening to another place. When the next ratings book comes out only then will they realize the magnitude of their mistakes.

As a further example of this, ESPN Radio has reportedly been chopping payroll like the popular Jim Colony because they lost so much audience and ad revenue when they fired Madden. So FSN, you'll soon be finding out that you can't fire a revered man like Stan Savran and expect to hold your audience too. There will be a huge backlash over this.

Pittsburgh didn't become the greatest sports market in the country on its' own. Its' always had men like Stan Savran around to keep things interesting by stirring the pot and keeping the fans focused on the local players and teams. We all need to remember that, especially the people posing as executives who keep letting people like Stan Savran, Mike Lange or Bob Prince go. THEY'RE THE ONES WHO SHOULD BE GETTING THE AX!!!