Mixed Signals

Cal vs. Colorado: The Importance of Sports TV

9/15/2010 10:42 PM

A couple of decades ago when I worked for ABC Sports, I remember frequently visiting stadiums, arenas and press boxes as part of my production jobs.

It was pretty heady stuff, being 20-years-old and gaining easy access to what seemed a pretty glamorous and focal area in any forum, i.e., where the media centered and where the press guys did their most impressive jobs.

Thus, to be a quasi formal member of the media again, now writing a regular column for New Bay Media’s Multichannel News, not only meant a new chance to enter those venues again, but also to revisit the past a bit.

This occasion happened to add a particular bliss because it also meant a couple of additional plusses. For one, it involved my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley. And it ended up that my Golden Bears not only played well on Sept. 11, but they did something they didn’t do very much when I was student in 1973-75 — they played with passion and blew out the University of Colorado at Boulder, 52-7.

Indeed, in its first two games this season, my Cal football team has scored 100+ points to its opponents’ 10 points. That’s some two-game season opening score!

But, alas, I forget that past. I allow my hubris to get the better of me, and I get ahead of myself, for which I must now make amends. That’s because, especially when they are ranked, my East SFO Bay Area football team inevitably tends to lose that ranking and end up with results in the middle of their PAC-10 league, and at best with a bowl game that not everyone has heard of or even watches. And that’s typically the point at which we Cal fans have to bring out our special medicine (but more on that in a paragraph or three below).

Upon arrival on a crystal sharp and perfect 75 degree day at the 87-year-old Memorial Stadium Stadium, in Strawberry Canyon on the east side of the Cal downtown Berkeley campus, I was forwarded to the elevator, where Cal’s media director, Herb Benenson, had posted a list of accredited media. My name was on it, no less!

Once into the upper levels of the football stadium, on the second from the top floor (just below the TV cameras, which see everything, both onto the field, and behind them to the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including the most impressive Golden Gate Bridge), as a newcomer, I was positioned on the far north end, next to a most impressive young man, named Addy Koiki. A 2004 graduate from Syracuse University and now a senior researcher for ESPN The Magazine, Addy was there on his own dime, practicing his live play-by-play broadcast of the game, so that he can one day land a big time job in TV land. (Note to every exec in TV land: Addy Koiki is ready.)

All along, while there writing of my experience, I did my level best to maintain my objectivity, as what I thought befitting of an “independent” member of the media. However, in all honesty, when Cal kept scoring and Colorado kept committing penalties, it was tough not to at least evince a slight smile or mild fist pump.

Interestingly and ironically enough, here we were trying to communicate, but I was told by a Cal rep in the press box that because AT&T hadn’t provisioned enough bandwidth in the stadium area, that I likely would not be able to use my cell phone to make a call out or receive one until 4:30 p.m., long after the game had mercifully ended for the Buffalos.

Cal is refurbishing its dilapidated Memorial Stadium as we speak. Completion is expected in 2012 and that should mean better press seats and better TV monitors, and possibly press food that doesn’t cease delivery before halftime. Indeed, Cal seems to finally and significantly appreciate the importance of big-time sports, big-time football, and big-time stadiums, with lots of media exposure to deliver tens of millions or more eyeballs, and hundreds of millions in TV dollars over the course of the decades ahead.

Perhaps just as importantly, through the media, and through these games, Cal (and every other college of its type across the nation), is mass (and personally) communicating with its alumni, students, teachers, administrators, and every fan or curiosity-seeker, as to the breadth and talent of its institution. And that, in the words of a familiar credit card ad, is “priceless.”

At the end of the game, I took a short walk back through the entire press area, and across the top deck I spoke of before. I was impressed with how quickly everyone left to move to their next assignment, whether that meant to travel downstairs to interview the teams, or into the truck that travels to the next arena six states away. Press is clearly more mobile today than it was when I started almost four decades ago in the early 1970s.

Ultimately, I consider myself pretty fortunate to have spent four hours in the UC Berkeley press box during a glorious near fall day in northern California, and to have updated myself about the look and feel of today’s live sports telecom and a 2010 press box.

Perhaps as importantly, I was able to also remind myself of the medicine I mentioned above, that crucial elixir that keeps Cal fans alive, year to year, decade to decade, i.e., with our perennial adage, “There’s always next year!”

Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy The Carmel Group.