Give Fox credit for blazing trail with flashy puck

Media Watch

January 25, 1996|By Milton Kent

The reviews are still coming in on the "Fox Trax" experiment of highlighting the puck during Saturday's NHL All-Star Game, and they are surprisingly mixed.

Many television critics, this one included, and NHL officials like the concept, but some hockey purists, mostly north of the border, and some fans have weighed in on the negative side.

For instance, an ESPNET SportsZone survey on the Internet found that of more than 10,000 fans who responded, 67 percent didn't like the experiment, in which Fox enhanced the appearance of the puck through sensors, transmitters and computers to make it glow and display a comet-like trail at high speeds.

Talk show guy David Letterman even leveled a blast, mocking the device the other night by bringing in "Dave Trax," in which his head was highlighted.

What purists are missing is that Fox is attempting to build an audience for a sport whose appeal has largely been regional in nature.

To experienced hockey viewers -- the sport's core audience -- the puck is easy to spot, but to the uninitiated sector, where the sport's growth presumably would take place, spotting the puck from the comfort of home isn't as easy, and anything a network can do to make a sport more accessible to viewers -- and that also doesn't demean the game or the audience -- is worth it.

Because the puck's enhancements are not noticeable to anyone at the rink -- players, officials or fans -- the complaints seem like so much caterwauling.

Lou D'Ermilio, a Fox spokesman, said phone calls about "FoxTrax" have been favorable, and that the network is pleased with the results. He said the project will be refined over the next few weeks, and will return, perhaps before the March 31 target date.

The game itself was the highest-rated NHL telecast since Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders.

Here's something to think about: Fox Sports president David Hill told Newsday that the network is working on a similar concept with golf balls, a notion that is sure to send duffers into a state of apoplexy. Remember, however, that Fox doesn't have golf.

At least not yet.

Birdies, pars and putts

CBS has added Jerry Pate as a full-time analyst to its golf announcing team for the 1996 telecast season, which begins next weekend with the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Pate, 42, winner of the 1976 U.S. Open, had been ABC's on-course analyst, and will, essentially, replace Ben Wright for CBS' 22-tournament telecast schedule, which includes the Masters, the LPGA and PGA championships and the second President's Cup.

Meanwhile, NBC has announced that Johnny Miller has signed a long-term deal to remain as lead analyst. Miller, who will become eligible for the Seniors Tour starting next year, will adjust his playing schedule to fit his NBC duties.

Stick to the game

ESPN's Brad Nessler, in a lame attempt to be hip, strayed into some sexist and erroneous waters during Tuesday's Arkansas-Alabama college basketball game.

After a blocked shot, Nessler quipped that "like Ricki Lake in a miniskirt," there were some things that a player shouldn't do.

Nessler apparently hasn't heard that Lake has lost more than 100 pounds and wears a size 8 dress. Regardless, Nessler ought to confine his remarks to the court, not the dress racks.

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