Call it a learning experience, Gumbel says of his NFL work

ON MEDIA

The Kickoff

November 16, 2007|By RAY FRAGER

Tripping through the sports media world while thinking that Aubrey Huff probably wishes he had appeared on SpongeBob SquarePants rather than Bubba the Love Sponge:

The NFL Network returns for its second year of regular-season telecasts Thursday at 8 p.m. with the Indianapolis Colts at the Atlanta Falcons. Much of the criticism during the first season centered on play-by-play man Bryant Gumbel, who brought a long broadcasting resume to the booth, but one without many entries for play-by-play. During a conference call this week, Gumbel looked back at his first year.

"I think it's like a lot of things," Gumbel said, according to a transcript. "If you don't exercise the muscle, it kind of atrophies. I hadn't done it in a long time. It was a learning experience. I felt, toward the back end of the year, we had made a dramatic improvement from the beginning of it. But I thought we did a lot of things well last year. I'd be the first to admit that I wasn't one of them. ... I think I've got a better handle on what I'm supposed to be doing."

At least he hasn't lost his sense of humor. Asked what kind of piece his HBO show, Real Sports, would do on the NFL Network's game package, he replied with a laugh: "The play-by-play guy. Do a profile of him."

The resumption of games on the NFL Network also means revisiting the channel's availability. A New York Times article this week pointed out how the NFL finds itself in the unusual position of providing programming that the industry is not falling all over itself to snatch up. Cable providers don't want to pay the 70 cents per subscriber for the NFL Network, the Times said, or, if they do, the channel gets placed on a digital sports tier of service, something for which the subscriber pays extra. (That is generally the case on systems in this area.)

As a result, only about 8 million of the 35 million NFL Network subscribers watch it on cable systems such as Comcast or Time Warner, according to the Times, the rest beaming it in via satellite.

Gumbel's analyst partner, Cris Collinsworth, said of the situation: "I hate to see the football fans not think about it until the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers are playing [Nov. 29], and they're flipping to ESPN or NBC trying to find this thing and it's not there."

May we watch it over at your house, Cris?

If you were looking around the Web this week for information and commentary regarding Huff's ill-advised appearance on the Bubba show, you inevitably ended up directed back to WNST's site, which seemed to be about the only place that had a transcript of the program. The radio station's owner, Nestor Aparicio, said he received e-mails from people in Tampa, Fla., who subscribe to the Sponge show on the Web and who attached files with video and audio of Huff. Aparicio then did his own transcript from the files and posted it in his blog at WNST.net.

Sure, the program's crude nature was reflected in the transcript - Aparicio made sure everyone was warned - but there is no doubt that Orioles fans found this newsworthy. So kudos - and not just the granola bar - to WNST.

ESPN's College GameDay tomorrow at 10 a.m. includes a report by ESPN.com's Greg Garber about Mohawk haircuts in which the reporter gets the haircut himself. Garber will think twice if somebody assigns him a story about the trend for athletes to get body piercings.

What a shame you don't get ESPNU. Calling games from the season-opening tournament in Puerto Rico: none other than former Orioles TV voice Michael Reghi, the "rocket" scientist.

The Washington Wizards have added Baltimore's WCAO (600 AM) to their radio network. The station will carry 60 of the team's 82 games. Given that WCAO is a gospel station, does that mean the Wizards now have a prayer?

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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