Why it makes dollars, and sense, for MLB teams to bank on regional TV deals these days

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Two years ago, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp looked sharp in high-end fitted Lacoste Polo shirts, Armani sweat pants and Ray-Bans for a splashy GQ fashion spread.

This spring, he put on his serious face. Sporting a black power suit, Kemp is on the cover of Forbes magazine under the headline: “The New Moneyball.”

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The reason: Because the Dodgers are about to land one of the most lucrative regional TV sports rights deals in baseball history, the team’s clean-up hitter has rightfully cleaned up with contract recently extended to eight years and $160 million.

Yes, even with a team that was in bankruptcy court. And the Dodgers think they got a bargain.

Once upon a time, the simple act of building a new stadium gave Major League Baseball teams an influx of new money to improve their roster budgets and raise the hopes of the local fan base. The Miami Marlins see that happening this year, and the Oakland Athletics are trying to do the same.

But more and more these days, it’s all about staying in the ballpark for a new gynormous regional TV rights deal.

“Stadiums are part of the equation, but media rights have a greater portion of the space right now — this is the golden age of regional sports networks and of the media,” said Chris Bevilacqua, the head of his own New York-based company that invests and advises on media rights deals.

As the former chairman and CEO of Creative Artist Agency’s Sports Media Ventures, Bevilacqua was involved in constructing the Fox TV deals for the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres, the Pac-12 Conference’s Fox/ESPN package, and, nine years ago, founded College Sports TV, now known as CBS Sports Network.

“There’s about $250 billion of infrastructure with this enormous store that has been built and that people shop in every day, and they need quality products on the shelves, and quality content.

“If you’re a sports rights holder today, every day is like Christmas. You have gigantic media companies making massive investments in all the different ways to consume the media, and there’s baseball, with 150 live local events every year – twice as many as the NBA or NHL have – sitting in a very enviable position.”

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It’s in the name: The Ann Meyers Drysdale women’s national basketball player of the year announced Tuesday

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Ann Meyers Drysdale, the first four-time All-American while playing at UCLA from 1975-78, will have her name attached to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’ annual player of the year award starting this season, the group announced (linked here).

Meyers played so long ago at UCLA that the Bruins’ national title in 1978 was awarded by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), started in 1971 to oversee all of women’s college sports. That’s pre-Title IX.

“I am quite thrilled and excited to become part of this,” said Meyers Drysdale in a release. “It’s nice to be considered along with the other names being talked about for these awards. It is nice to be regarded as one who has helped grow the women’s game.”

“I know some of these young winners probably never heard of me. But it’s nice to link women’s notables from the past with the stars of the present day.”

Meyers Drysdale works these days as the vice president of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and NBA’s Phoenix Suns. She was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

This year’s winner of the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award will be announced on Tuesday, the day of the NCAA women’s title game in Denver.

“Honoring Annie is the first of an initiative begun this year to start putting names of some of the greats of the women’s games on annual awards in almost the same manner on the men’s side that now offers the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Trophy and Henry Iba Coach of the Year Award,” said Mel Greenberg, the women’s representative on the USBWA board of directors.

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association formed in 1956 and has named a women’s All-America team since the 1996-97 season, and a national player of the year since 1987-88. Previous winners were USC’s Lisa Leslie in 1994 and current Sparks star Candace Parker of Tennessee (2007 and 2008). The award was not given until after Cheryl Miller’s time at USC (1983-86).

Baylor’s Brittney Griner is considered the favorite to win among the 10 candidates name to the All-American team, which includes Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike.

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No foolin’ (again): It’s 30 baseball book reviews during the 30 days of April, Version 2012

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Sunday marks the fifth full year in a row where we not only attempt to review 30 baseball books during the 30 days of April, but actually feel (this time) as if we’ll complete the task with some measure of success.

The baseball books we choose for this project have to be recently released — not months or years ago, but most likely between January 2012 and today — and they’re supposed to be available at the time we write about them. We sift through dozens of titles, bounce around the pros and cons of the choices in our head and hope to procure review copies before the month begins to give us the ample time and thought process to see which ones hold our interest for the longest. Most, we’ll read cover to cover. That’s just how we roll, and sometimes roll our eyes when we’re accused of cutting corner. A few, we expect we’ll give up on early, but feel compelled to review them any way just in case you’re thinking of buying them. You can thank us later.

It’s a labor of love, and one where we do hit the wall a couple of times. Some of these projects, we’ll do longer pieces on for the newspaper versions (mostly, in the form of a media column or Sunday Q-and-A). We take them all seriously, and are thankful to have 30 prime candidates every year now to fill the calendar.

Got any ideas? Send ’em our way. We’d also like to give a shout out to Ron Kaplan, whose website RonKaplansBaseballBookshelf.com has become a great resource in all this pursuit.

Coming up first in the lineup: “Baseball Prospectus 2012″ on Sunday, April 1, followed by “Trading Manny,” by Jim Gullo, and then two novels, “The Greatest Show on Dirt” by James Bailey and “The Might Have Been” by Joseph M. Schuster.

We’ve got Andy Strasberg’s “Baseball Fantography” slotted for the first Friday (April 6) so that it will also work with a weekly sports media column, and Jim Abbott’s autobiography, “Imperfect: An Improbable Life,” on April 8, to coincide with our regular Sunday Q-and-A feature.

Just to refresh your memory, a look back on the previous year’s lists:

== From 2011: (linked here)

== From 2010: (linked here)

== From 2009: (linked here)

== From 2008: (linked here)

== In 2007, an abbreviated look at the baseball media that took us here: linked here, here, here and here. And here … and here …. and this one here. … and here

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Weekly media column version 03.30.12

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What made it into today’s weekly sports media column (linked here): Is Jim Rome the gamechanger that CBS Sports Network hopes he can be for their cable channel? More on how KSPN-AM (710) has had success with its “Third Chair” segment during Lakers games, plus more.

What didn’t make the cut:

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== Rome, on whether the CBS Sports Network could soon be airing a live TV version of his radio show (the network currently fills the 7-to-10 a.m. hours with the Tim Brando radio show): “My feeling has always been that you don’t need to simulcast the radio show as long as there’s another standing TV show. But somewhere in the future, there will probably be a video component, online or on TV. People just want video, and I’m committed. I may be a day late to the social media boom, but I love Twitter and Facebook. And you’ve always got to feed the beast.”

== Rome, from Thursday night’s appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman”: “On the CBS Sports Network every night, we will talk sports at 6:00. I’m going to do the things I’ve always done: talk a little junk, get some good interviews, get it going, stir the pot, dial the thing up. It’s going to be quick, it’s going to be slick and I think you’re going to like it, Dave.” A previously posted clip linked here.

== Musician Duff McKagan, formerly of Guns N’ Roses (the group that gave Rome his “Welcome to the Jungle” theme), sends some high praise to Rome during a column he wrote for ESPN.com (linked here)

== USA Today’s Michael Hiestand’s column today on Rome (linked here).

== Where to find the CBS Sports Network these days (linked here).

== ESPN has its always compelling “Gruden’s QB Camp” special, bringing in Stanford’s Andrew Luck to get grilled by former NFL coach and ESPN “MNF” analyst Jon Gruden, for a special today at 4 p.m.

== Gut-check time for CBS: What compelled the network to air the much-sexier Kentucky-Louisville NCAA semifinal game Saturday in the early time slot, thus saving the Ohio State-Kansas matchup for the higher-profile window later in the day (and East Coast prime time)? “It was a really, really close call,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus this week. “Normally, there’s a marquee matchup that makes our decision easy. We thought, purely subjective, that the Ohio State game on paper looked like it might be a closer game (and) the geographic spread was a little better. Let’s face it, the Midwest brings an enormous amount of viewers to the TV set. I don’t think there was any right or wrong answer on this one. We just went with our gut and though the viewership might be a bit higher for the second game.” Well, there really was a right answer. And it would have been Wildcats-Cardinals. That’s what our gut tells us.

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Pull up a (third) chair, just get out before halftime

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Photo provided by Dave Shore/ESPN-AM
Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, left, joins Mychal Thompson and John Ireland on a Lakers’ radio broadcast earlier this season.

Andy Garcia, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Hasselhoff, Ric Flair, Mario Lopez, Lisa Leslie, Flea, Adam Levine, Dyan Cannon, Richie Sambora and Richard Lewis walk into Staples Center to watch a Lakers’ game.

Only one of them can be a guest analyst on the KSPN-AM (710) radio broadcast, sitting next to John Ireland and Mychal Thompson.

Who’ll it be? By now, it may depend on who’s already done it. Most of that list above has.

A regular second-quarter segment called the “Third Chair” has evolved into one of the more entertaining elements of the radio coverage this season. It’s a device that Ireland, in his first year doing play-by-play, has enjoyed bringing to the party so listeners get a chance to share in some of the ever-present celebrity buzz.

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“We have to give the listeners a sense of who’s in the building,” said Ireland, who tracks down the guests with KSPN sideline reporter Dave Shore and producer Jarred Digglio.

“The TV side has tried it, but hasn’t always been successful. Old-school listeners may be upset we don’t always follow the game, but I think it’s been about 80 percent positive.”

The second quarter of the contest has proven to be the easiest entry and exit point, with media timeouts already in place during the game’s three-, six- and nine-minute marks. The trick for Ireland and Thompson is to keep up with the game while letting the guests jump in at appropriate moments.

“The debate I always have: Is it worth adding the third voice at the expense of what’s going on the court?” said Ireland. “There’s time during dead balls, but we’re at the mercy of the flow of the game, so it becomes an interesting dance to do.”

For tonight’s Lakers-Thunder broadcast, the KSPN crew tried to track down Magic Johnson but it ended up being actor Dennis Haysbert who joined in.

Haysbert, who says he gets out to about 10 games a year, answered Ireland’s question about whether the Lakers had enough to make a run for the title this year: “That’s a loaded question. You can’t answer that in a negative. It all depends on their bench. I think they have the starting team to do it.”

Ireland’s dream grab would be to get Denzel Washington from his courtside seat to come up.

Jack Nicholson would be a “pipe dream,” Ireland concedes.

“We started this by setting up appearances in advance, but it’s been like a red carpet kind of thing where a bigger name would show up and so now we wait until before the game starts before we decide,” Ireland said. “Tom Petty has said he might do it, and Jeanie Buss (the head of Lakers’ business who has been on) says she thinks she can get David Beckham. All we can do is throw them a Hail Mary and see what happens.”

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