There’s a daily routine that plays out in what we’ll call “The Situation Room” each spring at the Fox Sports West offices in downtown L.A., not far from Staples Center. And it can be very puzzling to the executives who essentially have to resolve fitting essential pieces like the Kings, Ducks, Dodgers, Angels and Clippers into the programming slots provided on FSW and Prime Ticket, with options available — sometimes — on Channels 9 and 13, KDOC and a Regional Sports Network spill channel.
Split-screen scenarios aside, it’s rare that every viewer of any team is completely satisfied. That leads to a rogue-rage of threatening Twitter responses, expletive-filled emails and promises of pulling plugs from confused viewers.
Who gets priority? Why is one team shuttled from one home to the other? What if the Lakers were still part of this equation?
“We have no ‘favorites’ – the goal is always trying to achieve a balance that’s fair and impartial,” Steve Simpson, the FSW/Prime Ticket executive vice president and general manager, tried to explain diplomatically this afternoon.
“Teams’ fans have a loyalty and comfort level with Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket that may get disrupted come playoff time. We always listen to the fans, but there’s no one exact protocol when figuring this out.”
This collision of programming in a window from April 16 to May 12 means FSW/Prime live content goes from 150 hours to more than 250 hours. In excess of 200 production personnel travel with the teams to U.S. and Canada, sometimes logging as much as 4,500 miles a week.
And there are those who stay at home to deal with the backlash.
We put Simpson to the test – without looking at a schedule, tell us the TV spots for the Kings, Ducks, Dodgers and Angels for Friday night?
That moves the Kings, normally on FSW, over to Prime with Game 6 of their NHL first-round playoff series at home against St. Louis at 7 p.m. (blacked out locally on NBC Sports Network).
Because of that, the Ducks’ Game 6 NHL playoff game at Detroit starting at 5 p.m. can’t go on its normal Prime home because it will end too late, so it was shifted to KDOC (and blacked out locally on CNBC).
That leaves the Dodgers’ game against Florida, also normally on Prime, unable to go to Channel 9 but shifting to the awkward RSN spillover channel that differs on each dish and cable system, live at 7 p.m. The replay will happen on Prime at 1 a.m. Saturday.
Some of the same could happen Monday where there are the Dodgers and Angels scheduled to start 7 p.m. series against Washington and Kansas City, respectively, at home, but the Kings may have a Game 7 at St. Louis at a time to be determine.
“Lots of moving parts,” Simpson admitted.
There are all kinds of contractual language in each deal FSW and Prime constructs with all its rights-holders. For the first time in decades, that doesn’t include the Lakers after they moved to TWC SportsNet. Starting next season, it won’t include the Dodgers, leaving to create their own network.
A viewer is left to read between the lines as to why a certain team has landed on a particular channel. The Angels and Kings, for example, recently signed long-term deals to stay with FSW/Prime. The Dodgers didn’t.
Still, some of the decisions made may appear to lack some common sense. Simpson isn’t giving away any trade secrets here.
“Once it is figured out, the key is always to communicate the plan to the fans who become creatures of habit,” Simpson explained.
The lose-lose situation that fell into place April 30 – the Kings’ Game 1 at St. Louis went into overtime and ran into the start of the Clippers-Grizzles Game 6 NBA playoff contest, resulting in a strange a split-screen for Prime, while the Ducks went full screen uncontested on FSW – reinforced how there’s no perfect solution.
Simpson issued an apology the next day guaranteeing there was “a plan in place” that would not compromise any remaining playoff games – a situation that becomes moot if the Kings and/or Ducks advance to the second round, potentially against each other, because NBC seizes control of those broadcasts, just as TNT/ESPN would have with the Clippers had they moved into the second round. FSW/Prime will continue with a live post-game show for each team that stays alive, but again, that’ll depend on moving other shows around.
“We actually do love this time of years – it reminds me of how much we showcase, how commonplace we are in the fans’ eyes, day in and day out,” said Simpson. “A rising tide lifts all the boats. It’s great for sports in this market when this happens. But there are also certain expectations we have to meet.
Mission accomplished? Or will you self-destruct five seconds within a search for Friday’s games?