Pittsburgh channel gets new name


Hints of change have been coming for weeks and viewers will notice a full-fledged new look and name for the regional sports network that carries the Pirates and Penguins beginning July 14.

That’s when AT&T SportsNet becomes a reality.

Viewers have probably noticed small AT&T globe logos in the corner of the screen during games for weeks. They’ve popped up on regional networks in markets such as Denver and Houston, too.

So, gone will be Root Sports, which was previously FSN Pittsburgh, which was an iteration of Fox Sports Pittsburgh. In between it was branded as Fox Sports Network-Pittsburgh. Before that it Prime Sports/Prime Sports KBL and KBL — a failed phonetic approach to “cable” that was the original name.

Whatever the name, it has been the home for Pittsburgh area sports since 1986.

As AT&T, it will remain that home but with a different moniker and, no doubt, a different approach to promoting itself. It will be interesting to watch how the changeover gets rolled out.

It comes in the middle of baseball season, but it also comes after the All-Star break, which represents the start of the second half of the season. So that’s about as logical as it can be in the middle of a season. Plus, the talent associated with broadcasts will not change. That’s a generally good thing for fans.

Beyond the guys in the baseball booth (Greg Brown, Joe Block, Steve Blass, Bob Walk, John Wehner), the Pittsburgh-based product teams do their jobs as well as anyone in the country.

So it will be more quality sports coverage, coming into fans’ homes on the same channel on the cable box but under a different name.

‘Dock’-u drama

After a 2014 documentary about former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, a feature-length film about him is reportedly in development.

Reporter Anita Busch of the Hollywood-focused site Deadline has reported a working title of “Dock,” starring O’Shea Jackson, who was in “Straight Outta Compton, as the infamous pitcher.

Ellis played in the majors for 12 years, including nine with the Pirates. His legend was built on a no-hitter he threw June 12, 1970, while supposedly high on LSD.

He finished his career with a 138-119 record and a 3.46 ERA.

Olympic onslaught

Another big-time network rebranding comes July 15, when the Olympic Channel comes to life from what was Universal HD.

Parent network NBCUniversal co-owns the channel with the International Olympic Committee and they hope the channel prompts year-round interest in Olympic sports, focusing on becoming the “home of Team USA.”

So, expect coverage of national championships and qualifiers in a variety of sports as well as features about athletes and shows looking back and Olympic highlights.

At its launch the channel will be available to about 35 million U.S. viewers, including subscribers to AT&T DirectTV, Comcast and Verizon. The channel will be available on streaming services as well, including Hulu, PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV.

Tuner tidbits

n Fox has coverage of the 88th MLB All-Star Game on July 11. That means Joe Buck in the booth with John Smoltz, along with reporters Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal. Fox ‘s studio team, which has been solid since they were put together last season, includes Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose and Frank Thomas.

n This marks the first Home Run Derby, on July 10, without ESPN stalwart Chris Berman handling the call. While his work became somewhat cliched in later years, there’s no doubt Berman was tightly associated with the Derby and will be missed by some.

n The critically acclaimed Netflix series “Last Chance U.,” which follows the football program at East Mississippi Community College, will return for its second season July 21.

n We’re now 33 days from the Steelers’ first preseason game. Yes, it’s a preseason game but it’s still football on TV — a visit to play the New York Giants on Aug. 11. It’ll air at 7 p.m. on WTAJ-TV (Channel 10) and NFL Network.

n NFL Network plans to air 16 games live during the preseason and 65 preseason games overall. Last year the network averaged 1.1 million viewers for 17 live preseason games, none of which aired in either teams’ home market. So those are solid numbers, which could be just as strong this year absent competition from the Olympics. Along with the Aug. 11 game, the Steelers’ Aug. 20 home game against the Falcons is included in the network’s slate.

n It would not be a surprise if the Aug. 26 matchup of undefeated (and previously retired) boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC champion Conor McGregor ends up as the most lucrative pay-per-view in sports history. According to their contract, neither Mayweather, 40, nor McGregor, 28, may disclose financial specifics of their payouts. To be clear, it will be more spectacle than sporting event, and each participant might walk away with more money than they ever have from a fight before. Most experts expect a lopsided performance — with Mayweather winning. Still, people will watch.

Sampsell comments on TV and radio for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.