Access helps promote new league

Whether a startup league can consistently attract viewers will be decided as the inaugural spring season of the Alliance of American Football plays out, but it has already made a big impact in how pro football games are televised.

We’re in the middle of the second week of play for “the Alliance” (there were two games Saturday night with two more this afternoon and evening) and what viewers see looks a lot like any other football game.

It’s the tweaks that matter, though.

Most notably, there’s an abundance of access. From coaches and quarterbacks wearing microphones to a camera focused on the game’s replay official so viewers can get an as-it-happens understanding of the review process, the AAF has implemented some logical, viewer-friendly additions.

Week 1 was a success, with 3.25 million people watching the season opener on CBS. Other games on NFL Network drew decent ratings because live programming draws better than offseason best-of programs or studio shows.

The test will be whether people watch this week and beyond. If the level of play can be balanced and competitive without being embarrassing and sloppy, consistent viewership might be possible.

Still, it’s the access that could be important in the long run. If the technical aspects get cleaned up (there were several drops and sound-over-sound moments), the abundance of microphones is a good thing.

Likewise, the transparency of the replay official is a potential game changer. It eliminates the need for replay analysts in the booth and offers consistency.

Both are good things.

Plus, the AFF’s shortened play clock moves games along faster. That’s also a plus.

In fairness, there were fewer TV commercials (in part because of fewer sponsors), and that made the games faster as well. Even when there were commercials, the broadcast partners often used a side-by-side view with commercials and a game view on screen at the same time.

A lot of the season remains, and a lot could improve or go sideways, but the AAF made a good first impression in terms of its approach to broadcasting pro football.

Pirates points

n Eleven Pittsburgh Pirates spring training games will be televised in March, starting at 1 p.m. March 6 when the they play the Boston Red Sox. All 10 other games will air on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, beginning with a matchup at 12:30 p.m. March 7 vs. the Orioles.

n In case you missed it, longtime Pirates broadcaster and former standout player Steve Blass announced in mid-January that this season would be his last. His comfortable, low-key approach resonates with many viewers, and he’s been an ambassador for the team throughout his career.

n Remember Tim Neverett, who worked Pittsburgh Pirates games on radio and TV from 2009 to 2015 before joined the Boston Red Sox? He’s with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season after deciding not to renew his contract with the Red Sox in December.

Tuner tidbits

n The green flag drops on Daytona 500 at 2:30 today on Fox. The NBA All-Star Game tips off at 8 tonight on TNT. Starting times for both events have been moved back several hours in recent years — all in the pursuit of bigger TV audiences.

n Dick Vitale, ESPN’s legendary and popular college basketball analyst, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Emmys on May 20 in New York City. It’s an appropriate and well-deserved honor.

n Golf analyst David Feherty, one of the best interviewers on TV (not just exclusively for sports), will sit down with Fred Couples when “Feherty” begins its ninth season at 9 p.m. Feb. 25 on the Golf Channel. Yes, Feherty is always working with willing subjects, but he’s curious, funny, honest and insightful — and he usually evokes good things from his subjects. It’s quality TV.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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