TIME Business of Sports

Sports TV Broadcasting Hits New Highs … in Annoying Fans

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Jetta Productions—Getty Images

Lately, many sports fans who have tried to watch the Winter Olympics, or NCAA Final Four basketball, or the Atlanta Braves, or the Los Angeles Dodgers have been frustrated for a very basic reason.

They can’t find the !?#&*!? sporting event on TV.

On Saturday night, countless college basketball fans tuned in to CBS, hoping to watch the men’s Final Four March Madness tournament matchups of Wisconsin-vs.-Kentucky and Florida-vs.-Connecticut. Instead of basketball, viewers were treated to reruns of CBS dramas “Person of Interest” and “Criminal Minds.”

After some confusion, and perhaps some cursing and throwing of remotes, shoes, and cheese dip, previously unaware viewers discovered that for the first time since March Madness has been televised, the national semifinals weren’t shown on network TV. The back-to-back games, played on what’s often thought of the best night of the year for college basketball, were only broadcast on cable. On several cable channels, in fact, thanks to a curious arrangement with Turner Sports, in which TBS hosted the main broadcast, and sister channels TNT and TruTV showed the same game but with different local play-by-play announcers to cater to each team’s fan base.

In any event, the games weren’t on network TV. That was enough to ruin the night for cord cutters, i.e., folks who don’t have pay TV, who have also missed out on the tournament’s many other games shown only on TBS, TNT, or TruTV rather than CBS.

(MORE: Why Las Vegas Loves March Madness Way More Than the Super Bowl)

The arrangement did more than alienate the fairly sizeable portion of fans too cheap to have a pay TV package. Despite an onslaught of coverage telling folks that they games were on cable for the first time ever— according to Adweek, the campaign included digital billboards in subways, ads shown before films in theaters, promos on radio and TV, and a takeover of USAToday.com’s home page—the move to cable did some serious damage to TV ratings as well. Yes, when combined the trio of Turner Sports channels achieved a record high number of viewers for a non-football sporting event on cable, but the shift away from network broadcast also resulted in a multi-year low in ratings overall. The Associated Press reported that an average of 14 million viewers watched the games on Saturday night, down 11% from a year ago when they were shown on CBS. (TBS is in 14% fewer American homes than CBS.)

There’s no mystery as to why any of the parties involved would risk aggravating fans by showing the games on cable rather than CBS: Like so many things, it’s all about money.

CBS and Turner Sports are a few years into a 14-year, $10.8 billion partnership with the NCAA to air the March Madness tournament. One reason that TBS and its siblings agreed to the deal—thereby helping CBS from losing the tournament to ESPN and ABC—is that they were guaranteed the right to air some of the tournament’s premier high-ratings games, rather than just the earlier rounds.

More importantly, these networks, and the powers than be in general in sports and TV, are well aware that live sports is the largest reason many Americans continue to cut a check for a monthly pay TV bill. Time Warner, which owns TBS, TNT, TruTV, CNN, and many other cable networks (and, for a little while longer, Time Inc. and Time.com), obviously has great interest in keeping levels of cable-paying households high. They want cord cutting to hurt, or at least be difficult and impractical for sports fans to circumvent, and moving the Final Four to cable does just that.

(MORE: YouTube Is Going to Use TV to Destroy TV)

The Final Four broadcast is hardly the only example of how larger battles over money and TV rights are frustrating the lives and viewing habits of sports fans—perhaps turning some into former fans in the process. Four years ago, NBC Universal angered hockey fans and the hockey world in general by its decision to air some premier Olympic hockey games on cable rather than the main network. Likewise, fans were only able to view many events from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi by watching them on cable (or streaming them online, only possible with a pay TV account). Of course, Comcast, the biggest player in pay TV, owns NBC Universal, so it makes a lot of sense to strategically broadcast in-demand sporting events in ways that push people to feel the monthly cable bill is still unavoidable, if not exactly well worth the money.

At 162 regular season games plus playoffs, Major League Baseball plays the most games of any pro sport, and therefore it has the most games aired on TV. But thanks to a trend kicked off largely by the advent of the Yankees-focused YES Network more than ten years ago, fans are increasingly likely to be forced to jump through hoops, or at least cough up extra cash, in order to tune in. For instance, an ongoing dispute between Fox Sports and Dish TV in Atlanta will result in some Braves fans being unable to watch nearly one-third of the team’s games this season.

Over in southern California, a huge brawl over Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasts pits the Dodgers-owed SportsNET LA network and its distributor, Time Warner Cable, on one side, and on the other, a range of pay TV providers such as Cox, Charter, and DirecTV, which so far are refusing to pay the high fees being demanded to include the channel in customer packages. Caught in the middle, of course, are the many fans who use other TV providers, and who often don’t live in areas where they could get SportsNET LA even if they wanted to pay for it.

(MORE: Hank Aaron Would Have Faced More Racism Today)

The result is an absurd scenario epitomized by a recent column from the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, who on Dodgers opening day hit a handful of bars, as well as a taco shop, bowling alley, and a Burger King, trying—and failing—to find the game on TV. The deal the Dodgers cut for the rights to broadcast games is incredibly lucrative for the club. But as Plaschke warned the Dodgers, the money may come at the cost of quite a few fans. “Dodgers, ask your fans if they are willing to sacrifice watching the games on television for the sake of having the league’s richest team,” he wrote. “They would say no.”

Plaschke ran into one sports bar patron, who noted the irony of seeing Dodgers jerseys posted to the tavern’s wall and yet “they can’t even get the games,” he said. “At least everyone can still watch the Angels.”

For the time being anyway.

TIME animals

10 Stray Sochi Pups Arrive in U.S.

Washington Animal Rescue League Intake Director Maureen Sosa visits with a stray dog from Sochi, Russia, inside its 'doggie den' at the league's shelter March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Washington Animal Rescue League Intake Director Maureen Sosa visits with a stray dog from Sochi, Russia, inside its 'doggie den' at the league's shelter March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Animal rescuers say 10 stray dogs rescued from the Winter Olympics host city, amid reports that Russian authorities were killing them before the Games, have arrived in Washington D.C., where the Washington Animal Rescue League is coordinating their adoption

Americans brought home 28 medals from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but animal rescuers from U.S. couldn’t help bringing home a bundle of four-legged friends, too.

Ten dogs rescued from the streets landed safely in the U.S. on Thursday, Humane Society International said. The dogs landed at Dulles Airport and were brought to Washington D.C., where Washington Animal Rescue League is coordinating their adoption. The dogs are expected to be ready for adoption within weeks. Animal rights activists sprung into action earlier this year after widespread reports that Russian authorities were killing stray dogs before the Winter Olympics got underway.

“We are excited to make the connection for homeless Sochi dogs with loving homes in the United States, with our focus on helping street dogs in Russia and around the world,” Kelly O’Meara of the Humane Society said in a statement. “Our goal is to protect street dogs from cruel and unnecessary killing programs—like the one employed by Sochi officials to ‘clean up’ in advance of the Olympics—by working with governments to create humane and effective dog population management programs.”

“They’re the sweetest, most interactive, very friendly dogs, very adoptable that just happen to be unfortunate enough to be living on the street,” O’Meara told CNN of the dogs up for adoption.

Humane Society International, in partnership with animal rescue organizations in Sochi, led the effort to take in wandering mutts during the Games. American skier and Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy also adopted four dogs during the games, bringing more attention to the doomed fate of many pups on the streets of Sochi. More dogs are expected to arrive from Russia in the coming weeks.

TIME olympics

Ukraine Will Compete in Sochi Paralymics

UKRAINE PARALYMPIC
Flag bearer Mykhaylo Tkachenko of Ukraine attends the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympic Games at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia, March 07 2014. Julian Stratenschulte—EPA

Despite Russia's military forces moving into Crimea, Ukraine has decided to participate in the Winter Paralympics in Sochi just hours before the opening ceremonies and had earlier consulted with athletes

Ukraine has decided it will participate in the Winter Paralympics in Sochi even as Russian troops have taken over the Crimea region of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Paralympic Committee announced its decision just hours before the opening ceremonies of the games Friday, the Associated Press reports. It consulted with the athletes before opting not to boycott the competition amid a tense geopolitical standoff with Russia.

“I don’t remember a situation when the organizing country during a Paralympics started an intervention on the territory of a country taking part. I don’t know what to extent the team can focus on the result now,” the the AP quoted Valeriy Sushkevich, president of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine, saying to the R-Sport agency.

Sushkevich added that he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to ask for peace during the games. Putin reportedly listened to his case, though he did not guarantee a truce. Sushkevich said Ukraine’s team will leave if the military conflict escalates further.

The International Paralympic Committee has asked Russia to recognize the U.N.’s Olympic Truce, which appeals for ceasefire during the Olympic games. The Ukrainian athletes chanted “peace to Ukraine” during the flag-raising ceremony in Sochi on Thursday night. The incident is now being investigated as a possible breach of Olympic rules that ban political protest.

[AP]

TIME Africa

Ex-Girlfriend Says ‘Blade Runner’ Had a Temper and Loved His Gun

Samantha Taylor says Oscar Pistorius was trigger happy and quick to get angry

+ READ ARTICLE

Oscar Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend said Friday that the Olympian double-amputee known as “Blade Runner” had a temper and was known to fire his gun when angry.

Samantha Taylor testified at Pistorius’ murder trial in South Africa that he was quick to get angry, would frequently scream at her and her family members, and cheated on her multiple times, including with Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he’s accused of murdering. She also said he never went anywhere without his pistol, and recalled at least two occasions when he had drawn or fired his gun out of anger, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Taylor said Pistorius had once fired his pistol out of an open sunroof because he was angry that a policeman had stopped the car and touched the gun. Taylor also described another incident when Pistorius had pulled a gun on a car that was following theirs.

Taylor’s testimony also rebutted one of the defense’s key arguments, that Pistorius sounded like a woman when he screamed. “When he screamed, it sounded like a man,” she said.

Pistorius killed his girlfriend, Steenkamp, very early on Valentine’s Day morning last year. His defense team says the Olympian athlete shot into the bathroom thinking he was shooting an intruder and protecting Steenkamp. The prosecution says Pistorius shot Steenkamp during an argument that was heard by multiple neighbors.

Taylor said that Pistorius did occasionally wake up and think there were intruders in the house, but she said he always woke her up when that happened.

[LAT]

TIME Appreciation

Awesome Dad Builds Fully Functioning Backyard Luge Track For His Kids

A little slice of Sochi, right here in the USA

+ READ ARTICLE

Wanting to bring some of the excitement of the Winter Olympics to his very own backyard, Long Island dad Jay Venini built a luge track for his kids to enjoy. It’s very patriotic and his kids are super into it. Regular old sledding will never be the same again now that we know this exists.

TIME olympics

U.K. Ministers to Boycott Paralympics in Sochi

Sept. 6, 2012 Paralympics - London Great Britain's Sophie Kamlish and Japan's Saki Takakuwa after a race in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London A Steven Paston / Action Images / ZUMAPRESS.com

David Cameron says it would be "wrong" to send officials to Russia at this time of tension over Ukraine

Not even a feel good event like the Paralympics can bridge the widening chasm between Russia and the West. British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted Monday that U.K. ministers would steer clear of the event so long as the host country, Russia, was mobilizing thousands of troops across Ukraine.

“Because of the serious situation in Ukraine,” the tweet read, “@WilliamJHague & I believe it would be wrong for UK Ministers to attend the Sochi Paralympics.”

The New York Times reports that Prince Edward, a patron of the British Paralympic Association, has accordingly canceled a planned visit to Russia “on the advice of the government.”

[New York Times]

TIME olympics

Sochi Bids Farewell to the 2014 Winter Olympics

Athletes, performers and flags mark the pageantry of the closing ceremony

Athletes, performers and flags mark the pageantry of the closing ceremony

TIME olympics

Russia Pokes Fun At Itself By Recreating Olympic Rings Malfunction

Performers recreate the fifth Olympic ring that didn't open in the opening ceremony during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
Performers recreate the fifth Olympic ring that didn't open in the opening ceremony during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. David J. Phillip—AP

In the closing ceremonies, things come full circle

Remember that (kind of hilarious) malfunctionduring the Sochi opening ceremonies when five giant snowflakes transformed into an incomplete set of glowing Olympic rings? Well, the Russians remember it too, and at Sunday’s closing ceremonies, decided to poke fun at themselves for the technical flub.

Following a choreographed routine, performers sporting some exceptionally sparkly get-ups moved into formation to create a giant set of Olympic rings — but deliberately left one ring as a small, disconnected circle. This, of course, was a winking nod to that original fail:

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2014

Paul Drinkwater / NBC / Getty Images

Good job, Russia, for proving you’ve got a sense of humor.

TIME olympics

Must-See Photos from Sochi Olympics: Day 18

Bobsledding, cross-country skiing and more on Sochi's 18th day

TIME olympics

U.S. Fourth In Sochi Gold Medal Count

Total of 28 overall medals is nine fewer than won in Vancouver in 2010

Correction appended 10:16pm

The competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi came to a close Sunday, leaving behind a spate of disappointing defeats and surprising victories in its snow-sprayed wake.

With 13 golds and 33 overall medals, the host nation Russia emerged as the decisive victor of the games. Norway, the skiing king, won 11 gold medals and 26 overall, followed by Canada at 10 gold medals and 25 overall.

It was not a good year for the United States, who placed fourth in gold medals, with nine, and 28 overall medals—nine fewer than the last winter games in Vancouver.

Team USA’s most prominent American Olympians—Shaun White, Bode Miller, Shani Davis—won a total of one bronze medal between them. The Americans won no medals in speedskating for the first time since 1984 and no individual figure skating medals for the first time since 1936. The men’s hockey team, the inheritors of the Miracle on Ice legacy, was outscored by a total of 6-0 in the medal rounds.

(PHOTOS: See the closing ceremonies)

[USA Today]

An earlier version of this article had an inaccurate headline suggesting the U.S. had placed fourth in overall medal count, not in gold medal count.

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