The 2011 Major League Baseball season opened on Friday and with it re-newed hope for Toronto sports fans after a long season of losing for the Raptors and average play from the Maple Leafs. On Friday the fans came out in droves both at the Rogers Centre and on TV to watch the first game of the “new” Jays under manager John Farrell. The game attracted over 1 million viewers nationally on Rogers Sportsnet (all data BBM 2+), with 1.02 million being the exact number. That is about what the Maple Leafs get when they have games air nationally on TSN. It helped the Blue Jays that TSN didn’t have a hockey game on Friday night, making their main competition an all-US MLS match, tennis and Toronto Rock lacrosse. Regardless this is a very impressive number for the Blue Jays, but I don’t think we can expect the numbers to stay that high no matter how well they play. Numbers fell back closer to normal weekend levels on Saturday and Sunday with 732, 000 and 756, 000 tuning in each day. Those numbers are still as good as what we see for non-Leafs games on TSN and the 2nd game of the Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader many weeks.
Sportsnet hasn’t completely re-vamped its Jays coverage in the first year where they have exclusive rights from April through October, but they have made many small, effective changes to improve the coverage. The first is the pregame show Jays Connected, which I am told by Sportsnet will air before every Jays game this season, not just those on the weekend. Jays Connected also has a full-time studio set up at the Rogers Centre, which provides a great backdrop for Jamie Campbell and Gregg Zaun. Friday’s editon of the show attracted 246, 000 viewers. The round-table is also back for weekend games. It continues to be one of the best features on any Canadian sports broadcast.
Buck Martinez has also improved a great deal over the course of a year and should be helped by working a full schedule this year. He will call all except 6 Jays games as he has less TBS commitments this season. Both him and Pat Tabler should be improved because they will be working together a lot more this year than they did last year. Tabler will be the full-time analyst with Rance Mulliniks out of the picture.
Sunday Night Baseball
Aside from the slightly re-vamped Jays on Sportsnet broadcasts, I was excited to see how former Jays broadcaster Dan Shulman would do in his debut on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. I thought he was spectacular. In my opinion he is easily one of the best baseball play-by-play announcers in the business. Orel Hershiser, the lone remnant from last season’s Sunday Night Baseball crew, was amazing as usual. Him and his former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had a great back and forth when ESPN brought Lasorda into the booth for an inning. Shulman also did a great job facilitating the conversation, but not getting in the way. On the other hand, Bobby Valentine did get in the way. While Valentine does have a relationship with Lasorda, there is no story he could tell that would compete with what Bulldog and Tommy went through. This is just an underlying problem compared to the larger problem, which is that Valentine is a terrible analyst and should have never been let anywhere near the Sunday Night booth.
Lots of New Graphics
I don’t remember the start of a season in any sport, especially baseball, where as many networks have updated their graphics package as this year. Here is a quick rundown.
- Rogers Sportsnet has updated everything except their scorebar. I like the new Sportsnet graphics a lot more than their old ones. The scorebar could use an update too. I’d like to see them go to a corner bug like many of the other networks use.
- Fox and FSN have both updated their graphics to reflect the NFL and NASCAR on Fox graphics. I like them a lot better than the old MLB on Fox graphics which were incredibly simple.
- ESPN has a slightly updated graphics package too. I like these graphics a lot more than the ones ESPN used last season, but it seems like they can never find a graphics package and stick with it for any amount of time. The scorebug is too big in my opinion.
- Comcast Sportsnet and WGN have also switched to new graphics packages that include a corner bug instead of a bar. Almost every MLB broadcast has now reverted back to the bug, following the example set by Fox, ESPN, NESN and YES in recent seasons. It seems Fox truly is the trend setter for these issues. They create the “FoxBox”, everyone follows. They start using a bar instead of a bug, everyone follows. Now we are back to the bug.