Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reflecting on 25 Years of Las Vegas TV Sports Coverage

The news was not unexpected, but still mildly painful.

The TV station where I had anchored sports and news for 25 years was dropping its sports department. Anchors will now read the sports with the same passion they do a hatchet murder, or a panda being born at the local zoo, and the viewers will get used to it (please pronounce Mark Teixeira's name right.) Perhaps they will.

Certainly, media is changing and some have called this a trend in the business. Consultants (who are usually failed news directors) have told us for years they want to attract females and since they believe women do not like sports, they must lessen the importance of sports, or kill it altogether. You could argue against that premise (which I did) until you were Dodger Blue in the face, but you would never win that argument and eventually management will find somebody who would just shut up and fill the three-minute segment (cut to 2:30 if weather went long.)

The news of removing the sports department did cause me to reflect on more than 2 decades of covering sports in Las Vegas and developing a bond with this community that will never be broken. It's been 4 years since I've done full time news on TV, but I still have people come up to me and think I'm the sports guy. "Hey, good job last night on the sports." I usually smile and say thanks.

I feel fortunate to have covered big-time sports during some great times in Las Vegas. I covered the careers of Randall Cunningham, Andre Agassi, Greg Maddux, Mike Tyson and many others. There were the great boxing events with Hagler, Hearns, Leonard, and Duran. I got to cover the rise of NASCAR and the UFC in Las Vegas, and was green-side for Tiger Woods' first win on the PGA Tour. The first month I was in Las Vegas I covered Kareem Abdul Jabbar setting the all-time NBA scoring record at the Thomas and Mack. Whew! Nice way to break-in back in April 1984. I was no Hunter S. Thompson, but covering the Mint 400 in the glory days of off-road racing was a dirty job long before the days of "Dirty Jobs." I was fortunate to cover World Series', Super Bowls, and NBA Finals.

Certainly, the rise and fall of UNLV basketball was a story that few got to report on up-close. 3 Final Fours in 5 years and then the internal struggle where a university president worked covertly to use the media to remove a coach (Jerry Tarkanian) because he did not have the courage to fire him. Who can forget "Cam Scam" when university officials put a camera in an air conditioning duct in the North Gym to try to catch a violation? I am most proud of covering this story straight up and honestly and my commentaries have stood the test of time. Nothing united this community more than Rebel Basketball, nothing tore it apart worse than the subsequent battles. Those were big, historic stories from 20 years ago that are still being talked about today. Often sports was called upon to lead newscasts because the stories were that big.

What I enjoyed most was the time I spent at local high schools and ball fields covering the youth of this valley and getting to know them through their sports exploits. Sure, it was fun interviewing future NFL star Steven Jackson as he barreled over opponents at Eldorado High, but doing the first, and likely the only interview ever with a Bonanza High tennis player was always rewarding. My former station let me cover grass-roots local sports unlike any other station in town and I will always appreciate that and it had great rewards.

Occasionally we did some serious journalism. There was the time a UNLV Athletic Director was using racist talk in open staff meetings. I uncovered the story and "broke" the story. Other media outlets followed but we reported this story first and did it under the risk of legal action. We were right and we broke a story that needed to be told. 

We made a lot of money with our sports department. I was trusted to produce and host hour-long shows that were highly profitable. We did NASCAR and IRL race shows, Thunder hockey shows, UNLV shows and there was the local sports show we did for 5 years following Monday Night Football, titled Monday Night Quarterback. How about this show from the late 80's that we did from Hawaii introducing a UNLV basketball team in embryo that would later win a National Championship?Aloha Rebels. These were the combined efforts of a lot of people who had passion in the projects. They were a lot of work, and a lot of fun and I believe were the essence of what a good sports department does.

What the future brings with local TV sports is hard to say. If media is one thing, it is chaning. UNLV basketball is making a comeback and Dave Rice is on his way to returning this program to national prominence. Las Vegas will have a major league professional sports team before this decade is out and viewers will want to hear from somebody who knows these sports. I thank my former station for giving me the resources and trusting me to cover sports as it deserved to be. It's also my opinion local TV news viewers (male and female) will seek stations that give them sports with flair, fun and accuracy. I'm guessing consultants don't want to hear me say that anymore.  

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