Sunday, January 16, 2011

Newsday: The Big Chill? Old News Served Cold

How can a main stream media outlet (Newsday), owned by the same conglomerate that owns a rival team in the same marketplace, be fair and unbiased? This is the same conglomerate that relegates the broadcasts of this rival team’s games to lower-tier, non-HD stations and refuses to offer the HD signal to other providers such as Fios and Direct-TV. The Islanders fans are being held hostage by the Cablevision Corporation and perpetually fed the same dismal message: “the Mighty have fallen.” Old news was again rehashed today and was featured on the cover of the Sunday paper with the tag line “Only In Newsday.” They forgot the “again.”

The 1,680 word article written by Jim Baumbach, Newsday’s former Yankee’s beat writer and Randi F. Marshall, Newsday reporter who covers much of the local politics includes a two-page spread graphic depicting average game attendance figures prominently on the Newsday’s inside cover and page 2; real estate usually reserved for top stories of crime and politics. (Wait, in Nassau County, what has happened to the Islanders DOES fall under both, Okay.)

I agree, the attendance figures are bleak, but are they somewhat misleading or incomplete? So far this season the NY Islanders average attendance is 9,843 in an arena that holds over 16,000. Next to that figure is the NY Rangers attendance average for the same period at 18,028 and the League wide average of 16,844. Yes, there is a drastic disparity between the Isles and the Rangers. However, does the article indicate that the Rangers are not at the top of the league figures? No, they are 14th, middle of the pack of 30. (Actually, intelligently, the NY Rangers are not mentioned in the context of the article, only the 38 point type graphic.)

How about the other tri-state area rival, the NJ Devils, whose broadcasts are also carried on Cablevision owned MSG Networks? Why aren’t they mentioned in the graphic? The NJ Devils play in a new, state-of-the-art arena only a train ride away from our own marketplace. Their attendance record average is 14,204 placing them 26th in the league of 30.

Nowhere is the state of the local economy (which is pitiful) identified as a possible effect on the attendance. In November 2010 the unemployment rate in Nassau was 7% and in Suffolk it was 7.4%. Taxes, gas prices, holiday spending are all economic factors which play a part in attendance figures at entertainment venues. None of these are mentioned in the article.

Personally, I also have a problem with Baumbach and Marshall’s explanation of the Islanders radio deal with Hofstra University. Key information is left out of the article. Most glaringly is that veteran and respected radio broadcast play-by-play announcer, Chris King, runs those broadcasts with the students. Also missing is the information regarding the strength of the Hofstra radio signal in the Islanders home area and the quality of the production as compared to the previous radio deal. As Chris King has said to me on numerous occasions, “The only ones who complain about the broadcast are those who haven’t listened to it.”

The Hofstra Radio broadcasts are web-streamed on both the Hofstra website (all games) as well as satellite radio’s NHL Home Ice (Islander home games). The league seems to have no problem with the broadcasts. Neither does anyone who has actually listened to them.

The article rehashes the troubles with Nassau County politics and the stalemate on the Lighthouse Project which would have guaranteed the NY Islanders presence on Long Island for decades to come. Newsday covered the topic ad nauseam during the time of public hearings and rallies. Occasionally, they got much of it wrong and were perpetually called out by bloggers who took pride in providing accuracy. Something the reporter assigned to the topic (who now works for a local political organization) didn’t seem to.

The recent Town of Hempstead Supervisor election sealed the fate of the project when Kate Murray easily beat the pregnant candidate the Democratic party positioned against her. The County Executive election threw a wrench in Lighthouse gears as well when Republican Ed Mangano replaced Lighthouse pro-ponent Tom Suozzi. While the town Supervisor and County Executive are now both in the same party, they are worlds apart in their views of how to fix the ailing Nassau economy.

Yes, this does leave the fate of the once proud hockey team in limbo when the lease with the cash-strapped county runs out in 2015. The article did bolstered the argument that top NHL talent chooses not to sign with the club due to the lease situation and viability of the current arena. Although some fans who read the article didn’t think Paul Martin was the BEST example to use. But let’s go back to the attendance woes, shall we?

If Newsday wants to discuss the lower attendance at the Coliseum, they should own up and take some responsibility for it. As an XM subscriber, I was listening to a radio show one day in December as I was driving home. One of my favorite veteran hockey writers, Adam Proteau from The Hockey News, was doing his weekly show. He said something that was so profound to me that I had to pull over to record it before it flew out of my head. I barked into my digital recorder trying to remember verbatim what I had heard, “According to Adam Proteau, one of the functions the media serves is helping the team sell tickets.” WHAT’S THAT YOU SAY?? Please read it again to yourself.

Every season, while the Islanders spend the bulk of their advertising budget feeding the Cablevision machine, has Newsday ever “helped” them sell tickets? In this fan’s estimation, they have done nothing but help keep fans away.

Certainly they must report the quality of on-ice play and the harsh reality of wins and losses. But the perpetual harping on attendance and other non-ice-related topics gives fans the impression they should not WANT to attend Islander games. No, they will watch on TV and give MSG Plus-Plus higher ratings. Actually, I do believe the last reports for ratings had Cablevision owned broadcast stations MSG Plus and MSG Plus Plus having their highest viewer numbers ever -- for Islander games. The increase was in the double digit range.

Cablevision uses those ratings statistics to bolster their carriage fees to other signal providers such as Fios and Direct TV. See where I’m going with this? But there is more. Perhaps another underlying reason for this article to appear now on the cover of the Sunday paper while the Jets are facing the Pats. I went looking to my original fan sand-box, New York Islander Country message board to see what they had to say about it. It was interesting to see that the administrator of the board, Nick, who goes by the name Webb20, posted the following:

This article sounds like it was initiated by Mr. Dolan. Isles playing well, let's run our monthly article on how poor a franchise they have over there and plaster it on Page 1. That should squash any recent hopes of Islander fans. Next month we'll get a similar article. It's not to say that most of this is true, but it is also well known and documented and didn't need a front page story to tell us attendance sucks, our team is lost and out of it, our building is old, and our team is poorly run. Newsday just likes to make sure we don't forget.

When I asked him if I could use that post for this article, he gave me an even better quote.

It's free advertising disguised as news, sounds factual yet it's nothing more than a "Potvin Sucks" on a corporate level.

No one disputes the Islanders have a multitude of problems on and off the ice. Most don’t dispute that they are losing money and even billionaire Charles Wang can’t fund the team forever. Media and fans alike often take issue with how the Islanders operate, but hey -- It’s Charles Wang’s dime, or should I say his estimated $4.5 Million per year, and he can chose how he wants to lose it.

But you have to appreciate the quote attributed to Mr. Wang in the Newsday article. (Lifted, I believe, from his interview with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the NHL Hour XM radio show.)

“Given the circumstances, given the constraints, we’re still doing the best we can,” he said. “I love the sport. I’m identified with the team. I poured a lot of resources into it, and I will continue to do that to make it the best I can. Am I going to get it right every time? No. But do we have a plan? Yes.”

While we don’t exactly know what Mr. Wang’s “plan” actually is, we do know what Garth Snow’s on-ice “plan” continues to be: Develope through youth and deal with the set-backs that accompany that plan.

For years, die-hard Islander fans complained that the previous GM gave up too soon on young talent or drafted poorly. (Do NOT mention the words “Chara” or “Parise” to an Islander fan unless you have an hour to spend listening to “effing“ Milbury stories.) “Home-grown” was not a term that Mike Milbury was allowed to use under the ownership that employed him.

It was also not one he used when Charles Wang purchased the team, and kept Milbury in the GM position. Instead, he chose to look for high-priced, established NHL talent to bring a degree of respectability to the struggling franchise. “Quick fix” was the Islander motto.

That plan worked for the short term, but back-fired in the long term as the extensive contract of Alexei Yashin is still being paid out while he skates in Russia. So the team that was chastised for not having a viable farm system to feed the NHL roster is now stocking that system with high-level talent and they are STILL being chastised.

The on-ice “plan” remains intact. The problem is that injuries have disrupted it. As also reported in this three page Newsday expose, Garth Snow is quoted (lifted from a 12/21/10 Newsday video interview) as saying

“ Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to see the team that we assembled.”

Ain’t that the truth?

Good teams find ways to win and the Islanders have had their highs and lows in that department so far this season. Here at the mid-way point, a huge losing streak has been followed by short spurts of beating the best teams in the league. This does show that there really is light at the end of the tunnel.

Hopefully, the constant bashing the Islanders receive in the press won’t turn away the casual fan so much that they won’t be able to see it’s flickering glow. Yes, winning cures everything.

By the way, the Islanders won again on Saturday night as Rick DiPietro turned away 40 shots from the Buffalo Sabres. John Tavares scored his second hat-trick this season and Blake Comeau scored his fifth goal in sixth games. Yes, that information is also in today’s Newsday. You’ll find it in Katie Strang’s article on page A64; the place where most Long Islanders who don’t have an interest in hockey will not venture.

So, thanks again Newsday, owned by Cablevision who also owns MSG, News12 and THE EFFING NEW YORK RANGERS for prominent coverage of the Islanders on pages 2 & 3 of your Sunday edition. You ruined my breakfast.


Unknown said...

Bravo. You said everything that needed to be said.

TheBard said...


TheMetalChick said...

Excellent, Dee!

Michael said...

7% unemployment is bad? Try Detroit. Areas are still double that amount. They still do far better in attendance. I suggest checking into Pittsburgh's '03. '04. And '06 seasons as a better comparison to a team with an AHL roster purposely tanking it, bad arena facility in tow.

Anonymous said...

Nice job Dee! Well put.

LJA said...

You're just a pom pom girl who has no idea of reality. Keep drinking the Kool aid so you can keep your blog box and your interviews with Garth.
This article was written like child taking her ball and going home.

7th Woman said...

hey LJA, something tells me you and I have tangled before. but that's okay, you have every right to your opinion, even if it does not agree with mine. I believe in what I said here and it took me a long time to formulate it. If that makes me a kool-aide drinker, not a problem. I made what I believed to be an intelligent argument here. You chose to just insult me. In all honesty, I think I win. Thanks for stopping by.

LJA said...

This is the first time I've been on this site so we've never "tangled" before. You make a great argument but to me it seems no different than the JFK conspiracy.
Do you realize that the Islander ills begin and end with Charles Wang?
I know it's not politically correct for you to say anything bad about the man in order to keep your gig but what about this don't you see?
The Isles blame everything on their lease and arena. That is not the problem, the problem is a true lack of commitment with Wang.
In order to make money you need to spend it and I don't think Chuck gets it.
I didn't come by to insult you but I stand by my comment of a child going home with the ball after you state "I win". I mean come on!

7th Woman said...

Sorry, I guess I've heard the same from so many commentors that I figure it's one of my HB buddies.

A lack of committment? Would anyone else lose as much money over a period of years as Wang has? Or be prepared to?

Look, I've come out a few times in disagreement with how things have been done. I complained about the ticket pricing increase and various other moves they made.

But in the long run, they are willing to spend money if it is going to HELP the team. And that I believe.

I was not reacting as a child with a ball. I'm reacting as a fan who is tired of the only newspaper in town's perpetual poking.

I am still a fan first. A hockey fan. An Islander fan.

Tony said...

Nice Dee!

Anonymous said...

Everytime you defend the crappy radio deal and Wang you lose more credibility. For you to even attempt to defend the attendance is ridiculous. It's funny to see a NYI propoganda type accuse Dolan/Newsday of being a NYR propoganda type. NYI sucks all on their matter who you compare them to. You're just a sycophant.

7th Woman said...

Dear anonymous: A few things.
I wasn't defending the attendance, I was qualifying it. Second, the radio deal is not a bad one. It is actually better than the one with the previous station where the TV audio was simulcast and Chris King didn't get much air time. And lastly, if you want to insult me, try using your own name. I use mine. Have the balls to use yours. Then we can talk about credibiity.

isles1 said...

You think that the last Anonynous commentor is a blind Ranger fan? Geez, go away with your rediculous comments. You're clueless. If you don't see at least some validity to what Dee is trying to say, you're kidding yourself.

Well written Dee....