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Sports Net launches regional sports report

Sunday, July 02, 2000

News at 11. Film at 11.

Those you are used to.

Are you ready for ... Sports at 11?

It will become part of the Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh nightly routine starting Wednesday. That's when the cable channel launches the "11 p.m. Regional Sports Report" as part of Fox Sports Net's assault against local newscasts and their national competitors, namely ESPN and CNN-SI.

At that late hour, you are used to news, news, news, weather and a wee bit of sports from local television stations. You are used to highlights, highlights, scores, banter and maybe a few seconds about your team from the cable-sports monoliths.


"11 p.m. Regional Sports Report"

When: Every night at 11 beginning Wednesday.

Anchored by: Guy Junker, Rob Nikoleski, Keith Wilson, Stephanie Gabos


The question with this new-fangled sports half hour - actually, it's 22-plus minutes after the standard commercials - is better put: How local can you go?

"It's hard to believe there's a void in the marketplace in anything," said Fox Sports Net vice president Arthur Smith from the company's Hollywood headquarters.

"It really is a new TV frontier," added Jim Rogal, the news manager for the Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh nightly sportscast. "And there aren't many of those new frontiers left." The show will star anchors Guy Junker from "SportsBeat" and newcomer Rob Nikoleski from MSNBC along with reporters Keith Wilson (former Pitt center fielder) and Stephanie Gabos (from Fox Chapel).

Fox Sports Net launched nearly four years ago with the mission statement: Be tribal, be local. The patchwork quilt of cable affiliates already owned or snapped up broadcasting rights to major-league baseball, NHL and NBA teams in their markets, including the Pirates and Penguins here. In all, the Fox cable guys blanketed the TV with more than 400 pro-sports telecasts per year.

Starting June 14 on Fox Sports Net Northwest (Seattle) and a week later on Fox Sports Net Detroit, the suits at Hollywood HQ commenced plugging in local sportscasts that better segue from those home-team broadcasts and into Fox Sports Net's "National Sports Report" with Keith Olbermann, Chris Myers and folks - although ESPN's "SportsCenter" still holds the franchise lead in such coast-to-coast highlights shows.

This pinpoint, localized strategy was, as Smith called it, "part of our destiny" from the network's 1996 launch. Throughout the spring, both the Hollywood bosses and the regional affiliates began hiring a workforce that Fox folks contend is the largest news-gathering group in American TV. By July's end, 16 of the network's 21 affiliates each will light up its own "Regional Sports Report." For the time being, Rogal and the crew at Allegheny Center will also oversee the nightly sportscast for Fox Sports Net Midwest, although reporters in St. Louis, Kansas City and Indianapolis will feed stories to the Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh hub.

Pittsburgh's sportscast figures to be recognizably provincial. Rogal, a WQED-type the previous dozen years and a "This Week In Baseball" producer before that, is planning for e-mailers to ask questions through a Web site, possibly sportsnat.com (as in, sports 'n at) or heyyounzguys.com. He is planning for two Stan Savran editorials a week, features, in-depth stories and an overall sportscast that is conversational, analytical, opinionated and emotional. Even their abbreviated national roundups will have a local edge: how certain outcomes impact the Pirates', Steelers' or Penguins' divisions, and so on.

"Scores and highlights - you can get that anywhere," Rogal said. "The whole idea here is to be involved. It's 'SportsBeat' juiced up. What better town to be in for this than Pittsburgh?"

"You'll find our content, our tone, very different from the other eight or nine [news and sports] shows on at that time of night," added Milt Weiss, the executive producer and veteran newsman whom Fox Sports Net hired to light the booster under this "Regional Sports Report" rocket. "Obviously, there will be coverage of professional teams and Division I, but Division II and III as well. If I'm in Pittsburgh, and it's high-school football season, an awful lot of people care about what's going on there. With the half hour, the problem isn't how we fill it; it's what we leave out."

With the growth of ESPN's "SportsCenter" and cable sports, most local newscasts cut back their sports allotment to three minutes or so during the 11 p.m. newscast. Fox Sports Net aims to pull viewers away from those TV sources.

"Newscasts have gotten a lot less relevant to people. They've gotten sensationalistic," Weiss said. "There are a lot of people turning away in great numbers from the late newscasts, or catching it at 10 o'clock. We don't want you to turn out the lights, having been inundated with horrific stories you can't control, you can't change, leaving you feeling really lousy. We're not going to take five minutes to tell you about the dangers of drinking iced tea in your favorite restaurant, and promote the hell out of it."

No, they're going to tell you about local sports, local sports, local sports.

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