Section: Sports,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, July 29, 2011

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Imagine Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff inviting three New York Giants beat writers into a meeting room and asking them to evaluate the team's performance, everything from play-calling to roster moves to player performance.

In a sense, ESPN gave me and two colleagues that opportunity Thursday afternoon at the network headquarters.

The session was off the record, so don't look for any details of our discussion here. We were, as a partial thanks for giving the network input on their game and studio production, granted a half-hour of on-the-record time with Norby Williamson, the network's executive senior vice president of studio and event production.

So the three of us -- reporter Rachel Cohen of the Associated Press and blogger Ken Fang of were the others -- sought insight from Williamson on several fronts:

On whether there is too much Yankees-Red Sox:

Williamson: "We hear 'East Coast bias' a lot. The facts don't bear that out. A Yankees-Red Sox game on 'Sunday Night Baseball' outrates on the West Coast more than a Dodgers-Angels game. We get dinged for being East Coast bias because we happen to be on the East Coast."

On "The Decision," last summer's one-hour show in which LeBron James announced his NBA future:

"We learned a lot of things. I don't want to relive the X and Y, but the timing of it, participants in the show, some of the positioning of it early on, about the one hour, yeah, you learn things from that. But look, ultimately, a huge amount of people watched that, and we were the destination place. People came to ESPN to hear where he was going to."

On complaints about the network:

"I don't think we're sensitive (to criticism). We look at it as an opportunity to get better. If you're looking for me to say, 'We're ESPN and we do everything right,' you're not going to hear that. We do more than anybody else, we're in the sports business full-time, and we make more mistakes than anyone else.

"The ultimate mission is to service sports fans, and you do that by driving the biggest amount of numbers you can, for giving people what they want."

On ESPN's multi-platform mission:

"You've got to fish where the fish are. Everyone's portability has changed. It used to be you had to be in front of your TV. Now you don't. I can be at my kid's Little League game -- although this is not good parenting -- and on my iPhone watching the game that I'm potentially missing or see updated scores on college football Saturday or NFL Sunday. I'm not tied to my home and tied to my TV. Usage and consumption of the industry that we're in, of the events that we cover, when you roll the digital age and everything else, are at unprecedented levels."

On taking sports events off ABC and moving them to ESPN:

"We are a sports network all the time. ABC is a valuable part of the company (with) our commitment to college football. The Little League World Series championship will be on ABC. We'll do some NASCAR events on ABC. The Indy 500 is on ABC. But we have the flexibility (on ESPN) to do more hours.

"Would you rather have on ESPN 12 hours of British Open, or, because of some other constraint the ABC network has, six hours of the British Open. To me, it's an easy decision."

Pete Dougherty is the Times Union's sports TV/radio columnist. Reach him at 454-5416 or Visit the sports media blog at For more on the interview with Williamson, go to

Sound bytes

1Please explain why the national networks are so fascinated by the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry. The Cards have underachieved, and the Cubs haven't been good since Steve Bartman attended games, yet both Fox and ESPN have the matchup in their weekend lineups. (Fox has it as a regional game to 50 percent of the country, but the network is gracing the Capital Region with Tampa Bay at Seattle.)

2It's hard to believe that the Dallas Cowboys, 6-10 last season, weren't scheduled for a national telecast in preseason until NBC added their Aug. 21 home game with the San Diego Chargers. There are 11 nationally televised game involving 22 different teams, but the Cowboys were added only after the NFL canceled the Bears-Rams Hall of Fame game.

3Speaking of the NFL, WNYT (NewsChannel 13) plans to have three of the four Giants exhibition games (the other is a national telecast on ESPN). No word on whether there will be a local carrier for the Jets' preseason schedule.Weekend's best

Friday, 8 p.m.: Major-league baseball, Boston at Chicago White Sox (MLB Network). If the teams washed their uniforms together, would they get pink socks?

Saturday, 5 p.m.: Horse racing, The Diana, Jim Dandy (Versus). Saratoga fans who don't watch the NHL will have to figure out where Versus is on the dial.

Sunday, 1 p.m.: Auto racing, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Brickyard 400 (ESPN). The four-letter network takes race fans down the stretch of the schedule.

Sunday, 5 p.m.: Horse racing, Haskell Invitational (ABC-10, MSG+). No, this isn't a "Leave It To Beaver" reunion.

Monday, 8 p.m.: Major-league baseball, N.Y. Yankees at Chicago White Sox (YES). Yankee fans may soon have their fill of Phil (Hughes).


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