Tuesday, March 11, 2008

FSN New York is now MSG+

This may be a slight local bias on my part, but since there are three New York City metropolitan area teams that are affected by this, I'd make a mention of it.

As first reported by Long Island Newsday sports columnist Neil Best on February 26th, FSN New York would be changing its network name. As of 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time last night, the cable channel originally known as SportsChannel among long-time viewers was officially re-branded as MSG+.

The first broadcast event under the new name was the NetJets Showdown exhibition tennis match at Madison Square Garden between the recently retired Pete Sampras and the current #1 player in the world four years running in Roger Federer. To no surprise, Al Trautwig was in a primary role for the festivities as host for its local pregame and postgame coverage. The match was also simulcast nationally on The Tennis Channel. Mike Reynolds of Multichannel News reported today that MSG+ pulled in a 1.11 household rating in New York's Designated Market Area (DMA).

Ever since Madison Square Garden Network (primarily known now as simply MSG) lost both the New York Yankees and New York Mets as important teams it covered on its once proud sports empire in the New York City television market, FSN New York had the majority of its programming during the winter season. The Islanders and New Jersey Devils have remained the only mainstays dating back to the SportsChannel days and only since the NHL lockout in 2005 had both teams locked up long-term television contract extensions. During the summer, FSN New York had been nothing more in recent years as just an infomercial and sports re-run channel. Only the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer has rescued the channel from complete abyss from losing any remaining viewers when their games have been aired live.

MSG Network of course has had the higher profile MSG arena tenants in the New York Rangers and New York Knicks with the New York Liberty fulfilling any fan interest to watch professional women's basketball in the summer months. Even though neither the Islanders nor the Devils play at Madison Square Garden (obviously not), the two teams will share MSG+ by name. It will take some time for their fans to get used to it. You'd think they would've by now after recently having either team from time to time be on MSG when they play at the same time or each other.

Imagine trying to identify the name off the tip of your tongue the overflow channel when the Knicks and Rangers both are playing at the same time and when the Devils and Islanders need a channel for their game. MSG+2? MSG2+? A little weird if you ask me. Sounds more like a math equation instead of a network name.

Besides the visual changes such as MSG's graphics making its way onto MSG+ to replace the familiar FSN look also seen on its other affiliates across the United States, MSG+ will provide fans an even more direct opportunity to interact with MSG personalities during live games such e-mailing in questions and feedback. Tonight's Islanders road game against the Tampa Bay Lightning featured the enhanced fan interaction platform.

Speaking of that game, notice it may not have been a coincidence at the time of this network name change, you saw one of the MSG+ personalities and did a double take. Why? As Neil Best reported in today's Long Island Newsday, Islanders ice-level reporter and intermission host Deb Kauffman decided to change her work name to her actual married name. So she will now be known as Deb Placey.

Time will tell if this simple name change from FSN New York to MSG+ will boost viewership with some of MSG's programming and the continued coverage of the Islanders and Devils plus the occasional Rangers game when shoved aside by the floundering Knicks. For those locally that want to watch FSN signature shows such as FSN Final Score and the Best Damn Sports Show Period will still be able to do so.

One problem for MSG. They also cover entertainment events such as music concerts on MSG, NY (formerly MSG Sportsdesk) as a way of reinventing their program format and an attempt to recapture their dwindling audience. Given their direct competition with SportsNet New York (SNY) and even YES Network, the two channels that now broadcast the Mets and Yankees respectively, MSG Network needs all the help it can get to retain hardcore sports fans.

SportsChannel New York had its run from 1976 to 1997. I remember its final few years with New York Giants announcer Bob Papa as the primary host of Game Time as well as the network's final airing of SportsChannel Light on September 28, 1997 featuring host Bremante Bryant. Then the transformation into what ended up as FSN New York with a festive launch party on January 28, 1998 in New York City that showed former mayor Rudolph Giuliani flipping on a symbolic switch in front of News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch. The Devils played in Edmonton that night and were the team to be honored as the first game to be shown under the new network banner.

While MSG Network itself re-launched on October 5, 2006 with their new present-day logo and programming lineup, FSN New York was basically the second class citizen without the Islanders or Devils to broadcast on a quiet night. Now as MSG+, the name alone won't bring in more viewers, quality programming will.

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