Professionalism And Pain: Bob Miller, Jim Fox Forced To Be Healthy Scratches During Most Of LA Kings Playoff Run
October 12, 2012 12 Comments
FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: As so many who follow the Los Angeles Kings are very much aware, their award-winning, highly-acclaimed television broadcasters, Bob Miller and Jim Fox, were forced out of the broadcast booth after Game 5 of the 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinals with NBC having exclusive rights to televise NHL playoff games from the second round on. In the tenth installment of a series featuring the Kings’ long-time broadcasters, Miller and Fox talk about what it was like to watch most of the Kings’ magical run to the Stanley Cup from a perspective that was completely different from what they’re used to.
LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — The complaints were loud and clear, and very, very frequent, especially once the Los Angeles Kings reached the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Kings fans wanted to see and hear their long-time television broadcasters, Bob Miller and Jim Fox, who were unable to broadcast games after the first round of the playoffs.
Miller, the 39-season Voice of the Kings, who was the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in 2000, making him a media honoree in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Fox, who has partnered with Miller for 22 seasons, were forced out of the broadcast booth because NBC’s contract with the National Hockey League gives them exclusive broadcast rights beginning with the second round of the playoffs, a fact that many fans were not aware of, or did not understand.
Miller and Fox knew, but that did not make it any easier.
“We knew it was going to happen, and we’re not the first guys it’s happened to,” Miller told Frozen Royalty in an exclusive interview. “It’s happened to everybody the last several years, but it really was disappointing.”
“I told people, ‘52 years ago, when I started, I would get a tape recorder, sit in the stands, and see if I could do play-by-play,’” Miller added. “52 years later, I’m sitting, technically, in the stands, taping Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, so I’ve gone full circle now.”
Miller and Fox recorded a call of the deciding Game 6, something that probably wouldn’t have happened if not for long-time Kings fan Mel Powell of Sherman Oaks, California, who has followed the Kings religiously since the early 70’s, just before Miller joined the team.
“Mel’s the one who came up with, ‘why don’t you and Foxy record the clinching game, and see if we can get a copy,” said Miller.
Powell, 48, sent Miller an e-mail prior to the Stanley Cup Final with the idea.
“He came up with that,” Miller noted. “He’s been such a long-time fan.”
That highly anticipated call is now available on a DVD, which was included with the first 10,000 copies of The Official Story Of The 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, a commemorative book that just started arriving at the doorsteps of fans on October 11. The call of the game by Kings radio broadcasters Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans was also synchronized with the video of the NBC broadcast, and is included on the DVD.
Prior to recording calls of the potential clinching games (Games 4, 5 and 6), Miller and Fox were gutting it out on the sidelines, so to speak.
“It was really tough to not do the games, it really was,” Miller lamented. “At least we were involved in the post-game shows [on Fox Sports West], which softened it a little bit. But it was weird for me, not preparing for a telecast in these important games.”
As reported earlier, both Fox and Miller were well aware that they would be unable to work the playoff games after the first round, and they acknowledged the complaints by fans about the situation. But they were also quick to point out that it is not just the NHL that has granted exclusive television rights to their playoffs.
“We knew well ahead of time that we weren’t going to be able to do it,” Fox told Frozen Royalty in an exclusive interview. “It’s in the contract. It’s no different from any other [major professional sport in the United States]. It’s not just an NHL thing. In all honestly, it’s because we hadn’t gone that far that a lot of people didn’t realize those were the rules.”
“It’s not only hockey,” Miller noted. “It’s that way in the NBA, in football, and everything. The Super Bowl…the guys doing the TV for those teams, they’re not [broadcasting the game]. That’s the way it goes.”
“I don’t say that it doesn’t bother me,” Miller added. “It disappointed me when it was going on, but I realized that that’s what was going to happen.”
Miller and Fox kept themselves busy by doing every interview they could on radio, television news shows, the NHL Network, and more. As mentioned earlier, they also hosted a post-game show after each game, starting in the second round.
But it just wasn’t the same.
“The weird thing was to go up and sit in a seat in the press box, and not be in the TV booth during the game, making notes about, ‘OK, first period, this happened,’ because I know that all we’re going to talk about in the post-game show was what happened [throughout the game, in an overview],” Miller explained. “We’re not doing any pre-game, or anything like that. So it was tough, especially that last night, and we ran down to do the post-game, not knowing we weren’t going to go on [until] two hours [after the game ended] and leaving [to record the post-game show] when all that celebrating was going on out on the ice, while we’re going to sit outside.”
“As [the playoffs] went along, I got used to it,” Miller elaborated. “I don’t know if I should say I got used to it. I still hated not doing the games. It’s funny, because we did three of [games during the Stanley Cup Final], Jimmy and I, on tape. We did Games 4, 5 and 6. We lost [Games] 4 and 5, so I’m coming in for Game 6, and I see [former Kings television broadcast producer] Bob Borgen. He says to me, ‘what’s your record now that you’ve been doing these games?’ I said ‘after tonight, 1-2.’”
As Miller and Fox did everything but broadcast the games, their radio counterparts, who continued to work throughout the playoffs, noted the professionalism that Miller and Fox displayed throughout their ordeal.
They also recognized the pain.
“You’d like to have been able to see them do the job that they’ve done over all the years, all the way through,” said Evans, the Kings’ radio color commentator for 13 seasons. “It’s an unfortunate thing, what dictates the way things go these days. There isn’t anyone who felt more pain than those guys.”
“I can only imagine if I was in their shoes, I would be very disappointed,” said Nickson, the Kings’ radio play-by-play announcer who has been with the team since 1981. “We know what the NHL television deal is. Everybody knows what it is going into the season. Once you go past the first round [local] TV is not working. That still doesn’t make it any easier to take, if you’ve been following the team throughout the season, doing almost every game on TV, and, in Bob’s case, doing almost every game for 39 years. As [Kings captain] Dustin Brown so aptly put it at the [Stanley Cup Championship] rally [at Staples Center on June 14, 2012], the only thing that would’ve made [winning the Stanley Cup] perfect would’ve been if Bob and Jim could’ve [broadcast] the games on the TV side as well.”
“Bob and Jim were around all the time, traveling with the team, being at all the events, and doing what they did—pre-game and post-game, that kind of stuff,” Evans noted. “It was still very special for them. They’re both true professionals, and they have so many years of experience between them. Sure, they would’ve liked to have made the call live. But I think they still feel as much a part of it as anyone.”
To illustrate, Fox kept himself more than busy, despite being kept out of the broadcast booth.
“I did more work in the playoffs than I [would have] if I was broadcasting,” said Fox. “I was doing in-game chats on LAKings.com, I was doing post-game shows on Fox [Sports West], during the Finals, I was doing radio with [KLAC-AM 570’s] Petros and Money on game days at Staples Center. I did more radio and TV interviews than ever before. I did more work not being on television—and that’s not a lie, because I would’ve focused on the game prep.”
Instead of brooding about his situation, Fox turned it into an opportunity.
“I was working my butt off, too, because you’ve got to take advantage of it,” he stressed. “I’ve been here long enough to know that if someone’s going to call me for an interview—the LA Kings, who, in the past, weren’t necessarily at the top of the list, but we were, for two weeks, at least, after the Lakers and Clippers [were eliminated from the NBA playoffs], you’ve got to take advantage of that, and I felt a part of that. As a representative of the team, people were calling me to talk about the Kings, and I did everything I could.”
“You’ve got to take advantage of it because we’ve struggled a lot here,” he added. “We’ve gone through some down times. We’ve gone through some times where the franchise isn’t as popular as it is now, so when it happens, make sure you take advantage of it. Hopefully, that will [help] build an even stronger foundation for our franchise. With the youth of the team, and the [entire] roster coming back, I think they’re going to be contenders for a period of time.”
In spite of all that, fans here in the Los Angeles area were deprived of their beloved television announcers, and they made their feelings known, whether it was complaints sent to the NHL and NBC, or posted on the various social media outlets and web sites.
“You get used to listening to and watching your own guys,” Evans observed. “Bob and Jim, and Nick and myself, we don’t favor our team. We just deliver the game the way we see it, and I think that’s one of the things the fans most appreciate. We all want to see the Kings do well, without a doubt, but not to the point where we’re seeing a different game.”
Fox emphasized, in a very self-deprecating way, that the majority of the fan sentiment regarding not being able to hear Miller and Fox call the games on television was focused on his broadcast partner.
“I consider myself a huge part of this organization, but I know most of that sentiment was [about] Bob,” said Fox. “He’s been here longer than anyone, so I understand that part—and it should [be about Bob]. I’m part of it. It made me feel part of it, when I heard fans say that they were upset that we weren’t able to [broadcast the games].”
“It wasn’t as much flattering as it was feeling a part of it, making me feel part of the moment,” added Fox. “The fans made me feel part of it, because they would say, ‘jeez, sorry you and Bob can’t do it.’ That was so nice to hear. But the economics—it’s not going to happen.”
“Those are the games where the network makes their money, and this is one of the most lucrative TV deals that the NHL has ever had,” said Nickson. “If money is going to talk, then you’ve got to allow the networks to do their thing. What if it had been the New York Rangers and the Kings in the Finals, the two biggest media markets in the country? That is where NBC [would make] a ton of money on the Stanley Cup Final, by having the exclusivity.”
“[On the other hand], if the local broadcaster gets to [televise] the games, everybody in LA is going to watch Bob and Jim, and not NBC, and everybody in New York is going to watch MSG, and not NBC, so where does NBC make any money,” added Nickson. “It’s a multi-billion dollar deal that the NHL feels is best for their member clubs. That’s the good part of it. The bad part is what Bob and Jim had to go through by being [part of] a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final.”
Fox shared a virtually identical view.
“Whether we like it or not, like any other—and I’m all for this, as a capitalist, money is important,” Fox noted. “It’s a professional sport. People need to be compensated. It’s got to be high on your list, and when NBC steps up, and pays the money they did, they asked for certain things, and one of those things is exclusivity. When a national network gives you a ton of money, you’ve got to give them things back in return.”
“Does it hurt the local market? Yes, it does, because there’s a loyalty there,” Fox added. “Bob has built up a long-time loyalty. I’m a part of that now for 22 years. I’ve heard from many fans, and I love to hear it. That’s where it hurts, because you don’t get to enjoy the success part with the people you went through it with all year long. But I don’t see them changing, and I think that talking about changing it, if everything operates the way it is now, if a salary cap is going to be involved, and if it’s a $3 billion sport, it’s not going to change.”
Miller added some historical context to the issue.
“In 1993, we got to do all the games, all the way through the Finals,” he said. “I think, and this is my opinion, in 1993, ESPN had the [Stanley Cup Final], and they blacked them out in L.A. because we were on. In 1994, the Rangers [were in the Finals], and they blacked [ESPN] out in New York because of the Rangers telecasts. I think, the next time the contract came up, and it might’ve been after that season, [the thought was], ‘we’re no longer going to get shut out of the [top two] markets in the country, so we want exclusivity,’ and they got it.”
But that didn’t stifle some wishful thinking.
“What I’d like to see, and I don’t think it’ll happen, because they pay too much for the rights, but in the Finals, go head-to-head,” Miller suggested. “Don’t black’em out in L.A. Let us do it, let them do it. No blackouts.”
Evans offered another idea.
“When you get to the [Stanley Cup Final], have the home team’s announcers do the games,” said Evans. “That way, they’re still involved, and the fans are still getting that [local] touch. No discredit to any of the neutral people who are doing the games, but I think it would be a nice pat on the back.”
“[NBC play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick] is a class act,” Evans added. “He used to work for New Jersey, but that’s got nothing to do with it. He does an unbelievable job. That might be one way of bringing them into it.”
Miller had some thoughts on that possible scenario as well.
“They used to do that in baseball,” said Miller. “If the [Detroit] Tigers were playing the Braves, you got to hear the announcers for those teams. I thought it was great to hear Ernie Harwell in Detroit, or Milo Hamilton in Atlanta.”
But Miller knows nothing will change, and not just because of the money involved.
“I think the networks are always afraid of somebody being too much of a homer,” he noted. “But they get that now, anyway, because [for example], Emrick did the play-by-play for the New Jersey Devils [prior to the 2011-12 season], so [the fans accuse him of favoring] New Jersey. That’s always going to happen. I think they feel if you have [the announcers from the teams] that’s really going to be magnified.”
Whatever you do, do not hold your breathe waiting for NBC and the NHL to implement either of those suggestions, let alone pay any attention to them at all.
“I’m proud to be [partnered with Miller], for sure,” said Fox. “But [going back to a non-exclusive national television contract is] not going to happen. It can’t happen if we want this sport to be a $3 billion industry.”
“If you want thirty viable teams, which we’re struggling to [have] right now—we want all those things,” added Fox. “If you want teams to be able to come into Staples Center to play the Los Angeles Kings, then you need a strong, national TV contract, and strong means money, and money means exclusivity.”
“It’s all about money,” said Evans. “Money dictates everything.”
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- Frozen Royalty Audio: Exclusive Interviews with Bob Miller, Jim Fox, Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans
Los Angeles Dodgers Play-By-Play Announcer Vin Scully Surprises Bob Miller on ESPN Radio Los Angeles – Mason and Ireland, June 12, 2012
Click on the arrow to listen (46:20)
Montage Of Nick Nickson’s Calls During Deciding Game 6 Of Stanley Cup Finals (including end of the game; 1:22)
Audio courtesy of Nick Nickson
Miller & Fox – Unseen Playoff Footage (Game 5 at New Jersey)
In The Booth With Miller & Fox – Goal 1
Used with permission.
In The Booth With Miller & Fox – Goal 2
Used with permission
In The Booth With Nickson & Evans – Goal 2
Used with permission.
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