Outdated, out of touch, and seemingly out of ideas, ROOT Sports Northwest is quickly becoming the Aurora Mall of local sports television. Those of you in your late-twenties or older may remember Aurora Mall, a once-proud shopping center in North Seattle that was razed in the early-nineties in favor of a Costco, a Home Depot, and a handful of smaller storefronts. The mall fell victim to a lack of tenants, a lack of shoppers, and ultimately a wrecking ball. Perhaps it could have been saved with a little effort from owners. Sometimes effort is all it takes.
Much like Aurora Mall, ROOT Sports Northwest is losing tenants and shoppers in its own right. Less than a year ago, the Pac-12 Network debuted and began broadcasting a number of sporting events that had previously been aired on ROOT. For fans, the change was a welcome one, as ROOT had done little to endear themselves to viewers over the years. With low-quality technology (Do they have HD yet? No, seriously.), lackluster original shows, and on-air personalities that failed to relate to viewers, ROOT wasn’t giving its customers what they wanted. When the Pac-12 departed, an exodus of the viewership commenced.
Months have passed and ROOT has continued to struggle. Look at their daily programming lineup and one can’t help but cringe. But rather than write the network off as a joke that will die a slow death, I’d like to think we can still save the region’s premier (by default) local sports network. How are we going to do that? With the help of Twitter, I asked people how they would go about improving ROOT. This was what they had to say.
1. Create fresh local programs that people actually want to watch.
With all due respect to the likes of The Mark Few Show, there has to be more engaging local television programming for ROOT to create and broadcast. Rather than lazily cruising through their weekly lineup of “All-Access” programs on Northwest teams and interviews with insipid coaches who won’t tell us anything we don’t already know, it’d be nice to see the network think outside the box and come up with fresh ideas for their viewing audience. Two simple suggestions:
-A regular roundtable in the style of Comcast Sportsnet’s Talkin’ Ball that puts local media-types on a panel to discuss newsworthy sports topics. By pulling talent from a variety of venues (sports radio, newspapers, social media, blogs, the teams themselves, etc.), ROOT could host a rich discussion on things people legitimately care about, with personalities that people truly want to listen to.
-A documentary series that examines historical moments in Northwest sports history. Think ESPN’s 30 for 30 with a local spin. Who wouldn’t want to hear about the inner workings of Washington’s 1991 National Championship season, the Mariners’ 1995 playoff run, or the Seahawks’ Super Bowl campaign of 2005? There are stories to be told that can be conveyed in a fun fashion. All it takes is a little research.
2. Be more socially active.
ROOT is to social media as Ashton Kutcher is to the Academy Awards — the two don’t really go together. A few members of ROOT’s on-air staff (Jen Mueller comes to mind) utilize Twitter and Facebook, but do so in the most boring of ways. Outside of posting links or making event announcements, there is virtually no interaction between ROOT, ROOT’s employees, and fans/viewers. Why is that? If organically-grown companies like Taco Time and Bartell Drugs can socialize with normal people, why can’t a local television station? Especially when that television station needs those viewers to survive.
The lack of a social media presence epitomizes how out of touch ROOT is with their viewership. If they aren’t soliciting fans for opinions, where are they getting informed ideas for their broadcasts? The network comes off as arrogant and aloof in their dealings with those who could be watching their station. That needs to change.
3. Inject life into the on-air staff.
The most popular response I got when I asked people how they’d go about improving ROOT: Fire _____. And you can fill in that blank with the name of just about any member of ROOT’s team.
Fact is, it’s not logical or fair to go around terminating the contracts of all the existing on-air staff. But if fans had their way, that might be exactly what would occur. No offense to Angie Mentink, Jen Mueller, Brad Adam, et al, but if fans aren’t responding to the people delivering them news and commentary, that’s a problem.
The solution isn’t to replace employees, but to surround them with individuals who will motivate and inspire. As viewers, we’ve endured the same on-air talent at ROOT for years. The most recent impactful hire made by the station came all the way back in 2008, during the Fox Sports Northwest days, with Nicole Zaloumis (who now works for the NFL Network). It’s been five years since someone new strolled into town and livened up the daily broadcast. That’s ludicrous.
There are any number of young, hungry, exciting TV sports journalists who could be hired at a reasonable rate and deliver results well above their pay scale. Why ROOT cannot commit to finding these individuals is absolutely perplexing. Short of being on the verge of bankruptcy (and for all we know maybe the station is on the verge of bankruptcy), there’s no excuse for not increasing talent on the squad. Just like any of the teams they cover, there should be some level of expectation when it comes to performance. And right now, the performers ROOT is employing simply aren’t cutting it.
4. Hire a stylist.
This is a nit, but it’s one I think many of us share. The other day, a friend and I were sitting down to lunch at a bar when the latest episode of Mariners All-Access popped up on a nearby flat-screen. There before us stood Jen Mueller, adorned in a black ROOT Sports polo shirt with black pants that turned her outfit into a glorified ebony onesie. We spent five minutes lamenting what we were seeing. It was awful, just awful.
Thing is, Jen’s a fairly attractive woman, yet here she was dressed like a dude on the golf course, wearing something less pleasing to the eye than the uniforms employees are forced to don at Sports Authority.
Frankly, it’s not hard to dress nice. It really isn’t. But we’re not all capable of picking out the right clothes all the time. That’s where a stylist comes into play. A stylist could pick out fashionable attire for the few on-air employees ROOT actually has. They might also be able to intervene and make sure the hair looks good, the makeup has been plastered on okay, and no one is stepping in front of the camera on the verge of a wardrobe malfunction.
And no, it should not be hard to find a stylist. The ROOT Sports Northwest headquarters is located in Bellevue. Bellevue! Within a 10-mile radius of their building, I guarantee at least 100 stylists can be unearthed. This is an area home to Nordstrom, one of the premier clothing retailers on the planet. You can find a damn stylist. Just takes a minute to look.
5. Commit to broadcasting certain leagues and certain games.
After losing much of their Pac-12 coverage to the Pac-12 Network, ROOT has spent much of the 2012-2013 year airing a hodgepodge of sporting events across a variety of different leagues. There’s been some WAC programming, some WCC junk, a little Big Sky, a few Division-II games, even a smattering of Pac-12 action. But nothing has been consistent. And as a result, fans have never really known what to expect from ROOT throughout the football and basketball seasons.
ROOT won’t be getting the Pac-12 back anytime soon, if ever. Outside of Mariners baseball, they really have nothing when it comes to sporting events. So rather than try to please everyone with a potpourri of viewing fare, why not commit to an entire conference or an entire team and thrill the crap out of certain niche groups? It’s better to have a few people really happy with what you’re doing than a number of people indifferent to you.
Maybe that means signing on to be the home of the Big Sky Conference, or telling Central Washington University that you’re going to do them a solid and air all their basketball and football games. It really doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you do something different than what’s currently being done.
6. Stop re-airing everything.
For the love of God, we already saw the Mariners lose once. We don’t need to see the same loss over and over and over again throughout the week. We get it. You have nothing to air besides infomercials and replays. At least infomercials will help pay the bills and won’t thoroughly piss off sports fans. Re-airing shitty games for lack of anything better to air is stupid.
For example, if the only song I had on my iPod was Clay Aiken’s Invisible, I wouldn’t set my iPod to “Repeat” and listen to that crap a thousand times a day. No, I’d just go to the gym and work out in silence because listening to nothing would be better than listening to Clay Aiken all afternoon. You get my drift? We’d rather watch nothing than see the same effing game five times a week. So stop it. Just stop it already.
7. No more excuses.
Every time we criticize ROOT, the response we get in return is that as a regional sports network, ROOT doesn’t have the money, personnel, or bandwidth to maximize their place in the market and deliver everything we, as viewers, could possibly want.
Essentially, ROOT’s excuse for being sucky is that they flat-out can’t be any more than that. Are you kidding me? That’s garbage and everyone knows it. There are so many things that could be done on the cheap to improve the viewing experience at ROOT that you can’t help but scoff at any excuse the station might make about their situation. You’ll only struggle if you choose to struggle. On the flip side, you can be something special if you have the desire to be that.
ROOT, your network has become nothing more than a punch line to most sports fans. But the good news is you can be more than that if you want to be.
You’re the only Washington-based regional sports network, you have the Mariners (for now, at least), and the chance to impact local fans is still there. You have a wide-open market in this region. I suggest you start listening to your viewers, listening to your tenants, and capitalize on this opportunity you have.
Aurora Mall was once razed because there was too much competition from other malls in the area. Luckily, there are few competitors when it comes to regional sports networks in the Northwest. A wrecking ball is poised and ready to swing if need be. But it’s not over yet. There’s still time to salvage your viewership, ROOT. Good luck.