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Sports on the air

Lightning fever hits its high during final

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published May 28, 2004

Step up to the Lightning buffet.

For a tasty national helping of coverage, scoop up some ESPN.

Is hard-core Lightning hockey more to your liking? Slide that tray over to the Sunshine Network.

Looking for something more sugary, something to whet your community appetite? Channel 8 and Channel 28 might have just what you need.

For Game 1 of the Stanley Cup series between the Lightning and Flames, there were four pregame shows aired from 7:30-8 p.m.

Sunshine posted a 1.3 rating, WFTS-Ch. 28 had a 1.9, ESPN registered a 2.9 and WFLA-Ch. 8 had a 4.4. Combined, that's almost 175,000 households tuned in for pregame coverage.

Bucs Super Bowl coverage may have set the standard for reporting on Tampa Bay's local teams, but hockey is hot. The bandwagon has filled, and viewers are deluged with Tampa Bay features and analysis.

Lightning Fever! Catch Up!

There's plenty of opportunity. Here's a quick peek:

ESPN gives fans a 50-50 view of the series, with analysis of the Flames as well as the Lightning (though the die-hards are claiming there's been more coverage on Calgary).

Sunshine offers the most Lightning depth, benefiting from the fact that analysts Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor have covered the team for more than 70 games this season, and remain popular with viewers.

WFTS-Ch. 28 has picked up coverage since March, often reporting in the 11 o'clock hour live from games, and has exclusive analysis from current forward Dave Andreychuk as well as former Lightning player Brian Bradley.

WFLA-Ch. 8 has news anchor Gayle Sierens hosting with J.P. Peterson, hoping to cross the line from sports into community. News reporter Rod Carter is already in Calgary reporting a feature for Saturday on Flames fans.

With the Stanley Cup explosion, the decision by the local stations to do pregame shows for every Stanley Cup game was an easy one.

"We had a discussion last Friday before Game 7 of the Philly series," WFLA sports producer Dave Cook said. "We had already planned on sending a significant contingent of people to Calgary. But general manager Eric Land made the decision that this was an important community story. He asked me if we could pull it off and I said absolutely."

For WTSP sports director Al Keck, that decision was made a few months earlier when the station increased coverage significantly, as the Lightning charged toward a division title. Since it will be televising the rest of the Stanley Cup (ESPN had the first two games), a local pregame show made sense.

Saturday from Calgary, Ch. 28 will expand its pregame show to a full hour (7-8 p.m.).

"This was a no-brainer to crank it up," Keck said. "And we've had a huge response (from viewers) since we did."

Four pregame shows - potentially 28 total if the series goes the distance - are far from overkill, considering this is the first widespread television coverage for the Lightning. There are plenty of stories to go around, the local stations insist, and more than enough interested viewers to watch them.

"A half-hour is a breeze to do," Cook said. "Truth is, most of the time, we find ourselves running out of time."

[Last modified May 28, 2004, 01:00:27]


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