As if we needed one more grim reminder during the holiday season of how suddenly circumstances change nowadays in the media industry, even at a regional sports cable network in a thriving and sports-obsessed market, here’s the latest lousy news:
Tuesday night, Bob Neumeier and Sean McAdam — two long-established and respected veterans of the Boston sports scene — could be seen discussing the Red Sox’ trade of Clay Buchholz to the Phillies on Comcast SportsNet New England’s “SportsNet Central” highlights and news program.
Thursday, the CSN staff were informed that Neumeier and McAdam will be let go at the end of the year. Neumeier and McAdam had been forewarned in November that changes were coming.
McAdam said it’s been difficult news to accept, but he recognizes that it reflects the blunt realities of the tumultuous media business right now.
“What happened today was disappointing certainly from a personal level,’’ said McAdam, who has more than a year left on his contract. “I tremendously enjoyed my seven years at CSN, working with a lot of terrific people. It was a great experience. But these are changing times in media.”
CSN provided a statement through a spokesperson:
“We would like to thank both Bob and Sean for their years of service at CSN and we wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”
With the dismissals — which, according to industry sources with knowledge of the situation, may not be the last ones Comcast makes — CSN loses two respected voices and an extraordinary amount of institutional knowledge on the Boston sports scene.
Neumeier is known as Neumy to anyone who is familiar with him — and pretty much anyone who has followed Boston sports (or horse racing, for that matter) over the last 40 years is familiar with him. The affable Neumeier has had an accomplished career though various high-profile gigs, including as a sports anchor at Channel 4, a horse racing expert on NBC, and for a couple of years a midday host at WEEI.
He had been at CSN since 2010. In May 2015, he returned to the network after making an extraordinary recovery from a stroke suffered the previous October, which required 5½ hours of surgery.
McAdam, who built his name as a Red Sox beat writer at the Providence Journal before moving to the Herald briefly and then CSN upon its launch in 2009, has been an informed voice-of-reason across various media, an approach that is not exactly in abundance nowadays. At CSN, he was one of the panelists on “The Baseball Show,” which was hosted by Neumeier.
The reason for the moves? As always, follow the money. Cord-cutting by cable subscribers is having a trickle-down effect on many regional cable networks. CSN, the home of the Celtics, also has decided to cut back on coverage of Boston teams with which they don’t own the broadcast rights. The Patriots, a huge traffic draw in-season, are the exception.
CSN had already reduced coverage of the Red Sox last season. McAdam estimated he covered half the road games in 2016. That number likely would have been halved this year.
CSN, which has been under the stewardship of new general manager Princell Hair since he replaced Bill Bridgen in October, has a specific, local reason to reevaluate its resources as parent company Comcast attempts to create a different television hold in the market.
Comcast owns NBC, and the impending launch of NBC Boston appears to have had some impact on the decision-making at CSN. Three CSN producers, the staff was told Thursday, will be moved to NBC Boston, which debuts on Jan. 1 when WHDH (Ch. 7) will lose its network affiliation and go independent.
There is a strong belief with the CSN staff that this will have a major effect on its own programming. “SportsNet Central” — that show Neumeier and McAdam were just on — is not expected to survive much longer in its current form as the network shifts away from featuring a news/highlights program.
The staff was told Thursday that much of the programming in March will be infomercials and reruns of staff-produced documentaries (such as the recent one on the 1986 Celtics) as new shows get a “test drive.” Those shows will be opinion-driven, not information- and highlight-driven.
The recent change in leadership from Bridgen — who oversaw the rebranding and relaunching of CSN as “New England’s largest sports news desk” in December 2009 — to Hair might seem to have foreshadowed the changes. Perhaps, but the big picture is more nuanced than that.
Bridgen was more of a business-focused vice president and general manager at CSN, while Hair has a background in personnel — he was the vice president of talent for NBC Sports Group before coming to CSN.
And from his national perch, Hair was central in hiring out-of-market talent — including Carolyn Manno, Jackie Pepper, Kevin Walsh, Jess Moran, and Kyle Draper — for CSN New England in 2009 upon its launch. That was also the same time McAdam, as well as team “insiders” Tom E. Curran, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Joe Haggerty, joined the network.
That mass hiring was just seven years ago. Thursday, it seemed much longer ago.
“It’s scary to think what I’ve been doing for 27 years — covering the Red Sox — has probably come to an end,’’ said McAdam. “But that’s the reality of the industry right now.”