Smizik: Walkout by Pirates fans gets blacked out

FSN won't show live footage of planned protest at Pirates' game Saturday

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The Pirates are doing their best to downplay the fan walkout scheduled for after the third inning of the team's game Saturday night with the Washington Nationals.

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A walkout is scheduled after the third inning of the Pirates' game against the Nationals Saturday at PNC Park. The protest is an attempt to draw national attention to the lack of success of the Pirates over the past 15 years. If you go to the game, will you participate in the walkout? Cast your vote now..

They have asked their television announcing crew not to discuss the walkout with the media. They have removed all comments about the walkout from their message board at pirates.com. They have the support of their television rights holder, FSN Pittsburgh, which does not plan to show the protest as part of its game coverage.

A near-capacity crowd of 36,000 is expected for the game, where Bob Walk bobbleheads will be given as souvenirs to all ticket holders. Organizers of the protest have asked fans to leave their seats after the third inning and stand in the concourse -- without purchasing concessions -- or leave the stadium. The protest is an attempt to draw national attention to the lack of success of the team, which is in the midst of a 15th consecutive losing season.

That national attention might be difficult to obtain.

The only television cameras allowed to shoot the game are from rights holders FSN and MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), which carries the Nationals' games.

The walkout will occur when FSN is on a commercial break. There is no compelling reason for MASN, also on commercial break, to show it to a Washington audience that would have little interest.

Todd Webster, who handles public relations for MASN, said, "My guess would be we wouldn't show it."

There are, however, alternatives for the local stations.

The Pirates are considering -- and have accepted -- requests for credentials from local television stations to be inside PNC Park during the game. They cannot show game action as part of the team's rights holder agreement with FSN.

KDKA-TV has a "Tower Cam" on the roof of Gateway No. 1, where its studios and offices are located, that would give it a good, but not total view, of PNC Park. It would provide a view of fans leaving their seats and an indication of how successful the protest is.

"I don't see why we wouldn't use it," said Anne Linaberger, the assistant news director at KDKA.

Could WPXI, WTAE and KDKA use their news helicopters to acquire footage of the protest? Federal Aviation Administration flight restrictions forbid aircraft below 3,000 feet from flying within 3 miles of a sporting event in a venue with at least 30,000 seats.

Contacted about the protest, Greg Brown, who will do the play-by-play of the telecast along with Walk, said, "I have been asked by the Pirates not to comment and refer all calls to Brian Warecki."

Warecki, the team's senior director of communications, issued this statement via e-mail:

"We greatly appreciate the passion of all of our fans and their freedom to express that passion in any way they choose."

One of the ways they might choose has been blocked. According to Andy Chomos, one of the leaders of the protest, the Pirates have been removing content about the proposed walkout for weeks. E-mails from frustrated fans to the Post-Gazette back up what Chomos said.

Shawn McClintock, the executive producer at FSN, said the decision not to show the walkout was a difficult one. As rights holder, FSN has a strong partnership with the Pirates, as they do with the Penguins. The success of those teams greatly reflects the success of FSN.

"In a number of ways, what we do is different than local news," McClintock said. "It's a fine line and it has softened over the years, and we had to come to grips with that.

"It's a tough call. One side of you says, 'It's a story.' The other side says that 'we're in this for the long haul and our livelihood can be affected.' The bottom line is we want them to do well. We also understand the average fan's frustration. We're frustrated, too, as fans and business partners."

Away from the game broadcast, FSN has covered the story. It covered the news conference the protesters had Tuesday and had reports on it that night on "Savran on SportsBeat" at 6:30 p.m. and "Pittsburgh Sports Tonight" after the Pirates' game.

McClintock said FSN will report on the protest on Pittsburgh Sports Tonight after the game Saturday.


Correction/Clarification: (Published June 29, 2007) This story in June 28, 2007 editions implied that local television stations may be prevented from covering a proposed fans' walkout during Saturday's Pirates-Nationals game. The Pirates are considering -- and have accepted -- requests for credentials from local television stations to be inside PNC Park during the game. They cannot, as the story indicated, show game action as part of the team's rights holder agreement with FSN.

Also, this story mentioned that local television station helicopters could cover a planned walkout by Pirates fans in Saturday's game. Federal Aviation Administration flight restrictions forbid aircraft below 3,000 feet from flying within 3 miles of a sporting event in a venue with at least 30,000 seats.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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