By Jim Williams
Special to The Examiner
KTVU Fox 2 has the largest sports department of any television station in the Bay Area. That department is headed up by the two longest-tenured resident sports scholars in Mark Ibanez and Joe Fonzi, who together have covered every major sporting event in the Bay Area from high schools, to college and all the pro teams.
This week I got together with the two elder statesmen to talk about their careers and how things have changed over the years in the market. Ibanez got to KTVU in 1979, followed shortly thereafter by Fonzi, who joined in 1994 after a 12-year stint at KPIX.
Williams: There is a trend around the country to reduce the local sports coverage on the daily newscasts. Some stations feel that if a sports fans wants a score they can get it without watching the local news to find it. What are your thoughts on that issue?
Fonzi: I think that is crazy. Yes, some news consultants may think that, but in San Francisco, that doesn’t fly. Sure, you can watch ESPN or grab a score off your phone but where is the real local angle that fans want? Do you want to sit through 20 minutes of Sports Center and get 30 seconds on a Bay Area team, or would you rather watch us to get the entire local angle? Mark does four sportscasts a day, plus we do our SportsWeekend on Sundays. So, we are committed to local sports coverage, and if it wasn’t a rating winner, I am sure KTVU wouldn’t be as committed as we are.
Ibanez: We have a strong commitment to sports at KTVU, and we have since day one that I got here. Fans in this area want to know about the teams they follow and they demand the stations in this market give them good compelling stories, features and programming about all the teams. Bottom line is that Bay Area sports fans want to see local sports covered, and it has always been a good local TV sports market. I don’t see that changing.”
Williams: What was your first sports assignment at KTVU?
Ibanez: I was 23, and I was on the sidelines covering the Raiders back when they were really good. I remember going into the locker room and talking with Kenny Stabler, John Matuszak and the coach at the time, Tom Flores. To say I was a wide-eyed, starstruck kid would have been an understatement.
Fonzi: I got to San Francisco in 1982 over at KPIX, and it wasn’t my first assignment, but it was my most memorable in my first year in the market. I covered The Catch by Dwight Clark at Candlestick Park in the title game against the Cowboys. I was on the field — as was Mark that day — but I was the lucky one because I had a great view, while he was at the other end of the field. Not a bad first major event.
Ibanez: I still get chills remembering that day. I had been here for three years, and I grew up a 49ers fan as a kid, and to witness that play, live, just a few yards from where it happened was surreal. Even over 30 years later it is one my favorite sports memories.
Williams: What is one of the biggest changes you have seen in covering sports in the Bay Area since you began?
Ibanez: It has to be access to the players and the coaches. When I got to KTVU and for the first 20 or so years I was here you could walk in and talk to Bill Walsh or go into the Giants or A’s managers offices and chat about the game. Most of the players loved to do interviews and just enjoyed talking sports in general.
Fonzi: Agreed. But now the players, coaches are far less accessible to the media. The teams do their best to handle the access but with social media and all the other direct ways players can get to their fans, talking to the press — in many ways — is less important to their careers.
Williams: What is the most important thing that both you guys bring to younger sports fans in the Bay Area?
Ibanez: It is historical context. When it comes to putting a game or an event that happens here into perspective, we don’t have to do any research on the matter. We can speak from the experience of seeing most of the big events or knowing the players and coaches who were a part of those events. History is always important in sports and I think that is what makes what we do fun talking to a younger fan base.
Fonzi: Yes, 100-percent agree. We spoke earlier about Dwight Clark. When he died, I didn’t need to break open a book. I went on the air and talked about him from knowing the man. I know Mark has done the same thing on his sportscasts, time after time. We had the honor and pleasure of capturing Bay Area sports and it is just a great deal of joy keeping those stories alive.
Check out the guys on KTVU FOX 2 on the Point After following every 49ers game, and also on the Mercedes-Benz SportsWeekend every Sunday morning.