Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Fox Should Be Hounded

While the NFL continues under a high profile public relations nightmare this week, the execs at Fox Sports are able to fly under the radar with their own challenges.

Speaking of "challenges", Fox was not when there could have been a huge coach challenge during its Seattle at San Diego telecast this past Sunday (9/14). Perhaps the biggest single play of the Chargers' huge upset of the defending Super Bown champions was the 51 yard TD run by Percy Harvin. The play in which Harvin appears to have stepped out of bounds yards before reaching the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown, helping San Diego to the seven point win.

As the play unfolded and even through the PAT and into the commercial break, Thom Brennaman did not even acknowledge the possibility that Harvin stepped out while he ran along the sidelines. We won't know for sure, but the lack of comment could have led to the lack of a challenge of the call.

A couple hours later, NBC ran the slow motion shot (on Football Night In America) which showed Harvin appear to have stepped out of bounds well before reaching the end zone.

Also during the late games, CBS added an interesting element to its Green Bay vs. N.Y. Jets coverage after a time out call took away a Jets TD at a key time in what wound up as a Green Bay victory. The Jets were granted a time out by officials, but a CBS replay with sound from the field revealed that it was not the head coach who called for the time out. Per NFL rules, that time out could only have been called by the Head Coach, and it the special replay (with on field sound only) revealed that it was not.

Put these all together from the same couple of hours, and we see that Fox, which was the first to hire a former NFL official as a special analyst for its telecasts, was by far the least active in providing fans with information that brings the game officials into question. The point is that now, in all of the "big 4" sports, replay and video is used to help determine the outcome of games, meaning that video which conflicts with the decision of game officials is more valuable than ever before.

Because Fox did not initially question a sideline run, it is possible that Seahawks fans, those with dollars riding on Seattle vs. the point spread, and fantasy players facing a "team" with Percy Harvin may have lost out because Fox did not point out what it should have right away.

Early ratings reports showed that Fox overall drew about a 4% lower rating for its Week 2 regional telecasts than it did in 2013, even with having New York (Giants) and Dallas among their markets.

We move back to Saturday (9/13) when Fox wound with a telecast conflict at 4 PM ET. Even though a rain delay was not their fault, allowing only a 3-hour window for MLB was clearly not enough time to allow for either a long game or a weather problem. Sure enough, many Fox stations left the Yankees vs. Orioles telecast in the 7th inning (which was delayed nearly an hour by rain) in order to show the entire Illinois at Washington college football telecast. Although I will grant you that the markets which switched over did so because of higher interest in the football game, the point is that having to leave a live telecast before its conclusion is not a good thing for a network, especially one which is trying to build its sports networks.

On top of all this, Brian Urlacher started off this week by announcing he is leaving Fox Sports 1 "effective immediately" only two weeks into the NFL regular season. I'm not buying the "to spend more time with his family" story. This was Urlacher's second season with Fox, so he clearly knew what is involved based on last season. It will be interesting to see whether or not a replacement is named within the next few days or not.

Meanwhile, the advance scheduling of an NBA exhibition game telecast would normally not be national news. But ESPN is clearly into promoting its NBA ties, especially with the likely upcoming contract extension. The Cleveland vs. Miami pre-season game, which will be played in Rio on Saturday Oct. 11th, will be shown live at 5 PM ET. The significance is the first meeting of LeBron James vs. the Miami Heat in more than 4 years. In another first, this live telecast will be on ESPNNews, since the other ESPN networks are filled with live college football telecasts.

LOS ANGELES: Time Warner Cable is throwing frustrated Dodgers fans a bone for the final week of the regular season. KDOC-TV will show the team's final six games over-the-air from Dodger Stadium, hosting the Giants for three games and then the Rockies on the final weekend, with Vin Scully on the call. The station is also carried on all of the region's cable and satellite providers.

I'm thinking this is a grand experiment for TWC. If and as there is advertiser demand (and with the Dodgers going for a Division title and having not been seen very much that is quite likely) and strong ratings, I look for TWC to consider farming out some games to KDOC again next season. This way they could continue to hold out for high fees from the other providers when they can show the increased demand for the games.

It will also be interesting to see if DirecTV, AT&T, and other providers will buy spots within those telecasts, and if so, what they would promote to Dodgers fans.

PHILADELPHIA: The Phillies will again be heard on WIP 94.1 and WPHT 1210 for at least the 2015 season, with only a one-year extension announced this week. Although the team reportedly only negotiated with CBS (which owns these stations), the feeling is that this sets the stage for a major bid from rival WPEN ESPN 97.5 for a long-term deal. This gives WIP-FM additional time toward structuring a solid deal for a long-term extension. WIP-FM also has the Eagles, while WPEN airs the Sixers and Flyers broadcasts.

CHICAGO: WBBM Newsradio 780, the flagship station for the Bears and starting next season for the Cubs, has added Rick Gregg to its sports anchor roster. Gregg has been filling in since late June following the passing of Eric Brown.

St. LOUIS: Washington MO, which is west of St. Louis, now has a Sports KRAP station. And a sense of humor in attracting attention to itself. The former WWMO has received the actual KRAP call letters and 1350 AM is "Sports KRAP" 24 hours a day, including SportsKRAP.com. The station will be an affiliate for Blues hockey and also airs K.C. Chiefs football. However, it airs mostly syndicated shows, and its web site, frankly, lives up to its name. A visit to it on Tuesday (9/16) still showed its headlines being from Sunday's game results and included prominent links to game and headline stories from earlier than that. At least the name is honest!

NEW ORLEANS: WODT 1280 has changed to Fox Sports Radio after an unsuccessful run as ESPN Deportes for the past two years.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Will NFL Blackouts Really End?

The FCC appears to be closing in on lifting TV blackout restrictions aimed at the NFL with a vote scheduled for September 30th and an official response from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (which is linked below). What remains to be seen, if and as this passes, is whether or not the current TV contract language between the NFL and the networks would take precedence over what the FCC says.

What also makes this interesting is how this vote, taking up valuable government time (since it is the "Federal" Communications Commission), is primarily geared toward the NFL. As of this season, the current MLB contracts with Fox, ESPN, and TBS allow for home team "duplicate" telecasts to also be shown, giving local subscribers the choice of watching their local or the national telecast. With the majority of NBA and NHL games being televised locally, including home games, blackout possibilities are rarely even an issue. 

That leaves the NFL, which has mostly enforced its ability to keep a local team telecast out of the primary home market in the event a game is not at least 85% to 100% sold out at least 72 hours before scheduled kickoff. The league may or may not have the language in place to keep things as they are. If they do, it will make it interesting to see if there is a challenge to the blackout of specific local telecasts, and how the networks would handle them.

Count me among the majority of fans who agree that based on the vastly increased cost to receive cable or satellite each month, much of which is inflated due to the high cost of sports rights fees, who believe that we are entitled to every local game on TV whether anybody shows up in person or not.

While this is going on, the report from Sports Business Journal that the NBA is closing in on the next TV rights contracts with both ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports shows how the NBA could benefit big time by helping these entities keep out the competition. The rights fees could jump to around $2 billion (that is with a "b") per season starting in 2016, while the two networks would, basically, retain a similar arrangement to what has been the case for the past two years.

The reason that both are so anxious to secure these rights for themselves is really to keep even one of the struggling networks attempting to compete for the national audience. After all, Fox Sports 1, NBCSN, and CBS Sports Network would stand to gain by getting in on NBA telecasts, and closing on the next agreement so early puts ESPN/ABC and Turner in the same position of strength they share now.

All three of these other networks have lesser packages of college sports, while FS1 has MLB telecasts in near secrecy. At least MSNBC retains quality programming during the same time of the year as the NBA with its large inventory of NHL telecasts and related programming.

While the new package will, of course, add to more price increases in monthly costs for subscribers, chances are those costs would be rising anyway. If one or more of the "next three" networks were to enter into the bidding, chances are the amounts still would have risen to the $2 billion mark anyway with the increased competition.

Although the media attention right now is, understandably, on the new NFL season, it is hard to overlook how fantasy football is quietly becoming a multi-million dollar operation which is having an impact on sports media. Fantasy is a huge part of the reason for the abundance of Sunday morning live NFL preview shows, some as long as four hours on national TV (such as CBS Sports Network's show). Fans are definitely participating in at least one league and the numbers seem to be on the rise.

You may not have been aware, even if you noticed one or more commercials for FanDuel last week, how some media companies are now in competition for fan attention and fantasy dollars. If you don't think that generating income for hosting fantasy leagues is a big deal, try this on for size. According to Media Monitors, FanDuel bought more than 21,300 commercials on national radio (not including local stations) just last week, for the days leading into the NFL openers. This made the company the #7 largest national radio advertiser for the week, up from the previous week when FanDuel purchased more than 12,000 national radio spots.

Meanwhile, whether you like his commentary or not, it is great to see that Curt Schilling is scheduled (at press time) to return to ESPN on Thursday (9/10) on Baseball Tonight now that his cancer treatments have reportedly been successful. Schilling might even be well enough to rejoin Sunday Night Baseball for at least one of the final telecasts this season.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WJFK-FM 106.7 The Fan has finally eliminated its broadcast conflicts when both the Wizards and Capitals are playing on the same day or night. The Capitals will remain on The Fan, while all Wizards broadcasts will move to sister station WNEW 99.1. This makes it easier for Wizards fans to find the broadcasts on a regular basis, while providing a better signal over most of the Washington/Baltimore area than WFED 1500, which previously aired the Wizards when the two teams had conflicts.

CHICAGO: Bears QB Jay Cutler will continue with his radio show on WMVP ESPN 1000 this season, but the number of shows is being reduced and the air time changed. What makes Cutler's "show" different from most of the other NFL QB (or team star) shows around the country is that Cutler actually goes to the studio and takes calls from listeners as well as direct questions from station co-hosts. However, instead of 17 shows (on Mondays when appropriate or Tuesdays if a Monday night game), Cutler will have his show a total of eight times, with the first one having been this past Monday (9/8) following the Bears' opening game. In addition, the show time moves to 2 to 3 PM instead of from 6 to 7 PM. This season, rival WSCR 670 The Score will air Cutler's weekly (as in EVERY week) official team press conference live each Wednesday at Noon, which means The Score will have Cutler on for more total days during the season while not paying him for the appearance.

Howard Griffith of Big Ten Network has been assigned a heavier workload and therefore can no longer co-host on WGWG 87.7 The Game's Noon to 3 PM show as of this week. Co-hosts Alex Quigley and Ben Finfer will continue on. The station continues its effort to be all about the Bears with former Bear Olin Kreutz being signed for a weekly phone segment and current safety Ryan Mundy appears twice each week, once each on the afternoon show and the late morning show. Defensive back Tim Jennings appears on Tuesdays nights from 7 to 8 PM on "Jennings and Jarrett". Jarrett is Jarrett Payton, the son of Walter Payton.

CSN Chicago has entered into a multi-year agreement to televise Illinois High School Association football and basketball playoff games, along with other championship events such as soccer and volleyball.

HUNTSVILLE: Cole Cubelic has returned to sports talk radio, now hosting mornings on WUMP 730 and 103.9. The former Auburn University lineman will, of course, focus mainly on college and pro football. He was previously on WZZN co-hosting an afternoon sports show, and for now will host the only local morning sports talk show.

AKRON: Must be a local market thing, but WAKR 1590 has added "The Average Sports Show" from 5 to 7 PM weekdays, hosted by Brad Russell. There does seem to be an explanation for that show name. Russell appears on sister station WONE 97.5 (a rock station) as "The Average Browns Fan". Here's hoping the show will, at the very least, live up to its name!

And, as promised, here is the link to the statement from Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC:


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The High Cost of Free TV

For as much attention as the regional sports networks in L.A. and Houston are getting for the lack of distribution, the problem for fans has become more widespread this month. DirecTV subscribers in the New Orleans and Cleveland markets are, as of press time, dealing with a similar issue at the moment.

DirecTV and WVUE-TV New Orleans could not reach an agreement as of Monday (9/2) which could mean that subscribers would not be able to see the Saints opener against Atlanta on Sunday, and potentially miss out on Fox telecasts for as long as this dispute goes on. (This has nothing to do with home games being sold out or not.)

What makes this interesting is that DirecTV carries the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which is required to black out the local team telecasts. It remains to be seen whether or not the NFL would step in and allow Sunday Ticket to show the Saints vs. Falcons telecast locally, given the relationship that Fox has with the league. Last season, New Orleans had the highest local telecast rating of any NFL team, with nearly double the local audience of several NFL local team telecasts.

Same story, but a different station owner, for Cleveland Browns fans. Also as of press time, no progress between WOIO-TV 19 and WUAB-TV 43, owned by Raycom Media, and DirecTV. WOIO-TV will show the Browns vs. Steelers opener on Sunday. These negotiations supposedly have been going on for three months. WOIO-TV's web site now (as of press time) lists information on how to contact other cable and satellite providers while not mentioning DirecTV.

Unlike the majority of viewers in L.A. and Houston, fans in New Orleans and Cleveland have easier options to see the games. Even without switching to another provider, those with digital TV antennas can see the telecasts (as well as all station programming).

Many Cleveland fans may also face the disappointment of not having Johnny Manziel start at QB, although it is possible he could see some playing time. CBS is obviously disappointed as well, having switched announcing teams. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts will call the game for the network, which was originally assigned to the #1 team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.

Fans interested in the Buffalo at Chicago NFL opener on Sunday should keep in mind that the game will be shown on Fox even though it is an AFC road game. Fox gets the large Chicago audience on Sunday in return for CBS getting the telecast of the Bears at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.

BOSTON: The radio ratings are in for August, and the trend of WEEI-FM coming back against the Sports Hub continues. WEEI-FM is now #10 in overall audience going from a 3.0 in July to a 3.3 rating for August, a 10% overall increase. This increase was not gained from the competition, however. WBZ-FM Sports Hub showed a slight gain as well going from 2.6 to a 2.7 rating.

DETROIT: A great month for 97.1 The Ticket which increased from a 7.2 to a 7.6 overall rating and an even stronger foothold on #1 overall.

MINNEAPOLIS: The ratings book was good for K-FAN 100.3 which showed a 1/2 point overall ratings increase even though rival KSTP-AM also increased by more than 10%. But while the Twins continue to struggle on the field, KTWN, which now airs the games, showed an audience drop of more than 20% since June.

LOS ANGELES: While only a percentage of Dodgers fans can see the telecasts, radio flagship KLAC showed a 20% overall ratings increase during August after holding steady for the first half of the baseball season. Yet, while the Angels' TV ratings have risen this season, KSPN (which airs some Angels radio) dropped 25% overall while KLAA held steady but with a dismal .4 overall rating.

Vin Scully has decided that he will travel for any and all Dodgers post-season road games this season, but now plans to scale back on even more road games in 2015. Unless he has a change of heart later in the season, the only "road" telecasts he will do will be when the Dodgers play the Angels in Anaheim.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WJFK 106.7 The Fan has extended its contract to air Virginia Tech football and basketball through at least 2018.

CANADA: Rogers Network has announced a couple of announcer changes for its local/regional NHL telecasts. Edmonton Oilers local telecasts will now have Kevin Quinn teamed with former San Jose Sharks analyst Drew Remenda, while Paul Romanuk and Dave Randorf will handle the call for Toronto Maple Leafs games. John Shorthouse and John Garrett remain with the Vancouver Canucks telecasts, while CBC's Rick Ball and Kelly Hrudey will call the Calgary Flames this season.

COLLEGE STATION TX: Congrats to Chip Howard, who continues his afternoon drive show on KZNE 1150 The Zone this week, exactly 20 years after he started it. Howard estimates he has done more than 4,000 live shows, and has no plans to stop.

LANCASTER PA: WKZF 92.7 has become a sports station, airing ESPN Radio as of Wednesday (9/3) as the station dropped its music format and will simulcast WLPA 1490 most of the time. WLPA will continue to air Phillies baseball and Penn State football.

VICTORVILLE CA: KVVB 910 will air a series of 10 high school football games this season, starting next week, which will also be streamed. Eight games will be televised on digital channel 33.1. Dan Hubbard will call the games, which will feature several of the local schools. This is the third season of the radio broadcasts, and will be the first for the telecasts and the web stream. Nice idea.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Are Ready For Some Football

We enter the 2014 college football season with a ton of additional pregame and weekly programs on the various regional and national sports networks, as well as the debut of the SEC Network. This will be the first season in which the three largest conferences, the Big Ten, SEC, and PAC 10 all have their own networks to televise their games and provide surrounding programming to fans around most of the country.

On top of those, ESPN has announced a 13-year extension of its rights to the MAC (Mid-American Conference), maintaining "ownership" rights to every conference controlled football and basketball game through the 2026-27 season.

Fox Sports 1 begins a new studio program "Countdown to Kickoff" which will air almost every hour from Friday night until Noon ET on Saturdays in one hour segments, mostly repeated. They are guessing that a few people at a time will watch for an hour. Incredibly, Fox Sports "announced" that the show will be "hosted" by a variety of analysts and "insiders", rather than naming a formal host.

This, while ESPN continues its Game Day program which originates from a different game venue every Saturday and provides live reports from around the country. Now, Fox Sports counters with hours of a replay of a show with whoever shows up in their studio. It is along the same lines of how FS1 is going after ESPN with its MLB Whiparound show, that always seems to be up against ESPN Baseball Tonight during the week. If only they would come up with a reason to tune in.

Also at ESPN, they have decided that "Olbermann" is better suited to its daytime lineup instead of being moved around during its late night run. The show is moving to 5 PM ET Monday through Friday starting on September 8th. However, it will be shortened to a half-hour show from its current one hour length. The feeling here is that airing at a consistent time and being immediately better than anything else on sports networks going against it will outweigh the reduced length. The show will rarely be up against live sports during the week. No more problems such as Olbermann's excellent Pete Rose special (which debuted on Monday 8/25) airing from 10 minutes after one hour into the next, for example. I can hear Keith's opening statement on his daytime show, which will probably be something like "Surprise! We'll be here at the same time now."

ATLANTA: In the local radio version of the no-huddle offense, the Falcons changed FM flagships stations in between exhibition games last week. After the first two games this month aired on WSTR Star 94 (a music station), the games were moved (on less than two days notice for the 8/23 broadcast) to WZGC The Game 92.9. While it is understandable that CBS wants the Falcons on its FM sports station in an attempt to give it a pulse for the ratings, the AM station airing the same broadcasts is its competition. WQXI 790, which has less than half of the total overall audience of The Game, is the local ESPN Radio station.

It will be interesting to listen for the promotional announcements during the Falcons broadcasts when the regular season starts, since WQXI (ESPN) is technically the flagship station. Although CBS is probably doing this in order to get a foot in the door for future rights, there is the possibility that The Game could be airing mentions of its nearest competitor during these games.

LOS ANGELES: KFWB 980 decided not to wait until next week to convert from News/Talk to sports, having done so on Monday (8/25). However, the CBS Sports national feed will run exclusively for at least these two weeks before a little bit of local programming finally turns up. The station will air NFL games on Sunday evenings, Monday, and Thursdays via Westwood One, some "national" college football on Saturdays, and, of course, remains the flagship station of Clippers basketball.

CHICAGO: With host Dan McNeil not returning to WSCR 670 The Score, the station has added just retired Chicago Bear Patrick Mannelly as midday co-host. Mannelly joins Matt Spiegel starting on Tuesday (9/2) from 9 to 1 PM weekdays.

HOUSTON: KILT 610 has come up with an effective use of the station web site, by now streaming its midday show with Mike Meltser and Seth Payne. The show has led the station's ratings growth of the past year. In an even nicer innovation, the stream simulcast includes a scroll of sports headlines at the bottom.

PHILADELPHIA: Temple University football games begin airing on WPEN 97.5, and will continue to have Harry Donahue calling play-by-play for at least this season. Donahue will keep this position even though he retired last week (8/22) after 35 years on the morning show of KYW News 1060 and more than 40 years total with that station.

PITTSBURGH: WBGG 970 has announced that Duqesne University football broadcasts which have scheduling conflicts will result in those games airing on WJAS 1320 this season. In addition WBGG will be airing weekly coaches shows for both football and basketball.

NASHVILLE: Three hosts in the afternoon proved to be too many. For the station, not for the listeners. Despite ratings success, Clay Travis is officially out from 104.5 The Zone and its afternoon drive "3HL Show" after contract negotiations stalled. Travis reportedly wants to stay in local radio but has a 90-day non-compete clause to contend with. Brent Dougherty and (former Titan) Blaine Bishop remain as the two co-hosts for the show. Travis will continue as an analyst with Fox Sports for the football season.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WTMJ Leads The Way In More Ways Than One

It can happen. A prominent radio station making use of its web site to add innovation and expand its reach for its audience. WTMJ 620 Milwaukee is about to launch a new feature for its WiSports.com web site called "Preps Live". This will include live streaming broadcasts of at least 26 area high school football games this season, with plans underway to include basketball when that season arrives.

Matt Menzi and Alex Uhan will be the lead announcers for the series, which will also feature various football playoff games in November. Although WTMJ is not a full time sports talk station, the station has been Milwaukee's dominant play-by-play source over the years, including the Brewers, Packers, Bucks, and University of Wisconsin football.

This high school series of games will not be on the air, but having these games available live on their web site is still a nice innovation.

My contention has been that radio stations (sports and other formats) generally do not use their web site(s) to add to station content. They often give the audience FEWER reasons to listen to or engage with the over-the-air content.

When listeners to a sports station need to go to the web site to get out of town scores (not given on the air) or read a blog or opinion piece from a host or station reporter, it takes them away from listening to the station. If listeners don't have to tune in at a certain time to hear their favorite reporter's commentaries because they can read it on the web site, it serves to reduce the station's listening audience and reduces the urgency.

Too many sports stations fail to provide out of town scores, instead promoting them being on the station web site. What that really does is tells a percentage of the listening audience that they need to go elsewhere for information they want. Often times, the "elsewhere" is NOT the station web site. Thus, the station opens it up for a percentage of its audience to go to another source for the scores, as well as the opportunity to enjoy its content.

This is where the WTMJ innovation comes in. Not everyone in its listening audience is interested in local high school games. But those who are now have a special resource for it, which they can't get from another radio station or local source. And they can engage in WTMJ content while they listen. WTMJ  can provide this without having to program another entire radio station, and better serve its audience.

LOS ANGELES: KFWB 980 is going ahead with its all sports plans after all, even as KSPN and KLAC struggle for an audience. The station has reportedly added Ted Sobel, Bill Seward, and Bob Harvey to its local staff, and is now looking at starting in early September along with football season.

Across town, the current voice of the USC Trojans, who has also called L.A. Clippers games, Pete Arbogast, is going to be honored. Arbogast will be inducted into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in January.

BOSTON: The Sports Hub 98.5 has not only been losing its audience, but now has lost former Patriot Jermaine Wiggins from its talent roster. Wiggins left the station last week, and now has been added to the morning show of a music station instead.

HOUSTON: Listeners may need a magnifying glass to find him, but Barry Warner, a local radio veteran of the past 40 years, will return to the airwaves. The 70 year old Warner, most recently with KILT 610 until about a year ago, will appear on KFNC 97.5 and KGOW 1560 at least once per week. He is already scheduled to appear on Wednesdays with Geoff Ketchum and Sean Salisbury.

DES MOINES: The Champ 1700 is moving "The Zone" with Larry Cotlar and Jason Highly from middays, after a five year run, to the 4 to 6 PM spot starting next week. This is targeted toward taking away listeners from KXNO 1460 and its local "Miller and Brinson Show" which airs at the same time.

BENTON HARBOR MI: WSJM 1400 is dropping its news related talk shows in favor of going all sports starting next Monday (8/25). The station plans to expand its local high school sports coverage well beyond its 2-hour Saturday morning "The Coaches" show with Phil McDonald and Bret Witkoski.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When Suspends Hurt The Suspense

Note to radio executives: The recent wave of sports talk hosts being suspended or disciplined is going to result in more harm than good. This is not to say that on-air personalities who say or do something inappropriate should not be disciplined. It's just that the audience gets punished, and it is an audience of sports fans who have plenty of other easy resources for sports commentary.

Sure, a Boston radio host acted wrongly by specifically calling out a network sideline reporter last month. But the fact that I heard about the host being suspended on radio stations nowhere near Boston, as if the story had any meaning to a non-local audience, is a horrible waste of my time when I am listening for sports information. So what if a Miami sports host was shut down for buying advertisements in Cleveland?

Fans in other cities do not need to be bothered with this so-called "news" when there are local teams and colleges to cover. Let alone some of the "local" sports stations that don't bother giving out of town scores, but somehow make time for a waste of time story about a program host hundreds of miles away.

What is the harm? These "announcements" can make sports radio listeners think that any host that crosses the line will be disciplined in some way. If these hosts cut back, their shows won't be as entertaining. Or if the primary hosts are not on the air, listeners are forced to listen to a substitute instead. How does it help that Boston station when they had a secondary host as a fill-in for an entire week?

As it is, too many sports radio stations spend too much time on local callers and speculation and not enough time on actual sports news, guests, and local coverage. Having program hosts suspended and talkng about it as if it is big news provides the audience with ANOTHER reason to go elsewhere.

Those stations which fail to provide full scoreboard updates "argue" that the hardcore fan is getting those scores on their phone or personal device "anyway". While I "argue" that they can get more information and expert opinions from that same device than the station provides as well.

What these stations should do (or should have done) was to announce that "(Name) has been disciplined for (whatever was said or done)" and not reveal any details. When fans of him or her do not hear him/her on the air the first day, it keeps them tuning in every day to hear when he/she returns. Stations in other cities have zero reason to include this story on their newscasts. The advertisers which often need to be pleased and are the reason some of these suspensions occur will be made aware of the disciplinary actions.

This needs to change (stop) before even more listeners think there is less of a need to listen to their favorite local hosts.

CHICAGO: It is curious that there is still nothing regarding Cubs TV for next year, as rumors of a pending deal with the local Fox TV stations have yet to pan out officially. I'm thinking this is a case of the local stations and regional networks waiting to see how the standoffs regarding paying a truckload of dollars for TV rights in Los Angeles (Dodgers) and Houston shake out over the next few weeks. That both of these deals have been financial disasters for the entities which spent billions could be an incentive for Chicago stations to wait and see before spending millions more than they need to.

WBBM-TV 2 has added Camron Smith as a backup sports anchor. The former high school hoops coach has appeared on local high school basketball telecasts as well as on the Big Ten Network.

Northern Illinois University football, which has jumped into the national spotlight during this decade, will have a new Chicago radio home for the new season. WIND 560 will air all football games and at least 12 basketball games, along with a weekly one-hour coaches show during football season.

Chicago native Bill Hazen will be calling play-by-play for select Conference USA basketball games on Sinclair Broadcasting Group TV stations starting with the coming season. Hazen has called Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls telecasts in the past.

INDIANAPOLIS: Michael Grady, co-host of the "Grady & Big Joe Show" on WFNI 1070 and 107.5 and the P A announcer for the Pacers, has also been hired as a sports reporter for WRTV-TV 6.  He begins his new role on August 22nd.

PITTSBURGH: Meet the news boss. Same as the old boss. Must be the slogan at WWCS 540. The station will be dropping its Fox Sports Radio programming. What will replace it? By September 15th, the station will remain a 24 hour syndicated sports station, but will have the Yahoo Sports lineup instead.

CHARLOTTE: Fans who can't get enough of sports radio from the three stations already with that format in the market will have still another choice starting within the next few weeks. WRFX 99.7, a low power signal, will begin airing Fox Sports Radio and nothing but within the next few weeks.

NASHVILLE: WNSR 560 and 95.9 has a new sports show from 4 to 7 PM as of this week, as Johnny "Ballpark" Franks returns to the airwaves for the first time since the late 90's.

ROCHESTER: ESPN Radio 950 and 95.7 has a new local show from 3 to 7 PM. Scott Pitoniak and Dan Borrello now host "The Radio Press Box".

Friday, August 8, 2014

Still The Teams - Not The Hosts

Sports radio stations can continue to act as though certain personalities make a difference on the station, but what current status of sports in a given market is what it's all about. The latest radio ratings, covering the period from late June to late July, continue to indicate this in certain key markets.

The sports talk race in Boston has been a big story for the past couple of years, especially when WBZ-FM Sports Hub overtook WEEI and was going strong. But look again. The Bruins and Celtics finished up weeks ago, and the Red Sox are headed toward the distinction of going from worst to first to worst in the East Division over three seasons. The Patriots are just starting, so we'll see some audience growth by October.

WBZ-FM Sports Hub has now dipped to #17 overall, officially having lost nearly 50% of its overall audience since its May ratings. And, of course, in May the Bruins and Celtics were in the post-season while the Red Sox were expected to contend. If WBZ-FM lost its audience to WEEI-FM, you could argue that station content makes a difference. But WEEI-FM has dropped again as well, although it now holds a .4 overall lead over WBZ-FM.

In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket remains the #1 overall most listened to station, and it's no coincidence that they also air the Tigers games while the team can coast into the MLB post-season. In Pittsburgh, KDKA-FM, which also features Pirates broadcast while they contend again, just rose to #6 overall with a .7 rise in just the past month.

Philadelphia teams are struggling, especially the Phillies this season, and the 20% overall audience dip by WIP-FM since May reflects this. An ever better example is San Antonio, where the Spurs remain the only show (pro team) in town. With this ratings period taking place mostly following the Spurs' championship run, not one of the three English sports stations in the market so much as cracked the top 20 in overall audience or have a rating above a 1.0.

Meanwhile, on the TV side of things, nothing further on the Dodgers TV situation, or lack thereof, in Los Angeles. There may now be less hope for immediate action due to the withdrawl of the Murdoch/Fox bid to purchase Time Warner Cable from earlier this week. It looks more and more like it will take a merger/takeover by Comcast to make the Dodgers games more readily and economically available, and that is likely months and months away.

This past week had the four games between the Dodgers and Angels, shown to most of the market via Fox Sports (Angels telecasts) receive significant ratings increase. The Angels telecasts received double their typical ratings for the current season (which are also well up from last season's). On the radio side, these latest ratings were up for both KSPN and KLAA which are sports stations that share Angels radio broadcasts.

While the Dodgers local telecasts continue with low ratings (because so few fans can receive the games at any price), the Angels' result is more typical of how the various local and regional sports networks are doing this season with MLB telecasts when the teams are in contention. Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Cincinnati are each coming up with #1 ratings for local prime time telecasts this season.

The Houston Astros are far from contention, but are now showing the potential to peform like a true big league team by next season although still mired in a legal dispute about having their games shown on more systems. The possibility of a bankruptcy court awarding ownership of the regional network they share with the NBA Rockets to AT&T and DirecTV to operate as a Root Sports network brings hope that the games could be readily available well in advance of the 2015 Astros season. The anticipated court ruling will likely come within the next two months, potentially allowing the entire Rockets season to be available to possibly millions more viewers.

CLEVELAND: The start of exhibition games also means the start of the vast new radio coverage of the Browns games. All of the team's games will air on three local radio stations, WKNR, WKRK, and WNCX. WKNR will air the bulk of the surrounding coverage, including what is now a four hour pre-game block with a separate two hours prior to the Browns Radio Network two hour show.

Play-by-play voice Jim Donovan will, however, shift over to WKYC-TV 3 for three of the four exhibition games shown only on a local basis, where he will be joined by analyst Solomon Wilcots. Donovan will do the radio call for the Aug. 9 game vs. Detroit since ESPN will show it nationally. Jeff Phelps, afternoon host on KRKK 92.3, will handle radio play-by-play for those three games, while Doug Dieken remains radio analyst for all games. But you do have to wonder how you keep a pre-game show longer than an overtime game would be interesting to the audience.

WISCONSIN: A chain of three AM stations in a region are all becoming sports stations this month, each dropping music formats. WXCE 1260 Avery, WHSM Hayward, and KKIN 930 Atkin MN will share programming and be known as "Red Zone Sports" stations.