Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Barkley Up The Wrong Tree

Charles Barkley was at his funniest when he didn't mean to be. See below.




The old Alice Cooper song about "I don't have a job because I don't have a car, and I don't have a car because I don't have a job" comes to mind when reading the New York Post story today (3/24) regarding Time Warner Cable and the L.A. Dodgers contract it is stuck with.


This story by the Post bears out what I have been saying for months, that the Dodgers contract stands in the way of both the majority of Dodgers fans in Southern California from seeing the telecasts and for Time Warner to be able to be acquired (or merged, if you must) by Comcast.


Although this could all be posturing by TWC to get Comcast to assume the huge debt as part of the purchase price, the financial stress placed upon Time Warner continues to keep the Dodgers from the majority of its fan base. With opening day now less than two weeks away, there is little to no hope things will change for at least the first half of the season.


Worse yet for the fans, there is very little sense of urgency all around. TWC continues to plead hardship, as if they had no idea that other carriers would not severely overpay in order to help them out. The Dodgers and MLB have their money for this contract, and the Dodgers can claim that they wouldn't have this contending team without the funds to help to pay for their players. The other So. California cable/satellite providers are in no hurry to pay through the nose for the Dodgers games when they can pass along cost increases to their customer base at a higher profit level anyway.




At the same time, the NFL actually made it easier for fans to be able to watch the local teams play since the League's previous TV blackout policy for home games which did not sell out (prior to 72 hours before kickoff) has officially been lifted. Even though there were no blackouts last year, the work of the FCC and now the approval of the League owners eliminates any uncertainty regarding which markets will see the "local" team's games moving forward.


It shows how far the incredible TV money has impacted the NFL. If you go back to the early 1970's and before, local team markets were blacked out of home games, including playoffs, whether completely sold out or not.


However, the (2015) Week 7 matchup between Jacksonville and Buffalo, to be played in London, will be a TV first. While, to the NFL's credit, the game will be shown over-the-air in both markets, the telecast will not be shown live by either Fox or CBS nationally, nor will it be available via the Sunday Ticket package.


The 9:30 AM ET game will be available only by online streaming, with details to be announced at a later time. I'm very curious about two aspects of this. First, we do not know yet whether or not the game will be "free" and available to every viewer who might want it. If there is no cost, it will be interesting to see how many viewers will choose to watch online and via which devices they choose.


What makes this so interesting is that, frankly, as of now a Buffalo vs. Jacksonville matchup would not attract the biggest of audiences if it were a nationally televised game. The ability for fans to watch four live NFL games in one day is no longer unique, since it happened last season and since there are two other London games which will air nationally at 9:30 AM ET during the coming season.
There will be plenty more about this before the October game takes place, but it will also be interesting to see how a streaming live telecast will do against the various pre-game shows which air on the networks during the same time.




On the NHL side, while NBC gears up to again cover every Stanley Cup Playoff game live, there will be one more network joining in the fray come April. The USA Network will be used to handle some telecasts, although NBC has not yet unveiled whether or not USA will get primary telecasts or those of lesser interest. It is expected that NBCSN will feature the most attractive matchups each night (except for days/nights that NBC itself has the games). In recent seasons, CNBC and NHL Network have been used for "overflow" games, especially during the first round.


USA Network was once the primary national cable outlet for the NHL in the early and mid-80's when that network was sports heavy, also airing MLB and NBA games.



Our story last week about WBBM-TV Chicago sportscaster Ryan Baker blowing it regarding a local team's game, combined with a wonderful reader suggestion, have inspired us to add a "BUSTED" portion to the Broadcast Booth. We start out with not one, but two major entries this week.


Of course, we must start with the one and only Charles Barkley. As I pointed out last week before this happened, the insanity of using an NBA crew on NCAA telecasts when so many other college hoops experts are available came to light. At halftime of the important Kansas vs. Wichita State game (3/22), Barkley stated that Cliff Alexander of Kansas was "playing pretty good". Alexander has not played in a game since February 23rd. BUSTED


Then, on Tuesday (3/24) on WFAN 66 New York's morning show, Boomer and Carton were discussing the Mets, when Carton referred to former Mets great and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver as, and we quote, "Terrific Tom". Boomer Esiason (who, of course, comes from the NFL) had to step in and correct Carton on the air that Seaver is known as "Tom Terrific". BUSTED



ESPN may have gone a bit overboard with its own cross promotion. During the Tuesday (3/24) MLB spring training telecast of the Phillies vs. the Braves, the broadcast team had Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden on as a guest. Instead of getting baseball analysis for most of one inning, fans got to hear which baseball teams and players Gruden likes, but with little to no reasoning behind it.



CHICAGO: Dave Juday, formerly a sports anchor for WMVP ESPN 1000, has been hired to handle sports updates on weekends and occasional fill-in on WBBM 780, which is all news but also now airs Cubs baseball. Coincidentally, WMVP has brought in Ben Finfer, most recently with WGN 720 and WGWG 87.7 (sister stations), to co-host its midday show with Carmen DeFalco this week.


Interest in the Blackhawks as they push toward the coming Stanley Cup playoffs continues to be high. The latest evidence came last week (3/17) when a Blackhawks vs. Islanders telecast on CSN Chicago finished #1 in adults 18-34 in the market. Not just among sports events or cable channels. In the Chicago market.




CINCINNATI: A little cooperation goes a long way. WLW 700 was faced with a conflict this past Saturday (3/21) when the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats' tournament game was scheduled to air within the time window assigned to a Reds spring training broadcast. The station, which gives the Reds priority over Bengals football regardless of the standings, agreed to move the Reds broadcast over to WSAI so that the Kentucky broadcast could air on WLW.




SAN DIEGO: Being a lot less controversial is paying dividends for Dan Sileo since his arrival early last year on 1090 AM after multiple firings in Southern Florida. Sileo has been assigned to also handle the pre-game shows for the station's Padres broadcasts, effective immediately.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sports Talk Show Canceled Before It Starts?

Suppose they scheduled a talk show and no one came? That's not quite an old saying, but it is something that happened, or didn't happen, on Washington D.C.'s WTEM 980 this week.


Today (3/16) was supposed to have been the debut for "Man Cave" in morning drive with Jason Reid and Chris Paul (the local radio veteran, not the NBA star player). There appears to have been either a power struggle or management reversal, depending upon who people want to believe. However, the DCRTV (Washington media watch site) reported that Chuck Sapienza was fired from his Program Director position of the station, perhaps because he went to bat, so to speak, for the previously announced morning show change.


Mike & Mike continues to air in the mornings on WTEM, which loses badly in the ratings to WJFK 106.7's local "Sports Junkies" show in morning drive.


How I wish I could credit the radio executive, who requested that his name not be used, for saying "It figures this happens in a city with so many politicians!" But a lot of radio talent would say "Being fired before you start on a radio station could happen anywhere!".



No surprise here, but as MLB opening day draws closer, still no hope for Dodgers fans in Southern California to be able to receive the local Dodgers telecasts. Now that the FCC has again delayed the Comcast and Time Warner Cable "merger", it gives those involved even more time to deflect the blame on negotiations.


Here is the link of the official story:


http://www.fcc.gov/document/mb-issues-public-notice-pausing-180-day-clock





The NFL continues to aggressively pursue the international market and worldwide income. Within the past week, the League granted media rights to MP & Silva, under a five year agreement, to handle 42 countries/territories throughout Europe in what was reported to be a $50 million deal.
Included are all games, from pre-season through post-season, along with NFL Red Zone and even the NFL Draft telecast, and includes full media rights beyond television. Incredibly, this deal does not include the UK or Germany.


It does include: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the Vatican City.
MP & Silva now handles certain international distribution rights for MLB, the NBA, the MLS, and ATP Tennis, as well.



NEW YORK: A series of announcer conflicts caused YES Network to move reporter Sarah Kustok in to the analyst role for this past Saturday's (3/14) Nets vs. Sixers telecast. With so many college tournaments and national NBA telecasts taking place, none of the regular YES Network analysts were available, as Mike Fratello, Jim Spanarkel, and Donny Marshall all had other commitments.
This assignment enabled Kustok to be the third female to serve as an analyst during an NBA telecast (Doris Burke and Cheryl Miller). Kustok continues to rank 4th in field goal percentage in DePaul University history from her playing days and also served as an Assistant Coach of the DePaul women's team for one season (2005-06). She also worked as an analyst on the recent Big East Tournament women's basketball telecasts.




LOS ANGELES: Sorry to learn of the passing of long-time sports reporter and host Joe McDonnell over the weekend at the age of 58. McDonnell had been a part of several radio stations going back nearly 40 years, including KFI, KMPC, KABC, KLAC, KFWB, and KNX. Joe was never one to keep an opinion to himself, yet earned the respect of team officials, especially the Lakers, because of his professional demeanor at all times. It was my pleasure to have known Joe for a while back in the 80's, before he overcame a lot of health issues which had many believing he would not have lived into the 90's as he did. I also remember talking about other topics, such as music, with him. He will be missed.


Speaking of the past in L.A. media, Todd Donoho is back on morning radio, joining Mark Thompson's new morning show on 100.3 The Sound (a rock station) to handle the sports. Fans around the country who recall the FNN Financial News Network in the late 80's may remember Todd as on of its primary nightly anchors.




St. LOUIS:  Maybe the coin toss for a format came up tails, but whatever the reason, KXFN 1380 suddenly returned to all sports radio this week (3/14). Kevin Slaten, off the air since November from sister station KFNS 590, was brought in to host the 3 to 6 PM time slot, with management hoping to have a full local weekday lineup in place by April. The station suddenly switched, airing Yahoo Sports Radio, over this past weekend, and plans to have Slaten on the air within this week.



CHICAGO: One more unfortunate example of why local TV sportscasters should, at the very least, know what is going on with the local teams they supposedly cover. I'm sure some readers will tell me "It's only spring training, give him a break", but it is still a matter of being paid to be factual.


This past Thursday (3/12) WBBM-TV Channel 2's Ryan Baker was racing through his afternoon news sportscast and giving the spring training report. He showed a highlight from the just concluded Cubs game from Arizona. Then he said "And the White Sox play the Giants later" and went on with his report.


Had Baker been paying attention to the local teams he reports on, he should have known that the White Sox had already played (completed) a split squad game against the Texas Rangers which had ended over a half-hour before this sportscasts. In addition, the game against the Giants was already underway, so it was not "later".


So much for ever watching him if a big sports story ever breaks. Sometimes you need to pay attention, at the very least to the local teams.



MOBILE: WNSP 105.5 is finally taking being the only full-time sports station in the market seriously, announcing last week that the station will soon feature at least eight hours of local programming each weekday.


The morning show will now be called "Opening Kickoff" from 6 to 9 AM, with Mark Heim moving from afternoons back to the morning slot and being teamed with Lee Shirvanian. The "Sports Drive" will air each afternoon, featuring Randy Kennedy (who remains in that time slot) and being joined by Patrick Woo.




Finally, may your bracket be the winner!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Before The 'Madness' Starts

There is now more to the discussion or fight over live streaming (depending on which term you prefer) of baseball on both a national and regional level this week. Now MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) has put it back on Fox Sports and Comcast Sports Networks, claiming those entities are standing in the way of "in market" streaming.


Again, this is only regarding the local team (or territory of a local team) stream for those who purchase the MLB-TV or At-Bat packages for their computers and mobile devices in order to be able to watch "out of market" telecasts live. Paid subscriptions for both are expected to rise this season after 3.5 million subscribers (combined) for the two services last season.


While there has been, as expected, zero movement in Southern California regarding Dodgers telecasts being seen on any other carriers, the battle over some of the games appears to be continuing in the Atlanta area. Dish Network's Atlanta region is, once again, planning to black out about 50 of the 2015 Braves telecasts from Fox Sports South, while subscribers to other cable/satellite systems will be able to see all of the (approximately) 150 telecasts. (The number of FSS telecasts can vary based on network flexing later in the season.)


This would be the third season of this happening, having begun when Fox Sports acquired the rights to 50 more telecasts from Peachtree TV and followed by raising its fees from the providers. Dish Network continues to refuse the increase, which somehow results in weeknight telecasts airing while most weekend games will not. Unlike the L.A. situation, at least Braves fans stuck in the Dish Network fiasco have the ability to change carriers and receive all of the games.


However, it is tough to blame Dish Network for this stance, even though other cable/satellite providers did not take it. If Fox Sports couldn't afford the additional rights to add the 50 more games without raising its rates, they should not have bid on them, or should have taken the "loss" on their own.



Meanwhile, next week brings us the NCAA tournament weekday action, with TNT and CBS again handling the coverage. The two networks will again each use their announcing teams from the regular season (or NBA in the case of TNT). The "lead" teams will be the CBS team of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill, along with the TNT lead team of Marv Albert, Chris Webber, and Len Elmore.


However, the studio alignment borders on insane. CBS covers college hoops during the regular season while CBS Sports Network adds some games of less importance. TNT does not show any NCAA regular season or tournament games, instead showcasing the NBA.


Yet, because of the dollars involved and the partnership between the two networks, the TNT studio crew with Ernie Johnson and a cast of thousands will handle the studio reporting during the second week of the tournament. It is bad enough that the networks insist on flooding the studio with too many analysts and not enough time for each to shine, but made even worse when analysts who have not focused on these teams all season are in this position for later rounds.


If the two networks really must divide the studio time, it would make more sense to have the TNT crew do the pre-game show and simply set up the day's matchups and play the highlights, and let the CBS crew, which handles the NCAA, comment when the games are on the line.


The Tuesday March 17 play-in game will be called by Brian Anderson and Steve Smith, while Ian Eagle and Doug Gottlieb will call the Weds. (3/18) telecast, each to be seen on TRU TV, even though there are no conflicting games.



Speaking of Wednesday March 18, ESPN is in attack mode, having announced a change in its NBA telecast schedule. In what could well be a matchup of the best records in each Conference, the Atlanta at Golden State game will now air at 10:30 PM ET.


ESPN also added the Memphis vs. Indiana game on April 15th as a late game following its Charlotte vs. Toronto matchup that evening.



It is always nice to see established professionals take the time to help with students of the industry. A thumbs up to ESPN's Michael Wilbon and USA Today's Christine Brennan who each have been added to the faculty at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. Each will teach on a part-time basis as their schedules allow, along with assisting on student projects and events.



April will be the final month for Tim Brando's radio show, per Tim's announcement made via his own Facebook page earlier this week. Brando sites his expanded role with Fox Sports, including college football and basketball play-by-play and being added to the golf coverage team as the primary reason. Brando's show has been airing on weekdays for nearly 14 years.



NEW YORK: Hats off to Neil Best of Newsday for this most interesting observation about WFAN Radio last week. The Mets, who had WFAN 660 as their flagship station for more than 25 years (prior to the 2014 season), now air on WOR 710, seem to be missing in action from the WFAN airwaves. Personally, I have not listened to WFAN with enough regularity to have noticed this as well.


Best points out that members of the Mets appear from time to time on WESN ESPN, which is a distant second to The Fan in the local sports radio race. However, ESPN Deportes (sister station) airs the Mets broadcasts in Spanish. Of course, the Mets are a big part of the WOR 710 airwaves, including the nightly "Sports Zone with Pete McCarthy" (on nights when the Mets do not air), as well as on the 'general interest' morning show with Len Berman and Todd Schnitt.


WFAN is, of course, entering its second season as flagship station for the Yankees broadcasts.


On the TV side, hats off to YES Network for a wonderful new idea introduced into Yankees spring training telecasts this month. With a fast runner on first base, YES has gone to a split screen, but not equal size. The majority of the screen shows the center field camera view of the pitcher and batter, while a lower corner focuses in on the runner in a frame about 1/4 of the size.


This concept is far superior to going to a wider shot to include the batter and the runner within the same screen. Here's hoping this gets adopted into the regular season coverage.




LOS ANGELES: KSPN ESPN 710 is experimenting with a local early morning show as of last week. Travis Rodgers and Kelvin Washington now host from 5 to 7 AM before the station goes back to network programming with Colin Cowherd starting live at 7 AM PT. This idea would seem insane on the east coast, but keep in mind that the stock market opens at 6 AM PT, meaning that there is an audience of "professionals" available during those early hours.


What may be insane, however, is that the station is also continuing the Rodgers and Washington show online only from 7 to 9 AM PT. ESPN is determined to maintain Mike & Mike in the marketplace, and has moved a slightly delayed broadcast, from 5 to 9 AM PT, over to KLAA Radio. The two stations have a long standing working relationship, also sharing the Angels radio broadcasts.



SAN FRANCISCO: The S.F. Examiner has hired a new Sports Director, which is an unusual title for print media. Even more shocking is that their choice is the much-maligned Jay Mariotti, whose controversial run on ESPN and with the Chicago Sun-Times years ago ended following legal problems he faced.



CHICAGO: WSCR The Score 670 has hired Jordan Bernfield as its new update anchor. The former WGN-AM and WGWG-FM sportscaster replaces Wayne Randazzo who recently left to join the Mets Radio Network on WOR New York.



DENVER: This past Monday (3/9) had KKFN 104.3 The Fan celebrate its 20 year anniversary with a day long special which included live shots with several of the station's previous hosts. Among the on-air visitors were Dan Issel, Irv Brown, Woody Paige, and Charles Johnson. Other special guests for the day included Rockies play-by-play voice Jerry Schemmel.


KKFN is also holding a party for fans of the station on March 26 at a local sports bar.



NASHVILLE: 94.9 The Game is losing morning co-shot Joe Dubin later this month in order to join WSMV-TV Channel 4. Dubin, who was a sportscaster for nearly 15 years on WKRN-TV Channel 2, is added to the WSMV staff as Rudy Kalis moves to the station's morning news show. No word yet on who will join Greg Pogue on The Game's morning show.




LOUISVILLE: WHAS 840 will remain the flagship station for University of Kentucky football and basketball for at least the next 15 years in a deal announced earlier this week. In addition, UK events such as baseball and women's basketball will now air on WKJK 1080.


This deal also includes Lexington's WBUL 98.1 in addition to WLAP 630, and Cincinnati's WCKY 1530 to air the football and basketball games.




PORT CHARLOTTE FL: WKII 1070 dropped its music format last week and switched to sports, although NBC Sports Radio is now the majority of its schedule. The station airs Rays baseball, as Port Charlotte is the Rays' spring training home, as well as Buccaneers football and Florida State sports.




LUBBOCK TX: The Fan 1340 will again air the majority of Houston Astros games this season for the second consecutive year. The station plans to air "at least" 110 regular season games as well as about 10 pre-season broadcasts this month.




MUNCIE IN: Sorry to learn of the passing of Ron Lemasters, who passed away several days ago at age 76 after suffering a stroke. Lemasters was a fixture in the sports department of the Muncie Star, where he worked his way up to Sports Editor, from 1961 until his retirement in 1999. Even this news came with a distinct element. It turned out that Mr. Lemasters literally passed away in the very same building in which he was born. He will be missed.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What The Fox (Sports)?

Fox Sports 1 is struggling enough to gain an audience, and now appears to be adding to its woes by suddenly seeking to increase the cost to providers and, of course, ultimately to the consumers. How dare they?


AT&T U-verse, which has an estimated six million subscribers nationally, has taken a stance against Fox Sports which is designed to put the blame on Fox, and it is effective immediately.
FS1 is, most of the time, starved for quality content which would attract a decent sized audience.


What little quality "big league" content they do offer is buried with minimal publicity, as has been noted by The Broadcast Booth over the past couple of years. The network has been making a better effort of late, acquiring a series of NASCAR races, several USGA golf tournaments, MLS soccer, and has been televising some Big East Basketball games.


However, Fox Sports is reportedly asking "extra costs" from cable/satellite providers because of the NASCAR, USGA, and Big East events effective immediately. This is an outrage. Neither the fans, consumers forced to pay rising cable/satellite monthly costs, or the providers asked Fox Sports to spend the additional millions of dollars to secure these events. Fox Sports should have done so at its own risk.


In response to this, AT&T, which provides U-Verse (an estimated six million subscribers nationally), issued an official statement about this on Friday (2/27):


“Fox Sports 1 is asking AT&T to pay additional fees for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Big East Basketball Games, as well as U.S. Golf Association tournaments. While it’s important to us that we provide our customers with the content they want, we don’t believe that it is reasonable to pass on the added costs of carrying this programming to our customer. Our strategy has always been to carry the sports our customers want most, but only through fair deals for our customers and our business. We won’t agree to a deal that would cause our customers to pay unreasonable rates.”


Fox Sports did not have the full rights to these events at the time the current deal with AT&T U-Verse was agreed to. However, we would think that NASCAR, the USGA, and The Big East Conference took the multi-million dollar offer from Fox Sports based on expecting the coverage which Fox Sports had.


As much as I like AT&T taking this stance, it is still the consumer that loses out. This means that even though AT&T continues to charge its subscribers a certain amount for "24 hour service" of Fox Sports 1, its blacking out of these events means that consumers will actually be receiving incomplete service. We have yet to see AT&T reducing its monthly cost to consumers because of this.


Back to this issue. With losing millions of subscribers "lost" for these events, FS1 would stand to lose potential advertiser revenue, since those advertisers would not be reaching the intended audience. At the same time, Fox Sports loses some rare opportunities to grow to toward having a respectable audience. However, NASCAR, the USGA, and the Big East also lose out on the live TV exposure even though they take in the millions of dollars.


Reports indicate that the negotiations between Fox Sports and AT&T are continuing. Sorry, Fox Sports, but there should not be any negotiation whatsoever. It is not AT&T's fault, nor is it the consumers' fault, that they bid too much for these rights.




There is still another media story which is a cause for concern making news this week. The announcement of a "multi-year official marketing partnership" between INDYCAR and USA Today. The publication plans to develop "special sections" within selected editions specific to INDYCAR racing.


While this additional "coverage" will not cost racing fans anything extra, it raises the question about what might happen to the USA Today coverage in the event of a negative incident happening specific to an INDYCAR event or participant.



Elsewhere, on a positive note, the NBA allowing fans to vote for their pick of most Tuesday night NBA TV telecasts is paying dividends for the hardcore fans. For this Tuesday (3/3), the fans voted in the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks. Most fans realize this is clearly the headline game of the night. Yet, despite Atlanta leading the Eastern Conference for much of this season, the team has been practically invisible on the national telecasts, even recently when ESPN and TNT have been flexing their telecast schedules.


This also comes after ABC/ESPN ignored the NBA on the previous Sunday (2/22) with no telecasts (for no reason) going up against the NHL doubleheader which NBC showed that same afternoon. Some local markets benefitted that day, such as Cleveland. The FS Ohio telecast of the Cavaliers afternoon win finished as one of the three highest 'non prime-time' telecasts in the history of that network. This is even more significant considering that the win was over the lowly Knicks as opposed to being a prime matchup.


On this past Sunday (3/1), ABC/ESPN carried a live tripleheader, including the Cav's overtime loss to Houston, while NBC returned the favor by not airing even a single national NHL telecast. The "argument" that NBC aired the Rangers vs. Flyers game in prime time on Saturday (2/28) instead does not fly here. The prime time telecast would have been an ideal promotion for one or two more games the following afternoon.


In both instances, it hurts because there are many casual fans who think to tune in on a Sunday and do not always find a telecast, so they find something else to watch.



Meanwhile, sorry to report the loss of three members of the sports media over the past few days.


Former minor league baseball play-by-play voice Dale McConachie died last week following an auto accident in the Portland OR area at the age of 55. McConachie was the voice of the Portland Beavers in the 90's, after having called games for the AA Albany Patroons (managed by Buck Showalter in the late 80's).


The former sports editor of the Kent-Ravenna (OH) Record-Courier of 37 years, Pershing Rohrer, died at the age of 96. Rohrer had retired as the full-time Sports Editor in 1989 (after taking the job in 1952), but continued to work part-time in the sports department until the very end.


Earl Williams, the former voice of North Dakota State football and basketball from 1966 through 1981, passed away in Fargo at age 79. Williams was also co-host of WDAY-AM's "The Earl and Don Show" in morning drive, and had also worked at KVOX-AM.




LOS ANGELES: The local TV ratings for the NHL vary quite a bit in this market. Oddly, the Kings vs. Ottawa telecast on Fox Sports West last week (2/24) somehow wound up as the highest rated Kings telecast of this entire season to date. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues as playoff time nears.


Even though SportsNet LA is still not available to the majority of cable/satellite subscribers in Southern California as the Dodgers begin spring training games on Wednesday, the network is televising every exhibition game as planned. Ironically, MLB Network is picking up several of the Dodgers telecasts for its national audience (although most will be blacked out in the L.A. area anyway), including the first two games. The Dodgers opener will air on delay in prime time on Wednesday, while the second game will air live on Thursday (3/5) on MLB Network at 3 PM ET. It is too bad, but understandable, that Vin Scully will not be calling these games, as he will not join the broadcast team until the final week of spring training.




PORTLAND: In a market with only one pro sports team but four sports radio stations, KPOJ 620 is adding a local morning drive sports show beginning next Monday (3/9). "Rip City Mornings With Bunker & Danforth" will air from 6 to 9 AM, including Taylor Danforth, who was midday host on KFXX until one month ago (2/4).


Andy Bunker comes to Portland by way of KIRO Seattle. KFXX, meanwhile, has yet to replace Danforth on its Noon to 3 PM show, which now has two hosts (instead of three), Andy Johnson and Brandon Sprague. KPOJ is the flagship station of the Trailblazers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Diamondback In The Rough?

Since when are the Arizona Diamondbacks telecasts in huge demand? Maybe I missed something along the way, but the recent agreement the Diamondbacks received for ongoing TV rights seems beyond comprehension. It seems that Fox Sports has extended its TV contract for Fox Sports Arizona to continue to show the Diamondbacks games regionally in what is reportedly a contract in the long term neighborhood of $1 billion total.


There was no indication about any other network (or local station) which would have driven up the bidding. I don't recall seeing the D-backs as being among the teams with the highest rated local telecasts over the course of a season. Where else were their games going to go?
I'm not sure there is enough interest specifically in the Diamondbacks to justify this. Sure, there are a ton of baseball fans, especially in the Phoenix area. Many of them are transplants from the east and Midwest who follow the game and/or their favorite team by watching the Diamondbacks games on a regular basis.


However, with another increase in rights fees, it would appear that, like with most teams or leagues, the fans will be asked (or more accurately, TOLD) to pay even more each month to their provider in order to receive Fox Sports Arizona. Just one year after the fiasco with Dodgers fans in Southern California not being able to see the majority of games, we have the potential for "negotiations" for the showing of these telecasts in Arizona.


Without a large enough audience to justify higher advertising costs, Fox Sports would "need to" charge still more and more to the providers for their network. In turn, those providers that accept will turn around and force the customers (fans or not) to pay even more each month. I'm not seeing enough "demand" or tradition that would create a huge impact if people couldn't watch the majority of Diamondbacks games. It is hard to believe that Fox Sports is this desperate to own the rights to this many MLB teams.



We move on to another announcer "suspension", with the Tuesday (2/24) announcement by ESPN that Keith Olbermann is "suspended" from hosting his TV show for the remainder of the current week. Not because of anything said on the air.


Instead, the suspension comes as a result of a Twitter barrage regarding some seemingly insensitive comments Olbermann made regarding a charity effort to some Penn State students. From here, it appears that this is another instance of the punishment not fitting the crime.


While I did not like Olbermann's Twitter comments either, the punishment should have been to "suspend" him from social media for the week following his apology. His remarks were not on the air, yet the network now, in effect, punishes the viewers by not having Olbermann on during four days he is scheduled to be. The viewers didn't do anything wrong - nor would they be aware of Keith's Twitter comments unless they also saw them via social media.




On the basketball court, ESPN's telecast of the North Carolina vs. Duke overtime game last week finished as the family of networks' most watched college basketball game of the season. The national ratings were significantly higher than the previous meeting between these same teams.



Back over at Fox Sports, struggling Fox Sports 1 has come up with a new weekend show to air on Sunday nights and to be hosted, starting on March 15, by Katie Nolan. Nolan, a former bartender who somehow wound up on their short-lived "Crowd Goes Wild" show working with Regis Philbin, will host "Garbage Time With Katie Nolan". Let's give Fox Sports 1 some credit on this one for incorporating the name "Garbage Time" into its fresh content.




CHARLOTTE: WEND 106.5 has stepped up for NASCAR coverage in a hub market, and will now air 38 NASCAR races, including the entire Sprint Cup Series starting this month. "End 106.5" is a music station during the rest of the week.




NEW YORK: Just in time for spring training broadcasts to begin (next week), WOR 710 has finally replaced Seth Everett as its studio host and occasional play-by-play voice for its Mets broadcasts. Wayne Randazzo comes over from Chicago's WSCR The Score to provide the studio pre and post-game shows, along with handling some play-by-play for games that Josh Lewin will miss due to network schedule conflicts. Howie Rose continues as the lead voice of the Mets, with the first broadcast for all scheduled for March 4th from Florida.



HOUSTON: No word, as of press time, about a new Program Director and/or midday co-host for sports stations KFNC 97.5 and KGOW 1560. Dave Tepper has bailed from those positions at the low rated stations in order to relocate to KOZN 1620 and KZOT 1180 in Omaha and become Operations Manager for those Nebraska based sports stations. Tepper most recently was paired with former NFL QB Sean Salisbury in Houston.




WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM ESPN 980 has announced a new and local morning show which will begin on March 16th from 6 to 10 AM. "The Man Cave" will be co-hosted by Chris Paul (not the NBA star) and Jason Reid. Paul has been on in the D.C. market regularly over the years, while Reid had been, among his duties, the Redskins beat writer for the Washington Post and NFL writer for ESPN.com. Word is that this new show will not be entirely focused on sports.




CLEVELAND: The TV ratings for the Cavaliers on Fox Sports Ohio are feeling the immediate impact of the return of LeBron James through mid-season. The Cavs have risen to have both the second highest local team telecast ratings in the NBA, while showing the second biggest percentage increase of overall audience compared with last season.
For the first half of the current season, only the defending champion San Antonio Spurs have a higher average local audience rating for their telecasts, while only the Milwaukee Bucks are showing a bigger percentage over last season's average.



CHAMPAIGN IL: WDWS-AM and WHMS-FM have expanded their University of Illinois sports commitment through the 2016-17 season. U of I football and basketball will continue to air as a simulcast on both stations. WDWS continues its participation to the point of also airing volleyball, baseball, and softball broadcasts.




COLUMBIA SC: WGCV 105.1 is bringing the pairing of Teddy Heffner and Rick Sanford back as a morning sports show this week from 7 to 9 AM, with the possibility of adding sister station WGCV-AM 620 as well. Once this happens, it would mean this market would have two local sports shows in the morning, going up against WKNT The Game 107.5

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sports Radio On The Rebound

The radio station ratings start to matter again as the holiday ratings period is officially behind us for the major markets. The month of January was good for news and sports stations (for the most part), including a noteworthy jump by WSCR The Score in Chicago. What adds to the significance is the fact that sports stations generally did not gain from competing stations.


In Boston, WBZ-FM Sports Hub rose significantly from a 5.1 to a 6.9 rating in just the one month, and is now tied for #2 overall in the competitive market.  (3.7 to 5.1) However, the Sports Hub did not cut into rival WEEI-FM's audience one bit. In fact, WEEI-FM rose from a 3.7 to a 5.1 rating during the same period, good for #7 overall. As a result, they combine for what appears to be the highest combined ratings for sports radio in Boston history.


In NYC, WFAN 66 The Fan rose to #7 overall in the market, while WEPN held steady and did not crack the top 20 stations list. In San Francisco, the hot season by the Warriors seems to have picked up for the lack of 49ers and Giants games as KNBR 680 went up from a 3.6 to a 4.3 rating in just the one month, putting back into the Bay Area's top 5 most listened to stations for the January 2015 ratings period.


Even Atlanta and Houston showed some growth from their leading sports stations, with WZGC-FM The Game in Atlanta jumping up to #16 overall from 2.3 to a respectable 3.0. Yet, WQXI 790 turned in a mere .3, barely 10% of The Game's audience. Houston's KILT hit the market's top 20 list with a 2.3 overall rating (#19 overall), which is at least one full ratings point better than any of the other three struggling sports outlets there.


As mentioned, WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago 'scored' with record high ratings in some demographics, moving up to #9 overall in the market with a 3.4 rating. WMVP ESPN 1000 also gained during January, edging up from 1.4 in December to 1.8 for January. (More about WSCR later.)


Detroit listeners returned to WXYT-FM The Ticket, even with the local sports scene being relatively calm, as it went from a 6.2 to a 7.0 rating, good for #2 in the market (behind news station WWJ). Baltimore's WJZ-FM rose to #4 overall as well. while Seattle's KIRO also rose significantly up to #6 overall, obviously helped by the Seahawks' Super Bowl run.


Even in San Diego, XPRS-AM rose to a 3.6 rating, putting it into that market's top 10 most listened to stations.


Well, not every major market did well with sports. In Los Angeles, KSPN failed to show up in the market's top 25 most listened to stations, yet still more than doubled Dodgers flagship (with no games, obviously, this time of year) KLAC 570. Even with the Clippers radio and having moved to full-time sports last fall, KFWB 980 came in with a miniscule .2 overall.



More nice work from the folks at Classic TV Sports, who actually take the time to investigate sports media stories, especially the facts. Earlier this week, several media outlets picked up on the "story" about the UNC vs. Duke basketball game being shown nationally via ESPN, and how Dick Vitale was not assigned to the game. Several stories, including one by the Tampa Bay Times, picked up by (as opposed to "reported" by) different sources, claimed that this would be the first time Vitale has not been assigned to this matchup going back to ESPN's beginnings back in 1979.


The Raleigh News & Observer went further, quoting Vitale about being a "team player" and "going where my bosses tell me to go" regarding going to help call Tuesday's (2/17) Kentucky vs. Tennessee telecast on ESPN instead.


Classic TV Sports later disputed this, pointing out that ESPN assigned Brent Musberger and Jim Valvano to this telecast back on March 7, 1993 (instead of Vitale), and then put a video clip of this telecast on its web site as proof.


While I give a ton of credit to Classic TV Sports, it needs to be pointed out that THIS is why I get so upset at media that merely "reports" what someone else is "reporting" and fails to confirm or deny based on their own resources. It makes me wonder how many other sports (or general news) stories we have all accepted as fact that really are not totally accurate. The writers in Tampa and Raleigh should be mighty thankful that I am not their boss this week.



Baseball fans begin counting down the days as spring training camps open this week, and MLB Network has announced an even bigger increase in its spring training coverage. In addition to its annual "30 Teams In 30 Days" feature, MLB Network has announced its schedule of, get this, 200 spring training telecasts including at least one live game every day for the entire month.



CHICAGO: While WSCR 670 The Score rides its high ratings, which figure to stay in place as the Blackhawks and Bulls race toward the playoffs and the White Sox and Cubs figure to have better seasons, will debut its new midday show on Monday (2/23). Jason Goff, earlier let go from his Atlanta gig, will return to The Score, this time as co-host with Matt Spiegel weekdays from 9 AM to 1 PM.


On the TV side, Comcast SportsNet Chicago is maintaining its high profile Chicago Bears coverage this week. Based on the increased local interest since the Bears changed General Manager and Head Coach, the network has not one, but TWO of its reporters assigned to Indianapolis to report on the NFL Draft Combine as it relates to the Bears. The network also has hired Vincent Goodwill as its new beat reporter for the Bulls, starting within the week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The High Cost of Watching Our Teams

The "How much more is it going to cost sports fans to watch the games?" question continues in much of the sports media news of the past week. The pro leagues and teams are already doing their best to stay one step ahead, as they see that more and more consumers are giving up their cable or satellite service due to rising costs.

It looks like new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred knows how important the TV revenue stream is, based on his interview with Forbes Magazine since taking over office. He somehow managed to place blame on distribution rights to the telecasts, acting as though MLB actually wants to help the fans in this regard.

Yet, at that very same time, MLB is "in negotiations" with Fox Sports regarding distribution rights for its own MLB packages within the Fox regional sports networks' territories. It is all about streaming rights for the "local" telecasts which Fox has the rights for. It is actually an issue because MLB Advanced Media wants to maintain control to stream these games via their MLB-TV pay package, which the Fox regional networks currently cannot do. This impacts an average of one-third of all regular season telecasts. If MLB winds up with streaming rights for Fox Sports telecasts, it would mean that consumers could possibly avoid paying Fox Sports or one of its providers for those games.

While it is understandable that Fox wants to protect its large investment, the point is that as of now consumers paying extra for the MLB package (whether the Extra Innings package via cable/satellite providers or the MLB-TV streaming capability) cannot access every game due to local blackout restrictions. This, in effect, forces consumers to pay for cable/satellite to view the local team telecasts (if they are interested in doing so), which means that fans are paying extra twice in order to have access to every live telecast.

At the same time, this week's story about the large number Comcast customer service issues is the latest factor in delaying review of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Not that anyone is in a hurry about that, but for Dodgers fans it adds to the stalling off of getting Dodgers telecasts on to any more cable/satellite systems with the new season now less than 60 days from starting.

The Dodgers situation has a lot more to do with MLB than MLB lets on. Reports are that MLB already received the bulk of its share of the funds for the 25 year huge contract, so it is not like they would want to renegotiate. If the merger happens, Comcast would likely expand the distribution, as they have done for their own (Comcast's) regional sports networks. TWC continues to hold the line or offer arbitration which means they would receive a pre-determined amount which may not be good for consumers either. Now with this merger possibility stalled again, it looks bleak for local TV again this season in the L.A. area.

All while MLB "negotiates" with Fox Sports and acts frustrated about the Dodgers TV situation.
The passing of Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, brings to mind how much he and his organization shaped sports media and the coverage of all things NFL. Fans over the age of 40, who go back to the days before cable TV came along, recall how NFL Films helped make football the "national" game that it is.


Innovations such as "The NFL Game of the Week" TV show made a huge impact. This was back before fans could see extensive highlights of out of market games. Giving fans in Ohio the ability to watch close up, slow motion, and ground level replays of a Dallas vs. San Francisco game (for example) was a huge factor in creating league wide interest. This type of film (video) helped to create interest in various teams around the league, instead of leaving fans with only highlights of the local team.


The NCAA Final Four telecasts will again be "Teamcast" on April 4th and 6th along with the regular national telecast. While Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill will call the main telecast, fans will also be able to watch the same telecast as described by each team's regular announcers and favoring their team. This remains a great idea, giving fans of the participating team the chance to hear their regular announcers while others have the regular national telecast. If any of the games turn into a blowout, it provides a chance for fans to sample the different announcing crew.


ESPN's College Game Day show for football season will have a new host, as Rece Davis will take over starting in August. Davis replaces Chris Fowler in the role, with Fowler having moved into a primary play-by-play role this past season. While it is understandable that ESPN likes the publicity and enthusiasm of bringing the show from different campuses, it would be nice if they reduced the number of panelists on location and had Davis be in their studio. Having a crowd screaming, cheering, and waving often becomes too much of a distraction from the information being presented.


ESPN again received the benefit of its publicity machine for no good reason on Feb. 3. Late that morning, the Chicago Sun-Times web site posted a "Breaking Sports" story that "an ESPN Blogger Predicts the Cubs to be better than the White Sox in 2015". How about the Sun-Times? Breaking this huge story more than two months before the regular season even starts. And before any of the baseball writer specialists it employs could make such a prediction.


This was not a "breaking sports" story anywhere, but ESPN also announced six MLB spring training telecasts for next month:

Thurs Mar 19 - NYY vs. Philly 7:00 ET
Tues Mar 24 - Atl vs. Philly 1 PM ET
Thurs Mar 26 - LAA vs. Cub 7 PM ET
Fri Mar 27 - Bost vs. Atl 1 PM ET
Thurs Apr - NYY vs. Det 1 PM ET



Moving from the front office into broadcasting took on a slightly different twist last week when former Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney, along with a partner, have leased WZGV 730 in Cramerton/Charlotte NC and WZGM 1350 in Ashville. In addition to running the stations, Hurney also co-hosts "Inside the Lines" from 1 to 3 PM weekdays on WZGV. I have a feeling there won't be very much disagreeing with him on the air moving forward.


Two major market sports stations are, coincidentally, losing their Program Directors during the first half of 2015. Jason Dixon has left Detroit's WMGC 105.1 and the struggle to come anywhere near The Ticket, which consistently ranks in the market's top three stations overall. Acquiring the rights to the Pistons broadcasts certainly didn't help, at least not this season as the team is struggling almost as much as the station.

Jason Barrett announced that he will be leaving his P.D. position at KGMZ 95.7 The Game no later than June when his contract expires. He was in a similar situation, with The Game miles behind the dominant KNBR 680.


NEW YORK: WEPN 98.7 has extended its contract to air both the Knicks and Rangers broadcasts, which they have done for the previous ten seasons. It remains to be seen whether or not WFAN will want to get in on winter sports local play-by-play or not, but it could well have that opportunity with the Islanders' planned move into Brooklyn for next season. Islanders NYC play-by-play rights have not been contracted for as of yet.


PHILADELPHIA: Tony Bruno has made a triumphant return to local radio, starting back as co-host of the WIP 94.1 afternoon show from 1 to 6 PM along with Josh Innes. Bruno, known nationally from his "Into The Night" syndicated show a few years back, was part of WIP's morning show (on 610 AM) with Angelo Cataldi in the early 90's. Cataldi, of course, is still on the station. Adding Bruno moves Rob Ellis back to the 6 to 10 PM shift on weeknights without play-by-play.

HARRISBURG: WHGB 96.5 (along with WGLD 1440 in York PA) have dropped Phillies baseball broadcasts effective immediately, although it has little to do with the team's horrible 2014 season. The stations became Washington Nationals affiliates, citing that the Nationals' AA team is based in Harrisburg. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Nationals are heavy favorites to win the Division and be well ahead of the Phillies in 2015. These stations become the only Nationals affiliates in Pennsylvania. The best the Phillies can do, so far, for their broadcasts in the region, is WLPA 92.7 in Starview PA.


SAN DIEGO: While Lee Hacksaw Hamilton awaits his next radio gig, Hamilton has joined XETV Channel 6 as a weekend sports anchor, following more than 25 years as a local sports talk host.


CHICAGO: With Cubs broadcasts about to begin on WBBM 780 (after thousands of years on WGN Radio), the station has named Mark Grote as host of its pre and postgame coverage along with providing scores and updates during the games. Grote, who comes back over to WBBM from sister station WSCR The Score, will also appear on WSCR reporting specifically on the Cubs.

Although the station is making its debut as the Cubs flagship, it only plans to broadcast the weekend spring training games, some of which go head-to-head against the NCAA Tournament games.

WSCR is about to begin its final season under the current contract to air the White Sox games. However, the station again plans what it calls "interactive broadcasts" for four of the few spring training games it plans to air. Once again, this is the only station to do such a thing, during which they stop the play-by-play after five innings to take phone calls on the air from fans while the game site. It's hard to believe they actually think that White Sox fans would rather hear what "Steve from the west side" thinks about the team than what their pitchers and hitters are actually doing at that moment. The games are either worth airing entirely or not at all, especially when there are 21 other hours in the day to merely take calls from listeners.

Comcast SportsNet is enjoying the success of the Chicago Bulls as much as the fans. The network's ratings for telecasts for the first three months of the current season are up more than 60% over the same period last season. In addition the network's pre and postgame shows are each up more than 35% over last season.


DETROIT: Fox Sports Detroit plans to rotate its game analysts this season, which means fewer games for long-timer Rod Allen. While Jack Morris will again handle a few games, FSD has added Kirk Gibson as an analyst for a still to be determined number of telecasts. It's too early to tell if Gibson's role will be determined by his on-air performance and fan reception or if he (Gibson) plans to pursue another job on the field.