Thursday, October 8, 2015

It's How The Ratings Ball Bounces

The MLB post-season has sent a line drive to TBS and a foul ball to Fox Sports. TBS has lucked in to having the top three markets involved in its National League Division Series telecasts which begin on Friday (10/9). Along side its New York vs. Los Angeles series are two of the most popular teams in the Midwest with the Cardinals and Cubs about to battle it out in their best of five series.

The Cubs Wild Card win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night (10/8) drew the highest ratings for a baseball game in the Chicago market in 10 years (when the White Sox won the 2005 World Series over Houston), with a 21.8 overnight rating. This is even more significant when you realize that NBCSN had the exclusive telecast of the NHL Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks opening night banner ceremony and game at the exact same time, and drew a national rating solid enough to make it the second most watched regular season telecast on NBCSN.

The American League Wild Card game on Tuesday (10/6) did quite well for ESPN, coming in approximately 48% higher than last year's Wild Card telecast (then on TBS). The difference? This year it included the Yankees, who were shut out, and with that, so were the hopes for Fox Sports in the ratings game.

Now Fox Sports has Toronto vs. Texas in one series, meaning that one of the local markets doesn't even factor in. To make matters worse, Fox is, again this year, hiding many of the telecasts on Fox Sports 1. Not only will there be fewer people interested (with the Yankees gone), but fewer casual fans will know where and when to find the games.

Kansas City, however, is a hotbed of Royals fans. The local telecast ratings (for Fox Sports Kansas City) increased nearly 90% over the 2014 season and, according to Sports Business Journal, made the Royals the team with the best local telecast ratings in MLB for the just concluded 2015 regular season. The team with the second best local ratings was the St. Louis Cardinals, also still very much alive in the post-season. Their ratings went up about 31% this season.

That report also shows that 16 of the 30 MLB teams showed overall ratings increases vs. 2014. In New York, the Yankees ratings dropped about 7% while Mets telecasts on SportsNet New York increased more than 55%. In Los Angeles, where the Dodgers still can't be seen locally in more than 70% of that market, the Angels telecasts on Fox Sports Southwest outdrew the Dodgers for 2015.

The major east coast storms continue to impact college football schedules and viewing. ESPN has been forced to adjust its telecast lineup for this Saturday (10/10) due to the LSU vs. South Carolina game being relocated to Baton Rouge (instead of Columbia). As a result, the game will air at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN. As a result, ESPN's other scheduled telecasts, both at Noon and 3:30 PM ET, are being moved within the family of networks.

Last Saturday's storms helped ABC to win the ratings battle among all broadcast networks with the Notre Dame at Clemson game drawing more than 3.2 million viewers. At the same time, ESPN's telecast of Mississippi at Florida was the most watched show on cable for the night. And then there was Fox Sports with its Arizona State vs. UCLA telecast. It was only the fourth most watched college game, also trailing ESPN2's Tennessee vs. Arkansas tilt.

Kenny Albert continues to keep busy, and continues to have two major networks in the fold. NBC has increased Albert's role in its NHL coverage for NBCSN and NBC. Hopefully Albert will improve on his hockey announcing and do more than simply give the name of the player passing or shooting the puck. NBCSN has also added Brian Boucher as a full-time NHL analyst.

ESPNU helps fans get ready for basketball, even at this early date. It is scheduled to telecast the University of Kentucky's practice on Sunday (10/11). Not to say they are going overboard, but the announcing team of Doris Burke, Seth Greenberg, and Jay Williams will be on hand. It's a practice, folks.

CBS has chosen Alabama at Texas A & M for its October 17th 3:30 PM ET telecast.

MILWAUKEE: Bucks radio will stay the same, while changes begin on the TV side for the coming season. The team has renewed with WTMJ 620 in a multi-year deal. Ted Davis, starting his 19th season in the role, will continue on play-by-play while Dennis Krause remains as the analyst for home games only.

However, on the TV side Fox Sports Wisconsin appears to be phasing out the long time team of Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin. This appears to be a Fox Sports decision, since they are bringing in announcers already employed by Fox for other duties. Gus Johnson will call 20 of the Bucks' games on TV, while Marques Johnson (a former standout for the Bucks in the 70's) will be the analyst on 55 of the telecasts when their respective schedules permit.

As a result, Paschke and McGlocklin will work the telecasts when either or both of the Johnsons are not available to do so.

ATLANTA: Another episode of a station reporter going overboard on social media and paying the price. WZGC 92.9 The Game suspended Mike Bell for his odd and derogatory comments about ESPN's Jessica Mendoza.

This negative publicity for the station comes during the same week as the station debuting its new morning show to replace Marc James and Jamie Dukes. The Game went all the way to their weekend staff to find its morning show, moving Hugh Douglas and John Fricke out of Saturday late nights and into morning drive. The reasoning behind the move is that this was the station's highest rated weekend show.

Some of you may remember John Fricke from CNN back in the 80's and the era of Nick Charles and Fred Hickman. Fricke is probably best remembered for laughing on the air for seemingly no reason, sometimes while reading stories.

INDIANAPOLIS: It's not exactly known as a hockey market, not having had a pro team since the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association in the late 70's. (With a rookie by the name of Wayne Gretzky in 1976, by the way.) Yet, WISH-TV is giving it a chance, signing to carry 19 regular season Chicago Blackhawks games via WGN-TV Chicago.

ORLANDO: The market already has five sports stations if you include surrounding areas. Yet, WYGM 740 The Game now has an FM simulcast at 96.9.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Toronto Broadcasts Can Take A Flying "Leaf"

While pro sports teams continue to expect millions of dollars for their radio broadcast rights, it seems that not all of the stations which air the games are willing to go all out. Incredibly, it took the expected fan and social media "pressure" to get the Toronto Maple Leafs    radio broadcasts for the coming season to originate from the actual arena where the games will be played.

Even though the Leafs are a flagship NHL franchise, the team had told Sportsnet 590 The Fan and TSN 1050, the Toronto stations which share the broadcasts, that radio broadcasters Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph would no longer be allowed to travel on team charter flights. As recently as last week, Bowen was reportedly told that he would instead call play-by-play of road games from the TV feed at a Toronto studio.

As you would expect, the public outcry even got the attention of the stations, prompting the change back to sending Bowen and Ralph on the road. How was this first announced? As far as people in Toronto know, the first indication came from Bowen's Twitter feed. The Maple Leafs are quite possibly the richest team in the NHL, yet they actually tried to get away with such a shabby radio presentation. Here's hoping that Bowen and Ralph get full reimbursement for their flight expenses.

Let's give credit to ESPN for scooping the local and national media on Tuesday (9/29) with the story about Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose needing surgery the following day after an injury suffered in practice. ESPN broke the news first, and continued on ESPNNews with "Breaking News" coverage with details and reaction from their Chicago correspondent. At the same time, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which at the time was airing a live sports discussion, did not include the story until more than 30 minutes later.

To its credit, ESPN ran the "Breaking News" story across the Bottom Line during the first inning of the Yankees vs. Red Sox telecast, alerting viewers to the live "coverage" over on ESPNNews. Glad to see such positive use of having more than one channel available and knowing to promote this option. That's how it is supposed to work.

MLB Network also deserves a ton of credit for its fast reaction to the rainouts involving playoff teams and contenders on Tuesday (9/29) night. Within an hour of the important St. Louis at Pittsburgh game being rained out, MLB Network had already announced and posted on its web site that it would air the make up game the following afternoon (9/30) live. In addition, MLB Network followed that telecast by joining the Minnesota at Cleveland make-up game in the late afternoon.

Although those games were not likely to draw the audiences they would normally get, the fact that the Network did what it could to make these games available to the fans so quickly is a step above and beyond.

Leave it to the NFL to take up government time, but that's what happened last week. The League got the Federal Aviation Administration to grant permission for the use of drones to fly during team practices. It seems that back in June, the FAA investigated the Patriots, Giants, and Cowboys for using drones without proper permission. (Yes, imagine the Patriots under government investigation for doing something without permission!)

As a result, the NFL becomes the first pro sports league to be able to use drones, although the permission is only for practice and not for any game action or any other purpose. There are size and weight limits involved, while prior written plans for specific usage must be provided.

For now, the focus is on the four live games that over-the-air viewers will have available this coming Sunday (10/4), thanks to the CBS telecast from London starting at 9:30 AM ET.

The radio ratings are out for the largest markets for the August to Sept. 9th time frame, and it is a mixed bag for sports radio once again. Let's take a look at a few of the key markets.

As always, we start with the biggest sports radio market, Boston. The latest controversy with the Patriots (the removed suspension of Tom Brady) made a huge impact on the rival stations. WBZ-FM Sports Hub rose to #3 in overall listeners, going from a 4.9 in the July-August ratings to an even more impressive 6.0 this time around. Significantly, the audience did not leave WEEI-FM, which increased from a 4.6 to a 5.4 rating.

In New York, WFAN 660 has risen to #9 overall, likely taking away from WPEN-FM. The ESPN station now has under one-third of The Fan's audience size, while dropping out of the market's Top 20. The amazing season by the Mets has propelled flagship WOR 710 to another increase, putting its overall audience at its best mark in three years.

Philadelphia has its pro teams all struggling at the moment, but that helps keep the phones ringing at both major sports stations. WIP-FM has risen one-half of a ratings point within the past three months and is back in the top 10, while WPEN-FM has also shown the same increase over the same time frame.

Sports fans in the Twin Cities are excited about the unexpected improved season by the Twins and some hope for the Vikings, with KFXN The Fan showing a full ratings point increase over the past three months to finish #8 overall. The current rating is more than triple the total audience of the two other local sports outlets.

The trend in Detroit is likely to continue, but for now WXYT-FM The Ticket enjoys its third consecutive #1 ranking, even though it is tied for the position in this just released ratings book.
However, the station dropped .8 from just the previous month. With the Lions off to a poor start, the Tigers dismal season winding down, and little hope for the Pistons, it is doubtful that only the Red Wings will keep the audience in focus.

Similar situation in Baltimore, as WJZ-FM is at #8 in the market, but has fallen nearly a full ratings point over the past three months as well.

In Los Angeles, even the Dodgers being well into first place with barely visible TV games has not made a big impact for flagship station KLAC. The station's new ratings stayed the same, while KLAC failed to even crack the market's Top 25. KSPN 710, even with some of the Angels broadcasts and a hot team, has dropped .7 over the past two ratings books.

Houston listeners are excited about the Astros' bid for the post-season as well as the Texans season. At least that's the case for KILT listeners. The station rose another half point over the previous month. Over the past couple of years, the other sports stations in Houston would be reasonably close behind. No more. As of this ratings book, none of the others has even one-third of the total audience of KILT.

The power of the NFL was as evident as ever on Monday night (9/28). Even with two of its smallest markets on Monday Night Football (Green Bay vs. Kansas City), the cable ratings for the ESPN telecast wound up more than three times higher than the audience ratings for the highest rated "non sports" program on cable for the night.

This past Thursday's game between Washington and New York had an audience rating which was 20% higher than its second game telecast in 2014 on CBS and NFL Network. Viewers were also "treated" to a clear f-word following a punt return with no on-air apology or acknowledgement.

And now the latest from Fox Sports regarding Fox Sports 1. The network realized that nobody noticed the "America's Pregame" live show which had been airing during the 5:00 to 6:00 PM ET weekday slot as a preview of the night's games. Perhaps a few fans noticed it was canceled after last week (9/25). The replacement? Well, nothing live, at least for the moment. Sure, that will make a difference.

For however long it takes to find a replacement, FS1 is airing "The Best Thing I Herd" which is a "best of" the Colin Cowherd show. Even though it is a supposedly temporary move, there is nothing like airing recorded programming as a replacement for a live show in an effort to grow a sports audience.

ESPN Radio has completed its weekday lineup revision, and, as seems normal, it includes still another Miami radio connection at the national level. The Jorge & Jen Show now airs from 9 to 11 PM ET on nights with no game broadcasts. Jorge is Jorge Sedano, who was Program Director and host on Miami's WQAM 560 along with other Miami stations WAXY The Ticket and WINZ 940. Bomani Jones and Dan LeBatard also came to ESPN Radio via Miami radio.

Jen is Jen Lada, who was recently signed by ESPN Radio to work with Colin Cowherd just before Cowherd was cut from the Network. Lada came by way of Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

CBS has announced that its SEC football telecast on October 10th will be Georgia at Tennessee at 3:30 PM ET.

BUFFALO: Sabres fans are pleased to hear that Rick Jeanneret, their play-by-play voice of the past 43 years, is now leaning toward staying on beyond the coming season, already agreeing to return for the 2016-17 season. Jeanneret again call 41 games this season, although no specific number of games have been determined for next year, which is understandable.

CHICAGO: This coming weekend marks the final White Sox broadcasts on WSCR The Score 670 after a pair of 5-year contracts expire. The team will be heard on WLS 890 starting with the 2016 season. As of press time, none of the team's radio or TV broadcasters have been signed for next season, opening a ton of speculation. The status of radio broadcasters Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson is uncertain, while TV voices Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone also have not been signed. Both Stone and Jackson are solid as analysts, but a change of play-by-play voices would be welcome by a lot of fans.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is Comcast/Xfinity Blacking Out Games They Shouldn't Be?

My understanding is that the current contracts with MLB for TBS and most ESPN telecasts no longer allow national games to be blacked out in the local markets. While ESPN carries an exclusive for its Sunday Night Baseball, its regularly scheduled Monday and Wednesday night telecasts, though not exclusive, are also now able to be shown within the local markets.

Yet, it seems that Comcast's Xfinity Cable has been ignoring this of late, at least in certain markets. These markets include Chicago. For example, this past Sunday's TBS telecast of the Cardinals and Cubs was blacked out on Xfinity systems in the Chicago area. Last Wednesday (9/16), the ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball telecast between the Cubs and Pirates was blacked out from ESPN. 

In both instances, the Cubs games were being televised locally by Comcast SportsNet Chicago. How about that? The network, which just happens to be partially owned and fully operated by the company which owns the cable system, just happens to be the only source airing a local team's game.

This is not to slight the local telecast, in this case. CSN does an excellent job all around. However, there are some fans who, for whatever reason, prefer the national telecast. Other fans might want to get the national perspective on their favorite team, whether for an entire game or even a couple of innings. They should have that choice. Especially when the league contract calls for it.

Chicago appears to be one of several cities where this (local games blacked out) has been happening when it shouldn't be, according to unconfirmed reports I have received. Since I have not been able to confirm these other cities, I'll stick with what I know for sure.

Consumers pay a lot of money for these channels, often when they don't even watch some of them. They should be entitled to every program and event the channels they are paying for are showing.  When two channels are showing the same event, the paying customers should be able to choose which one they wish to watch, or be able to switch around.

Baseball fans everywhere continue to mourn the passing of Milo Hamilton late last week at the age of 88. Not every baseball fan knew the name right away. But they all know "There's a new home run champion of all time, and it's Henry Aaron!!", perhaps his most identified call. Milo wound up in the right place at the right time on several occasions. He joined the Braves for their first season ever in Atlanta. He was with the Pirates during the "We Are Family" 1979 World Series season. And his many years in Houston were capped off by his being able to call the Astros' only trip to the World Series in 2005. Hamilton was definitely in the right place at the right time for us long time baseball fans. He was on the air.

The NFL ratings game continues to be amazing. CBS hit the jackpot on Thursday (9/17) when its first Thursday Night Football telecast (along with NFL Network) became its highest rated Thursday Night Football telecast ever. (Granted, it's the start of season two.)

Sunday's Green Bay vs. Seattle telecast on NBC was the most watched Week 2 game since 1991, and that '91 telecast was with Dallas taking on Washington.

ESPN Radio has announced its revised weekday schedule. As suspected, the August auditions of some of the hosts from its various big market owned and operated stations were an exercise in promotion only. It is official that "The Right Time" with Bomani Jones will air from 4 to 7 PM ET (moving up from its evening slot), starting next week (9/28). From 7 to 9 PM ET, ESPN Radio will air "Jalen & Jacoby", hosted by NBA analyst Jalen Rose and David Jacoby, known from his work at Grantland.

The timing is good in the sense that NBA training camps will open within days of this show beginning, which is clearly Jalen Rose's expertise. The network clearly hopes he can build up enough of a following by the end of June to maintain a following through the summer of 2016.

LOS ANGELES: While Time Warner Cable continues to refuse to give in on its price demands and the majority of Dodgers fans continue to go without telecasts, the impact is hitting home even harder this week. TWC has begun layoffs of personnel and cutbacks in its support programming of the Dodgers, as well as the Lakers.

No more "Dodgers Clubhouse" and "Larry King At Bat", among others, will soon vanish. Have to wonder if this will cost them any subscribers from among those few who actually get the Dodgers channel.

CHICAGO: Even with the Bears starting off at 0-2 and expectations of a disaster of the season, the unending hype still hasn't stopped. WSCR 670 The Score insists on its "Monday wrap-up" of every (Sunday) game to the point of moving part of it to online only. The station aired a make-up game on Monday (9/21) afternoon between the White Sox and Tigers. Therefore, the station went as far as keeping their regular hosts online only during the game broadcast in order to continue their discussion of the previous day's Bears loss. As if fans must know that "Steve from the north side" thinks "the team needs a new secondary". Way to tell listeners that what they have on the air isn't worthwhile enough.

As a follow up on last week's report about many Fox stations not airing the additional hour of NFL pregame programming on Sunday mornings, it should be noted that Fox has moved "Fox NFL Kickoff" to sister station WPWR-TV 50 at 10 AM CT each Sunday. By doing so, the network show competes against two local pre-game shows, including "Bears Game Day Live", which air at the same time on WFLD-TV, which airs all of the Fox programming.

St. LOUIS: No surprise here, as the Cardinals and KMOX 1120 have expanded their contract with a "multi-year extension". The team will actually continue to produce the broadcasts. Mike Shannon, John Rooney, and Mike Claiborne continue as the broadcast team.

TULSA: KTUZ 1270 has moved its Spanish programming to the lesser KZLI 1570 and picked up a simulcast of "The Franchise", which is Oklahoma City's KRXO 107.7 sports radio. Industry reports also have KZLI in the process of adding 107.9 FM to the simulcast, which is licensed to Broken Arrow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NFL Ratings Surge Opening Weekend

No doubt about it. The NFL is back and the audience is ready based on the TV ratings from the regular season opening weekend. The first doubleheader game on CBS, between Denver and Baltimore, came in with the highest rating and audience share for a CBS doubleheader game since Sept. 15, 2013, when Denver played the NY Giants.

Sunday night, NBC scored its 2nd highest viewership for a prime-time game between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys since 1987, scoring more than three times the total audience of the Miss America pageant on ABC. To no one's surprise, three of NBC's top five local markets for the telecast were Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. To the surprise of some, the Philadelphia market actually scored a slightly higher rating than the NYC market. (Must be a lot of Jets fans with little to no interest in the Giants these days.)

Fox did well by having a closer than expected early primary game between Green Bay and Chicago. However, Fox Sports seems to be having a struggle to gain any traction for its expanded pre-game programming. Its attempt to get "NFL Kickoff", which airs from 11 AM to Noon ET and last year was hidden on Fox Sports 1, found that even some of the network's owned station didn't bother to air it.

Over the air Fox stations in NFL markets which did not air the show during Week 1 included Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and San Francisco, and Seattle, which all have local NFC teams airing primarily on Fox. In addition, AFC team markets not airing the show included Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego. A couple of those markets did air the show on either another local TV station or a lesser known subchannel.

Fox Sports 1 also needs to quickly examine its MLB contract and gain flexibility for the 2016 season, if not sooner. Back in April, it was easy to understand how a mid-September (9/12) matchup between Detroit and Cleveland could have some appeal based on pre-season expectations for both teams.

However, with neither team being anywhere near contending status in September, FS1 still planned to air this matchup in prime time on Saturday night. This was hardly a way for the Network to promote its post-season coverage, nor to make even the smallest dent going up against major college football coverage on ABC, ESPN, and most regional sports networks.

The Detroit-Cleveland game was delayed more than two hours before being postponed, leaving FS1 with three hours to fill with studio updates on both the baseball and football. Of course, that could have happened even with an attractive MLB matchup, but the fact that it was a rain delay for a game few cared about was a blow to the network. As it was the Fox Sports telecast of the Yankees vs. Blue Jays game that same afternoon ran over into the Iowa vs. Iowa State football telecast as it was.
FS1 needs to have flexibility for its MLB games, at least for September.

After all, live sports is huge for the TV networks. Advertising Age just broke down a Kantar Media survey showing that, for the 2014-15 sports seasons, approximately 37% of the overall advertising sales for CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox came from live sports programming. That comes to a 35% increase from five years ago.

The NFL also benefits from regular Spanish radio broadcasts of its Sunday Night Football games, as Entravision Radio has started its three-year deal to air the games, along with two of the Thanksgiving games and the AFC playoffs. Tony Nunez and Erwin Higueros handle the call. Entravision also provides a one hour Sunday recap and pre-game show immediately prior to the game broadcasts.

On the Canadian side, the top four TV programs (sports or otherwise) this past weekend were the four games between the Blue Jays and Yankees. Amazingly, the Saturday post-game show, which followed more than nine hours of game action, also finished in the top 10 in the most watched programs for the week list. It probably helped that the Blue Jays won the doubleheader.

ESPN has officially added Molly Querim as a full-time host of First Take late mornings on ESPN2. In addition, Querim will regularly contribute to the last couple hours of the Mike & Mike Show.

BUFFALO: Local fans were ready for the Bills to open. The Bills telecast vs. Indianapolis on Sunday scored an amazing 43.8 rating, which was higher than the ratings for any of its games last season, and 40% higher than last season's opening day.

DALLAS: Even with the Cowboys' season underway, the Rangers have the attention of local viewers. The Monday (9/14) night game against division rival Houston, as the teams battle for first place, scored a local 4.4 rating, compared with a season average rating of just below 3.0.

KANSAS CITY: KWOD 1660 has dropped its business programming and added sports, even though it is Fox Sports Radio.

BALTIMORE: Comcast SportsNet has switched a co-host for its "Sports Talk Live" show. Rob Carlin, one of the network's local anchors, will replace Chick Hernandez, who returns to covering the Redskins.

MILWAUKEE: Not sure that the demand is there, but Gus Johnson will be calling play-by-play for 20 of the Bucks telecasts (on Fox Sports Wisconsin) during the upcoming season as his Fox Sports and Big Ten Network schedule allows.

DES MOINES: KRNT 1350 has become ESPN Des Moines, bringing ESPN Radio back to the market after a more than two year absence. The station will also air Green Bay Packers football, Chicago Cubs baseball, and Drake University football and basketball. Chicago Bears football will now air on KPSZ 940.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ready For The "Stream" Of Football Games

This coming weekend is the football fans' delight, complete with the first full slate of college games on Saturday and then the majority of NFL teams opening up on Sunday.

What makes this football season different for the media is reflected in how much more the internet is a part of our collective football season, more so than ever before. The old saying, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard" is being replaced by a new saying, "You can't watch football without being online", or so it will seem.

The New York Times ran an extensive article this week about the number of brands wanting to advertise to football fans and ways they can actually do so within the period of specific live games.

The likes of Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter are, according to the Times article, able to provide large advertisers with the ability to reach "viewers" of specific NFL games, along with fans checking games for information about their fantasy players.

To that point, for just last week (Aug. 31 through Sept. 6th), the Media Monitors report of the leading national advertisers had both Fan Duel and Draft Kings within the top 21 advertisers of any kind in terms of radio commercials purchased around the country. This shows us what a big business watching the NFL has become.

This follows recent Nielsen research claiming that more than 85% of both smart phone and tablet users are engaged online even while watching TV. What makes this even more interesting is that these advertising opportunities cost the advertisers much less (at the present time) than spending for network buys, while the major network fork out billions to the NFL for the rights to the live telecasts and to be able to profit from ad sales to do so.

Some of the networks are taking precautions already. CBS Sports now plans to stream all four of its playoff telecasts in January and the Super Bowl in February to laptops, tablets, desktops, and other opportunities including Xbox, with no cost or need for a cable or satellite provider, free of charge. In addition, CBS will stream the NY Jets vs. Miami game from London on Oct. 4th at 9:30 AM ET, and has also promised to stream the Thanksgiving game between Carolina and Dallas.

Speaking of CBS-TV, the network's coverage will be enhanced for many of its Sunday telecasts along with its Thursday Night Football telecasts (for CBS and the NFL Network). The latest innovation is the "Pylon Cam", which will be installed inside the pylons at both sides of the goal lines on both sides of the field. No word yet as to whether these low level views will be able to be used as part of League replay reviews. However, they probably will not be available for that purpose because these are not (yet) available for every game.

College football gets the viewers as well. Even the ESPN openers on Thursday Sept. 3rd saw sharp ratings increases when compared with the 2014 season's opening night. Its North Carolina at South Carolina telecast was up nearly 40% over last year's Ole Miss vs. Boise State telecast. That game wound up as one of the top 6 ESPN opening night telecasts ever. The TCU vs. Minnesota telecast later that night also showed a jump over last year.

Over at Fox Sports, they have something to be excited about, as the Fox Sports 1 telecast of Michigan at Utah, the opener for Jim Harbaugh as Michigan coach, was one of FS1's most viewed college football games ever. Ironically, Fox benefited from all of the publicity about Harbaugh, while it does not have a Big Ten contract. FS1 was able to air the game because it was a home game for Utah, and Fox Sports has a Pac 12 contract and could air the game.

CBS-TV announced plans to stream its 17 game SEC football telecasts this season, and do so free without requiring a cable or satellite company to authorize. The stream is also expected to include a "multi-view" feature to allow viewing from a choice of the camera angles used on the main telecast.

While the University of Illinois lost out on having its opening game televised this past weekend when its game was postponed from Friday night to Saturday afternoon due to a severe thunderstorm, their football broadcasts are making history. U. of I is allowing its football games to be broadcast in Chinese, making it the first college team to do so. Although these broadcasts are exclusively through the web site and announced by students Bruce Lu and David He, this is designed to serve the school's estimated 4,000 students from China. This is a brilliant use of a web site.

A few things that come from the "Oh My!" file from the past few days. First, the story about ESPN suspending Curt Schilling for the remainder of the season from Sunday Night Baseball. OK, that isn't a surprise, even though the inflammatory comments were not made over the air. What got me to react was that I first saw the story of this suspension, on, of all places, the web site.

I'll ask it again. Why on earth is CBS "reporting" about something that only involves an ESPN personality and telecast? They should be covering the games and breaking news instead of "reporting" about their competition. Yet, once again, ESPN manages to generate publicity, even if it's not the most positive, via other major reporting sources, to their credit. But that should never happen.

NBCSN contributed to this list on Monday (Labor Day) morning, even though they will say it's not their fault. But there was this national sports network, on the eve of the NFL season opening, NCAA Football hitting full swing, and the start of the final month of MLB, airing a "Best Of" Dan Patrick Show that morning.

Again, Patrick is entitled to time off. But sports fans are entitled to live and current sports programming. Especially when ESPN and Fox Sports (along with regionals such as CSN) are airing live and current highlights and interviews at the same time.

Fox Sports 1 will stop airing a simulcast of Mike Francesa's WFAN New York radio show after this week, as the network clears the way to add a different sports radio show, this time with Colin Cowherd. One key difference is that Cowherd's show is national in scope, as opposed to Francesa's show being focused more on New York City sports.

BOSTON: The July-August radio ratings have WBZ-FM Sports Hub edging out WEEI-FM this time around, although the stations finished overall at #6 and #7 in the market. In fact, both stations increased their total audience from the June-July ratings period. WBZ-FM Sports Hub has gained significantly since spring, while WEEI-FM has dropped slightly over the summer. With a dismal Red Sox season coming to an end while the Patriots season starts, it could be even more positive for the Sports Hub over the coming weeks.

CHICAGO: After years of hosting a ton of sports programming for WGN Radio, including a short-lived low power FM show and an online show shared with Comcast SportsNet Chicago, host David Kaplan reportedly accepted a buyout and is no longer with WGN. In addition to continuing to host "Sports Talk Live" and Chicago Cubs studio programming for Comcast SportsNet Chicago, Kaplan joins WMVP ESPN 1000 radio starting next week to host the Noon to 2 PM spot on weekdays. WMVP will face its biggest challenge in years starting next spring when it loses Chicago Bulls broadcasts after the coming NBA season and post-season, and will no longer have any major local play-by-play. Rival WSCR The Score will begin as the flagship station for the Cubs next spring, while the Bulls will move over (along with the White Sox) to WLS 890 starting in March and October.

WBBM NewsRadio 780 has added Kevin Jackman to its sports department on a part-time basis, where he will be providing weekend sports updates.

NEW YORK: As the Yankees enter a huge weekend series against Toronto for the top spot in the American League East, the Mets are also doing quite well in the ratings game as well as the National League East standings. The Tuesday (9/8) telecast of the Mets game vs. Washington showed the highest rating for a Mets telecast so far this season, as did SNY's post-game show.

PHILADELPHIA: You might be able to credit social media for helping ESPN. As the word spread last Saturday (9/5) that Temple was on its way to upsetting Penn State, the telecast rose to a 6.7 rating and 17 share during the 4th quarter of the game.

CHARLOTTE: Not that many people will notice, but the market quietly lost its CBS Sports affiliate this week, as WBCN 1660 (which has the call letters of the one time legendary Boston rocker) has dumped sports and returned to syndicated general talk. WFNZ 610 The Fan continues as the local sports leader, with ESPN 730 and Fox Sports 98.7 already on the scene.

RALEIGH-DURHAM: WDNC The Buzz has, as of this week, consolidated its local sports talk into its morning show, now known as "Mike Lauren, & Demetri". Mike Maniscalco remains, but is now teamed with writer Lauren Brownlow and a former local music radio host, Demetri Ravanos.

However, the station added Colin Cowherd to its Noon to 3 PM weekday spot to air live, and now delays the Jim Rome Show to its 3 to 6 PM spot. You read that right. They expand the morning show, but go to a tape delayed syndicated show for afternoon drive.

PORTLAND: Fans of the Trailblazers without cable or satellite are delighted, as the announcement has been made that KGW-TV will air 21 Blazers games over the air this season. This will be the most games to air on KGW-TV since 2008.

Monday, August 31, 2015

NFL Telecasts Already Ratings Winners

This is the week that ESPN launches its "ESPN College Extra" channel(s) on many cable/satellite systems, adding up to eight separate channels during the Saturday football times to show a number of games either simultaneously or separately. The channel promises to air college sports year-round, including events from the Big 12, ACC, MAC, and the Sun Belt conferences.

Among those systems adding these are DirecTV and AT&T, Time Warner, Bright House, and Fios. As of press time, Comcast is among those systems not offering this feature. Curiously, Comcast offers the multiple channel feeds for the Big Ten Network in many Midwest markets, which is by way of Fox Sports.

For this season, these will be college football games also available via ESPN3, which streams and includes the network's app, as well. However, since many of the teams not opening until the following weekend, the Sept. 5th list of games includes Wofford vs. Clemson, Albany at Buffalo, Tennessee Tech vs. Houston and Northern AZ vs. Stephen F. Austin.

You would think that other pro team owners, especially in Los Angeles, would learn from the Dodgers' TV deal and make a full effort to have their product seen by as many TV viewers as possible. Just as the Clippers have the opportunity to steal with local spotlight away from the Lakers, new owner Steve Ballmer may be poised to take an even bigger risk.

The New York Post reported late last week that Ballmer is looking into making the Clippers local telecasts available only by streaming and not with a local or regional TV package. Ballmer has reportedly turned down an increased renewal offer, believed to be as high as $60 million dollars per season, from Fox's Prime Ticket Network to renew its contract after the coming 2015-16 season.

It appears that Prime Ticket became more aggressive in the bidding since the Lakers have their own TV network via Time Warner Cable and thus will not be available in the near future.

If the $60 million per season reported bid is true, it would seem that generating close to or more than that on an individual basis for streaming would be a monumental task. Especially when you consider that Prime Ticket promotes and markets the telecasts to its approximately 5,000,000 Southern California viewers.

Even if this is talk to increase the bidding from competitors (since Prime Ticket has the games for the upcoming season), it remains to be seen if the team's TV ratings will rise considerably from last season to warrant Ballmer and the team getting more than double what Prime Ticket is currently paying for the telecast rights.

Not taking such an offer could totally backfire on the team, and eventually on its growing fan base.
Speaking of Los Angeles, baseball fans are rejoicing from the news that Vin Scully expects to be back calling Dodgers home (and selected road) games again for 2016, giving it one more season. It seemed so fitting that during the same series (vs. Chicago Cubs) in which Scully made the announcement that he was on hand to call Jake Arrieta's no-hitter on Sunday (8/30) from Dodger Stadium to the local radio audience.

Those networks which didn't seem to mind when they lost the NASCAR telecast rights are counting their blessings again this week. This past Saturday's (8/29) Sprint Cup telecast from Bristol, airing on NBCSN, dropped by more than one-third from last year's ratings on ABC-TV, and by more than 40% from the 2013 ratings. As a result, it winds up as the least watched Sprint Cup telecasts since the 90's.

TBS continues it's New York or Boston thing on its Sunday MLB telecasts again this coming Sunday (9/6). It has scheduled Tampa Bay at the Yankees. This, even though MLB Network and ESPN will have, still again, saturated baseball fans earlier in the week with the Red Sox vs. the Yankees as though every game they play against each other is a special event.

If you don't believe the power of the NFL on TV then last Friday's (8/28) national ratings should convince you once and for all. CBS won the prime-time ratings battle for the night among total viewers, including both men and women aged 18-49. This was due to a live NFL game. Incredibly, it was a pre-season game. Even more incredibly, it was a matchup between Detroit and Jacksonville, two teams which did not even come close to making the playoffs last season.

BOSTON: While we await the June-July radio ratings to see how WEEI-FM fairs against WBZ-FM Sports Hub, WEEI-FM is bringing back a familiar voice to co-host its midday show. Glen Ordway will join Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria, starting next Tuesday (9/8), returning to the station 2 and one-half years after his afternoon drive stint had ended.

Ordway technically replaces Tim Benz, who went back to Pittsburgh just over a month ago. For those not familiar with Boston sports talk, Ordway has more than 25 years on WEEI, including nearly 18 years as co-host of the afternoon drive "The Big Show" from the mid-90's into early 2013.

 CHICAGO: This past Saturday (8/29) was quite a night for the local CBS radio stations, as the group aired all three of the major Chicago pro team broadcasts live. WBBM 780 aired the Bears exhibition game from Cincinnati entirely, then joining the Cubs at Los Angeles Dodgers game after the post-game show to air the final three innings of that game. WBBM's FM signal, WCFS, aired the Bears game until 8:40 when it cut away to air the Cubs pre-game show and the entire game.

Over at sister station WSCR The Score, the White Sox vs. Seattle game aired as usual. The Bears and Cubs will not conflict on WBBM starting next season, as the Cubs broadcasts are expected to move over to WSCR with the White Sox games moving to WLS-AM.

WMVP ESPN 1000 has added former Bears standout Brian Urlacher as an analyst for a Tuesday afternoon studio shot most weeks.

DALLAS: After being tightly bunched just a few months ago, the new (July-August) radio ratings for the big three sports stations are showing much more of a spread. KRLD continues a strong lead (.8 overall) over KTCK-AM The Ticket even though The Ticket showed a 10% overall increase over the previous month. KESN-FM ESPN is now an even more distant third.

HOUSTON: While the Astros continue with impressive ratings growth for their telecasts on Root Sports, football remains king on the local scene. The exhibition game between the Texans and Saints drew a 19.9 Nielsen rating, while the Astros vs. Minnesota (two teams surprisingly very much in the post-season hunt) drew no better than a 3.0 for the weekend.

NEW YORK: While the Yankees battle for first place against Toronto, the fans are saying "YES" to watching the telecasts. The YES Network ratings for the Yankees telecasts are reportedly up by more than 30% since the All-Star break in July, with eight of the nine highest rated telecasts for the season airing since July 29th. Also since the All-Star break, the YES pre-game show has shown a 38% ratings increase and a 17% post-game show increase.

CHARLOTTE: The Hornets are going to a three-person booth for their telecasts starting this season. Fox Sports Southeast has added Stephanie Ready to the actual game broadcasts, working with Eric Collins and analyst Dell Curry. This is believed to be the first "regular" three person team for any local team NBA telecasts. This will be the 12th season for Ready to be a part of the telecasts. She was an assistant coach in the WNBA, as well as having become the first woman to help coach for NBA team when she was also an assistant in the NBA D-League.

NEW ORLEANS: WMTI-FM 106.1 has dropped its all sports format and gone to music. However, the station will continue to air Tulane football this season, as well as the Curtis Johnson (Tulane head football coach) Show each week. The station had also been airing Tulane basketball, but, as of press time, there has been no announcement either way on that.

CORPUS CHRISTI: ESPN Radio is on the move this week. KEYS 1440 has dropped its affiliation and has gone to general talk, while KLHB (Portland TX) 105.5 has dropped its Spanish format to pick up ESPN Radio as of September 1st.

HAMILTON ONTARIO: A big change for 90 year old station CKOC 1150 this week, as the station drops its oldies format to become TSN sports radio.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Up Periscope For Pro Sports Leagues

The pro leagues are becoming more and more aware that they have more to monitor than just the content on social media. New applications, in particular Periscope, appear to have their attention, even in their early stages. A story to this effect (within the past week) in USA Today has brought out even more of what is going on in league offices.

It probably won't surprise everyone that the NFL is already doing an "about face" regarding the application, which allows users to show live video feeds from anywhere with a Wi-Fi or phone signal. The USA Today story refers to an NFL spokesman saying the NFL is not worried about Periscope, while the web site (through the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society) claims that the NFL has already filed as many as four "take down" requests to the powers that be at Periscope.

The newspaper story also claims that MLB officials are not yet "worried", while the PGA Tour has said it would take legal action "against someone who is streaming the entire competition to develop a following". Of course, lawyers could well have a field day with someone who is "not trying to develop a following", but that's another story.

What will make this even more interesting in the months to come is to see if and when the pro leagues take action to hinder the technology within the stadiums (and golf courses, tennis courts, etc.) so that consumers are unable to get a signal sufficient to use Periscope and others like it. At the same time, several of the newer stadiums have been making efforts to actually increase the use of phone and internet technology during their events in order to enhance the fan experience. Something has got to give!

While tennis fans get ready for extensive U.S. Open coverage (which begins next Monday 8/31), this year marks the first time that ESPN has exclusive coverage of the entire tournament, ending the years and years of CBS airing the most important parts.

With college football now upon us, the SEC Network has added three more analysts to its coverage, each of whom played for SEC schools. They are Chris Doering (Florida), Jabari Greer (Tennessee), and Clint Stoerner (Arkansas), each of whom also played for NFL teams.

HOUSTON: The Astros' incredible success story this season comes at an ironic time for Comcast. Within the past week, a federal judge has ruled that Comcast is not able to recover the $100 million dollar loan it had given to Houston Regional Sports Network, which launched in 2012 to air Astros and Rockets games. That network went into bankruptcy after other carriers failed to air it.

Since that time, DirecTV Sports formed Root Sports Southwest, which now airs those teams, and has Comcast as a carrier of the service. During the Comcast time, the Astros were among the poorest performing MLB teams, to the point of some reported 0.0 ratings. This season, however, has the Astros in first place at the end of August and drawing stronger ratings. The Monday (8/24) telecast from Yankee Stadium was, according to the early numbers, the most watched prime time show in the Houston market.

In fact, the entire three game Astros vs. Yankees series is being shown as the primary telecast on MLB Network this week.

KILT SportsRadio 610 has added former Texans center Chris Myers (not the Fox Sports announcer) as a football analyst, both on its Texans post-game coverage and its talk shows during the week.

BOSTON: The story breaking at press time has Don Orsillo being out as the voice of the Red Sox on NESN at the end of this season. NESN is expected to bring Dave O'Brien over from the radio booth to handle the majority of the telecasts. It is not yet known if O'Brien would continue to broadcast games for ESPN. Orsillo has been popular in Boston, in addition to having called some post-season games nationally for TBS in recent years.

NEW YORK CITY: Since the ratings were not kind to Mike Lupica and his daily two-hour show on WEPN ESPN 98.7, he has now been dropped after a nearly four year stretch as host from 1 to 3 PM. No "official" replacement has been named as of press time, although speculation has Ryan Ruocco and Dave Rothenberg expanding from one hour (Noon to 1 PM) to the full three hours.
Lupica will continue, as usual, with his national presence on ESPN including "The Sports Reporters". Since WEPN is owned and operated by ESPN, it should be noted that this is still another payroll reduction for the company.

Meanwhile, this coming Saturday (8/29), N.Y. Jets fans will not be able to watch "their" telecast of the team's preseason game against the Giants, even though this is technically a road game for the team. For whatever reason, only the Giants are televising the game from the Meadowlands, with Bob Papa and Carl Banks on the call for WNBC-TV Channel 4. Even the Jets' web site shows the game as only being on WNBC.

MIAMI: The Ticket 790 and 104.3 appears to be taking some important risks with its audience, even though the station has been ahead of WQAM 560 in most of the recent ratings. Management is likely very concerned over the possibility of Dan LeBatard's afternoon drive program (first hour local, remaining three hours also on ESPN Radio) being moved into the midday time slot to fill the national opening for the 10 AM to 1 PM ET slot. This would force the station to come up with a replacement for its successful afternoon drive show.

Even with this going on, the station suddenly abandoned the FM simulcast on August 21st, when it switched to alternative rock music. Research reports show that while the station is branded as "790 The Ticket", more of the audience was actually listening via the FM signal, which is now gone.

PHILADELPHIA: While this is fresh news at press time, chances are Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen will catch some flack for calling Mets fans "obnoxious" on the air during Monday (8/24) night's game between the Phillies and Mets. This came after a double by the Mets' Michael Cuddyer, when Andersen commented "I'll take Nationals fans over Mets fans" while the Mets fans who came to Philadelphia for the game were cheering. When asked why by play-by-play voice Scott Franzke, Anderson replied "They are just obnoxious".

DENVER: Former University of Colorado head coach Gary Barnett appears to be in line to replace Larry Zimmer on KOA as the analyst for the team's football broadcasts in 2016 and beyond. Zimmer plans to retire, after 50 years in broadcasting, following the Colorado game vs. USC on November 13th.

Barnett will join the KOA broadcast team for two games this season (vs. UCLA on Oct. 31 and USC on Nov. 13), while serving in his 10th, and reportedly final, season as an analyst for Sports USA Radio Network.

TULSA: KYAL 1550 Sports Animal will be an additional ESPN Radio affiliate starting next week (9/1), including weekdays. Currently, KYAL-FM 97.1 airs ESPN after 8 PM and on weekends when it does not air local play-by-play.

LANSING: WQTX 92.1 The Team has added a new 1 to 3 PM weekday show, "The Schuiling Report" with Ryan Schuiling, replacing "The Griff and Grinz Show". Schuiling will continue his role on "The Michael Grey Show" on WBBL 107.3 in Grand Rapids. In addition, he will continue to do hockey play-by-play, calling home games for the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL.