Monday, September 7, 2020

All In At Once

As we come into one of the most significant weeks in TV sports history (with all four most important sports airing significant games at the same time), we can wonder about how this will shape up in the ratings. The NFL becomes the first sport to begin as scheduled on Thursday (9/10) with NBC airing the League opener with Kansas City hosting Houston.

On Sunday (9/13), the Fox doubleheader game features Tom Brady making his debut with Tampa, which figures to be a ratings winner, especially with New England vs. Miami being an early game over on CBS.

Also this weekend (along with some college football on Saturday) will be more NBA and NHL Playoff games and a full slate of MLB regular season games with the majority of the teams still in the race for the expanded playoffs. This marks the first time that we have had NBA and NHL playoff telecasts on the same weekend as NFL games.

This will be a test of how many hours people will watch the live sports which was so craved for months earlier this year. However, the Nielsen ratings for the now concluded first found of the NBA Playoffs were down roughly 27% from last season, and down roughly 40% over two seasons ago. It remains to be seen (pun intended) whether the noteworthy ratings increase for the Game 7 telecast of Oklahoma City losing to Houston would start an upward trend for the 2nd round.

In addition, the U.S. Open start saw its average audience fall by nearly 50% for the first three days of the tournament. While those numbers do not reflect the Labor Day weekend (not available at press time), the reason could be because several of the top players opted out of the tournament.

There was more media news on the NFL front, including NBC confirming that Al Michaels will not be calling every Sunday Night Football game starting this season. The 75 year old Michaels is beginning his schedule cutback. Mike Torico will be calling at least three, and reportedly no more than five, of the games this season. The games which Torico calls will likely be determined in part by his Notre Dame schedule for NBC, which begins this coming Saturday (9/12) against Duke. Tony Dungy will join Torico in the booth for those games this season, with Doug Flutie moving over to a studio role.

NFL Media also announced that it is allowing YouTube TV to carry the NFL RedZone starting immediately, to go along with it already airing NFL Network.

As the NBA Playoffs move further into round 2, the word is that TNT will have Brian Anderson on play-by-play for its Conference Finals telecasts. Anderson normally leaves his Milwaukee Brewers assignment for three to four weeks in April and May to call early round games. Now, he would miss most or all of the Brewers games during the final days of the regular season. In this case, Anderson temporarily replaces Marv Albert, who is not in the NBA bubble in Orlando in order to protect his health.

Quite the moment for ESPN on Sunday (9/6) when ESPN and ESPN2 needed to do a simultaneous switch. Its U.S. Open tennis coverage was running past its scheduled 7 PM ET conclusion, at which its Sunday Night Baseball telecast of Cardinals at Cubs was scheduled to begin. The network put its Baseball Tonight lead in on ESPN 2. Exactly at 7 PM, ESPN switched their tennis over to ESPN2, with a match in progress, and started Baseball on ESPN, forcing everyone already watching one or the other to have to switch.

MINNEAPOLIS: This one slipped through the cracks of being major media news, but baseball fans lost a solid analyst when Bert Blyleven suddenly announced his immediate retirement from the Twins' TV booth last week. Rather than finish the season, Bert decided not to overshadow the team and go out quietly. He will be missed.

SAN FRANCISCO: KNBR 680/104.5 is going overboard with its coverage and analysis of the 49ers starting this week. It seems as though all of their local and non play-by-play programming will feature a contributing analyst. Their impressive list, along with the 49ers broadcast crew, will include Jim Nantz, Brent Musberger, Steve Young, Tim Ryan, Adam Schefter, Kyle Shanahan, and even Mike Pereira.

PHILADELPHIA: WNJE 920 (licensed to Trenton NJ) has dropped Fox Sports Radio and picked up ESPN Radio. This replaces WTEL 610 which changed to a non-sports format days earlier. The Trenton station has no plans for local programming, airing strictly the ESPN Radio national feed.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

This Time, All At Once Is Fine

Sports fans are getting even closer to an extended period of having all of the major sports playing with multiple games at the same time as the NFL season is now within two weeks from its scheduled start.

Fox Sports is already, and understandably, aggressively promoting its Opening Day doubleheader game of Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans. This will mark the debut of Tom Brady with the Bucs, made even more special since there are no preseason telecasts leading up to it.

Once the NFL season starts, we will have a stretch of MLB games along with continued NBA and NHL Playoff games, making for perhaps the most significant period for content in sports TV history.

In addition, Fox Sports moved right away to replace Thom Brennaman from its NFL telecasts with the addition of Kevin Kugler to work with Chris Spielman. Kugler, who had been doing Sunday Night Football radio on Westwood One, has filled in on Fox NFL telecasts earlier, including calling a game in place of Brennaman during the 2018 season. No word yet from Westwood One on a Sunday night replacement as of press time.

ESPN appears to have completed its announcer switch between Monday Night Football and its college telecasts. Word is that Joe Tessitore, as expected, will team with Greg McElroy on selected college telecasts this season. Of course, ESPN is not in a position to officially announce their announcing assignment, since the schedules are still very much up in the air.

At CBS, Kyle Long, the just retired lineman and son of Howie Long, has joined CBS Sports starting immediately. Long's first assignment will be as an analyst on the "That Other Pregame Show" on CBS Sports Channel on Sunday mornings. Long comes with some radio experience, having done some co-hosting on Chicago's WMVP 1000 during last season.

NEW YORK: WEPN ESPN has extended host Dave Rothenberg for two more years. This comes as he celebrates his 10 year anniversary with the station. Rothenburg will continue as a co-host middays with Chris Canty and Rick DiPietro. However, the recent schedule change has this trio only on from 9 to 11 AM.

BUFFALO: Host Chris Brown has been suspended indefinitely as a co-host of One Bills Live, which airs on WGR and the local version of the MSG Network. If it's any consolation for Brown, it was not due to any comments about current social or political conditions on social media or on the air. The offense was Brown discussing specific events which happened at a team practice, which is against NFL policy. The station is going with guest hosts to fill in along with co-host Steve Tasker. As of press time, no word about the length of the suspension.

SAN LUIS OBISPO: C.J. Silas on The Ticket 1280 made news by not commenting on the current political climate this past Wednesday night (8/26). Her not commenting, however, made for a full hour of her show being almost totally silent, except for her announcing that the silence was in solidarity. This came shortly after the Bucks (and then other NBA teams) stopped the evening's playoff games from happening. 

DENVER: Darren McKee was removed from his long time hosting role last Monday (8/24) after tweeting the n-word on social media. McKee, known on the air as D-Mac, claimed he was typing Nuggets instead. As of press time, no word on a possible return date.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Think Before You Speak

 It was one of the ugliest weeks in sports media history as a result of comments made on the air during sports telecasts. It is a lesson for all broadcasters, sports or otherwise, to be very careful when anywhere near a microphone.

The most prominent incident was Thom Brennaman being suspended indefinitely by Fox Sports for his August 19th gay slur which got on the air during the Reds telecast on Fox Sports Ohio of the Reds game in Kansas City. There is no excuse for making such a comment, but making it under circumstances where it got on the air has likely cost him his broadcasting career.

As you would expect, he was immediately pulled off the Reds telecasts. Fox Sports followed up by pulling him from their NFL telecasts, where Brennaman had long been among the network's top three play-by-play voices.

In addition, it also means that for the first time since 1973, there is not anyone named Brennaman calling the Reds games in Cincinnati. Thom's father Marty had just retired from Reds radio following the 2019 baseball season.

Meanwhile, Mike Milbury, the long time NHL analyst for NBC and NBCSN has had his share on-air incidents since the NHL games have returned. Milbury got away with misidentifying the CN tower and criticizing Bruins goaltender Tuuka Rask's sudden decision to opt out. However, while commenting about the players remaining focused inside of the bubble during the playoffs, Milbury added that there is "not even any woman here to disrupt your concentration". Both NBC and the NHL issued statements showing their disappointment with what the sexist comment.

In Chicago, analyst Mark Grace, who has been providing studio analysis on the Chicago Cubs' Marquee Network during its debut season, was suspended from the broadcasts for five days. An on-air conversation drifted off topic and Grace referred to his ex-wife as "dingbat", a phrase taken from the old "All In The Family" TV show used by Archie Bunker nearly 50 years ago.

At least these actions were taken over comments made on the air during actual broadcasts and not due to something said or posted only on social media.

ESPN has stayed in the family for its new Monday Night Football broadcasting team. As expected, Steve Levy will move over from the college side and handle play-by-play, with his most recent college analyst, Brian Griese, staying with Levy. Louis Riddick will also serve as analyst. The trio will make their Monday Night Football debut as the second game of the Sept. 14th doubleheader calling the Titans vs. Broncos game. They replace Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland.

NBC's Peacock Channel is expanding its sports programming over the next six weeks. Along with streaming The Dan Patrick Show and The Rich Eisen Show, the network will add "Brother From Another" with Michael Smith (former ESPN anchor) and Michael Holley (former NBC Sports Boston) to its late afternoon time slot. Pro Football Talk Live with Mike Florio will stream in morning drive.

BALTIMORE: Ravens Radio WBAL-AM and WIYY-FM is going to a three man booth starting this season. Former Ravens Dennis Pitta and Femi Avanbadejo both join Gerry Sandusky in the booth.

CHICAGO: Just as the White Sox begin to rise in the standings for the first time in several years, the word is that WGN-AM is not looking to renew its White Sox contract which expires after this season after three seasons. The natural fit is WVMP ESPN 1000, which currently has no major local play-by-play. WMVP just moved its local morning show with David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood up to a 7 AM start, making it local in the morning for the first time (20 years as a sports station).

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Weekday Afternoon TV Sports Bonanza

 We have certainly seen the popularity of live sports telecasts over the past couple of weeks with the three major pro leagues offering an abundance of live telecasts. Most of the ratings reflect how an audience starved for sports has responded.

The coming week will put it to the test, as each weekday afternoon (in mid-August) offers both NBA and NHL Playoff telecasts along with more MLB regular season games competing.

For example, here is the TV schedule of NBA first round telecasts for the week ahead, with all times ET:

Monday, Aug. 17
1:30: Utah vs. Denver, ESPN
4:00: Brooklyn vs. Toronto, ESPN
6:30: Philadelphia vs. Boston, ESPN
9:00: Dallas vs. L.A.Clippers, ESPN

Tuesday, Aug. 18
1:30: Orlando vs. Milwaukee, TNT
4:00: Miami vs. Indiana, TNT
6:30: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, TNT
9:00: Play-In winner vs. L.A. Lakers, TNT

Wednesday, Aug. 19
1:30: Brooklyn vs. Toronto, NBA TV
4:00: Utah vs. Denver, TNT
6:30: Philadelphia vs. Boston, TNT
9:00: Dallas vs. L.A.Clippers, TNT

Thursday, Aug. 20
1:30: Miami vs. Indiana, ESPN
4:00: Orlando vs. Milwaukee, ESPN
6:30: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, ESPN
9:00: Play-In winner vs. L.A. Lakers, ESPN

Friday, Aug. 21
1:30: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, NBA TV
4:00: Denver vs. Utah, TNT
6:30: Boston vs. Philadelphia, TNT
9:00: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, TNT

Although times were not announced at press time, the NHL plans to continue to begin its daily playoff telecasts at 2 PM ET and also run into prime time.

ESPN also plans a pair of MLB regular season telecasts during upcoming weekday afternoons, going against these playoff games. Those are Tues. 8/18 with Giants vs. Dodgers (while an hour earlier MLB Network starts Rockies vs. Astros) and Thurs. 8/20 with White Sox vs. Tigers. The latter game means that ESPN will have both NBA and MLB live games at the same time on a Thursday afternoon.

The networks have a valid reason for this saturation, even though it seems that ratings are not a priority. Clearly the large amount of weekday telecasts will bring down overall ratings for the sport.

However, the networks are all required to air a specified number of live sports events over the course of a 12 month period in order to justify extra fees from cable and satellite providers. Of course, these fees are passed along to subscribers. If the number of live telecasts is not met, the networks would be required to refund millions of dollars. Saving that large amount takes priority over lost advertising revenue for ratings not as strong. As the same time, the prime time and weekend ratings remain stronger than ever due to feeding the hungry sports fans after nearly four months with nothing.

This is also the one, and probably only, time that MLB is allowing national networks to televise against each other so they can get all of their games in. We have numerous instances of MLB Network Showcase Games against Fox Sports 1 or ESPN telecasts, for example.

One example was this past Wednesday (8/12) when ESPN was airing the lengthy Arizona vs. Colorado telecast. The game was running into its scheduled start of the NBA telecast of Philly vs. Toronto. At 6:30 PM ET, ESPN actually switched the baseball game over to ESPN2 in order to begin its evening of NBA telecasts on ESPN.

Not only was that move a bit of a slap to MLB, but at that same time, FS1 was starting its K.C. vs. Cincinnati telecast AND MLB Network had the Oakland vs. L.A. Angels game already in progress.

CHICAGO: Saturday (8/15) brought us a truly bizarre programming decision from WGN 720. The flagship station of the White Sox also carries the Blackhawks, which have priority. On this day, the White Sox wound up scheduled with a doubleheader vs. the Cardinals due to a postponement from Friday. That left WGN with being able to air the first game of the White Sox vs. Cardinals, and having to farm the second game out to WMVP 1000 (which is not a sister station) because of the possibility of it running into its Blackhawks broadcast that evening.

That situation is unusual, but was understood because WGN does not own another radio station. Doing so left WGN with more than three hours between the end of its Game 1 broadcast and its Blackhawks programming. What did they air? Two hours of that period were spent airing its White Sox Weekly program. They expected fans to listen to recorded interviews and highlights from the week INSTEAD of listening to the team playing live on another station. Say what?

WMVP ESPN begins its new weekday schedule (on 8/17) with its first local show covering most of morning drive. The station will air ESPN Radio only until 7 AM. Now David Kaplan and Jonathan Hood will air from 7 to 10 AM. Kaplan moves up from his previous 9 AM to Noon spot. The station will air Mike Greenberg from ESPN from Noon to 7 to fulfill its network daytime requirement.

SAN DIEGO: The Mighty 1090 returns on Monday (8/17) after having been pulled off the air in April over a financial dispute. The station starts with local programming in afternoon drive, which will be Scott Kaplan with "Kaplan and Crew" from 3 to 7 PM. The remainder will be syndicated shows such as Rich Eisen, Tony Bruno, and Scott Ferrall.

CLEVELAND: The Browns have extended their partnership with WNCX 92.3/850 The Fan and with a new long term deal. When in season, there will be at least 20 hours of Browns "coverage" each week, including up to nine hours on game days.

COLUMBUS: 97.1 The Fan is also dumping ESPN Radio's new morning show and going local. Bobby Carpenter (former NFL and Buckeyes linebacker), Brandon Beam, and Anthony Schlegel will co-host the 6 to 9 AM morning show.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Morning After For ESPN Radio Stations

 While the obviously busy time continues for ESPN, the ESPN Radio side is looking toward better results, especially in the top 3 markets. The timing fits with both the NBA and NHL being in playoff mode, the MLB season well underway, and just prior to the NFL getting underway. (Of course, this is all as of press time.)

In New York, WEPN 98.7 is making changes, primarily in support of its strong afternoon show, the Michael Kay Show. Kay's show has been coming in ahead of WFAN's afternoon drive prior to and since the recent departure of Mike Francesa. Now WEPN is shortening the ESPN Radio national morning show until 9 AM, but will air a block of national programming from 1:00 to 3:00 PM on weekdays.

What makes this strange is that WEPN has Rick DiPietro, Chris Canty, and Dave Rothenberg airing from 9:00 to 11:00 AM (an hour shorter than before) and Bart Scott and Alan Hahn from 11 AM to 1 PM (two hours earlier than before). It seems hard to believe that one hour of Max Kellerman's national show between 2:00 and 3:00 PM would be a better lead in for the Michael Kay show, but as of now that is the plan.

KSPN 710 Los Angeles is taking a "split day" approach, going with the national feed from 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM, which includes a delayed broadcast of the morning show. Travis Rogers, also a big part of the station's Rams coverage, will jump in on the morning show with local updates and content. The Mason & Ireland Show returns to early afternoon from the afternoon drive slot it held for the past year. Scott Kaplan joins the station for evenings (when no play-by-play) after a successful run on 1090 in San Diego. (No word yet about Kaplan's status, or lack of status, with 1090 if and when it reboots.)

Chicago's WMVP ESPN 1000 has not, as of press time, announced its intentions for morning drive, as it continues to carry the national feed with fill-in hosts through the coming week. The station has been local between 9:00 AM and 10:00 PM most weekdays, leading to speculation that they will soon attempt a local morning show. With a few long time local sports reporters having been let go due to cutbacks from the pandemic, the station has more "known" talent available than normal if they decide to do so.


OAKLAND: It took less than one week of regular season baseball for the A's to realize their mistake of not having pursued a much needed local radio package instead of only streaming their broadcasts. KNEW 960 now airs the games. The A's Radio Network, including nearby stations in Sacramento and Fresno, continues. This helps to cover up the A's failure to get a local radio deal sooner, while acting as though streaming was acceptable in Oakland while nearby regional radio stations carried the broadcasts.


SEATTLE: The new NHL Kraken have signed Everett Fitzhugh to be its first play-by-play voice. Fitzhugh comes from Cincinnati where he most recently served as radio voice of the Cyclones of the ECHL. Although the team has not yet determined if Fitzhugh will handle the TV or radio duties, either way he becomes the first black play-by-play voice for an NHL team. (Mike Torico of NBC calls regional or national games as assigned.)


AUBURN: Whether or not there is a football season in the SEC, ESPN 106.7 has already dumped its local midday show, The Lunch Break, along with hosts Justin Ferguson and Painter Sharpless. Ironically, Ferguson recently lost his writing job with The Athletic, meaning that he has not lost two media jobs resulting from layoffs during the pandemic.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

If You Can't Come Out To The Game, Watch Us On TV

As Major League Baseball became the first of the four major pro sports to resume within the past week, its impact on sports media was felt immediately.

The national networks were able to jump right in with multiple national telecasts, including MLB Network having the very rare opportunity of overlapping some of its live game telecasts against ESPN national games. Fox Sports knowingly overlapped on Saturday (7/25) when FS1 began its Saturday night telecast less than two hours after Fox Sports began its prime time Yankees vs. Nationals telecast.

Many teams reported significantly higher ratings for local (regional) telecasts, as expected with the long absence of live pro sports. For example, the St. Louis Cardinals opening night telecast scored a rating which was 79% above the 2019 season opener ratings. Those numbers made it a higher rated telecast than any Fox Sports Midwest telecasts of the 2019 regular season, during which the Cardinals won the N.L. Central by only two games.

The shortened season is keeping Amazon from delivering in one respect. Amazon Sports was originally scheduled to simulcast 21 Yankees telecasts (regionally) which were not scheduled to be shown on their YES Network. This is/was due to the new MLB policy allowing teams to sell streaming rights to games not shown on their regional networks. (Subject to the specifics of individual team deals with their local/regional networks.)

However, the shortened season resulted in the Yankees canceling their WPIX contract in order to carry every available game (minus ESPN exclusives) on YES for the season. Not many people realize that Amazon will still benefit, since Amazon now owns a percentage of the YES Network.

Chicago Cubs fans were delighted to see a deal struck between Comcast and the new Marquee Network which allows more than 90% of the Chicago market to get Cubs telecasts. Until the announcement, the telecasts would have remained available to only roughly 40% of the market. The announcement of a deal came during morning drive on Opening Day (7/24), less than 12 hours before the first regular season game. There is no additional fee required for Comcast subscribers, much to the surprise of its subscribers who feared a separate monthly fee.

Next up will be the scheduled restarts for the NBA and NHL. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in terms of viewership for two reasons. First, it will be interesting to see whether or not MLB telecast ratings drop in accordance with NBA and/or NHL telecasts, especially in markets which do not host MLB teams.

The standings may also determine. For example, New York and Chicago do not have their teams playing in the NBA Playoffs, while there are expectations for their baseball teams. Los Angeles viewing might be the most interesting, given the strong presence of the Lakers and Clippers going against high expectations for the Dodgers.

Hopefully it will work out that sports will be able to continue and we can all see how this turns

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

We Feel A Draft Coming On

The recent NFL Draft produced the expected strong ratings, given the lack of live pro sports content we are faced with. However, the success was really in how well the virtual approach came across to the millions of viewers.

Here's hoping that this becomes the way the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB drafts are all conducted moving forward. Having a central location with fans cheering and booing, which often interrupts the important proceedings, is not necessary to the enjoyment of the proceedings.

It became obvious that the networks can utilize unlimited sources thanks to the online technology. Although this might not have been considered acceptable a couple of months ago, by the time sports returns this will seem "normal" and acceptable for years to come.

A virtual setting allows for more interviews and information directly from the teams as well as the analysts and other sources, and more quickly. This also allows for more of the selected players to directly participate, as opposed to only the likely higher picks only.

However, there is room for improvement of this format based on how the NFL Draft telecasts went. It happened far too many times where the "Pick Is In" appeared at the bottom of the screen while viewers had to wait through constant reaction interviews surrounding the prior pick.

If we are fans enough to watch the Draft, we already know that every player has a similar reaction to being selected. Family members screaming and jumping up and down is understandable, but not to the point of seeing it every five minutes hour after hour.

Most fans prefer information about the player's credentials and some video of them in play ahead of seeing just the reactions. This is especially the case after Round 2, when the picks tend to be much less familiar to even the most avid fans.

Data about the player and some video of them in action does not need to take more than one minute. Obviously, ESPN, NFL Network, and ABC were all ready with info about the players chosen. This is not like the old days when even the reporters would ask "Who???" and start their research.

In other words, we should not have to see "Pick Is In". We should be given the pick as soon as it is available. This could move the Draft along more quickly and eliminate time wasted with the same reactions. Saving ten "Pick Is In" delays of two minutes each would knock 20 minutes off of the Draft time.

Perhaps they could add in a 10 to 15 minute "half time" type intermission between rounds. This would give each team the chance to regroup, and give the network(s) covering the Draft the opportunity to present analysis. They could also show us only the "best" player interviews and reaction instead of practically every player's similar one.

Clearly the NFL Draft is the biggest draw of all, but this could also be done moving forward for the other sports. At least that is how it should be. The pick is in.

Meanwhile, Drew Brees is not only ahead of the pack as a QB, but he now is ahead of everything with what appear to be definitive retirement plans. Brees has reportedly been signed as a game analyst by NBC Sports, likely to begin for the 2022 season. His contract with the Saints is for two more years, but we do not know how that might be impacted if there is no NFL season in 2020.

Word is that NBC will be bidding for a 2nd NFL contract, which might open up for Mike Torico and Brees to be the team to call such games. If not, Brees would join Torico waiting in the wings behind Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth.

CHICAGO: The sad news is that Marc Silverman of WMVP ESPN 1000 announced last week that he has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Silverman has been with the station since it began in 1998, and has co-hosted with former Bears receiver Tom Waddle in either afternoon drive or middays since 2007.

SAN DIEGO: The "Mightier" 1090? The word is that a new owner has surfaced for the frequency, which was all sports as the "Mighty 1090" until it went off the air in the spring of 2019. Although Scott Kaplan, who hosted in the "Mighty" days is returning for afternoons, the "Mightier" days may include more than "only" sports.