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.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Islands In The Stream

While we still don't know if and when live sports as we know it will resume, the question remains as to how extreme it will get when the time comes. Sports fans have differing views as to the "value" of airing classic games, especially as the weeks drag on. It is understandable that regional sports networks are showing classic games in a series such as a championship run or themes such as last minute victories. Whether or not people will watch for almost two hours when they know the outcome remains to be seen, but the hours need to be filled.
There is the aspect of the networks offering up their archives for free to explore. It does make sense for sports leagues and organizations to attempt to lure in new fans during this period, since potential fans can use the time to "catch up" on recent history.

For example, MLB-TV has made its archives of regular season games over the past two years available at no cost. During the first two weeks, they reported an 85% increase in views. The NBA and NHL have done the same, with the NFL joining the crowd. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the NFL season will take place as originally scheduled or not.

The feeling here is that the NFL is doing this in an effort to hold fan interest their way instead of them not being able to watch NFL games and going over to one of the other sports.

NBC Sports Gold has also been streaming its golf programming at no cost, with a promise to do so until "at least" May 17th. They recently added archives including tournaments going back more than 50 years.

This weekend (April 9 - 12) was supposed to have been The Masters. Tournament officials announced earlier this week that they are looking at rescheduling for later in 2020, hinting at the week of November 9th to 15th. Here is where it gets interesting, in terms of extremes.

Suppose live sports are back by that time. That same week in November could possibly have MLB post-season in the event of a delayed season and post-season games played at warm weather neutral sites. Obviously, the NFL and college football would be in full swing. The NBA and NHL "normally" are into their seasons by mid-November.

Although CBS could possibly reschedule its college football games for that Saturday, it is highly unlikely they would dump out of NFL coverage on that Sunday. Putting the final round of The Masters into prime time would not be feasible given the weather and the darkness at that hour.

As is stands without The Masters, having an abundance of major sports, which relies so much on TV revenue, all going on at the same time would be a crunch for the networks, the advertisers, and even for the viewers. There will be a lot to figure out before any of this happens.

Meanwhile, the announcement from Los Angeles has to rank up there among the most ironic sports media happenings ever. After years of frustration among Dodgers fans while roughly 70% of the market could not get the Dodgers telecasts, now comes the announcement that AT&T and DirecTV are carrying SportsNet LA. In the long run, having the option to get the games throughout the market will be great news for Dodgers fans.

Friday, March 20, 2020

No News Is Good News But No Sports Is Bad News

We still have no idea how much the shut down of sports will impact the media over the months and years to come. So much to think about, but plenty of time to do so. 

It is pure speculation about how this will impact the sports media in the long run. All we know is that there is likely to be a major impact.

As of press time, it appears it could be months, rather than weeks, before sports as we know it is able to fully resume. Since teams are not able to practice together, it is likely that players will return with a huge variation in their physical condition. It is quite possible that players not typically counted upon will be in better condition and perform better than some all stars normally would.

Consequently, a lot of fans may not take resumptions of the NBA and NHL seasons (if that happens) seriously. That could negatively alter the ratings for the post-season. Fans might not be as eager to watch knowing that the outcome of the current seasons would be tainted in comparison with previous seasons.

In addition, the delayed start for MLB and the possible "regular" start for the NFL could see skyrocketing ratings in comparison. However, all of the sports, also including golf, auto racing, and soccer, could combine for an overload of live sports after nothing new for weeks.

This will be a concern for advertisers, who may opt to cut back on expenses in order to cover lost sales and employee revenue, forcing the networks (national, regional, and local) which televise the games to take a financial hit. 

There is more to consider. Pro sports teams are currently making big money as a result of TV rights. Before all of this happened, reports had Comcast and Charter losing approximately 250,000 subscribers during just the 4th quarter of 2019. Economics are likely to dictate more consumers reducing or eliminating cable/satellite fees in order to better handle the economic crisis.

Another important factor is that ESPN reportedly is required (again - required) to provide a minimum amount of "premium" sports content to justify its higher fees to cable/satellite providers and subscribers. As a result, ESPN faces a financial hit if and as the shutdown of sports continues for months.

If fans can't afford to attend the games or subscribe to cable/satellite to watch them, advertisers need to reduce their spending in order to recover, and businesses and corporations can't afford season tickets and luxury suites, teams will lose significant revenue. 

Meanwhile, sports radio will suffer over the next couple of ratings periods. Markets such as Boston, where two sports stations consistently appear in the top 10, and Milwaukee with four competing sports stations, are among the many that will see an impact in ratings, and likely advertising revenue to go along with it.

I had planned to write about how the networks such as MLB Network, NHL Network, and NBA Network are making the best of the situation with replays of past games. It's not easy for them to face the challenges of suddenly having no programming when they had hours of live coverage and analysis already in place.

However, the bigger concern is how close things will get to "normal" over the next few years for the sports media, the sports fans, and for all of us around the world.

Hopefully we'll be back with The Broadcast Booth very soon.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Oakland Listeners Take It Up The A's

How disappointing that the Oakland A's are so frustrated with their radio broadcast situation that they couldn't even create their own deal with a radio station for the new season. The A's have struggled to be on the air on several occasions over the years, including starting one season on a college station.

The team was "unable to come to terms" with KTRB 860 which carried A's broadcasts last season. We don't know whether the station no longer wanted the broadcasts since they did not fit the format, or if the A's were not willing to make the investment to purchase the time. That doesn't really matter.

Instead, the team has announced that in the Oakland area, the only way (as of now) to hear the broadcasts will be to stream them. A's officials were quoted as saying they think this is the way to go by streaming instead of over the air. It may be the way to go to help the bank account instead.

As one who grew up before cable and internet and depended on radio for hundreds of hours of live baseball every year, this is especially disturbing. That doesn't even count my years as a radio sportscaster when radio was king of sports coverage and how much this news hurts.

Although the team claims streaming is the way to go, Bay Area listeners will continue to have the Spanish broadcasts on KIOI 1010. It would be interesting to get an explanation as to why Spanish listeners still get radio broadcasts but those that do not speak Spanish do not.

The lack of an English broadcast is only in the Oakland area. The 10 stations on the A's radio network, including KHTK Sacramento, KFPT 790 Fresno, and KESP 970 in Modesto, will continue to carry the regular broadcasts. Of course, baseball fans that subscribe to At Bat will be able to hear Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo on play-by-play as usual.

Only fans in the immediate Oakland area would need to stream the primary English broadcast.

One more irony to the situation is that KGMZ-FM The Game, which aired the A's from 2011 to 2018, is finally enjoying respectable ratings after struggling against KNBR 680 for so many years.

The fear is that other teams hurting for radio deals would start going only to streaming, and consequently provide radio listeners with still ANOTHER reason that they no longer need to listen.

Meanwhile, TV ratings for the current NBA season continue to be cause for concern. Ratings for the first half of the season show the local RSN's down roughly 13%, while national telecast ratings have dipped about 12% overall. Although the San Antonio Spurs have the highest local ratings this season, those figures are down approximately 20% from last season.

Another pain point for the NBA ratings is that the N Y Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are two of the seven lowest rated telecasts this season. The Atlanta Hawks ratings have actually increased by more than 48% this season. However, the Hawks' ratings are also in the bottom seven. (Memphis, Utah, and Toronto market ratings were not available for this research.)

NBCSN has decided to observe International Women's Day on March 8th with an all female crew calling the St. Louis at Chicago NHL telecast. Kate Scott will handle play-by-play with Kendall Coyne-Schofield and A.J. Mleczko (both Olympic Gold Medalists) as analysts. Kathryn Tappen will anchor the studio coverage.

CHICAGO: The Marquee Network signed on the air on Saturday (2/22) as the Chicago Cubs network, airing the team's spring training opener, and with limited availability. So far, subscribers of AT&T, DirecTV, and other providers offering the service, have not seen an increase in monthly fees, but they are mostly under existing contracts.

WGN-TV, which does not currently have any baseball on its schedule for the first time in more than 70 years, is returning to live local sports. The station signed to air 24 Chicago Fire soccer telecasts starting in March. This is all that is available to them, since the Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox are all exclusive to NBC Sports Chicago after last season, depriving WGN-TV of its year round sports packages.

PHILADELPHIA: Nothing official as of press time but the word is that former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is being signed as a studio analyst for Phillies telecasts on NBC Sports Philadelphia in time for the regular season. Adding to the speculation of Amaro becoming a member of the local media was Amaro's recent appearance on Angelo Cataldi's morning show on WIP-FM. The sports station is part of the recently announced shared content plan.

KANSAS CITY: Fox Sports Kansas City has reportedly extended its deal for Royals telecasts for at least 10  years after its deal with the team had expired last fall. This figured to happen, given the local situation. The Royals need a TV partner to provide millions in revenue and exposure of all of their games, while Fox Sports needs the content for its spring and summer programming.

The network will continue to provide live fall and winter content airing selected Oklahoma City Thunder and St. Louis Blues telecasts.

ATLANTA: Fox Sports South and Southeast has brought in Kelly Crull as sideline reporter for its Braves telecasts. Crull comes over from NBC Sports Chicago and similar duties on Chicago Cubs telecasts.

Friday, February 14, 2020

One, Two, Three And Out For Dallas Afternoons

More comings and goings than usual in the sports media this week. And an important "staying" to start.

Marc Kestecher has a multi-year contract extension to remain as the lead play-by-play voice of ESPN Radio. This includes the NBA Finals and "lead" playoff broadcasts, along with NFL and NCAA basketball and football year round.

NEW YORK: WQBU 92.7 will now air the Mets Spanish language broadcasts, which will be produced by flagship station WCBS 880. Max Perez Jiminez, Nestor Rosario, and Juan Alicea will continue. This move of to a different station is a result of the discontinuance of ESPN Deportes on 1050 AM, which had previously aired the games.

DALLAS: Afternoons are quite the story for Dallas sports radio!

103.5 The Fan has added Bryan Broaddus to its 2 to 7 PM show starting on Monday (2/17). Broaddus has been hosting the station's Cowboys pre and post-game coverage. As a result, Mike Bacsik will move to the midday show, K&C Masterpiece.

The Ticket KTCK-AM and Sportsradio 96.7 are also making an addition to their afternoon show, which airs from 3:00 to 7 PM. Bob Sturm takes over as co-host with Corby Davidson. The opening was created by the January retirement of long time host Mike Rhyner. As a result, Jake Kemp, who had been a producer, replaces Sturm on the Noon to 3 PM show and will co-host with Dan McDowell.

Over at KEGL-FM 97.1, Ben Rogers and Jeff 'Skin' Wade just began their afternoon show within the past week. The pair had left KRLD-FM back in October.

PHILADELPHIA: WCAU-TV Channel 10 and Telemundo Channel 62 have a new content partnership which includes sports. This partnership includes KWY 1060, which no longer partners with Channel 3. WIP-FM 94.1 is included within the partnership, with the specifics still to come (as of press time).

CHICAGO: What is 'coming' is the Marquee Network on Feb. 22nd, but as of press time it is still "discussions" with larger carriers such as Comcast. It is still AT&T, DirecTV, and smaller systems which have signed on. The network has added Mark Grace as another of its part-time analysts, along with reporter Elise Menaker, who will continue her work at Big Ten Network, also based in the Chicago area.

Meanwhile, Luke Stuckmeyer, formerly of NBC Sports Chicago, has joined WBBM-TV Channel 2 as a sports anchor and reporter. Stuckmeyer had been with NBC Sports Chicago (formerly Comcast SportsNet) since its inception in 2004.

NASHVILLE: Still no official word, as of press time, on the morning show for 102.5 The Game to replace Braden Gall and (former Titan) Derrick Mason. The pair are no longer with the station for reasons not yet known. They posted on social media that they are no longer hosting the morning show while the station simultaneously removed references to them from its web site.

NORFOLK: WTAR 850/96.5 has dropped its local morning show and added Rich Eisen's Fox Sports Show instead. Odd timing given Eisen's emphasis on the NFL and the season just ending. However, this appears to be due to Bob Matthews wanting out as host. Matthews is a producer at WNIS 790 and has reportedly been given an additional workload during this election year. As a result, the Nick Cattles show on ESPN 94.1 from 3 to 6 PM is now the only locally produced weekday sports radio show in the market.

PIERRE SD: Best wishes to Rod Fisher, who has announced his retirement at the end of May. Fisher finishes his incredible 44 year run as a sportscaster, going back to joining KCCR Radio in the late 70's. He was Sports Director of the Dakota Radio Group for 29 years, along with doing countless high school play-by-play broadcasts.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Sunday and Monday Night Booth Changes?

Still another job impacted by the Astros cheating scandal, except that this time it involves a member of the sports media. Jessica Mendoza, known much more for her role on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball in recent years than for her employment as a "special advisor" to the Mets, has made changes.

In addition to resigning from her role with the Mets, the NY Post reports that Mendoza is officially out of the Sunday Night Baseball booth. This comes after Mendoza guested on three separate ESPN shows to repeat specific opinions about the Astros scandal including pointing a finger at pitcher Mike Fiers.

While Mendoza received a contract extension from ESPN and is expected to continue her analyst role, such as making appearances on SportsCenter and the rarely produced "Baseball Tonight". There had already been rumblings of ESPN making changes in the Sunday Night Baseball booth again.

Although Alex Rodriguez will be back, it is still not certain if Matt Vasgersian will return to handle play-by-play or not. Unfortunately, Vasgersian has not been able to maintain a natural flow as the Sunday Night voice, often coming up far below his excellent play-by-play skills demonstrated elsewhere over the years. The recent threesome spent more time trying to be clever and blend together than focusing on the game at hand.

With spring training telecasts only a couple of weeks away, an announcement should be coming soon. Possibilities include Karl Ravich or Jason Sciambi moving over.

On the NFL side, reports continue that ESPN is considering a much needed change in its Monday Night Football crew. While rumors of the network making a play for Tony Romo to come over as lead game analyst, reports have former QB Jay Cutler having meetings with ESPN. Cutler was going to join Fox in 2017 when he was signed by the Dolphins for one last season as a player.

NBC has announced that three of its Notre Dame football telecasts later this year have been moved to prime time. The first one will be on Saturday October 3rd with Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin. What makes this special is that the telecast will come from Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Many fans forget that Curly Lambeau played his college football at Notre Dame.

The other two prime time games announced will be Oct. 10th vs. Stanford and Nov. 7th vs. Clemson, both from South Bend.

SAN FRANCISCO: The Giants' TV plans have been announced, with Mike Krukow calling 103 telecasts this season along with Duane Kuiper. This includes all home games, plus 22 road games against N.L. West opponents. However, Krukow, wishing to cut back his travel (he and Kuiper have worked together for more than 25 years), will be in the TV studio calling the road games while Kuiper will be at the stadium.

By doing so, Krukow will be able to call almost as many games (six fewer) than he did last year.

Meanwhile, KSFN-AM 1150 is turning to Spanish language sports radio this month. In addition to full-time sports programming, the station will air play-by-play of English Premier League soccer.

CHICAGO: The retirement of Kyle Long from the NFL's Chicago Bears just might lead to following his father's (Howie) footsteps once again. Long auditioned as a co-host on WMVP ESPN 1000 this week on its late morning local show with David Kaplan and did an excellent job.

Former WSCR The Score 670 morning co-host Brian Hanley has joined WMVP ESPN 1000 in a part-time role. Hanley has been off the air in Chicago since being forced out of WSCR's morning show in July 2018 after 26 years with that station. He starts this weekend (Feb. 8th) as a co-host of the station's hockey show, focusing on the Blackhawks, airing at 9 AM each Saturday.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Marquee Battle Just Beginning

The December into the first weekend of the New Year radio ratings are not among the most important, but did show a couple of interesting trends. Atlanta's WZGC 92.9 The Game continues its impressive rise, having added more than 40% to its overall ratings since June.

We also saw the expected impact in some NFL markets, especially Minneapolis/St. Paul. Vikings flagship KFXN finished #1 in the market, which made it the only all sports radio station in the country to achieve that distinction. The Ravens' great regular season finish spurred Baltimore's WJZ-FM to rise by more than one-half of a ratings point for the month. Philadelphia's WIP-FM also increased overall for a top three market position.

CHICAGO: It's now officially less than one month before Marquee, the new Chicago Cubs TV Network, makes its scheduled debut on Feb. 22nd. The Network has added some nationally known analysts as contributors as well, including Rick Sutcliffe, Doug Glanville, Dan Plesac, Ryan Dempter, Mark DeRosa, and Carlos Pena (all former Cubs players). In addition, Lou Pinella will appear occasionally as an analyst.

However, as of press time, the AT&T family of providers and several smaller cable providers such as RCN are the only ones to sign up to carry the Network. With Comcast Xfinity not signed up, this means that roughly 40% of the Chicago market would be able to get Marquee. The significant difference from the Los Angeles Dodgers TV situation is that fans are able to subscribe to an AT&T outlet from the majority of locations. Comcast could very well be waiting to gauge the number of subscribers it loses to AT&T before making a decision, but continues to own a large part of NBC Sports Chicago, which shows all White Sox games available to it.

Faced with no over-the-air pro sports for the first time in more than 70 years, WGN-TV is taking an interesting approach toward serving the baseball fans without cable or satellite, along with its local audience. Starting on Monday (1/28), WGN-TV will present a live half hour sports recap Monday through Friday nights at 10:30 PM, following its local news. Many stations in Chicago and around the country do this on Sunday nights to feature NFL highlights. It will be interesting to see how the ratings go for this weeknight attempt.

Shea Peppler is out after almost two years as sports reporter and weekend anchor at WFLD-TV, along with contributions on WMVP ESPN 1000. Peppler is moving east to join her husband, who is ESPN anchor Jordan Cornette.

PHILADELPHIA: In addition to wonderful ratings just released, a nice honor for WIP-FM's long time morning man Angelo Cataldi. He celebrated his 30th Anniversary with the station by earning the Bill Campbell Broadcast Award for excellence in broadcasting.

CLEVELAND: Congrats to Matt Fishman on being named Director of Content at WKNR ESPN. Fishman has served as Sports Director at WSCR The Score in Chicago and Program Director at KCSP Kansas City.