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 ChillingEffects.org 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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ratings Take A Turner For The Better

While ESPN is busy reducing its payroll and Fox Sports is busy trying to attract viewers to Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, Turner Sports is quietly having a good summer in the ratings world.

As reported last week, TBS is doing better this year with its Sunday afternoon MLB telecasts, despite not starting them until after the All-Star break.

This past Sunday (8/16), TNT had the final round of the PGA Championship, and scored the highest ratings for the final round since 2010, with initial ratings reports showing a 45% audience increase over 2014. The top local markets for the telecast were Milwaukee, Columbus, Memphis, San Diego, and Orlando.

MLB is being careful about going up against the NFL with its World Series telecasts this season. The two travel dates during the Series happen to fall on Thursday Oct. 29th (when Thursday Night Football airs) and on Monday Nov. 2nd (when Monday Night Football airs). If and as there is a Game 5, it would compete against some or all of NBC Sunday Night Football which has the Packers facing the Broncos. 

MLB Network continues to add to its excellent staff of studio analysts this week. Former Padres infielder and Giants third base coach Tim Flannery made his debut earlier this week and will be a regular contributor on the various weekday shows and studio updates. Flannery worked in the Padres broadcast booth for three seasons (2004-06).

In addition, the Network is auditioning former outfielder Juan Pierre for an analyst role for this week only. No further announcement was made as of press time. Pierre officially retired earlier this year after playing for several teams over his career.

It appears that Comcast Cable was violating the ESPN blackout rule on Wednesday night (8/19) when it mysteriously blacked out the Chicago Cubs vs. Detroit Tigers national telecast throughout most of the Chicago area. The current MLB contract prevents local blackouts for ESPN scheduled nights (Monday and Wednesday) along with TBS Sunday telecasts. The local Cubs telecast aired as usual, while ESPN was showing a tennis replay instead. Earlier this month (8/9), the TBS telecast from Chicago between the Giants and Cubs aired on the same Comcast systems.

BOSTON: WBZ-FM Sports Hub has gained added ammunition in its bid to overcome WEEI-FM. Comcast SportsNet New England has added a simulcast of the Toucher & Rich morning show from 6 to 10 AM. Good for the Sports Hub, but it deprives fans of the chance to see game highlights and recaps of the previous night's action on CSN in the morning. CSN New England already simulcasts Felger & Mezz, the afternoon drive show of WBZ-FM, except when pre-empted by live game action.

This means that on most weekdays, CSN New England's schedule will consist of one-third (8 hours) of simulcasting sports radio. I suppose it's better than some of the infomercials and lesser so-called sports shows.

DALLAS: Now that the Cowboys are underway with their pre-season, it comes as an even bigger surprise that fans are aware of the Rangers now making a run toward a post-season berth after a poor first half. Monday's (8/17) Fox Sports Southwest telecast of the Rangers' win over Seattle scored the highest ratings of any Rangers telecast so far this season. FSSW could be in luck next week when the Rangers host Toronto in a three game series, all of which is scheduled to air on FSSW.

MINNEAPOLIS:  The Ticket got punched. After showing up with a combined rating of .1, the lowest possible rating, the trimulcast of WGVX, WRXP, and WGVZ known as Sports Talk The Ticket has vanished and been turned into a hip-hop format. The market's other two sports stations, KFXN The Fan and KSTP ESPN, are both in the top 20 in the ratings.

CHICAGO: Radio stations continue to battle for Bears fans even though the team is not expected to be in playoff contention for the upcoming NFL season. Once again this year, no fewer than three of the major AM stations will air at least two full hours of post-game programming after each Sunday Bears game.

While flagship station WBBM 780 continues its two hour post-game show. WGN Radio 720 will again deliver a three-hour post-game discussion show as well. And now WSCR 670 has announced a new two hour post-game show to be hosted by former Bears players Olin Kreutz and James 'Big Cat' Williams. WSCR's show, however, will likely air later on three of the first four Sundays during the regular season, airing after its White Sox baseball coverage.

GAINESVILLE: WRUF ESPN 850 has added 95.3 FM and now simulcasts as of this week. The station continues to air its share of area play-by-play, including Rays baseball from Tampa, Jaguars football from Jacksonville, and University of Florida football and basketball.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Fox Is Ready For Some Football

Fox Sports announced a couple of changes on its broadcast team roster for the coming NFL regular season. The top two announcing teams of Joe Buck with Troy Aikman, as well as Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch, will remain in tact. The network has brought analyst Charles Davis over from its college football coverage, and is teaming him with Thom Brennaman and Tony Siragusa starting this year. As a result, Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston will no longer have Siragusa working with them from the field. In addition, Fox will have Chris Myers and Ronde Barber as one of its two regional telecast teams when needed, while Dick Stockton will now be paired with David Diehl when needed.

Fox also has added Colin Cowherd, who just joined the Network, to its Fox NFL Kickoff Show, which it will air at 11 AM ET for one hour, giving Fox a two hour block of NFL pre-game programming.  Cowherd will also be handling the Noon to 3 PM ET spot on Fox Sports Radio, starting on September 8th. His radio show will also be simulcast on Fox Sports 1, pushing the live feed of WFAN's Mike Francesa over to Fox Sports 2 on most days.

As a result, the few who watch Fox Sports 1 or 2 will have a choice of which radio show to "watch", while Fox Sports Radio will actually give its stations the choice of airing Cowherd's show or The Rich Eisen Show, which will be simulcast from DirecTV. Put it all together and it means that sports fans in some markets can choose between listening to Eisen's TV show on the radio or watching Cowherd's radio show on TV.

Even though TBS didn't televise any MLB games during the entire first half of the current season, and does not have a uniform starting time, baseball fans were watching this past Sunday (8/9) when the network aired the Giants at Cubs telecast. The ratings were double that of the corresponding game from last year (Angels vs. Rays). As a result, TBS telecast ratings are up more than 30% compared with its first five telecasts from the 2014 season.

PHILADELPHIA: Being on sports talk radio is now staying within the Eskin family. WIP-FM has added Spike Eskin, son of long time host Howard Eskin, to its afternoon drive show, which now airs from 2 to 6 PM. The 39 year-old Eskin will be a part of the Josh Innes Show starting this coming Monday (8/17), as will former Eagle Hollis Thomas. Eskin will continue to serve as the station's Program Director. As a result, the Mike & Ike Show (Michael Barkann and Ike Reese) will air from 10 AM to 2 PM.

MINNEAPOLIS: KFXN The Fan, which already is simulcast on stations in other markets in Minnesota and North Dakota, now has a Wisconsin station airing much of its programming. WXCX 105.7 in Siren WI, has dropped music and picked up The Fan for weekdays until 7 PM. But with an interesting twist. KXFN The Fan is, obviously, fixated on the Vikings throughout the football season.  Yet, WXCX happens to be that region's affiliate for Green Bay Packers broadcasts. At least WXCX airs Minnesota Wild games so some of their play-by-play will tie in directly. The station, however, plans to air NBC Sports Radio programming on nights it does not air a game and throughout the weekend.

COLUMBIA SC: The Point 1470 and 95.9 is expanding its sports programming. The stations will now air the full two-hour Phil Kornblut SportsTalk Show from 6 to 8 PM on weeknights, adding the second hour of the statewide sports show. In addition, the station will again air The Citadel football.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

NHL To Play Ball With Streaming

The fact that the NHL has sold its digital and streaming rights in a half billion dollar deal is not the shock. The fact that the NHL has a new six year partnership for that purpose, and it is with MLB Advanced Media, is the shock. This is in contrast with the NBA, which has its primary TV network partner, TNT, handling its content along with its TV network, NBA TV.

It is somewhat surprising that MLB Advanced Media would choose to devote a percentage of its time and resources to another professional sports league, and spend hundreds of millions over the next six years to do so. While MLB's At Bat application is extremely popular, and lucrative, it's hard to believe that a similar application, even including live streaming of the games, would be anywhere near that popular for the NHL on a national basis.

MLB Advanced Media is growing even more as a result of this deal. The company also has a deal with the PGA already in place, although there has yet to be much coming from it as of yet.
Another curious part of the NHL deal is the absence of NBC Universal, the major U.S. TV partner of the NHL, from this announcement. Once most or all of the NHL games are available via live stream and on phones (such as At Bat provides), you have to think this could potentially hurt NBCSN's national audience for its games when fans of the local teams can watch other games of more interest at the same time.

We'll see how this plays out, and how much or how little the NHL respects NBC and NBCSN game nights. However, from a media standpoint, this increases the amount of content for fans which will be controlled by the leagues and the teams, which, obviously, does not figure to include much negative or investigative coverage.

Actually, the NFL provided a hint of what could soon be happening in this regard late last week. The Chicago Bears, with a new GM and Head Coach heading into training camp, actually went to the point of announcing revised media coverage policies for coverage of its training camp.

This policy, for the first two weeks of camp prior to the first exhibition game, goes as far as limiting the amount of time that local TV stations can record actual practice, and that reporters are not allowed to report on which players are practicing with individual units. The Bears are also implementing limits on player availability (for interviews) after practice.

However, as we reported last year, the team has its own video production facility at its team offices, which are located where the team practices throughout the regular season, as well as producing multiple team focused TV shows which air on local TV and cable stations and networks at scheduled times.

Combine all of this with the increasing number of reporters who are dismissed, suspended, or face a change of responsibilities following negative reporting, and you see the fear of how sports fans will receive their "news" with increasing team and league controlled content taking over.

Just as replay reviews are welcome in sports so that the officials "get it right", the sports media should be concerned to the same level about getting its reports "right".

Last Thursday (7/30), the media reports involving the possible trade of Wilmer Flores from the Mets as fact before it happened (which it didn't) showed how some "reporters" would rather be first than make sure they are right. For whatever reason(s), the trade was halted before a "real" official announcement was made. Had certain "reporters" waited a few minutes and instead been ready with the story the second it was confirmed, the embarrassing incident never would have happened.

At least Fox's Ken Rosenthal addressed the issue very clearly in his column about the incident, explaining what happened behind the scenes and admitting that it was not a good thing to jump the gun. Hopefully the "reporters" learned a lesson from that.

It appears that the St. Louis Cardinals may have gotten in under the wire with their amazing $1 billion TV deal, over the next 15 years, announced with Fox Sports Midwest. Adding to the revenue, according to Forbes Magazine, is that the Cardinals will reportedly also acquire a 30% stake in FSMW.

We say "under the wire" because of the possibility that the media bubble could be closer to bursting. This contract comes within a few weeks of ESPN beginning major cost cutting measures after spending so much on retaining rights to televise games and events.

In keeping with its recent cost reduction theme, ESPN Radio appears to be in no hurry to replace its late morning slot since the departure of Colin Cowherd. Rather than come right back with another high profile national personality, the network will continue to use programming from some of its big market stations.

This week, ESPN Radio is airing Max & Marcellus from its Los Angeles station KSPN 710, although the two hosts are adding this shift to their local afternoon drive show. For the following two weeks, ESPN2's Michelle Beadle (of Sports Nation) and ESPNLA's Ben Lyons will co-host the 10 AM to 1 PM ET show. For the week of August 24 to 28, the ESPN 1000 Chicago team of "Waddle & Silvy" will do double duty and also host a separate national show.

As a result, Tom Waddle and Mark Silverman (Silvy) will be live on the air for seven hours each day, with the three hours on ESPN Radio and then their regular 2 to 6 PM CT shift for Chicago. ESPN 1000 will air all three of the national hours, thus airing the pair for their entire seven hours total each day, while reducing its midday show to Noon to 2 PM during that time.

We don't know yet whether these hosts will return for a week or more in September, if other ESPN stations or hosts will rotate, or if a new host will be brought in.

BOSTON: The latest radio ratings (for the June into July period) show that sports radio continues to attract a huge audience, even as the two stations continue to battle it out. This time around, the two are together at #6 and #7 in the market for overall listeners (all days, all age groups). WBZ Sports Hub has regained the lead (among the two) with an impressive gain of one full ratings point (more than a 20% audience increase) from the previous month. While WEEI-FM has been within .3 of a ratings point over the past three months, it fell to .2 behind WBZ this time around. With the Patriots camp opening and the question about how the team will start out the season without Tom Brady, the next month could easily see both stations on the rise again.

St. LOUIS: Even with the Cardinals playing extremely well and easily in first place, sports did not make a difference during this most recent ratings period. KMOX 1120 is a solid #2 overall in the market, but dropped in overall rating from 8.8 to 7.9 in just the one month. At the same time, WXOS-FM sports radio dropped again, and has lost more than 33% of its overall audience within the past three months.

RALEIGH: Michelle McMahon has been named as a host for Fox Sports Carolinas of their Hurricanes Live pre-game and studio shows within and surrounding game coverage, starting with the upcoming season. McMahon comes from The Big Ten Network where she spent the past three years as a host and reporter. She had also done some freelance reporting for Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

DALLAS: If there is anyone left who doesn't realize how important the Cowboys are on the local scene, check those Dallas TV listings for this coming Sunday (8/9). You will see that KTXA-TV Channel 21 plans to televise the "Blue-White Scrimmage", which is nothing more than an intra-squad game among team members shown from the team's training camp.
KTVT-TV Channel 11 will air the exhibition games (not shown nationally) again this year, with Bill Jones and Babe Laufenberg on the call.

On the basketball side, Mavericks telecasts won't be the same during the upcoming season as Bob Ortegel announced that he is taking this coming season off. Ortegel has been a part of Mavs telecasts since November 1988 when he took over as analyst when Bob Weiss was hired away for an assistant coach position with Orlando. Four years ago, he was moved to Fox Sports Southwest's studio coverage. He holds the distinction of calling Mavericks games with all nine of the teams head coaches.

PITTSBURGH: The Penguins are looking (as of press time) for a full-time host for their pre-game and post-game shows, as well as for the Penguins Radio channel on HD.

WILLIAMSPORT PA: Here is one radio market where we can say that something stays the same no matter what. WRAK 1400 has announced, as usual, that it will broadcast the Little League World Series locally, as it has every year since the tournament started in 1947. The station will have a rotating broadcast team, with Gary Chrisman and Ken Sawyer on play-by-play, and Scott Lowery and Mike Fogarty on color. Chrisman is in his 42nd year with the station, hosting mornings on sister station WKSB 102.7 for the past 28 years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Week In Sports Media

How convenient that ESPN just happened to find comments made by host Colin Cowherd offensive last Friday (7/24) and pulled his radio and ESPNU show off the air one week before it was expected to happen. This, of course, may put a damper on the anticipated announcement that Cowherd will be joining Fox Sports, by making him look less favorable to the masses.

This move also further distracts some fans and media from noticing that losing Cowherd, along with Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons recently, was about ESPN reducing its expenses by cutting millions off the payroll.

The network also 'just happened' to have its ESPN Los Angeles radio team of Steve Mason and John Ireland all set to begin filling in as of this Monday (7/27), whether on an interim basis or as an audition for taking over the national slot as well.

NBC, fresh off a much improved showing from its NHL telecasts, has already announced their tentative national TV schedule for the upcoming 2015-16 season for NBC and NBCSN with more than 100 regular season telecasts. The network is beefing up its "Wednesday Night Rivalry" 24 week series and including six double header Wednesday nights.
NBCSN will be showing at least 12 Sunday night matchups after the first of the year. Opening night, Oct. 7th, will start with an impressive doubleheader with the NY Rangers vs. Chicago followed by San Jose at Los Angeles.

The network is counting on the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to have another solid season and continue to deliver major numbers from the Chicago area. Already, the Blackhawks could have up to 21 of their regular season games shown on either NBC or NBCSN.

However, NBCSN continues to struggle for an audience beyond its NHL and some of its auto racing schedule. Case in point is their just announced schedule of Ivy League football on Friday nights during October and November, starting with Columbia at Princeton at 7 PM ET on October 2nd.

Fox Sports has added former Colorado QB Joel Klatt as its lead analyst on its college football telecasts, with Klatt being teamed with play-by-play voice Gus Johnson. Its other play-by-play crews will include Tim Brando and Joe Davis on play-by-play. Brady Quinn will serve as an analyst, although not yet regularly paired with a play-by-play voice. Former NFL Referee Mike Pereira, who is a part of Fox's NFL coverage, will also be used on most of the NCAA telecasts during the coming season.

CHICAGO: The Bears will again have their games broadcast in Spanish, although they will have a new radio affiliate starting in a couple of weeks with the first pre-season game. The AM-FM combo of WRTO 1200, WVIV 93.5 and WVIX 103.1 will take over the broadcasts after three seasons on WLEY-FM. Hector Lozano, the Sports Director for Univision Chicago, and Omar Ramos, will handle the play-by-play and analyst duties.

MIAMI: WQAM 560 will continue as the flagship station for the Florida Panthers, with Randy "Red Deer" Moller remaining on play-by-play. The station will also air "Panthers Insider" for one hour on Saturday mornings along with other team related programming.

BALTIMORE: WBAL 1090 wanted football on both weekend days so much that it will continue to air Navy Football on Saturdays, renewing its contract. This will be its 11th season airing the games, with the contract reported to be a multi-year deal. The station is, of course, the flagship station of the Ravens.

NASHVILLE: The "Greg Pogue & Big Joe Show" is back as of this week, even with a 9 to 11 AM air time, on WNSR 560 and 95.9. The station already has "The Bill King Show" from 7 to 9 AM. Dubin, who is expected to continue his sports reporter duties for WSMV-TV 4, was paired with Pogue previously on The Game 94.9 FM.

SYRACUSE: Music fans are crying "WOLF" since WOLF 1490 dropped its music simulcast to pick up Fox Sports Radio this week. However, as of press time, there is no local sports programming on the station.

RALEIGH-DURHAM:  Mike Maniscalco is now the solo host of the morning show on The Buzz 99.3 as of this week. Former NC State football standout Mark Thomas has left the station, and his co-hosting duties, in order to join a local advertising/marketing agency. Thomas is, however, expected to continue to be involved with NC State sports.

ALBANY: WCWN-TV 45 plans to begin a 30 minute live and local sports report, starting on August 31st, at 10:30 PM Monday through Friday, and hosted by Kelly O'Donnell. Known as "Upstate Sports Edge", the station has also hired Brittany Devane as an anchor and reporter for the show, which promises to focus heavily on the local college and high school sports scene.

FARGO: KQWB 1660 has also dropped its music format and has gone sports. However, the station is also airing Fox Sports Radio with no local sports programming as of yet. The station was the local ESPN station for five years until changing to music in 2012.

FREEPORT IL: Sorry to learn of the passing of Rick Edwards, who did play-by-play and hosted shows going back to the 1950's on Rockford stations WRRR and later WROK. He was "the radio voice of Freeport sports" in the 1960's and 70's on WELL-FM and WFRL-AM. He passed away last week (real name Ed Richter) at the age of 94.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Local Team Baseball A Big Hit

The difference in how MLB and the NFL market themselves is becoming even more evident with the recent Forbes Magazine article about the increase in ratings for local team MLB telecasts for the first half of the 2015 season. The NFL takes pride in marketing the league as a whole, such as promoting its "doubleheader" game telecasts extensively via its network partners. Doing this makes a matchup of teams in a different time zone and different division appealing to a large number of fans.

At the same time MLB stays with the "favorite team" theme, especially with its popular At Bat application which brings broadcasts to millions of fans via phones and other devices. The Forbes report showed ten MLB teams as the highest rated and most viewed prime time cable TV programming during this season. Those markets are Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore, San Diego, San Francisco, and Phoenix. This is even more significant when you realize that Seattle, Boston, and San Diego have teams which are having disappointing seasons based on earlier expectations.

At the same time, the L.A. Dodgers ratings continue to suffer from their telecasts being available to less than 30% of the Los Angeles market, and the Chicago White Sox ratings suffering from a disappointing season in the nation's #3 market.

This trend also reflects on the lesser ratings for the All-Star Game and the national packages such as Fox and TBS. It could be that fans are not as 'in tune' with national games. Of course, MLB telecasts are usually six days per week, vs. one game per week for the NFL teams. There is, however, the promotional factor. Fox Sports continues to hide most of its telecasts, and put them on at staggered times, on Fox Sports 1, while TBS just this month began its Sunday series of telecasts after fans got used to not finding any Sunday games on that network.

At Fox Sports, they are already preparing their promotional forces for the upcoming NFL season, now expanding their Sunday NFL pre-game programming from one hour to two hours. The Network plans to put "Fox NFL Kickoff" on Fox Network from 11 AM to 12 Noon ET each Sunday, followed by the regular "Fox NFL Kickoff" show airing as it has for years at Noon ET. This puts Fox up against ESPN's NFL pre-game programming for a longer time on Sundays, while it hopes the lead-in will help with also beating out CBS during the one-hour lead-in to the regional telecasts. "Fox NFL Kickoff" quietly aired on Fox Sports 1 during that same time slot last season.

Speaking of expanding coverage, ESPN/ABC will be adding a Saturday night prime-time package on ABC for the later part of the NBA regular season as part of its new deal, starting in January. This eight game package will air at 8:30 PM ET, starting Jan. 23, with games to be determined during the season. One down side to this, however, is that ABC will no longer air doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons, sticking with the 3:30 PM ET airtime for its Sunday telecasts. At least ABC has wised up and plans to schedule a Super Bowl Sunday NBA telecast, with that one (only) starting at 1 PM ET.

A good matchup stands a chance vs. the endless Super Bowl pre-game hype that starts airing during that time block.

Some interesting viewership notes from The British Open telecasts. The Sunday telecast did best in markets without a local MLB team, which is more of a positive for baseball viewing. Of the top ten local market ratings, nine of them (West Palm Beach, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Raleigh-Durham, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Richmond, Charlotte, and Jacksonville) are in that category. Yet, the one market in the top ten golf ratings with an MLB franchise was Kansas City, with the Royals winning their third game in four tries out of the All Star break overlapping much of the Open telecast.

TBS continues to go "big market" with its few Sunday afternoon MLB telecasts. This coming Sunday (7/26) TBS will air the L.A. Dodgers at N.Y. Mets, with the game shown in the Los Angeles market, an important consideration. The following Sunday, Aug. 2, it will air the N.Y. Yankees at Chicago White Sox game.

What a sad week, with four sports media deaths to report. Buffalo and NFL fans mourn the loss of long time play-by-play voice Van Miller, who called more than 600 of the Bills games from 1960 until 2003, and passed away at the age of 87.

Former University of Alabama analyst and pre-game host Doug Layton passed away at the age of 81. Layton spent 32 seasons in the Bama booth, capped with Coach Bear Bryant's 315th career victory in 1981.

Milwaukee sports talk host Steve Haywood, most recently heard on WAUK ESPN 540, passed away this past weekend from heart failure at the age of 49.

Traverse City MI sports fans mourn the passing of Jon Patrick, known as JP, who broadcast local high school games for 21 years and was also the WTCM morning man for six years. Patrick, whose real name was Jon Carl Reckeweg, was 67.

NEW YORK CITY: WEPN ESPN 98.7 has extended the contract of afternoon drive host Michael Kay (along co-host Don LaGreca) through 2018.

DALLAS: When the Cowboys open the 2015 regular season against the N.Y. Giants on Sunday night September 13th, the radio broadcast will be handled by none other than Verne Lundquist. This will be the first game that regular play-by-play voice Brad Sham will miss since the mid-90's when he "missed" three seasons after shifting over to broadcast Rangers baseball.

Sham will be celebrating the Jewish New Year that night, and would have been able to call this game had it been a Noon CT start and not moved for Sunday Night Football. Sham will begin is 37th season of calling Cowboys football the following week. Lundquist will have Babe Laufenberg as his analyst.

KNOXVILLE: WKGN 1340 is becoming Fox Sports Radio Knoxville but does plan to air local programming during key weekday time slots. The Nate Hodges Show will air from 7 to 10 AM, with Brad Matthews and Ryan Callahan also contributing. The Tom Poisal Show will air from 5 to 7 PM.

The station also plans local college sports programming on weekends.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why ESPN Is Really Losing Big Name Hosts

Consumers tired of being gouged to watch sports on TV are beginning to make an impact on the TV networks. In a curious development, ESPN continues its new found cost-cutting measures as both Collin Cowherd and Keith Olbermann are vanishing from the network only weeks after Bill Simmons also departed for what are supposedly a variety of reasons.

The network can quietly sit while speculation points to controversial content, which seemingly rarely bothered ESPN before, such as Olbermann's harsh remarks about NFL leadership. As of press time, even Monday Night Football and NBA play-by-play voice Mike Torico has not yet been renewed. Nor has ESPN moved to bring in high profile replacements yet for these shows, while they will soon be saving millions of salary dollars.

Why now? This is really because ESPN has reportedly lost more than three million subscribers over the past two years, with that figure covering only the first part of 2015. With per subscriber revenue of upwards of $5.00 or more each month, it means network revenue is down in the $15 to $20 million PER MONTH range. With contracts in place for the NFL, NBA, and MLB, along with major golf, tennis, and soccer tournaments.

ESPN execs are probably thinking to "Let Fox Sports grab Cowherd, Olbermann, and the rest, and add millions of dollars to its payroll".

Over at Comcast, they are about to test the waters on an online HBO package, which would also include local market over-the-air stations, for about $15 per month. The Boston, Chicago, and Seattle markets will reportedly be offered this "Stream Package" by the end of 2015. Speculation is that Comcast is doing this in hopes of maintaining or bringing back some of its customers struggling with its high cost of monthly service. The most interesting aspect of this is that, obviously, none of the sports networks are included, even the regional Comcast SportsNet service it offers in the Chicago and Boston markets, as well as NBCSN.

Thus, Comcast will be able to test the waters on a "non-sports" offering to consumers. This all tells me that the "big boys" are starting to take notice that consumers are not going to continue to pay whatever it takes to enjoy sports on TV.

Even with the MLB All-Star Game over the air on Fox earlier this week (7/14), the national ratings were the lowest that Fox has experienced thus far, and down almost a half million viewers from last season. I'll say it again. A big reason for the decrease is because of Fox Sports hiding the majority of its MLB national telecasts on Fox Sports 1 on Saturdays, aside from a few prime-time regional telecasts. The casual fan does not spend his or her Saturday afternoons desperate to find the Fox telecast, and it is that same "casual" fan who used to easily find a game every Saturday and therefore know when and where to find the All-Star Game.

In most markets, the Fox prime time telecasts feature the local or regional team that the fans can see all week on the local or regional sports network or station, thus making the Fox telecast less special.

PHILADELPHIA: The Fanatic 97.5 will remain the winter sports king, announcing a multi-year deal to air the Flyers broadcasts while also airing the Sixers. Sister station WMMR 93.3 will air the Flyers games, with Tim Saunders and Steve Coates on the call, when there is a Sixers conflict on 97.5.

CHICAGO: WLS 890 has officially entered the year-round sports game with the announcement that the station will become the flagship station for both White Sox baseball and Bulls basketball starting in 2016. The White Sox come over after 10 seasons on WSCR The Score 670, while the Bulls have aired (for 19 of the past 20 seasons) on WMVP ESPN 1000. Thus, this acquisition takes one team away from each of Chicago's two rival all-sports stations.

Although nothing has been announced yet, and probably won't be until after the 2015 season, the current broadcasters are not necessarily going to be coming over to WLS.

From here, this move was a perfect fit for both parties. WLS-AM, struggling with endless recycled local and national talk shows, can now draw from year round local sports audiences. Since Jerry Reinsdorf (who reportedly once tried to buy WVMP) owns both teams, he succeeds in getting his teams away from the often critical local sports talk stations and on to a station which will not be airing potentially critical programming surrounding the broadcasts.

While WMVP, which just declined in the latest local ratings, loses its one major local play-by-play option (although it will air the Bulls for the coming 2015-16 season), WSCR 670 will not have that problem. The Score is contractually able to begin airing Chicago Cubs games starting in 2016, moving the team over from sister station WBBM 780.

As part of its new deal, WLS will be able to use sister station WLUP 97.9 on nights of conflicts between the White Sox and Bulls.

Also in Chicago, our best wishes to WCIU/WMME-TV Sports Director Kenny McReynolds, who "expects" to be on the air this coming weekend (7/18) following two separate heart surgeries within the past month. I first met Kenny back in the late 70's, and his involvement with local basketball (to the point of having been hired as an assistant coach a couple of times) is also very much a part of the scene.

BOSTON: How about WEEI-FM? The June ratings show the station holding steady at #6 in overall listeners in the market, while rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub dipped to #12 overall and has lost more than 20% of its audience since the baseball season started.

HOUSTON: You know it is the content and not the hosts for KBME 790. When management dumped the Astros broadcasts onto KBME prior to the start of the 2014 season, they didn't really think the Astros would be contenders anytime soon. But the miracle 2015 season for the team has resulted in a significant increase in their radio audience. The June ratings show that KBME's night (7 PM to Midnight) ratings have tripled from June 2014 to June 2015, and rose another 35% from this May to June.

St. LOUIS: Learfield Sports, which has been adding special deals for several universities over the past couple years, has added the St. Louis University Billikens to the fold. Just as it does for the University of Missouri, Learfield has the rights to make deals with local TV stations in St. Louis (and other stations in the region) to air telecasts of basketball games not carried by Fox Sports Midwest or ESPN.