Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Still More Millions for the NFL

If the NFL builds it, they will come. This may never have been more evident than the moment that last week's (Jan. 25 - 31) TV ratings came out showing the most watched cable TV shows for the week.

While the majority of football fans will say they don't care about the Pro Bowl year after year, some of them obviously do, even if in secret. Incredibly, the 2016 Pro Bowl telecast on ESPN on Sunday (1/31) finished as the most-watched cable sports program for the week, with more than 5,000,000 more viewers than the second most watched show. That's nothing short of embarrassing for the NBA, NHL, and NCAA people.

At the same time came word of the NFL allowing for an expanded "over the air" presentation of Thursday Night Football for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The League reduced the CBS package to five Thursday night games (from eight the past two seasons), and gave NBC a separate five game package, generating an additional $150 million for the NFL in rights fees. Again, that is "additional" rights fees, since the two networks combine to pay $450 million per season, compared with the $300 million CBS paid for its eight games over the past two seasons.

The NBC package actually gives them four additional Thursday telecasts, since Thanksgiving will continue to be included. Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will also handle their Thursday telecasts. The two networks will arrange to split the production for the eight games which will be exclusive to the NFL Network, which will also simulcast the ten Thursday games with the networks.

NFL Network will retain an exclusive national package of eight games, which will be the remaining Thursday night games, along with a pair of December Saturday night telecasts. Therefore, NFL Network can continue to charge cable/satellite carriers a higher fee because of its exclusive national games.

Incredibly, even with the additional $150 million, the NFL still isn't done with generating revenue for these Thursday night games. Word is that the League continues to negotiate the streaming rights for the all of the Thursday night games. When you consider that Yahoo paid a reported $15 million for the streaming rights for a lesser game from London this past season, and now a package of 15 or 16 games is available, the added revenue could well exceed still another $100 million for the League - per season.


Bob Uecker continues to turn out lead play-by-play voices from his Brewers broadcast partners. Now Joe Block is leaving the WTMJ Radio booth after four seasons to join the Pirates' crew as their lead play-by-play voice.

Longtime Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes is among those who worked with Uecker before leaving, as did Cory Provus of the Twins and Jim Powell of the Braves.

The Brewers have already announced that Jeff Levering will move up to the number two role on Brewers radio. He is no stranger to the broadcasts, having done play-by-play on road games (which Uecker no longer does) last season. The team says it expects to have a new play-by-play voice on the crew announced prior to the first exhibition game broadcast next month.


Sorry to learn of the passing of Barney Hall, known for many years as "The Voice of NASCAR", at the age of 83. Hall did the call of the Daytona 500 as far back as 1960, and goes back to 1970 on the Motor Racing Network. He was the first ever Public Address announcer at Bristol Motor Speedway.


As we mentioned last week, ESPN is showing an audience decline for its SportsCenter shows, especially during the day. Finally, ESPN has noticed as well and is starting to make some changes. Finally, they will make the 7 to 10 AM ET editions live instead of replaying the late night "final" edition.

More importantly, the plan is for SportsCenter to return to emphasizing more game highlights and information instead of the endless replaying of often lengthy feature stories.

There are still aspects of the show that need fixing. The constant jumping from one sport to another hurts the flow. In addition, the Bottom Line scroll should have more rotations with only the final scores from the different leagues and sports. By the next morning, the majority of fantasy players know how their players did the night before.

Maybe this is because ESPN sees the technology evolving even further which could eventually take away from its SportsCenter audience. The NHL Premium service, which is now being rolled out, is one example. Fans pay $2.99 per month for this streaming service which delivers the last five minutes of all (out of market) games and stays with it when there is overtime, and/or to receive alerts whenever a game enters the final five minutes.

Clearly, other pro leagues will be keeping an eye on this service. ESPN should as well. If an NHL fan doesn't have to sit through 2 basketball game highlights to get to a single NHL game highlight (as is often the case on SportsCenter) because they can get it on their phone or device, it makes life a lot easier.


NEW YORK: Sid Rosenberg is back on the air in New York a few weeks after his south Florida sports radio stint came to an end, joining WABC 770 for a 10 AM to Noon weekday show. Believe it or not, his show, co-hosted with Bernard McGuirk, is primarily focusing on political talk, as this duo replaces Geraldo Rivera's local show. At least for now. Have to wonder what will happen to this show starting the second week of November, after the election.


CHICAGO: It is rare to see a radio play-by-play deal extended more than three years before the current contract runs out, but WGN 720 made that happen with its Blackhawks contract. The station is now under contract to air the Blackhawks games through the 2023-24 NHL season, hoping to continue its successful run which has included three Stanley Cup champion seasons to date.

John Wiedeman and Troy Murray will continue their excellent job as the broadcast team.


MAYSVILLE KY: WFTM 1240 has dropped its music format and gone 24 hour sports which includes daily local programming such as high school coverage. Local sports historian Ron Bailey will host "The Daily Bailey", while Kentucky Sports Radio will continue to air from 10 AM to Noon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Broncos Lead The Ratings Charges

As predicted here last week, the AFC Championship game between Denver and New England was far and away the bigger draw this past Sunday (1/24) when determining the Super Bowl participants.


The national rating of 29 and amazing 51% share of the total audience is the highest rated AFC Championship game telecast in almost 30 years, and the highest "early" Conference championship telecast (either AFC or NFC) during that time as well. Even more impressive is that this telecast finished as the highest rated TV show (including non-sports) since last year's Super Bowl.


Obviously, not a good night to have the blowout game that Fox wound up with, although having two teams which had far less national exposure than they deserved during the regular season certainly contributed.



It is rare that an app can have a severe impact on sports media, but the "Sports Stadium" app that Facebook will be marketing in the near future could do just that. This app will provide in-game statistics and analysis, which is nothing unique. However, the integration with Facebook is unique because it will encourage users to comment on live game action and share and respond to their Facebook friends.


The hunch here is that this app could soon result in a reduction in viewership, especially for games which are only available on cable. Some casual sports fan will probably enjoy interacting with their friends about the game more than watching, especially when the game is not close and/or a favorite team is not having a good season. Many other consumers, who continue paying the continually rising cost of cable/satellite service primarily to follow sports, might use this app and have more incentive to 'cut the cord' and drop their provider, preferring to let their friends keep them informed about the games.


This application will be rolled out specific to football, with the other sports expected to be added in within "the near future". Recent research shows that more than 700,000,000 Facebook users consider themselves to be sports fans, while the app is being formed to have both the official score and key stats about the "followed" game, along with friends' reactions and comments on the same screen.


Those who still don't see the potential impact might find the recent research report by Moffett Nathanson Research to be stunning. The report, focused on ESPN viewership sorted by live coverage and its other programming, showed a 5.4% drop in SportsCenter viewership over the past six years.


Although that six year "average" may not appear significant, the report shows that SportsCenter actually lost more than 12% of its audience during (fiscal year) 2015.


This was more than triple the amount of the audience decrease that ESPN showed for its live play-by-play coverage during the same period. Frankly, SportsCenter has become so difficult to watch due to far too much jumping around from sport to sport and replaying the same extended features almost every hour, when it has so many other resources.




ESPN is planning to beef up its NBA coverage, adding a daytime half-hour program starting on Feb. 18th (out of the All-Star Game break). Rachel Nichols, who joins ESPN after a stint with Turner Sports, has been chosen to host the show, which will include talks with players and analysts, along with previews of the night's games.


Nichols is also expected to act as fill-in host for Bob Ley on Outside The Lines when called upon.




It's not NBC Sports' fault that Sunday's (1/24) scheduled NHL telecast from Washington D.C. was called off due to the winter storm that wreaked havoc over the Northeast. With no alternative, NBC Sports took over the 2 1/2 hour block with sports updates, highlights, and interviews. However, extended segments on figure skating and other categories with a limited audience among hardcore sports fans (who would be most likely to watch) made the programming a near disaster. As it was, this time block was a lead in to up to seven hours of live NFL football which began at 3 PM ET, with the CBS pre-game show having started at 2 PM.




Over the Canadian border, Rogers Media is showing signs of struggle after having paid so much for NHL rights. The network paid over $5 billion back in 2013 for only a 10-year NHL package for its SportsNet (network) in its drive to smother rival TSN. However, this season has brought the network a noticeable dip in the ratings compared with last season.


Rogers Media has just laid off 200 employees, which is in addition to 90 positions eliminated from within a separate newspaper chain it owns.




NEW YORK: WFAN's Mike Francesa somehow managed to give a news story (of sorts) about his radio show on a show other than his own, which is quite a distinction. Last week, Francesa,revealed on Fox Sports 1 that he plans to leave WFAN at the end of next year (2017) when his contract is up.


Instead of making the announcement on his show to "his" audience first, Francesa instead told Katie Nolan of his decision on FS1's aptly named "Garbage Time" show. He then followed that up by being almost 20 minutes late for his show on WFAN due to the FS1 interview. As popular as Francesa and his show are and have been, it was disrespectful to his regular audience to announce his intentions on another show before doing so on his own show to all of his fans.


Next year will mark 30 years since he first joined WFAN, with 19 of those years spent teamed with Mad Dog Russo.


Francesa and Russo still plan to reunite for a "one-time" pairing on the air on March 30th at Radio City Music Hall.




Nice to see the "Legendary Coaches" show, featuring interviews and profiles of major college football coaches, preparing to expand beyond its current stations, which include WPRT 102.5 The Game in Nashville. Beginning with the Saturday Feb. 13th show, it will also be heard via Yahoo Sports Radio, in hopes of eventually adding more stations to the mix.



BOSTON: This will most certainly change for next month, but the holiday period ratings for both major sports stations showed a drop of audience. Although WBZ-FM Sports Hub finished as the #2 station in the market in overall audience, and WEEI-FM came in #6, both stations lost .8 off their overall audience from the prior ratings period. With the Patriots' January run to the AFC Championship game, the audience size figures to rise for both stations for the current ratings period.




KANSAS CITY: The Royals getting further into the offseason has proven to be a ratings disaster for the two sports stations, showing it is how the local teams are doing and the current sports content that make all the difference. During the 4th quarter of 2015 (which began with the October ratings during the Royals World Series run), KCSP-AM lost more than 75% of the total audience it had from October through December, and is now at #19 in the market.


In fact, WHB-AM, which had slightly over half of KCSP's total audience size during October, overtook KCSP by more than one-half of a ratings point in the just release December ratings period.



INDIANAPOLIS: After it started to attract some attention in the early fall, WIBC-HD2 decided to drop its local sports shows over the past few weeks. The channel went to all ESPN Radio, and its December ratings showed it having lost more than 80% of the total audience it had as recently as October.



PHILADELPHIA: As of press time, still no further action taken by WIP-FM regarding host Josh Innes, on-air tantrum last week. On the same day that the Eagles held the press conference to introduce Doug Pederson as the team's head coach, Innes was commenting about how Jason Kelce was there to greet the coach.


During this tirade, on the air, Innes referred to Kelce as "lapdog for whoever the coach is", and seconds later referred to him as "the house negro".


Innes apologized, but not until later in the day, and it is not known if he apologized naturally or had been ordered to. Either way, it appears he may be getting away with having made those comments on the air.


That he might get away with this unscathed would not be that big of a story if it weren't for the number of reporters and analysts who have lost jobs or been more severely penalized for such comments via social media - which were NOT said on the air. These are radio (and in some cases TV) stations these people work for. The responsibility for what goes out over the air on a radio station is far more significant than comments on one station representative's social media.



ROANOKE: A new sports station has begun, although it is taking Fox Sports Radio plus the syndicated Dan Patrick Show and has yet to announce any local programming. At 610 AM, the call letters having been changed (from WVBE) to WPLY. The station will also be heard on 97.3 FM and in nearby Lynchburg on 98.5.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Long Time Voices Leaving Chicago and St. Louis

While the legal battles continue regarding daily fantasy sports, still another company is entering the fray and could actually help the stations and networks televising the games. A company called Boom Fantasy plans to expand beyond some resorts and web sites and into several states with its offering of 'real time' fantasy sports.

The company plans to offer what can best be termed as spur of the moment fantasy contests which could last under an hour or even a few seconds. Their marketing plan includes examples such as "Will LeBron James score more than eight points this quarter?", and allow the participants to compete against each other with a series of questions in somewhat of a tournament format.

Its impact on sports media could be significant. Daily fantasy players can follow their players in a variety of ways, such as online and via mobile devices. The idea of Boom Fantasy and its games will be for fans who are actually watching, listening, or possibly following the game online at the time.

Although, as mentioned earlier, some of the owners of NFL teams have investments in the major daily fantasy companies, Boom, to this point, has raised more than one million dollars in private funding to date. Wonder how long it will be before at least one of the regional or national sports network either takes a stake or creates their own version so this concept can be used in conjunction with games they are televising.

Which theory do you have for the NFL Division Playoff ratings from last weekend (Jan. 16 / 17) being down a bit from last year? It certainly wasn't for lack of excitement considering the Arizona OT win over Green Bay and the Denver narrow escape over Pittsburgh.

The four telecasts were down an average of just over one million viewers for the weekend. Some TV experts think it is because of the absence of teams from the largest TV markets in these games. New York, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Washington/Baltimore, and Philadelphia are among the largest markets in the nation, and none of them had a team still involved.

Others think that viewership might be on the decline instantly from St. Louis and northern California (Raiders fans) who are abandoning following the NFL because of losing their team to Los Angeles. Some think it is because the Dallas Cowboys were not in the playoffs, and they remain a strong ratings draw.

We might get an answer when we see the ratings for this coming Sunday's Conference Championship telecasts. Denver and New England both have large followings throughout their respective regions. And football fans everywhere realize this could very well be the final post-season matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Yet, as good as the NFC game appears to be, the fact is that neither Phoenix or Charlotte is a top 20 TV market. The feeling here is that the teams involved are what impact the ratings, and that the more casual fan is not used to seeing Arizona, Carolina, and Kansas City (now eliminated) in the post-season.

The prediction from here is that this coming Sunday's ratings will have Denver vs. New England as one of the highest AFC telecasts ever, and Carolina vs. Arizona as one of the lower NFC Championship telecasts in years.


Tuesday (1/19) brought possible eventual good news for fans as the cost of the MLB streaming package was reduced somewhat, and a single team package will be introduced. MLB settled a class action lawsuit regarding the availability of local team streaming packages within hours of its scheduled court date.

Although specific details were not released (as of press time), it appears that MLB.TV will be able to offer in-market streaming, allowing fans to stream the local team(s) instead of being blacked out. Sources were reporting that MLB.TV will, as part of the settlement terms, offer "single team in-market streaming" for $84.99 for the season, whether or not the subscriber also pays for cable or satellite including the televising local station and regional network.

However, according to Sports Business Journal, it is not certain whether or not roughly half of the MLB teams have reached a deal regarding local streaming. At last report, only 15 of the teams have a streaming deal in place, all of these via Fox Sports regional networks.


On the radio side, the "holiday period" radio ratings for the largest markets were released earlier this week. Although the always interesting Boston ones were not available at press time, the holiday music stations mostly took away from the other music stations in the big markets. Not much change for sports talk stations, with the one exception being Atlanta.

WZGC-FM The Game went up again, and has now increased its total audience by one-third within the past three months, rising to #14 overall in this new ratings book.


NBC Sports Radio plans to make still another change to its weekday lineup as of the week of February 8th, even though it will include a morning repeat. "Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio" is moving to mornings, airing live from 6 to 9 AM ET, and then being instantly replayed in order to serve the west coast from 6 to 9 AM PT. As if they can't pick up a live west coast originated show.

To make the double morning show happen, the network is moving Voices of the Game to Noon to 3 PM ET, and among other changes, also plans to repeat the 10 PM to 1 AM ET "Going Deep" show from 3 to 6 AM ET.

To sum up, a nationally available sports talk network is changing its schedule, and it includes six hours every weekday (1/4 of its broadcast day) of repeat programming.


Over at Fox Sports, their USGA golf coverage will continue without Greg Norman as an analyst. The announcement, at least according to Fox Sports, was a "mutual decision" by the network and by Norman. Yet, there has not been (as of press time) a "mutual" announcement from Greg Norman.


ST. LOUIS: It will seem strange after all of these years, but those who have noticed how drained Mike Shannon sounded last season on Cardinals broadcasts on KMOX will be relieved to know that Shannon will not broadcast the Cardinals' regular season road games, effective immediately. The 76 year-old Shannon will continue with spring training broadcasts, all home games, and call every post-season game if the Cardinals get there again.

It is good news for the many fans of John Rooney, who will take the lead on the road broadcasts and, deservedly call a lot more innings. Rich Horton will come over from the TV booth to help out on the road radio call, along with Mike Claiborne, whose exact role is still to be determined.


CHICAGO: WGN-TV will be adding a new sportscaster between now and June. On one hand, it is a replacement, but on the other hand, it is next to impossible to replace. The name Rich King might not ring a bell with a lot of sports fans, but everybody who watched WGN-TV in its days as a full superstation showing plenty of baseball and basketball has seen him on telecasts and on many of their newscasts.

King has just announced that, after 48 years on the air in Chicago radio and TV, he will retire mid-June of this year. The 68 year-old Chicago native has spent all of that time at either WBBM Radio/TV and WGN-TV, including a few play-by-play stints on White Sox telecasts and sideline reporting for other games.


ERIE IL: Having worked with sportscasting students, both independently and teaching at Columbia College Chicago, I have encountered my fair share of students looking to break in to the play-by-play side of things by going to a smaller market. It appears that one such opportunity is coming up in the near future in Erie.

WQUD 105.5 has been under new ownership for the past few months, and has is going from playing music via automation to some live programming this month. The new ownership is big on local sports, and is expected to look to add high school play-by-play starting this summer. I know of several broadcasters who started by selling some of the time (making themselves a source of revenue for the station) and getting to call the games on the air as an additional reward.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Will NFL Talk Get "Rammed" Totally Out of St. Louis?

An important week for the NFL has become an important week for the media in three major markets, above and beyond the action on the field.


Perhaps no media outlet will be impacted by franchise moves as much as WXOS "101 Sports" in St. Louis. The station had finally begun to make a ratings impact in 2015, had was the flagship station for the St. Louis Rams since 2009, which was the year the station went to the sports format.


Now that the Rams are bolting for Los Angeles, it will be interesting to see what happens to WXOS over the next few months. The sports fans in St. Louis are, quite understandably, upset about losing the team. From what my sources in the St. Louis area tell me, the attitude on the sports talk shows and in general is to move on and let go of the NFL.


Since sports radio station ratings are driven by the local teams and what is going on in the sports world, a reduced level of interest in the NFL will show a big impact (or lack of impact) in St. Louis, especially during the Cardinals' off season and before the Blues begin their NHL playoff run.


The Cardinals and the Blues appear to be firmly in place on KMOX, which now has a monopoly on the two remaining local pro teams, and the huge ratings to go along with it. Frankly, losing the Rams, and the anticipated reduction in local interest in the NFL moving forward, could spell doom for WXOS, as well as KFNS 590, which recently returned to a sports format.


Although the Raiders are also moving to L.A., and the Chargers remain a possibility, the San Francisco/Oakland and San Diego sports radio landscapes are much different, and will not suffer nearly as much as St. Louis.


It will be interesting to see whether or not the struggling Los Angeles sports talk stations, KSPN and KLAC, show any noticeable ratings increases over the next couple of months. It remains to be seen how many fans will be excited enough about gaining local NFL teams will increase their sports radio listening. There is also the upcoming demise of KFWB 980 The Beast as a sports talker (due to its pending sale), although the audience that would need to tune elsewhere is not significant.


In Cincinnati, it will be interesting to see how its sports talkers do (or don't) in the next ratings following the Bengals' debacle in the playoff game against Pittsburgh on Jan. 9th. Of course, the ugly ending to the game and the six (at last reports) arrests made by authorities on stadium grounds have nothing to do with sports radio.


Whether or not the fans take to the airwaves to discuss the Bengals, and, shall we say, "follow" the Steelers the rest of the way in the playoffs, remains to be heard. And then there was WLW 700, which was airing a "Big Ben rape warning" during the couple of days leading into the game against the Steelers. (This was making fun of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of rape in 2009 and in 2010, although neither case went to trial.)


We'll leave others to debate the issue as to whether or not this was in good taste, especially since a TMZ poll with nearly 50,000 respondents was close to an even split. If the locals continue to think that NFL playoffs are "more than a game" to this level, we'll find out whether or not it translates to a sports talk audience increase or not.


The NFL moves right along with its incredible TV viewership for the just concluded regular season. The national TV ratings for the Fall 2015 "season" (as in TV season - not NFL season) show that the top two overall most viewed shows were Sunday Night Football followed by Thursday Night Football. NCIS was a distant #3.


But there is an even more amazing viewership statistic. The average 22.5 million viewers that SNF received (in the top spot) was actually less than the 26.8 million viewers averaged by both CBS and Fox for the Sunday doubleheader telecasts during the Fall.




As the NBA continues its path to expand globally, the feeling here is that there was a partially missed opportunity this week. The Association had its scheduled regular season matchup in London today (1/14) between Toronto and Orlando. In a nice move, it was aired live on NBA-TV starting at 3:10 PM ET. The pre-game show also included the entire press conference in London with Commissioner Adam Silver, who addressed the plans for more international games.


While we can understand not putting the game on this weekend and trying to compete with NFL Playoffs, the publicity for the national telecast was very limited. The NFL pumped up its three London games in 2015, starting them at 9:30 AM ET and having its live stream of the third of the games, turning a less attractive matchup in to a big audience event.


Yet, the NBA did not publicize this live weekday game, other than on a couple of its other national telecasts. Got to think that east coast sports bars could have had an "early bird special" with the game airing into the 5:00 to 6:00 PM hour.


Reminded me of the MLB opener in 2014 when the games started at 5 AM ET, yet it took a fan reaction to get the subsequent international regular season games shown live on national TV. Also interesting, in this case, that the London matchup featured a Canadian team and a U.S. based team.
MLB is again expanding its international reach, announcing a three year agreement for MLB games to be streamed live to China for the first time, starting this coming season.


Fans in China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be able to view approximately 96 regular season games (roughly four per week) online, including mobile devices. In addition the All-Star Game and World Series will also be included. While announcing this agreement at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Commissioner Rob Manfred and other officials revealed that even more games could be added as soon as this year if and as the demand warrants.




Even with a ton of former MLB players acting as and seeking analyst work, ESPN has decided to keep Jessica Mendoza on its Sunday Night Baseball broadcast crew for the coming 2016 season. In still another SNB change to the booth, Aaron Boone is being moved to the lead analyst role along side play-by-play voice Dan Shulman.


Curt Schilling is back with ESPN, but is being moved to its Monday night games, while John Kruk will most likely be a studio analyst and work at scattered game telecasts.




CHICAGO: Speaking of updating broadcast teams, the White Sox have added 32 year-old play-by-play voice Jason Benetti to their TV booth for the coming season. Benetti, a native of the Chicago area, will handle roughly 81 telecasts, mostly home games, as Ken Harrelson finally reduces his workload. Many White Sox fans see this as a huge blessing, since the telecasts will finally have a professional play-by-play voice, instead of incessant babbling and opinions instead of what is happening in the game. Steve Stone will continue as analyst, getting to do his true calling with Benetti, although he will still be stymied by Harrelson for half of the games.


Across town, longtime Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes has, once again, been named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year for 2015. He has already earned is Award in 1996, 1999, 2006, 2007, and 2009. Hughes will begin his 21st season in the Cubs booth in March, with the games now airing on WSCR 670 for the first time.




TRENTON: WNJE 920 continues to move toward all sports, taking out political and syndicated news talk shows out of its daytime lineup. For now, the station has added Fox Sports Radio programming. Some of the brokered programming continues to air during the evening, at least for now. No announcement yet about adding any local sports programming.




LEHIGH VALLEY: ESPN Lehigh Valley now has a third signal in the area, as WBYN 1160, licensed to Lehighton joins WEEX 1230 Easton and WTKZ Allentown 1320. WBYN dumped a Christian format to make the switch last week.




BOISE: The success of Boise State University sports in recent years does not translate well at all to the local sports radio scene, unfortunately. The latest radio ratings for the market again have both KTIK-FM The Ticket and KNFL as the two lowest rated stations in the market. Of those stations with ratings. Technically, they both beat out another local station. KTIK-AM, also a sports station, again failed to show up in this ratings book. Ouch.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

NFL Playoffs Take Golf Out of the "Fore" Front

Tons of playoff football to dominate our next few days. For the first time, the four NFL first round playoff games will feature four networks each showing one game, ending the time of NBC having the two Saturday games and then Fox and CBS each airing one on the opening playoff Sunday.


NBC appears to have been caught off guard by getting the 1 PM ET Sunday slot for its Seattle vs. Minnesota telecast. The network had been scheduled to air the final round of the PGA Tournament of Champions from Maui on Sunday. With the possibility of overtime, NBC has moved its final round coverage to The Golf Channel, and it will air going into prime time during the 6 PM to 10 PM ET spot.


This also means that the third round Saturday Tournament coverage will now be split up. NBC will air the first two hours from 4 to 6 PM ET and then move over to its Golf Channel for the next two hours. While not the best of news for the PGA (being bumped off NBC), the later Sunday coverage means that the later part of the final round will air after the NFL games have (most likely) been decided.


On Monday night (1/11), ESPN will again offer its "Megacast" of the College Football National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson. In addition to all of the ESPN platforms featuring different versions, including ESPN Deportes, the Megacast will also include the SEC Network.


Paul Finebaum and (Arkansas coach) Bret Bielema will be commenting on the telecast on SEC Network, while different crews will be offered up on each "network". The primary ESPN telecast will have the regular crew of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on the call, while Mike Torico and Todd Blackledge have the ESPN Radio call.


How the network faired for 2015 depends on who you talk to. You can make a case either way for ESPN. On the plus side, it finished, according to Sports Business Daily, as the number one most viewed cable (only) network for 2015 for prime time. However, their supposed "need" to have SportsCenter running at all times and re-airing the same features hour after hour is taking its toll.


The report shows the lowest "total day" ratings since 2007, with an overall ratings drop of around 8% from the same report for 2014.




New Year's Day wasn't nearly as good for NBC, even with the less attractive college bowl games (the day after the national semi-finals) as competition. The NHL Winter Classic between Boston and Montreal finished with the lowest ratings since the outdoor game began in 2008.


This bears monitoring, as the Winter Classic telecast has traditionally produced the highest ratings of any of the NHL regular season telecasts. The guess from here is that future New Year's Days will include both teams being from U.S. markets. Since Montreal was involved this time, that market is not an NBC market, leaving NBC with only one of the participating markets factored in.




From the "It must be nice" category comes the reality that retired CBS Radio president Dan Mason actually did and is doing some play-by-play for the rarely watched CBS Sports Network. Mason called the women's basketball game between U. of South Florida and East Carolina (and you missed that?) last Saturday. He is also scheduled to call the George Washington vs. Dayton game on Saturday (against the NFL playoffs), and the Davidson vs. VCU game on January 17th.




BOSTON: The Red Sox have their new radio play-by-play voice to start for the coming season. After reportedly evaluating more than 200 candidates, Tim Neverett will join the radio booth, leaving his role of handling some radio and TV for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Neverett grew up in Nashua NH and attended college in the Boston area. He will join Joe Castiglione, who has been in the Red Sox radio booth since 1983, on WEEI-FM. The position opened when Dave O'Brien was moved from the radio booth to the TV booth following the surprising departure of Don Orsillo after last season.




LOS ANGELES: It's still in the rumor stage (at press time) but the Clippers could wind up on a radio station that actually has an audience, possibly before this season is over. Long time local "reporter" Don Barrett is hinting that KFWB 980 has actually been sold, after being on the sales block for years. If Don is correct, the buyer would immediately go to an ethnic and brokered time format and would not wish to continue with sports talk or play-by-play. 



CHICAGO: WMVP ESPN 1000 is forced to air the college football championship game on Monday night (1/11) ahead of a Chicago Bulls vs. Washington NBA game. As a result, the Bulls broadcast will be moved over to WLS 890, which is under different ownership, and which will become the flagship station for the Bulls starting next season.


It appears there is more to the arrangement between the competing ownership groups. Last Thursday (12/31), WLUP 97.9, an album rock station and sister station to WLS, aired a spot for the bowl game telecast which had already started on ESPN (TV). There I was thinking that they were running this promo spot too late (knowing the game had already started), when the spot encouraged listeners to "tune in NOW to ESPN to watch....".


I could understand this if it were ESPN Radio, or another radio station owned by Disney/ESPN, but I do not ever recall hearing a radio station air a commercial encouraging listeners to tune to a TV network at that moment. After checking around, I have no reports (as of press time) of this happening in any other markets.




SAN DIEGO: The Mighty 1090 sports has added Kevin Acee, also of the Union Tribune, to its evening lineup on nights when it doesn't carry play-by-play. The station continues as the flagship station for Padres baseball, along with San Diego State basketball (and football) and San Diego Gulls hockey.




DES MOINES: KXLQ 1490 The Jock is being sold. No word yet if the new owners would continue or drop the sports format if and when the sale is approved. The well-kept secret of a station is only 500 watts during daylight hours. One could say we will soon find out if "The Jock" is strapped.




Enjoy the playoffs!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let's "Kick Off" The New Year !

While we wait to see how the viewership will be for the college football playoff games on New Year's Eve and whether or not those will impact the ratings for the New Year's Day bowl games, it has been quite the media week for the active pro sports.

NHL fans in the U.S. got a holiday gift that will last for a long time with the surprising announcement that the TuneIn app is making NHL games available at no cost. TuneIn will offer both the home and away feeds, including multiple languages when available. The app will soon have a TuneIn player on NHL.com as well, and promises to have "Hockey Channel 30" up and running shortly, which will be available 24 hours a day.

This is a wonderful change from the app's NFL offerings, which are only available on a "premium tier" for which users pay $7.99 per month. It will be interesting to see how much this impacts the future participation of SiriusXM satellite radio, which, until now, had been the exclusive home of audio feeds of every NHL game.


It was a good Christmas holiday for NBA games, as ABC/ESPN showed a 6% increase in viewers of all five games aired consecutively on those networks on Christmas Day. The marquis matchup of Cleveland vs. Golden State was the most watched Dec. 25th telecast since 2011, which was part of the delayed season opening day. Keep in mind that ABC will not be airing Sunday doubleheaders during the second half of the season and will have options for which Sunday game to showcase unlike past seasons. Instead, ABC will begin its Saturday prime time series next week.


NFL fans having a day (Saturday 1/2) to recover from all of the college football telecasts on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, along with several games with playoff implications, should make for a strong Sunday (1/3) viewership. NBC has flexed the Green Bay vs. Minnesota game to Sunday Night Football in a battle for the NFC North title. Fox will be able to cover the race for best record by having both the Carolina and Arizona games as doubleheader games.

New York fans will again have the Jets and Giants playing at the same time on competing networks, although the Jets telecast figures to crush the ratings for the Giants game. As it was, this past Sunday (12/27) Night Football telecast of the Giants against the Vikings had the New York City market finish 21st in audience ratings among the major markets despite the Giants being the local team. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area, with a huge following for the surprising Vikings, finished first among all markets, with an impressive 42.5% of homes tuned in at some point.

Let's give a ton of credit to the NFL Network for staying at the stadium after the end of the overtime game between San Diego and Oakland on Christmas Eve. Despite the limited national interest in the game, it being played on Christmas Eve, and running well past midnight in the Eastern time zone, the crew knew to stay with it and capture the moment for Charles Woodson's final home game of his amazing career. The crew was ready and picked up Woodson's brief talk to the crowd at the stadium with no hesitation and no technical problems at all in a class move.


For baseball fans, as wonderful as it is that ESPN is giving us three live games on Opening Day Sunday in April, one of the network's "traditions" just won't go away. Granted, the Yankees and Red Sox could both be back in the A.L. East race at the same time in 2016. But ESPN continues to appear obligated to show the teams head-to-head no matter what the circumstances.

Two of the first six weeks of Sunday Night Baseball will feature, you guessed it, Yankees vs. Red Sox, which will be back-to-back weeks on May 1 and May 8. It doesn't stop there, as the same two teams have already been scheduled for July 17th, even though six Sundays before that have not yet had games scheduled.

By the way, the World Champion K.C. Royals have been scheduled a grand total of ONE time during that stretch, and that will be Opening Night, Sunday April 3rd vs. the Mets.

ESPN has scheduled its first ever Sunday Night Baseball doubleheader. On June 12th, the Pirates and Cardinals will be shown starting at 5 PM ET followed by the Giants vs. Dodgers at 8:30 PM ET.


SAN FRANCISCO/SAN JOSE: While KGMZ 95.7 The Game struggles to make a dent against the ratings of KNBR 680, The Game has decided to drop its ESPN Radio affiliation as of the first of the year. It's not because of local programming. The station is replacing with Fox Sports Radio during the 11 AM to 3 PM weekday spot, as well as during the 3 to 6 AM period and most of its weekend programming. No word yet on where ESPN Radio will be heard in the Bay Area.


KANSAS CITY: It's the same people hosting the same shows on the market's sports talkers, but clearly it is the sports scene that shapes the ratings. As much as the locals love their Royals, the off season clearly shows. The latest Nov.-Dec. ratings showed KCSP-AM losing literally more than two-thirds of the total audience it had from the Oct. - Nov. ratings during the Royals' championship run, going from a 10.6 to a 3.0 in the Nielsens. WHB-AM dipped from a 5.3 to a 2.9 during the same time frame, with the stations finishing #18 and #19 in overall market rank.


St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 continues its efforts to return to sports talk radio, adding Bob Ramsey and Jeff Vernetti to its lineup starting next week (1/4). They won't have much air time, at least not yet, as they will air from 11 AM to 1 PM with Howard Balzer now airing from 1 to 3 PM.

Ramsey and Vernetti move up the dial from WGNU 920, which will begin a Noon to 2 PM show with Chris Gardner and a blend of local writers including Benjamin Hochman and Ben Frederickson.

WGNU listeners will have to know what day of the week it is from 2 to 3 PM on weekdays. The station has chosen to go with "highlights" of its morning show in that time slot on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. On Mondays and Fridays, Kelly Chase, the voice of the Blues, will host his own show.


CHICAGO: WBBM-TV got some well deserved flack this past Sunday (12/27) for its NFL telecast decision. Most Sundays, no one would question the station's decision not to even try to compete against the popular Bears telecasts on Fox. But this was clearly not "most" Sunday.

Even though the Bears vs. Tampa telecast on Fox featured two teams already eliminated from playoff contention, WBBM-TV decided not to carry an early game, such as New England vs. the N.Y. Jets.

Instead, WBBM-TV aired the only game it could during the late afternoon slot, which was Jacksonville vs. New Orleans. This while WFLD-TV (Fox) aired the Green Bay vs. Arizona doubleheader game against it.

Yikes.


Ft. LAUDERDALE: The latest chapter is over for long time New York and Florida sportscaster Sid Rosenberg, who is suddenly no longer with WMEN 640. No reason was given, although the station was extremely fast in removing Rosenberg from its web site.


ATLANTA: 92.9 The Game has reportedly dismissed long time host (and former NFL analyst for CBS and NBC) Randy Cross from its midday show, according to Rodney Ho of the Atlanta Journal Constitution just before press time. Cross, a part of the morning show for about three years since 92.9 went to sports in 2012, had been shoved to middays earlier this year.


Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When Will The Warrior Watch Begin?

As the NBA and its biggest fans prepare for the 5 live games on Christmas Day, it is interesting to note how the Association and its TV partners are not pumping up the incredible start by the Golden State Warriors as much as they should be. It would appear that the Warriors could become only the 2nd team in league history to win 70 games, and the possibility exists, as of now, of challenging the all-time season victory mark of 72 wins.

Because the NBA, as do the other pro leagues, limit the number of times each team can appear on national telecasts over the course of the season, you would think that exceptions could be made with the possibility of huge ratings and revenue for all concerned. Already, the NBA League Pass package has a record number of digital subscriptions, and the season is less than half finished. The latest single game choice list for this season is, of course, led by Warriors games.

Yet, as of press time, there are only five of their January games scheduled for the national platform, with three of those five being late night (10:30 PM ET) on weeknights. Two of those telecasts are on NBA-TV, those being Jan. 5 (vs. Lakers) and Jan. 25 (vs. San Antonio). The others are TNT telecasts on Jan. 14th (also vs. Lakers in a late game) and a major matchup vs. Cleveland at 8 PM ET on Jan. 18th. ESPN will air the Warriors at Chicago on Jan. 20th at 8 PM ET.

There is the valid argument that the networks would rather not risk flexing and using up their Warriors telecasts in order to save them for a possible 70th win and season record run in March and April. Here's hoping the Association and its TV partners will make some exceptions and jump aboard the "must see" bandwagon sooner than that, if the Warriors maintain their tremendous pace.


On the baseball side, Fox Sports is already planning a change in their MLB booth for the 2016 season, moving John Smoltz into the lead analyst role to work with Jack Buck for its lead games. Smoltz will replace Harold Reynolds, who is expected to continue with Fox's MLB coverage, whether as a studio analyst or moved to a regional broadcast team. Gone from the booth is writer/reporter Tom Verducci. It is great to see a network go from three back to two men in the booth.

If only these networks would start to reduce from seemingly hundreds of studio analysts, and give the best one a chance to talk for more than a few seconds at a time.


For all of its problems, Fox Sports did make a success out of their college football package this season, showing a roughly 15% increase in viewership over 2014. Helping the most were the Stanford vs. Notre Dame telecast on Nov. 28th and the Big Ten Championship game between Michigan State and Iowa.


Although the November into December radio ratings are, once again, swayed by listeners switching over to holiday music, it was not good for sports radio. One major exception is Boston, the leader in sports radio. Incredibly, both WBZ Sports Hub and WEEI-FM came in with their same ratings as last month, with WBZ-FM again finishing #2 in the market and WEEI-FM again at #6 in overall audience.

In New York City, WFAN has fallen from a 4.2 to a 3.2 Nielsen rating since October, while WEPN dipped .4 from the previous month. In Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 held steady, but passed up WMVP ESPN 1000 which dipped .5 from the previous month.

San Francisco's KNBR is still a solid #6 overall in the market, but is down 1.1 since October, while KGMZ The Game is down .3 from November. Dallas' sports stations were hit hard, even with the Cowboys' disappointing season. KRLD-FM remains the leader of the three sports stations, but has dropped from a 4.0 October rating to a December 2.6. The little bit of momentum starting to show in Los Angeles has stopped, with all four sports stations dropping over the past month.


CHICAGO: It took just over two years, but Kendall Gill has returned to Comcast SportsNet Chicago as a studio analyst for its Chicago Bulls telecasts. Gill had been involved in a physical altercation in late 2013 with a reporter who disagreed with his analysis. Now, all is forgiven, and Gill is back, now sharing the role with Will Perdue.


DENVER: It gets confusing, but KKZN 760 will soon become KDSP Denver Sports 760 and will air mostly Fox Sports Radio programming during the key weekday times. It appears that only the 10 AM to Noon slot with Dan Logan and Susan Wargin will be the only local programming during the week. ESPN Radio will move over to The Fan 104.3 and/or KEPN The Zone 1600.


LUBBOCK: Actually, this is even more confusing than the affiliation switch in Denver. What was KTTU Sports 104.3 has been moved over to 97.3 KLZK as of last Friday (12/18). A swap of stations between two owners resulted in a total of five stations in the market moving to new frequencies on the same day. If you think the listeners have it bad, consider the advertising agencies that have to deal with different stations handling the various formats.


And on that note, have a Merry Christmas!!