Tuesday, April 22, 2014

ESPN Gets The Wild Card; Pistons No Longer The Ticket

A big sports media day with announcements and ratings:

First, the NFL media rights will enable them to print up even more money with today's (4/22) announcement that ESPN officially joins the post-season group as of the upcoming season. ESPN will air one Wild Card Playoff game, starting in January 2015 as part of an 8-year contract extension for Monday Night Football.

The significance is that it will become the first ever post-season game to be televised on cable, although ESPN promises that the participating teams will be able to air a simulcast in the local markets, as has been the case with Monday Night Football.

This change also impacts the other networks' post-season coverage. NBC now only gets to televise one Wild Card Playoff game instead of two, but picks up a Division Playoff game instead. The network, which airs the Super Bowl in February 2015, will alternate years of taking a telecast away from CBS and Fox, which lose out on some post-season coverage as a consequence of this new ESPN deal.

Meanwhile, a local radio deal may not seem significant, but there is plenty for others around the country to take note of following the Tuesday (4/22) announcement that Detroit Pistons radio is moving to Detroit Sports 105.1 starting with the coming season. Granted, Pistons fans are not exactly counting down the hours until next season begins, but that's another story.

Locally, the importance is because this rights acquisition breaks up the pro sports monopoly of WXYT-FM The Ticket, which lost the Pistons games. With having the Tigers, Red Wings, and Lions, it means that all of the local pro teams will no longer be on the same station (or sister station WWJ 950 for conflicts).

This comes on the heels of CBS stations (of which The Ticket is) losing the Flyers and Sixers broadcasts, in that case to WPEN-FM ESPN radio. In New York, WFAN (a CBS station) just began as the Yankees flagship after dropping the Mets, which were picked up by WOR-AM. And in Chicago, CBS Radio is reportedly in the running to get Chicago Cubs broadcasts away from WGN Radio for 2015 and beyond.

On the Detroit side, Detroit Sports WMGC-FM 105.1 also plans to stream its broadcasts, and open up 105.1 HD2 as "Pistons Radio" with extended coverage and game replays. The announcing team of George Blaha, Rick Mahorn, and Mark Champion, are being retained under the new multi-year agreement.

While that's fine and dandy, the Pistons are coming off another awful season, while WXYT-FM The Ticket had literraly more than five times the total audience of WMGC-FM in the most recent ratings period.

Elsewhere, fans continue to watch the post-season, whether NBA or NHL. TNT reported a 30% ratings increase compared with last season for its overtime telecast between Memphis and Oklahoma City on Monday (4/21), while the doubleheader telecast ratings were up approximately 19% over last year. What makes this even more impressive is that the opening telecast, again, was between Memphis and OK City. That's two of the league's smaller markets.

On Sunday (4/20) afternoon, ABC clearly beat out NBC's NHL coverage around the country.

Yet, the NBA has reasons to be concerned about several of its local team telecast ratings for the recently concluded regular season. In New York, both the Knicks and Nets local telecast ratings dropped at least 20% for the season, even though the Knicks were in the playoff hunt until the final week, and the Nets easily made it to the post-season. In Los Angeles, the Lakers, without Kobe Bryant and with their poorest record in years, saw their ratings drop by more than 50% for the season.

Yet, the Clippers, despite winning the Pacific Division title, saw a 19% overall ratings decline. In Chicago, the Bulls playing without star Derrick Rose, saw about an 8% decline over the previous season.

It's no surprise that Milwaukee, coming off the worst record in the NBA, saw a 65% overall audience drop. On the positive side, the Phoenix Suns "rose" most noticably, showing better than a 90% increase over the previous season. Oklahoma City and Indianapolis also showed nice audience gains, which were clearly bolstered by the great seasons each of those teams had.

On the NHL side, the majority of the first-round series are doing very well. Detroit and Boston showed double digit ratings in early games in both markets for that matchup. The Sunday national telecast on NBC from St. Louis showed its best ever ratings for a national telecast from St. Louis, up more than 30% from a N.Y. Rangers vs. Washington telecast at the comparable point last season.

Pittsburgh showed the highest "local" ratings early, while Columbus, making only its 2nd ever post-season appearance, showed ratings nearly four times as big as their regular season telecasts.

Only the Anaheim and Dallas opening round series has, as of press time, been a ratings disappointment.

While NBC has some things to be proud of, I must point out the story they put on the NBC Sports web site last week. On April 16th, NBC Sports posted a story about the upcoming release of the NFL regular season schedule. That's all good. However, the story, published on the NBC web site, also refers to "full one hour coverage" of the schedule release for both ESPN and NFL Network. ESPN, especially, is competition for the sports audience against NBC. While this release makes no mention of any such "coverage" on NBC or NBCSN, even though NBC's Sunday Night Football schedule will be a part of this.

It sure makes me wonder if anyone at NBC Sports is in charge of editing or checking stories before they are published. How does it happen that a story gets published which clearly promotes the direct competition?


Over at ESPN, more of its 2014 college football schedule has just been released. ESPN/ABC will show at least three live games on Saturday Aug. 30th, starting at 8:30 AM ET with Central Florida vs. Penn State from Dublin Ireland on ESPN2. Florida State takes on Oklahoma State at 8 PM ET on ABC, while ESPN has Wisconsin vs. LUS at 9 PM ET among its selections.
ESPN will also air the Saturday Aug. 23 game between Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington.

Big Ten Network has announced some of its prime-time telecasts, to include Michigan State hosting Maryland (yes - a Big Ten Conference game now) at 8 PM ET on Nov. 15th, making for the latest ever (in the calendar year) home night game in MSU history, and the network's latest outdoor telecast at night.

MLB Network has added another studio analyst. Former pitcher Ryan Dempster, who just retired prior to spring training, joins the network.

Finally, sorry to learn of the passing of Walter Hill, who for 20+ years was the voice behind "Saturday Night In Tiger Stadium" on the LSU Sports Network. Much of nation heard Hill, along with the late John Ferguson, provide play-by-play and color on WWL New Orleans from the early 60's until Hill left the booth in 1986.  Hill's final appearance on the LSU broadcast actually came in 1993 when he returned for the "Centennial Game" and guested with Jim Hawthorne and Doug Moreau during the broadcast. Hill was 86.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Eye Off The Tiger

The star power of Tiger Woods was never more evident than this past weekend when he did not play in The Masters, and the CBS-TV ratings for the final round were the lowest in 10 years. And the 2004 final round was on Easter Sunday (which this year's was not). It shows that the covering networks will need to do more next year and beyond in order to build up those ratings for years to come for the sake of televised pro golf.

ESPN covered the first two rounds on weekdays, yet did not start its coverage until the afternoon even though the tournament begins during the morning hours. The fact that Tiger Woods did not play and the live coverage did not begin until hours into each round are both pertinent to the need to grow the ratings and not be as dependent on a current star player.

The future "star" golfers just might be the ones that tee off at 9 AM. Yet, ESPN's later start, when the well known players are on the course, sends a message that the up-and-coming young golfers are not important enough to be shown. Since The Masters is supposed to attract a larger audience to see the biggest names in golf all together, this is a chance for the stars of the future to be showcased to a national audience.

Sports networks now show rookie and "future star" games surrounding all-star game events for the major pro sports as part of the showcase, Part of the reason for this is to expose the casual fan to stars of the future. But pro golf telecasts continue to pass up this opportunity, now to the point of suffering in the ratings when their biggest name is not on the course.

This would be more understandable if these were still the days of one network televising and having other programming it needs to air instead. However, the partial coverage of the first two rounds of The Masters was on ESPN, which has more than one network on which to spread out continuing live coverage. For example, ESPN airs the first part of the NFL Draft each year, and the later rounds are shown on ESPN2 in order to serve the more hardcore fan. Why doesn't the PGA allow the same thing?

Earlier in the week, we had the unveiling of "team coverage" from the Final Four, when fans around the country had the option to watch game coverage on any of three separate feeds of the same telecast, depending upon whether or not they had a team loyalty. The NCAA Tournament is to college basketball what The Masters is to golf, yet fans could not watch the entire tournament even on one channel.

Especially when you consider how much all of these regional and national sports channels are starved for anything that resembles quality programming.  Fans get plenty of the same shows being replayed multiple times, paid infomercials, and/or events that are a complete waste of time on most weekdays anyway.

For that matter, CBS Sports Network actually put out a Press Release to promote their telecasts of the NBA Development League playoffs this weekend. Their first round series between the Santa Cruz Warriors and Rio Grande Valley Vipers will be shown live on Thursday (4/17) and Monday, and on delayed telecast on Saturday.

Yes, CBS is promoting a delayed telecast of a Development League playoff game. While nobody can show live coverage of early rounds of The Masters?

Meanwhile, the March radio ratings generally did not show well for sports radio stations. In New York, where the April ratings will be most interesting with the Yankees and Mets having changed flagship stations, both WFAN and WEPN dropped again. WFAN has gone from a 4.1 in January to a 2.7 overall for March. Philadelphia and Dallas have seen their ratings dives continue. Philly's WIP-FM has gone from a 4.9 to a 3.6 overall this year, while WPEN has dipped by nearly 33% during the same time. Dallas' KTCK has lost 25% of its audience this year, while both KESN and KRLD-FM have dropped by at least 15% during the same time.

Houston's sports talkers are again on the down cycle, as it now appears that KILT showing some respectable numbers in late 2013 was probably due to the Texans' season. KILT has dipped by 33% from January through these new March ratings, down to a 1.4 overall. The other two stations don't even combine to add up to that. In Los Angeles, KSPN held steady at only a 1.0, while KLAC, even with Dodgers broadcasts starting, could only muster a .5. The next ratings period will be significant for KLAC, given the incredible TV situation in Los Angeles in which approximately 70% of households can not receive Dodgers telecasts even if they were willing to pay through the nose to get them.

Chicago saw a drop for WSCR, which now leads WMVP by only .3, with WMVP managing to regain what it lost during the February ratings period. Atlanta's WZGC-FM and WQXI are now both showing overall ratings of under 1.0.

(As of press time, the important Boston radio ratings for March had not been released.)

With a nice boost from technology, serious fans of a MLB team have a wonderful new way to follow the team's organization. Many minor league teams, especially AAA and AA, are now making their radio broadcasts available by stream this season via the free TuneIn app. The daily minor league schedule is available at MILB.com. This gives fans able to listen online or on the phone plenty of opportunities to hear a ton of minor league broadcasters and follow the prospects of their favorite teams. There are often some minor league games played during the day on Mondays and Tuesdays when there are no MLB games going on, with some teams starting games as early as 11 AM local time. What a welcome idea!

St. LOUIS: Mike Kelly, the University of Missouri football and basketball voice, has joined KMOX 1120 to host "Sports Open Line" on weeknights when there is no Cardinals baseball conflict. Chris Hrabe will host "Sports Hub" from 9 PM to Midnight (or after Cardinals broadcasts). Kelly replaces Kevin Wheeler in that role, with Wheeler having left to join WXOS 101.1.  Kelly will continue with Missouri play-by-play when football season begins, even though those games continue to air on KTRS.

KMOX is obviously glad to have the Cardinals again, starting their 2nd year of the current contract. Even with the excitement of the Blues being contenders for the Stanley Cup, KMOX plans to farm out Blues playoff games which conflict with Cardinals broadcasts to KYKY 98.1. The Blues take on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks starting on Thursday (4/17).

JANESVILLE WI: WTJK 1380 is no longer all sports, with new management adding more general talk to the mix, while promising some local sports content. The station had been the local ESPN affiliate, although WMVP ESPN from Chicago continues to easily reach into this area with its daytime signal.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Less Coverage Means Less Interest From Fans

Too many people had the "Whatever!" reaction to the news that the (Portland) Oregonian newspaper has decided to no longer run all of the MLB box scores as of this new season. They are only running the full box for games involving the Seattle Mariners, S.F. Giants, and Oakland A's, the three nearest MLB teams. I'm already hearing that some other newspapers not in "big league" cities are already considering this. That's not good.

How is this decision similar to mistakes that sports radio stations often make? It's because this is another example of traditional sports media taking the approach of "They are getting it online anyway, so we shouldn't bother".

For years, the box scores and sports statistics sold a lot of newspapers. There were reports during that during the baseball strikes during the 1981 and 1994 seasons of specific declines in "big league city" newspaper sales. Yet, just as some of the sports radio stations fail to provide out-of-town scoreboard updates with any regularity, they also figure that "fans will get it online or on their phone anyway" and don't "bother".

My point remains that if the traditional sports media had beefed up, or at least maintained their level of reporting and contents over the past few years that they would not have lost so much of their audience to the online community.

Now, without the box scores, the Oregonian figures it will save on newsprint costs and reduce the size of its sports section. Well, that also provides one less reason to buy it, especially when consumers see a smaller publication at a higher price. Same thing to certain sports radio stations. As long as they want me to go online (or to my phone) for out-of-town scores, then we might as well look up what the online analysts have to say about my favorite local teams as well.

Ratings notes from the Opening Day period for MLB last week show that there are differences in how the local fans follow their teams when the openers are during working hours. Nielsen went as far as to release some of its research from that day (March 31), showing that fans tended to prefer radio OR TV.

In Pittsburgh, with the Pirates coming off their first post-season appearance since the early 90's, their early afternoon opener (vs. the Chicago Cubs) showed the Pirates radio broadcast with four times the audience share that the visiting Cubs radio had. Yet, the Pittsburgh telecast failed to draw ratings equal to the previous night's Penguins NHL telecast, which was "another" regular season game for the contending team.  The World Champion Red Sox opener at Baltimore showed that Boston's radio broadcast had a much larger audience share than the local Orioles did. The Giants' opening night radio broadcast from Phoenix had more than twice the audience that the local Diamondbacks broadcast had.

Later in the week (4/5), Fox Sports 1 began its regular season MLB coverage. The struggling network remains a secret, with its Giants vs. Dodgers late afternoon telecast drawing a 0.4 rating. And that was more than its early game, Minnesota vs. Cleveland, drew. As of press time, it was too soon to see if the Tuesday (4/8) prime-time telecast of Cinci at St. Louis registered on the ratings meter.

Monday night (4/8) was also the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron's 715th homerun, which was shown live on NBC-TV in prime-time. ESPN decided to try a unique twist and "cover" the historic moment for baseball by re-enacting coverage for those same two hours. The "coverage" included updates and player reaction. A nice tribute. However, despite the family of networks, ESPN only provided this "coverage" on ESPN.com.

Someone please tell me how there was no room for this on one of their channels, especially with no more men's college basketball to televise for this season. Doing this tribute was an excellent idea. I simply can't believe this wasn't done on ESPN Classic. What could have possibly been more pressing?

Although ESPN Classic was a great idea and got off to a good start years ago, it has deteriorated to the point of showing poker and probably "Minor League Solitaire" at this point. Thirty-five years of history, and ESPN can't find enough inventory, let alone what they could get from the pro league archives?

The Hank Aaron anniversary should have been the start of this type of "coverage" that could make ESPN Classic relevant, and fun once again.

Speaking of memories from years ago, how sad to learn of the passing of long time sports TV producer Sandy Grossman last week at the age of 78. He helped to raise the quality level on NFL telecasts for so many years, as well as for 10 Super Bowls, 18 NBA Finals, and several Stanley Cup Finals for CBS and Fox. Not to mention the challenge of staying awake during Pat Summerall's play-by-play. Grossman will be missed, but his influence is and will be felt for a long time to come.

BOSTON: Steve Lyons is back as a baseball analyst, now for NESN's studio coverage of Red Sox games. He joins Dennis Eckersley and Jim Rice in this role. Lyons has previously worked with the Dodgers and for Fox Sports telecasts.

PORTLAND: KFXX The Fan 1080 has added more local programming to its weekend lineup. "Sinner and the Saint", with Keith Hill and Luke Andersen, airs on Saturdays from 9 to 11 AM. "Sports Sunday", with Mike Lynch and Rashad Taylor, now airs from 8 to 10 AM.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Play Ball! Who's Watching?

A discouraging start in TV ratings for MLB as the 2014 regular season begins. And I'm not referring to the opening game telecasts from Austrailia the previous week when the regular season started just before 5 AM ET after a rain delay.

This past Sunday night (3/30), the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the Padres' opener from San Diego vs. the Dodgers drew about the same ratings as the 2013 opener. The "however" in this year's similar rating is that the majority of L.A. Dodgers fans are not able to see Dodgers local telecasts this season because of the cost disputes with Time Warner Cable over the new Dodgers Network. (Even Vin Scully can't watch the road games he doesn't call from home.) While their fans are in a uproar over the reality that they'll rarely have a telecast, the Sunday night game was a chance for a far greater percentage of their fans to watch them on TV. The NCAA Tournament games had ended prior to the first pitch, so that's not an excuse either.

Thus, if there were a lot of Dodgers fans watching, it means that just as many fans from around the country did not watch this year. This marks the fourth consecutive season for which the Sunday night opener ratings have not increased over the previous year.

ESPN's ratings for its five national telecasts on Monday (3/31) were not spectacular either. What makes this discouraging is that for this season the prime time telecasts were not competing against the NCAA Championship game, which often conflicts with the MLB Monday opening day.

The problem is that I don't see the MLB national telecast ratings moving up at all this season. Fox Sports (over the air) is not airing games on Saturday until late May when their prime-time telecasts begin and run into July. They wait until September to air on Saturday afternoons. (Fox Sports 1 will air at least one game each Saturday, for those fans who know to pursue it and/or remember where FS1 is on their cable or satellite system.) Over at TBS, they won't be doing Sunday telecasts until the second half of the season, which gets viewers used to finding local or regional telecasts of area teams instead. (At least MLB Network is picking up the slack, adding Sunday afternoon telecasts for the first three months.)

While the networks are paying even more rights money but gearing more toward the post-season, now they face fewer chances to draw interested fans and get them excited about their post-season coverage.

Having unrest among fans in two of the top five markets does not help either. Again, Dodgers fans are livid because even those who might be willing to pay through the nose to watch Vin Scully call the Dodgers games cannot do so. In Houston, the Astros again look like a last place team, while CSN Houston continues to show their games to, well, a few people.

On Tuesday (4/1) night, the CSN Houston telecast of the Astros vs. the Yankees (in which the Astros took an early lead and won the game) finished behind women's college basketball on ESPN in the ratings. And none of the teams involved in those games were local to the Houston area. Ouch. And all of those telecasts (Astros and NCAA Women) were crushed by the NBA on TNT with the Rockets against Brooklyn.

NBC Sports has been concentrating on personnel over the past few days. Josh Elliott joins NBC upon leaving ABC Good Morning America. Word is that Elliott, among other assignments, will be included on Sunday Night Football. Yikes. Seems like that would make about 25 on-air people during SNF. There will soon be more hosts, reporters, and analysts than players on those games.
On the radio side, NBC Sports Radio has extended the contract of Donovan McNabb to continue co-hosting weekday afternoons with Mark Malone, after what management considers a successful first year for the former QB. The show, being on NBC Sports Radio, continues to be a well-kept secret.

NEW YORK: Speaking of ratings, YES Network reports an increase for its afternoon simulcast (from radio) over the past two months when compared with last year. They now simulcast Yankees play-by-play voice Michael Kay's radio show, resulting in about 5,000 more viewers than last year's simulcast of WFAN and Mike Francesa. Francesa's TV simulcast is now hidden away on FS1 and FS2.

PHOENIX: A nice promotion for ESPN Radio 620 and 98.7 this past Saturday (3/29). Colin Cowherd broadcast before a live audience of local contest winners at Chase Field, as well as fielding questions from fans and signing autographs. It is good to see radio get out there and get "interactive" in the truest sense of the word.

DES MOINES: KXNO 1460 has brought back "Cardinal Talk" on Friday afternoons as a weekly focus on the St. Louis Cardinals, whose games are again broadcast on the station. Ken Miller and Jim Brinson co-host the segment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Technical Difficulties? Just Sign Off.....

Although you can't fault a station or network for experiencing technical difficulties during a live broadcast, you can and should question why they would cause a major market radio station to give up and end a live broadcast prematurely.

WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago was, as scheduled, airing the Chicago White Sox vs. Colorado Rockies spring training game on Sunday (3/23). During the second inning, the station obviously lost the feed. It seems there were no local hosts available. The station aired several minutes of commercials with no explanation. Next, it suddenly joinded CBS Radio sports right in the middle of a segment. A few minutes later, they returned to the White Sox game.

However, the feed was cutting in and out. The feed returned after the bottom of the 5th inning and going into the top of the 6th. Play-by-play voice Ed Farmer came on and said, to the effect of, "Since we continue to have technical difficulties, we are going to sign off for today". Farmer then recapped the game, gave the date and time of the next scheduled broadcast, thanked the fans for tuning in, and signed off. After a couple more commercials, the station, gain without explanation, re-joined CBS Sports Radio as if nothing was wrong.

Yes, I know this was a spring training game, but I also know this is a Chicago CBS radio station. One that should be making a reasonable effort to air the program they promised. This is a sports talk station when not airing play-by-play, using today's technology. This is not 30 years ago when there might not have been a phone available other than the broadcast line.

Over the years, I have advised my sportscasting students about having a backup in the event of a lost conection or feed. It is unfathomable that this broadcast was stopped, even if it meant Farmer describing the game via a cell phone in the booth, his own or someone else's, until the official feed is regained. I have experienced someone doing play-by-play into a phone and being patched through on the air, even with lesser sound quality, because the show must go on.

But there is more to this mess. This was one of only nine White Sox games this all sports station is airing this spring training. However, they don't even air the entire broadcast for all nine games as it is.

For whatever reason, WSCR stops the play-by-play after five innings of three of those games to merely take phone calls from fans who converse with Farmer and analyst Darrin Jackson. Every once in a while, they throw in an update about what is going on in the game. The station seems to think that listeners would rather hear some fan talking about who the third baseman should be instead of how the third baseman is actually doing in the game. This, when the station has 20 hours that same day available to talk about the team all they want.

Now, they obviously thought nothing of dumping out of a promised live broadcast because they had an excuse. This broadcast also ended at the same time on the MLB At Bat application, which carries the actual flagship station's feed. Thus, as one of the millions who pay for At Bat, I was deprived of something I have paid for and was promised, in addition to the WSCR listeners who were left stranded. Oh, and the Rockies came back with five runs later in the game and changed the outcome.

This also happened days after rumors have begun to surface that CBS Radio sister station WBBM might be bidding on the Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts later this year. If this group can't even stick to airing an entire game due to "technical difficulties" and feels the need to take listener calls instead of providing play-by-play, shoudn't this be kept in mind?

WSCR has done a poor job with their coverage as it is. There have been, and probably will be, numerous times throughout the season when they forget to turn off the 7-second delay and the broadcast lags behind real time. Farmer and Jackson often admit to reading out of town scores off the stadium scoreboard, as if CBS can't afford to have online updates available at all times. During regular programming, many of the "scoreboard update" segments during nights and weekends fail to give out of town pro sports scores. 

All of this while some radio executives continue to wonder where their audience is going. As a long-time radio guy, I hate this. If radio had kept doing its job, we wouldn't need our phones to listen to the other team's feed and to check the scores we want as often as we want. If only you could get "a score" while listening to "The Score".

Meanwhile, an ooops for CBS-TV during the weekend's NCAA Tournament coverage. Play-by-play voice Andrew Catalon made a specific ethnic reference to Przemek Karnowski, who is of Polish descent and lays for Gonzaga. Catalon did apologize on the air soon after, during the Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State game, and reportedly went to personally apologize to Karnowski and his coaches following the game. As of press time, no "public" disciplanary action was taken by CBS-TV, and Catalon has already worked his next scheduled assignment.

Regular season college hoops continued to be successful for ESPN. Sports Business Daily reports that the 2013-14 regular season was the highest rated season ever for ESPN's telecasts. Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN, which each aired a share of lesser games to at least provide live programming, both averaged less than 10% of ESPN's regular season ratings.

JACKSONVILLE: The Jaguars aren't making enough changes on the roster to satisfy the fans, but they are changing radio stations for the coming season. WJXL 1010 and 92.5 will take over as flagship stations, with nearby WGNE 99.9 Middleburg also airing the games. This ends the association with WOKV AM/FM, which had aired every game since the team began in 1995.

In addition, WJXT-TV 4 takes over the TV rights to the Jags' exhibition games, and is adding WKMG-TV Orlando to the fold as well. Those games were previously shown on WTEV-TV.

ALBANY: WROW 590 will air Army football starting with the coming season, as well as WBPM 92.9 in Hudson Valley, as part of a 5-year agreement. WBNR 1260 Newburgh will air the Army basketball games.

RENO: KSGG 1230 has dropped a music format and gone with syndicated sports programming. Hardly a distinction in Reno, since this makes FIVE sports stations, or six if you include ESPN Deportes 1450.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tough Month For Sports Radio

While sports fans (and their co-workers who like to pick teams) await four days of non-stop college hoops, it turns out that the February ratings period was not good at all for sports radio, based on the top markets.

It keeps with showing that it is the sports happenings that make the difference, above and beyond the "personalities" on the majority of the sports stations. And it's not just a couple of markets.

In New York, WFAN was down .7 overall, with WEPN down .4. Chicago's WSCR The Score dipped by .6, while WMVP ESPN 1000 dipped by .3. San Francisco's KNBR dropped by 1.6 ratings points, while KGMZ lost 25% of its overall audience for the month.

In Dallas, all three sports stations lost, with leader KTCK The Ticket dropping .4, KESN .3, and KRLD-FM losing more than one-third of its audience with a .8 drop. In Philadelphia, WIP-FM dipped by .8.

Houston's KILT, which has been showing a pulse over the past four months, dropped by .6 overall (more than 25%), yet it still dominates its local competitors. In Los Angeles, even though one of the three sports stations actually held steady, none of them showed a rating higher than 1.0 anyway.

This is not to say that there is a trend here. The March ratings period will include the NCAA Tourney coverage, NBA and NHL playoff race time, and MLB spring training, all of which should generate an improvement for most of these markets.

Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with ESPN using its "Bottom Line" scroll for promotion, as it often does, along with updated scores and sports headlines. However, the network has, at times, chosen to include Mel Kiper's mock NFL Draft picks on occasion. It is far too early to be considered as a promo for ESPN's draft coverage, since the draft is more than a month away. But this "information" is not newsworthy either. This wouldn't be so bad if the network didn't do things such as reducing the number of times it scrolls the NHL scores in prime time, perhaps because the NHL is the only one of the four major pro leagues it does not televise.

Speaking of ESPN, their new era for prime-time college football starts later this year when a "new" lead play-by-play voice will take over for Brent Musburger. Brent has been "moved" to calling SEC football on the SEC Network starting on August 28th (Texas A & M at South Carolina), where he will be working with Jesse Palmer as his analyst. He is expected to continue calling college hoops on ESPN, most likely on Big 12 Conference games.

Over at Fox Sports 1, the desparation for filler programming has brought the addition of a simulcast of Mike Francesa's WFAN New York radio show into the weekday afternoon lineup. Not sure if this will take any NYC area viewers away from the simulcast of Michael Kay's radio show on YES Network, and it's not as if WFAN will allow "national" sports talk. Another reason this is a curious move is that WFAN is a CBS station, and their morning show (Boomer & Carton) airs on the struggling CBS Sports Network as well. Just wait until Francesa needs to use the resources of CBS Radio on his show, and it goes out over Fox Sports 1.

MLB Network has announced an aggressive schedule of game telecasts for the month of April, including a few weekday afternoon games. These include the Monday April 21 Patriots Day game between the Red Sox and Orioles (11 AM ET), and back to back Yankees vs. Orioles day games on April 7 & 8. The Network is also originating the season openers this coming Saturday (3/22) between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, with the first pitch shortly after 4 AM ET. It is good to see that these games are being shown nationally, even without the hype that should accompany the season openers.

BOSTON: WEEI-FM has another obstacle this week in its battle to overtake WBZ-FM Sports Hub with the loss of Mike Salk. Salk announced on the air that he is heading for Seattle, where he will return to Seattle's ESPN 710 as both a program host and as its Program Director. He leaves "Salk & Holley", which began on WEEI-FM after Glenn Ordway was released more than a year ago.

SAN FRANCISCO: KGMZ 95.7 The Game is at least making an effort. They have hired Damon Bruce away from KTCT 1050 to host its 3 to 7 PM shift. The Game moves Bucher & Towny (Ric Bucher and Chris Townsend) up to its morning show to replace the "Rise Guys" show.

RHINELANDER WI: WHOH 96.5 debuts this week as Sports Radio 96.5. As of now, however, no local shows have been scheduled, with the station airing CBS Sports Radio Network.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where The Fans Have No Say

From one extreme to the other, thousands of sports fans don't have their say. This busy month of March brings an interesting coincidence for a pair of opposites in terms of TV viewing.

The first "extreme" takes place in Montana, which geographically is the 4th largest state. I had not realized until seeing two (unrelated) articles about that state's high school basketball state tournament. It seems that, despite all of the interest over that wide area and no pro teams within miles, there is NO telecast of the tournament. Not free, and not even as a pay-per-view. It's not as though a large number of fans can logistically travel 100 miles or more to follow their team or that a blackout policy is restricting.  Those fans don't even have  a choice.

The other "extreme" has started in the Los Angeles region. The new regional TV network exclusive to the L.A. Dodgers has started, and is showing every spring training game. However, only Time Warner Cable subscribers can see the games. And, whether the subscribers want the games or not, they are being forced to pay extra for the network. Other cable and satellite systems are, understandably, balking at the fee to Time Warner to be able to distribute the games. While even fans who would be willing to pay what Stan Kelly used to call a "small but exhorbitant fee" to these other systems are not able to do so.

What we have here is one of the largest states not able to watch their local high school team playing for the state championship on any TV channel, while the battle is on for huge money so fans can pay to watch the games of a pro team in one of the largest population areas of the U.S. Neither situation should exist.

Regarding the Dodgers' TV situation, at least MLB is trying to stir the pot. Reports indicate that MLB is now asking the Dodgers for the entire 1.9 billion (yes, billion) dollar share of this long term TWC contract, instead of prorating the fee over the scheduled 25 years. This would seem to be MLB putting the pressure on TWC to get the telecasts to a wider distribution sooner, rather than later, in order to help raise the funds to pay this balance up front.

Then again, the Angels, which have "Los Angeles" in their name again this season, have been making it known that their telecasts are reaily available on Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket, which is already a part of some basic cable packages and is widely available in the L.A. and Southern California area.

The Angels are televising 26 spring training games (all but a couple) and the majority of their regular season games. While the local media will most likely continue to have the Dodgers be the priority team, it is possible that some of the "casual" fan base will move over to Angels territory if this situation doesn't get straightened out soon.

DETROIT: WDFN 1130 is adding a 2nd local sports talk show later this month, announcing the return of the "Parker and The Man" show on March 24th. Rob Parker and Mark Wilson will, however, air from 7 to 10 PM, meaning that on most nights they will be up against a Red Wings, Pistons, and/or Tigers broadcast on WXYT 97.1. Hopefully, after a few weeks to get the show's wheels in motion, WDFN will move this show into afternoon drive in hopes of capturing the larger audience this pair used to have.

NEW YORK: WOR has added Seth Everett to its Mets coverage, naming him to host the pre-game and post-game shows for the new flagship station. Everett has most recently been with WINS 1010, as well as heard nationally on MLB Radio Network.

St. LOUIS: KXFN 1380 has yet to announce any local sports programming since last week's quiet switch back to sports radio. Thus far, the station is only airing Yahoo Sports.

DULUTH/SUPERIOR: WGEE 970 has returned to sports programming after five years without it. However, it will try to compete against WEBC ESPN 560 and KQDS The Fan 1490. We'll see on this one. Three sports stations in a market which has no pro sports in the area.

FARGO: WDAY 970 has added a local sports show on Saturday mornings. "Kolpack & Izzo" now airs from 9 to 11 AM each Saturday, hosted by Sports Director Dom Izzo and local writer Jeff Kolpack.