Saturday, January 23, 2021

NBC Says NB See Ya To National Network

Some expected it and others were surprised, but the upcoming end of NBCSN will have an immediate impact on the sports media landscape. Despite some ratings success over the past couple of years, it appears that the pandemic caused the NBC brass to consolidate even more than they already have.

Staff cuts on its regional sports networks hit last summer, with another round since the first of the year. With NBCSN able to move any remaining sports programming to USA Network, they can reduce production staff and operation costs while not having to fill air time with wasted programming.

Back in the 80's, USA Network was a major sports presence on cable, more so than ESPN at the time. USA Network had Thursday Night Baseball with MLB doubleheaders, as well as NHL regular season and playoff telecasts. (This was where NHL fans first heard Doc Emrick calling games at the national level.)

This season is the final one of the NBC contract with the NHL. While NBC has done a superb job with its coverage, including showing every playoff game on one of its networks, the NHL remains the only one of the four major sports which has only one network controlling its telecasts. While it is possible that NBC retains its national game presence, it is also possible that Fox Sports would be a player, needing more content for FS1 and FS2.

Word is that NBCSN will go away during 2021. It is understandable that they do not have a date yet. Due to the pandemic, we are not sure if and when there will be Olympic Games in 2021. Nor are we certain that the NHL Playoffs would end in July as currently planned.

Events such as NASCAR and Premier League soccer would be assigned to USA Network. Speculation has its Peacock service also carrying some of the events via that platform. Peacock already carries roughly 175 matches currently.

It is not known, as of press time, how much (or how little) the impact of the pandemic was behind this decision. As we commented on last week, even with millions of people spending more time at home, viewership of the major sports is down from a year ago and beyond. This makes us wonder if we will see more cutbacks on all sports networks as a means of sending a message to the pro leagues that rights fees may start to decline during upcoming negotiations.

Over at ESPN, it's looking like the Monday Night Football broadcast crew might be staying in place for more than the one season. Word is that Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick have passed the audition and will be brought back for at least the 2021 season. Word is that ESPN is looking to add the just retired Philip Rivers to its roster of analysts. Hard to imagine Rivers being added and not made a part of the network's weekly telecast.

While CBS prepares for the Super Bowl telecast, there is more emphasis this time around on making its streaming of the game more readily available. Finally, it will be available without additional cost. Viewers will be able to stream the game on, Yahoo Sports, along with Verizon Media for its customers. ESPN Deportes will air the Spanish version.

Meanwhile, VIZIO has now joined Samsung in having a variety of sports apps available to their Smart TV owners. VIZIO now has free channels available including NFL Channel (different from NFL Network), CBS Sports App, and the Pac 12 Insider. Samsung allows Smart TV owners to access paid apps such as MLB for its owners.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

To Be Frank, It's A Big Loss For Detroit Sports Radio

It's looking more like watching football on TV during the pandemic is not the golden goose for ratings and advertising revenue the major networks were expecting. This past weekend, the impact (actually the lack thereof) was felt on both the NFL and college football scene.

The NFL Wild Card Weekend (Jan. 9 & 10) featured six telecasts for the first time ever. Although the Chicago vs. New Orleans game on 1/10 was the most watched NFL game since last year's Super Bowl, the ratings were actually down roughly 15% over the same playoff  window last year. It did become CBS' most watched Wild Card game since San Diego vs. Cincinnati in 2014.

The ESPN/ABC telecast of the Baltimore vs. Tennessee game was down from last year in both ratings and viewership, although the ABC simulcast was up from last year's. Over at NBC, the Sunday night Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh telecast did well, but its Saturday prime time game with Tampa Bay vs. Washington was down more than 30% in both ratings and viewership from the same window last year.

The Fox telecast of L.A. vs. Seattle on Saturday wound up as its lowest rated Wild Card telecast since 1998.

However, the lower viewership is not a result of expanded playoffs and having consecutive days with triple headers. The NFL's combined regular season ratings were down roughly 7% from the previous season and about 2% from the 2018 regular season. While Fox led the overall ratings, they showed an overall decrease of more than 5% from 2019. The CBS telecasts were down roughly 4% from 2019, with its lowest average since 2017. NBC's Sunday Night Football had its "least watched" season since 2008, dropping around 18% overall. One positive for NBC is that SNF did finished as the night's highest rated prime time program, which could be due to the increased amount of reruns and one-time specials due to the pandemic.

It wasn't just the NFL suffering from lower viewership. The Alabama vs. Ohio State college championship game on Monday (1/11) is now the lowest rated and least watched of the national title games. The decline was roughly 28% in ratings compared with last year. In this case, there are other likely contributing factors. The game itself was a blowout, and came on the heels of the six NFL playoff telecasts over the previous two days. This point is bolstered by the fact that both the Alabama and Ohio State New Year's Day bowl game wins to reach the championship each had higher ratings than their championship match.

These viewership and ratings declines are not only happening with football. During the pandemic, the recent World Series ratings were  down roughly 30% from 2019, the NBA Finals down about 49%, and the Stanley Cup Finals were down by more than 60%. Both the NBA and NHL Finals were held more than three months later than traditionally scheduled.

Meanwhile, as the NHL season gets underway, NBC made it official that analyst Mike Milbury is gone after 14 seasons in his role with the network. This could be due to politically incorrect comments made during a telecast from the bubble. Jeremy Roenick is also gone from his NBC analyst role as a result of comments made on a podcast.

Although John Forslund called play-by-play of NBCSN's featured opening night game between Chicago and Tampa Bay with Eddie Olczyk, the network has yet to proclaim a #1 announcer to fully replace the partially retired Doc Emrick. Brendan Burke and Kenny Albert will share in the spotlight for the time being.

DETROIT: It's hard to imagine Detroit sports without Frank Beckmann, but after 48 years with WJR 760 fans are going to have to start getting used to it. Beckmann remains the only person to have broadcast games for the Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, and Pistons. In addition, he also called U. of Michigan football for 33 seasons upon succeeding Bob Ufer for the 1981 season.

Beckmann's last show is currently scheduled for March 26th. He has hosted the 9 AM to Noon spot on WJR for the past 18 years. Best wishes to Frank!

CHICAGO: White Sox TV play-by-play voice Jason Benetti has been named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year. Over on the radio side, with the broadcasts moving back to WMVP ESPN 1000 for the coming season, Connor McKnight has been named as the studio host. He will also fill in on play-by-play, which will be a first for him, for approximately 25 games. Those will be the games that new radio voice Len Kasper will shift to the TV booth and fill in for Benetti, who continues assignments for ESPN.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Trying Out The Extra NFL Playoff Games

The #7 seeds in the NFL Playoffs will really be playing for more than their own post-season survival this coming weekend (1/9 and 1/10). Considered to be a temporary addition of one more playoff team from each Conference because of the pandemic (even though teams all played the usual 16 games), this will be the first time we get six playoff games in one weekend. It has been four games over recent years.

If the ratings are strong enough, chances are expanded playoffs will become a regular occurrence. Yet, it's not as certain as we would all think. The Week 17 ratings, with playoff seedings still to be decided and so many people staying home, were not what the networks would have hoped.

The fact that most markets had both early and late games from both Fox and CBS may have saturated things. Yet, only one of the four time slots (two on each network) showed a ratings increase on Dec. 27th. This was the Fox telecast of the Bears vs. the Packers, with both teams needing a win. This telecast went to roughly 75% of the markets. NFL ratings have not been as strong as anticipated throughout the regular season.

Theories on why include the overlap of pro sports well into the NFL season and some fans not wanting to watch during the pandemic. What happens with ratings for the post-season, and, of course, the Super Bowl will be quite interesting.

Westwood One will be broadcasting all six NFL playoff games this weekend nationally to participating stations. Kevin Harlan will call the prime time games on both Saturday and Sunday for Westwood One, making him the only broadcaster to call more than one of those games. That includes analysts. Ron Jaworski joins Harlan on Saturday for the Tampa Bay vs. Washington game, while Tony Boselli will work with him on the Cleveland at Pittsburgh game on Sunday. Both prime time games will be on NBC, with Mike Torico calling the Saturday game and Al Michaels the Sunday one.

Sports talk radio lost one of its pioneers earlier this week with the passing of Tom Bigby at the age of 76. Bigby is most known for having developed WIP-FM Philadelphia into the sports talk giant it still is during his 15 years there. He also worked with leading sports stations such as WXYT 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit and KRLD 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. Whether in one of those markets to listen one of "his" stations or not, listeners of sports talk radio across the country will always have Bigby to thank for it.

The sports media also lost another major contributor last week . Those who go back to the days of Baseball Digest, Hockey Digest, and books about sports will likely remember George Vass. George passed away in the Chicago area at the age of 93. Vass was more well known in Chicago, having reported for the Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times from 1958 to 1994. He was a baseball beat writer (White Sox and Cubs) in the 60's and 70's.

CHICAGO: On a much happier note in Chicago, Leila Rahimi becomes the first woman to co-host a weekday show on WSCR The Score 670. She was named to co-host the 9 AM to Noon spot along with Dan Bernstein full-time after being well received in her weekly stint during that time started this past September. She had been with NBC Sports Chicago, being a victim of their cost-cutting layoffs last summer.

WISCONSIN: Milwaukee's WRNW 97.3 The Game is now being simulcast from 6 AM to 6 PM on Rhinelander 101.3 The Game. The station is airing Fox Sports Radio during the evenings and overnights.

PROVIDENCE: WPRO-AM and WEAN-FM have cut back on their sports programming, reducing from three hours on weeknights to only one hour. As a result, Andy Gresh does his final show for the stations on Jan. 8th. Kevin McNamara, sports reporter for the Providence Journal, will host the one hour of sports talk from 6 to 7 PM starting on Monday.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Flex Works For The Fans

The increase in switching NFL telecasts between CBS and Fox this season rewards fans that only have access to their locally televised games on this final weekend of the regular season. The best example is CBS having the Arizona vs. L.A. Rams telecast instead of Fox, and understandably making it the primary doubleheader game (Jan. 3). This allowed the NFL to shift the Green Bay vs. Chicago game to the 4:25 ET spot and enable Fox to make it the primary doubleheader game. Week 17 is highlighted by both networks getting a doubleheader game.

Because of the flexing, fans can follow both telecasts, which determine the final NFC playoff participants. Fox also has the New Orleans vs. Carolina game, along with the Seattle vs. San Francisco telecast going regional, and at the same time. These games will determine the top three seeds in the NFC in a season in which only the #1 seed gets a post-season bye week.

There is one irony to the Fox late game window. As of press time, the Phoenix market is scheduled to receive the Green Bay vs. Chicago telecast instead of the San Francisco vs. Seattle telecast. Because of the 49ers having to relocate their games due to Covid restrictions, that game is being played in Glendale AZ (the stadium which is home to the Cardinals).

MINNEAPOLIS: KYCR 1440 starts the new year by expanding the air time of Eric Nelson and Wally Langfellow. Instead of only a Friday night and weekend sports talk show, "Ten Thousands Takes" begins Monday (1/4), airing from 5 to 6 PM weekdays. There will also be a live show most Saturdays at Noon. The pair have co-hosted since 2002. Langfellow, known more for his studio hosting during North Stars broadcasts in the 80's on WCCO, continues to do high school play-by-play on KYCR.

TAMPA: WDAE has announced its new co-hosting team for afternoons, moving Jay Recher to team with former Buccaneer Ian Beckles. Recher has been with WDAE since 2014. He will continue with his role on USF football studio coverage.

Finally, thanks for all of the nice holiday greetings. The plan is to return to regular posts during 2021 as we all recover from the pandemic. 

Let's make this a great year!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Watch Half Of The NFL Games Live

This coming weekend offers the rare chance for NFL fans to watch half of the scheduled games entirely. We have the Christmas Day game, followed by a triple header on Saturday, although the middle game requires Amazon Prime in order to view outside of the local markets. Then, it's usual three games available in each market on Sunday, and the finale of Monday Night football to wrap it all up. That is a total of eight opportunities to view an entire game, with 16 games on the schedule.

The Amazon Prime stream on Saturday will be the first stream for Prime of a game not being shown nationally, which has been streaming Thursday Night Football since 2017. The game will also be available on the NFL and Yahoo Sports mobile apps. In addition, Amazon Prime will stream the Jan. 10th Wild Card playoff game which will be produced by CBS. This Saturday's game will be seen in San Francisco on KNTV and in Phoenix on KSAZ Fox 10.

Meanwhile, the drought is over and football is no longer the only major sport still going now that the NBA season is underway. Many cable/satellite subscribers enjoy a free preview of the NBA package through December 29th, although not every carrier promotes this. If you are an NBA fan, it is worth checking to see if you can get every game for the next few days at no additional cost.

DETROIT: A huge Christmas present for 97.1 The Ticket, as the station gets a brand new multi-year contract as flagship station for the Lions after a five year absence. It appears that the ownership change (from CBS to Entercom) made a huge difference to the Lions, which reportedly left The Ticket after the 2015 season over criticism of the team on its talk shows.

The significance for the station is that, once again, it is home to all four major Detroit sports teams. Of course, with the delayed start of the current NBA and NHL seasons, the station is facing continuing conflicts for game broadcasts during April and May when the Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings are all scheduled to be in full gear.

NASHVILLE: A blow to WRPT 102.5 The Game with the announcement that Floyd Reese has left his afternoon drive co-hosting gig after more than five years. The former GM of the Titans (and Oilers before their move to Nashville) for 16 seasons stated that he "decided to take a step back" while thanking station management. Jared Stillman remains as afternoon co-host, with the show now airing as "Stillman and Company" instead of "Stillman and the GM". As of press time, there has been no announcement about a regular replacement for Reese.

NEW ORLEANS: WWL 870 has its 4 to 8 PM show back to full throttle with the return (last week) of Kristian Garic as co-host along with Bobby Herbert. Garic, co-hosting for nearly three years, continues to host the studio coverage surrounding Saints broadcasts, as he has done for the past nine seasons. It was Garic who revealed that treatment for alcoholism was the reason for his nearly one month absence

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Al Michaels Might Lose His Week Off, But He Might Not

 UPDATE: The Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore game would now be played on Wednesday afternoon Dec. 2nd on NBC.

This telecast would also impact NBC's announcer schedule. If the Steelers-Ravens game is played, it would be Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth on the call. The pair originally was to have been off for this entire week. Mike Torico and Tony Dungy were scheduled to call both the Thanksgiving telecast and then the Chicago at Green Bay game on Sunday Night Football.

Meanwhile, the NFL has announced its Week 15 (Dec. 19th) selections for the Saturday doubleheader. Again this season, both games will appear only on NFL Network other than the local markets. The AFC game will be Buffalo at Denver at 4:30 PM ET, with its NFC telecast in prime time (8:15 PM ET) between Carolina and Green Bay.

As much as fans would like to be there, let's take the hunch that they wont mind as much to not be able to attend at night game in Green Bay in mid-December.

While we await word on the likelihood of the NBA starting its season, the ever-thinning line between sports betting and the leagues and teams continues. The Memphis Grizzlies announced a "multi-year sports betting partnership" with betting service FanDuel. This Agreement reportedly includes sports betting content being integrated into local Grizzlies telecasts.

The added significance to this deal is that, as of now, Tennessee does not have any casinos.

On the MLB side, reports have ESPN working on renewing its telecast deal with MLB, which expires after the 2021 season. The word is that ESPN is looking to reduce its number of telecasts, and be able to hand pick more of the games it shows. One possible result is that Sunday Night Baseball would continue, but scheduled Monday and Wednesday night telecasts would not.

CHICAGO: The White Sox have changed radio stations again after having been heard on 3 different flagship stations over the past 8 seasons. The broadcasts will return to WMVP ESPN 1000, which previously hosted the games from 1999 through 2005. This comes after WGN Radio declined its option to renew. There has been no word, as of press time, as to whether or not Andy Mazur or Darrin Jackson will return as the broadcast team.

WLS-TV has extended the contract of sports reporter Dionne Miller for another four years.

Monday, September 7, 2020

All In At Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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