Friday, September 7, 2018

Fighting Like Tigers In The Booth

The Detroit Tigers aren't fighting for anything except a distant third place finish this season, but their TV broadcasters are. The rumored tension appeared to have become a fact on Wednesday (9/5) when Mario Impemba and Rod Allen reportedly had an altercation which took both of them off the night's telecast of the Tigers vs. White Sox game in Chicago.

Viewers that tuned in to find Matt Shepard and Kirk Gibson on the telecast, who had to be brought in to Chicago to do so earlier in the day. The altercation reported occurred following the Tuesday night telecast. Representatives for both had no comment, nor did would Fox Sports Detroit (as of press time).

It was not clear whether or not the pair would or will return to Tigers telecasts for the weekend, while this column was completed prior to their Friday night telecast. Some joked that the pair did their job well, by giving Tigers fans a reason to tune in during a busy football weekend.

The poor season by the Tigers, and the uncertainty about the Lions, have also caused WXYT-FM The Ticket to drop a full ratings point in the just released August radio ratings. This is roughly a 20% overall audience reduction.

The start of the NFL regular season brings good news for those who like to watch via their phones. The NFL has just allowed for fans to be able to view "in market" games via the NFL or Yahoo sports apps on smart phones, regardless of carrier. Last season, the NFL had its streaming deal only with Verizon. The best part is that this applies whether or not you have a cable or satellite subscription.

Speaking of the August radio ratings, there were only a few interesting notes from the major markets this time around. In New York, WFAN-FM came in at #5 overall, and with more than triple the total audience of WPEN-FM.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM had a big jump, coming in at #6 in the market. This is not surprising given the start of the Eagles season while the Phillies unexpectedly contend for the post-season.

In Boston, WEEI-FM jumped up .9 of a ratings point since July and came in #6 overall, with its largest lead over #9 WBZ-FM Sports Hub in quite some time. St. Louis' WXOS-FM showed a strong gain, moving up a full ratings point since June and finishing #12 in the market, in what is believed to be its highest rating ever as a sports station.

This Saturday (9/8) will be another busy one for ESPN's Jason Benetti. He will call the Northwestern vs. Duke football game on ESPNU at 12 Noon ET, and then call the White Sox vs. Angels game from Chicago at 7 PM ET on NBC Sports Chicago.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Which Way The Fan Blows

It turns out that part of the deal which brought Mike Francesa back to WFAN 101.9 in May was the ability for Francesa to start a new mobile app. This app allows him to post fresh content at his discretion. This is sure to be an additional revenue stream for both Francesa and the station, which combine to attract top notch advertisers.

Although WFAN considers this to be another income source, it could eventually factor in to their radio audience. If Francesa begins posting a lot of fresh content on the app, instead of doing so on his afternoon show, it would mean that many fans would not be as compelled to listen to his show on the radio, which would impact the ratings. It looks as though WFAN needed to include this in order to get Francesa back on the air in order to deliver stronger ratings than his replacements.

The concern here is that apps and podcasts, along with sports stations putting up entire shows on their web sites, give local sports fans in their market more reasons to not listen to the station's live broadcast. You would think they would have learned a valuable lesson from many of the struggling newspapers, who treated the internet as a separate vehicle and allowed online and electronic media outlets to pass them up.

Radio needs to be attracting listeners and trying to bring them back, whether sports or other formats, and promoting distractions such as apps, podcasts, and web site videos, serve to take potential listeners away and get them used to going elsewhere.

CBS-TV has announced its announcer pairings and assignments for its NFL coverage. Coach Bruce Arians joins Greg Gumbel and Trent Green this season, starting with the exhibition game on Friday (8/24) between Detroit and Tampa Bay. This crew has been assigned to call the Week 1 matchup of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Oakland at Denver in Week 2, Oakland at Miami in Week 3, and Cincinnati at Atlanta in Week 4.

The network will have another three man crew with Kevin Harlan being joined each week by Rich Gannon and Steve Tasker. This crew calls Buffalo vs. Baltimore in Week 1 and Miami at NY Jets in Week 2. The first two CBS-TV doubleheaders will be in Weeks 2 and 4. Week 4's doubleheader games include the flexed New Orleans vs. NY Giants with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on the call.

WASHINGTON DC: The reality of being sold and changes which follow hit WTEM The Team 980 this month, a couple of months after new ownership took over. It became official that Chris Cooley and Kevin Sheehan and the morning show, which was pulled on August 1st, is now officially over. Scott Jackson and Doc Walker are also gone from the daily lineup.

The revised schedule, which may or may not stick, has Al Galdi doing mornings, Fred Smoot from 10 AM to 1 PM, Brian Mitchell and Scott Linn from 1 PM to 4 PM, with Steve Czaban doing 4 PM to 7 PM. Both Cooley and Walker remain on the Redskins broadcasts, which continue to air on WTEM as well as on WMAL Baltimore.

BOSTON: The coming of legalized sports betting and the competitive nature of sports radio are showing up on WBZ-FM Sports Hub. As of this week, the Sports Hub runs "VSIN Action Updates" at 12:15 and 6:15 PM on weekdays. VSIN is the group that Brent Musberger runs. This show is also heard on KNBR San Francisco and WSCR Chicago among others.

MINNEAPOLIS: KSTP ESPN 1500 appears to be either reducing or dropping its daytime sports programming after September 7th. The station has announced that the Mackey & Judd morning sports show is ending, as will be long time hosts Joe Soucheray and Patrick Reusse. Phil Mackey and Judd Zulgad will reportedly continue to work at the station, which has not announced (as of press time) what the revised daytime format will be.

GREENEVILLE NC: Patrick Johnson returns to Greeneville and will host afternoons on WRHD-FM 94.3 The Game, along with studio hosting for the station's play-by-play of Eastern Carolina University football. Johnson replaces Josh Graham who left to join Winston-Salem's WSJS.

QUAD CITIES: Jay Foster, Eric Sergesketter, and Troy Gutknecht have gone from a podcast to becoming the new host of "Don't Hassle Us, We're Local" on ESPN Radio 93.5 on weekdays. The trio becomes the first local sports show heard on the station. Truly local, since all three are longtime residents of the area.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Golf Coverage Not Lost In The Woods

Those that question the publicity surge about Tiger Woods during and following his 2nd place finish in last weekend's PGA tournament did not realize that CBS' coverage of the final round had ratings 69% higher than the same day in 2017. Tiger still means ratings for the networks.

The challenge is on over the next few months for the networks which televise the big golf tournaments to come up with a younger and rising star, unless Woods manages to continue his strong performance.

It won't seem quite like ESPN when Bob Ley begins the six-month sabbatical he announced earlier this week. Ley said he is "stepping back to re-charge" and that the idea is "fully 100% mine" on social media to confirm this. He will begin his leave from network, which he joined near the very beginning in 1979, starting October 1st and return on April 1st.

Quite the time to return, marking the start of the baseball regular season, the NCAA Final Four, and leading in to The Masters. While he is away, ESPN will have Jeremy Schaap, Ryan Smith, and Kate Fagain filling in on Outside The Lines.

As we roll into weekend 2 of the NFL exhibition games we continue to have network regular season play-by-play voices calling games on TV for various local telecasts.

Justin Kutcher is calling the local Atlanta Falcons games, Dick Stockton calls the Miami Dolphins games, Dave Pasch calls the AZ Cardinals, Joel Meyers calls the New Orleans Saints games, Beth Mowins calls the Raiders, Chris Myers calls the Tampa Bay Bucs, Ted Robinson continues to call the San Francisco 49ers, while Adam Amin calls the Chicago Bears (replacing Sam Rosen in that role).  Steve Levy calls the Denver Broncos (with Brian Griese), while Curt Menefee again calls the Seattle games and Spero Dedes calls the L.A. Chargers.

BOSTON: The most recent radio ratings again showed that the combined ratings of WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM would top the market for most overall listeners. Yet, both stations showed decreases from the previous month even with WEEI-FM coming in at #8 and WBZ-FM Sports Hub at #10. Boston continues to bring the strongest sports radio ratings of any market in the country.

PITTSBURGH: KDKA-FM 93.7 The Fan is tweaking its weekday lineup starting after Labor Day and in time for the Steelers regular season. Colin Dunlap will be joined by Chris Mack in morning drive, while Mack will continue to host the pre-game and post-game shows for the Pirates broadcasts. Bob Pompeani will become a contributor on The Ron (Cook) and Joe (Starkey) Show middays from 10 AM to 2 PM.

Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller will continue to host "Poni and Mueller" from 2 to 6 PM with The Paul Zeise Show airing from 6 to 10 PM evenings when there is no play-by-play.

CHICAGO: Congrats to Tom Quinlan upon his retirement last week as Sports Editor of The Daily Herald newspaper. Quinlan spent the past 40 years with the same publication, starting as a copy editor and having previously served as Metro Editor.

NASHVILLE: Joe Leadingham is leaving Channel 2 after nearly five years as a sports anchor for a position in medical device sales. The 34 year old Leadingham did not rule out eventually returning as a sports radio host, having guest hosted on both The Zone and The Game.

LAS VEGAS: KTNV-TV has added Jackie Kostek to its sports reporting staff. Kostek comes from WCIU-TV Chicago and a reporter role. She also served as a digital host for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Big FAN Blowing Through NYC

The Nielsen radio ratings for July are being released this week and it is big news for WFAN-FM  New York and its recent drive time changes.

Mike Francesa's sudden return this spring has helped WFAN jump to #6 overall in the market, regaining the .3 of a rating point during July that it had lost in June. The significance of this in the sports radio race is that WEPN-FM ESPN dropped exactly .3 of a ratings point during the same July ratings period. Of course, much of this can be attributed to the strong showing by the Yankees, of which WFAN is the flagship station. WFAN-FM also showed up #3 overall in the separate Long Island ratings (Nassau-Suffolk).

Another of the surprise developments comes from Chicago, where both WSCR 670 The Score and WMVP 1000 ESPN held steady (both down .1). What makes this interesting is that WGN 720, while not a full-time sports station, has risen .8 of a ratings point overall within the previous two months.

WGN 720 has an increased sports presence with White Sox baseball to go along with Blackhawks hockey and Northwestern University football, plus other sports related programming. Both WSCR and WGN, along with The Score's sister station WBBM-AM which has Bears football, combine to keep all major local play-by-play away from WVMP, and it is showing in the ratings.

The ratings news isn't as strong for other top markets, although Boston and Detroit ratings will not be available until 8/7.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM is #7 overall, but has dropped .9 total over the previous two months. What makes this surprising is the Phillies being in first place (as of press time) coming off of the Eagles Super Bowl championship (and Villanova winning the NCAA), making this one of the greatest years in local sports history. WPEN ESPN has lost .3 over the past two months, holding steady this ratings book, which means that WIP-FM is not losing audience to a competitor.

In Dallas, we have the coincidence of all three sports stations dropping, but each by only .1 overall. KTCK-AM continues its lead over KRLD-FM, with KESN-FM trailing well behind. In fact, KTCK The Ticket now has more than triple the audience of KESN-FM.

Houston's three sports stations are, once again, nowhere to be found among the market's top 20 largest audiences. In Los Angeles, both KSPN 710 and KLAC 570 showed a minor .1 increase (despite KLAC being the flagship station of the first place Dodgers). Yet, neither station could crack the top 25 in the L.A. market.

BOSTON: NBC Sports Boston is now simulcasting "Zolak & Bertrand" midday show from WBZ-FM 98.5 Sports Hub. This adds to the regional network's simulcast schedule as the afternoon show "Felger & Mazz" with Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti is also simulcast when the TV network schedule allows. Not exactly unique content, but it does beat infomercials.

HARTFORD: WUCS 97.9 ESPN begins airing University of Connecticut football and basketball for the coming seasons, with Mike Crispino handling the play-by-play. Despite the change of flagship station, UConn fans are delighted that Wayne Norman will be back as analyst for football and the men's basketball, making this his 37th season in that role. This is one market where women's basketball is a big deal, with Debbie Fiske returning for her 7th season as analyst on those broadcasts.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Make Us Happy Campers This Year

The start of NFL training camps is a time that millions of fans look forward to as it signals that the football season is almost upon us. If only most of the sports media would be able to keep this in proportion. The first day or two with players reporting and coaches giving an early impression is the welcome sight.

However, after that we have day after day of hype forced upon us which has all of the glamour of a blowout exhibition game. It's the endless hours of sports radio "covering" the local team in camp.

There will be the "We will be live from training camp on Thursday morning!" promos. The beat writers and reporters seem to interview each other constantly in hope of creating a story bigger than the third string linebacker missing the last 10 plays of the afternoon drill because he sneezed.

We will hear about which of the rookies will start at safety in the exhibition opener as if this matters to the hard core fans or judging the point spread.

It has gotten to the point where if and when some actual important news is made during training camp it loses impact because so many other reports that don't matter have watered it down. Player interviews can be interesting, but only when they are more in depth than every player liking his team's chances to improve this season.

Same with the TV side. We realize that ESPN and Fox Sports have endless hours to fill all day long and that both networks air NFL games and related programming. This should mean that both networks should have access to every player, team management, and league officials throughout training camp. However, it seems that we get the "Who will be the opening day QB for (name of team)?" question and speculation all day long on every show.

In this respect, it's as though there should be training camp for the media. Bring us quality interviews, facts, player information which could be good for those who go to great lengths to plan their fantasy team(s). There is plenty of room for improvement over interviewing other reporters for their opinions and straining to come up with minor and useless news items.

On the baseball side, the fact that the All-Star Game ratings were reasonably consistent with last year's should not be considered a surprise. Even though most fans are glad that this game no longer determines home advantage for the World Series (as was the case last season), it means that this game is back to being nothing but an exhibition game.

In the old days before interleague play and every MLB game televised locally, the All-Star Game was a rare chance for fans to see certain players bat and play the field. Now, we get to watch players around baseball daily with local and national telecasts. Seeing them in the All-Star Game is nowhere near what it used to be. The feeling here is that a "flat" rating, consistent with last year, is a positive, since it shows that all who want to watch did so once again.

To that point, Nielsen Media has confirmed the Fox Sports findings about the general success of baseball telecasts on local and regional networks. For roughly the first half of the 2018 season, 11 regional sports networks which show MLB teams finished first in the prime time ratings among all TV networks. The next 11 teams on the list all rank in the top three for prime time. Thus, many fans are no longer compelled to wait for their local team player to get his one at bat in an exhibition game.

Chicago Cubs fans, however, need a scorecard for this weekend's 5 game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Not to tell the players. It's to find the telecast.

This may be a first when each of the 5 games will appear on a different channel locally. The series opener on Thursday (7/19) is the ESPN featured game resuming after the break, which is an exclusive telecast also serving Chicago. The Friday afternoon game appears locally on NBC Sports Chicago.

On Saturday, the teams have a make-up game which makes it a day-night doubleheader.
The Saturday day game will air on WGN-TV, while the night game will be a Fox Sports regional telecast. For the finale on Sunday, it will air on WLS-TV as part of its 25 game telecast package. There you have it. Five games on five different outlets.

At least most of them know it is a five game series because of an earlier postponement. However, WLS-TV Channel 7, which airs 25 Cubs games and has already had its share of embarrassing moments, forgot to check the schedule of the only only local team whose games they air.

On Wednesday (7/18), WLS-TV sportscaster Jim Rose told viewers that the Cubs and Cardinals "start their four game series tomorrow". We take it he includes the game his station will air as one of them.

ESPN/ABC has announced its college football announcer pairings for the coming season. The biggest change is the return of Sean McDonough to the ESPN Saturday prime time game, where he will work with Todd Blackledge. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit continue as the ABC Saturday night crew, while Steve Levy, Dave Pasch, Mark Jones, Beth Mowins, Adam Amin, and Bob Wischusen continue in the Saturday positions.

Jason Benetti and Kelly Stouffer will now team up mostly for Friday night telecasts, especially after Benetti's commitment to Chicago White Sox television ends in September. One announcing team no longer in the mix, and who will be missed, is Mike Patrick and Tommy Tuberville. Patrick is no longer with ESPN after 35 years of calling games there.

Speaking of change, the Westwood One radio broadcast of Monday Night Football will have a new analyst this season. Boomer Esiason announced (on his WFAN Radio show) that he is giving up that role effective immediately, and will only do the opening night broadcast from Philadelphia on Thursday Sept. 6. During his time, Boomer worked with Howard David and Marv Albert before current play-by-play voice Kevin Harlan took over.

No replacement named as of press time, although Kurt Warner is expected to be the choice.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Will The Sports Rights Bidding Wars Go Up or Down?

Whether or not the even bigger media giants are willing to engage in bidding wars over sports telecast rights will have a huge impact on pro sports over the next few years. As Disney continues to be in the running to take over the Fox Sports regional networks, we also had the approved merger of AT&T taking over Time Warner.

Since AT&T will now own Turner Sports, it adds MLB and NBA regular season and post-season games to the fold, along with the NCAA Tournament. With this deal also including DIrecTV, AT&T also takes over the Sunday Ticket package adding the NFL to the mix.

AT&T already owns three of the regional sports networks (Houston, Pittsburgh, and Seattle regions). Impressive as that is, it is fewer regional sports networks than now rivals NBC Sports and Fox Sports own and operate, as well as not as many of the biggest markets.

Their regional network in Houston has been a struggle to build, although the success of the Astros has helped to draw a much bigger audience than was the case earlier on. Prior to AT&T taking it over, the previous version of the network suffered from cable and satellite providers refusing to pay the high prices to carry it.

Even without all of the major carriers, the Astros Monday game against Toronto, for example, wound up with the biggest audience for the night on Houston TV.

Speculation on what AT&T will do in the near future is varied. Some think they will invest heavily in sports rights in order to make it difficult for Fox, ESPN (if separate in the future), and NBC Sports. Others think they are only worried about maintaining the Sunday Ticket package because of the difference it makes for the DirecTV service. They may not wish to spend as much for TBS and TNT because they have other strong programming.

In addition, they may not want to find themselves in a messy negotiation, such as they came out of in Houston and still exists five seasons later with the Dodgers telecasts still not available to the majority of local TV households.

Just as former players are always a part of NFL telecasts, we can say the same for retired referrees. NBC has added the recently retired Terry McAulay to its Sunday Night Football broadcast team. McAulay is also expected to be a part of the network's telecasts of Notre Dame home games. CBS has added another former NFL referee, Gene Stearatore to its NFL coverage starting with the coming season. In addition, Steratore will also help with their college hoops coverage, having also served as a Big Ten official.

ESPN has renewed Dan LeBatard and Jon Weiner (Stugotz) for another four years. In addition to their midday show on ESPN Radio and ESPNews, Stugotz will continue with appearances on SportsCenter, while both will continue their local show in Miami on WAXY 790.

The Radio Hall of Fame announcements this week included a couple of sports shows being honored for induction. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic being honored for the now defunct "Mike & Mike Show". In addition, Mike Francesa was also named, with this announcement coming weeks after his return to WFAN New York's afternoon show.

ST. LOUIS: No more "Sports Krap". Ownership cut the KRAP changed 1350 away from sports to simulcast it with KSLQ-FM 104.5 and its music format.

EVERETT WA: Rumors of a format change were rampant as of press time for KRKO 1090. Earlier this week, host Jeff Aaron announced on Facebook that he was doing his final sports show for the station, but does not appear (as of press time) to be leaving the station. Aaron has been with KRKO since 2002.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Out Foxed Again

Another week in the life for Fox Sports. Bloomberg reports that World Cup viewership, combining the Fox Sports and Telemundo (Spanish) coverage, is already down roughly 44% from the 2014 coverage. Although we will consider that the U.S. team is not a factor, as was the case in 2014, there is cause for concern as the World Cup unfolds.

Last weekend, Fox had the U.S. Open coverage, including their interview with the legendary Jack Nicklaus during Friday's Round 2 coverage. That would have gone better if they hadn't lost the audio during the interview, and were not able to recover it. This was after their portion of the Round shown on FS1 aired a sexually explicit exchange.

On Saturday (6/16), their U.S. Open coverage of Round 3 was the reason that Fox Sports delayed its prime time baseball games by one full hour. We don't know how many baseball fans tuned in at the time each of the other Saturday prime time telecasts began, saw the golf coverage, and had no idea there would be baseball later on. This is the same Fox Sports which does a series of prime time Saturday telecasts which don't begin until May in order to promote its All-Star game coverage.

SAN FRANCISCO: Although Gary Radnich has no intention of slowing down from his KNBR 680 gig, he announced that he is retiring from his long time sports anchor role at KRON-TV. He is expected to do his last sportscast sometime in August. What makes Radnich even more interesting is how he has done his TV reports so factual and without personality but goes on KNBR and shows one of the stronger personalities of all of the Bay Area sports talkers. He joined KNBR back in 1992.

HOUSTON: While the sports talk stations continue to collectively struggle for audiences, more lineup changes are being made. KBME 790. Sean Salisbury has been hired away to co-host afternoon drive starting on July 9th, which coincides with the start of NFL training camps. No co-host has been announced as of press time. Salisbury replaces Jason Braddock and (former Oiler) Sean Jones, who were both let go prior to their scheduled June 18th show after almost one year together.

KILT 610 has brought in Adam Clanton, formerly of KBME to work fill-in and weekend shifts. Clanton is remembered for being dropped last month by KBME after a disagreement with controversial morning host Josh Innes was picked up live on the air.
As it goes with Houston sports station ratings, we shall see if this makes any difference in the months to come.

RICHMOND: Sports anchor Jermaine Ferrell is moving but staying in house at the same time. He is shifting from WFXR-TV to sister WRIC-TV where he will become the weekend sports anchor. He will serve as a sports reporter for WRIC during the week.

PHILADELPHIA: Sorry to learn of the passing of Big Al Meltzer earlier in the week. Meltzer began on Philly TV in 1966 at WPHL Channel 17, later working at KYW-TV Channel 3 and NBC Channel 10. He retired from (then) Comcast SportsNet in 2003. He is especially remembered for his basketball coverage of the 76ers and the Big 5.