Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sports Media Report - November 25th Update

As we prepare for a busy Thanksgiving weekend of sports, just a moment to wish everyone a wonderful holiday weekend. While we complain a lot about how certain things are going in sports these days, fans have a lot to be thankful for in terms of the shear number of sports events available to us from Wednesday night right through Sunday night.

We have an abundance of pro and college football telecasts, along with NBA and college hoops, and more hockey than usual, all over the radio and TV. Much of it overlapping, and some at unconventional times.

For example, fans of the Chicago pro sports teams will have the NHL Blackhawks playing late afternoon games on Friday and Saturday. Other than an occasional Saturday and Sunday afternoon back-to-back, I don't recall an NHL team playing day games on both a Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, coincidence has the NBA Bulls playing at Philadelphia at 4:00 PM Chicago time, with the NFL Bears to follow as the Sunday Night NBC game. This is far from the only example, but with earlier games on the NBA and NHL docket plus college tournaments with multiple games, it will be hard to not find something live being shown or broadcast over the next few days. Again, something to be thankful for.

CINCINNATI - A change in the morning on WCKY 1530 as Richard Skinner is out. He is being replaced by Tim Lewis, once known as Big Dog from the former BOB-AM, who moves over from sister station WLW's overnight show. Lewis is now on from 5:30 to 9:00 on weekday mornings.

St. LOUIS - As expected, Pat Parris, known for hosting Cardinals and Blues pre and post-game programming on Fox Sports Midwest, will begin on the new KMVN 101.1 FM on New Year's. He will team with Bryan Burwell on the midday show.

SACRAMENTO: F. P. Santangelo will be back for his fifth season of handling the Giants pre and post-game shows on Comcast SportsNet for 2009, but will not be back on his morning radio gig. The former Giants and A's player has been let go by KHTK 1140 from their morning show in what is believed to be a cost cutting measure by the station. Santangelo was often responsible for getting big name guests on the local show, including Kings co-owner Joe Maloof earlier this month.

TAMPA - WHTO 1470 is no longer sports radio. The station has already flipped to holiday music. However, word is that the station will return with a new format by the first of the year.

MILWAUKEE - The moves by the local CBS-TV affiliate to carry as many of Brett Favre and the N.Y. Jets games as possible this season is becoming a popular one after all. This past Sunday when the Jets ended Tennessee's unbeaten season, the WDJT-TV telecast was the Milwaukee market's most watched sports event of the past weekend. (Granted, the "weekend" does not include the Packers telecast on Monday Night Football.) The N.Y. - Tennessee telecast more than doubled the ratings of the Chicago vs. St. Louis telecast on WITI-TV, even though Chicago entered the game tied for first with the Packers, while Favre and the Jets play in the other Conference.

LOUISVILLE - Change in and on the air at WQKC 93.9. The sports format is being shifted to WAVG 1450 AM within the month and be known as "The Ticket 1450". The station is also expected to increase its ESPN Radio programming roster and decrease use of local personalities. This switch could end the Scott Padgett and Dave Ragone morning drive show, which was also simulcast on WBKI-TV. The 93.9 frequency will begin airing a music oriented format.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sports Media Report - November 19th update

The Houston Astros, like the N.Y. Mets, are standing pat as far as their flagship radio outlet is concerned. KTRH 740 will indeed remain as the Astros station for 2009. The night time signal strength of KTRH is believed to have been an important factor in negotiations. Exact length and terms have yet to be announced. Thus, the two largest National League teams with radio rights up for 2009 have now both stayed with the same station, as the Mets already announced continuing and adding coverage through WFAN.

On the TV side, the Colorado Rockies have just announced a (get this) 12 year contract extension with FSN Rocky Mountain which runs through the 2020 season. This contract reflects the national trend of fewer games on over-the-air TV and many more on cable. To the point that KTVD-TV will no longer carry any Rockies games, effective immediately. FSN Rocky Mountain will carry approximately 150 games each season, which covers everything except for Fox and any exclusive ESPN (or other cable network) telecasts.

To put this in perspective, when FSN Rocky Mountain first televised any Rockies games in 1997, they showed a grand total of seven games. Ironically, this announcement comes on the heels of a reported 5.5% decline in Rockies ratings from the recently completed season. The expert level of coverage will continue, as FSN plans to continue with extended pre and post-game programming and the post-game manager's press conference. Some cable systems in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, and Kansas, are also expected to receive the telecasts.

Needless to say, comments abound from the big announcement that ESPN will handle the BCS telecasts from January 2011 through January of 2014 and the impact on the championship system and the game itself. Or is it a "game" anymore?

I feel like saying the 'business' of college football in every sentence. This new agreement continues the current system which supposedly determines a national champion each season but really continues the same arguments that have gone on for years. Only at a much higher cost.

Normally, I don't step away from the field and make this a business column either. But I have a different take on this ESPN BCS announcement and its true impact on the 'business' of college football.

Hundreds of millions of dollars supposedly go to the universities and colleges. Yet, tuition plus room and board continue to rise. Advertisers will be charged more money to help pay the freight, which usually means an increase in the cost of products and services which spend the big promotional dollars. The price of game tickets, even at the college level, continues to rise to the point of pricing out more people than ever before who are not current students. Yet, the players who lead their school to a conference, bowl game, or a national championship, are not paid any of this cash.

And all of this while universities and conferences are forming their own TV and marketing deals for direct profit. It may be more interesting than the games themselves to see how this shakes out within the next few months. Will the upcoming BCS Series sell all of its TV time? Word is that there are still national spots available during the upcoming Super Bowl.

Oh, and before we get to college championship time, the TV competition heats up in early December.

The Dec. 6th rivalry game between Arizona and Arizona State has been moved to a 6:00 PM start time. Of course, it has been moved for television. Believe it or not, not just for one telecast. ESPN will carry the game, but it will also be shown, via separate feed and announcers, in Arizona on Fox Sports Arizona. FSA can show the game based on its Pac 12 contract; however the non-exclusive portion of the contract allows ESPN to step in.

Thanksgiving weekend college football telecasts have also been announced. CBS will have LSU at Arkansas, with Don Criqui and Dan Fouts on the call, for Friday Nov. 28th at 2:30 ET. On Sat. Nov. 29th CBS shows Georgia vs. Georgia TEch followed by Alabama hosting Auburn.

On the NFL side, CBS has moved the N.Y. Jets game vs. Denver to a 4:00 ET start on Nov. 30th. Given that the Jets and Giants were both tentatively scheduled for 1:00 ET that day, it was inevitable that one of those games would go later. Fox keeps the Giants vs. Washington game for its early primary regional telecast.

Following up on a comment from last week, we did receive clarification about FOX-TV's decision to send Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to handle the Cowboys vs. 49ers telecast this coming Sunday (Nov. 23). Turns out it is a matter of logistics, as the Fox "#1 crew" needs to be in Dallas for the Thanksgiving game just 4 days later. Thus, Kenny Albert calling the Giants vs. Cardinals doubleheader game will be seen in more than 75% of the nation.

Getting back to baseball, Dennis Eckersley will continue as studio analyst for Red Sox telecasts on NESN under a new contract. Eck is also expected to continue in studio for TBS for next season.

No word yet from Chicago as to whether or not Darin Jackson will shift over to the White Sox radio booth or leave to pursue other opportunities. A decision had been expected within 2 weeks of the end of the World Series.

Meanwhile, word from Los Angeles is that veteran sportscaster Rory Markas continues a positive recovery from blood clot surgery on his brain. Steve Physioc continues to fill in for Rory on USC basketball broadcasts, except for a few schedule conflicts. USC football voice Pete Arbogast was originally selected to fill in for Physioc filling in for Markas.

Now the L.A. Daily News reports that sources claim Arbogast complained to USC's Athletic Director about that decision. Athletic Director Mike Garrett took action in response. Pac-10 Conference basketball play-by-play man Isaac Lowendron, who has also called games on KLAC 570, will handle the assignments originally targeted for Arbogast. Ooops.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sports Media Report - November 12th update

The Business Week story about the University of Texas planning to launch its own TV sports network is making me worry about long term impact, and the idea hasn't even started yet.

To me, this shapes up as still another instance where sports elements, the ones that got so many of us hooked as sports fans early in life, are spreading to more places off the field than on it. We enjoy the competition, but I thought it was supposed to remain on the field and adapted to our daily living in some form.

The story is that U. of Texas officials are working with IMG Worldwide to negotiate time on the cable systems within Texas and perhaps some bordering regions to place "The Longhorn Sports Network".

Let the competition begin. After 3 years of reading and writing about the struggles of The NFL Network and the Big Ten Network and their "negotiation" with cable providers, now a major University is looking to enter the fray. One more source to "compete" for channels on the various cable systems.

Sorry, but the U. of Texas is not exactly the only school in the state. As it currently works with cable systems, the cost of added channels gets passed along to us consumers (I don't live in Texas, but am making a point on behalf of many who do.). If I am a fan of Baylor, Rice, Texas Tech, Texas A & M, El Paso, or several others, why should I have to pay extra and have some of my money go toward the U. of Texas when I didn't ask to see their "extra" games? What if my cable system still hasn't put The NFL Network on - but I can get the U. of Texas games?

Personally, my solution to all of this (the sports and cable networks trying to force their way on to cable systems and make consumers who don't even want their channel help pay for it) is to have these networks pay the cable systems for the time and NOT charge us consumers at all. If they can get the advertising support and break even or turn a profit, that's great. If not, then lose money to get the games out there or pull the plug on the project.

In this instance, it also bothers me that a University is next in line to force consumers to ultimately pay the freight so they can have additional games on television. And don't think this will only be a Texas matter. IMG also handles the rights to the U. of Michigan games, among other schools.

At this rate, we'll be reading about Business majors being "recruited" every spring by major schools to help bring in revenue from around the state each respective school is located in - instead of which high school linebackers are being courted by the big schools.

Meanwhile, the cable network we most welcome, MLB-TV, continues preparations for its Jan. 1st debut. Former pitcher Al Leiter, who has worked for the Yankees on YES for the past 3 years, and with Fox and ESPN prior, has been signed as a studio analyst, joining Harold Reynolds in a similar role.

The network plans to begin it's "Hot Stove" show at 7:00 PM ET in January leading up to its incredible and comprehensive studio and live coverage starting with the regular season. It's too bad that MLB-TV isn't receiving the publicity it deserves, based on the extensive coverage they promise, but I can understand how and why other sports media feel threatened and will attempt to minimize this.

The Phillies regular season opener against Atlanta has been moved to Sunday night April 5 and will be the Sunday Night Baseball opener on ESPN 2. Here's hoping that a tradition is born of having the defending World Series champs host the regular season opener each year. No word yet as to the status of the remaining 2 games of that series, now scheduled for April 8 and 9, but that could change. I find it hard to believe the teams would play one game followed by TWO open dates.

I'm not sure how many Marlins fans want to remember this past season, but Fox Sports Florida is planning to show 8 of the Marlins games from the 2008 season in a Wednesday afternoon series starting Nov. 26th at Noon ET. Then again, what else is there to show at Noon on a Wednesday during the winter?

Ratings are up a bit for NHL telecasts through the season's first month. Even Versus shows a 5% increase as it is possible fans are starting to discover that channel actually exists and carries the NHL. Hockey Night in Canada ratings on TSN are up 12%, and 21 of the 30 NHL teams are similar or higher in the ratings game than last season. The Chicago Blackhawks, televising all home games for the first time in franchise history, are among the teams with the most significant increase.

Election night ratings had its share of winners and losers. In San Jose, the Nov. 4th Sharks vs. Minnesota telecast matched the team's highest ratings of the young season. In Dallas, the Mavericks telecast on election night drew roughly half the audience for a 2nd week telecast when compared with recent years.

Back to football, the Dallas Cowboys probably wish they could do as well on the field this season as they do with the TV decision makers. Fox has scheduled Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, their #1 NFL crew, to handle the Cowboys vs. San Francisco on Nov. 23rd. If this were still the 80's or the 90's, this would be matter of fact. But possibly two last place teams having the top crew?
Wonder who Fox will schedule for the Giants vs. Arizona and Philly at Baltimore games that same day.

Back to college sports, ESPN has chosen the Mississippi State at Alabama game for this Saturday (Nov. 15), moving the kickoff time to 6:45 PM. In this time of the year where football and basketball shall meet, it means that State's season opening basketball game has been moved to 2:00 PM.

SEATTLE - Look for a big announcement on Thursday (Nov. 13) from KIRO 710 AM. Word is that the station will not only welcome the Mariners back this coming spring, but will go ahead begin an all sports format on April 1st. The KIRO news/talk format, currently simulcast on FM, would remain as is on the FM side. This arrangement would be similar to what WIBC Indianapolis started several months ago, moving news/talk to 93.1 FM and making 1070 AM into WFNI "The Fan" with sports talk.

LOS ANGELES - So far so good for sportscaster Rory Markas who has reportedly returned hom following surgery last week to remove a blood clot. It is not yet known how soon Markas will be able to return to his play-by-play for USC. This coming Saturday (Nov. 15), KSPN 710 will have Steve Physioc (who teams with Markas on select Angels broadcasts) handle the USC vs. UC Irvine basketball broadcast at 12:30 PM prior to Pete Arbogast handling the USC vs. Stanford football broadcast at 4:00 PM. The 2 will share the duties, based on availability, until Markas returns.

RALEIGH: This idea will create a "Buzz" whether it works or not. Sports 850 "The Buzz" is recruiting listeners to give on-air pre and post-game "reports" surrounding Carolina Hurricanes broadcasts, to the point of giving insights about matchups. If some of the fans wind up being right more than the professional reporters, the "Buzz" will be loud and clear.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sports Media Update - November 5th update

Maybe, just maybe, it is possible that pro sports teams realize the economics that face the true fans when it comes to supporting their favorite team. While some teams continue to increase ticket prices and push PSL's on fans that are struggling with real life, others have begun to see the need for a marketing push. But who would have thought the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs would be among them?

Yes, the Maple Leafs have used the TAXI 2 agency to produce 30 and 60 second spots to air all during November in the Toronto area using a "Spirit Is Everything" slogan. A franchise once so dominant in the marketplace that experts questioned the possibilities of baseball's Blue Jays and the NBA's Raptors even making it in Toronto due to having to compete for the entertainment dollar against the Leafs.

The spots use the concept of having fans tell the story of his or her most memorable goal by the Leafs. But it seems to me that having to promote the Maple Leafs to fans in Toronto is like, well, having to promote the Leafs to the fans in Toronto.

Baseball fans across the U.S will be flat out amazed at the upcoming MLB-TV Network which debuts on basic cable on January 1st. While it is already expected to be the largest debut for a cable network in terms of available homes upon inception, the Network appears well on its way to hitting a home run for the fans.

MLB-TV has announced its first studio host hire. Matt Vasgersian is leaving his position as TV voice of the San Diego Padres and FOX-TV Saturday baseball to become a primary studio host. The Network now is already planning to be on the air live every night during the season from 6:00 ET until at least after the final out of the night is made in MLB. This could be 7 to 8 hours per night during the week. The coverage will include live cut-ins and heavy studio analysis, along the lines of ESPN's Baseball Tonight, all evening every night.

The Padres have begun their search for a new TV voice, which will continue to be separate from the radio team which remains in tact.

On the college football side, the Big Ten Network is taking its football coverage up to the next level this week (Nov. 8) and a week from Saturday (Nov. 15th). BTN will be televising two games simultaneously, using an overflow channel on the majority of the cable systems which carry it.

This Saturday (Nov. 8), they will televise Wisconsin at Indiana and Purdue at Michigan State, both starting at Noon ET. On the 15th, the games will be Indiana at Penn State and Purdue at Iowa, also at Noon ET. Fans should be able to find the overflow channel at www.BigTenNetwork.com/GameFinder.

Is he the coach or a member of the media? In a way, NFL Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak was both at the same time earlier this week. He used his own radio show to break a story, rather than do so under questioning from the regular covering media. Kubiak questioned the legality of three specific plays from the Sunday game vs. Minnesota during which is QB Matt Schaub was hit by Vikings defenders, asking the NFL to review the plays at the NFL office for possible infractions.

That is perfectly fine, and it is understandable that Kubiak wants to defend his QB. He is far from the first coach ever to question such actions. Yet, he first brought this up on his weekly segment on Sports Radio 610.

To me, this raises a media ethics question. Kubiak, as far as I know, is paid for his appearances on "his" radio segment, whether by advertisers or the station itself. Does this mean he deliberately withheld this information so unveil it on the radio show, or was it because no one else asked him until his co-host on the show did?

On the other hand, how do reporters for other radio and TV stations handle this story? Do they really have to "credit" his radio segment for the story? Doing so would lend publicity to another station. Do they simply quote him as if his comment is in the public domain? Or do they leave the story alone, and allow a competing station to break and maintain an exclusive on a story?

I could probably justify any one of those possibilities to some extent, and it would not be an easy decision. If it were up to me, I would have gone with the story and not credited "his" show or the radio station.

NEW YORK - YES TV Network has extended the contract of Yankees TV voice Michael Kay with a multi-year extension. Kay has been with YES all the way, going back to 2002.

CHICAGO - Expect at least a partial announcement about White Sox radio within the next 10 days. Darin Jackson, out as a TV voice with Steve Stone moving over from the radio booth starting next season, is expected to announce his decision by the end of next week as to whether or not he will make the move over to radio for an analyst role. I think that Jackson will consider this a step back and decline, provided he knows of other work. If he declines, White Sox exec Brooks Boyer was quoted on the White Sox web site as saying that the team will seek another play-by-play voice to handle at least two innings. Under the present structure, Ed Farmer has been handling play-by-play for every inning, and that takes its toll over the course of a season.

The NHL Blackhawks, now a month into having every home game on local TV for the first time ever, have produced a 150% in their TV ratings over the season's first month. Comcast SportsNet, handling the majority of the home and road telecasts (with WGN-TV handling about one-third of the games locally), also reports solid ratings increases in their pre and post-game programming.

BALTIMORE - As of this week, Sports Radio WHFS 105.7 is now streamed at www.1057TheFan.com and brings a local lineup including Ed Norris, Mark Viviano, Bruce Cunningham, Scott Garceau and Anita Marks, among others. The station also carries play-by-play of the U. of Maryland Terrapins and the Baltimore Orioles. ESPN 1300 AM now carries more of the national programming and play-by-play than ever before.

St. LOUIS - The University of St. Louis Billikens are "movin" their basketball broadcasts to WMVN 101.1 FM starting next week to kick off a new three year deal. The first six weeks of games will air before the station changes to all sports on Jan. 1. Bob Ramsey returns for his 22nd season of play-by-play even though Ramsey continues to work on soon-to-be rival KFNS 590.

The station has also hired Post Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell, perhaps to co-host the midday spot. Market vet Randy Karraker will co-host afternoons. The station is also expected to bid prominently for Rams football in the future.

MIAMI - The improvement in the Dolphins this season continues to mean improvements in the ratings. Last week we pointed out the impact on the latest radio ratings. Now comes word that Dolphins telecast ratings are already up 10% over last year overall, and up more than 17% in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale TV market. Only the Jets with Brett Favre and the improved Atlanta Falcons have shown bigger increases.

MINNEAPOLIS - University of Minnesota basketball broadcasts will have a new analyst for the upcoming season on WCCO 830. Call it an "off-season" job if you will, as Don Zierden, coach of the WNBA Lynx (who recently finished their season) will help call the Gophers broadcasts along with play-by-play voice Mike Grimm.

CINCINNATI - WLW 700 began its weekly "Hot Stove League" off-season baseball show this past Tuesday (Nov. 4th). The show will now air on the 50,000 watt powerhouse from 6 to 7 PM ET, and with early darkness will reach as many as 38 states. This is a new time, designed to eliminate all but a couple of conflicts with U. of Cincinnati and Xavier basketball broadcasts. "The Homer" 1530 AM will carry the baseball show when there are hoops conflicts.

Meanwhile, fans watching the FSN Friday telecasts of high school football will now have Dave Lapham sending it over to Dave Lapham. Dave Jr. continues as sideline reporter and pre-game show host for the telecasts, while Dave Sr. added a role in the booth to go along with his Bengals analyst duties, his WLW Bengals radio show work, and assignments for both Channel 5 and Channel 12 sports. It is a chance to work with his son. This gives Cinci a leg up on father and son broadcast teams, as the same market has Marty and son Thom Brennaman calling the Reds games.

MILWAUKEE - Congrats to the Bucks TV team of Jim Paschke, Jon McGlocklin, and Craig Coshun on winning a regional Emmy Award for "Outstanding Achievement for Sports Program - Live Sports Event/Game - Unedited".

Meanwhile, even though Brett Favre still matters in Milwaukee since every possible Jets telecast is carried in Milwaukee, the Packers definitely rule the ratings. This past Sunday (Nov. 2), the Packers vs. Tennessee telecast on WITI-TV had a 35.7 rating, more than 10 times the 3.0 rating which the Jets at Buffalo telecast got on WDJT-TV. Upon further review, ANY game getting a 3.0 rating in Milwaukee dead against a meaningful Packers game is actually quite an accomplishment.

OKLAHOMA CITY - While the city celebrated the debut of the NBA Thunder last week, the sports radio scene doesn't reflect well. After the Sports Animal WWLS, sports talkers WKY "Jox" 930 and KOKC 1520 had dismal showings in the latest radio ratings. Jox 930, after 16 months in the sports format, failed to show up in the overall ratings.