Monday, December 28, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 28th

Looking back on the sports media for the zeros, it might have been the decade with the biggest change in terms of coverage. Most good, some not.

Topping the "good" list is the shear number of pro and college games which are televised. The vast majority of pro games are shown in at least one team's market. Many MLB, NBA, and even NHL teams show every game in their market. In addition, the number of national or regional telecasts has increased.

Baseball fans now have network games available on Sundays (TBS in the afternoon and ESPN at night), Mondays (ESPN), Wednesdays (ESPN), Thursdays (MLB Network), and Saturdays (Fox). The addition of the great MLB Network in 2009 also brought us Saturday night telecasts along with some afternoon games and special telecasts throughout the season.

NBA fans have the ESPN/ABC and TNT packages, and now NBA-TV picks up an average of 3 games each week from local telecasts, resulting in at least 4 nights per week of national games. Those NHL fans who can get Versus and NHL Network also get about 4 national telecasts each week, plus those on NBC-TV on Sundays from January on into the playoffs.

The pro league networks (MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network) have enhanced coverage of their respective sports beyond belief with extended studio shows including live "look-ins" and instant statistics on games being played. With these shows, along with ESPN producing Baseball Tonight and NBA Tonight, the amount of immediate surrounding coverage of pro games has reached an all-time high. For those of us who grew up before cable TV and the majority of games being televised, this is all an incredible transition, especially during the last part of this decade.

The NFL Network brought us extended game day coverage, along with the ability to replay edited game telecasts throughout the week, as well as providing extended previews and interviews.

On the college sports scene, the number of college football games televised has increased significantly, especially from regional networks from the likes of Fox Sports and Comcast, among others including the Big Ten Network. This past season, it wasn't unusual to have between 5 and 8 early afternoon live telecasts to choose from.

A greater presence from the regional TV networks has brought a local expanded version of a SportsCenter show to most markets. Fans now have a choice for their late night TV highlights and wrapup like never before.

Radio has seen an increase in the number of all sports stations around the country, including most markets now having more than one station competing against each other.

In addition, fans with online access can usually track up to the minute scores and in-game statistics for any and all games they are following. Some teams and web sites are now providing highlights and replays available within minutes.

Combined, it is amazing how easy and wonderful it is to be able to keep track of all of the games every night, whether by TV, radio, or online. And amazing how much our ability to do just that increased during this decade.

So what's not so good about it? All of this game coverage, as great as it is, has come at the expense of the sportscast. Radio and TV sportscasts have generally gone down hill in the past few years. What used to be breaking news and game related statistics has turned into the rumor mill. Reporters seem to spend more time speculating about trades and signings than on trying to break stories. Too much of the "reporting" is about what might happen instead of what did happen. Or by the time it does happen, it doesn't seem like hot news anymore.

Many of the game broadcasts and telecasts have become way too cluttered. While I understand that more advertisers are needed to support the huge broadcast rights fees, the added commercial and promotional time is taking away from us fans getting more information. I'll expand on this point in the weeks to come, but pre-game shows and game telecast and broadcast openings are so cluttered that important information about the game gets delayed. There are too many times when we get 15 minutes of commercials and fluff and don't even get starting lineup information until the game itself is already underway. That needs to change.

But overall, great strides this decade in terms of being able to keep up with all of our favorite sports!

Yet, as we think back on some of the most memorable stories of the decade, it is amazing how much the media played a part in some of them, instead of keeping it to what happened on the field, court, or rink.

And for that matter, possibly next decade. Case in point is Tiger Woods. I, for one, have no second thoughts about Tiger Woods being named Athlete of the Decade for the zeros, even though I am not a fan of the pro golf tours. He clearly was the most dominant at his sport. Yet, the excessive amount of air time because of his recent indiscretions has caused some to question that selection. However, all of this media attention to something that had no impact on the number of tournaments he won, has led to Tiger looking to play in FEWER tournaments in the near future, which could impact his chances for setting more records as we start the next 10 years.

Radio and TV played a huge part in a post-season baseball moment. In the 2003 NLCS when Steve Bartman went for a foul ball that could have been a crucial out for the Chicago Cubs against the Florida Marlins, we had no idea who this person was. If the Chicago Fox-TV affiliate hadn't pursued it and put his name out on the airwaves the next day, we wouldn't know who he is. We shouldn't. So instead of baseball fans remembering the Marlins' comeback in the NLCS to get to the World Series, the memory is overshadowed by a fan who attended one of the games. After all, Bartman didn't play in the 7th game the next night. Yet, the media made him the story instead.

Another instance is what the media did not do. This decade began with the most exciting end of a Super Bowl game. Tennessee and St. Louis in the January 2000 Super Bowl game battled right down to literally the last second at the 1 yard line. Yet, I still can't believe that the game announcers and the network reporters covering the game weren't taking it a step further. As in, one more step to the end zone. Had the Titans scored on that last play, they would have had to choose whether to kick the PAT for the tie or to go for the 2-point conversion and either win or lose the Super Bowl right there.

Now there was a discussion which should have dominated the talk during that last drive, and even for days after. But it hardly even came up. It would have been fascinating to see what percentage of fans would have gone for the win since there was no guarantee that the Titans would have won the coin toss for overtime or even touched the ball. Yet, even the possibility wasn't raised. I still can't believe that. And the lack of that discussion, even though it didn't come to pass, was overlooked by the media.

Here's hoping for a Happy New Year and New Decade for all of you, and for another 10 years of great sports memories. On the field, court, and ice!

Meanwhile, so much has been written and said already about the untimely death of George Michael last week. (By the way, some airchecks of his top 40 days in Philly are available via It is hard to believe he is gone, and that he was only 70 years of age.

Many people are just now learning of his accomplishments above and beyond his "George Michael Sports Machine" Sunday TV show. He was a top 40 DJ on Philadelphia's Famous 56 WFIL from 1966 to 1974. (One of his engineers at that station was Howard Eskin, as in the long time WIP sports host.)

George went on to New York and did play-by-play for the N.Y. Islanders, as well as some filling in on Howard Cosell's "Speaking of Sports" radio shows. He reportedly turned down an offer to replace Lindsey Nelson on Mets TV before going to Washington D. C. and WRC-TV, where the Sports Machine show was eventually born. Now I feel as though the moment I get to heaven, he'll be there to show me highlights from everyone else already there.

Back to the current week. NBC-TV has "flexed" its muscles and moved the N.Y. Jets game against Cincinnati into its final Sunday Night Football telecast of this season. In addition, Fox has moved the Philly at Dallas game from an early slot to its doubleheader game on Sunday afternoon.

With all of the college bowl games coming up, there is a ton of games to watch in bringing in the new year and decade. Yet, I'm disappointed that the decade begins with Pat Summerall coming back to call the Cotton Bowl for Fox next Saturday afternoon from Cowboys Stadium. On his recent comebacks for NFL games he has managed to sound even more boring than ever before. Hardly the over hyped bowl game banter we are used to. The Westwood One Radio broadcast looks like a good alternative with the TV sound on mute, since Cowboys voice Brad Sham will call the game with former UCLA coach Terry Donahue on color.

NBA-TV picks up an increased share of telecasts this week while ESPN focuses on the bowl games:

Tues. Dec. 29 - Cleveland at Atlanta
Weds. Dec. 30 - Boston at Phoenix
Fri. Jan. 1 - New York at Atlanta
Sat. Jan. 2 - Denver at Utah
Sun. Jan. 3 - San Antonio at Toronto

INDIANAPOLIS: John "JMV" Vincent has left WNDE 1260 where he aired from 3 to 7 PM most recently, ending a 10 year stint at the station. At least for now, he continues working weekends at WTHR-TV.

St. LOUIS: Bob Stelton is the newest addition to ESPN 101.1 FM, and is expected to begin on the air next week.

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 22nd

Time to cast my vote for the biggest sports media story of 2009. I may be the only one "voting" this way, but this year turned out to be a huge year for sports radio stations. It is really the fans doing the voting.

Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, and Philadelphia are among the large markets showing significant growth in the total sports radio audience. In these cities it is not just one station on the increase. In Chicago, the two 50,000 watt AM sports stations, which have been competitors for years, are both coming off some of their best numbers ever.

This trend speaks well for the format. These ratings numbers, along with the increase of sports stations coming into large, medium, and small markets as competition, had never reached these levels before.

Why is this happening now? Many would say it is the People Meters, but I'm not among them. In the days of ratings diaries, you would figure that men would have been more apt to show listening to sports radio than to soft rock. I have a different theory.

I think the surge in sports radio listening around the country this year is because of the outrageously high ticket prices for sports events. It is no longer worth the hassle of going to a stadium or arena for just one regular season game when it can cost $150 for 2 people. I'm far from the only fan who feels this way.

As a result, fans are finding other ways to spend their "sports dollar". There are no official statistics on how much is bet each week. But we do see the increase in fantasy league activity, whether for money or the joy of it. The TV ratings this year indicate that people are more content than ever to stay home (or go to their favorite establishment) to enjoy HD and big screen telecasts where they can actually see what is going on in the game itself.

In order to keep up with their favorite teams and games, these same fans are now relying on sports radio more often than ever. Especially when combined with the music stations reducing the local flavor, cutting back on playlists, and clustering commercials.

Some of the sports stations generating the higher numbers have really not done very much different than, say, two years ago. I think their target audience is doing a better job of finding them. Let's see what 2010 brings for sports radio ratings.

Meanwhile, some programming decisions aren't so easy, especially when they don't turn out right. WBBM-TV Chicago, the CBS affiliate, has only itself to blame this past Sunday (Dec. 20) if their local NFL ratings went into the tank.

With the Chicago Bears playing on Fox, and on the road, in what was originally slated to be an "early" NFL game, WBBM-TV wisely scheduled the Cinci vs. San Diego "late" game as its lone telecast. The idea was to not go up against the Bears telecast and, so I thought, also offer the most appealing game CBS had to offer during the late time slot. When it can, WBBM-TV tries not to compete with the strong local ratings of Bears' telecasts on the Fox-TV station.

However, when the weather forced the Baltimore Ravens to move the game to the late (4:15 ET) slot, it meant that Fox-TV in Chicago would have the Bears game against the Cinci vs. San Diego telecast.

My first comment upon learning the Bears vs. Colts kickoff was changed was that WBBM-TV might have a winner on its hands with the Cinci vs. San Diego telecast. The game meant nothing to the Bears, already eliminated from playoff contention. Baltimore is an AFC team and not a rival. The game didn't figure to be close.

Yet, WBBM-TV still elected not to compete against the Bears, and picked up the Miami vs. Tennessee telecast early as their only NFL game of the day. Neither team has a particular following in Chicago, and it so happened that the game wasn't even close until late 4th quarter, just as fans were getting ready to check the start of the Bears game on Fox.

Sure enough, the Bears were out of the game in Baltimore early. As it was, Chicago fans couldn't get the Green Bay at Pittsburgh telecast originally scheduled. But instead of being able to switch over to a meaningful and interesting matchup on WBBM-TV, Bears fans (without the TV package available to get other games) were stuck with a horrible game - or no NFL football. Sometimes management needs people who know and understand the game to make such decisions. This was one of them.

The moving of the San Francisco at Philadelphia NFL telecast on Fox from an early to late telecast had an impact in that road team market as well. This made it a very rare time when the 49ers went head-to-head with the Raiders. In this instance, the Raiders got clobbered. In the ratings. Early numbers show the 49ers game with nearly 3 times the audience the Raiders vs. Broncos game had.

Later, the Sunday Night Football game on NBC didn't draw as well as most of the other telecasts this season, but the Carolina win over Minnesota still won the night for NBC. That's the 13th time this year NBC has finished first in the Sunday night ratings. Last year, NBC won 13 times. Now there are 2 more Sunday Night games to go, including the final week of the season when NBC gets to pick a game away from either Fox or CBS due to its flex scheduling rights.

On Saturday (Dec. 19), the NFL Network had its most watched regular season game (only on the NFL Network - not counting the New England game two years ago shared with CBS and NBC). Just the NFL Network had more than 10 million viewers. This is significant because that figure does not include viewers watching the telecast "over-the-air" in the local markets. With the Cowboys being the Cowboys, and the Saints being unbeaten at the time, there was obviously huge interest in both local markets, which aren't factored in to these record ratings.

NBA-TV continues to roll along with its increased slate of games this season. Hard as it may be to believe, the fans voted to see the Oklahoma City Thunder game this Tuesday (Dec. 22). Then again, it is from Los Angeles against the Lakers. The fans won't be voting for the following Tuesday telecast, but NBA-TV will originate for Dec. 29th. Ernie Johnson will call the game, with Kevin McHale and Chris Webber as analysts, as Cleveland plays at Atlanta. Fan voting for the Tuesday night NBA-TV game returns before the Jan. 5th telecast.

ATLANTA: Speaking of Atlanta, just weeks after the phantom "base hit" in the American League "Game 163" telecast from Minnesota, Chip Caray has landed in the TV booth once again. He has been rehired by the Braves to handle play-by-play of at least 100 telecasts on Fox Sports South and SportSouth, paired with Joe Simpson. This nearly triples the amount of games Caray will work compared with the past couple of years on Sunday and post-season TBS telecasts.

BALTIMORE / D.C.: The Orioles TV analysis team on MASN may be reduced to Jim Palmer and Rick Dempsey for 2010. Buck Martinez, also known around the country for his work on TBS and earlier ESPN over the years, is leaving Baltimore to join the Toronto Blue Jays in their TV booth.

If I had a "Wrong Interpretation Award" for 2009 media, it would go to "Nasty" Nestor Aparicio, owner and an on-air host at Baltimore sports radio WNST 1570. Even in this year of increased sports radio listenership around the country, WNST just came in at 46th place in the latest ratings. That translates to, well, only a select few listeners. Aparicio's response was that his station web site is busier than "other radio stations and two of the four TV stations in Baltimore". He then took the approach that the web activity shows that the ratings are wrong. Guess he never thought about the possibility that the information and statistics available on the web site could be much more informative than his programming.

On the D.C. side, give a ton of credit to Nationals President Stan Kasten. He didn't just go on the Mike Wise show on 106.7 The Fan last Thursday (Dec. 17). He guest hosted the show, along with co-host Bill Rohland. His guests included Adam Dunn of the Nationals and NBA talk with Mike Fratello (whom Kasten actually fired years ago from the Atlanta Hawks). Kasten also commented on the Tiger Woods story and other headlines.

Here is the TV schedule for the coming weekend's NFL action. Enjoy!

Friday, Dec. 25
7:30: San Diego at Tennessee, NFL Network

Sunday, Dec. 27
1:00: Buffalo at Atlanta, CBS
1:00: Kansas City at Cincinnati, CBS
1:00: Oakland at Cleveland, CBS
1:00: Seattle at Green Bay, Fox
1:00: Houston at Miami, CBS
1:00: Carolina at N.Y. Giants, Fox
1:00: Jacksonville at New England, CBS
1:00: Tampa Bay at New Orleans, Fox
1:00: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, CBS
4:05: St. Louis at Arizona, Fox
4:05: Detroit at San Francisco, Fox
4:15: N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis, CBS
4:15: Denver at Philadelphia, CBS
8:20: Dallas at Washington, NBC

Monday, Dec. 28
8:30: Minnesota at Chicago, ESPN (206)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sports Media Report - December 15th update

Last week it was the announcement about the sports radio station taking over sportscasts for a TV station in West Palm Beach. Now comes an announcement of a media partnership between Dallas' KTCK-AM The Ticket and the Dallas Morning News for some content sharing among reporters and columnists.

Supposedly, neither is about revenue. Even if it is not about money in either case (and other similar agreements underway and to come), as a sports fan I don't like it.

My "problem" with this is that I come from the old school where reporters and columnists were supposed to be finding and breaking sports "news". It's bad enough that the "news" on so many of today's sportscasts are rumors and possible trades and signings. Too much "reporting" what some other outlet is reporting, instead of actually reporting.

The idea was to be the reporter covering a team practice when an injury took place or a player or coach made a significant quote that would become big news. And the hope that I could get it on the air before anyone else had the chance to find out and report it.

During the years I taught a college sportscasting course I would preach being on the lookout and doing what you have to do to scoop the competition. But if these cross-promotion arrangements continue to grow, there won't be any "competition" or desire to break a story.

One of my favorite examples of breaking a story game in the early 80's in Chicago. Johnny Morris, then the lead sportscaster for CBS' WBBM-TV, was excellent when it came to reporting on the Bears (for whom he was a star at wide receiver years earlier) and the NFL.

However, Morris suffered when it came to the other sports. I still remember his "report" on the night before the 1981 baseball strike when he went on TV live from Comiskey Park and claimed that there would not really be any strike - hours before it happened for real.

Yet, months later, Morris was the first to report that Mike Ditka was being hired by George Halas as the new Head Coach of the Chicago Bears. Morris totally scooped every other TV station, radio station, and newspaper. How did he do that? It turned out he assigned a crew to literally stake out George Halas' apartment and cornered Ditka minutes after the signing actually took place. That move not only redeemed his baseball flub, but showed me one of the best reporting moves ever.

I can't help but think that today, with TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and web sites all forming partnerships, we fans won't benefit from reporters competing and digging for stories. We'll be stuck with a bunch of rumors and wait for a few of them to come true.

Meanwhile, a big week for a few sportscasters.

Sports Illustrated has selected its "Top National Announcer" of the decade. If you are waiting for the winner to be Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, Mike Torico, or Joe Buck, you'll be surprised. The selection is Dan Shulman of ESPN. Shulman works with Dick Vitale and is probably the lead announcer for its college hoops telecasts, as well as calling NBA games for ESPN and ABC. In addition, he calls some Wednesday Night Baseball games for ESPN. Good choice.

Dick Enberg has decided to stay closer to home at the age of 74 and reduce his role with CBS Sports. In fact, he is only commited to U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis and some fill-in assignments after the current NFL season. Yet, he is not retiring. Enberg joins the San Diego Padres TV booth beginning in the spring. This gives Padres fans something to look forward to. Having been working in the Los Angeles area during the mid-80's when Enberg "came back" to do about 40 Angels radio broadcasts for one season, I can tell you how under appreciated he is as a baseball announcer. This will also give the Padres seemingly hundreds of years of broadcast experience, as ageless Jerry Coleman is confirmed to return to the radio booth for at least the 2010 season.

Enberg is also being inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame this week, along with Keith Jackson and others. Well deserved on all counts.

Joe Theismann returns as an analyst, this time for NBC for its NFL Wild Card playoff coverage. NBC will put Theismann along with former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs together for one of its January 9th playoff telecasts. Tom Hammond will call play-by-play to complete the crew.

Peter Gammons will soon jump over from ESPN to MLB Network and should thrive even more with expanded airtime. As hard as it is to believe that MLB Network can improve even more, this is another positive move. In addition, the Network promises more "special day" coverage such as trade deadline days. Another report says the Network is working a series featuring highlights or photos from every no-hitter ever thrown.

ESPN has announced that its 2010 MLB season opening telecast on April 4th will be the Yankees and Red Sox opening the season from Fenway Park. It's good to see ESPN once again feature the season opener of the World Champs (whoever it is). Hopefully this will stick as a tradition. The previous Yankees vs. Red Sox season opener was 2005, with the Red Sox then coming off the World Championship.

On the NFL side, NBC will stick with them Cowboys as their Dec. 27 Sunday Night Football game against Washington. They are banking on the Cowboys continuing to be ratings gold. This is an interesting decision, however. CBS then moved its Denver at Philadelphia telecast into the doubleheader game slot that day. That could be a "survival" game for Denver, whereas Washington only has the rivalry to play for in prime time.

It will also be most interesting to see the ratings comparison, especially in head-to-head markets for this Sunday's late games. Cinci vs. San Diego going up against Green Bay at Pittsburgh makes for interesting competition. Jim Nantz and Phil Sims have the Cinci vs. S.D. game call on CBS.

Since we get requests, here are the NFL telecast schedules for the next 2 weekends:

Week 15:
Thursday, Dec. 17
8:20: Indianapolis at Jacksonville, NFL Network

Saturday, Dec. 19
8:20: Dallas at New Orleans, NFL Network

Sunday, Dec. 20
1:00: Chicago at Baltimore, Fox
1:00: New England at Buffalo, CBS
1:00: Arizona at Detroit, Fox
1:00: Cleveland at Kansas City, CBS
1:00: Atlanta at N.Y. Jets, Fox
1:00: San Francisco at Philadelphia, Fox
1:00: Houston at St. Louis, CBS
1:00: Miami at Tennessee, CBS
4:05: Oakland at Denver, CBS
4:05: Cincinnati at San Diego, CBS
4:15: Green Bay at Pittsburgh, Fox
4:15: Tampa Bay at Seattle, Fox
8:20: Minnesota at Carolina, NBC
Monday, Dec. 21
8:30: N.Y. Giants at Washington, ESPN

Friday, Dec. 25
7:30: San Diego at Tennessee, NFL Network
Sunday, Dec. 27
1:00: Buffalo at Atlanta, CBS
1:00: Kansas City at Cincinnati, CBS
1:00: Oakland at Cleveland, CBS
1:00: Seattle at Green Bay, Fox
1:00: Houston at Miami, CBS
1:00: Carolina at N.Y. Giants, Fox
1:00: Jacksonville at New England, CBS
1:00: Tampa Bay at New Orleans, Fox
1:00: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, CBS
4:05: St. Louis at Arizona, Fox
4:05: Detroit at San Francisco, Fox
4:15: N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis, CBS
4:15: Denver at Philadelphia, CBS
8:20: Dallas at Washington, NBC
Monday, Dec. 28
8:30: Minnesota at Chicago, ESPN

NBC reports that Sunday Night Football ratings are up 22% over last year through the 14 weeks thus far. CBS shows a 4% increase overall for its NFL telecasts this season. Its San Diego at Dallas telecast this past Sunday (Dec. 13) was its single highest rated telecast since 2007.

On the college hoops scene, The Big Ten Network has announced it will televise 63 of the 99 Conference basketball games starting after the first of the year. Big Ten "Super Wednesday" will feature a doubleheader as well as pre and post-game shows. Gus Johnson will serve as lead announcer.

LOS ANGELES: Speaking of broadcasting legends, while Lakers radio analyst Stu Lantz is away helping his wife recover from surgery, he isn't being replaced by just anyone. Hot Rod Hundley comes out of retirement to fill in for 6 telecasts, including the Lakers playing at Utah. Hundley, of course, called the Jazz games forever after an earlier run as analyst back when CBS-TV had the national package.

In an unfortunate coincidence, radio analyst Mychal Thompson had to miss a pair of Lakers broadcasts last week due to a death in the family. The team got Walton to fill in. No, not the recently retired legendary Bill Walton. His son, Luke, who plays for the Lakers, is on the injured list and took over the analyst duties for a couple of nights.

SAN DIEGO: Suppose they gave a college basketball telecast and nobody watched. The University of San Diego game vs. New Mexico last Wednesday (Dec. 9) answered that possibility by making it a reality. Channel 4 recieved a rating of 0.0 and a 0.0 share for eight consecutive quarter-hours. Ouch.

DALLAS: It has been confirmed that Josh Lewin will return for his 9th season calling Rangers games in 2010. His commitment means he will call at least 147 games next season, leaving off only the 3 games when he has a conflict due to being the radio voice of the San Diego Chargers.

COLUMBUS: The only pro team in town is now making an impact on the ratings. The NHL Blue Jackets are generating telecast ratings increased 38% from last year on Fox Sports Ohio through the season's first two months. The Network also reports increased viewership for games shown in the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas.

BOISE: The Boise State Broncos will have a new radio home for both football and basketball broadcasts starting next summer. KBOI 670 takes over once again after a 2-year absence. The station had carried the games since 1972 until KIDO 580 got the contract for the past two seasons. The basketball broadcasts will simulcast with KKGL 96.9. Word is that a new TV home for the Broncos will be finalized during the first quarter of 2010. Bob Behler will remain as the radio play-by-play voice.

NEW HARTFORD NY: WTLB 1310 will become ESPN Radio beginning in March, along with sister stations WIXT 1230 in Little Falls and WRNY 1350 in Rome. WTLB will continue to carry N.Y. Yankees and Giants broadcasts. Management is reportedly considering adding a local show for afternoons to cover the Mohawk Valley.

UPPER POTTSGROVE PA: WPAZ Radio 1370 has been known for its thorough high school football, basketball and baseball coverage over the years. Now, it's not known at all. This past Thursday morning (Dec. 10), the ownership group decided to pull the plug. And at 10 AM they did. Without warning or even saying goodbye to its audience.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 8th

We are a long way off from March Madness, at least in basketball terms, although a report from Sports Business Journal the other day has started a lot of discussion among fans and the media.

The possibility exists that the NCAA could add still another week of games to the Tournament. More games means more telecasts and broadcasts, and according to the report the possibility of more networks becoming involved.

As a fan, I'm totally frustrated by this, and it is far from actually happening. I lost some interest in the Tournament over 25 years ago when it expanded from 24 to 32 teams. Why have a regular season when more than one team can go from the same conference? But that is for another column.

From a media perspective, I see where this could be of benefit. More tourney games translates to more ad revenue. Especially with NFL ratings through the roof this season and the NBA ratings off to a good start, especially with teen viewers, as detailed here last week.

Yet, I think CBS has done a very good job with their coverage over the years. It is really only the first two days when games conflict, and now streaming has reduced many of those concerns.

However, more post-season telecasts are probably likely across the board. This NCAA possibility fits in with MLB talking about filling in the early post-season Division Series off days by adding more games to go from best of five to best of seven series.

Speaking of the NBA, a great move by NBA-TV on Monday night (Dec. 7). Instead of sticking with its originally scheduled feed of the Washington at Detroit game, NBA-TV wisely switched to show the Denver vs. Philadelphia game featuring the return of Allen Iverson. A great fan-friendly move that deserves a lot of attention.

In addition to NFL games continuing to score great ratings, CBS also rocked the ratings world from Saturday's (Dec. 5) SEC Championship Game telecast. The Florida vs. Alabama telecast wound up as the best rating ever for an SEC Championship since its debut in 1992, and the network's highest rated "non-bowl" telecast in 20 years (Notre Dame vs. Miami in 1989).

Fox TV scored its best overnight ratings in 3 years with the Cowboys vs. Giants doubleheader game this past Sunday (Dec. 6). For the season, the Fox NFL ratings are now up 8% over last year, and the playoff races are about to heat up for the final 4 weeks.

NBC won Sunday Night with Sunday Night Football - again - this past Sunday after switching to the Minnesota vs. Arizona game. Compared with week 13 last year, NBC showed a 23% increase, even though the Vikings were involved in the 2008 Week 13 telecast. Brett Favre is winning almost as much as the TV networks, and all have been around a lot of years!

TBS (Turner) Sports has found a way to not have Chip Caray make errant calls on any more baseball post-season telecasts. Or regular season for that matter. Neither party shared any details, but the problem has been resolved because Caray won't be back. As funny as the line would normally be, given that Chip is the son of Skip and grandson of Harry Caray, I prefer not to think of him as a "Chip off the old block".

Fox Radio Sports has made a change on its morning show. Out is Steve Czaban, whose last "scoop" for the network was breaking the news on his own blog earlier this week after a 7 year run. Czaban had also filled in for Jim Rome during his time with the network.

His replacement is Steven A. Smith, who most fans know from his days on ESPN. On ESPN Steven seemed to always be yelling at someone with his comments, so it will be interesting to hear if he can tone it down for mornings.

CINCINNATI: The Reds have finalized their broadcast teams for 2010 by replacing the now retired George Grande. Thom Brennaman is going to reduce his baseball role for Fox and handle 100 Reds telecasts. He had joined the Reds' booth in 2007 and has shared some broadcasts with his father Marty, which is expected to continue. Chris Welsh continues as TV analyst, with Jeff Brantley moving over to TV on occasion. Paul Keels, the voice of Ohio State football on radio and former Sports Director of WLW, will call the games that Thom Brennaman does not.

Even though it was only the Detroit Lions playing the Bengals this past Sunday Fox TV 19 pulled out all of the stops for one of the two Bengals telecasts it got this season. The Cincinnati Fox affiliate pre-empted the Fox NFL pre-game show in favor of a 90 minute local pregame show. News anchors Tricia Macke and Dan Carroll co-hosted along with sports anchor Zach Wells.

As it turned out, they were right. This past weekend the Bengals win over the Lions even drew better than Saturday's college game putting the U. of Cincinnati against Pittsburgh locally. The college game was the Saturday ratings leader, but more households were tuned to the Bengals on Sunday.

HOUSTON: Big changes are underway this week at KBME 790. Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler have taken over as morning team from 6 to 10 AM, with Dylan Guinn from 10 to Noon. Matt Thomas returns to his native area from Minneapolis to host Noon to 3 PM, as well as Astros pre and post-game coverage. Thomas is also remembered locally as the Public Address announcer during the NBA Rockets championship season.

Tom Franklin will no longer host a show, but is expected to continue play-by-play of University of Houston football and basketball. The station is also giving up the "Sports Animal" brand in favor of "Sports Talk 790". Can't help but joke about how many thousands of dollars it took to come up with the new moniker of "Sports Talk 790".

PHILADELPHIA: The success of sports radio continues, based on the latest ratings for late October to mid-November. This time not a surprise since this ratings period included the Phillies participation in the World Series. WIP 610 finished first among 25 to 54 males, while every daypart was up. Rival WPEN AM and FM finished in the top 10 in males during its first "full" ratings period, including a strong showing afternoons from Mike Missanelli.

DENVER: Chris "Birdman" Andersen of the Nuggets now has a weekly radio show, and it airs in morning drive. "A Birdman's View" airs on ESPN 1600 each Thursday morning at 8:00, at least through the NBA season.

St. LOUIS: It is always an honor to have a street named after you. But in St. Louis, the feeling was that the late Jack Buck deserved more than just a street. As of this week, a stretch of Interstate 64 in St. Louis has been renamed "The Jack Buck Highway". Gives new meaning to his call of "There's a long drive........".

WEST PALM BEACH: Even though WPTV Channel 5 earlier got rid of two sportscasters, the station has not given up on sportscasts during its local news. Starting with the coming new year, reporters from ESPN 760 radio will handle the TV reporting, along with the 15 minute extended wrap-up on Sunday nights. This includes hosts Evan Cohen and Jason Pugh.

SYRACUSE: During the first quarter of 2010, WTLA 1200 and WSGO 1440 (from nearby Oswego) will switch to all sports.

BATON ROUGE: WNXX, licensed to Jackson LA, changes over to sports and will carry ESPN programming, expected to be in place before the first of the year.

CEDAR RAPIDS: The Iowa vs. UNI game lost to "The Biggest Loser" on Tuesday night (Dec. 8). KWWL-TV decided to carry the TV show instead of the game feed from Panther Sports Network. The station was scheduled to air the game on its digital channel instead. However, the digital channel is not available on all of the area's satellite owners nor on certain outlying cable systems. Local fans of either team might just make the TV show ratings "the biggest loser" in the future. As if that show couldn't have been shown on delay.

LINCOLN NE: ESPN 1480 has canceled the local show "The Spread" with Jason Peter and Jeff Wilkerson and replaced it with The Doug Gottlieb Show. Wilkerson is also out as Program Director. This past March, Omaha's Big Sports 590 dropped its afternoon show with Matt Perrault and replaced him with Fox Sports Radio programming.

RICHMOND: The baseball minor league Richmond Flying Squirrels have announced a 2 year deal with Sports Radio 910 to become the team's flagship station and carry all 142 games. Jon Laaser and Anthony Oppermann will handle play-by-play for the AA affiliate of the Giants. Can't help but wonder if the Flying Squirrels will get off to a "rocky" start.

RALEIGH: It's not really a place you have to go to for job security. Although the minor league Carolina Mudcats will have their games aired on WDWG 98.5 starting next season. Patrick Kinas returns for what will be his 12th season calling the games, which will also be streamed on the team's web site while some will also be aired on WDOX 570 AM. The job security? Kinas' company actually owns the broadcasts rights along with handling all of the advertising sales and production of each broadcast.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 2nd

Sports, media, and money all come together as one everywhere I look this week. Or so it seems. The financial officers watching the bottom line for radio and TV stations continue to overlook that many of the teams they are bidding and negotiating rights with are quickly becoming their competition just as much as the stations they may be bidding against.

Radio and TV stations and network bid for and pay millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast and telecast teams and events. They do this for two reasons. They sell advertising time to generate revenue with the idea being to sell enough time to recover and hopefully profit from the money paid for exclusive broadcast rights over the course of a season. The other reason is for ratings, with the hope that a higher audience for the station will allow them to raise advertiser rates and increase profits.

Yet, 2 stories this week seem to conflict with this concept. Subway Restaurants has implemented a heavy promotion with the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets. Local fans can purchase 4 footlong subs and receive a voucher for 4 tickets to one of a select group of Blue Jackets games for only $5 each. So it's not free, but that is a significant discount.

As part of this promotion, Subway will receive broadcast promotional messages and "broadcast inventory", which translates to radio and/or TV commercials, along with arena signage.

From a fan's point of view, this is a great opportunity, and as a "priced out" fan I hope other teams will adopt this.

Also this week, StubHub has signed a long term deal with the Big East Conference specific to the Conference basketball tournament. From a fan point of view, I don't care. There are no specially priced or free tickets for the tournament. But that's not why StubHub did this deal.

As of now, the Big East is the ONLY conference already scheduled to have every conference tourney game nationally televised. You guessed it. This means that every game on TV will include StubHub signage throughout the game all across the country. Reportedly other benefits include signage outside of Madison Square Garden, and a presence on the Big East web site, along with radio spots and still other benefits.

What does this have to do with radio and TV stations and networks? My point is it has plenty. Both entities doing these promotions are major national advertisers that have spent millions of dollars on TV and radio buys for years.

Yet, because TV and radio stations and networks are allowing the teams and even conferences to retain a certain amount of advertising and promotional time, these stations and networks are losing revenue.

My point is that some teams and conferences are becoming their own media. Some are handling at least some of the advertising and promotional inventory on broadcasts, and collecting their own revenue in the process. Add in the teams' ability to include one or more web sites, arena and stadium signage (much of which always finds its way into telecasts), event programs, and technology innovations such as text alerts for fans, the teams are in competition for the media dollars.

Just last week I commented on how some NBA teams, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, have the "TV companion" which provides fans online with so much information and interaction that they almost don't need to follow the telecasts. And in the process see advertising the team has sold.

Between all of this, and inklings of several pro teams considering forming their own networks (such as the Yankees have done with YES), it has me wondering if teams would be handling everything on their own for broadcasts and telecasts of games 20 years from now. With support from dollars that used to be spent on radio and TV advertising.

Meanwhile, an interesting note from Sports Business Journal. Between MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL, the league that has the largest proportion of viewers aged 12 to 17 happens to be.............the NBA.

Maybe it's the shoes? Probably not. But this is the generation that will go on to be in the prime advertising demographic within the next 8 to 13 years. Considering the incredible ratings the NFL has right now, this is worth noting. This is how the NBA is rebounding (pardon the pun) some six years without Michael Jordan playing, after many feared a significant decline in fan interest.

It looks like NBA ratings on TV are also in for a rise this season. For example, the Chicago Bulls lost their last 5 games during November, yet Comcast SportsNet Chicago reports a 41% ratings increase for the games it televised during the first month of the season compared with November of last year. Even their post-game show ratings have risen, although that is probably due to 7:00 local time starts for home games, putting the post-game show on prior to 10 PM.

On the NFL side, what an "ooops" for the NFL Network on Thanksgiving night during the Denver vs. N Y Giants telecast. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was wearing a microphone during the game. For obvious reasons, the comments that made the air were done on delay. At least they should have been obvious reasons. Yet, nobody at NFL Network caught the f-word that they played on the air via tape delay.

Usually instances of players or coaches using profanity when aired live are excused because it's the nature of the business and the risk taken. But when it still happens on tape delay? Bob Papa apologized instantly, and the Network later admitted that no one in the production trucks heard what was said. And that telecast turned out to be the NFL Network's highest rated one out of the 4 Thanksgivings they have done a night game.

In case you missed it, NBC changed its Sunday Night Football game for this week (Dec. 6) to Minnesota at Arizona. The New England-Miami game goes back to CBS as an early regional game.

LOS ANGELES: The Angels are eliminating musical chairs among announcing teams and going with one team for radio and one for TV. Rory Markas and Mark Gubicza will handle all telecasts for both Fox Sports West and KCOP, while Terry Smith and Jose Mota will handle the radio broadcasts. However, this elimiates Steve Physioc from the Angels' booth after 14 seasons, which was the longest tenure of any of the Angels broadcasters. Also gone is Rex Hudler who worked with Physioc. Steve will continue to do Pac 10 basketball for Fox this season. Here's hoping he winds up with a baseball gig after 25 years of play-by-play. Fans will recall him from his days of doing baseball on ESPN.

HOUSTON: It will be interesting to see how the 4 sports station race fares in the near future without Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler on KILT 610. Jackson scored excellent ratings as afternoon co-host and was with KILT for 9 years.

Robert Henslee steps into the afternoon spot, and is expected to continue his duties as producer on the Texans radio network. No permanent replacement yet for nights when there are no Rockets broadcasts.

Comcast SportsNet Southwest did U. of Houston fans a nice service by picking up their 3 games from the Great Alaska Shootout last weekend, including last Thursday's (Nov. 26) 10:30 PM local time start.

St. LOUIS: The economy seems to be playing with KSLG's schedule as Brian McKenna has been "laid off" from the station. Joe Pelusi and Charlie Marlow will take over mornings starting January 4th, with Evan Makovsky handling the spot for December on an interim basis. Evan was previously with KFNS 590.

DETROIT: A double whammy for Pistons fans last Friday (Nov. 28). Not only did they lose at home to the L.A. Clippers, but much of the second half telecast was not seen in Detroit. There was a small fire in the production truck of FSN Detroit, limiting viewers to a feed from the scoreboard at The Palace. The last few minutes of the telecast had George Blaha narrating the scoreboard feed. That's almost like combat pay for George. Narrating "his" team under odd circumstances while losing a home game to the Clippers.

CINCINNATI: As of press time late Wednesday it was possible that Thom Brennaman could be calling a telecast from Cincinnati yet not be seen or heard on a rare weekend in his hometown. Thom is scheduled to call the Bengals game when they host the Detroit Lions on Sunday, a Fox regional telecast. The game may not sell out and thus would be blacked out in Cincinnati. Some will argue that if it doesn't sell out it would be absurd considering how the Bengals are probably the biggest surprise in the NFL this year. I'll argue that for what it costs to go to an NFL game, fans are entitled to better competition than the Lions, and might prefer watching a more competitive game on TV instead. Brennaman has also been chosen by Fox to call the Sugar Bowl on Fox on New Year's Day.

MILWAUKEE: First, re-read the last paragraph. Then note that the lowest rated Packers telecast of this season in Milwaukee was this past Thursday on Thanksgiving Day - when the Packers were the only pro game being show. The opponent was none other than the Detroit Lions. I rest my case.

Those who analyze the TV ratings will chalk it up to Brett Favre and the Vikings for last Sunday's (Nov. 29) telecast against Chicago finishing as the highest rated "non-Packers" telecast in Milwaukee in the past 2 seasons. Although Favre is certainly a ratings draw in Milwaukee and Green Bay, he wasn't the difference this time. Packers fans enjoyed seeing the rival Chicago Bears get trounced, no matter whose team does it. There are exceptions, and that telecast was one. Even more curious, the Indy vs. Houston game scored a higher rating in Milwaukee than the Philly vs. Washington game did. The threat of Indy losing for much of that game was very much noticed.

NEW JERSEY: NBC 40 in Wildwood has brought back sportscaster Pete Thompson for its 6 and 11 PM shows despite having released him due to budget cuts earlier this year. Thompson continues on ESPN Radio 97.3.

MARYLAND: Sorry to learn of the passing of Dwight Dingle last week at the age of 63 due to heart disease. Dingle broadcast literally hundreds of games in Carroll County on WTTR, a station owned by Pat Sajak. His first local broadcasts were in 1974, and over the years he called some Division II final four games, Division III football and basketball, and Babe Ruth Baseball Regional games.

ORLANDO: WAMT 1190 began this month of December by changing to Spanish and picking up ESPN Deportes.

WEST VIRGINIA: MetroNews Sports has been granted a 3-year extension of its rights to broadcast high school football, basketball, and baseball championship games, running through at least the 2012 baseball championships. The 60 station network has already broadcast more than 1,200 games going back more than 20 years. How refreshing to find a sports tradition that continues as is.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sports Media Report - Nov. 23rd update.........

I suppose it's just another of those "how times have changed" stories that shouldn't bother me. But when one media "reports" on another media while trying to promote itself, I notice a definite lack of news value.

It seems that the Chicago Bears' Head Coach Lovie Smith, General Manager Jerry Angelo, and QB Jay Cutler each reportedly turned down requests last week to be interviewed by Bob Costas for the NBC-TV pregame show prior to its Sunday Night Football telecast from Chicago.

When I first heard that, I had 2 immediate reactions. First, I thought about the seemingly hundreds of on-air hosts and commentators that NBC presents to us within the 4 1/2 hours each Sunday night during the NFL season, and figured they would hardly struggle for opinion and comments about the game. Next, I thought about how some athletes have regularly shunned media interviews over the years while the 3 people in this story have done their fair share.

Yet, the Chicago Sun-Times, in "reporting" this story, had its own angle. It seems that NBC-TV decided to interview a couple of Sun-Times writers for the pre-game show instead of the key player, head coach, or General Manager. Therefore, the "story" in the Sun-Times and on its web site was really a column disguised as a promotional piece for the newspaper.

It came across as a double negative. I can't believe that NBC-TV with all of its resources actually preferred putting a couple of newspaper writers on its pregame show over and above interviews with other Bears players. If other Bears players wouldn't talk, then present more interviews from the Philadelphia Eagles (the opponent) and from their endless line of commentators. It's OK to casually mention that key personnel of the Bears chose not to appear, and move on with the telecast.

I thought that I could learn what the writers have to say during the week leading up to the game. Anyone around the country can read them on Were they saving something important for NBC that they weren't putting in their own columns or reports for the newspaper? I hardly think so. But I also fault NBC for relying on other "media" which in effect competes with them by also reporting on the game they were televising. NBC has enough on-air personnel to easily fill up the 90 minutes leading into the kickoff. If they couldn't get the team personnel they wanted, they did not have to go after other media.

After learning of this, even though I planned to watch this game, I waited and tuned in about 5 minutes before kickoff.

Meanwhile, CBS-TV is already enjoying the ratings success for the entire NFL season, noting that nearly 90% of available advertising during the coming February 7 Super Bowl has been sold. Even in this challenging economy, the network reports that sales are well ahead of the pace when it last televised the Super Bowl in 2007.

MLB Network continues to bring on the classic baseball telecasts during this stretch of time following the World Series and leading into the Winter Meetings in early December.

For Thanksgiving weekend, the network will air a series of All-Star Game telecasts. This will include the 1971 game with the monster homerun in Detroit by Reggie Jackson, even though their cameras missed where the ball actually hit. Eight of the games are scheduled to air for the first time on MLB Network. These are the 1982, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000 games.

In addition to 3 NFL telecasts on Thursday (Thanksgiving), the NBA national packages bring us plenty of hoops this week. In addition to ESPN airing Wednesday and Friday NBA games and the usual Thursday doubleheader on TNT (holidays not withstanding), NBA-TV adds to the mix this week.

On Tuesday (11/24) it will be Oklahoma City at Utah at 9:00 ET, on Saturday (11/28) it will be Charlotte at Washington at 7:00 ET, and on Sunday (11/19) it will be Boston at Miami at 6:00 ET.

Speaking of NBA telecasts, who would have thought that if Clippers' voice Ralph Lawler were to miss his first game in 25 years, it would have been due to a suspension? Lawler and analyst Michael Smith were suspended from last Friday's (Nov. 20) telecast on Fox Sports Prime Ticket as a result of comments on last Wednesday's (11/18) telecast vs. Memphis. Reportedly due to ONE viewer's complaint about their comments about Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi being from Iran.

CHICAGO: Congrats to WMAQ-TV Channel 5 sports reporter Peggy Kusinski on winning a Midwest Emmy Award for her reporting work.

NEW YORK: Even with the rise in TV sports ratings this year, it takes teams worth watching to further the cause. Word is that the Knicks' horrible start has already resulted in a 28% TV ratings reduction on MSG Network over the same period last season. When the Knicks didn't exactly set the NBA on fire either. However, they are not at the bottom of this ratings drop. The New Jersey Nets, still winless at press time, have already seen a 41% drop on YES telecasts compared with the same period last year.

SAN FRANCISCO: It has been a struggle over the years for the Oakland A's to find a radio station they can stay with and that would stick with them. There have been a couple of seasons when they A's have bought time on limited power stations. Yet, that seems to have changed. KTRB 860 and the team have agreed on a 10-year extension to carry the A's, including up to 20 spring training broadcasts.

The A's broadcast team also returns for at least 2010. Ray Fosse returns for his 25th season in the booth, now handling color commentary and pre-game programming. Ken Korach returns for his 15th season in the booth, while Vince Cotroneo begins his 5th season.

CINCINNATI: University of Kentucky basketball fans on the Northern Kentucky side will like Insight Cable presenting a "free preview" of CBS College Sports channel this week. Just in time for Kentucky's games in the Cancun (Mexico) Challenge basketball tourney games on Tuesday and Wednesday. So nice that some subscribers won't have to pay to see those games instead of having to fly down to Mexico.

NASHVILLE: WGFX 104.5 The Zone has brought back ESPN Radio, even if for overnight and some weekend hours only. However, there is positive in this. The sports station wants to limit ESPN programming due to being "live and local" for much of its day. ESPN Radio was not available locally in Nashville since July when another FM station known as The Fan dropped sports programming.

Happy Turkey!!

Here is the college football regional and national schedule for the coming week, with times Eastern:

Tuesday, Nov. 24
7:00: Ball St. at Western Michigan, ESPN2

Thursday, Nov. 26
4:00: Tuskegee at Alabama St., ESPNU
8:00: Texas at Texas A&M, ESPN

Friday, Nov. 27
11:00: Rutgers at Louisville, ESPN2
11:00: Temple at Ohio U., ESPNU
12:00: Illinois at Cincinnati, ABC
2:30: Alabama at Auburn, CBS
3:30: Nebraska at Colorado, ABC
7:00: Pittsburgh at West Virginia, ESPN2
10:15: Nevada at Boise St., ESPN2

Saturday, Nov. 28
12:00: Clemson at South Carolina, ESPN
12:00: North Carolina at N.C. State, ESPN2
12:00: South Carolina St. at Appalachian St., ESPNU
3:30: Virginia Tech at Virginia, ABC
3:30: Florida St. at Florida, CBS
3:30: Miami (Fla.) at South Florida, ESPN
3:30: Boston College at Maryland, ESPNU
7:00: Arkansas at LSU, ESPN
7:00: Tennessee at Kentucky, ESPNU
8:00: Notre Dame at Stanford, ABC
8:00: Georgia at Georgia Tech, ESPN2
10:30: Navy at Hawaii, ESPNU

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sports Media Report - Nov. 16th update.......

It is rare to have a new use of technology slip under the radar, but the Milwaukee Bucks have managed to do that. The team has launched what it calls the "TV Companion" on its web site.

The concept is that fans can access game notes, real time statistics, and even a shot chart during the Bucks games, along with half-time and post-game video highlights. As a sports fan and an information freak, I would think this is a very good idea. That's what the team wants to hear.

But is this a good move? Hardly. It could actually prove extremely costly.

Suppose I use this feature on the team web site while I have a Bucks game on TV. Using "TV Companion" distracts from my watching the telecasts. I won't need to pay attention to the statistics on the screen as well as the other graphics because I'll be able to access information I want on my computer monitor.

Much of the hours of preparation and research done by the TV crew goes down the drain if the fans watching and listening can read it for themselves. This feature devalues the telecasts, with the exceptions being a great play or the last 30 seconds of a close game when us fans would prefer to see the drama unfold.

Yet, this is nothing when compared to the economic impact that I see. As the fans of the team are "distracted" by TV Companion, they will be looking at statistics and/or replays during commercial breaks. Businesses which spend thousands of dollars to reach this audience will have less of a reach. How does this get them to renew?

Fox Sports pays the team millions to televise these games, at least under the current contract. If they stop attracting significant advertising dollars, their bid goes down, and then it is less revenue for the team. And so on.

In addition, I have to believe the Bucks' radio broadcasts could also suffer for the same reasons. If fans can "see" the real time information and highlights on computer, this could significantly reduce in home radio listening to the game broadcasts. And reduce the advertising impact, sending the same chain reaction come the next rights fee negotiations.

However, I am going to take this one step further. I also think this feature will have a negative impact on attendance. Even though increasing attendance is the idea behind implementing this feature.

My theory on why the NFL is enjoying such incredible ratings success this season is not solely based on the economy and people not going out as much. I contend that the reason for the ratings increase is more due to technology. Football telecasts, especially for the NFL, continue to make strong improvements.

We now see the line of scrimmage, the "line" for the first down, and more and more the down and yards-to-go by looking at the field on our TV screens. The TV screens that are often HDTV and upwards of 50 inches. The other scores are regularly flashed on the screen, making the days of the "10 Minute Ticker" seem like a joke. Plus, we now have cameras moving right above the field and several angles of plays with any controversey.

It's not always the economy keeping people home or wherever they like to watch these games. The TV sets, the information, and the technology used that have made telecasts an incredible package of information and technology.

Neither of which we get when we attend a game. More and more fans compare having these state-of-the-art telecasts on advanced TV's a lot better than paying $25 to park for 3 hours to wait in line for overpriced food and sit in a stadium with one view and without all of the information their friends are getting at the same time watching on TV. That is what the NFL has created.

Likewise, this TV Companion feature the Bucks have introduced. People paying these inflated ticket prices, paying to park, buying food and drink, and sitting 150 feet from center court now don't even have anywhere near the information available that fans at home and online now can get. A night out at the game for 2 people is likely to be $100 and up. Now without the information that fans not leaving the living room are getting.

Generally speaking, I understand why teams are embracing the new technology. But if they continue to put it ahead of the fan experience, the TV and radio rights money won't be there, nor will be fans in the stands. In any economy.

Meanwhile, it seemed to be unusually big news that Jon Gruden has signed on to remain with ESPN for Monday Night Football and now additional assignements. The reviews have been positive for Gruden's first season in the booth, and it is understandable why from hearing his work thus far this season. This extension is getting a lot of media coverage. Gruden will also be a part of ESPN's Super Bowl and NFL Draft week coverage.

CINCINNATI: Speaking of NFL ratings for telecasts, the Cincinnati Bengals' hard fought win over Pittsburgh on Sunday was no secret locally. Cinci's Channel 12 showed 66% audience share for the telecast from Pittsburgh for the entire game, including a 48.5 rating and 74% audience share during the fourth quarter. This was the highest rated Bengals telecast since the November 2005 game vs. Indianapolis, which also had a 66% share with a higher rating.

PHILADELPHIA: Congrats to former WCAU-TV sportscaster Al Meltzer, who will be one of eight to be inducted this Friday (Nov. 20) into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame at a fund-raising banquet.

SAN DIEGO: Pleased to report that Tuesday (Nov. 17) is the scheduled return date of John Kentera to XX Sports Radio. This will be his first shift since suffering a heart attach in early October.

AUSTIN: has named Mike Capps "Broadcaster of the Year" for his play-by-play of the Round Rock Express minor league games. Capps just completed his 3rd season on the call. If the name sounds familiar around the country, it is because this is the same Mike Capps who was an Emmy Award winning correspondent for CNN for five years. In addition, Capps was Sports Director at WFAA-TV in Dallas back in the 80's.

CHATTANOOGA: The women's basketball team Chattanooga is getting a lot of respect this season. If not in the polls, certainly in the media. This is hard to confirm, but this looks to be the largest market in the country to have every women's game aired on a local radio station (not a student station). The Zone 105.1, the local ESPN Radio affiliate, will air the majority of all 29 games this season. A few games will be moved to another station when there is a conflict with the men's games.

And while college hoops return in full swing this week, including the 24-hour marathon on ESPN, we look ahead to the national and regional college football schedule for later this week, with all times Eastern:

Wednesday, Nov. 18
6:00: Buffalo at Miami (Ohio), ESPNU
8:00: Central Michigan at Ball St., ESPN2

Thursday, Nov. 19
6:30: Tennessee St. at Eastern Illinois, ESPNU
7:30: Colorado at Oklahoma St., ESPN

Friday, Nov. 20
5:30: Akron at Bowling Green, ESPNU
9:30: Boise St. at Utah St., ESPN2

Saturday, Nov. 21
12:00: Ohio St. at Michigan, ABC
12:00: Minnesota at Iowa, ESPN
12:00: North Carolina at Boston College, ESPN2
12:00: Duke at Miami (Fla.), ESPNU
12:00: Harvard at Yale, Versus
2:30: Connecticut at Notre Dame, NBC-TV
2:30: Bethune-Cookman vs. Florida A&M, ESPN Classic
3:30: Penn St. at Michigan St., ABC
3:30: Purdue at Indiana, BTN
3:30: LSU at Mississippi, CBS
3:30: Virginia at Clemson, ESPN
3:30: N.C. State at Virginia Tech, ESPNU
4:00: San Diego St. at Utah, Versus
7:00: Vanderbilt at Tennessee, ESPNU
7:45: Kansas St. at Nebraska, ESPN
7:45: Kentucky at Georgia, ESPN2
8:00: Kansas at Texas or Oregon at Arizona, ABC
9:30: California at Stanford, Versus

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rod Van Hook

Sorry to learn of the death of long long time Los Angeles radio sportscaster Rod Van Hook, reportedly from pancreatic cancer.

Rod helped establish KFWB as a "scoreboard update" leader in the 80's, before the internet and regional sports TV networks dominated how us sports fans got our information.

Being on the west coast means that sports events on the east coast start at 4:00 local time on weekday afternoons. Rod always knew to begin his sportscasts on KFWB every half hour with a scoreboard update, even in afternoon drive. And he was innovative enough to give the out of town scores in pretty much the same order throughout the afternoon and evening. This way, when you were following a particular out of town game, you knew you were going to the latest score, and when it was going to come.

Both he and his reporting style will be missed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sports Media Update - Novemer 10th

The college hoops season is almost upon us, and so is the season of schools jumping through hoops to receive additional media coverage. Next Tuesday (Nov. 17th) is the day when ESPN goes with a 24 hour marathon of college games. This time, all live. We're talking games starting at 11:00 PM local time out west to fill the overnight hours back east. And we're talking east coast games actually starting at 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning on weekdays.

Yet, the schools are receptive to moving the start time in order to appear on ESPN, even to the point of having free breakfasts at 4 AM and a variety of contests and promotions for students and fans who attend the games.

From a radio standpoint, I think next Tuesday will be an interesting way to test the credibility of sports departments. For example, St. Peter's and Monmouth play at 6 AM local time on Tuesday. I don't think even the student radio stations will broadcast this game, but it will be on ESPN. Of course, many fans of these teams have to go to work or school before 8 AM and wouldn't be able to watch the game to its conclusion.

Same with the Drexel vs. Niagara game which starts at 8 AM Eastern and local time. On stations with local teams playing in these games, I'll be curious to know how many (or few) will actually know to report the final score during morning drive. I would hope that the sports station will have fun with being able to deliver a local final score during their morning show.

But my fear is that some newscasters obviously not used to watching for a sports result in the morning will talk about the game as if it is coming up even though it is already over. If you are in any of the "local" markets for any of those teams, or for that matter in a local market where a game such as these are being played in the morning, tune in to your favorite radio station's news or sportscasts. This is an interesting test of their credibility. They should be on top of these games. If not, and especially if they announce the game is still to be played after it is already over, keep that in mind the next time there is a breaking news story and you want fast information on it.

Meanwhile, the regional telecast of Saturday's (Nov. 7) college football game in which Villanova upset Richmond 21-20 took on a flavor all its own after a potential game-winning field goal was missed by the Richmond field goal. While play-by-play voice Bob Picozzi and analyst Scott Brunner were letting the crowd react to the big miss, another voice was heard just as clear as the broadcasters themselves. One report said that some people initially thought it was one of the game broadcasters. I saw and heard the tape on this and believe that someone clearly had an open microphone and was waiting for the opportunity. But what this male voice said, right over the air, was "What a bum! Come on, end this f---ing game". A few seconds later, the same person said "Go home already!".

This was not heard from a crowd microphone. It was as clear as if one of the announcers was talking. It will be interesting to see if Comcast SportsNet is fined or what happens over this. A lot depends on whare that microphone was placed at the time this happened and who might have had access to it.

Reminds me of the incident in either the late 70's or the early 80's when during an ABC telecast of Monday Night Football with Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell from Dallas, a guy came on with a microphone from somewhere and as clear as if Gifford were talking, said "Howard, the whole state of Texas hates your guts!". I don't know that the offender was ever caught.

MLB Network continues to unveil fresh programming even as the off-season begins in full fury now that the World Series has ended. Bob Costas will be doing more interviews on the Studio 42 show, including one with Bud Selig that debuts on Tuesday Nov. 10. The one I'm most anxious to see is the November 17th edition on which legendary Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell is scheduled to be the guest.

Sunday Night Football wins again. Not only did NBC again win the Sunday night ratings battle, but this past Sunday (Nov. 8) finishes as the 2nd highest rated telecast of this season, according to the early Monday numbers. The highest rated? You guessed it. Week 2 when the Cowboys opened the regular season in their new stadium against the Giants. If NBC had its way, it would stand for Nothing But Cowboys every Sunday.

But there is more to the story from this past Sunday night. What baffles me is that 5 of the top 8 metered markets impacting these ratings do NOT have NFL teams. Among the highest rated markets were San Antonio, Austin, Alburquerque, Las Vegas, and Richmond. Certainly, Vegas is understandable since betting is legal and a ton of people are visiting there who live in NFL cities. But Albuquerque and Richmond having high ratings for that game?

CHICAGO: Speaking of high ratings, sports radio has moved up the scales according to the recently released October ratings. WSCR "The Score" and WMVP ESPN are not only in a close battle for audience, but each shows increases across the board. So this is not a case of one station gaining at the other's expense.

WMVP ESPN 1000 charted #1 in 25-54 males overall, while 670 The Score finished tied for #3 in the same category. Men seem to be coming over from other news/talk stations in the market. Newsradio WBBM 780 finished 8th in this demographic, while WLS-AM Talk Radio finished 13th and WGN Radio at #15.

The Score's local morning show with 2 local sports writers passed Mike & Mike on WMVP this time around, making for an interesting race between the two.

Also in Chicago, Loyola University basketball will air on WNTD 950 AM this season, as well as west suburban WAUR 930 and the student station. John Fitzgerald returns for his 3rd season of play-by-play along with former assistant coach John Tracy as analyst.

TAMPA: WDAE has reinstaed morning host Dan Sileo as of this past Friday (Nov. 6) following his suspension after falsely reporting the Buccaneers were for sale. WDAE happens to be the flagship station for the team's broadcasts. Sileo had been off since October 29th.

BOSTON: The recent ratings released already show that Boston area fans can indeed support multiple sports stations. The Sports Hub WBZ-FM increased its overall audience size by more than 33% over the previous month, moving from 17th on up to 12th overall in the market. In men 25-54, the station rose from 12th place in the previous book all the way to 3rd place this time. Amazing when you consider the station made its debut in August. Of this year.

Yet, the established sports station WEEI finished 5th overall in the market, including both morning and afternoon drive within the top 3.

The Boston and Chicago results were part of the trend across the country for sports radio during the late September to mid-October ratings period. I'm sure the baseball post-season and the high ratings of the NFL telecasts played a part, but there is major progress for sports radio stations.

In Detroit, WXYT finished #1 in several categories. KTCT San Francisco and KTCK "The Ticket" in Dallas both set ratings records since the PPM system took over in those markets. Obviously, the Phillies heading toward their 2nd straight World Series had a positive impact on WIP and its rising ratings.

These sports stations are doing as well or even better than ever before. It might not be only because of the baseball post-season and the NFL off to a good start in the TV ratings. My hunch is that more people want the escape from hearing about the economy, politics, and the bad news that seems to dominate the headlines.

BOSTON: More TV sports cutbacks, as Butch Stearns is out as sports anchor from Fox 25. Word is he is not going to be replaced. This leaves Ryan Asselta as the only remaining sportscaster. I have said for months that local TV stations cutting back on sports coverage is a mistake. A lot of male viewers in prime demographics will be driven to regional or national sportscasts, such as SportsCenter, which usually air opposite the late local newscasts. Now, with the surge in ratings for sports radio stations, especially in Boston, the timing of this announcement seems odd. Fewer reasons to watch the local TV news, and more benefits for sports radio and TV outlets.

HOUSTON: The market competition for the sports radio audience continues, although KILT 610 has taken the lead among the four sports stations in morning drive. The brand new morning team of John Lopez and Marc Vandermmer on KILT showed a ratings rise of more than one-half point, slightly more than the drop in audience at KGOW 1560.

St. LOUIS: WXOS, making great strides in its first year on the air, has just shaken up its midday schedule as the station broke up the Pat Parris and Bryan Burwell team. This comes even though WXOS was leading its competitors in the midday period. Whether a replacement is named or not, the station plans to take the show from 9 AM until 11 (instead of the current Noon), and expand Bernie Miklasz another hour from 11 AM to 2 PM. Parris is expected to continue on Fox Sports TV.

SAN DIEGO: After nearly 20 years, sorry to see Jim Stone being "laid off" from KNSD-TV sports. Stone is already off the late news and will be completely off the air by the end of this month after reporting on the Chargers games.

OKLAHOMA CITY: It's only their second season in town, but the NBA Thunder got off to a great start in the ratings book. Last weeks' telecast against the Lakers on Fox Sports Network was more than a full ratings point higher than last season's most watched telecast on the Network. The cable network coverage has expanded for this season into Wichita and Topkea Kansas among other areas.

CORPUS CHRISTI: KSIX 1230 began its weekly show about Texas A & M-Corpus Christi this past Monday (Nov. 9) from Noon to 1:00. Again this season, the show will take place on location. Steven King hosted this past Monday from a local restaurant.

EUSTIS FL.: WKIQ 1240 radio has returned to the airwaves and now is dedicated to local sports. Former ESPN 1080 Orlando sportscaster O.K. Walters has leased the air time, ending about 4 months of silence. Walters hosts local sports from 8 to 9 AM and then from 4 to 6 PM. The station will carry regional and national play-by-play, but Walters' plans also include letting students call local high school games. The only negative to this idea is the signal. The station remains at only 800 watts, with an estimated coverage area of about 25 miles in Lake County.

ESPNU begins its college hoops coverage this week. Here is the schedule with all times ET:

Wed, Nov 11
7 p.m. Robert Morris at No. 25 Syracuse (Syracuse) Dan McLaughlin & Tim Welsh
9 p.m. North Carolina Central at No. 4 North Carolina (Chapel Hill) Rob Stone & Jay Williams ESPNU
11 p.m. Detroit at No. 12 California (Berkeley) Carter Blackburn & Mark Gottfried ESPNU

Fri, Nov 13
6:30 p.m. Morehead State at No. 5 Kentucky Dan McLaughlin, Jimmy Dykes & Andy Katz ESPNU

Sun, Nov 15
2 p.m. CBE Classic: UC Irvine at No. 3 Texas (Austin) Dave Armstrong & Reid Gettys ESPNU
4 p.m. CBE Classic: Fairleigh Dickinson at Wichita State (Wichita) Dan McLaughlin & Mac McCausland ESPNU
6 p.m. CBE Classic: Texas-San Antonio at Iowa (Iowa City) Jim Barbar & Mike Kelley ESPNU

Mon, Nov 16
7 p.m. NIT Season Tip-Off – Regional Semifinal: Coastal Carolina at No. 8 Duke (Durham) Mike Gleason & Jimmy Dykes ESPNU
9 p.m. Regional Semifinal: Colgate at No. 14 Connecticut (Storrs) Justin Kutcher & Bob Wenzel ESPNU
11 p.m. Regional Semifinal: Texas State at Arizona State (Tempe) Steve Physioc & Miles Simo ESPNU

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sports Media Update - November 3rd

Sorry, but I thought radio stations were supposed to report and comment on sports news and not manufacture it. Within just the past week we have had two more examples of this that somehow became national news.

Last week leading into the Brett Favre and the Vikings playing in Green Bay, Appleton WI radio station WAFL 105.7 created a "funeral" for Favre and gave it heavy airplay via the Rick & Lamb Morning Show. Complete with a mannequin of Favre and a hearse driven to a club for a "visitation" to "bring closure" to Favre's days as a member of the Packers. Part of what brought this story national was ESPN picking up on it.

In Tampa, WDAE has suspended "Sports Animal" host Dan Sileo after the Buccaneers complained about Sileo's on-air comments that the team was for sale, which the team says it is not. This resulted in the station issuing a retraction and suspending Sileo indefinitely (as of this writing) from his show.

In my opinion, the Favre "event" was not worthy of attention from a sports news organization. It was a radio station gimmick. It had nothing to do with Favre, the Vikings, or the Packers. It wasn't even any sort of protest or indication of sentiment from a large group of fans. It was a radio station gimmick - in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Sileo being suspended is not the main part of the Tampa Bucs story either. The story should be that team officials deny the team is for sale, and THEN give some details that the denial was issued because of speculation by a local radio station. Yet, sports fans around the country have now heard of Dan Sileo. Years from now people will forget that they heard of him because he did not check his facts before reporting a story.

I'm afraid that these are two more signs that sports "reporting" doesn't mean what it used to - and what it should. There are already too many rumors and possibilities reported within the context of sports news. Having radio stations create "stories" on top of this only makes it worth for us sports fans who thrive on "real" sports news.

On another note, with positive potential, maybe radio stations and networks are seeing my point from months ago about how sports could lead the way for HD Radio, if it isn't too late.

After the debut last month of a Pittsburgh Penguins "channel" on HD Radio in Pittsburgh and the talk of similar from other teams including the Dallas Cowboys, CBS Radio has announced an innovation.

As of this week, WFAN "The Fan" from New York City, generally considered to be the nation's leading local sports station, is now available on HD channels in Florida markets Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach. Based on the large number of "transplants" from the NYC area in these markets, this looks like a winner. Plus, this starting while the Yankees are in the World Series would be a nice draw among sports fans in Central Florida.

In the Hartford CT area, many fans can pick up WFAN 66 out of NYC, but there are a good number of Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins fans in the Hartford area. In response to that, WTIC-FM is starting Boston's Sports Hub WBZ-FM this week on one of its HD Channels. Great moves by CBS.

These are excellent examples of programming that can serve a niche radio audience. Just what HD Radio needs if it is ever to succeed. However, there are still a large percentage of potential listeners who don't understand what this is all about, and/or who refuse to spend $100+ for an HD Radio in this economy. My suggestion remains that if the radio stations want to get their HD channels off the ground and make them sources of revenue, they should be giving out HD Radios, or at the very least make them available at significant discounts through sponsors. These stations don't get it. A sports fan with $100 to spend on "radio listening" is going to pay for Sirius XM for 6 months and get game broadcasts and channels devoted to each pro sport instead of an HD Radio. But if they get the option of getting an HD Radio with specialized local and/or favorite team sports programming for, say, $20, then HD Radio has a chance.

The TV ratings for pro sports continue to skyrocket this fall. Brett Favre and the Vikings at Green Bay on Sunday wound up as the 2nd most watched regular season NFL telecast for Fox in 15 1/2 seasons of showing the games. The World Series telecasts, also on Fox, were up 46% over last year and the highest viewership since 2004 and the miracle Red Sox. This year's Game 3 was up 57% over the numbers from last year - and keep in mind both seasons had the Phillies representing the National League.

On the NBA side, the season opening doubleheader on TNT last week wound up as the most watched NBA doubleheader of the zeros. Actually, it was the most watched since 1996, and the Celtics win at Cleveland showed a 40% increase compared with the audience for last season's opener.

CBS is probably ready for the college basketball season, now just a month away. Especially with Kentucky vs. North Carolina on December 5th for its first telecast.

MLB Network continues to bring welcome innovations to baseball fans, even after the season is over. This coming Saturday, Nov. 7, at 8 PM ET, MLB Network will televise the Arizona Fall League "Rising Stars" Game including top prospects from several Major League teams. Daron Sutton and Tony Clark will call the game. This gives hardcore fans the chance to see prospects in acdtion from the Angels, Red Sox, Phillies, Cardinals, Braves, White Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Mets, and others.

Then, on Saturday Nov. 21 at 2:30 PM ET, Victor Rojas will handle play-by-play of the League's championship game from Scottsdale.

Also this Saturday (Nov. 7), Hofstra University will hold a dinner and ceremony for the first inductees into the Hofstra Radio Hall of Fame in celebration of 50 years of radio broadcasting at the school.

Among the inductees are Ed Ingles, nationally known in addition to his 24 years as Sports Director of WCBS Radio, as well as Todd Ant, who has worked in the NYC market for more than 25 years with WCBS and 1010 WINS. Ant is currently with ABC Sports Radio Network. Congrats to both.

While injuries have taken their toll on many players, it's rate that it happens to a broadcaster. Unfortunately, just as it cut short his playing career, the back problems that plagued Bill Walton last season with ESPN and ABC have forced Walton to retire from the microphone after 7 years with the networks. Walton worked extremely hard over the years to become a better broadcaster, and it showed.

In Atlanta, WGCL-TV has formed a "partnership" for its sports reporting, rather than cutting back on sports like some other TV stations around the country. WQXI 79 The Zone sports radio will now provide on air content for the CBS TV affiliate, including the SEC Wrap-Up Show and some surrounding NFL coverage.

AUSTIN: Sports radio comes to the FM dial, and it will include a lot of local programming. 104.9 "The Horn" will be talking a lot of Texas Longhorn sports (It took me a while to figure that name out, too!), including Erin Hogan's morning show. The station actually moves over from 1530 AM which will remain ESPN Radio. Although 1530 will simulcast the local programming in the early going, the word is that 1530 will carry ESPN Radio national programming and give the Austin market both local and national sports coverage. Locals welcome the move because of the improved signal on the FM side compared with 1530. I welcome it because it gives sports fans the local or national sports option.

NEW YORK: WOR 710 will continue as the flagship station for Rutgers University football and basketball. The relationship, which began in 1992 with football, has just been extended between the University and the station through the 2013-14 season.

BATON ROUGE: Ricky Blanton has been named as analyst for the LSU Sports Radio Network's home basketball broadcasts starting this season. He will join Jim Hawthorne and Kevin Ford starting on November 13th. Blanton was voted onto the school's "All-Century Team" announced earlier this year.

The college football regional and national schedule for the coming week, with times Eastern:

Thursday, Nov. 5
7:30: Virginia Tech at East Carolina, ESPN

Friday, Nov. 6
8:00: Boise St. at Louisiana Tech, ESPN2

Saturday, Nov. 7
12:00: Purdue at Michigan, BTN
12:00: Illinois at Minnesota, BTN (atl.)
12:00: Western Michigan at Michigan St., BTN (alt.)
12:00: Wisconsin at Indiana, BTN (alt.)
12:00: Northwestern at Iowa, ESPN
12:00: Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU
12:30: Kansas at Kansas St., Versus
3:30: Ohio St. at Penn St., ABC
3:30: LSU at Alabama, CBS
3:30: Army at Air Force, CBS College
3:30: Wake Forest at Georgia Tech, ESPN2
3:30: Duke at North Carolina, ESPNU
4:00: Texas Christian at San Diego St., Versus
7:00: Memphis at Tennessee, ESPNU
7:15: Vanderbilt at Florida, ESPN2
7:45: Florida St. at Clemson, ESPN
8:00: Connecticut at Cincinnati, ABC (tentative, to be finalized Wednesday)
10:30: Fresno St. at Idaho, ESPNU

Sunday, Nov. 8
8:15: Nevada at San Jose St., ESPN