Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sports Media Report - July 28th update

Maybe I put too much of a sports element on all phases of radio, TV, and overall electronic media coverage of sports. Or, maybe some members of the electronic media put too little of a sports and competition element into their jobs. Whichever it is, I find myself shocked and dismayed after reading an article in Broadcasting & Cable about how TV stations are reacting to ESPN adding more local web sites in the near future.

The local site for Chicago and the local ESPN Radio station there has attracted a large following within a short period of time, leading to the network planning similar local sites for New York, L.A. and Dallas. That is called competition for the sports audience, and in a sense, competition is what ESPN is all about. If there wasn’t enough interest in the competition that pro and college sports bring us, we wouldn’t have ESPN or anything like it today.

My reaction is because the story actually goes on to quote a Dallas TV executive about how much of a challenge this will be for local TV sports because ESPN is doing this. Say what? This is not a rant against the person quoted, but if this is how management and sales are representing themselves these days, is it any wonder that “local” TV and radio are in so much trouble?

Quotes like the ones in that article are an insult to those who came before on local TV and radio stations. Why not carry it a step further and tell advertisers to place their buys online with ESPN? This is like the coach telling his team that the other team is going to win today’s game, so why bother to get out there and play the game. The article also includes information about the local ESPN sites knowing to hit local high school coverage.

Personally, I don’t care about high school sports and that was the case even when I was a high school student. But I know that many others do, and it deserves some level of coverage by the sports media. Yet now many local TV stations are cutting back on sports coverage during their local news, and this trend keeps getting worse. Same on the radio side, where the gradual elimination of local programming is also carrying over to sports, especially on the high school side.

This all serves to remind me of a personal experience which remains one of the ideas I am most proud of more than 30 years later. In the late 70’s I was handling play-by-play of high school (and some college) football and basketball games in Lexington KY. Late in a high school basketball season, a situation was coming up where 2 of the city’s “big” high schools were battling for first place, and each had a game in town against local schools, scheduled for the same night at the same time but across town. At a station meeting the week before, the other play-by-play voice said we should do one particular game. I responded that “We have 2 sets of remote broadcast gear and phone lines in both schools, and we should do BOTH games, with one of us at each game.” At the time, others in the room looked at me like I was nuts. (Not the first time, and probably not the last time that will happen.)

Finally, after days of practically arguing with colleagues, they agreed to send us each to one of the games. I immediately called the coach at the school I was going to and explained that we were going to cover both games, asking if he could delay the start of his game about 10 minutes. He agreed.

Along came game night, and the station publicized that both games would be covered. We shared the pre-game show, and the other game started as scheduled. We all monitored off the air. I sat at my game keeping score and statistics, and every few minutes the other guy threw it over to me for an update and a minute or so of play-by-play. His game got to half time, and he threw it to me for the remaining few minutes of “my” first half. It ended and it was back to him with the 2nd half underway. Then we went back and forth. His game ended, and he threw it to me for the conclusion of my game. From my listening to the other game off the air, I was feeding the school’s P A announcer score updates from the other game, and he was plugging the station every time.

The combined broadcast was a total success. People called the station the next day to thank us. Two of the local TV stations, which only had 1 camera crew to cover both games, thanked us for providing them with accounts of both games before their newscasts so that they could match up the results with their highlights. There was the example of a local radio station serving its community to the max.

Now, 30+ years later, I read in a major publication quotes from executives expressing concern about a media company out-doing them. What did they think was going to happen?
I have been saying it for months. The local TV stations cutting back or eliminating local sports coverage are going to suffer for it. There are plenty of “casual” sports fans, especially at the high school and college level, who prefer a 3 minute recap over the half hour or hour SportsCenter type of shows that air most every night. But if those fans now are “forced” to tune to ESPN, Fox Sports, Comcast, or whatever regional sports network for expanded coverage, they may not come back to the local TV stations for the rest of the news.

In addition, I have pointed out how the HD channels could be used for broadcasts and re-broadcasts of high school and local college games. Family members of the players will keep tuning in to hear their son, nephew, cousin, etc., score the key basket or the big touchdown run for replay after replay. And local sponsors will pay a few bucks to be heard during those games.

While the actual station carries on with regular programming. This could be an outlet for additional community service, sports coverage, and local ad dollars.

Instead, the executives who make the decisions for radio and TV stations regarding this sort of local sports coverage continue to cut back, eliminate, and/or not move forward in this direction.
Even worse, they are rolling over when a form of competition threatens to do what they won’t.

Just one TV station being afraid of a web site should be cause for alarm. The problem is, the station is punting.

It is just like with radio stations and music programming. If the radio stations had kept doing what they did 10, 20, 30 years ago and maintained their playlists while adding in new releases, avoided non-local programming, and not clustered an overload of commercials, millions of consumers might not have moved on to MP3 players, satellite radio, online music channels, and all of the other "distractions" - many of which cost more than turning on the FM Radio every month.

Now, when it comes to sports coverage, it doesn't stop at reduced coverage of the local on the field competition. The stations are afraid to compete with the media themselves.

Meanwhile, Westwood One Radio has revealed its announcing teams for its NFL Radio packages for the coming season. Monday Night Football will again be called by Marv Albert with WFAN New York morning man Boomer Esiason. Dave Sims and James Lofton will call Sunday Night broadcasts, while Ian Eagle and Randy Cross will handle the Thursday night games. Sunday afternoon games will be called by the first team of Howard David and Dan Reeves, while Kevin Kugler and Mark Malone will handle whichever afternoon game David does not call. Overflow (such as the opening Monday night doubleheader) and "extra" playoff games will be handled by Kevin Harlan and Warren Moon.

The NFL on radio continues to grow in Mexico for the upcoming season. Mexico City's XHM 88.9 will air Spanish language broadcasts of all Pittsburgh Steelers games. Not exactly within the Steelers' marketing territory, but it will be done. Actually, this is not a first. Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals broadcasts are also heard in Mexico.

Major League Baseball Network, which is coming off an excellent job of covering its first Hall of Fame Induction this past Sunday, continues to beef up the quality of its live telecasts over the next two weeks. This Thursday (7/30) it will be the Yankees at White Sox, in a MLB Network originated telecast with Bob Costas, while on Saturday (8/1) they will carry Houston at St. Louis. Next Thursday (8/6)it will be the Yankees vs. the Red Sox (also with Bob Costas) and on Saturday (8/8) it will be the Chicago Cubs at Colorado. As of this writing, each of these games is important for both teams involved. The only disappointment is that the Thursday originated telecasts are blacked out in the local team markets. I continue to feel that there should be an outcry over this, since we (the fans) pay a lot of money for cable or satellite TV and should have every available choice. If the local telecasts are good enough, most would watch them anyway. Let us decide.

ATLANTA: My contention that TV and radio rights will soon reduce to more realistic price points continues with the Braves losing their multi-million dollar deal with WGST, where estimates are the station lost millions from their 5-year deal which finishes up at the end of the current Braves season.

A new 5-year deal has been announced, for considerably less money, bringing the Braves games to WCNN 680 The Fan along with WNNX-FM 100.5. The Fan is gearing up for extended Braves related programming throughout its broadcast day in season, along with pre and post-game programming.

The Braves Radio Network of nearly 150 stations throughout the region will remain in tact.

HOUSTON: Sean Pendergast has signed a new 2-year agreement to remain on KGOW 1560. The station is also planning to add Tim Brando's syndicated show to begin the week of August 17th.

On the TV side, KTBU-TV has picked up the SEC Network football package through ESPN for the upcoming season. Dave Neal and Andre Ware are expected to be the announcing team for the 11 AM local time telecasts.

BOSTON: Lou Merloni is staying with with WEEI as a part of The Big Show with Glen Ordway. What makes this news is that new rival WBZ-FM reportedly made a significant offer in an attempt to pry Merloni away. Look for him to see an increase in his role with the station and WEEI.com. He is also expected to continue his TV work for Comcast SportsNet.

SAN DIEGO: The baseball season is as much a disaster for sports radio as it has been for the Padres. XX Sports had its lowest ratings ever during the baseball season for the month of June. Yet, it did not lose out to the sports radio competition, beating XTRA 1360 and ESPN 800 by at least a full ratings point for the month. Ouch.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM 980 began its newest show this past Monday (7/27) when Kevin Sheehan and Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro began "Sports Fix" during the Noon to 2 PM weekday slot.

LUBBOCK: Double T 104.3 is changing call letters to KTTU and has indeed gone to all sports with an emphasis on Texas Tech University sports. The sports station became official this past Monday (7/27). In an interesting twist to debut, the station borrowed a chapter from stations which have converted to a different music format and played hundreds or even thousands of songs in a row to introduce the format.

KTTU came on the air with a "guarantee" of a 15 game undefeated "season" for Texas Tech by replaying broadcasts of the "top 15 Texas Tech games of the decade, each of which ended in victory. To its credit, the station plans to add local programming in morning and afternoon drive plus 11 AM to 1 PM, with ESPN Radio shows occupying the remaining available time. In addition to TT sports, the station carries Rangers baseball and will also air Cowboys football broadcasts in addition to non-conflicting ESPN Radio game broadcasts.

This is good to see on all counts. An emphasis on local programming throughout the day, a ton of local, regional, and national play-by-play, and a unique feature of local interest to debut the station.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I am actually broadcasting half of the Monday Night games-spliting the schedule with Marv. That was left out of the release. A friend fwd your column. Thanks. KH