Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sports Media Report - Sept. 29th Update

After a year or so of preaching about this, I am pleased to see that HD Radio channels are finally about to be used for unique content and a niche audience, literally starting this week.

For months and months I have campaigned for stations to use their HD channels for something other than experimental music formats or as a way to play 600 songs over and over again instead of 500. And I knew that sports is a big part of the solution.

WXDX-FM Pittsburgh starts "Pittsburgh Penguins Radio" on 105.9 HD2 this Thursday October 1, hours before the defending Stanley Cup champions begin their new regular season. Sports Business Journal reports this is a partnership between the team and the station.

More importantly, the channel plans 6 hours a day of live programming from the beginning. The advertiser supported service will include a simulcast of Sirius XM Radio "NHL Live" and other league content, at least to start, within the 6 hour live block. Yet, unique programming is also included from the start. A "Daily Players' Playlist" is planned to feature one-half hour of music, which would be favorite songs of Penguins players. A great idea! The avid fans (and that's who would be listening) get a specific idea of which songs their favorite players enjoy, and it is likely to be a variety of music that no single radio station would play.

The Penguins are likely not the only team to do this, as reports say that the Dallas Cowboys and KRLD are next to do something along these lines. The possibilities become even greater for player features, given the 53 man NFL roster compared with 20 for NHL teams.

As great and as overdue of an idea as this is, it still needs to be well marketed in order to succeed. It remains a very low percentage of consumers who own or have access to an HD Radio.
Normally, I wouldn't give out "free" marketing advice to entities which are not a client. But in the interest of seeing "sports team radio" succeed, I am going to pass along 2 ways to help kick start this innovation.

First, I would keep in mind that the team and the advertisers are doing this to reach as large of an audience as possible to spur interest in the team and sales related to it such as tickets and merchandise. I don't have any numbers, but I would say that the number of HD Radio listeners in the Pittsburgh market is probably much less than the number of seats for sale in the arena they play in.

Until HD Radio is more commonplace, I would also stream the channel online. This opens it up for thousands more fans, and obviously helps the advertisers by presenting banner and other direct response opportunities for their sponsorship dollars.

2) I would understand the need to increase the penetration of HD Radio. If it were up to me, the team, station, and/or advertisers would purchase a block of HD Radios in bulk. I would send them out to season ticket holders, and probably to clients who purchase a suite or skybox for the games. A $50 or less premium for people or companies which spend thousands of dollars with the team and would figure to be frequent listeners.

Marketed properly, this sort of thing could be the shot of salvation that radio needs. The teams do not (yet) have their own TV channels or the immediate possibility of live and interactive programming 24 hours a day focused on the specific team in its market area.

In addition, from a competition standpoint, a team's flagship station has a nice weapon against other stations with a sports format. If a Penguins fan can hear "Steve from Pittsburgh wants to talk about who should start at left wing" on the sports station, or hear that same left wing's favorite songs and more talk about the team throughout the day, that sports talk show is going to lose some listeners.

A shot and a goal on this one.

Meanwhile, football on TV continues to be a huge story, again, from this past weekend. Both in terms of ratings and coverage.

Let's give a lot of credit to Sam Rosen on Fox this past Sunday. For saying nothing. He was in position to call Brett Favre's last minute TD pass to Greg Lewis for the Vikings' big comeback victory. He called it enthusiastically, as you would expect. Then, he knew what to do. Say nothing. He sat back and let the pictures and the roar of the crowd say it better than anything he could say. Vin Scully would have been proud. Scully is a master at knowing when to be quiet, and now Rosen applied it to a significant NFL moment.

In New York City, the ratings people had a field day this past Sunday, as the Jewish holiday forced the Jets, Giants, Yankees, and Mets telecasts to all overlap at some point at the same time.

The "winner" wound up being the Jets, although many feel it is because their game was the most compelling. The Giants easy win over Tampa actually started out with higher ratings than the Jets, but as it became one-sided fans tuned over to the Jets game, which wound up with a 24-17 Jets win.

On the baseball side, the rain delay of about one hour at the start of the Yankees game resulted in an increase of over 25% in total audience for the last portion of the game. Due to the rain, this game did not climax until after the Jets and Giants games were over. But this was an important game for the Yankees, as they clinched the East Division championship over the rival Red Sox, whom they were playing. The Yankees telecast had nearly 4 times higher ratings than the Mets vs. Florida game on Channel 11, which finished a distant fourth in the imaginery 4 local teams ratings battle for the day.

The Jets and Giants going head to head is rare. I couldn't remember the last time it happened. Neil Best of Newsday came up with an October date in 1984 as the last time they went head to head, pointing out that this was back when the Sunday World Series game was played late afternoon and would compete against the NFL doubleheader game.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the early Monday Night Football ratings for the Carolina at Dallas game were looking strong. The Dallas market supposedly came in with nearly a 34 rating (that is rating - not share), with Charlotte around 30. The final numbers are expected to show this as one of the most watched shows of any type on cable this season.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals last minute win over the defending champ Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly drew a 35.8 local rating and a 57% share on WKRC-TV. The highest Bengals ratings in 3 years since, you guessed it, a September 2006 game against Pittsburgh.

Despite the showing in Cincinnati, CBS saw a national decline of about 18% from the Steelers vs. the Bears on week 2, and down almost 14% from its week 3 doubleheader telecast one year ago.
ESPN has added former manager and player Bobby Valentine as an analyst for its baseball related programming for the upcoming post-season. Valentine has not worked with ESPN since 2003. I haven't heard him for a long time either. Now we will get to find out if Valentine still sounds exactly like Al Michaels when he projects his voice.

DENVER: Baseball fans who go back to the days of the minor league Denver Bears, as well as those of the Rockies, will lose a connection after the Rockies' last game. Jeff Kingery, the voice of the team since their first game ever in 1993 (and voice of the Denver Bears going back to 1981) is leaving the broadcast team after the final out of the Rockies' season (or post-season). He is not retiring and denies that this is a financially motivated change by the team or KOA. They will have plenty of applicants, but those will be some tough shoes to fill for next season.

104.3 The Fan has exiled Sandy Clough into evenings. Make that "most" evenings, since Monday Night Football broadcasts will pre-empt his show. This move also comes just as Mile High Sports 1510 begins broadcasts of the Avalanche games this week and the NBA Nuggets broadcasts are not far behind. This means that on the weeknights Clough is on, he will be competing against a lot of local play-by-play.

DETROIT: Fox Sports Detroit gets ready for the return of the Red Wings starting this Thursday (10/1). The network has scheduled more than 40 hours of Red Wings programming over the first 10 days of the month, which includes surrounding their first 3 games of the season, and player profile features.

CHICAGO: The season opener for the Blackhawks will be overseas, so it will be interesting to see audience ratings for their season opener. It will be shown live on Comcast SportsNet this Friday (10/2) at 11 AM local time. This will be a first. Lunch time hockey on TV for the workforce on a weekday afternoon.

HOUSTON: Fox Sports Houston will feature the Texas Tech vs. New Mexico game this Saturday (10/3) on Fox Sports Plus due to a conflict with an Astros telecast. They will also show Baylor vs. Kent State at 6 PM. The network has added the Texas A & M vs. Oklahoma State game at 11:30 AM on the following Saturday Oct. 10th.

Speaking of the coming weekend's college football, in Eastern time:

Thu, Oct 1 7:30 p.m. Colorado at West Virginia ESPN
7:30 p.m. Alcorn State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff ESPNU

Fri, Oct 28 p.m. Pittsburgh at Louisville ESPN2

Sat, Oct 3
Noon Florida State at Boston College or Wisconsin at Minnesota ESPN or ESPN2
Noon Wisconsin at Minnesota or Arkansas State at Iowa or Florida State at Boston College ESPN or ESPN2
Noon Clemson at Maryland ESPNU
Noon Arkansas State at Iowa ESPN Classic (possible)
Noon Alabama at Kentucky SEC Network 3
:30 p.m. Oklahoma at Miami or Florida State at Boston College * ABC or ESPN
Penn State at Illinois ABC or ESPN UCLA at Stanford ABC
3:30 p.m. N.C. State at Wake Forest ESPNU
7 p.m. Mississippi at Vanderbilt ESPNU
7 p.m. South Carolina State at South Carolina ESPN Classic
7:30 p.m. Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (from Cowboys Stadium) ESPN2
7:45 p.m. Auburn at Tennessee ESPN
8 p.m. USC at California ABC
10:30 p.m. Colorado State at Idaho ESPNU

Here is the national TV schedule for the first month of the NHL season:

Oct. 1
7:00 Washington vs. Boston (VERSUS)
10:00 San Jose vs. Colorado (VERSUS)
Oct. 2

12:00 Florida vs. Chicago (VERSUS)
3:00 Detroit vs. St. Louis (VERSUS)
7:30 NY Rangers vs. Pittsburgh (NHL Network)
Oct. 3

12:00 Chicago vs. Florida (NHL Network)
3:00 St. Louis vs. Detroit (NHL Network)
7:00 Toronto vs. Washington (NHL Network)
10:00 Calgary vs. Edmonton (NHL Network)
Oct. 5 7:00 NY Rangers vs. New Jersey (VERSUS)
Oct. 6 7:00 Washington vs. Philadelphia (VERSUS)
Oct. 7 7:30 Phoenix vs. Pittsburgh (NHL Network)
Oct. 8 7:30 Chicago vs. Detroit (NHL Network)
Oct. 10 7:00 Pittsburgh vs. Toronto (NHL Network)
Oct. 12 8:00 Calgary vs. Chicago (VERSUS)
Oct. 13 7:00 Detroit vs. Buffalo (VERSUS)
Oct. 19 7:00 San Jose vs. NY Rangers (VERSUS)
Oct. 20 7:00 St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh (VERSUS)
Oct. 21 8:30 Vancouver vs. Chicago (NHL Network)
Oct. 22 7:00 Boston vs. Philadelphia (NHL Network)
Oct. 24 7:00 NY Rangers vs. Montreal (NHL Network)
Oct. 26 8:00 Minnesota vs. Chicago (VERSUS)
Oct. 27 7:00 Philadelphia vs. Washington (VERSUS)
Oct. 28 10:30 Los Angeles vs. San Jose (NHL Network)
Oct. 29 7:00 Washington vs. Atlanta (NHL Network)
Oct. 31 7:00 Toronto vs. Montreal (NHL Network)

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