Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sports Media Update - Sept. 23rd

Have the TV people and the NFL done "too good" of a marketing job? It may be only 2 weeks into the season, but I see some indications of this. Over the years, the NFL has been the most effective of the pro sports leagues in terms of building up the league as a whole.

Even the casual football fan finds appeal in watching a good matchup involving the Cowboys, Patriot, and Colts (among others) simply based on the success of these teams and their key players over the years. NBC has had major success with its first 2 Sunday Night Football telecasts, while ESPN had record viewership for a cable telecast for its Monday Night Football game this week. In fact, the Colts-Dolphins game ranks as the biggest cable TV audience of the year for anything.

Obviously, these huge ratings mean that the audience is coming from well beyond the market territory of the participating teams. So why is this "too good"?

Stories were published leading into the season about certain teams being concerned about not selling out their games and having telecasts blacked out. This past Sunday, the Detroit Lions game was televised in Detroit because the blackout deadline was extended another 24 hours. It barely made the deadline, even though it was Brett Favre's first appearance in Detroit since having left the Packers. But the outcome of the game was never in question, as the Lions lost still again. The Jacksonville Jaguars loss to Arizona was blacked out locally. Both of those games were Fox telecasts, and early indications are that Fox-TV's NFL ratings were down for week 2 compared with week 1 and last season.

The San Diego Chargers game also sold out only because of the 24 hour extension. It was shown locally in both San Diego and Los Angeles.

My hunch is that the fans in Jacksonville were probably happier with the "better" game they got early. Some Lions fans were probably upset at the sellout, since they could have seen a better quality game had it not. Therein lies my point. The NFL has marketed the league and the out of town teams so well that in many instances the fans prefer out of town matchups to the local teams.

Need more proof? Fans in Houston had the Houston Texans vs. Tennessee as the first televised game of the day, and of course had the Cowboys vs. Giants game on NBC Sunday Night Football later on. The Texans are not expected to set the league on fire. Which telecast had more viewers? The Cowboys-Giants game wound up with .8 higher ratings in the Houston market. And if CBS wasn't airing The Emmy Awards against it, there is no telling how NBC would have fared.

The teams with crappy records either don't or barely sell out. Yet, interesting matchups on Sunday and Monday nights generate significant ratings in only the first 2 weeks of a young season. The NFL appeal has reached a point where fans will watch the best matchups, regardless of the home team.

If the attendance concerns really were due to the economy, then even the better matchups wouldn't sell out.

This could be a push for local radio. There is the percentage of fans who are not going to buy tickets this season that will listen on the radio since they can't see the game on local TV when it doesn't sell out.

It is not just the NFL with increased ratings. The college game with Florida vs. Tennessee this past Saturday on CBS-TV drew a rating 60% higher than for the same matchup last season. It wound up as CBS' highest rated telecast this early in the season since Sept. 7, 2002, and the U. of Florida was in that game (against rival Miami).

Personally, I think this trend is great. With ticket prices, parking, concessions, and fans being gouged just to go to a game these days, staying home or going to a gathering place to watch the best matchups sends a message to the home team that they need to be competitive in order to fill the seats. The will to win is, or at least should be, what sports is all about.

Meanwhile, a TV oddity in New York City this Sunday. Both the Jets and Giants will be on at the same since the Jets moved their kick off against Tennessee up to the early game due to the Yom Kippur holiday. For the same reason, Jets and Giants fans who are also Yankees fans face additional competition, as the Yankees vs. Red Sox game was moved from Sunday Night to the afternoon. The baseball game will be seen on ESPN which does Sunday Night Baseball during the afternoon. TBS will not show a game this Sunday, instead showing the Yankees and Red Sox on Friday night in prime time.

LOOKING AHEAD: CBS-TV has announced that it will show the LSU at Georgia game at 3:30 PM ET on Saturday Oct. 3, with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on the call.

But ESPN is looking past next week. They have announced their 2010 college football opening telecast for next September 2nd. North Carolina will play LSU at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. So now when you get your 2010 calendar, you have a September event to pencil in.

ESPN is ready to welcome college hoops with another 24 hour marathon of games on November 17th. It starts at 12 Midnight ET with Cal State Fullerton at UCLA on ESPN. A live telecast from Hawaii will be game 3, starting at 4 AM ET, and Temple at Georgetown airs at 4 PM ET. By the way, Nov. 17th is a Tuesday.

LOS ANGELES: UCLA basketball won't be hard to find for local TV viewers when its season starts in November. As of now, 26 of its games are scheduled to be televised. In addition to 15 games shown as part of the Pac 10 Conference packages with ESPN, CBS, and Fox Sports Net, 8 games will be seen on Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West. ESPN will also show their 3 games in the 76 Classic in Anaheim on Thanksgiving weekend.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP 610 will handle both the Sixers and Flyers broadcasts for the upcoming season, but the station will not have control over the advertisers. How times have changed. The teams will oversee their own broadcast advertising and package sponsorships with other opportunities beyond the broadcasts themselves.

For the past couple of years we have been bombarded with reports on how radio stations are cutting back on jobs, programming, and whatever other costs they can think of. They search for ways to increase revenue. Then they let pro teams take over game broadcast revenue. Now a sponsor can spend additional money on game program magazines, arena signage, corporate seats and boxes, and promotional giveaway items. With money that in the past may well have been spent sponsoring other team or sports related programming on the radio station.

SAN DIEGO: It seems like old news even though it begins, again, on Monday October 5th. Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton in afternoon drive on San Diego sports radio. After weeks of speculation, Hacksaw begins on XX1090 AM in the 3 - 7 PM slot. He will continue to call NFL games for Compass Sports. It is a long way from past years when he called Chargers games, San Diego State, or USC football. Hamilton has always been a good fit in San Diego because of his vast knowledge of national sports. With so many transplanted sports fans, San Diego is not the typical market in terms of non-stop talk about only the local teams.

SAN FRANCISCO: Three of the inductees to The Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame at next Tuesday's (Sept. 29) ceremony are or were sports broadcasters. Most noteworthy is Hank Greenwald, the voice of the Giants from 1980 to 1996.

You may remember the call of "The band is on the field!!!" from the famous Cal Berkeley game in 1982. He is still the voice of Cal Bears football, but Joe Starkey was also Sports Director at KGO for 30 years.

Going back a few years, the 3rd sports honoree is Cliff Johnsen, who called San Francisco 49ers games back in the 1940's. That was so long ago it was before the All-America Football Conference "merged" with the NFL in 1950 and included the 49ers. Congrats are in order to all 3, who have brought thousands and thousands of hours of enjoyment to Bay Area sports fans.

KTRB 860 has a new Sports Director, but he is far from new to the market. Ken Dito takes over the position on the station, which now carries the A's games and Stanford football. Dito called A's games years ago on KSFO and KFRC, and was at KNBR as far back as 1979.

DALLAS: The radio ratings for August again show that males 25-54 are The Ticket. In that key demographic, The Ticket shows more than double the audience of ESPN Radio, which has a slight lead over The Fan.

TAMPA: NHL Hal of Famer Phil Esposito will host a one hour segment on WHBO 1040, which is the local ESPN station. It will air from 1 - 2 PM local time each Wednesday afternoon. My thinking is that Espo is being groomed to do a show in Boston, where he had the best of his Hall of Fame bound seasons, and where ESPN needs to make inroads into that crowded sports radio market. This show doesn't figure to be on because Tampa is such a hockey hotbed, especially airing once a week on a Wednesday afternoon.

REDDING CAL.: After a year and a half, sports radio is on the comeback as of this week, as KNRO 1670 debuted its syndicated lineup of Fox Sports Radio programming on Monday (Sept. 21). No word yet about regional play-by-play, but speculation is that Giants, 49ers, and Kings play-by-play could happen within the next year.

NORFOLK: ESPN Radio moves to 94.1 FM as of Monday Oct. 5th. At that time WGH 1310 will change formats, except for keeping James Madison U. play-by-play.

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