Monday, October 12, 2009

Sports Media Report - Oct. 12th Update

It has been a very challenging week for the St. Louis Cardinals, their fans, and even for radio stations they helped to shape. From a media standpoint, it is more than recovering from the disappointing sweep by the L. A. Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs.

The huge news that for the first time in more than 35 years KMOX Radio is not the top rated station in St. Louis certainly has its place in this column. Yes, I know that for the past 2 seasons, the Cardinals games have been broadcast on a different station.

My point is that the Cardinals radio situation has resulted in defeat for all parties involved, separate from the team losing to the Dodgers.

This past regular season was the best for the team on the field since 2006 when the Cardinals went all the way to a World Series championship. And KMOX Radio aired every moment along the way.

Ever since the Cardinals bought into KTRS 550 and moved the broadcasts there, many fans have complained about signal and reception problems. Thousands of baseball-loving fans outside of the immediate St. Louis area not served by a Cardinals Radio Network station could no longer pick up the broadcasts at night.

While I understand that the Cardinals went revenue "now" from their broadcasts, they overlooked the future consequences when they no longer have avid fans between 50 and 200 miles from St. Louis who cannot easily receive the broadcasts anymore, and they become far less likely to attend games in St. Louis at least once per summer.

KMOX reportedly did all it could to keep the Cardinals broadcasts. And now, the ratings for the period of time leading into the Cardinals clinching their first Central Division title in 3 years show listeners are going away from KMOX.

Put those stories together, and it spells a bad decision all around. There is no way anyone can convince me that KMOX would lose its top ranking after 35+ years during a Cardinals clinching month if it still had the broadcasts.

If only the Cardinals had stuck to baseball and not plunged into the radio business. Ironically, this is an instance where a CBS Radio station lost audience because of something not their fault. Let's just say that a certain Cardinals outfielder wasn't the only one who "dropped the ball" in a crucial situation lately.

Speaking of dropping the ball, TBS made still another strange decision regarding its baseball coverage this past weekend. TBS was stuck with a nearly 3 hour window between games on Sunday (Oct. 11th) due to the Dodgers' sweep of the Cardinals. After the Angeles eliminated the Red Sox early Sunday afternoon, the network did a short post-game show with only a couple of on field interviews. Host Ernie Johnson was in the studio, as he would be later on the for the night doubleheader of telecasts from Minneapolis and Denver.

Yet, Johnson was alone for the afternoon session. How does this happen? What we wound up with was the night telecasts with, count 'em, three analysts in the studio bucking for air time. As a result, fans had no studio analyst for a clinching game. They can't use the excuse that Dennis Eckersley couldn't analyze the Red Sox, given that he did some Red Sox TV filling in (and quite well) for Jerry Remy throughout the season. After all, Red Sox TV voice Joe Orsillo called the series for TBS. You can't tell me they needed all 3 analysts to wrap up the Phillies-Rockies telecast of Sunday night which ran until after 2 AM ET on a Sunday night, and could not have been a series clinching game.

At least this move took away from Chip Caray's phantom play-by-play calls.

Then there was ESPN Radio putting Chris Berman on as play-by-play voice for its national broadcast of the Phillies and Rockies series opener. It is understandable that after 30 years of almost all TV work, Berman constantly forgot that listeners can't see what is happening when he talks. As a result, thousands of listeners, during a weekday afternoon when radio broadcasts have a bigger reach, had little to no idea of what just happened. This time, I don't blame Chris Berman. You can't tell me that ESPN Radio couldn't have gotten someone with years of radio play-by-play experience to take that plum assignment instead.

The time to blame Berman was, for example, in his Game 1 telecast play-by-play of the 2005 Division Series opener between the Red Sox and White Sox. When a ground ball went between the legs of the Boston 2nd baseman for a crucial error, Berman's call consisted of "OH.......NOOOOOO !!" on a national telecast with fans of both teams watching. But on the Phillies vs. Rockies radio broadcast, it wasn't his fault he was there.

Meanwhile, it is one thing when sports reporters bring facts together in order to speculate about a possible story. But it is another when callers to a sports station start doing the same. Have we gotten to that point?

The Zone 1280 in Salt Lake City had a very interesting group of callers last week just after the story broke that Dave Checketts (along with Rush Limbaugh) was teaming up to bid on the NFL St. Louis Rams. Checketts has ties to Utah. Among callers to the radio station was a man claiming to have seen a plan involving land supposedly set aside for an NFL stadium. Other callers pointed out how St. Louis lost the (NFL) Cardinals to Arizona in the late 80's and that the Rams moved there from Los Angeles. Interesting theory. It may or may not happen, and it might not even come to fruition, but that isn't the point. What got my attention was learning that callers to a radio station are tapping into a potential story.

On the TV side, the numbers continue to look good for the NFL. The Denver vs. New England overtime thriller on CBS this past Sunday will certain help. (Numbers not available at press time.)

But the great numbers for football across the board are already making an impact. CBS now reports that about 80% of its inventory is already sold for its February 7th Super Bowl telecast - reportedly at $2.5 million or more for a 30-second spot.

NEW YORK: Yankees telecast ratings on YES increased by nearly 10% over the course of the regular season, pushing it ahead of NESN as the most watched regional sports network in the country.

Even though fans couldn't actually see the studio, they might notice a different sound or feel to 660 WFAN as of this week. The Fan has now moved into the Manhattan studios of its CBS Radio sister stations, following 20+ years of broadcasting from Kaufman Studios in Queens.

PHILADELPHIA: ESPN Radio continues to try and rival WIP 610 for the sports audience. WPEN 950 AM is now being simulcast on 97.5 FM, and will continue to be split between local and ESPN national programming. Both stations are airing the baseball playoff broadcasts. This announcement comes just days after the latest ratings show that WIP has increased its overall audience by about one-third this year.

LOS ANGELES: While it is way too early to pass judgement, the latest ratings show KFWB 980 slipping into 34th place for the period which ended during September. Granted, the ratings period ended less than one month into the revised format (from News to News/Talk), but this time period included the Angels' run toward clinching the American League West Division title. It's not like beginning its NBA Clippers contract this month will make a splash. We'll see just how compatible Dr. Laura and the Clippers are on the same radio station.

BOSTON: WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub had an outstanding debut in its first month of ratings. From nowhere, WBZ-FM showed up in 11th place in 25-54 men, while scoring higher than the station "average" in this demographic for morning drive. These showings represent more than 1/2 of WEEI 850's audience in the same categories. Yet, both stations have reasons to be pleased. The WEEI 850 morning show with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan came in #1 in that demographic, while Glen Ordway in the afternoon did the same.

This is primarily a reflection of one of the strongest sports periods in Boston history. Even though the Red Sox were just eliminated, the Patriots continue a solid run, while the Bruins and Celtics begin seasons in which both are expected to make a solid playoff run.

CHICAGO: Sports radio in Chicago is seeing solid numbers from competitors WSCR The Score and WMVP ESPN Radio based on the most recent ratings. This is becoming quite the battle between the two. Overall, WMVP ranked 13th in the market, with WSCR right behind at 14th. In morning drive, WSCR ranks #7 with WMVP at #8. WMVP has the edge in afternoons, finishing 9th while WSCR ranked #15. In the 25-54 male category, WMVP finished #3 overall, with WSCR right behind at #4. To some, the demographic showing becomes even more impressive when you realize that a Spanish station is one of the 2 stations that finished higher.

The Score has made one improvment, although it is probably short-lived. Even though the station continues to air Dan Patrick's midday show on a significant delay late night, they knew to edit out segments about upcoming baseball post-season games which had already been completed by the time the show aired. Even though they did not change anything during the entire season of regular season games having been completed before airing the show.

DETROIT: "The Ticket" WXYT-FM is the ticket in the latest Motor City radio ratgings, showing an audience increase of more than 20%. And to think the ratings period concluded before the Lions actually won a game.

WASHINGTON D.C.: I'm sure the "Sports Hub" in Boston has this info plastered across every bulletin board in the station. The fan 106.7, which signed on just this past July, has already become the most popular sports station in D.C. in the 25-54 male demographic. Its audience increased by 38% in the 12+ age category, thus overtaking WTEM ESPN 980. In addition to U. of Maryland football and NFL broadcasts, The Fan begins NBA Wizards broadcasts this month.

HOUSTON: The KILT 610 morning show with Marc Vandermeer actually devoted portions of its morning show this past Thursday (Oct. 8) to the AHL's Houston Aeros. Vandermeer, the voice of the Texans, and John Lopez aired live from the Toyota Center Arena on the Aeros' Media Day and interviewed team officials and players. Even though Houston does not have an NHL team, it is unusual for a station of that size to devote morning drive time to hockey, let alone a minor league team.

TENTATIVE COLLEGE FOOTBALL ON TV for this week (subject to change, times Eastern):

Wednesday, Oct. 14
8:00: Boise St. at Tulsa, ESPN

Thursday, Oct. 15
7:30: Cincinnati at South Florida, ESPN
7:30: Howard at Morgan St., ESPNU
8:00: Virginia Union at Virginia St. (D-II), CBS College

Friday, Oct. 16
8:00: Pittsburgh at Rutgers, ESPN

Saturday, Oct. 17
12:00: Oklahoma vs. Texas, ABC
12:00: Ohio State at Purdue, BTN
12:00: Delaware St. at Michigan, BTN
12:00: Iowa at Wisconsin, ESPN
12:00: Northwestern at Michigan St., ESPN2
12:30: Mississippi State at Middle Tennessee, ESPNU
12:30: Princeton at Brown, Versus

3:30: Minnesota at Penn State, ABC
3:30: Arkansas at Florida, CBS
3:30: Houston at Tulane, CBS College
3:30: N.C. State at Boston College, ESPN
3:30: Southern Cal at Notre Dame, NBC
4:00: Virginia at Maryland, ESPNU
4:00: Colorado St. at Texas Christian, Versus
6:00: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, ESPN2
7:00: Illinois at Indiana, BTN
7:30: Miami (Fla.) at Central Florida, CBS College
7:30: Kentucky at Auburn, ESPNU
7:30: Stanford at Arizona, Versus
7:45: South Carolina at Alabama, ESPN
9:15: Missouri at Oklahoma St., ESPN2

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