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)