Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 2nd

Sports, media, and money all come together as one everywhere I look this week. Or so it seems. The financial officers watching the bottom line for radio and TV stations continue to overlook that many of the teams they are bidding and negotiating rights with are quickly becoming their competition just as much as the stations they may be bidding against.

Radio and TV stations and network bid for and pay millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast and telecast teams and events. They do this for two reasons. They sell advertising time to generate revenue with the idea being to sell enough time to recover and hopefully profit from the money paid for exclusive broadcast rights over the course of a season. The other reason is for ratings, with the hope that a higher audience for the station will allow them to raise advertiser rates and increase profits.

Yet, 2 stories this week seem to conflict with this concept. Subway Restaurants has implemented a heavy promotion with the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets. Local fans can purchase 4 footlong subs and receive a voucher for 4 tickets to one of a select group of Blue Jackets games for only $5 each. So it's not free, but that is a significant discount.

As part of this promotion, Subway will receive broadcast promotional messages and "broadcast inventory", which translates to radio and/or TV commercials, along with arena signage.

From a fan's point of view, this is a great opportunity, and as a "priced out" fan I hope other teams will adopt this.

Also this week, StubHub has signed a long term deal with the Big East Conference specific to the Conference basketball tournament. From a fan point of view, I don't care. There are no specially priced or free tickets for the tournament. But that's not why StubHub did this deal.

As of now, the Big East is the ONLY conference already scheduled to have every conference tourney game nationally televised. You guessed it. This means that every game on TV will include StubHub signage throughout the game all across the country. Reportedly other benefits include signage outside of Madison Square Garden, and a presence on the Big East web site, along with radio spots and still other benefits.

What does this have to do with radio and TV stations and networks? My point is it has plenty. Both entities doing these promotions are major national advertisers that have spent millions of dollars on TV and radio buys for years.

Yet, because TV and radio stations and networks are allowing the teams and even conferences to retain a certain amount of advertising and promotional time, these stations and networks are losing revenue.

My point is that some teams and conferences are becoming their own media. Some are handling at least some of the advertising and promotional inventory on broadcasts, and collecting their own revenue in the process. Add in the teams' ability to include one or more web sites, arena and stadium signage (much of which always finds its way into telecasts), event programs, and technology innovations such as text alerts for fans, the teams are in competition for the media dollars.

Just last week I commented on how some NBA teams, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, have the "TV companion" which provides fans online with so much information and interaction that they almost don't need to follow the telecasts. And in the process see advertising the team has sold.

Between all of this, and inklings of several pro teams considering forming their own networks (such as the Yankees have done with YES), it has me wondering if teams would be handling everything on their own for broadcasts and telecasts of games 20 years from now. With support from dollars that used to be spent on radio and TV advertising.

Meanwhile, an interesting note from Sports Business Journal. Between MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL, the league that has the largest proportion of viewers aged 12 to 17 happens to be.............the NBA.

Maybe it's the shoes? Probably not. But this is the generation that will go on to be in the prime advertising demographic within the next 8 to 13 years. Considering the incredible ratings the NFL has right now, this is worth noting. This is how the NBA is rebounding (pardon the pun) some six years without Michael Jordan playing, after many feared a significant decline in fan interest.

It looks like NBA ratings on TV are also in for a rise this season. For example, the Chicago Bulls lost their last 5 games during November, yet Comcast SportsNet Chicago reports a 41% ratings increase for the games it televised during the first month of the season compared with November of last year. Even their post-game show ratings have risen, although that is probably due to 7:00 local time starts for home games, putting the post-game show on prior to 10 PM.

On the NFL side, what an "ooops" for the NFL Network on Thanksgiving night during the Denver vs. N Y Giants telecast. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was wearing a microphone during the game. For obvious reasons, the comments that made the air were done on delay. At least they should have been obvious reasons. Yet, nobody at NFL Network caught the f-word that they played on the air via tape delay.

Usually instances of players or coaches using profanity when aired live are excused because it's the nature of the business and the risk taken. But when it still happens on tape delay? Bob Papa apologized instantly, and the Network later admitted that no one in the production trucks heard what was said. And that telecast turned out to be the NFL Network's highest rated one out of the 4 Thanksgivings they have done a night game.

In case you missed it, NBC changed its Sunday Night Football game for this week (Dec. 6) to Minnesota at Arizona. The New England-Miami game goes back to CBS as an early regional game.

LOS ANGELES: The Angels are eliminating musical chairs among announcing teams and going with one team for radio and one for TV. Rory Markas and Mark Gubicza will handle all telecasts for both Fox Sports West and KCOP, while Terry Smith and Jose Mota will handle the radio broadcasts. However, this elimiates Steve Physioc from the Angels' booth after 14 seasons, which was the longest tenure of any of the Angels broadcasters. Also gone is Rex Hudler who worked with Physioc. Steve will continue to do Pac 10 basketball for Fox this season. Here's hoping he winds up with a baseball gig after 25 years of play-by-play. Fans will recall him from his days of doing baseball on ESPN.

HOUSTON: It will be interesting to see how the 4 sports station race fares in the near future without Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler on KILT 610. Jackson scored excellent ratings as afternoon co-host and was with KILT for 9 years.

Robert Henslee steps into the afternoon spot, and is expected to continue his duties as producer on the Texans radio network. No permanent replacement yet for nights when there are no Rockets broadcasts.

Comcast SportsNet Southwest did U. of Houston fans a nice service by picking up their 3 games from the Great Alaska Shootout last weekend, including last Thursday's (Nov. 26) 10:30 PM local time start.

St. LOUIS: The economy seems to be playing with KSLG's schedule as Brian McKenna has been "laid off" from the station. Joe Pelusi and Charlie Marlow will take over mornings starting January 4th, with Evan Makovsky handling the spot for December on an interim basis. Evan was previously with KFNS 590.

DETROIT: A double whammy for Pistons fans last Friday (Nov. 28). Not only did they lose at home to the L.A. Clippers, but much of the second half telecast was not seen in Detroit. There was a small fire in the production truck of FSN Detroit, limiting viewers to a feed from the scoreboard at The Palace. The last few minutes of the telecast had George Blaha narrating the scoreboard feed. That's almost like combat pay for George. Narrating "his" team under odd circumstances while losing a home game to the Clippers.

CINCINNATI: As of press time late Wednesday it was possible that Thom Brennaman could be calling a telecast from Cincinnati yet not be seen or heard on a rare weekend in his hometown. Thom is scheduled to call the Bengals game when they host the Detroit Lions on Sunday, a Fox regional telecast. The game may not sell out and thus would be blacked out in Cincinnati. Some will argue that if it doesn't sell out it would be absurd considering how the Bengals are probably the biggest surprise in the NFL this year. I'll argue that for what it costs to go to an NFL game, fans are entitled to better competition than the Lions, and might prefer watching a more competitive game on TV instead. Brennaman has also been chosen by Fox to call the Sugar Bowl on Fox on New Year's Day.

MILWAUKEE: First, re-read the last paragraph. Then note that the lowest rated Packers telecast of this season in Milwaukee was this past Thursday on Thanksgiving Day - when the Packers were the only pro game being show. The opponent was none other than the Detroit Lions. I rest my case.

Those who analyze the TV ratings will chalk it up to Brett Favre and the Vikings for last Sunday's (Nov. 29) telecast against Chicago finishing as the highest rated "non-Packers" telecast in Milwaukee in the past 2 seasons. Although Favre is certainly a ratings draw in Milwaukee and Green Bay, he wasn't the difference this time. Packers fans enjoyed seeing the rival Chicago Bears get trounced, no matter whose team does it. There are exceptions, and that telecast was one. Even more curious, the Indy vs. Houston game scored a higher rating in Milwaukee than the Philly vs. Washington game did. The threat of Indy losing for much of that game was very much noticed.

NEW JERSEY: NBC 40 in Wildwood has brought back sportscaster Pete Thompson for its 6 and 11 PM shows despite having released him due to budget cuts earlier this year. Thompson continues on ESPN Radio 97.3.

MARYLAND: Sorry to learn of the passing of Dwight Dingle last week at the age of 63 due to heart disease. Dingle broadcast literally hundreds of games in Carroll County on WTTR, a station owned by Pat Sajak. His first local broadcasts were in 1974, and over the years he called some Division II final four games, Division III football and basketball, and Babe Ruth Baseball Regional games.

ORLANDO: WAMT 1190 began this month of December by changing to Spanish and picking up ESPN Deportes.

WEST VIRGINIA: MetroNews Sports has been granted a 3-year extension of its rights to broadcast high school football, basketball, and baseball championship games, running through at least the 2012 baseball championships. The 60 station network has already broadcast more than 1,200 games going back more than 20 years. How refreshing to find a sports tradition that continues as is.

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