Monday, March 30, 2009

Sports Media Update - March 31.....................

The story of Ohio State University selling "media rights" for its sports programs in a $110,000,000 deal came and went on Monday as if it was just another sports and media story. IMG marketing, along with RadiOhio will have a 10 year deal to market Ohio State play-by-play, coaches shows, available TV games (as in those not on a national network or the Big Ten Network), and programs and related school print and online publications.

110 million dollars?? That is staggering. First, I thought about how risky I think this is for IMG, at least for the near future based on today's economic conditions. School spirit or not, I don't see major advertisers forking over the big bucks easily enough for extra radio and TV spots. I say "extra" because this is not a year-round and consistently scheduled opportunity. It is not as though a sponsor would have, for example, 2 hours of time every Saturday between 2 and 4 PM no matter what.

Next, I naturally wonder how much ticket prices for the games will drop, and how much tuition will drop, since the University will be receiving an "extra" $11,000,000 per year, not counting revenue such as more than 88,000 people buying tickets for each home football game. Of course, tuition won't drop and ticket prices will hold steady or rise during the next 11 years. That is my point here.

And then, in reading the Associated Press story about this, it reports Athletic Director Gene Smith saying "the arrangement will help maintain the financial stability of Ohio State's 36 sports".

Maintain? Did I miss something here? Is this kind of money necessary to "maintain" financial stability? Does this mean that if this contract hadn't come along, Ohio State might not have been able to continue its sports programs?

I don't think so, either. And that is my point. Sorry, but way too few people will benefit from this arrangement. Yet, other large schools will now start to command a similar arrangement, and this, too, will get out of control.

Yes, this is a media column. But I fail to see the benefit for electronic media from this agreement. Right now we have radio stations cutting corners at every opportunity when not creating opportunities to cut corners. We are seeing pro teams accepting revenue shares and doing their own audience research as they recognize that radio stations can no longer justify hefty rights fees.

Between ESPN/ABC and the Big Ten Network, any meaningful football or basketball game will be picked up. I don't see TV stations bidding against each other to be able to televise OSU whipping North Podunk State 72-3 in a non-conference game every September. And frankly, TV stations shouldn't have to. This is college sports. Or, at least it should be. This just doesn't seem right.

While this is going on with college sports, pro sports continue to become way too much marketing and less about competition and results. The teams continue to forget that all regular season games count equally in the standings. Yet, from one day to the next teams force us to endure different uniforms for the same teams, "premium" ticket prices against certain teams, and forcing even the most avid fan to have to search to find what station his or her favorite team is seen on that night.

The uniform thing is getting out of hand. Last week, the Chicago Bulls supposedly honored a Latino target promotion by wearing uniforms for a nationally televised game saying "Los Bulls" on them. Say what? Like they couldn't have shown a pre-game ceremony and a speech or two. Does it have to disrupt the game itself with a different uniform. This while practically every spring training telecast I have seen has both teams wearing dark jerseys and making it near impossible to tell which team is which. But the media goes along with this as if it is no big deal.

As a real kicker, the NFL wants to honor the 50th Anniversary of the American Football League this coming season. So here we go again. Believe it or not, the Houston Oilers will be honored by a team wearing the old Oilers jerseys for 3 regular season games. That team? The Tennessee Titans, which used to be the Houston Oilers. Tennessee has no connection to that, while the fans in Houston will see that and get further distanced from the Texans.

BALTIMORE: 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore got national publicity for its Orioles broadcasts over this past weekend. By not finishing what they started. The spring training game being broadcast by Joe Angel and Fred Manfra went into a rain delay after just 1 inning. After about 90 minutes, the game resumed and was finished. But fans never heard the remainder of the game. Management sent the announcing and production team back to the hotel, not wanting to wait out the delay. On Monday, the station finally apologized and admitted it was a management error, after Angel and Manfra were taken to task in the media as if they had themselves decided to give it up.

Congrats to Dick Enberg from the announcement that Enberg will receive the 2nd annual Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting on May 6 in New York City.

Always great to see the baseball season get underway, and baseball fans welcome in the MLB Network and its extensive nightly coverage. MLB Network will be showing a live game each Thursday night (instead of the originally touted Saturday night telecast). The Network will originate 2 of its telecasts during April. On April 16, Bob Costas, Harold Reynolds, and Jim Kaat will call the Yankees vs. Cleveland in the opener at the new Yankee Stadium. On April 23, Matt Vasgersian and Joe Magrane will call the Dodgers vs. Astros game from Houston.

ESPN kicks the season off big time. In addition to the Sunday opener from Philadelphia, ESPN and ESPN2 combine to show 5 games on Monday, with these all Eastern time:

1:00: N.Y. Mets at Cincinnati, ESPN
2:00: Tampa Bay at Boston, ESPN2
4:00: N.Y. Yankees at Baltimore, ESPN
7:00: Chicago Cubs at Houston, ESPN2
9:00: Oakland at L.A. Angels, ESPN

However, games will be blacked out in the local markets. Sorry, but I still contend that us fans pay a lot of money for cable, which in turn pays these networks for programming, and we should not have any telecasts blacked out. If viewers prefer a national to a local telecast, then make the local telecasts more appealing.

On the football side, ESPN has moved another college telecast time for this fall. The Ole Miss vs. Memphis opener has been moved from the night of Saturday Sept. 5 to Sunday Sept. 6 at 2:30 PM local time. Yes - a Sunday afternoon NCAA football telecast in September. (Keep in mind that is the day before Labor Day and the week before the NFL openers.)

NEW YORK - WPEN 1050 has officially moved Brandon Tierney into the 10 AM to Noon hosting spot.

Ageless Warner Wolf is now doing double duty on Saturday mornings. Wolf is on from 6 to 8 AM on WEPN 1050, and then appears with Mark Simone on WABC 770 during the 8 to 9 AM hour. Fine, as long as Warner doesn't do a "like I said before" on Simone's show.

CHICAGO - WGN Radio has officially named Judd Sirott as its third member of the Cubs radio team. Sirott will handle pre and post-game duties as well as up to one inning of play-by-play each game to relieve Pat Hughes. Sirott is better known for his work on hockey, having previously done PBP for the NHL and for the minor league Chicago Wolves. He also handles studio segments during WGN's NHL Blackhawks broadcasts, which began on WGN this season. It is not yet known how Sirott will handle conflicts during Blackhawks playoff time, when WGN will have to move one of the broadcasts.

DALLAS - KTCK 1310 The Ticket dominated the local sports radio scene again during the February ratings. The Ticket literally had double the audience over ESPN 103.3 in the 25-54 age group from 6 AM to 7 PM.

HOUSTON - KBME 790 AM has extended its coverage of University of Houston football and basketball for another 3 years. Unlike the Ohio State deal, this is a more typical revenue share even though the school actually retains a portion of the broadcast inventory. KBME is expanding the football coverage to include broadcasting the spring game on April 18th. Tom Franklin continues as play-by-play voice for both sports,

DES MOINES - As we figured last week, the two broadcasters involved in the profanity filled argument which wound up on the air were both dismissed by KXNO. Being a Clearance Channel station, this rift provided an excuse to get rid of two more contracts, so they did. For Marty Tirrell, the matter was made worse when he also lost his weekly TV spot on KCCI-TV. Larry Cotlar, the other who was let go, still may or may not lose his gig as play-by-play voice for Drake University basketball. Cotlar does have time on his side, since the next hoops broadcast isn't until November.

PROVIDENCE - Congrats to George Duffy, the voice of the Rhode Island Reds hockey team for almost 40 years from the 40's into the 80's. At the age of 88, George is being inducted into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. Maybe we can all make Rhode Island one of the biggest states in the country for just one night in his honor.

Play ball!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sports Media Report - March 24th update

The NCAA Basketball Tournament continues this week and weekend, as popular as ever, and from a media standpoint, shows us why radio doesn't have anywhere the role it once did for sports fans. I have tried to come up with an idea for radio to make a difference during the tournament games, but so far have drawn a blank.

Quick - which radio station in your market is broadcasting the NCAA Tournament games (other than a local team's broadcast) this weekend? Chances are you had to stop and think, if you even knew for sure.

The reason is the other forms of electronic media have provided us with enough reasons to forget about radio while the games are going on, unless there is no other choice.

People with high end cell phone service or a Blackberry can get instant details (if not live coverage) in the palm of their hand. Those who had online access during last Thursday and Friday's daytime slate of games could have a refreshing scoreboard of all of the games - as a second option.

The online "March Madness On Demand" streaming of all of the games live was reportedly up more than 60% from last year. More and more can watch whatever game they most want to or switch back and forth and go with the best action of the moment. That is even better than the CBS-TV national telecast which would feature one game but switch around as action warranted.

And, yes, the CBS telecasts of all games and rotating of updated scores on the screen throughout.
Then there is radio. Doing....ummmm, ummmmmm, some game coverage and some scoreboard updates. A far cry from the days when hardly any games were televised while everything was live on the radio.

Interesting decision for WFOR Channel 4 Miami last Friday. The station did not air the NCAA Regional games being played locally in Miami, instead going with games they felt would be of greater interest to the local audience. This is fine, as long as it wasn't because of a blackout policy. And in this case, it wasn't. What makes this decision even better is that it was an honest choice, and not one because they couldn't show the local games if they wanted to.

LOS ANGELES: Congrats to Eric Collins, who will handle play-by-play of more than 30 Dodgers road telecasts for the coming season. These will be the telecasts that Vin Scully does not call, which are when the Dodgers play east of Colorado.

Collins has worked for ESPN, including some College World Series telecasts, along with NBC Olympic Baseball, among other assignments. He also filled in a couple of games on Chicago White Sox radio last year, and should have merited more consideration for a full-time role there ahead of Darrin Jackson. Collins will be joined by Steve Lyons as analyst. The position opened because of the decision for Charlie Steiner to remain on the radio starting this season rather than moving to TV when Scully is not with the team.

MIAMI - Another area station is going all sports within the next 30 days. And this is not a repeat of an earlier column. Now WINZ 940 will add to its Heat broadcasts at night with an assortment of network fare. Unless WINZ is serious about competing in the market place and goes after Sid Rosenberg or another high profile and local host.

The Ticket 790 is now expected to announce a replacement for Rosenberg by the end of March.
WFTL 640 continues with Sporting News Radio, its local morning show, and Larry Millan (formerly of 790 The Ticket) doing local weekend shows.

St. LOUIS - More of the radio version of musical chairs, but with positive results including Kevin Slaten moving back to afternoons. Slaten will move from middays into the 2 - 6 PM spot on KSLG 1380 within the next 30 days. The opening came when Bernie Miklasz decided to move to WXOS 101.1 FM, which began as a sports station at the start of this year.

SALT LAKE CITY - KALL 700 continues as the king of sports syndication as the Jim Rome show moves into the middday slot, aired live from 10 to 2. The station conintues to carry Dan Patrick and Chris Myers, among others. Local play-by-play includes pro soccer and U. of Utah football and basketball.

DES MOINES - It has been all over the news in the past few days about the profanity filled argument that went out over the air at KXNO 1460 this past Friday morning. Understandably broadcasters Marty Tirrell and Larry Cotlar have been suspended indefinitely. This means the removal of Cotlar's morning show and the afternoon drive show which Tirrell co-hosts (or co-hosted).

That is the "understandable" part. But what is not understandable is that in place of both shows is more network and syndicated programming. The result for Des Moines market listeners is that they lose local sports talk in drive time.That isn't fair to the sports fans in the area. As it goes in radio these days, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this isn't ultimately the end of local drive time talk, at least on KXNO.

The station is a Clearance Channel station, which leads me to belive that if the ratings finish anywhere within striking distance of the now suspended local shows, management will "decide" to continue with them. And if they don't, management will either examine what they can charge for ad time with the lower ratings vs. the operating costs of syndicated fare, or pull the plug on the format, as if low ratings are the reason.

If this were truly a "suspension" for the purpose of recovery, there would be local hosts filling in right away. Could be columnists, TV sportscasters, and/or special guests. For that matter, Clearance Channel would have the resources to assign a knowledgeable sports host from somewhere in the region to fill in for a few weeks. But that would cost money.

This is what local radio brings us, while TV, online, and mobile reporting reaches new heights while the sports games are being played.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sports Media Report - March 10th update.........

I'm glad to see others starting to complain about Sirius XM Satellite not making their MLB package available to all subscribers. There should be some outrage. The merger that took 18 months to finally be approved that was supposed to bring satellite radio subscribers MORE programming without a price increase. And less than a year after the merger, as a Sirius subscriber in my 4th year, I'm learning that I would have to pay extra to get the MLB package that XM subscribers have been getting. The same satellite company concerned about reduced car sales as if that is the only thing that drives subscriptions.

On the TV side, we commented last week about the Cleveland Cavaliers being the most watched local telecasts in the NBA, with San Antonio and Portland next on that list. The Houston Chronicle took it a step further and reported the baseball "most watched local team" leaders from the 2008 season. To the surprise of very very few, the local leader is the Red Sox. But it may also surprise you to learn that next on that list are St. Louis, Minneapolis (Twin cities), and Milwaukee. On the NFL side, for the recent NFL season, the local leaders wound up being Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

NEW YORK: Max Kellerman has done his final broadcast on WEPN 1050, leaving the ESPN Radio station "by mutual agreement". Hard to believe Kellerman would "mutually agree" to this, unless he knows something we don't. Rumors are flying around the Apple. One has him joining Mike Francesa on WFAN as either a part-time or full-time partner. WEPN has added two hours of Colin Cowherd's ESPN Radio show to its afternoon lineup. The sooner Kellerman resurfaces on the air, the sooner I'll believe this was "by mutual agreement".

TAMPA: As the Rays are at the height of their popularity going into the 2009 season as defending American League champs, those roughly 10% of viewers without cable or satellite are now mostly out of luck when it comes to watching their team play. Other than four scheduled ESPN games and five Saturday games on Fox-TV, Fox Sports Net Florida will carry 150 games on cable this season. WXPX-TV 66 will no longer carry any games, a considerable drop from the 69 telecasts it had last season. At least the Rays have increased their radio affiliate count to 20, including flagship WDAE. The Rays were heard on only four radio stations total in 2006.

SAN DIEGO: Sports fans watching XETV Channel 6 newscasts are going to be disappointed. The station just fired Sports Director C.S. Keys, anchor Andrea Nakano, and a producer. The independent station had lost its affiliation with Fox Sports last year, and now no longer airs any live sports at other times of the day and week. As an eventual result in these economic times, the station has taken that a step further and now eliminated sports reports too.

By the way, the Fox-TV affiliate in San Diego also does not have a scheduled sports report on its 10:00 PM weeknight news. That is even more strange, given that this station carries some Padres games on Fox Saturday regional and a couple of Chargers games each fall also via Fox.

On the radio side, there is already concern about Padres broadcasts for the new season having sufficient signal coverage. XX Sports 1090 has its issues in some of the market. Sister station 1700 AM will also carry the games, but reports say the 1700 AM signal still doesn't cover all of the East County either. Let alone fans with older radios at home that don't even get 1700 and others that don't know that 1700 AM is carrying the games.

On the TV side, Mark Neely began as play-by-play voice of the Padres with his first of 5 spring training telecasts last week. He replaces Matt Vasgersian who left for an anchor position at the new MLB Network. The Padres will have at least 150 games televised locally this season.
XTRA Sports 1360 is carrying some San Diego State baseball this spring. Craig Elsten and Chris Ello have the call for 15 broadcasts total. These games are now all that both Elsten and Ello do for XTRA now.

SEATTLE: Former Seahawks QB Brock Huard (who also played at the U. of Washington) will be one of the sports talk hosts when KIRO 710 AM turns all sports in 3 more weeks. Huard will have an occasional football conflict with ESPN (TV), but continues as part of the Seahawks radio coverage. His exact air times have not yet been announced. KIRO will carry some ESPN Radio programming along with play-by-play of both the Mariners and Seahawks. Upon changing over to sports radio, the (current) news/talk format of KIRO will move to 97.3 FM.

BALTIMORE: WNST has let Casey Willett go after more than five years, and shortly after Rob Long and the Fighting Ungers (sportscasters - not the name of a rock group) go as well. Willett actually broke the story himself when his post on Facebook predated the station announcement.

GRAND RAPIDS: Another TV Sports Director let go. This time WXMI-TV has let go of Brent Ashcroft less than a month before his contract was due to expire. Ashcroft had been with the station more than 10 years, since the start of its news department.

BUFFALO: The Buffalo Bisons might lead AAA Baseball in media coverage for this season. The Mets' AAA affiliate will have 37 games televised on Time Warner SportsNet, with 10 of them being road contests. WWKB 1520 continues to air all 144 games plus any post-season.

MONTGOMERY: Looks like winning is everything for WIQR 1410 which is licensed to Prattville. After years of carrying the Atlanta Braves games, the recent lack of success by the Braves directly led (according to quotes from the station owner Greg Meadows) to the Braves broadcasts being dropped. WIQR has just become one of the newly added affiliates of the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sports Media Report - March 3rd update..........

The impact of the new MLB Network is just starting, but already NBA-TV is reacting. The new baseball network is making great strides toward keeping baseball fans away from ESPN during the season. Their "MLB Tonight" has debuted to enhance its spring training coverage, but the 6 to 7 hours per night of live studio coverage while the games are being played could make many fans forget the excellent "Baseball Tonight".

MLB Network began in January in more than 50,000,000 homes as part of expanded basic on many cable systems. After a couple of years of being buried on a more expensive sports tier by many cable networks, now all of a sudden NBA-TV wants to do something about that.

Sports Business Journal reports that NBA-TV is close to a deal with Comcast to move the channel to digital basic and thus gain simliar billing to MLB-TV. With only Comcast in the fold (if this happens), the estimate is that as many as 7,000,000 more subscribers would be added. In many cases, once one cable system negotiates such a deal, others will follow. The hope is that this is being done now to be ready for the 2009-10 NBA season.

NBA-TV does a great job of carrying games on many nights when neither TNT, ESPN, ABC-TV, or WGN America do not carry national games. This includes a Tuesday night game voted upon by fans.

As one who constantly complains, and wishes more sports fans would, that since we pay a lot of money for cable we as viewers should not be subject to blackout restrictions for games, it is great to see the possibility of more games made available to us.

This after last Friday's MLB-TV Network telecast of the Cardinals vs. Mets exhibition game was blacked out by DirecTV in the St. Louis market, when it wasn't supposed to be. The fact that it could have been is infuriating. It would have been had there been a Cardinals telecast. My point continues that for the hefty amount we pay for cable TV, we should have as many choices as possible. If I want to watch a national or other team's feed of a game, I should have the right to do so. Yet, it's not like DirecTV or the cable system refunds subscribers' money for the day even though they messed up.

Speaking of the NBA and its TV packages, Cleveland has emerged as the NBA's best local TV market. Their ratings have more than doubled since last season as LeBron James leads the Cavs to new heights, so to speak. San Antonio is 2nd (and was 1st for last season).

The Dallas Mavericks have suffered on the tube, as well as on the court, this season. Their local ratings are down a reported 25% (through the All-Star Game) for the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, into their first season in a new city and among the NBA attendance leaders, have ratings more than 40% under the league average for local TV. Most of their games are shown on Fox Sports Oklahoma, with ratings of telecasts on KSBI-TV averaging a mere 1.0 according to The Oklahoman.

NEW YORK: The simulcast of Mike Francesa and his afternoon WFAN Radio show on YES-TV will continue as a new multi-year contract extension has been announced. In addition, YES will continue to air Francesa's NFL Now during the fall on Sundays from 9 AM until Noon. NFL Now has been a part of the WFAN schedule since 1987. Francesa has been on YES since it began 7 years ago this month.

Francesa hasn't gone without controversy in the past couple of weeks. The Washington Post carried the story about the supposed 45 minute conversation with Mike and Mets third baseman David Wright to clear the air. Wright reportedly refused to appear on the show last week due to past criticsm. Even though WFAN is the Mets' flagship station, Francesa is a Yankees fan. Then again, the Yankees games are on sister station WCBS.

LOS ANGELES: Speaking of getting to see additional games, a thumbs up to the Dodgers for providing live video streams on of several spring training games - starting this week. From a fan standpoint, this is more like it. Spring training games are there to help get fans interested in the upcoming season, yet the number of radio broadcasts has dipped over the years for many teams. Seeing them is even better. A nice innovation from one of the teams which even into the 90's offered among the fewest TV games of any team, despite their success at the gate.

The live streams begin (this) Weds. March 4 vs. rival San Francisco, and include the White Sox on Thursday (5th), vs. Seattle on the 7th, Arizona on the 10th, Texas on Mar. 13, Chicago Cubs on March 17, Colorado on March 19, and then pick up again on March 27 (K.C.), 29 (San Diego) and 30th (Oakland).

DALLAS - The January ratings have 1310 The Ticket remaining on top of the Metroplex sports talk heap, but ESPN 103.3 has narrowed the gap to start the year. The Fan 105.3 FM is a distant third of the three in the 25-54 age group. But you have to take notice that the combined rating for the three stations in the 25-54 demographic amounts to just under 10% of the entire listening audience. Not many markets are getting that kind of penetration from sports radio stations.

BOSTON: ESPN 890 has decided to increase the ESPN presence on weekdays as the station is leaving more and more local sports to WEEI. 890 has already taken Mike Salk and Bob Halloran off of middays. Colin Cowherd will expand from 10 AM to 2 PM starting on March 16th following Mike & Mike. Local programming will continue with "The Lew and Mike Show" from 4 to 7 PM.

MINNEAPOLIS: Talk about cutbacks. FSN Minnesota televised the University of Minnesota's hockey game from Colardo College in Colorado Springs last weekend. But that isn't the cutback. What the channel forgot to inform viewers is that announcers Frank Mazzocco and Doug Woog were not at the game either. As a live audio feed of the crowd served as background, the announcers were actually at the Minneapolis studios watching on monitors. I have heard certain teams accused of "phoning in" a game, but this??

St. LOUIS: Bernie Miklasz has a new co-host on his KSLG sport talk show. Brian McKenna, fired in the fall by KFNS, started as co-host this week.

BUFFALO: WGR has changed tradition and will carry some NBA Playoff games from ESPN Radio starting next month.

College hoop fans in the Buffalo area got some good news as Time Warner Cable added The Big
Ten Network to its digital package.

HOUSTON - Congrats to KRIV-TV Sports Director Mark Berman on being named 2008 Texas Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Berman is the first Houston sportscaster in 20 years to receive this honor.

Meanwhile, January ratings show KGOW 1560 as the sports radio leader in the morning in the 25-54 demographic, with KILT 610 the sports leader during the midday and afternoon drive times.

SIOUX CITY: KWSN 1230 is dropping its ESPN Radio affiliation, including Mike & Mike and Colin Cowherd. The station is going with Fox Sports and is expected to add Dan Patrick's show as well as Jim Rome and Tony Bruno.