Monday, December 28, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 28th

Looking back on the sports media for the zeros, it might have been the decade with the biggest change in terms of coverage. Most good, some not.

Topping the "good" list is the shear number of pro and college games which are televised. The vast majority of pro games are shown in at least one team's market. Many MLB, NBA, and even NHL teams show every game in their market. In addition, the number of national or regional telecasts has increased.

Baseball fans now have network games available on Sundays (TBS in the afternoon and ESPN at night), Mondays (ESPN), Wednesdays (ESPN), Thursdays (MLB Network), and Saturdays (Fox). The addition of the great MLB Network in 2009 also brought us Saturday night telecasts along with some afternoon games and special telecasts throughout the season.

NBA fans have the ESPN/ABC and TNT packages, and now NBA-TV picks up an average of 3 games each week from local telecasts, resulting in at least 4 nights per week of national games. Those NHL fans who can get Versus and NHL Network also get about 4 national telecasts each week, plus those on NBC-TV on Sundays from January on into the playoffs.

The pro league networks (MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network) have enhanced coverage of their respective sports beyond belief with extended studio shows including live "look-ins" and instant statistics on games being played. With these shows, along with ESPN producing Baseball Tonight and NBA Tonight, the amount of immediate surrounding coverage of pro games has reached an all-time high. For those of us who grew up before cable TV and the majority of games being televised, this is all an incredible transition, especially during the last part of this decade.

The NFL Network brought us extended game day coverage, along with the ability to replay edited game telecasts throughout the week, as well as providing extended previews and interviews.

On the college sports scene, the number of college football games televised has increased significantly, especially from regional networks from the likes of Fox Sports and Comcast, among others including the Big Ten Network. This past season, it wasn't unusual to have between 5 and 8 early afternoon live telecasts to choose from.

A greater presence from the regional TV networks has brought a local expanded version of a SportsCenter show to most markets. Fans now have a choice for their late night TV highlights and wrapup like never before.

Radio has seen an increase in the number of all sports stations around the country, including most markets now having more than one station competing against each other.

In addition, fans with online access can usually track up to the minute scores and in-game statistics for any and all games they are following. Some teams and web sites are now providing highlights and replays available within minutes.

Combined, it is amazing how easy and wonderful it is to be able to keep track of all of the games every night, whether by TV, radio, or online. And amazing how much our ability to do just that increased during this decade.

So what's not so good about it? All of this game coverage, as great as it is, has come at the expense of the sportscast. Radio and TV sportscasts have generally gone down hill in the past few years. What used to be breaking news and game related statistics has turned into the rumor mill. Reporters seem to spend more time speculating about trades and signings than on trying to break stories. Too much of the "reporting" is about what might happen instead of what did happen. Or by the time it does happen, it doesn't seem like hot news anymore.

Many of the game broadcasts and telecasts have become way too cluttered. While I understand that more advertisers are needed to support the huge broadcast rights fees, the added commercial and promotional time is taking away from us fans getting more information. I'll expand on this point in the weeks to come, but pre-game shows and game telecast and broadcast openings are so cluttered that important information about the game gets delayed. There are too many times when we get 15 minutes of commercials and fluff and don't even get starting lineup information until the game itself is already underway. That needs to change.

But overall, great strides this decade in terms of being able to keep up with all of our favorite sports!

Yet, as we think back on some of the most memorable stories of the decade, it is amazing how much the media played a part in some of them, instead of keeping it to what happened on the field, court, or rink.

And for that matter, possibly next decade. Case in point is Tiger Woods. I, for one, have no second thoughts about Tiger Woods being named Athlete of the Decade for the zeros, even though I am not a fan of the pro golf tours. He clearly was the most dominant at his sport. Yet, the excessive amount of air time because of his recent indiscretions has caused some to question that selection. However, all of this media attention to something that had no impact on the number of tournaments he won, has led to Tiger looking to play in FEWER tournaments in the near future, which could impact his chances for setting more records as we start the next 10 years.

Radio and TV played a huge part in a post-season baseball moment. In the 2003 NLCS when Steve Bartman went for a foul ball that could have been a crucial out for the Chicago Cubs against the Florida Marlins, we had no idea who this person was. If the Chicago Fox-TV affiliate hadn't pursued it and put his name out on the airwaves the next day, we wouldn't know who he is. We shouldn't. So instead of baseball fans remembering the Marlins' comeback in the NLCS to get to the World Series, the memory is overshadowed by a fan who attended one of the games. After all, Bartman didn't play in the 7th game the next night. Yet, the media made him the story instead.

Another instance is what the media did not do. This decade began with the most exciting end of a Super Bowl game. Tennessee and St. Louis in the January 2000 Super Bowl game battled right down to literally the last second at the 1 yard line. Yet, I still can't believe that the game announcers and the network reporters covering the game weren't taking it a step further. As in, one more step to the end zone. Had the Titans scored on that last play, they would have had to choose whether to kick the PAT for the tie or to go for the 2-point conversion and either win or lose the Super Bowl right there.

Now there was a discussion which should have dominated the talk during that last drive, and even for days after. But it hardly even came up. It would have been fascinating to see what percentage of fans would have gone for the win since there was no guarantee that the Titans would have won the coin toss for overtime or even touched the ball. Yet, even the possibility wasn't raised. I still can't believe that. And the lack of that discussion, even though it didn't come to pass, was overlooked by the media.

Here's hoping for a Happy New Year and New Decade for all of you, and for another 10 years of great sports memories. On the field, court, and ice!

Meanwhile, so much has been written and said already about the untimely death of George Michael last week. (By the way, some airchecks of his top 40 days in Philly are available via It is hard to believe he is gone, and that he was only 70 years of age.

Many people are just now learning of his accomplishments above and beyond his "George Michael Sports Machine" Sunday TV show. He was a top 40 DJ on Philadelphia's Famous 56 WFIL from 1966 to 1974. (One of his engineers at that station was Howard Eskin, as in the long time WIP sports host.)

George went on to New York and did play-by-play for the N.Y. Islanders, as well as some filling in on Howard Cosell's "Speaking of Sports" radio shows. He reportedly turned down an offer to replace Lindsey Nelson on Mets TV before going to Washington D. C. and WRC-TV, where the Sports Machine show was eventually born. Now I feel as though the moment I get to heaven, he'll be there to show me highlights from everyone else already there.

Back to the current week. NBC-TV has "flexed" its muscles and moved the N.Y. Jets game against Cincinnati into its final Sunday Night Football telecast of this season. In addition, Fox has moved the Philly at Dallas game from an early slot to its doubleheader game on Sunday afternoon.

With all of the college bowl games coming up, there is a ton of games to watch in bringing in the new year and decade. Yet, I'm disappointed that the decade begins with Pat Summerall coming back to call the Cotton Bowl for Fox next Saturday afternoon from Cowboys Stadium. On his recent comebacks for NFL games he has managed to sound even more boring than ever before. Hardly the over hyped bowl game banter we are used to. The Westwood One Radio broadcast looks like a good alternative with the TV sound on mute, since Cowboys voice Brad Sham will call the game with former UCLA coach Terry Donahue on color.

NBA-TV picks up an increased share of telecasts this week while ESPN focuses on the bowl games:

Tues. Dec. 29 - Cleveland at Atlanta
Weds. Dec. 30 - Boston at Phoenix
Fri. Jan. 1 - New York at Atlanta
Sat. Jan. 2 - Denver at Utah
Sun. Jan. 3 - San Antonio at Toronto

INDIANAPOLIS: John "JMV" Vincent has left WNDE 1260 where he aired from 3 to 7 PM most recently, ending a 10 year stint at the station. At least for now, he continues working weekends at WTHR-TV.

St. LOUIS: Bob Stelton is the newest addition to ESPN 101.1 FM, and is expected to begin on the air next week.

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 22nd

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)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sports Media Report - December 15th update

Last week it was the announcement about the sports radio station taking over sportscasts for a TV station in West Palm Beach. Now comes an announcement of a media partnership between Dallas' KTCK-AM The Ticket and the Dallas Morning News for some content sharing among reporters and columnists.

Supposedly, neither is about revenue. Even if it is not about money in either case (and other similar agreements underway and to come), as a sports fan I don't like it.

My "problem" with this is that I come from the old school where reporters and columnists were supposed to be finding and breaking sports "news". It's bad enough that the "news" on so many of today's sportscasts are rumors and possible trades and signings. Too much "reporting" what some other outlet is reporting, instead of actually reporting.

The idea was to be the reporter covering a team practice when an injury took place or a player or coach made a significant quote that would become big news. And the hope that I could get it on the air before anyone else had the chance to find out and report it.

During the years I taught a college sportscasting course I would preach being on the lookout and doing what you have to do to scoop the competition. But if these cross-promotion arrangements continue to grow, there won't be any "competition" or desire to break a story.

One of my favorite examples of breaking a story game in the early 80's in Chicago. Johnny Morris, then the lead sportscaster for CBS' WBBM-TV, was excellent when it came to reporting on the Bears (for whom he was a star at wide receiver years earlier) and the NFL.

However, Morris suffered when it came to the other sports. I still remember his "report" on the night before the 1981 baseball strike when he went on TV live from Comiskey Park and claimed that there would not really be any strike - hours before it happened for real.

Yet, months later, Morris was the first to report that Mike Ditka was being hired by George Halas as the new Head Coach of the Chicago Bears. Morris totally scooped every other TV station, radio station, and newspaper. How did he do that? It turned out he assigned a crew to literally stake out George Halas' apartment and cornered Ditka minutes after the signing actually took place. That move not only redeemed his baseball flub, but showed me one of the best reporting moves ever.

I can't help but think that today, with TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, and web sites all forming partnerships, we fans won't benefit from reporters competing and digging for stories. We'll be stuck with a bunch of rumors and wait for a few of them to come true.

Meanwhile, a big week for a few sportscasters.

Sports Illustrated has selected its "Top National Announcer" of the decade. If you are waiting for the winner to be Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, Mike Torico, or Joe Buck, you'll be surprised. The selection is Dan Shulman of ESPN. Shulman works with Dick Vitale and is probably the lead announcer for its college hoops telecasts, as well as calling NBA games for ESPN and ABC. In addition, he calls some Wednesday Night Baseball games for ESPN. Good choice.

Dick Enberg has decided to stay closer to home at the age of 74 and reduce his role with CBS Sports. In fact, he is only commited to U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis and some fill-in assignments after the current NFL season. Yet, he is not retiring. Enberg joins the San Diego Padres TV booth beginning in the spring. This gives Padres fans something to look forward to. Having been working in the Los Angeles area during the mid-80's when Enberg "came back" to do about 40 Angels radio broadcasts for one season, I can tell you how under appreciated he is as a baseball announcer. This will also give the Padres seemingly hundreds of years of broadcast experience, as ageless Jerry Coleman is confirmed to return to the radio booth for at least the 2010 season.

Enberg is also being inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame this week, along with Keith Jackson and others. Well deserved on all counts.

Joe Theismann returns as an analyst, this time for NBC for its NFL Wild Card playoff coverage. NBC will put Theismann along with former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs together for one of its January 9th playoff telecasts. Tom Hammond will call play-by-play to complete the crew.

Peter Gammons will soon jump over from ESPN to MLB Network and should thrive even more with expanded airtime. As hard as it is to believe that MLB Network can improve even more, this is another positive move. In addition, the Network promises more "special day" coverage such as trade deadline days. Another report says the Network is working a series featuring highlights or photos from every no-hitter ever thrown.

ESPN has announced that its 2010 MLB season opening telecast on April 4th will be the Yankees and Red Sox opening the season from Fenway Park. It's good to see ESPN once again feature the season opener of the World Champs (whoever it is). Hopefully this will stick as a tradition. The previous Yankees vs. Red Sox season opener was 2005, with the Red Sox then coming off the World Championship.

On the NFL side, NBC will stick with them Cowboys as their Dec. 27 Sunday Night Football game against Washington. They are banking on the Cowboys continuing to be ratings gold. This is an interesting decision, however. CBS then moved its Denver at Philadelphia telecast into the doubleheader game slot that day. That could be a "survival" game for Denver, whereas Washington only has the rivalry to play for in prime time.

It will also be most interesting to see the ratings comparison, especially in head-to-head markets for this Sunday's late games. Cinci vs. San Diego going up against Green Bay at Pittsburgh makes for interesting competition. Jim Nantz and Phil Sims have the Cinci vs. S.D. game call on CBS.

Since we get requests, here are the NFL telecast schedules for the next 2 weekends:

Week 15:
Thursday, Dec. 17
8:20: Indianapolis at Jacksonville, NFL Network

Saturday, Dec. 19
8:20: Dallas at New Orleans, NFL Network

Sunday, Dec. 20
1:00: Chicago at Baltimore, Fox
1:00: New England at Buffalo, CBS
1:00: Arizona at Detroit, Fox
1:00: Cleveland at Kansas City, CBS
1:00: Atlanta at N.Y. Jets, Fox
1:00: San Francisco at Philadelphia, Fox
1:00: Houston at St. Louis, CBS
1:00: Miami at Tennessee, CBS
4:05: Oakland at Denver, CBS
4:05: Cincinnati at San Diego, CBS
4:15: Green Bay at Pittsburgh, Fox
4:15: Tampa Bay at Seattle, Fox
8:20: Minnesota at Carolina, NBC
Monday, Dec. 21
8:30: N.Y. Giants at Washington, ESPN

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

NBC reports that Sunday Night Football ratings are up 22% over last year through the 14 weeks thus far. CBS shows a 4% increase overall for its NFL telecasts this season. Its San Diego at Dallas telecast this past Sunday (Dec. 13) was its single highest rated telecast since 2007.

On the college hoops scene, The Big Ten Network has announced it will televise 63 of the 99 Conference basketball games starting after the first of the year. Big Ten "Super Wednesday" will feature a doubleheader as well as pre and post-game shows. Gus Johnson will serve as lead announcer.

LOS ANGELES: Speaking of broadcasting legends, while Lakers radio analyst Stu Lantz is away helping his wife recover from surgery, he isn't being replaced by just anyone. Hot Rod Hundley comes out of retirement to fill in for 6 telecasts, including the Lakers playing at Utah. Hundley, of course, called the Jazz games forever after an earlier run as analyst back when CBS-TV had the national package.

In an unfortunate coincidence, radio analyst Mychal Thompson had to miss a pair of Lakers broadcasts last week due to a death in the family. The team got Walton to fill in. No, not the recently retired legendary Bill Walton. His son, Luke, who plays for the Lakers, is on the injured list and took over the analyst duties for a couple of nights.

SAN DIEGO: Suppose they gave a college basketball telecast and nobody watched. The University of San Diego game vs. New Mexico last Wednesday (Dec. 9) answered that possibility by making it a reality. Channel 4 recieved a rating of 0.0 and a 0.0 share for eight consecutive quarter-hours. Ouch.

DALLAS: It has been confirmed that Josh Lewin will return for his 9th season calling Rangers games in 2010. His commitment means he will call at least 147 games next season, leaving off only the 3 games when he has a conflict due to being the radio voice of the San Diego Chargers.

COLUMBUS: The only pro team in town is now making an impact on the ratings. The NHL Blue Jackets are generating telecast ratings increased 38% from last year on Fox Sports Ohio through the season's first two months. The Network also reports increased viewership for games shown in the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas.

BOISE: The Boise State Broncos will have a new radio home for both football and basketball broadcasts starting next summer. KBOI 670 takes over once again after a 2-year absence. The station had carried the games since 1972 until KIDO 580 got the contract for the past two seasons. The basketball broadcasts will simulcast with KKGL 96.9. Word is that a new TV home for the Broncos will be finalized during the first quarter of 2010. Bob Behler will remain as the radio play-by-play voice.

NEW HARTFORD NY: WTLB 1310 will become ESPN Radio beginning in March, along with sister stations WIXT 1230 in Little Falls and WRNY 1350 in Rome. WTLB will continue to carry N.Y. Yankees and Giants broadcasts. Management is reportedly considering adding a local show for afternoons to cover the Mohawk Valley.

UPPER POTTSGROVE PA: WPAZ Radio 1370 has been known for its thorough high school football, basketball and baseball coverage over the years. Now, it's not known at all. This past Thursday morning (Dec. 10), the ownership group decided to pull the plug. And at 10 AM they did. Without warning or even saying goodbye to its audience.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sports Media Update - December 8th

We are a long way off from March Madness, at least in basketball terms, although a report from Sports Business Journal the other day has started a lot of discussion among fans and the media.

The possibility exists that the NCAA could add still another week of games to the Tournament. More games means more telecasts and broadcasts, and according to the report the possibility of more networks becoming involved.

As a fan, I'm totally frustrated by this, and it is far from actually happening. I lost some interest in the Tournament over 25 years ago when it expanded from 24 to 32 teams. Why have a regular season when more than one team can go from the same conference? But that is for another column.

From a media perspective, I see where this could be of benefit. More tourney games translates to more ad revenue. Especially with NFL ratings through the roof this season and the NBA ratings off to a good start, especially with teen viewers, as detailed here last week.

Yet, I think CBS has done a very good job with their coverage over the years. It is really only the first two days when games conflict, and now streaming has reduced many of those concerns.

However, more post-season telecasts are probably likely across the board. This NCAA possibility fits in with MLB talking about filling in the early post-season Division Series off days by adding more games to go from best of five to best of seven series.

Speaking of the NBA, a great move by NBA-TV on Monday night (Dec. 7). Instead of sticking with its originally scheduled feed of the Washington at Detroit game, NBA-TV wisely switched to show the Denver vs. Philadelphia game featuring the return of Allen Iverson. A great fan-friendly move that deserves a lot of attention.

In addition to NFL games continuing to score great ratings, CBS also rocked the ratings world from Saturday's (Dec. 5) SEC Championship Game telecast. The Florida vs. Alabama telecast wound up as the best rating ever for an SEC Championship since its debut in 1992, and the network's highest rated "non-bowl" telecast in 20 years (Notre Dame vs. Miami in 1989).

Fox TV scored its best overnight ratings in 3 years with the Cowboys vs. Giants doubleheader game this past Sunday (Dec. 6). For the season, the Fox NFL ratings are now up 8% over last year, and the playoff races are about to heat up for the final 4 weeks.

NBC won Sunday Night with Sunday Night Football - again - this past Sunday after switching to the Minnesota vs. Arizona game. Compared with week 13 last year, NBC showed a 23% increase, even though the Vikings were involved in the 2008 Week 13 telecast. Brett Favre is winning almost as much as the TV networks, and all have been around a lot of years!

TBS (Turner) Sports has found a way to not have Chip Caray make errant calls on any more baseball post-season telecasts. Or regular season for that matter. Neither party shared any details, but the problem has been resolved because Caray won't be back. As funny as the line would normally be, given that Chip is the son of Skip and grandson of Harry Caray, I prefer not to think of him as a "Chip off the old block".

Fox Radio Sports has made a change on its morning show. Out is Steve Czaban, whose last "scoop" for the network was breaking the news on his own blog earlier this week after a 7 year run. Czaban had also filled in for Jim Rome during his time with the network.

His replacement is Steven A. Smith, who most fans know from his days on ESPN. On ESPN Steven seemed to always be yelling at someone with his comments, so it will be interesting to hear if he can tone it down for mornings.

CINCINNATI: The Reds have finalized their broadcast teams for 2010 by replacing the now retired George Grande. Thom Brennaman is going to reduce his baseball role for Fox and handle 100 Reds telecasts. He had joined the Reds' booth in 2007 and has shared some broadcasts with his father Marty, which is expected to continue. Chris Welsh continues as TV analyst, with Jeff Brantley moving over to TV on occasion. Paul Keels, the voice of Ohio State football on radio and former Sports Director of WLW, will call the games that Thom Brennaman does not.

Even though it was only the Detroit Lions playing the Bengals this past Sunday Fox TV 19 pulled out all of the stops for one of the two Bengals telecasts it got this season. The Cincinnati Fox affiliate pre-empted the Fox NFL pre-game show in favor of a 90 minute local pregame show. News anchors Tricia Macke and Dan Carroll co-hosted along with sports anchor Zach Wells.

As it turned out, they were right. This past weekend the Bengals win over the Lions even drew better than Saturday's college game putting the U. of Cincinnati against Pittsburgh locally. The college game was the Saturday ratings leader, but more households were tuned to the Bengals on Sunday.

HOUSTON: Big changes are underway this week at KBME 790. Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler have taken over as morning team from 6 to 10 AM, with Dylan Guinn from 10 to Noon. Matt Thomas returns to his native area from Minneapolis to host Noon to 3 PM, as well as Astros pre and post-game coverage. Thomas is also remembered locally as the Public Address announcer during the NBA Rockets championship season.

Tom Franklin will no longer host a show, but is expected to continue play-by-play of University of Houston football and basketball. The station is also giving up the "Sports Animal" brand in favor of "Sports Talk 790". Can't help but joke about how many thousands of dollars it took to come up with the new moniker of "Sports Talk 790".

PHILADELPHIA: The success of sports radio continues, based on the latest ratings for late October to mid-November. This time not a surprise since this ratings period included the Phillies participation in the World Series. WIP 610 finished first among 25 to 54 males, while every daypart was up. Rival WPEN AM and FM finished in the top 10 in males during its first "full" ratings period, including a strong showing afternoons from Mike Missanelli.

DENVER: Chris "Birdman" Andersen of the Nuggets now has a weekly radio show, and it airs in morning drive. "A Birdman's View" airs on ESPN 1600 each Thursday morning at 8:00, at least through the NBA season.

St. LOUIS: It is always an honor to have a street named after you. But in St. Louis, the feeling was that the late Jack Buck deserved more than just a street. As of this week, a stretch of Interstate 64 in St. Louis has been renamed "The Jack Buck Highway". Gives new meaning to his call of "There's a long drive........".

WEST PALM BEACH: Even though WPTV Channel 5 earlier got rid of two sportscasters, the station has not given up on sportscasts during its local news. Starting with the coming new year, reporters from ESPN 760 radio will handle the TV reporting, along with the 15 minute extended wrap-up on Sunday nights. This includes hosts Evan Cohen and Jason Pugh.

SYRACUSE: During the first quarter of 2010, WTLA 1200 and WSGO 1440 (from nearby Oswego) will switch to all sports.

BATON ROUGE: WNXX, licensed to Jackson LA, changes over to sports and will carry ESPN programming, expected to be in place before the first of the year.

CEDAR RAPIDS: The Iowa vs. UNI game lost to "The Biggest Loser" on Tuesday night (Dec. 8). KWWL-TV decided to carry the TV show instead of the game feed from Panther Sports Network. The station was scheduled to air the game on its digital channel instead. However, the digital channel is not available on all of the area's satellite owners nor on certain outlying cable systems. Local fans of either team might just make the TV show ratings "the biggest loser" in the future. As if that show couldn't have been shown on delay.

LINCOLN NE: ESPN 1480 has canceled the local show "The Spread" with Jason Peter and Jeff Wilkerson and replaced it with The Doug Gottlieb Show. Wilkerson is also out as Program Director. This past March, Omaha's Big Sports 590 dropped its afternoon show with Matt Perrault and replaced him with Fox Sports Radio programming.

RICHMOND: The baseball minor league Richmond Flying Squirrels have announced a 2 year deal with Sports Radio 910 to become the team's flagship station and carry all 142 games. Jon Laaser and Anthony Oppermann will handle play-by-play for the AA affiliate of the Giants. Can't help but wonder if the Flying Squirrels will get off to a "rocky" start.

RALEIGH: It's not really a place you have to go to for job security. Although the minor league Carolina Mudcats will have their games aired on WDWG 98.5 starting next season. Patrick Kinas returns for what will be his 12th season calling the games, which will also be streamed on the team's web site while some will also be aired on WDOX 570 AM. The job security? Kinas' company actually owns the broadcasts rights along with handling all of the advertising sales and production of each broadcast.

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.