Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sports Media Update - Jan. 14th

This started as a private discussion based on my comments over the past few weeks about the recent growth of ratings for sports radio including more than one station in some markets increasing. I still do not think it has anything to do with PPM's taking over.

It has to do with establishing credibility among sports fans. Radio and TV stations which have cut back on or haven't had a true sports presence are losing more and more sports fans, and the audience response reflects this.

Granted, I am old school about sports and news reporting. I was born and raised seeking to break stories and get the scoop on my competition. There was a time when my sportscasts would compete against another top local radio station, and I would actually record theirs while I was on the air and listen back to what my competitor reported on prior to my next report. I had to know I had better information and hopefully better reaction to the big stories of the day.

And I would never mention another radio station. It was considered a "no-no". These were things I learned from watching other news and sports reporters. I once had a News Director who urged me to mention that I was anxious to watch a local team's road game on TV that night. When I questioned that, he told me that mentioning the game being on TV could keep people from listening to the radio broadcast on our biggest competitor radio station, I made it a point to make references to televised games.

What does this have to do with today's ratings? They are a reflection of change. These days, for some reason, it has become acceptable, if not the norm, for radio and TV stations to openly refer to other radio and TV stations. It shows. It seems like many sportscasts today are rumors of what might happen in place of looking at upcoming games. And every rumor seems to include its source instead of verification.

Listen to or watch a sportscast on a station that does not have a sports reporter. Count how many stories include a "ESPN is reporting that....." or "Fox Sports says.....". Therein lies the problem. These "stories" remind me and others like me to simply listen to another outlet to get my news.

Granted, the Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien "story" is not sports, but this is an extreme example of my point. In the old days, this "story" never would have been anywhere other than on an NBC station. Yet, CBS, ABC, and Fox Radio and TV stations have covered this "story" as if there audience needs this information. It is really a reason to watch NBC and see how this comes out. Just the same, hearing what Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, or ESPN have reported that day gives me a reason to go right to those sources for information. I'm here to tell you that people are wise to this, and it is reflecting in the overall growth of sports stations.

Same theory on the TV side, where some local stations are reducing or eliminating sports coverage on local news "because of" ESPN. Instead of trying to out perform them locally. As a result, SportsCenter thrives while local news ratings drop in the 25-54 male demographic.

Yet, it doesn't stop there. This past Tuesday morning, I read an A P story about the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars reducing some ticket prices for next season. The story goes on to give a primary reason for this being that 9 of their 10 home games this past season were blacked out. Silly me. I thought sports teams were trying to win. Yet, this wire service story had no mention of the fact that the Jaguars again failed to make the playoffs. Here's a thought. Maybe if they had made the playoffs, ticket sales wouldn't be such a concern.

Meanwhile, February 1st is the date that this year's winner of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters will be announced. Some major choices this year, including the late Skip Caray, the recently retired Lanny Frattare (Pirates), Reds legend Joe Nuxhall, and Jon Miller of ESPN and 4 MLB teams over the years.

Ten regular season games from the NBA Development League will air during February and March. What makes this curious is that the network showing them happens to be Versus. Some dismiss this story because it's not as if this will create a demand for Versus from those cable and satellite systems which still don't (or can't) carry it. I have to believe, since Comcast owns a big chunk of Versus, that this is the start of Comcast looking to forge a better relationship with the NBA prior to taking over NBC.

NBA-TV has added Matt Winer as a studio analyst starting next week. Winer had been with ESPN since 1991 and a big part of the NBA coverage. This comes on the heels of ESPN losing baseball analyst Peter Gammons to MLB Network. Before coming to ESPN, Winer was with KSDK-TV in St. Louis, where he was hired to replace Trey Wingo when he had left that station to go to ESPN.

It seems rare for NBC-TV to grow its sports coverage (Comcast anyone?), but the network has announced it will televise six key horse races this spring which lead up to the Kentucky Derby in May. These will include the will include the Louisiana Derby, Lane's End Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Bluegrass Stakes and Arkansas Derby.

CHICAGO: The growth of ratings for the NHL Blackhawks telecast have led to Comcast SportsNet Chicago adding 18 'out of town' NHL telecasts for the remainder of this broken season. To their credit, the telecasts are well chosen, such as Detroit at San Jose on Feb. 2nd.

St. LOUIS: KFNS sports radio has added Howard Balzer and Andy Strickland to its afternoon show, along with Jay Randolph Jr. KSLG 1380 now has Joe Pelusi, Charlie Marlow, Mike Wellington, and Hanna Hercules handling middays, with Evan Makovsky on from 1 to 2 PM. WXOS 101.1 introduced Bob Stelton as a co-host with Bryan Burwell to replace Pat Parris.

PITTSBURGH: The Cannon was shot down from WPGB-FM 104,7. Ellis Cannon is out from his weeknight sports talk show in favor of political talk instead. In addition, Cannon is out from Fox Sports 970 sports updates and pre-game shows on Pirates and Steelers broadcasts on other Clearance Channel stations.]

DENVER: Market veteran Jerry Schemmel has been added to the Rockies broadcast team for this season, replacing the retired Jeff Kingery. This comes despite his having reduced his role on NBA Nuggets broadcasts to cut back on travel. Schemmel is also in his first full seasons as football and basketball play-by-play for Colorado State University.

NEW ORLEANS: WIST 690 has switched from music to sports to start the new year. It carries Stephen A. Smith and Dan Patrick, but is adding local programming, including Eric Asher, Eric Richey, and Kenny Wilkerson, formerly of WWL.

SPARTANBURG: Another sports radio simulcast is born. 97.1 FM is now carrying WSPG 1400 ESPN programming in a move to increase the signal coverage. The station will continue to carry Atlanta Braves baseball for the upcoming season.

WILMINGTON NC: John Smist becomes the new weekend sports anchor at WECT-TV. Smist has left Bangor's WLBZ-TV after almost 6 years to accept this position.

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