The NFL is making as much or more news in the media and marketing areas this week as its teams are with personnel moves. These news items reflect the growth of demand for NFL games around the country.
First, the NFL has announced a 4-year deal with a wireless provider that will result in Sunday and Thursday night games being streamed on certain mobile devices from the NBC-TV or NFL Network feeds. Incredible as it may seem, this deal is estimated to be valued at more than $100,000,000. In addition, this deal reportedly includes the NFL Network's Red Zone during the Sunday games.
This is another positive for the obviously football hungry fans, providing another means to have easy live progress of the NFL games. Yet, I have to believe that the TV networks may be strongly divided on their reaction to this news.
NBC-TV should be ecstatic about this. Their Sunday Night Football feed will now be available to thousands of subscribers to the participating wireless service who, if not able to watch on NBC-TV, can watch wherever they happen to be, needing only a mobile phone signal. Advertisers benefit with another means to penetrate their target audience.
However, Fox-TV and CBS-TV could suffer over this. Fans in markets not partial to an NFL team, along with fans in NFL markets when the "home" team isn't playing, may very well opt for the Red Zone feed on their phones over a CBS or Fox regional game which doesn't interest them as much. Now, instead of watching those games to keep tabs on the other games, it is quite possible that thousands of fans will opt for the Red Zone on their phones, and CBS and Fox could lose viewers over this. While fans may not care, I have to think that this will come up during the next TV rights negotiation. Yet, ESPN is, as of now, not effected either way by this new wireless contract.
That is what makes this such a potentially important media story. I don't remember the NFL doing a deal in the past which openly favors one network ahead of others which are participating.
The NFL brass also got more good news when Arbitron Sports released a report revealing specific listening trends based on PPM measurement for NFL games over the course of the recently concluded season. Based on estimates of "in-game listening" from 23 radio markets involving 25 of the NFL's teams, the report shows each NFL team averaging better than 100,000 listeners per local radio broadcast. The Chicago Bears have topped the team list showing an average game audience of more than 620,000 listeners.
Radio rights in Chicago have always been a hot issue. In the past 30 years, the Bears broadcasts have jumped between WGN Radio, WBBM Radio, and the former WMAQ Radio (now WSCR - The Score sports radio, a sister station to WBBM). These audience totals further justify the huge rights fees and extended negotiations which have gone on in Chicago. Even more incredible is that the Bears failed to make the playoffs for the 3rd straight season and were all but eliminated with 7 games to go - yet still managed strong radio ratings.
The N.Y. Giants were next with just over 450,000 listeners, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles. In the 25-54 males category, some of the NFL broadcasts drew 40+ shares, according to this report.
The ratings leader is expected to release a baseball audience report during the second quarter.
BOSTON: A lot of credit goes to WEEI Radio for its interview with Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Tuesday. Mr. Kraft, who usually does an interview with the station around Super Bowl time, waited until this week to be interviewed by Glenn Ordway, Steve DeOssie and Fred Smerlas.
To their credit, this was not a powder-puff chat. Kraft talked about very specific players and contract issues. He also defended the team's decision not to pursue free agents by stating that the team feels its talent "is the best available". Whether you agree with him or not, the fact that he openly addressed the fans' concerns in this manner is refreshing from a pro sports executive. WEEI added to the mix by involving more than one of its program hosts in order to show the priority of this interview. That's more like it.
BRISTOL: Glad to see the news that Chuck Wilson is returning to ESPN Radio, and it happens as of this coming weekend. Wilson was one of the original hosts when ESPN Raedio first started in January 1992, and went on to co-host "Game Night" from 1995 into 2005, when he went over to XM.
He will host the NCAA Tournament Selection Special (5:30 to 9 PM ET) this Sunday (March 14) evening, and will soon move to the radio version of "Baseball Tonight".
Chuck Wilson first made his mark on WEAN Providence when he began a sports talk show on the station in the early 80's, years before the birth of WFAN and full-time sports radio stations. This show brought out his excellent interview styles.
Good move by ESPN to bring him back.
BALTIMORE: MASN has decided to go with a pair of analysts to split the assignment working with play-by-play voice Gary Thorne. Jim Palmer will continue to be lead analyst, but former Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan has been named to the broadcast team. His first telecast will be against Oakland on April 15th. This will be Mike's third TV stint with the O's.
BOSTON: Boston College football broadcasts will remain on WEEI through the 2015 season as a result of a 5-year contract extension arranged by Fenway Sports Group. (Yes, Fenway Sports Group is owned by the Red Sox parent company.)