Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sports Media Report - March 3rd update

The Miami Dolphins have turned the past season's high NFL television ratings into what appears to be a very successful new radio deal. Earlier this week, the team opted out of a possible 4th season of its contract with WQAM 560 and signed a fresh 6-year "partnership" with Clearance Channel. The team technically goes from one to two flagsh stations, as both WBGG Big 105.9 and WINZ 940 will air the games starting with the pre-season in August.

This deal reportedly includes WINZ airing a year-round Dolphins and NFL show weekdays from 5 to 7 PM.

What also makes this deal interesting is that the Dolphins are doing this without a rights fee, instead keeping the majority of the advertising revenue. I see some risks for the stations and the team from this new deal, but the local Dolphins fans will certainly come out the big winners on this.

Dolphins fans will continue to get extended pre and post-game programming (including choices), likely continuing to total 8 to 9 hours total on game days and nights. The year-round weekday show devoted to the Dolphins and NFL should be welcomed by the hardcore fans. It is also likely that the other Clearance Channel stations in the market will be active in Dolphins related promotions, adding more exposure for the fans via various radio formats.

The Dolphins front office takes a risk by taking the advertising revenue instead of probably $2 to $3 million per season for selling the broadcast rights. Why would the team do this?

Because they see it as a golden opportunity to package the radio time along with other team offerings the team has. Advertisers can get radio time "added" to buying stadium signage, game program space, game day suites, space on the Dolphins' web site, and on it goes. Or, they can get one or more of those perks when they purchase radio time. This COULD result in more revenue for the team compared with outright selling of the radio rights, but it is no guarantee. Again, the fans "win" because the team needs to be competitive to attract enough advertiser and sponsor response.

However, this aspect is where I see Clearance Channel taking a bigger risk than they realize. Their flagship stations will now, in effect, be selling time on their Dolphins and other sports related programming, offering time on the stations, and perhaps any other perks that Clearance Channel offers. The big spending advertisers seeking to reach the 25-52 male audience are much more likely to go with a package offered by the Dolphins for more than "just" the radio deal. They have reason to take advantage of reaching the target audience via radio spots, at the stadium, on the web site, and so on.

This will probably limit the radio stations (WINZ and WBGG) to attracting "lesser" advertisers (in terms of spending) to their own Dolphins and sports related programming. From a sales standpoint, that means more risk and more effort for the same or less revenue. It also continues to allow radio to be a lesser option for sponsors seeking to reach the pro sports audience.

I'm sure that a big reason for Clearance Channel to make this move is to get the game broadcasts away from rival WQAM. CC is hoping that this move will hurt WQAM's ratings, and ultimately their revenue.

Look again. WQAM has already announced that it will continue to provide its own pre and post-game programming for the Dolphins, including Dan Marino and Channing Crowder, along with other Dolphins related coverage and programming other than during Dolphins games.

Television ratings for the NFL were up in virtually every market this past season. It's not like the majority of fans are opting for radio coverage instead of watching the game on a big screen. Many of these fans have become used to tuning to WQAM before and after the games over the past 3 seasons.

Yet, now WQAM can provide their same programming, but without spending millions of dollars to the Dolphins for the broadcast rights, and retaining all of the ad revenue they sell. On those same game days, Clearance Channel's two stations are limited in revenue because of the chunk that will now go to the Dolphins. As a result, WQAM could "win" when it comes to billing.

Providing adjacent programming is not at all unprecedented. In Chicago, WGN Radio has not broadcast the Bears games for about five years now. Yet, the station kept going with up to 3 hours of pre and post-game call-ins and interviews on most Bears game days.

They have WBBM 780, which is the Bears' flagship station and is also the CBS Radio all-news outlet for Chicago, hyping the Bears to death all year round. To the point of having Jeff Joniak, the Bears' play-by-play voice on "reporting" on their sportscasts last week from the just concluded NFL Combine as the lead story. I'm serious. The Bears don't even have picks in the first 2 rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft, yet WBBM was leading sportscasts with reports about the coaches being at a scouting combine of college players.

In Miami, it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins are as competitive in the next 3 NFL seasons as the revenue battle between WQAM and Clearance Channel over the Dolphins contract.

Personally, I think radio stations are risking it with certain advertisers by doing these revenue share deals. Teams and stadiums are coming up with better options for the same advertisers.

NEW YORK: I realize that all-sports radio stations sometimes feel the need to stray away from sports for a few minutes here and there. But I was very disappointed in Mike Francesa's show last week on WFAN (and shown on YES TV) when he had Steve Phillips in studio for a full hour.

Phillips, you may recall, was let go by ESPN last year in a reported sex scandal. But here was the former GM of the local Mets in studio right as spring training camps are opening. I enjoyed Phillips' analysis over the years on ESPN and was interested to hear his thoughts looking ahead to the season.

Instead, the majority of the discussion with Francesa was about his sex addiction treatment and his personal life. Even to the point of taking several phone calls about his treatment. If this was not a sports show, I might have found the conversation interesting. But this is WFAN becoming WOR for an hour. That was the place to talk about the Mets and look ahead to the start of the baseball season. I'm still waiting.

SAN FRANCISCO: KNBR 680 is getting ready for baseball. As of this week they have moved F. P. Santangelo to the 7 to 10 PM slot or following Giants broadcasts. As a result, Damon Bruce has moved to Noon to 4 PM on sister station 1050 AM.

PHILADELPHIA: 76ers radio play-by-play voice Tom McGinnis missed a pair of game broadcasts last week due to "a personal matter". Jon Gurevitch, the former Sixers announcer now with Comcast, filled in for the broadcasts from Phoenix and Los Angeles.

CINCINNATI: Still another long-time newspaper writer will be picking up a microphone starting this week. Hal McCoy, who was forced into retirement at the end of the Reds 2009 season, has been hired by Fox Sports Ohio for its Reds game coverage. As a result, McCoy will get to cover the team for his 38th season. In addition to appearing on "Reds Live" pre and post-game shows, he will also contribute to the Fox Sports Ohio web site with stories and interviews.

CLEVELAND: SportsTime Ohio, the local cable TV network, has increased its spring training coverage this year. The 6-day a week "All Bets Are Off" talk show hosted by Bruce Drennan is airing all this week from the Indians' training camp in Goodyear AZ. The network will carry the team's exhibition opener this Friday but will be picking up the Reds' feed. Might be a bit tough on the Indians fans to have the other team's announcing, but if it helps to get the telecast on, it works for me.

PITTSBURGH: The Fan 93.7 KDKA-FM scored points with its audience when they got Pirates President Frank Coonelly to call in last week. A prominent local interview always helps. However, considering the number of qualified sportscasters looking for work, the station could also do better than Kalena Bell doing some of their sports updates. Not only don't NHL players "make" goals, but misprouncing the name Kent Tekulve in Pittsburgh doesn't help to endear the station to serious sports fans.

The Fan did add New York Vinnie (Vinnie Richichi) last week to co-host afternoon drive with columnist Ron Cook. Vinnie comes to Pittsburgh after several years in Seattle including a stint at KIRO.

HOUSTON: Astros fans with cable (or satellite which carries Fox Sports Houston) will feast this season. Fox Sports Houston will carry 152 games this season with KTXH-TV airing only 7 games. If Fox-TV stays with 3 Astros regional Saturday telecasts, fans could see literally every game on TV this season.

HAWAII: KUPA 1370 is back on the air, and is now a Fox Sports Radio affiliate. To their credit, much of the programming will air live, putting Jim Rome on during morning drive. Here is one instance where delaying Dan Patrick's show is justified. Rather than air live from 3 to 6 AM local time, it will air from 9 AM until Noon on weekdays. At least the games being previewed won't already have finished, such as happens in Chicago and some other markets airing Patrick on tape delay. However, as of now the station has yet to announce any local programming, and starts up against KKEA 1420 ESPN Radio, which does have some local shows.

ALABAMA: ESPN-TV is aware of the interest in University of Alabama football. The spring football game has drawn at least 80,000 fans over the past few years. As a result ESPN will televise the game, for the 2nd straight year, now scheduled for April 17th.

REDDING CA: Just after we carried the story last week that 96.1 FM will carry the San Francisco Giants broadcasts this season comes word that Fox Sports 1670 will carry the Oakland A's games. In addition, 1670 is picking up the NBA Sacramento Kings games starting March 16th when the Kings meet the Lakers, and continuing through the following season. A restriction by Comcast Cable prevents the Kings telecasts from being shown in Redding, thus the significance of the radio package. Then again, the way the Kings are going this season, they might do better to restrict telecasts anyway.

BILLINGS: Congrats to Joe Block for becoming the play-by-play voice of the baseball minor league Billings Mustangs starting this season. Much further south, Block handles the pre-game, halftime, and post-game for the New Orleans Hornets Radio Network, as well as handling play-by-play assignments for Comcast Sports Southeast and Cox Sports Television.

MARSHFIELD PA: WATD Sports Director Bill Wilhelm continues to recover from being in a coma for more than a day last week. He is a local icon who has broadcast more than 2,000 sports events over the past 30+ years. In a wonderful gesture, WATD has devoted a page on its web site for well wishers, and more than 100 comments were up within the first 12 hours.

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