Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Broadcast Booth - May 26th update

ESPN had a situation just made for the fine print department, if there was such a thing. This past Saturday (May 22) night, ESPN was showing a NCAA softball tournament game as scheduled. However, the game between Auburn and Georgia Tech was running into ESPN's pre-game show for the Boston vs. Orlando NBA Playoff Game.

My feeling is that an NBA Playoff Game is an obvious priority over NCAA Softball, given that ESPN shows a lot of NCAA events primarily for the purpose of maintaining their football and basketball relationships.

Yet, I'll admit I have mixed feelings about the way ESPN handled this instance. At about 7:59 PM ET, there was only one out go to in the game for Georgia Tech to win it. At the same time, the game telecast was cutting in to the NBA pre-game show's time. Softball play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins suddenly sent it back to the studio, even with one more out needed to finish the game. Somehow, the studio hosts stayed on until about 8:02, mentioning that indeed GA Tech had won the game.

That is the part which makes no sense, and that is cause for concern. The game site announcer sent the telecast back to the studio, so this obviously was not a technical mishap. It remained a NCAA Softball telecast, rather than going directly to the NBA pre-game show.

My concern is the need to clarify whether or not ESPN is truly a sports "news" organization or primarily a contractor for programming. Even though I could understand leaving a NCAA event for a more important telecast, I still realize the Network had the responsibility to televise the entire live event. The one more out needed in the softball game was not guaranteed to happen within two minutes. It's not like football, basketball, or hockey where you know the clock will expire if there is no chance of overtime. Thus, an arrangement should have been in place to move any remaining part of the live softball telecast to ESPN Classic or ESPN News for those viewers. Or, at the very least, ESPN should have stuck with the softball game to capture the final out.

That I didn't care about the softball game is not important to this thought. After all, when a MLB telecast runs into SportsCenter time, ESPN constantly flashes across the bottom that "Sportscenter is next" (or words to that effect) as if the world would come to an end if they don't tell you that and they are sincerely sorry that the baseball game is taking away their precious time.

Why did it happen this way? I'm guessing it has to do with contracts, and not the viewers. My hunch is that ESPN chose not to show any other live sports event as of the top of the hour, which was NBA time. Showing the studio hosts fit that category, so they were able to report the final score and not let any softball game fans out to dry about the game's outcome.

However, ESPN is aware that Comcast now owns a chunk of NBC-TV, and might become a player for the next NBA television negotiations. They want to do good by the NBA, and saw the situation on Saturday in that light.

Again, on one hand, I understand their position from a viewership point of view. But as a sports fan, I find it frustrating that they would cut away from any live game just prior to conclusion in that manner.

Speaking of odd situations for networks, there was the battle for ice position (also on Saturday) between NBC and CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Co.) - instead of between the Flyers and Canadiens.

It seems that Quebec's RDS (sports network) allowed NBC to take over its spot between the benches for its Game 4 telecast as a result of a private deal made between the two entities. However, the NHL's television contracts only allow for priorities to be established in each NHL arena for networks televising the various games.

For Saturday, RDS originally had priority (the position between the team benches), with CBC 2nd and NBC 3rd. CBC stepped in and objected to the "deal" to help NBC, causing NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to have to rule on which network would have the coveted spot. Bettman upheld the original decision, and RDS kept its originally scheduled priority.

Thus, Glenn Healy of CBC went on camera from the zamboni entrance, while NBC's Pierre McGuire had to cross the ice during breaks to conduct his in-game interviews. This happened after CBC objected to Bettman allowing NBC to move the game to the afternoon for NBC, taking away ratings points and revenue from CBC which would have benefitted far more with a night game.

And to think, there was only the one playoff game in both the NBA and NHL on Saturday.......

The "big-timing" of high school sports, as I call it, continues to grow slowly but surely. ESPN has announced it will televise "several" high school football games during the final weekend in August. Local coverage of high school games is one thing, but taking more and more of them regional and national is another. Friends may no longer think I'm joking when I speculate that "pretty soon kids will start going from 7th grade right into high school, foregoing the 8th grade to play football/basketball".

NEW YORK: In the NYC area, it is not only sports on TV seeing a ratings surge of late. Radio listeners got caught up in the start of the baseball season just the same. The latest ratings show that WCBS 880 moved up to 4th place overall from March to April, coinciding with the start of the Yankees regular season broadcasts. Listeners also stayed around for the news, as WINS 1010 dropped out of its perennial position in the top 10.

It wasn't just the Yankees making a NYC ratings dent. WFAN showed an overall audience increase of nearly 50% from March to April, also finishing first in 25-54 males during the first month of the Mets regular season. The Fan now averages about four times the audience share of WEPN 1050.

On the TV side, MSG Network will be producing new versions of some of their feature and interview shows for this summer, along with adding some classic Knicks games, including the 1970 Willis Reed championship run. In addition, MSG will break away from sports content with some Friday night concert videos in the works.

INDIANAPOLIS: John JMV Michael is back for "The Ride" on The Fan WFNI 1070. His new show, called "The Ride" airs from 3 to 7 PM, and now competes against Mark Patrick's show on rival WNDE 1260. Michael worked with Patrick on WNDE prior to Patrick going to XM's MLB Channel in 2005, and in 2008 and some of 2009 Michael had a bigger audience than The Fan's "Kravitz and Eddie Show".

Kravitz, a local columnist, had left the show in March, while Eddie White remains with The Fan but now in a part-time capacity. The ratings for the first quarter of 2010 show The Fan with roughly a 40% larger audience than WNDE.

HOUSTON: Having 4 sports radio stations is tough enough, especially with the Astros off to a lackluster start, while the Rockets and Texans hang in with slow off seasons. Without much doing locally, the latest ratings show that ESPN's Mike & Mike on KFNC 97.5 now leads the other 3 sports stations in audience share during morning drive. (It should be noted that KILT leads mornings in weekly cume.) KFNC also leads middays, while KILT leads KMBE during afternoons.

On the TV side, Sports Business Journal reports that Comcast is looking to launch a local or regional network in partnership with the Astros and Rockets which could begin for the 2012-13 NBA season and the 2013 baseball season. The teams could opt out of their current deal with Fox Sports Houston.

This seems a realistic possibility, given Comcast's success at doing this in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco to date. In NYC, the Mets reportedly own an 80% interest in SNY, while in Chicago the Blackhawks, Bulls, White Sox, and Cubs share a 70% interest.

One difference is that losing the Rockets and Astros might not spell the end for Fox Sports Houston, even though it did for the former Fox Sports Chicago. FS Houston's strong lineup of Big 12 Conference football and basketball, along with established high school coverage (far more significant in Texas than Chicago, New York, and other large cities) could keep demand high enough to stay around.

BOSTON: Another former Red Sox player joins the NESN broadcast crew, as Kevin Millar will be a studio analyst for some of the upcoming games this season. Millar will start this Thursday (May 27) on the pre-game show leading into the Red Sox vs. Royals telecast.

SAN DIEGO: Even though the Padres are off to a suprisingly good start and are getting decent TV ratings this season, the city of "sports transplants" are not always focused on the local team. Thus far, at least 2 of the NBA Conference Semi-finals national telecasts have generated higher ratings (for TNT and ABC/ESPN) than local Padres telecasts during roughly the same time periods. Considering that the Padres TV ratings increased by around 30% during May from what they were in April, you can interpret this in a number of different ways.

My take is that the local Padres fans are coming back to follow their team, but the large number of sports "transplants" in the San Diego market are following the national NBA playoff telecasts in big numbers, like much of the country is.

SHREVEPORT: Local radio continues without any sports talk in afternoon drive, but John James Marshall will bring sports talk to his "Unscripted" show to air on KSHV-TV starting July 26th at 9:00 PM. The show is expected to be a TV version of his years of hosting local radio sports talk.

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend, and MLB Network adds to our baseball enjoyment:

MLB Network telecasts:
Thursday, May 27
2:00: L.A. Dodgers at Chicago Cubs
7:00: Philadelphia at N.Y. Mets

Friday, May 28
2:00: St. Louis at Chicago Cubs

Saturday, May 29
8:00: L.A. Dodgers at Colorado

Monday, May 31
4:00: Colorado at San Francisco
9:00: Arizona at L.A. Dodgers

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