Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Broadcast Booth - June 15th update

Here it is the month of June, yet it is the heavy viewership and ratings for the "winter sports" of basketball and hockey which dominate the sports media news.

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded with record TV audiences for NBC, Versus, and local and regional networks covering teams which were involved until the Chicago Blackhawks' clinching win in overtime of Game 6.

Making it even more interesting is the record ratings coming from cities such as Kansas City, New Orleans, and Memphis, which do not have and are not within proximity of NHL teams.

On the NBA side, Game 5 between the Lakers and Celtics won the night in TV ratings and showed more than a 35% increase from last year's Game 5 between the Lakers and Orlando. This looks to be the highest rated NBA Finals series since L.A. vs. Detroit in 2004.

Why have sports on TV caught on so much within the past couple of years? My feeling is that the onslaught of big screen TV's along with HD and the increase in technology, combined with ticket costs pricing out the 'average' fan, have given us very strong reasons to watch on TV instead of going.

The increase in technology includes the amount of information about the game shown on the screen. Fans attending the games don't have access to the mountain of statistics we see on TV, along with the ability to see the score and game status (i.e. game clock, inning, etc.) along with the action without having to look away. Fans can also be online for even more statistics and updates on their game of interest as well as out of town games when watching on TV, whereas at the game they do not have nearly as much of this information available.

Plus, you don't have to pay $25 and up to be parked when watching on TV.

Then again, if this continues, sports on TV will wind up costing us even more than game tickets and the costs associated with it. The higher the ratings, the more money the TV networks will need to spend to retain the telecast rights. And the more money they spend, the higher our cable or satellite bills will be.

Speaking of TV, it's time to step back and realize how television is the real force behind college teams turning free agent on their conferences and jumping around as if they have agents and can up and leave when their time comes.

The University of Texas appears to be staying in the Big 12 (as of press time on Tuesday afternoon), which appears to mean that the Conference will live past this week and keep most of its other current member schools. The reason?

It appears to be TV. Reports have surfaced that U. of Texas is preparing to begin its own TV network, and that would be a first. Not a Conference network, such as The Big Ten Network, but one just for the school. Since TV revenue is such a driving force behind schools jumping around, the conferences wooing U of T would not allow Texas to do this. But the stakes are high enough for the Big 12 that the time may well have come.

If it comes to pass that U of T implements its own TV network, it might not be the plus the school and Big 12 think. Without football, there wouldn't be nearly as much interest in the other sports, with the possible exception of basketball. However, Texas would need to play 'lesser' schools in order to televise the games itself. Games against the larger conferences would be shown on ESPN/ABC, Fox Sports, or larger regional networks with exclusive contracts for selected games. Yet, if Texas starts playing schools without TV commitments, then their schedule and caliber of play is weakened.

Elsewhere, it appears that there will not be a national telecast of the public memorial service for Coach John Wooden. How can this be?

The service will take place, appropriately, at UCLA's Pauley Pavillion on Saturday June 26 at 11 AM PT, and is already expected to last about 90 minutes. UCLA is opening the doors at 9 AM and is already planning to put up video boards at Drake Stadium in the event of an overflow crowd.

The service is now scheduled to be streamed at UCLA.edu, and will be televised locally on Fox Sports Prime Ticket. Televised locally?

What about the rest of the country? ESPN/ABC, CBS, Fox Sports, and several regional networks spend millions of dollars for college basketball telecasts. We just had Turner Sports and CBS commiting millions and millions more for NCAA tourney telecasts in the years to come.

Yet, none of them has stepped forward to help millions of basketball fans remember perhaps its greatest coach ever? Wooden almost made it to his 100th birthday, so it's not as though his passing was tragic or unexpected. This is a service for his many fans to honor him.

Where are these networks now? Sorry, but I'll be disappointed if at least one of the national networks doesn't donate to a Wooden fund of some sort in order to be able to televise some or all of this memorial. What better way to be tied in with college basketball?

Elsewhere, who would have ever guessed that the TBS national telecast on June 13 would have been Washington at Cleveland? Even TBS didn't, until days before when they made the choice of switching from the originally scheduled Philly vs. Boston game. Steven Strasburg not only has command on the mound, but already has command with the TV networks. It will be interesting to see how long this continues.

His next start will come either Friday or Saturday (as of press time) in D.C. against the Chicago White Sox. MLB Network has already scheduled to pick up the Friday night game, an obvious move. Just in case the start is Saturday, Fox has moved the game from its original 7:05 start to a 4:10 ET start to include it among its telecasts. This is a rare instance of flex scheduling for Fox in June. Yet, one of those networks will not have Strasburg, instead sticking a regional or national audience with the Nationals.

TBS has the Mets at Yankees this Sunday (June 20) at 1:00 ET, and has chosen Detroit at Atlanta for June 27th at 1:30 PM ET. Granted, TBS does not have the ability to set start times for its Sunday series, but I still contend that TBS is hurt by the staggered start times each week. There will be fans tuning in on June 27th between 1 and 1:30 PM ET who then will not find a game on (after the past 2+ Sundays) and will tune elsewhere and miss out. There is no easy solution to this, although perhaps TBS doing an extended baseball pre-game show each week would help to maintain a consistent audience.

CHICAGO: Another instance of media promoting other media disguised as a sports story. This past Friday (June 11), a story came out that Cubs Manager Lou Pinella disagreed with comments made by TV and radio analyst Steve Stone about the use of one of his players. Even worse is how this played out in the local media.

Stone currently is the analyst on White Sox TV, but also does weekly segments on Comcast SportsNet Chicago (which airs most of the White Sox games) and is the baseball analyst for WSCR The Score 670.

Pinella chose a pre-game media gathering to disagree with some of Stone's comments. So what?

Comcast SportsNet actually put that "story" as the lead AHEAD of game reports, even though the White Sox vs. Cubs series is highly anticipated in Chicago. That is offensive to the fans, but I dismissed it because CSN employs Stone and wanted to make it a bigger deal than it should have been.

Worse yet, the "story" was picked up by other TV and radio stations in the market. Why would they give Steve Stone the publicity? The TV stations seemed to forget that they are, in effect, competing for sportscast viewers against CSN every night, while the radio stations gave publicity to an analyst for another station they compete against in the ratings.

Call me "old school" on this one, but once upon a time I would have been scolded big time for airing such a story. Wait. No I wouldn't. No way I would have put this story on the air, unless I was working for one of the same stations as Stone. And then, it would have come well after the game story.

Would you believe "Dancing With The Stars" beats the Bears vs. Packers next fall, according to WLS-TV? The ABC owned station was all set to carry the local version of ESPN Monday Night Football on September 27th when the NFL's biggest rivalry is renewed between the Bears and Packers. Until execs realized that a live "Dancing With The Stars" is scheduled for that same night on ABC Network.

Believe it or not, the station has moved the Bears vs. Packers game over to WCIU-TV. Here's hoping that Chicago fans view the game on ESPN that night. I don't have to hope for a ratings win for the football game. I'm counting on it.

That also means that at least one Bears game will be seen on 6 different Chicago TV stations next season. WFLD-TV (Fox) will have several, WBBM-TV (CBS) will have a couple, and a Sunday Night Football appearance on WMAQ-TV is one for NBC. A December 20 game is scheduled for Monday Night Football, and unless ABC-TV has a live program, WLS-TV will show that one. WGN-TV (local, not WGN America) will show a Thursday night game from NFL Network. And now WCIU-TV picks up the Monday Night Football game vs. Green Bay. Yikes.

SAN FRANCISCO: Ken Korach continues to do a respectable job calling the Oakland A's games on radio over the past few years. However, it seems way too soon for Korach to appear on the list of nominees this year for the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame. Especially when you learn that Jon Miller and Hal Ramey are among other nominees who have yet to be inducted. Yes, that's the Jon Miller who has done Giants games as well as ESPN Sunday Night Baseball for just over 20 years.

Since the public decides, this may not be an issue. Voting online is underway through July 17th at www.barhof.com.

St. LOUIS: While rumors persist that Cardinals baseball could return to KMOX and its dominant signal next season, KMOX will keep the St. Louis Blues NHL broadcasts for what is estimated to be a five-year renewal. The Blues have been back on KMOX for the past three seasons. With the new deal, the Blues actually buy the air time and sell their own advertising.

As a sports fan, I like this type of arrangement because it puts more pressure on the team to perform well so that there will be enough audience interest to keep generating happy advertisers. Fox Sports Midwest continues its TV deal.

NASHVILLE: Here's a good idea. Predators play-by-play voice Tom Callahan will host and welcome fans to the team's own NHL Draft party scheduled for a Nashville sports bar on June 25th.

SCHENECTADY NY: What ever happened to "joined in progress"? WTMM-FM 104.5 was scheduled to carry the Yankees broadcast this past Saturday (June 12) against Houston starting at 1:00. They could also carry the ESPN Radio broadcast of the U.S. vs. England World Cup Soccer match, which started at 2:30 PM.

Their decision? They dropped the Yankees broadcast (and I don't know that the game aired anywhere in the market) and carried the entire soccer broadcast.

It wasn't my decision, but that is absolutely NOT how I would have handled that. I think WTMM should have carried the Yankees broadcast as usual, and then joined the soccer in progress at the conclusion. A studio host could have given updates on the soccer game between innings of the Yankees broadcast. What do fans miss if they don't hear every minute of a soccer game on radio?

These events were not head-to-head, and the baseball game ended before the soccer match. I would back off on this under one condition, which would be if the fans had a say. I don't know for certain that it was a station decision to do it this way, but I would apologize if it turns out that listeners voted the soccer match as a priority.

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