The majority of sports fans associate holidays with whatever sport is prominent at the time. The one exception was Christmas Day, until the past few years. It wasn't that long ago that the NFL would be careful to schedule regular season and early playoff games on days other than Christmas Day itself.
In recent years, the NBA has come along and made Christmas Day its special holiday. The league has gone from one showcase game on Dec. 25 to a doubleheader, and now once again this year no fewer than five national telecasts dominate the day.
Chicago at New York starts it at Noon ET on ESPN, followed by the ABC-TV matchups with Boston at Orlando at 2:30 and Miami vs. L.A. Lakers at 5:00. ESPN takes over at night with Denver at Oklahoma City at 8:00 and then Portland at Golden State at 10:30. Nearly 13 hours of continuous live NBA action, including a couple of marquee matchups.
Although I haven't seen recent figures for TNT, ESPN reports a 35% increase in viewers for the first 24 telecasts of the current NBA season over last season. It looks like the Christmas Day marathon will help that trend to continue.
Granted, not everyone is fine with sports on Christmas Day. But for the many of us who grew up with maybe one or two games of any kind shown on Christmas Day, this is a holiday gift in its own right. There were some lean years when the "Blue Gray" college football game was the only game being shown, and this was a boring 'all-star' collection of college players blended together. Even with the jokes about "the gray tradition year after year", that game only served to make the day more frustrating.
After all, New Year's Day is for college football, Memorial Day and Independence Day are for baseball, Labor Day used to symbolize the start of the NFL season and now has gone back to baseball, and Thanksgiving is for the NFL (especially with the addition of the 3rd game in recent years). The NBA has been sharp in claiming Christmas, as well as the Martin Luther King holiday as its own with a lineup of national games.
The week started off with still another NFL domination. After another Sunday Night Football "win" for NBC, the possible final game of Brett Favre on Monday Night scored well for ESPN. Like it or not, Favre is big news and the ratings reflect it. It would be easy to say "Wait a minute. The Bears were going for the NFC North Division title", which they clinched.
Yet, with the Vikings already out of any post-season possibility, the Vikings hosting the Bears actually scored a higher TV audience rating in the Minneapolis market than it did for the always present Chicago market.
The Minneapolis area rating was reported to be a 48.5 compared to a 40.7 rating for the Chicago market. While it's true that the game was played at the University of Minnesota stadium which may have peaked local curiosity, the belief is that Favre made the ratings difference.
Even on a national level, ESPN Monday Night Countdown (the pre-game show) scored a 3.5 rating, the show's best ever. As a result this show's top 3 most watched episodes (including this past Monday) were all prior to games with Favre and the Vikings.
(The telecast audience ratings for Minneapolis and Chicago are based on both the ESPN telecast and a simulcast of the feed on a local TV station in each market. Since it is the same telecast, there is no need to show the local splits.)
While Fox Sports Radio shows some audience growth, its national morning show shrinks to one offering starting on January 3rd. The "Zakk & Jack Show" with Zakk Tyler and former QB Jack Trudeau remains in Fox's 6 to 9 AM ET spot. As a result, Stephen A. Smith will need to yell his comments at other times of the day, which he will do as their full-time NBA analyst. It took just 5 months for Zakk & Jack to prove themselves since the network only started to carry their Indianapolis based show in late July of this year.
Another great idea from MLB Network comes to fruition during January. The Network allowed fans to vote for their favorite games of the past 50 years, and MLB Network will air the "top 20" during the month.
Congrats to Dave Van Horne, one of the great baseball voices of the past 50 years on making it to the Baseball Hall of Fame next July. Van Horne started with the Montreal Expos in 1969 and has been the voice of the Florida Marlins since 2001.
Chicago Cubs fans now have something to look forward to, as radio voice Pat Hughes was signed to a 5 year contract extension earlier this week. Hughes has been calling the vast majority of innings of Cubs games on radio for the past 15 seasons on WGN Radio. Hughes will have a new broadcast partner for 2011 once a replacement is named for the late Ron Santo. It is not yet known if WGN will add an analyst who will also do some innings of play-by-play and take some of the load off Hughes, who has called upwards of 8 innings of every game for the past few seasons. Yet, this is not certain, based on the WGN Radio trend over the years of having a cheerleader in the booth ahead of another true broadcaster.
WGN Radio, meanwhile, is bringing back sports programming to its 7 to 10 PM time slot starting next week after a few month's absence. Dave Kaplan, who just had his role with Comcast SportsNet expanded last week, will be the primary co-host on weeknights when there are no Blackhawks, Cubs, or Northwestern University basketball broadcasts.
BOSTON: After somewhere around 13,000 sports talk shows over the years, this coming Sunday (12/26) will be the final one for Eddie Andelman. His final show airs on WTKK 96.9.
St. LOUIS: Long time sports host Kevin Slaten found a way to return enthusiastically to KFNS, where he returns starting January 3rd. Slaten had been dismissed back in 2008 after he aired an interview with Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan who thought it was a private conversation.
The move was made possible by the recent new owners of KSLG 1380 Sports Radio purchasing KFNS. Since KFNS has the better signal, management is really only switching Slaten over to KFNS while Jeff Vernetti, Jeff Gordon, and Brian McKenna will move over to 1380 and continue in afternoon drive there. Word is that Slaten will add a co-host during January.
KSLG is bringing back Howard Balzer to host from 1 to 3 PM on weekdays, rather than only appearing on football related shows and segments for the station.
CINCINNATI: If and as the Bengals game vs. San Diego does not sell out for this coming Sunday (12/26), it would mean that Cincinnati fans would wind up with a New York City doublehader on the tube. CBS would carry the Jets vs. Bears game in the 1 PM slot before Fox shows the Giants at Green Bay game as the doubleheader game. It's actually not New York bias, as in both cases there are playoff implications for each participating team.
BIRMINGHAM: The Alabama vs. Auburn rivalry in November also carried over to the radio ratings. WJOX-FM sports radio showed a significant audience increase during the ratings for that period and rose to 3rd in the market, trailing a pair of music stations.
SOUTH BURLINGTON VT: The new year will start with network hopping among some all sports stations. WCPV-FM Champ 101.3 will pick up ESPN Radio, while airing a local sports show with Rob Ryan from 4 to 6 PM. WCAT 1390, along with WFAD 1490 Middlebury and WRSA 1420 St. Albans, will drop ESPN and pick up Fox Sports Radio. The area will technically have 3 all sports stations, as WNMR 107.1 Shelburne will continue with Sporting News Radio except for its local 4 to 6 PM sports show. WCPV will also now carry New England Patriots football and Vermont Lake Monsters basebal instead of WEAV 960 talk radio.
LUFKIN TX: ESPN Radio will be simulcast on both 1260 AM and 103.3 FM beginning with the new year. The FM signal had been off the air in recent months.
May Santa bring all of the sports game broadcasts and talk shows better ratings!