As the NFL playoff races again go down to the final weekend, the strong TV ratings are playing a direct role in the drama still to unfold.
We shouldn't overlook the moves by Fox Sports for Sunday (1/2) of putting 3 NFL games with playoff implications on at the same time. This will be an instance of helping the competitive balance and NFL fans while it is really based on generating more huge ratings for Fox.
Fox moved the Chicago at Green Bay and Dallas at Philadelphia games to 4:15 ET instead of keeping those as early regional games. Both of those games have NFC playoff implications, as does the N.Y. Giants at Washington game, originally scheduled for 4:15.
Fans have seen it happen in many past years where early games decide playoff fates instead and render a doubleheader game or two to meaningless. Not so this time around. The ticket holding fans should be thankful for this, since it gives each game more meaning. But is this really for the ticket holding fans?
Guess again. Since both Fox and CBS have doubleheader game telecasts, this is a huge push for Fox to win out over CBS on the regular season's final day. Having New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia's avid football markets glued to the screens during that time period, not to mention the Dallas Cowboys no matter what their record, should help Fox kill in the ratings. They'll kill CBS' telecasts of Tennessee at Indy or Jax at Houston. At least the fans benefit along with Fox TV, unless you want to find a "must see" early game.
NBC should do well again on Sunday (Jan. 2). Even with bowl game and the regular NFL Sunday "burnout" possibilities, NBC has the St. Louis at Seattle telecast which sends the game winner into the NFC Playoffs.
It remains to be seen if the Philadelphia Eagles show any effects of having played on Tuesday (12/28) night after the weather related postponement from Sunday. NBC did well with its Tuesday night prime time telecast. It was nice to see the game start right away after 8 PM ET instead of rehashing everything on another pre-game show. NBC will say that they did their pre-game show as scheduled on Sunday night, when they went 90 minutes instead of 75 before cutting away to game shows. What they won't say is that they wanted to get the game over with by 11 PM so that Jay Leno and their late night lineup would be on time. However, they didn't say it, and it didn't happen, as the game was delayed due to injuries and replay challenges.
Early returns (as of press time on Wednesday) show that NBC topped the prime time ratings with the Vikings' upset of the Eagles. It helped that fans in New York and Chicago had an interest in the game due to the playoff possibilities for their local teams.
But back to Sunday. It certainly was big news that the Eagles game was postponed until Tuesday due to the snowstorm. CBS had it on their bottom line scroll throughout most of its early game telecasts, which was understandable. What is curious is that every time the story scrolled across, it gave the 8 PM ET start time for the Tuesday game. No one was saying on Monday. I'm wondering if that was some sort of league directive. CBS would have no reason (or shouldn't have) to promote the start time of a game to be on NBC.
On Christmas Day, the NBA ruled the ratings, just as we thought. ESPN and ABC had ratings increases of 20 to 45% over last year's telecasts on that day, and this year a total of 5 games were televised.
You can't overlook that the Miami vs. Lakers (LeBron vs. Kobe) showed a 45% increase over last season's Christmas marquee game of Cleveland vs. the Lakers. Before you think "That was a different matchup", consider that both were LeBron vs. Kobe. In Miami, that telecast was ABC's highest rated NBA regular season telecast there. The earlier ABC telecast of Boston at Orlando showed Boston as the top local market for ratings, and was ABC's highest rated regular season telecast ever in Orlando.
The NFL Network telecast on Christmas night of Dallas vs. Arizona finished as the day's most watched program on cable TV. The Network can only dream of what their audience would have been if the Cowboys were having a good season or if that game had any playoff implications.
Meanwhile, now Time Warner Cable is in dispute with Sinclair Broadcast Group over carrying local channels in some east coast markets. This while thousands of AT&T U-Verse viewers subscribing to their sports package lost about a dozen of the Fox Sports regional networks mid-December with no announcement. While it may be easy to blame Fox Sports, AT&T makes up for that by continuing to charge subscribers to the package the same amount of money (unless they call to complain) even with far less channels. And the fans who are or would pay the expensive television bills still don't have a say - either way.
Congrats to Mike Pereira, named "Sports Media Person of the Year" for 2010 by Sports Illustrated for his roving commentary about officials challenges during Fox NFL telecasts this season. Going into the final weekend of regular season play, Pereira has correctly predicted the outcome of 49 out of 50 red flags he analyzed for the network.
Meanwhile, I understand that people in media like to have time off to spend with family around certain holidays. Yet, I understand that over the years many a media member has to do his or her thing on those days because sports increases for holiday audiences.
But here we go again. Too many sports talk hosts are on vacation this week, and it is one of the busiest sports weeks of the entire year. There is plenty to talk about. In many instances, sports radio callers are forced to discuss their opinions with part-time or replacement hosts. At least it is live and up to date programming, so I suppose I can live with it.
Not to pick on Dan Patrick again, but there is no excuse for "best of" repeats on his morning radio and TV show all this week. Especially within a few months of having added several major market TV outlets to the show. It seems like he has been airing repeats more often than in the studio. Sports happens every day. It is not like an entertainment show where actors discuss current movies.
C'mon, Dan. The next month you are taking off, get some players or fellow broadcasters to fill in for a live show. Or let your production staff do some hosting. Or record some topical interviews to keep it current. Instead, it drives listeners and viewers to other stations for live sports talk. If I were an executive with a regional TV Network or large or medium radio market that signed this show, I would be incensed at having my audience pissed away from part of morning drive. A vacation is one thing. Blowing off listeners and viewers is another.
DALLAS: The Ticket 1310 had an 18 hour charity marathon on Monday (12/27). To its credit, listeners were not bored with endless pitches for charity in between the same fans calling in with the same complaints as any other day. Instead, the station went the extra mile, with live guests including Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Even though this is how it should be, it was good to hear, and also shows the level of competition among the sports stations serving the Metroplex.
BALTIMORE: Tonight's (Weds. 12/29) game between Towson University and LaSalle, as aired on WTMD 89.7, was a special one for Spiro Morekas. Now in his 20th season of calling Towson's games, this one marked his 1,000th broadcast.
YOUNGSTOWN OH: This past Monday (12/27) at Noon, WNIO 1390 did as rumored and dropped music to pick up Fox Sports Radio. The station will continue to carry Cleveland Cavaliers basketball, Pittsburgh Steelers football, and most Ohio State University broadcasts.
EL PASO: KROD 600 drops its talk format and will indeed become ESPN Radio on January 18th. The play-by-play the station has been carrying will continue on KROD. In addition to local high school broadcasts, the station will keep Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns football, and add play-by-play it can air without schedule conflicts from ESPN Radio. KHEY 1380 had carried ESPN locally.
FINALLY: As we wrap up 2010, let me take this opportunity to wish each of you a Happy New Year, and thank you for the comments and e-mails (positive and negative) throughout this year. The Broadcast Booth has been renewed for another year (its 3rd full year) and I'm looking forward to it.