Monday, December 26, 2011

Leaving 2011 Sports Media....

Sports media for 2011 will be remembered as much for having to report on off-the-field news even more than what happened on the fields, courts, and ice. Scandals, accusations, substance abuse, and media hiring, firings, and apologies overshadowed a lot of game recaps.

Many sportscasters got unexpected experience as newscasters as stories such as Penn State, Barry Bonds, Ryan Braun, and lockouts of both the NFL and NBA, and more stories became dominant of sportscasts at various points.

TV and online media surged again this year, with strong ratings for live telecasts for each of the major pro sports. Radio also saw ratings gains for many stations airing local pro play-by-play, although sports talk stations showed varied results depending upon the market.

Now we look ahead to Week 17 of the NFL season which will dominate New Year's Day, as the major college bowl games move to Monday Jan. 2nd. NBC has flexed the Dallas vs. N.Y. Giants game to Sunday Night Football, while CBS has moved a pair of games to its doubleheader slot. These are Pittsburgh at Cleveland, which will be a 4:15 ET start on CBS, as will Baltimore at Cincinnati. How ironic is it that a doubleheader game comes from Cincinnati when the Bengals have had local blackouts this season?

Last Monday (Dec. 19) the ESPN Monday Night Football telecast of Pittsburgh at San Francisco, which was marred by two delays due to power outages, turned out to be a big ratings winner for ESPN. Not only for cable, but for all broadcast networks as well for total households. In Pittsburgh, the telecast on both ESPN and WTAE-TV combined for a remarkable 44.2 rating.

Meanwhile, some sportscasters making news in recent days:

MIAMI: The Miami Herald reported that WQAM's Sid Rosenberg will be off the air for as long as six weeks due to what it terms "an unpaid suspension". The report says that Rosenberg alledgedly owed about $100,000 from sports betting and was paying off his personal gambling debt with "unpaid" on-air mentions.

CLEVELAND: A Christmas present of a different sort for John Michael, who beat a different sort of odds by making his debut (Dec. 26) as the new play-by-play voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers on WTAM 1100. The 39 year old Michael now teams with analyst Jim Chones despite not having previous NBA play-by-play experience. Michael is known from hosting Columbus Blue Jackets telecasts on Fox Sports Ohio. Yet, in this instance, hiring an inexperienced NBA voice could work. Michael has the unenviable task of taking over for the retired Joe Tait who voice the Cavs for almost all of their past 40 seasons. An experienced NBA voice would certainly have felt the pressure of replacing a legend.

MILWAUKEE: Joe Block has joined the Brewers' radio crew for the upcoming season, but he will work with rather than replace a legend. The 33 year-old Block has called more than 900 minor league games over the years along with doing fill-in broadcasts for some 2003 and '04 Montreal Expos broadcasts. This past season, he handled the Dodgers' post-game shows on KABC Radio. In addition, he has hosted NBA New Orleans Hornets radio broadcasts and called college football and basketball on Comcast Sports Southeast for 10 seasons. Block replaces Cory Provus, who was recently named to the Minnesota Twins radio team.

Block has the role of working with the legendary Bob Uecker on WTMJ and the Brewers' radio network.

St. LOUIS: A holiday "break" of a different sort for Brendan Burke. Blues announcer Chris Kerber has and will miss a few games during this time due to his father being seriously ill. As a result, Burke, the play-by-play voice of the Blues' minor league team the Peoria Rivermen, has been filling in on Blues broadcasts working with analyst Kelly Chase. To his credit, Burke handled a Blues assignment by flying to Nashville the day of the broadcast after learning he would be doing at 8:30 that same morning. In addition to the physical demands of traveling for Blues broadcasts while calling Rivermen games he can get to during this stretch, Burke also has the challenge of calling the minor league games solo (without an analyst) and having an experience analyst in Chase to work with him on the Blues games. Word is that team officials are pleased with the 27-year old Burke's effort, as well they should be.

ALBANY: Not a good week for WTMM 104.5 The Team's Bruce Jacobs. The station host apologized for anti-gay comments last week when he referred to a pair of WNBA team names with lesbian slurs.

MEANWHILE: I have brought this up before, but unfortunately it hasn't done any good. This past Monday (12/26) was an unusual day in that it was considered a paid holiday for bank, corporate, and government workers even though Christmas was the day before. As a result, more people than usual were available to listen and watch sports that day. Yet, once again, The Dan Patrick Show that morning consisted of repeats.

The NFL season is about to begin its final week. The NBA season opened the afternoon before. The NHL is in full swing. The lineup of .500 teams playing in college bowl games during the coming week is always a hot button. Yet, The Dan Patrick Show expected a larger than usual audience to stick around and listened to outdated segments. It's not that Patrick doesn't deserve time off. But the show doesn't. As a sports fan, I'm offended by this. His show runs on all sports radio stations as well as regional TV networks such as Comcast Sports in Philadelphia, Chicago, and other major markets. Station and network executives should be offended that they were stuck with a rerun instead of the live sports programming they supposedly specialize in. And I'll just say I'm glad I'm not an advertiser on that show.

There is no excuse for not having a live show every weekday that Patrick is off. They could get a player, coach, team executive, or another sports expert to come in and take some calls and give opinions about the day's news and events.

FINALLY: Happy New Year to all. We're back for 2012 with our weekly updates. Thanks for all of your input and comments, whether positive or negative.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The High Cost of Sports Media

Sports media is supposed to be to serve and support the fans who follow their favorite teams and sports, yet as 2011 comes toward an end, it seems to be switching toward sports fans supporting the media, and I'm talking financially. That's not how it is supposed to be.

With all of the technology now available to sports fans which didn't exist 20 years ago, this should be a period of time during which the fans could rejoice at all of the coverage and information available to follow favorite leagues, teams, games, and even individual players for fantasy sports. Instead, we sports fans keep having to open our wallets further and further to have it. Without a vote.

The big "sports media" stories of these past couple of weeks show this. The NFL contracts to the TV networks figures to significantly raise the cost of cable/satellite bills over the next few months. Worse yet, even the millions of consumers who are not sports fans will wind up helping to pay for the new NFL package.

In the New York area, the bickering continues between Time Warner Cable and MSG Networks regarding the prices MSG Networks wants to charge Time Warner per subscriber starting January 1st. Time Warner is looking to play "hero" (as of press time on Monday 12/19) via its media release that it intends to continue to carry MSG Networks through the duration of the Knicks' and Rangers' current seasons while it negotiates.

What we have is MSG Networks raising the prices to watch coverage of teams which may not even be serious title contenders. Yet, it's difficult to be on the side of Time Warner, since it decides which channels and groups will be on which packages and what the prices will be - often whether its paying customers want them or not. TW, as with other cable and satellite providers, continue to demand that customers pay for channels for different languages, religions, and programming choices than what they necessarily want or use.

Not only are us "fans" put in this position, but we also have to watch telecasts cluttered with advertisements, network promotions, and other solicitations.

Now, it's more than TV and radio. With the NBA season now less than a week from starting, the NBA has announced that it has a new "official wireless service provider of the NBA". Complete with the press releases about what a great service this is for NBA fans who can get live game broadcasts and video on their phones. The NBA seems to overlook that consumers already pay extra for plans that allow them online and "radio" access via their phones. However, we now have Sprint paying the NBA for exclusive rights to offer this, after T-Mobile was the "official" carrier for the past six seasons. If the NBA truly wants to provide its fan base with phone access for the coming season (and after the lockout they should be bending over backwards to make this available) it should allow this access via all of the national wireless carriers.

The sports media has become more important to many consumers because it costs too much for many people to attend games due to huge ticket prices. The media is supposed to "cover" the sports events that fans are interested, and not be so worried about making money off every fan that is or isn't interested.

CBS is pleased after winning the battle (against NBC which tried to flex the telecast into prime time) to keep the New England vs. Denver telecast on Sunday (12/18). The telecast scored the highest regular season rating of the entire season thus far, and was CBS' highest rated regular season telecast since 2007.

BALTIMORE / D.C.: The Ravens have a new local radio & TV contract extension for five more seasons. WBAL-AM and 98 Rock-FM will continue to air the games, with Gerry Sandusky (who has to remind people that he is not 'that' Gerry Sandusky), Stan White, and Qadry Ismail handling the broadcasts. On the TV side, WBAL-TV Channel 11 will air the pre-season games not picked up by any of the national networks.

WTEM ESPN 980 (D.C.) will need a new co-host along with Doc Walker on its 2 - 4 PM weekday show. Former Georgetown University coach John Thompson, who has been co-hosting the show with Walker since 1999, is leaving the show. As of press time, Thompson only said "It's time to move on", and had not announced any intention of giving up any of his other current broadcast duties.

CINCINNATI: WQTR-AM 1160 will continue with sports talk programming from 5 to 7 PM weekdays, starting a new show "The Other Guys" with Fox Sports Ohio's Jeff Piecoro and Rick "The Brick" Wall. The "Guys" replace Andy Furman, who resigned on December 5th after two years of hosting on WQTR. Furman continues his Fox Sports Radio Sunday night show, while speculation is that he will have another Cincinnati media gig to announce within the next 60 days.

PITTSBURGH: WWCS 540 is ending its Spanish language programming to become "Fox Sports 540" by January 1st. However, its initial announcement shows all network and syndicated programming on both weekdays and weekends, at least to start. Fox Sports Radio had been dumped by WBGG 970 which is now Pittsburgh's ESPN Radio.

TAMPA: Congrats to Nel Solondz on being named as the Rays broadcasts pre and post-game host starting for the upcoming season. Solondz had been the voice of the Rays' AAA Durham Bulls for the previous 8 seasons, and had been used to fill in on some of the Rays' related programming.

Monday, December 12, 2011

NBA Announcers In The Wrong Places?

While many anticipate the NBA season opening on Christmas Day with 5 games being televised nationally, it will likely be one to remember for the primary announcing team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy. Whether or not they remember it positively remains to be seen. That Breen and Van Gundy will call the ABC telecast (game 2 of the day) with the NBA Finals rematch of Miami at Dallas at 2:30 PM ET is hardly news. But the story that ESPN's telecast of Golden State hosting the L.A. Clippers in Oakland at 10:30 PM ET that same night is scheduled to also be described by Breen and Van Gundy is.

ABC/ESPN is hopeful that the weather and the airlines allow the pair to fly out after the Dallas telecast and be in Oakland just over 5 hours later to make it their own personal doubleheader spread over 2 time zones. I suppose this is an attempt to call attention to the Clippers vs. Warriors game being on national TV since I can't think of any other reason to do this. Maybe the NBA should have stayed with 4 games on opening day and not included such a comparatively weak matchup be included. They are counting on fans tuning in to at least the start of the game to find out if Breen and Van Gundy made it on time. If the 2 games for a single announcing team to call were geographically close I could understand, such as a Knicks game and later a Nets game, both Los Angeles teams at home, or a Chicago and Milwaukee (90 miles apart) combination.

Let's face it. Breen and Van Gundy will be better prepared, and understandably so, for the Miami vs. Dallas matchup. Calling 2 games involving 4 different teams on the same day is a tough assignment for anybody, even without the traveling. There is no reason for an NBA telecast to be so understaffed. For some reason, the NBA seems to go along with this. For example, Doris Burke does a good job as an analyst on several NBA telecasts for ESPN during the regular season. This wouldn't bother me if it wasn't that ESPN/ABC, TNT, and NBA-TV all seem to have dozens of studio analysts on at the same time who were all former NBA players. There are only a limited number of opportunities for each of them to comment sufficiently and even fewer to disagree. Less diplomatically, there is no need for all of these studio commentators. Yet, here ESPN is using the same announcing team for 2 of its telecasts on opening day. And they use Doris Burke at games while "extra" analysts who actually played in the NBA sit in the studio. It doesn't make sense.

Just in case, ESPN will have Terry Gannon and Chris Mullen ready to go in Oakland on Christmas night. If Breen and Van Gundy can't make it at all or on time, they will handle the call. If Breen and Van Gundy arrive in time, Gannon and Mullen will have lesser roles in the telecast.

It will also be a busy couple of days for Mike Tirico. He will call the ABC telecast of the Lakers hosting the Chicago Bulls at 5 PM ET on Christmas and then head out for New Orleans to call the Monday Night Football game just over 24 hours later between the Saints and the Atlanta Falcons in a game that looks to be a ratings bonanza based on the playoff implications.

NBC-TV continues to dominate with its Sunday Night Football ratings, again winning the night on Sunday (12/11) with the Giants vs. Cowboys telecast, with early numbers showing it to be the 5th highest rated Sunday night (actual Sunday) telecast for NBC. Interestingly, all 5 highest rated Sunday Night NBC telecasts have featured the Cowboys, with Sunday's game making 2 of those telecasts vs. the Giants among that top 5. It's the Cowboys that are the draw, as local market ratings show that the top 3 markets around the country watching on Sunday night were Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.

Two long-time MLB announcers have been named to halls of fame within the past week, although reaction is different about both. Bob Uecker, the 41 year voice of the Milwaukee Brewers as well as several seasons nationally for ABC-TV earlier on, has been named to the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and will be inducted on April 17th in Las Vegas, and the majority of fans are happy for Uecker. Especially after his having had health issues that have taken him away from games over the past couple of years.

Tim McCarver, national telecast analyst for Fox and for CBS-TV prior, has been named to the Baseball Hall of Fame and will be honored in Cooperstown next July. However, McCarver has come under fire by many fans and media critics over the past few years.

Fox Sports Radio continues to make some unique pairings of hosts for its weekend programming. Now the network is teaming up tennis star Andy Roddick with Austin morning host Bobby Bones for its Saturday 1 to 4 PM ET spot. The pair did some fill-in work together this past summer and impressed the network.

CHICAGO: Bulls basketball will remain on WMVP ESPN 1000 for another five seasons, extending their current contract through the 2016-17 season.

DENVER: Musical chairs continues with the city's all sports stations. KKFN Fan 104.3 has announced its local schedule to begin by the first of the year to replace ESPN programming. Joel Klatt and Mike Evans will host mornings, with (former NBA player) Scott Hastings and Drew Goodman (voice of the Rockies) hosting from Noon to 3 PM weekdays. Sister station KEPN 1600 is also replacing the ESPN lineup, although it will run syndicated shows (such as Dan Patrick) and Yahoo Sports Radio instead.

SEATTLE: The Mariners' broadcast booth will once again be well attended for the 2012 season, as a cast of thousands will continue to call the games after the passing of Dave Niehaus following the 2010 season. While Rick Rizzs, Dave Sims, and Mike Blowers will handle most of the duties, Ken Wilson and Ron Fairly are among those returning for part-time broadcasting during the season. In addition, Ken Levine, Dave Valle, Dave Henderson, Dan Wilson, and Jay Buhner will also be in the booth at various times. Wonder if the players will be able to tell the announcers without a scorecard!

MINNEAPOLIS: Let the speculation begin about the future location for Twins broadcasts. KHTC 96.3 is about to change call letters to KTWN and become "K-Twin" radio although the Twins broadcasts are currently under contract to KSTP 1500. Yet, there is a good reason for this speculation. K-Twin is owned by the Pohlad family, which owns the Twins.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Lot To Talk About This Week

This very week appears to be one of the most interesting times for sports talk. The annual controversy over the choices for the college football championship game. NFL playoff races heating up. Some fans anticipating NBA free agent signings and training camps opening. Baseball's winter meetings. All this along with a full slate of NHL and early season college hoops.

Hopefully this will be a time for sports talk stations to step up their game as well. There is plenty of opportunity for players, coaches, and team executives to be guests and provide listeners with solid opinions, facts, and good information. The stations can make it interesting for a variety of topics. Let's hope for something better than "Steve from the north side wants to talk playoffs....".

The radio ratings for late October to mid-November are out for the larger markets. Philadelphia and Minneapolis show the most significant developments. The move of WIP to an AM-FM combo has had very little impact thus far. WIP AM and FM, with the FM adding more hours of separate programming, merely combined for roughly half of the audience of WPEN, and WPEN finished at #18 in overall audience. Sure looks like Howard Eskin leaving afternoon drive at the end of August was a severe blow to WIP that even the addition of the FM signal isn't about to fix any time soon.

The recent move of several big market sports stations to FM is already paying dividends in certain cities. In the Twin Cities, KFXN-FM The Fan has been on the upward trend since coming over from the AM side. The Fan came in at #7 in overall audience at 4.8, up a full ratings point from its September showing. What underscores this increase is when you realize it is not the local teams. The Vikings are headed toward last place, the Twins just finished a last place finish, and the University of Minnesota football team didn't exactly light up the Big 10. KFXN-FM is successful by taking away the audience from rival KSTP-AM, which dropped from 3.6 to 2.7 during the same time period. It is virtually the same number of people listening to sports talk.

Several of the largest markets saw little (if any) change in the number of sports talk listeners during this ratings period. In New York, WFAN and WEPN both held steady, with The Fan coming in #13 overall. In Chicago, WSCR The Score moved up to a 2.6 rating and #16 in the market, while rival WMVP ESPN 1000 was steady and finished #21.

In San Francisco, KNBR continues its huge lead in the sports station race, while finishing #9 overall. KTCK-AM The Ticket finished at #26 while KGMZ came in #27 in that market. In Dallas, sports radio continues to be popular as the Cowboys season unfolds (and the Rangers were in the World Series during much of this ratings period). KESN ESPN came in #12 overall, just ahead of KTCK The Ticket at #14, while KRLD-FM came in #22.

In Boston, the competition between The Sports Hub and WEEI continues to be interesting, as WEEI and The Sports Hub both lost overall audience. WBZ-FM Sports Hub leads WEEI by .3 after WEEI lost most of the audience it had gained a month earlier.

The success of the Detroit Lions during the ratings period helped WXYT-FM The Ticket remain #1 overall in the market even with a loss of well over a full ratings point. With the Lions on a losing streak since, it will be interesting to see whether or not The Ticket holds on to the top spot next month.

St. Louis remains a sports radio hot bed, as WXOS-FM gained more than one full ratings point over the month. The station is the flagship station for Rams football, although its audience increased overall despite a poor season by the team. KMOX, which has some sports talk programming in addition to play-by-play, remains a solid #1 in the market and continues to enjoy the success of the Cardinals' World Series victory.

In Houston, KILT is starting to make sports talk viable, moving up to #19 overall, reflecting an overall 2.6 rating from only a 1.4 in August. KBME is at #25 overall, reflecting an increase for both of those stations.

Even Los Angeles sports stations show a slight audience increase although it's nothing to get excited about. KSPN ESPN jumps up to #25, while KLAC moved up very slightly but is still #34 overall. It shows you where that market has gone when it's a positive that one sports station barely cracks the top 25.

One other ratings oddity of sorts. In Winnipeg, where the city is enjoying its own NHL team for the first time in years, Sports Radio 1290 actually dropped .1 in October, the first month it was carrying the team's games.

DENVER: As The Ticket becomes ESPN Radio, instead of 1600 AM, on Jan. 1st, morning hosts Vic Lombardi and Gary Miller have been given their ticket "out". Management decided to continue Mike & Mike on FM and end the 7 - 9 AM local show hosted by the KCNC-TV sportscasters. As of now, plans remain in place for The Ticket on FM to be local from Noon to 3 with Les Shapiro and JoJo and from 3 to 7 PM with Charles Johnson and Nate Kreckman.

HOUSTON: Whether or not anyone will notice, WGOW 1560 has moved Sean Pendergast from middays to morning drive and is now co-hosting with John Granato, as of this week, from 6 to 11 AM. Travis Rodgers will air from 2 to 6 PM with Yahoo Sports Radio taking up most of the rest of the time.

CHICAGO: WGN Radio, which airs Blackhawks hockey, debuted an "occasional" weekend 1-hour show hosted by winger Daniel Carcillo, this past Friday (12/2) night following the Blackhawks vs. Islanders broadcast. The recorded program is more of a music and "personal experience" show, and will air several more times during the season on weekend nights following the Hawks' broadcasts.

WVON 1690 will air about 10 Illinois State University basketball games this season, marking the first time in years that a Chicago station has aired the Redbirds games. The station did not and does not air any other play-by-play at this time.

CINCINNATI: WLW Radio has begun its "Reds Hot Stove League" broadcasts each Tuesday night at 6 PM ET during the baseball off season. This past Tuesday (11/29), the show aired live from a restaurant near the stadium and prompted Reds voice Marty Brennaman to comment that he wishes the show was broadcast "among the fans" every week instead of mostly from the station studios. However, the next remotes won't be until Dec. 20th and Jan. 17th.

MEMPHIS: Verno Radio 730 has stopped its numerous rebroadcasts of its afternoon drive "The Chris Vernon Show" and now airs Yahoo Sports Radio for the majority of its broadcast day. Although the move is technically from local to national, in this instance it is more importantly from recorded to live.

DES MOINES: Sorry to learn of the passing of Mike Newell from a heart attack at the age of 66 last week. Newell has done play-by-play for Drake University basketball, Iowa Oaks (minor league) baseball, and years of hosting WHO Radio's University of Iowa post-game "Sound Off" show.

And, finally, I will acknowledge that I left out a very important fact in one of my comments last week. There I was writing about how ESPN actually went "news" rather than just sports with its reporting of the Bernie Fine story and recordings it had to support the unfortunate incidents which led to his (Fine's) firing. However, the portion of the story I saw and heard on ESPN did not include the part where it was revealed that ESPN had those recordings for several years and failed to release them or report on their contents. Therefore, ESPN was actually NOT doing an efficient job of presenting news because of that.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sports Radio Not Making News

Getting caught up after a brief vacation..............

Of course, it was a big weekend of sports both on and off the field. Football, hockey, and basketball everywhere, including NBC-TV with its first ever telecast of an NHL game during Black Friday afternoon. Black Friday is not a holiday, but the networks and some local stations realize that many sports fans are available to watch games who would not normally be available for viewing on a Friday afternoon or early evening.

Yet, sports radio stations continue to overlook this fact. A quick listening survey of stations in Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and a couple of others revealed that at least some of the major sports radio stations treated Friday Nov. 25th as a throwaway day. Substitute hosts, "best of" features, and part-timers abounded. That day is always a chance for many to tune in while in the car during shopping marathons, or while spending time at home instead of at work, while at work during a different time, and for many other reasons.

I don't buy the argument that "the other stations do the same thing". Sports radio stations are not merely competing against each other and radio stations with other formats. These stations often overlook how sports fans have so many other avenues to choose from. Sorry, but the sports stations should have gone with most of their "A" team on Friday and taken advantage of a greater opportunity to reach listeners they don't always get to, instead of treating it like we (the listeners) don't matter.

Meanwhile, with so much comment over the past few days about the early media coverage when the Penn State scandal first unfolded, I had not intended to get back into that for this week. However, I feel the need to defend some of the sports media on this one.

Many columnists, bloggers, and even media reporters have been questioning what they perceived as a lack of "hard hitting" coverage of the situation as it was breaking last week. Sources such as ESPN and Big Ten Network often came under fire as if they tried to sweep the unfortunate developments under the rug because they televise Penn State games and there are big bucks involved.

In this instance, my feeling is that the sports networks did not deserve the criticism pointed at them. At least they don't based on the Penn State scandal. This huge scandal happened to involve Penn State football coaches and some Athletic Department personnel. However, this is really NOT a sports story. Therein lies the difference.

Rather, this was hard news. ESPN and BTN, as well as Comcast SportsNet, Versus, and others, report on and cover sports, as in the games, players, team officials, and news which is related to the players and the games.

Think back to that June 1994 day when the O.J. Simpson and the Bronco situation took place. It was CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and other networks and news organizations which went with live wall-to-wall coverage to the point of pre-empting some prime time programming. NBA fans got a split screen during a crucial NBA playoff game because of the O.J. chase and surrounding coverage.

Why are the O.J. incident and this Penn State scandal breaking in the same category? Because they are both hard news stories, and not sports stories. O.J. Simpson happened to have been a Hall of Fame football player and later a commentator and still involved with NFL coverage. But the chase and the then recent murders had nothing to do with football or sports.

The unfortunate incidents surrounding Penn State officials and coaches also are not sports related. They happen to involve personnel involved with the school's football team.

Yet, media critics have been critical of the sports networks' "coverage" as the Penn State details were being unveiled last week. From what I saw, heard, and read about the sports networks' coverage, they seem to have stuck to their angle on the story. From a sports point of view, a major element to the story early on was whether or not Joe Paterno would remain as coach. PSU had a big game coming up on Saturday against Nebraska which would have a big impact on the Big Ten standings as well as being Conference history. (The first time these two schools meet as members of the same conference.)

The job of these networks was to follow Paterno and his situation relative to all that was going on around him. It seems the sports networks generally did a good job of reporting about the sports element. Certainly the crimes committed against the young boys were hideous. But had these horrible crimes been committed by an individual who was not affiliated with the PSU football program, the "news" would not have been so much as mentioned by ESPN, BTN, Comcast SportsNet, Versus, or any of the other sports stations or sports reporters.

People turn to the sports networks for sports related reporting. At the time, the Penn State vs. Nebraska game had elements making it interesting to fans well beyond both schools and of the Big Ten. The fact that a huge scandal was breaking which could (and did) impact who would be coaching one of the teams and how it could impact a major school's football program is and was a huge sports story. It was treated as such.

It was the likes of the Harrisburg newspaper, the Penn State student newspaper, local TV news crews, and news networks such as CNN, which provided the more thorough news coverage and live coverage of the incident. That what is supposed to happen under such circumstances. These news organizations don't care and don't need to report on how it impacts the weekend's football game.

Where are these same media critics when speculation is reported as if it is fact? Where are these same media critics when, as I commented on last week, Mike North "reports" Joe Frazier's death on Fox Sports when it was not true at the time?

On the other hand, there actually are times when a sports reporting organization really does step into the news arena. The Sunday (11/27) announced firing of Syracuse Asst. Basketball coach Bernie Fine came hours after ESPN aired a recorded phone conversation which it obtained and also reported is being used as evidence in the case against Fine. It's hard to say whether or not this information would have been pursued and obtained were it not for the Penn State situation. I'll keep open the possibility that my comments above could become outdated if and as sports reporting organizations are going to pursue "news" stories.

Let's give NBC & Versus a lot of credit for its decision last week (for Monday 11/21) to switch its NHL game telecast within 48 hours of the game. The network was preparing to show the Boston vs. Montreal game when it learned that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby would return to the ice against the N.Y. Islanders at the same time. Since Versus originates its telecasts, network officials literally rerouted production staff and equipment on Sunday in order to carry the Penguins game live on Monday night, at its own additional cost. Keep in mind that this telecast went up against Monday Night Football on ESPN. That didn't stop Versus from making a decision to benefit NHL fans.

NBC has moved the Detroit vs. New Orleans game to Sunday Night Football next Sunday, Dec. 4th, as part of its flex scheduling ability. Granted, doing so moves the Indianapolis Colts (vs. New England) out of prime time. All Fox could do is move the Denver vs. Minnesota telecast to a 1 PM ET spot, which at least buries it buries that game more than a 4 PM time slot would have.

On the college football side, still no word from ESPN about possibly adding the University of Montana's quarterfinal playoff game for Saturday Dec. 3rd. ESPN still plans to show these first round games only on, even though the game at Montana is expected to be an instant sellout.

On the baseball side, the Phillies' radio broadcasts are being added to FM starting next season as WIP 94.1 will also air the games along with WPHT 1210. This adds to the occasional separate programming from WIP 610, and that's a good thing.

The San Diego Padres have announced that their games will air on XX Sports Radio 1090, although this is only a one year deal. Still nothing about the team's new TV deal, although the word is that it will not be officially approved and announced until after the proposed new Dodgers TV deal is dealt with.

KNBR San Francisco's newest unpaid intern has some unusual qualifications for the post. Major league experience. Michael Taylor of the A's was reportedly one week into an internship before the station personalities found out that he is indeed the outfield prospect looking toward a future in broadcasting. Among those who didn't know are night host Eric Byrnes, a former MLB outfielder himself. Taylor is on the air during the Fitz & Brooks Show with a 'fan on the street' interview segment known as "What's Bugging You?".

LUBBOCK: The Fan 1340 begins its local morning show this week (as of Monday 11/28). The Sports Shack with Scott Fitzgerald and Alan Berger now airs from 7 to 9 AM, with Steve Dale moving to middays. This gives the station roughly 8 hours of local programming each weekday.

ASTORIA OR: KKEE Sports 1230 has abandoned its sports format and now plays music, but will continue to air play-by-play. The station already carries U. of Oregon football and Portland Trailblazers basketball.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fox Should Send Mike North South For This Blunder.....

Mike North of Fox Sports Radio picked the right week to mess up badly. Understandably, the sports media attention focuses on the Joe Paterno and Penn State situation, a busy NFL week, discussing this year's college football game of the century from last Saturday, and the worsening NBA lockout.

Yet, North's show on Fox Sports Radio late Sunday night (11/6) seems to be flying under the radar, as of press time (11/9 afternoon). For those who missed it, and that's the vast majority of sports fans, Mike North "reported" that boxing champ Joe Frazier had passed away, with his information based on "a text message from a friend". Keep in mind that at the time, Frazier was still alive and did not actually pass until Monday night.

Later in the show, North tried to cover his "possible" error, admitting there was no actual report of his death, and literally saying on the air, "I think when you’re in the hospice and you have liver cancer, it’s may be a little short trip to that point. But if you’re not dead, you’re not dead. So, as far as we know, even though I said earlier that he was dead, he may still be alive. We’re trying to nail it down.”.

As of press time, there was nothing from Fox Sports about any form of discipline, investigation of the situation, or even an apology.

How does Fox Sports allow this to happen? First of all, it's bad enough that Mike North went with the "story" without confirming it. But this was on Fox Sports national radio. Does this mean that there was no one working on the Fox Sports staff who could have investigated? Just because North's "story" aired while the attention of the sports fan was on Sunday Night Football does not give Fox an excuse for such a blunder.

Why aren't North and his producer(s) being held accountable? Where was someone at Fox Sports that night to follow up on the "story"?

This is the same Fox Sports that brings us the NFL, MLB, and Nascar on TV, a 24-hour sports radio network, and a web site with "headlines" and columnists. If they don't discipline an on-air host who misrepresents a major story, how do they expect to maintain our trust?

Even though the NFL season is in full swing and continues to attract huge ratings, the NHL season is into its second month, the college football season is coming down to a few key regular season games, and college hoops start for real within the week, there is the matter of the lack of NBA games.

As of press time, the NBA lockout continues, and there isn't much hope it will end soon. It seems that TV and radio are each taking different approaches in dealing with the lack of games to broadcast. I'm not happy with either.

Those local and regional sports TV networks which would normally be showing NBA games this month have not all been able to find suitable replacement programming. Several, such as Houston and Chicago, have begun showing classic games of the local team from years past. That translates to "We have nothing else to show". These networks and stations shouldn't think in terms of repeats.

Sure, I enjoy a "classic" game on occasion. Those should be saved to be shown prior to training camp starting, or on holidays, weekend mornings, and other times when there really is nothing else to show.

I'd like to think that the TV sports local and regional networks really are dedicated to local/regional sports coverage and not to filling time. The "We'll put an old NBA game on instead of a live one" approach doesn't cut it. Look at the NFL ratings again this season. The LSU vs. Alabama college football game last weekend (11/5) drew the 2nd highest ratings for a CBS telecast of college football since 1987. It shows that viewers continue to want live sports. Showing an NBA game from 1997 is not meeting that demand.

Not having live NBA games to televise should not mean "give up", put on a game recorded years ago, and call it a night. It should mean a search to find other live basketball and football games to show during those times. What about showing key high school and small college football games?

Now with college and high school basketball season upon us, we should be seeing games and players we would not have had the opportunity to see otherwise.

There are announcers and production people who are ready to work, NBA or not. There are fans who want to watch local live sports, NBA or not. It's about the image these regional networks need to maintain. Let me tune in to my local sports channel and see what LIVE game they are showing. If it's interesting, I'll watch to see the outcome and/or certain players, even if it's not the NBA. Even if I don't watch for long, it reinforces that I should check my local sports channel to see what actual live game is on from night to night.

On the radio side, the sports stations have moved on and simply talk about football, college basketball, hockey, and now baseball hot stove talk. Of course, I don't expect these stations to spend time with fans expressing their frustration with the players, owners, or both. However, there is still a void to fill, especially for sports stations in NBA markets. The hosts seem to overlook that if and when the lockout is settled, there will need to be a time period to sign free agents, talk trade, sign draft choices, hold tryouts, and allow the team officials to plan for the coming season.

As an NBA fan, I will admit that I have long forgotten which key players are free agents, which teams selected many of the top draft picks, and how the coming season might shape up. We could use a "If the (name of local team) season were to start today, they would need a forward......." discussion. Who might they look to sign? How would their recent draft picks fit in? What trades should they make?

For every week the sports stations go without talking about team personnel it's another week for fans to "forget" about their team. Thus, if and when the NBA season comes around, fans will then not be thinking in terms of their local sports talk station being a source to learn about their favorite team. One less reason to listen, even though the listeners were not "locked out" by the stations.

It's great to see NBC Sports Network (currently Versus) developing an interview show with Bob Costas to host. It will feature Costas interviewing players and team officials from the major sports. Word is that there will be less emphasis on baseball. It's not just because NBC doesn't have a national MLB agreement. Rather, it is so that Costas will continue to also host interview shows and do play-by-play for MLB Network as well. Costas will host a "town hall" format sports show during the week leading into the Super Bowl, and his regular interview show may not begin until 2nd quarter. The only negative about it is that, as of now, his show may only be monthly. Here's hoping it ramps up to weekly before too long.

Speaking of NBC, they are already working ahead on the flex scheduling for Sunday Night Football. The network announced more than two weeks before it needed to that the Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots has been scratched from its original Dec. 4th schedule for obvious reasons. The game they will televise instead probably won't be determined until just before Thanksgiving. Looks like they don't want NFL fans to even think about making other plans for that night.

Versus' weekly "NFL Turning Point" show moves from Thursday nights to Wednesday nights at 10 PM ET as of this week in order to not conflict with Thursday Night Football on NFL Network which starts this week.

And, a couple more notes about the most recent sports radio ratings. I commented about many of the big markets last week, showing how it's the events in local sports that are driving the sports radio audience rather than the hosts. Milwaukee's ratings certainly bear this out, with WTMJ and it's Brewers, Packers, and U. of Wisconsin play-by-play helping drive the station to one of its strongest ratings periods ever. Yet, the market's two all sports stations continue to show less than a full ratings point overall.

In Seattle, KJR and KIRO-AM tied in overall audience, although KIRO has the advantage during afternoon drive. In looking for an edge, KJR just began simulcasting on the former country music KNBQ, which broadcasts out of Centrailia. This will give KJR's programming addition coverage in that part of the market as well as into Tacoma.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It's The Game - Not The Sports Station

The release of radio ratings for the mid-September to mid-October period provide reasons to re-visit the impact of sports radio stations around the country. These ratings come during the busiest time of the year in sports, with football, baseball, hockey, and (not quite) basketball all keeping the sports pages busy.

Several of the large market sports stations have recently done some lineup shuffling, whether to fend off competing sportstalk stations, add a fresh approach, or both. Over the past year, I have taken the point of view that sports station ratings are driven too much by the local teams or major sports happenings moreso than the personalities hosting the shows day after day.

With so much time spent talking about rumors, speculation, and predictions by the various hosts instead of increasing "hard sports news" reporting and having more quality guests, many of the sports stations continue to not make a significant impact with the local radio audience, local programming or not. For the most part, when local teams are making significant news or changes, it reflects positively on the local sports stations.

This is not good for the industry. It tells me that sports fans know these sportstalk stations are there, but choose to listen for a hot topic, and not the personalities.

Not everyone who reads and responds to me on this topic agrees, and that's fine. However, I'm seeing even less to support their arguments on this. Let's look at the latest radio ratings for a group of larger markets.

In New York City, WFAN is now #12 in the market in overall audience, and did increase .4 from the previous month. WEPN showed a 50% overall audience increase over the September ratings and has more than doubled its total audience since July, which is impressive. Yet, there were no significant program lineup changes during this time. Fans are not listening more to these stations because "such-and-such is now on in the afternoon". The audience increases for both stations came during the Yankees' run to the post-season with higher expectations and the start of the Giants' and Jets' seasons.

In Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 came in at #18 overall with another slight increase. Yet, rival WMVP ESPN 1000, while tied for #20 showed its strongest overall rating this year. This coincides with the Bears' season starting, as evidenced by WBBM 780 and 105.9, which airs the play-by-play, rising from a 5.4 to a 6.6 overall in just one month to finish #1 in the market.

I'm going to comment more (and separately) on Los Angeles sports radio later this month, since that market again failed to place either of its sports stations in the top 25 in overall audience.

San Francisco also brings the point home. As the Giants were fading from their chance to repeat a World Series championship and the 49ers brought low expectations (at the time), KNBR 680 lost about 20% of its overall audience from one month earlier and fell to #9 in the market. KTCT The Ticket did show a large increase in listeners, but shows a total audience less than 1/3 of KNBR.

In Dallas, KESN showed a 25% audience increase and finished #9 in the market, while KRLD-FM showed a similar increase while rising to #18 overall. KTCK The Ticket held steady. This while the Rangers were on their way to another World Series (decided after this ratings period) and the Cowboys' season was now in full swing.

Houston is another significant example of why it is the sports climate and not the stations themselves. The 3 "leading" sports radio stations showed increases for the October ratings just as Texans began a season with higher than usual expectations. Heck, KILT's audience increased enough to put a Houston sports station into the top 20 stations overall, even though they are at #19. (Other than Los Angeles, Houston's sports stations have shown perhaps the lowest major league market sports radio ratings over the past couple of years.)

Boston was a sports 'hot bed' during this time, with the severe Red Sox collapse at the same time as the start of the Patriots' season. WEEI/WMKK moved up over a full ratings point over the one month. Before I get the argument that the WMKK simulcast recently began and this would account for the increase, consider that WBZ-FM The Sports Hub ALSO rose more than one full rating point during the same time. Sports talk had been on FM in the Boston area. The late September local sports scene is what brought the fans to want to talk about it.

In Detroit, the Tigers' run to the post-season, the Lions best start in more than 40 years, the opening of the Red Wings season, and early success of Michigan and Michigan State football created a sports frenzy. WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket had a second straight record-setting ratings month, rose by .6 overall, and finished #1 in the market.

In Phoenix, the success of the Diamondbacks into the post-season brought KTAR-AM up to more than double the audience ratings it had for August.

In Columbus, WBNS-FM's overall ratings rose from a 5.5 a month earlier to a 6.7, an impressive increase, raising the station to #4 in the market. Why? You guessed it. The sportstalk station carries Ohio State football play-by-play.

One more large market to comment on. I'm sure I'll hear from a few of you who will argue that the WEEI to FM simulcast was a factor in the Boston sports radio increase. Perhaps you should also research the Philadelphia market. WIP killed off WYSP-FM's music format to simulcast sports radio, giving this long time sports leader an AM-FM presence for the first time. For October, WIP-AM dropped to #23 overall in the market, and has lost more than half of its audience since July. Yet, WPEN rose to #18 in the market, but showed nearly a full ratings point increase. This looks like the impact of Howard Eskin leaving WIP and many of his listeners trying out the competition - during the Phillies' post-season run and with the Eagles' season in full swing.

Here's hoping that sportstalk stations will strive for more than "Let's go to Joe on the north side who thinks that (name of team) needs a new linebacker" to try and attract more listeners.

Elsewhere, I'm glad that ESPN thought to televise the announcements of MLB's Gold Glove Award winners on Tuesday (11/1) night. With all of the time on the national, regional, and league/conference networks, there is room for shows surrounding award announcements, since many fans want to know exactly when these awards will be announced.

However, if ESPN or MLB Network is going to televise these awards (such as Silver Slugger, MVP, Cy Young, etc.), they need to do a better job of making it interesting or there won't be enough of an audience to make it worthwhile in the future.

"All" ESPN did for each position in both leagues was give the list of nominees, have a former player announce the winner, and THEN show highlights of that player's performance. Sorry, but that wasn't enough of a buildup to make it worth watching again.

Show us clips and information about each nominee, like the major movie and TV awards shows air a clip of each show or film in consideration. Instead, ESPN made it seem easier to go to another news source later that night or the next morning and see the list all at once.

Even an MVP or Cy Young Award telecast could be made interesting. They could include some clips and statistical comparisons of some players not even in the "top 10" in the voting to raise the "How could this guy not have been voted higher?" discussion. In this context, it enhances the winning of the award while adding more suspense. That would be a thousand times better than what seemed like it could have been a pre-recorded presentation.

Next Thursday (11/10) begins Thursday Night Football on NFL Network when the Raiders take on the Chargers. Once again, a new season means a new announcing team. This year Brad Nessler, known for his college football play-by-play over the years, will handle it for NFL Network, along with Notre Dame on NBC analyst Mike Mayock.

Although Nessler and Mayock each do a very good job and figure to be a good team, it seems odd that the NFL's own network would not go with an announcing team strongly associated with the NFL instead of college games.

NEW YORK: It wasn't announced until after our press time last week, but the Yankees broadcasts will indeed return to WCBS-AM for the 2012 season. The significance is that this is a one-year extension and not a multi-year deal. Sister station WFAN has the Mets broadcasts, and that contract is also up at the end of next season. One of the aspects the bears watching is how CBS Radio stations approach retaining or bidding for local play-by-play rights over the next few months. If CBS is looking at a lesser role for sports broadcasts, it could create a wild scene in NYC with both teams coming up. Or, CBS could be bidding against itself and others for both teams next summer.

The Yankees' radio team of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman will return. How much or how little those two will actually talk to each other directly on the air remains to be seen - or heard.

While WEPN 1050 lacks for programming since there are no Knicks broadcasts during the NBA lockout, the station will carry Seton Hall basketball starting on Nov. 12th vs. St. Francis. The contract allows for the Seton Hall broadcasts to move to WABC 770 if and when there are Knicks conflicts during the coming season, as well as when there will be Rangers conflicts. (WEPN airs the Rangers games as well.)

WASHINGTON D.C.: Although the college basketball season is about to start, it took until the last minute for Georgetown University basketball to get a deal with WTEM 980. The ESPN station or WSPZ-AM 570 will air the Hoyas games again this season, with Rich Chvotkin going in to his 39th season as play-by-play voice.

DENVER: Nate Kreckman has moved into a co-host role from Noon to 3 PM on 102.3 The Ticket, teaming with Charles Johnson. Former Colorado QB Joel Klatt has left the station, with details sketchy as to what happened there.

ALLENTOWN PA: A Saturday morning mystery, radio style. This past Saturday (10/30), The Fox AM 1470 did not air the "Calling All Sports" Show with Keith Groller, although there was no official announcement. Later, Groller stated in his local newspaper column that the show was taken off the schedule "due to some transitions". The station is owned by a large national radio group which has been eliminating jobs around the country over the past two weeks, and this was a weekly locally produced show. So now the guess is it's no longer a mystery and the show won't be back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Race" For The Sports Story

For all of the time much of the sports media spends on rumors and stories that aren't really "news" stories, some media members were faced with a serious story that went incomplete. But with decisions to be made.

The recent death of race driver Dan Wheldon was one of the saddest sports stories of the year for obvious reasons. Since one of my marketing clients had previously worked with Wheldon at the Indy 500, I was especially aware of the impact this tragedy has on those within the auto racing circle, in addition to his legion of fans.

Unfortunately, accidents of this magnitude do happen from time to time. Yet, unfortunate in its own way is that the organization which organizes the Indy Racing events around the country took a "No comment" position. I know of this through a reliable producer with one of the "big 4" TV network morning shows, who was putting together a follow up story regarding the impact of Wheldon's death.

One would think that an organization which sometimes has to deal with the death of a participant would be ready to help the media inform and console the public. However, the organization was not ready (like it should have been and should be in the future). As a result, the story was defeated and did not make it to the air.

To this network's credit, no mention was made of this aspect of the story, or even the "No comment" approach taken by the organization associated with the race. On one hand, this poor approach by the race organization is worthy of being a story in itself. It is frustrating to have an actual news story of major proportion not receive an additional and factual report to carry it along.

On the other hand, it is good that the network did not go ahead and shed a negative light on Indy Racing, as they easily could have done. Yet, I do not know how many other members of the media also knew to contact this organization in follow up from this tragic story. I would like to think there were many more, especially since this was an actual story worthy of news coverage.

Yet, much of the sports media continues to "report" on stories before they become stories, and it continues to get more and more frustrating, especially in my role of being a sports fan and with private teaching of students looking to start in sportscasting and/or play-by-play.

There were two more examples within the past week alone that I know of. I wish I could show you the headline and story that appeared for a time during an afternoon last week on the Atlanta Journal Constitution's web site. The "rumor" had been that Greg Walker was being hired as the new Hitting Coach for the Atlanta Braves, which indeed turned out to be the case later that day.

So help me, I found the AJC story with the headline stating "Walker Hired....." while the copy had not been updated, and went on to say that "Walker is expected to be hired.....". Same page, same story. It wasn't just the AJC. Several media outlets were "reporting" this before it became fact, which left me waiting to check numerous sources before I believed he really had been hired.
Even worse was the reporting on the likely (and now complete) move of Theo Epstein from Red Sox GM to Cubs President of Baseball Operations, which was made official on Friday (10/21) and then followed by the Tuesday (10/25) press conference. I can understand the sports talk stations in Chicago and Boston (as well as some baseball talk shows around the country) discussing the possibility with callers and media members. It was speculation until it became fact.

However, I draw the line when actual sportscasts, which fall under the category of "reporting" of facts, continue the recent trend of mixing speculation with factual reporting. For example, on Wednesday (10/19), Comcast SportsNet Chicago actually took time on its nightly sports news recap show to "interview" the Red Sox beat reporter from CSN Boston about the negotiations and possibility. Again, if this was a sports talk show and clearly and opinion forum, I'm fine with this. But this took place within a "news" format at a time when there was no official confirmation of this possibility.

Once the story became official about Theo Epstein, and the Red Sox went on to announce his replacement at GM on Friday, the "news" coverage was tremendous in both Boston and Chicago, and points beyond. MLB Network carried both press conferences live.
ESPN aired most of the Epstein in Chicago press conference and later the Ben Cherington press conference in Boston live during its regular SportsCenter shows.
CSN Boston, knowing that Epstein leaving and Cherington coming to the Red Sox was and is a hot topic for Red Sox fans, actually showed both the Chicago and Boston press conferences live on Friday. This was an excellent move, with live coverage of a hot topic obviously better than the regular midday fare. Yet, NESN, which televises the majority of the Red Sox games, only showed the Cherington / Red Sox press conference live.

On the radio side, both WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub aired both press conferences live to Boston listeners, while in Chicago the Epstein / Cubs press conference aired live on 3 stations. WGN Radio, the Cubs' flagship (which is not all sports) carried it, as did sports stations WMVP ESPN 1000 and WSCR 670 The Score.

All in all, great coverage once it became an actual "news" story. Yet, not an excuse for all of the time spent covering it before it became fact.

Speaking of Boston radio, the competition between the sports outlets continues to thrive, and it benefits the listeners even more. WEEI had Patriots owner Robert Kraft as a live guest on Friday (10/21) morning's Dennis & Callahan Show, with Mr. Kraft specifically talking about the Patriots instead of giving a "hype" interview. Kraft also appeared on ESPN via the Mike & Mike Show, willingly discussing the NFL on more of a national level.

Elsewhere, it's interesting to hear the different interpretations of the "baseball vs. football" from those who worry about the TV ratings. The baseball fans can point out that the Sunday night World Series game had a higher audience rating in Dallas than the Cowboys telecast did (with both on Fox) earlier in the day. (Actually, that is big news.) On a national level, the World Series games on Sunday and Monday nights both had higher ratings than the NFL telecasts, including Fox winning the TV ratings derby overall for Sunday night. That was the first Sunday night NBC's Sunday Night Football had not won all season.

Then, the football people can point out how this, through five games, is among the lowest rated World Series in recent history, and how the Sunday night game was a blowout and that viewers had an alternative.

Either way, it shows how much live sports on TV is taking over, and that's a fun thing.

It's hard to figure out why CBS, faced with an open slot for a late afternoon game on Saturday November 5th, made a big effort to get the Army vs. Air Force telecast for that time. The network actually "traded" with NBC/Versus to get that telecast, giving up the Nov. 19th Colorado State vs. TCU telecast to Versus, and probably a player to be named later.

Of course, that the time slot came open is very understandable, as CBS had worked a "deal" with ESPN to move the LSU vs. Alabama major matchup to prime time on November 5th.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Those who jokingly associate Eric Bickel's morning "Sports Junkies" show on WJFK The Fan 106.7 with a car wreck were not laughing on Thursday (10/27) morning. It seems that a driver reportedly swerved to avoid hitting a pedestrian and literally crashed into the studio building around 7:45 AM. Despite damage to a building wall and window, the driver was not seriously hurt.

DETROIT: WDFN 1130 has undergone another change in its morning show "Sean, Terp, and Killer", when co-host Sean Baligian left the station after last Monday's (10/24) show. Baligian claims that it was his decision and not the station's, perhaps due to the struggle since the August death of Tom Kowalski. As of press time, no replacement has been named for the afternoon drive show. Baligian is expected to remain on the local scene, including SportsWorks some Sunday nights on Channel 2 and play-by-play of Wayne State football.

PHILADELPHIA: The plan to bring some separate content to WIP 610 instead of always simulcasting from 94.1 is taking shape. WIP (only) will carry 17 of the MLS Philadelphia Union's games for the 2012 season, while 94.1 will continue with its regular sports talk format. Granted, radio play-by-play of soccer is not likely to change the listening habits of millions, but the idea of providing play-by-play content on one of the 2 stations is a solid path to take. Perhaps there will be room for adding some high school and small college play-by-play as well, bringing sports radio listeners more and distinctive choices on a regular basis.

WARWICK RI: Speaking of niche programming on a sports station, WTBQ 1110 and 93.5 is starting a show focusing on amateur sports and geared toward parents, coaches, and players. Host Tony Abbatine is also director of Frozen Ropes, which provides baseball and softball instruction, as well as a consultant to several MLB teams. For now, the show will air only on Fridays at 1 PM for 30 minutes. The station hopes to expand the show, both in terms of time and reach, since the topics are not necessarily local in focus. Along the lines of what WIP in Philly is doing with putting the soccer games on its AM, a better approach would be to put this show on for longer on one of the frequencies, and see how it stacks up against "regular" sports talk on the other.

CHICAGO: The impact, or lack thereof, of not having the NBA season getting underway is now hitting the regional sports networks and various local cable outlets which would normally be televising the games. Comcast SportsNet Chicago is going to fill much of the time cleared for Bulls telecasts by replaying 15 "Chicago Bulls Classics" telecast. To the surprise of no one, these will include the most memorable and championship clinching games during Michael Jordan's career.

MEMPHIS: Several of you picked up on our comments from last week about WMC 790 joining the sports radio derby, now giving Memphis a total of five sports radio stations. Something will have to give, considering this is a market which has only one "major league" team among the big four pro sports. Ironically, due to the NBA lockout, that team isn't even playing at the moment.
Adding to the insanity is that U. of Memphis sports play-by-play airs on WREC 600, which is NOT one of the sports talk stations. Then again, KQPN 730 does nothing throughout the weekdays from 6 PM until Noon the next day except replay the 3 to 6 PM Chris Vernon Show. (Wonder what they would do with an HD channel?) The station carries Mississippi State play-by-play some weeknights and on weekends.

WMFS 680 and 92.9 carry the other significant play-by-play, with the NBA Grizzlies (eventually), Memphis Cardinals (AAA baseball), and University of Tennessee football and basketball games.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sports Hub Sees and Hears Red

The Sports Hub 98.5 in Boston not only helped itself this past Friday (10/14) but helped sports radio in general. While a lot was understandably reported about the comments made by Red Sox owner John Henry about the team and certain players, there is more to the interview than even that.

The result was one of the most compelling segments ever for a sports radio station, and how well everyone involved handled it and followed up.

Even with friends and acquaintances in the business and working for sports radio stations around the country, I continue to suggest how and why sports radio needs to improve and keep working to gain or hold its audiences. The Boston Sports Hub story from Friday was an outstanding way to do just that.

It seems that Red Sox owner John Henry was listening to the Sports Hub in the car on Friday morning, and supposedly became upset about the callers and to some extent the hosts and how they were discussing the Red Sox' situation. (The team suffered a huge September collapse and failed to make the playoffs, to then lose their manager and general manager.) Mr. Henry was compelled enough to respond to the point of actually going to the Sports Hub studio and going on the air live with hosts Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti for close to a full hour.

First of all, this emphasizes a point I have been making for more than 30 years. The immediacy of radio compared with other forms of media. TV stations and networks could not have put the Red Sox owner on the air immediately and run with it for more than one hour, including a commercial break. This is especially important these days since fans have options online, via sports TV networks, and social media, to go to for breaking sports news just as much as radio.

Granted, it will remain an isolated incident that a team official, especially a major team owner, would actually go to a studio and be subject to going on live. But the station's handling of this was most worthy.

Felger and Massarotti did not "sweet talk" the interview, soften their stances, or only put callers on the air who would have something positive to say. The hosts asked about the, as it turned out, disappointing performance from Carl Crawford in the first year of a large contract. That Henry answered by admitting he was disappointed with Crawford is, from a media standpoint, secondary to the hosts asking such a direct question. And there were more questions just as direct from disappointed hosts, such as getting into the treatment of now ex-manager Terry Francona, making for compelling listening, especially for Red Sox fans.

As of press time, the station's web site still had podcasts of the two 30-minute plus segments available. Getting this interview created a ton of much deserved positive publicity for the Sports Hub. The station handled it well every step of the way, from putting Mr. Henry on the air to the follow up publicity to keeping the segments available online for days.

One more thing not to be overlooked. The Sports Hub is NOT the Red Sox flagship station. WEEI, the Sports Hub's rival for the local all sports radio audience, does carry the Red Sox. Yet, the team's owner was obviously listening to and then willingly went on the air on the Sports Hub. WEEI will be hard-pressed to top this one.

Another good idea is being continued by WGN Radio Chicago, even though WGN is not an all-sports station. (The station does carry Blackhawks hockey, Cubs baseball, Northwestern University football and basketball, and some night and weekend sports talk shows.)

As the Blackhawks' season began earlier this month, the station will be presenting six one-hour shows specific to the Blackhawks to air live from a local restaurant with a live audience asking questions of team officials and players. It will air once each month during the season as "Chicago Blackhawks Live", with the first one to be on Monday October 24th. Blackhawks President John McDonough will be among the guests on that show. Again, this is what sports radio stations need to bring us more of, over and above "Joe from the north side" constantly giving us his opinion and then on to another fan call.

Meanwhile, Fox TV Sports gets an amazing coincidence on Sunday (Oct. 23) when it brings viewers in many markets the NFL game between St. Louis and Dallas from Cowboys Stadium in its 4:15 ET late game window, and follows that with the World Series game from Dallas with the Rangers hosting St. Louis in nearby Arlington.

This comes the Sunday after Fox had St. Louis at Green Bay among its early regional NFL games, while TBS had the prime time NLCS matchup of St. Louis at Milwaukee.

MEMPHIS: WMC 790 surprised its listeners last week when it went from country music to an all sports format, including taking over some programming which had been airing on WMFS 680 and 92.9. Thus, within a matter of days, both 680 and 790 AM have new lineups and are sports radio.

WMC is now "Sports 790 AM" and carries Fox Sports Radio, including Zakk & Jack in the morning, Jim Rome middays, and "Loose Cannons" in the afternoon, along with Petros & Money at night.

WFMS now airs ESPN programming except for the local Eric Hasseltine Show from 1 to 4 PM on weekdays.

RICHMOND: ESPN 950's "Hardly Workin' with Greg Burton" show now has its last 2 hours (4 to 6 PM) also carried on WHAP 1340 Hopewell VA as of this week. Burton's show is now in its 8th year on 950 AM.

DAYTON: Fans of Mark Schlemmer, who was hosting a sports talk show on WONE 980 until this past summer, were shocked to learn (via the Daily News) that he is now homeless and broke, and dealing with prostate cancer and diabetes. The former University of Dayton baseball coach has also experienced a series of family setbacks.

SYRACUSE: The trend of TV simulcasts of sports radio shows comes to Syracuse as of this week. The "Upon Further Review Show" with Steve Infanti and Chris McManus, which airs from 3 to 6 PM on ESPN 97.7 and 100.1 now has its first two hours on TV. WSYR-TV's digital channel 9.2 now airs the first two hours live. It doesn't hurt that Infanti is also Sports Director of WSYR-TV.

DURHAM: On an upbeat note, congratulations to Duke Sports Radio Network's Bob Harris, who called his 400th football game this past Saturday (10/15). Harris has called Duke football since 1976.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Play-By-Play of Sports Radio

As the baseball post-season continues to unfold, it has been interesting to note that 3 midwest markets each experienced baseball - football TV doubleheaders each involving local teams over a 2-day stretch (Oct. 9 & 10).

On Sunday (10/9), Milwaukee fans had the Brewers in the NLCS opener vs. St. Louis in the late afternoon spot on Fox followed by the Packers at Atlanta on NBC. The Brewers telecast, which was a home game, showed a 31 rating and about 53% of local TV sets tuned in, while the Packers game (on the road) had an overnight rating of 51.2 with about 66% of sets tuned in.

There are a number of theories about why the Packers telecast had the higher local ratings, including that the Packers game was scheduled long before the baseball game, which wasn't scheduled until late last Friday night, that the Brewers game was a home game and therefore at least 40,000 who attended did not need to watch on TV, or that "football seems more popular than baseball". Or perhaps some combination of those three.

Also, on Sunday St. Louis fans had the Rams vs. Redskins as an early regional game on Fox, and then TBS showed the Cardinals NLCS opener from Milwaukee in the late afternoon time slot. Then, on Monday (10/10), Detroit fans had the Tigers vs. Rangers game late afternoon on Fox (postponed from Sunday night) which went extra innings and ended early in the ESPN Monday Night Football telecast of the Lions vs. the Bears.

In Milwaukee, Sunday will wind up having been a banner day for WTMJ 620 Radio, which was able to carry both the Brewers and Packers broadcasts live. The mid-August to mid-September ratings for WTMJ show the station a solid #1 overall, up 3 ratings points since July, undoubtedly helped by the Brewers division title, the world champion Packers, and a strong start by the University of Wisconsin Badgers. The station carries play-by-play for all 3 teams.

In St. Louis, KMOX continued with strong overall ratings and got a slight boost from having the Cardinals back this season, with the Cards' post-season run sure to help for the next ratings period.

While the local teams' play-by-play spells success on the radio side (as well as TV) in Milwaukee and St. Louis, it still does not reflect from sports talk radio. In St. Louis, KMOX, with Cardinals play-by-play and sports talk as only a part of its night and 'off hour' schedule, dominates over KXOS and the other sports talk stations in the ratings.

This is the case to a bigger extent in Milwaukee. WTMJ has some sports talk within its otherwise news/talk format and is a solid #1 in the market. Yet, sports radio stations WAUK and WSSP had less than 10% of WTMJ's overall audience COMBINED during the same ratings period. While local fans are clearly watching and listening to the games, those same fans are not listening to chatter about the teams on the other stations. Again, this should be a reason for concern among sports radio stations in certain markets.

Yet, this is not an "across the board" trend as I thought earlier this year. The Ticket in Detroit bounced back to become #1 overall in the market, while, as mentioned last week, Dallas sports stations each showed increases. In Nashville, WGFX went from a 4.5 overall to an 8.2 in one month to take over as #1 overall in the market as the Titans' NFL season got underway.

This all seems to be a factor in the increase in radio rights deals for play-by-play of late.

On the TV side, the local viewership was not kind in 2 markets in particular for the just concluded regular season, with those being Baltimore/D.C. and Los Angeles.

Even with an improved record and some signs of a pulse this season, the Washington Nationals' local telecast ratings for the season were down nearly 5% from the 2009 disappointing season. However, it wasn't because fans switched over to the Orioles' local telecasts either, as the Orioles and the Oakland A's finished in a virtual tie for lowest average TV audience in the American League.

What makes this interesting is that the Nationals' average rating for the entire season was actually better than either the L.A. Dodgers or Angels. (Because of the much larger population, the L.A. teams actually had more viewers than the Nationals.) Yikes. Even with Vin Scully, who obviously won't be around too much longer doing the home and West Division road telecasts, and an Angels team which was in contention into late September.

The Phillies' runaway toward the N.L. East Division title helped to reduce TV audiences within the Division, as Atlanta, the N.Y. Mets, and Florida Marlins' telecasts all showed "double digit" local audience declines from the 2011 regular season.

Back to radio rights. In Houston, KILT AM & FM announced a 10-year extension of their contract to air the Texans play-by-play plus additional team related programming. This announcement came on top of sports radio KILT-AM more than doubling its overall audience within the past 3 months' ratings. One very interesting addition comes out of this new contract. KILT-AM will air a one-hour extended play-by-play recap of the just past weekend's Texans game each Tuesday night throughout the seasons, with all other Tuesday nights featuring a Texans specific talk show. Marc Vandermeer and Andre Ware will remain as the play-by-play voice and analyst, with Vandermeer likely to continue hosting mornings on KILT-AM. This move is significant not only in terms of the dollars commitment from KILT, but since its AM station ratings are on the rise in a market which has seen poor overall audience performance of late from its other 3 stations in the sports talk arena.

LOS ANGELES: Pleased to report that KCBS-TV 2 and/or the NFL actually have responded to viewer complaints after all. After my comments last week about how KCBS-TV could be put in the position of having to leave the Raiders vs. Texans telecast prior to conclusion on Sunday (10/9) merely to show the start of the San Diego vs. Denver game, it didn't happen. The station stayed with the final 4 minutes of the thrilling Raiders vs. Texans telecast, which went down to the very last second of play, alerting viewers on a screen scroll that the Chargers game would be "joined in progress". Thus, the station missed the first 11 1/2 minutes of the Chargers vs. Broncos game. The NFL considers Los Angeles to be a "secondary market" for Chargers' telecasts. Or at least they did on Sept. 18th when KCBS left the Raiders vs. Bills telecast with :27 left and the outcome in doubt to join the Chargers vs. Patriots telecast in time for kickoff. That's more like it!

St. LOUIS: Dan McLaughlin will not be seen on either University of Missouri or regional Missouri Valley Conference basketball telecasts for at least the upcoming season. Following McLaughlin's second arrest in 13 months on a drunk driving charge, McLaughlin is being replaced in both roles. Chris Gervino, also Sports Director at KOMU-TV Columbia, will handle all of the Missouri telecasts, after handling games when McLaughlin had a schedule conflict. The Missouri Valley telecasts will all be handled by Mitch Holthaus as primary voice, with Kevin Kugler also expected to see an increase in play-by-play assignments over last season. No word yet regarding McLaughlin's status as the Cardinals' primary TV voice.

JACKSONVILLE: WJXL 1010 has moved "Sports Final Radio" into the 6 to 10 AM weekday position, replacing the syndicated Lex & Terry Show, which had been its only non-sports show until this week.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Red Sox Reporters Left Red Handed

Sorry, but I found the Terry Francona and Red Sox manager story this past Friday (9/30) setting a new low for sports "reporting" across the board. That morning, reports and rumors were rampant from newspaper, radio, TV, and online sources that Francona was being let go, most likely at a late morning press conference.

Several sources I thought were credible and reliable reported that Francona had met with team officials, and there were multiple reports on Twitter about a time and supposed live coverage of a press conference to announce that Francona would be out as Red Sox manager.

Later that same morning, media reports came out that Francona had left the building, there would not be a press conference, and that "no decision had been announced". That was bad enough, but I left it at that and went on to other things.

Imagine my surprise a couple hours later when a friend told me that Francona had been let go. There I was practically arguing with him because I saw that there was no press conference. Shortly after that, I began hearing and seeing the reports that he really had been dismissed as Red Sox manager.

It's not about what I think of the dismissal or the significance of the story. But it is about how members of the media need to be held accountable. I don't care that some of the biggest names among the media who cover baseball or just the Red Sox were fooled. A lot of people screwed up this story by jumping to conclusions and confusing their putting possibilities together and reporting them as if they were fact. If this continues to happen, it could get to the point where I'll wind up only checking team and league web sites for "official" news. I, for one, no longer care who is first with a sports story. It's more important to wait and get it right - every time.

Looks as though it's too early to tell if the return of the NFL regular season will bring additional listeners back to sports talk radio. Personally, I'm going to be watching the ratings even more between now and the end of the year, and so far it's a mixed bag.

The top 3 markets were without impact from the overall audience on radio ratings from mid-August into mid-September and the start of NFL season play. In New York, both WFAN and WEPN held steady. In Chicago, WSCR and WMVP both showed little change, although both stations did go up in cumes, which means that those listening were tuned in for longer periods of time last month.

In Los Angeles, well, it's still a big mess. Granted, there is no "home" NFL team, but with the Dodgers making so much news due to the ownership controversy, sports is more prominent in the news. Yet, we still need a magnifying glass to find the sports radio stations. Neither KSPN, KLAC, or KLAA, could do any better than a .7. Combined they would barely make the top 25. Yet, the Dodgers radio broadcasts will move to KLAC 570 starting next season. Clearly the station hopes that having the Dodgers will finally bring them an audience. No telling what the Dodgers are thinking by burying their broadcasts. While there is nothing wrong with the 570 AM frequency for broadcasts, I have to wonder why they would not have gone for a station or stations that have enough listeners. The new radio deal is reportedly for 3 seasons, making this a big gamble for the team.

Yet, if you look at the 4,5, and 6 markets for sports radio ratings, the case could be made that the NFL season does have an impact on sports radio ratings. In San Francisco, KNBR 680 continues to be a major force for sports radio, this time coming in tied for 4th in overall audience. Yet, their audience is down from what it was for the July ratings, which was prior to even the NFL pre-season. The audience drop is probably because of the Giants not making it to the post-season to defend their World Series title while the A's continue to fall to oblivion.

In Dallas, the start of Cowboys season always brings a positive impact to sports radio. It's practically the law in Texas. KTCK The Ticket increased .3 overall, doing so impressively for the 2nd month in a row, and came in tied for #10 overall. KESN and KRLD-FM both showed increases. Even though much of this increase is due to Cowboys season, the Rangers being back in the baseball playoffs also plays a part in this.

And in Houston, KILT and KBME have both more than doubled their overall listening audiences since the July ratings period, and that's impressive. Even KFNC-FM was gone up .3 during that time. This is clearly due to the Texans, as this team could contend for the Super Bowl this season. It certainly wasn't due to the Astros disaster of a season.

I mention these markets because I had received several responses earlier this year when I began to question the future with competing sports radio stations in many markets. Some said the lower spring ratings were due the NFL and college football being the big seasons for these stations. We shall see.

The NFL season is already attracting record TV viewing audiences and strong support across the board, especially when less appealing NFL games are holding their own against baseball post-season telecasts.

However, some odd instances have been going on during NFL telecasts of late.

The Detroit vs. Dallas telecast last Sunday (10/2) was down to the final 11 seconds, when Fox's Joe Buck and Troy Aikman acted as if the coming play was 3rd down for Dallas at the same time viewers could see on the screen that it was really 4th down. Buck caught the error while the play unfolded, but didn't correct the mistake until the play was over and it meant the Lions would win the game. Thus, the worst possible time for an error like that, since that was the most important play of the final minutes of the game. I have to wonder where the production crew was that they didn't instantly tell Buck at the time.

Another mystery from Fox took place moments earlier when the Carolina vs. Chicago game ended. Even though the Lions play in the same NFC North as the Bears and the game against Dallas was then in its final 4 minutes, those watching that regional telecast were instead sent to the St. Louis vs. Washington game instead. What made that move even more perplexing is that neither the Rams or Redskins plays in the same division as either the Panthers or the Bears. Yet, that telecast was switched to Bears fans ahead of the division rival Lions, and ahead of the Cowboys at any point in time.

Los Angeles NFL viewers (watching via the local stations) could be innocent victims of CBS's policy about "secondary market" telecasts again this season. CBS continues to include L.A. as a "secondary market" for the San Diego Chargers, which means their telecast have priority. Even over the Oakland Raiders, who called Los Angeles home for a few seasons. This coming Sunday (10/9), the Raiders play in Houston in the early CBS telecast. However, the Chargers are the regional doubleheader game on CBS playing at Denver. As a "secondary market", this means that if the Raiders game is still going or in overtime, CBS is "forced" to leave that game prior to kickoff of the Chargers game. CBS already had this happen on Sept. 18th and it could happen again on November 20th when the Chargers are a late game in Chicago with the Raiders early at Minnesota.

Howard Eskin, now serving as an Eagles reporter for Philadelphia's NBC 10-TV has been having a rough go since leaving his afternoon drive show on WIP Radio earlier this month. Last week, Eskin "reported" that Michael Vick would be out 2 to 4 weeks due to a hand injury, which turned out to not be the case. Then, he went on KNBR San Francisco with Gary Radnich and Larry Krueger, and said on the air that he would ride a bicycle across the country if the Eagles lost to the 49ers last Sunday, which it so happened they did.

Actually, those two scenarios are only related because they are both from Eskin. The bike ride comment may come back to haunt him, but that was clearly in support of a prediction and not misreporting something, like he did with Michael Vick. Luckily, he wasn't on the air when the Terry Francona situation was unfolding last Friday. Although, he couldn't have done any worse than some far more reliable reporters did. It does underline that opinions and facts are two different things, and it's time for the reporting media to step up and realize that.

PITTSBURGH: The Post-Gazette reported that the Pirates will no longer be heard on WPGB 104.7 after 5 seasons. Either The Fan KDKA-FM or KDKA-AM is expected to carry the games starting next season. The Fan currently carries Pitt football. The entire radio and TV announcing crew is employed by the team, so the only thing that will change will be the flagship radio station.

SOUTH BEND: While Notre Dame football season is in full swing, the market has lost its ESPN Radio affiliation. Yet, WDND 1620 didn't switch to Fox Sports or program anything else sports to replace it. Instead, the station began simulcasting a sister FM station's music instead. It will be, ummmmm, interesting to see how many people go to 1620 AM to hear music, won't it?