The NHL All-Star and its new format may not be taken seriously by even the most avid hockey fans, but it's not stopping Versus from extensive coverage.
The network plans weekend coverage, including the selection of players for both teams this Friday (1/28), the skills competition in prime time on Saturday, and then the game itself at 4 PM ET on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Versus' coverage can withstand the challenge of fans having no clue which players are on which team and any significance to the actual All-Star game itself. Instead of Conference or division rivalries, the NHL decided to make it a pick-up game of chosen sides among the players selected. Not only is there nothing to play for, but the game could pit regular season teammates against each other. No wonder NBC isn't showing it.
NBC does have an NHL spectacular in the works for Sunday Feb. 20th, however. The network will show a rare live NHL doubleheader from Noon to 6 PM ET. There will be 3 regional games, including Philadelphia vs. NY Rangers, during the early slot leading into the national game of Pittsburgh at Chicago. As an added positive, NBC plans to stream all 3 early games via its web site.
Meanwhile, it was no surprise to anyone that last Sunday's NFC and AFC Championship games scored huge ratings for Fox and CBS. Having both the New York and Chicago markets didn't hurt either. Nationally, the Chicago vs. Green Bay game was the highest rated NFC Championship telecast in the earlier time slot since the late 90's.
In Chicago, the WFLD-TV airing generated a rating just over 50 and an 81 share, with some of the game having a higher rating than the Bears vs. Colts Super Bowl matchup 4 years ago.
In Milwaukee, the WITI-TV airing generated a 57 rating and 85 share, a higher share than the Packers vs. Giants NFC Championship game 3 years ago. Yet, even with the Packers clinching a Super Bowl berth, the WDJT-TV airing of the Steelers vs. Jets game right after generated a 31.8 rating and 46 share. Strong ratings normally, but not when you consider the game was to determine the Packers' opponent for the Super Bowl.
The Packers' reaching the NFC Championship game caused a bit of a stir for radio listeners in much of Wisconsin, including Sheboygan, which is just over an hour away from Green Bay. WHBL Sheboygan was among 46 of the Packers Radio Network stations which were not able to carry the local Packers broadcast of this game due to NFL broadcast policy. Instead, these stations had the option of carrying the Westwood One national broadcast with Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross, and Mark Malone.
Thus, Packers fans choosing the radio version and/or wanting to listen to the Packers' broadcast and turn down the audio from Fox TV lucked out by this being the afternoon game. Flagship station WTMJ Milwaukee has a stronger signal throughout the region during the daylight hours. Had this been the night game instead, fewer Packers fans would have had this option. Same for Bears fans on the Illinois side since the WBBM Radio Bears broadcasts cover a wide area.
It still doesn't make up for the fans and local advertisers having to miss out on their hometown call for the biggest game of the entire season.
Oh, and as a note to my fellow sports media members, let's keep in mind that the commercials to air during the Super Bowl is NOT sports news.
The coming Super Bowl means that baseball spring training is coming up soon, and broadcast schedules are now in the works. Here are a few developments:
DALLAS: The American League champion Texas Rangers have made a curious move by naming John Rhadigan as the TV play-by-play voice. He received a multi-year deal to replace Josh Lewin in the booth, and will have Tom Grieve as his analyst.
Rhadigan is a familiar face to Rangers fans, having hosted the TV pre and post-game shows for the previous 10 seasons. He has also been covering the Rangers for more than 20 years in a broadcast capacity, but does not have a signficant amount of play-by-play experience. The Rangers will televise 11 of their spring training games.
St. LOUIS: While the excitement about Cardinals baseball centers on the radio broadcasts returning to KMOX along with the team of John Rooney and Mike Shannon, the TV booth will seem more like a pitching rotation.
Fox Sports Midwest will air at least 148 games (every game not exclusive to ESPN or Fox Sports), but its announcing team members will each work about 100 games. Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, and Rick Horton all return to the booth. This represents a decrease of about 20 telecasts for McLaughlin, the only true play-by-play voice in the mix. McLaughlin will do play-by-play with one of the analysts for 100 telecasts, but viewers will be left with Hrabosky and Horton to fend for themselves on about 1/3 of the telecasts. That can only be good news for KMOX, provided their broadcast syncs up with Fox Sports Midwest.
KMOX is getting ready, moving evening personality John Carney over to KEZK-FM starting in February, most likely to make room for evening sports oriented programming to supplement its Cardinals coverage.
KANSAS CITY: The Royals will have at least 20 of their exhibition games on Sports Radio 610 this spring. Thus far 14 broadcasts have been scheduled, with others to be named surrounding possible U. of Kansas NCAA tournament broadcasts. Yet, the coverage doesn't stop there. All of the exhibition games will be broadcast via Royals.com, whether on 610 Radio or not.
Let's give Sports Radio 610 credit for airing the majority of exhibition games, which should be the case for an all sports station. And more credit to the Royals for airing every game somewhere.
Denny Matthews, Bob Davis, Steve Stewart, and Ryan Lefebvre will handle play-by-play. Matthews takes the lead on the Sports Radio 610 games while Stewart will call the webcast games.
SEATTLE: The Mariners are bringing back a voice from the past for this season to work along side of Rick Rizzs. Ken Wilson, who called Mariners games from 1977 to 1982, has been brought back to call between 40 and 50 games, most on radio and some on the TV side.
Ken Wilson is perhaps best remembered around the country for being the Cincinnati Reds TV voice on the call of Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb's all-time hit record in 1985.
The Mariners broadcast team is still reeling from the death of Dave Niehaus during the off season.
SAN FRANCISCO: KNBR 680 is now #1 in the market and the flagship station of the World Champion Giants. The station is taking advantage of the Giants' Fan Fest on February 5th by having their Murphy and McCaffrey (Murph and Mac) morning show team being among the personalities on the air that day. The station plans to broadcast live from the stadium from 11 to 3 that day. The free fan fest is expected to draw more than 40,000 fans this year, about double from past seasons. This is a tremendous way for the station to tie in with its audience. Especially when this is a free event. (For example, in Chicago both the White Sox and Cubs charged as much as $50 per person per day for their team "fests" at downtown Chicago hotels with limited and expensive parking.)
BOSTON: The Red Sox are putting on the "2011 Red Sox Town Hall" next Monday (1/31), and it will be shown at 9 PM on NESN. Team executives including Manager Terry Francona are expected to participate and answer fans' questions. In addition, Red Sox fans outside of the NESN area will be able to watch it on NESN.com after its airing.
CLEVELAND: OK, so Indians spring training games won't knock the Super Bowl coverage off the sports pages. But the Indians are combining WTAM 1100 and Indians.com to broadcast every exhibition game this year. WTAM will air 20 games, with nine of those being delayed until night time. Normally, I don't like delayed broadcasts, but this arrangement makes sense. The games will air live on Indians.com and then air that night on WTAM. Indians.com will air those games not airing at all on WTAM. Tom Hamilton and Mike Hegan return to the radio booth.
On the TV side, at least 155 games will be televised on SportsTime Ohio, with Rick Manning, Matt Underwood, and Al Pawlowski in the booth.
HOUSTON: KUBE-TV brings back "Todd Freed's High School SportZone" this coming Sunday (1/30).
MIDDLETOWN OH: WPFB Radio was to broadcast its final Middletown High School game on Tuesday (1/25) when it airs the basketball game against Princeton H.S.
The station has been purchased by the Northern Kentucky University public radio station, which is ending the WPFB airing of the high school games, Miami University, and Ohio State football and basketball games.
Nothing like a "public" radio station eliminating local coverage.