Local sports radio does good. On Monday (2/21) Mike Francesa had a live one hour discussion on WFAN New York with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman which made for excellent radio. Bettman did not duck out from any of the questions, even when Francesa interrupted him to keep asking the same questions. The vast majority of the questions were timely and pertinent, including discussion of the local issue regarding the N.Y. Islanders and ownership struggling with the current arena.
The discussion included the current state of the league, the recent player suspensions for fighting, the TV contracts, realignment, and labor negotiations, in addition to the local matters such as the Islanders.
During the second half hour, Francesa took phone calls from listeners for Bettman, and these calls were clearly well screened and asked intelligent (and for the most part, non repetitive) questions. It was clear that the show's producer and/or screener did a great job in presenting the callers and keeping it interesting.
Quite honestly, Bettman being a good guest and giving clear and thorough answers to the questions carried the segment better than Francesa's often pestering questions.
Personally, as a hockey fan, I have not been happy with a lot of what Bettman has done as NHL Commissioner. Yet, after listening to him and how well he answered the questions over the course of the hour, I think better of him now than I ever did. Thus, this was sports radio doing its job by presenting another side of some key issues and causing me to think and react.
Meanwhile, another sports media story within the past few days comes from the NHL New Jersey Devils, even if it is technically "social media". It seems that the team has brought in a group of 25 hardcore fans of the team to act as the "Devils' Army Generals" to inform and communicate directly with other fans of the team from the team's "Social Media Center" on a regular basis. This will include team sources such as Facebook and Twitter. According to NHL.com, this is the first of its kind, which obviously will be closely watched by the League and its teams.
Although those first two stories are both related to the NHL, they are both tied together and important for a different reason. Let me explain.
The excellent segment on Mike Francesa's show on WFAN is all too rare on sports radio. That hour is what sports radio should be on a regular basis. An important sports figure on the air live answering pertinent questions from both the host and from callers, without boring repetition.
Each professional league has literally hundreds of players, coaches, managers, executives, scouts, and individual team personnel with a variety of responsibilities which keep the teams operating. Yet, far too many sports stations regularly go entire shows and even several hours without having anyone from a local team or a pro league on live. Not to mention local and regional college sports coaches, athletic directors, and former and current players.
Many sports stations, especially in large markets, do not have specific shows or times dedicated to the local teams. Or, if they do, they don't always have guests from that team.
Now we have the N.J. Devils taking steps to regularly address their own fans, and we know other teams will be monitoring the progress. Yet, if the local sports stations already had at least one show specific to fans of the Devils, chances are the team would not have been as inclined to take this action.
My prediction is that the Devils' new plan will be successful in helping to drive ticket and merchandise sales and raising fan interest. Other teams will follow and do the same. And they would take away the sports radio audience in the process.
Hopefully sports radio stations will take the cue and provide more thorough local team coverage. That will hold the audience way more than constant calls with fans' opinions, rumors and speculation, and merely reporting what competing sources are reporting.
Meanwhile, it is good to see the Triple Crown on one network. The NBC signing to carry all 3 races from 2012 into at least 2015 does just that. The new deal also includes Versus (now a sister network to NBC) and a total of 25 hours of race programming between them. The opportunity for NBC opened up after ESPN/ABC did not renew its 5-year deal to televise the Belmont Stakes.
NBC and Versus had respectable ratings for this past Sunday's (2/20) NHL spectacular with 3 entire games shown live between NBC and Versus. Yet, as seemingly could happen with an NHL deal, NBC will not have an NHL telecast this coming Sunday (2/27). The network did announce that it has moved the Philadelphia vs. N.Y. Rangers game of March 6 to 12:30 PM ET to be NBC's national game. They will also choose the national telecast for the four Sundays following within 13 days of each.
BOSTON: WEEI 850 rolls out its revised weekday schedule on Monday (2/28), including Michael Holley moving from middays to afternoon drive along with Glenn Ordway. Dale Arnold will shift to weekends and substituting, along with filling in for Dave O'Brien on about 25 Red Sox broadcasts when O'Brien has conflicts with his ESPN telecast schedule. This could prove to be a good move for WEEI to hold off the challenge from 98.5 The Sports Hub.
CHICAGO: While the NBA Bulls are enjoying a much better than expected season, the TV ratings reflect it. Comcast SportsNet Chicago reports a 64% increase in ratings over last season. Having started televising most of the Bulls games with the 2004-05 season, it seems that the Top 10 highest rated telecasts in its history have all come this season. Pre-game and post-game programming has also shown increased ratings, with post-game programming up 86%. Not quite on the radio side, where flagship station WMVP ESPN 1000 has fallen further behind WSCR 670 The Score in the just released radio ratings.
Dan Jiggetts, the former Chicago Bears lineman and sportscaster for Comcast SportsNet is now recovering from hip replacement surgery.
LOS ANGELES: The Dodgers are making a very understandable exception with their KABC Radio broadcast of opening day on March 31st. The season opener, at home vs. the rival World Champion San Francisco Giants will be televised on ESPN and not locally. As a result, Vin Scully will start his 62nd season broadcasting the Dodgers games by calling 6 innings on radio.
MINNEAPOLIS: The Twins will have at least 158 of their games shown on TV this season. However, other than Fox Sports Saturday regional telecasts, all other games will be shown on Fox Sports North. However, it is estimated that as much as 18% of the Twin Cities market does not currently subscribe to cable or satellite, while FSN is currently not part of the basic cable package.
TAMPA: Similar situation in Tampa, where Fox Sports Florida will televise 150 of the Rays games this season. DeWayne Staats will call his 14th season of play-by-play for the Rays. Brian Anderson (the former pitcher, not the Brewers' voice) takes over as regular analyst since Kevin Kennedy will not return to the Rays' booth. Todd Kalas continues on the Rays' beat and will do some analysis during the telecasts, marking his 14th season in his role.
MILWAUKEE: Fox Sports Wisconsin will air 135 of the Brewers games this season. Unlike Minnesota and Tampa, the Brewers are keeping 15 games over-the-air, as WMLW-TV will air a 15 game package. Thus, at least 150 of the team's 162 games will be televised. Every game not currently scheduled to be televised is a weekday afternoon game.
TORONTO: A third sports station will enter the market during early April with the debut of TSN Radio 1050. Former Calgary FAN 960 host Mike Richards will handle the morning show before the station takes from the U.S. Word is that TSN Radio 1050 will carry Dan Patrick and Jim Rome on weekdays. TSN personalities (from the TV network) are expected to be involved, as well as some content from soon-to-be sister stations in Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Ottawa. The new station is also planning mobile phone access and to stream.
SYRACUSE: Syracuse Chiefs minor league baseball has a new home for the coming season. WSKO The Score 1260 will also air a 15-minute pre-game show, with Jason Benetti returning as play-by-play voice, along with Kevin Brown (a 21 year-old sportscaster - not the former pitcher). The games will also stream on the team's web site.