Is this the beginning of the end for all sports radio? The radio ratings for March are gradually being released this week, and the early returns are not good for sports stations around the country.
Granted, as of press time we do not have the latest for Detroit and Boston, two of the larger markets with high performing sports stations, but even that may not be enough to stop this trend.
This late February to late March ratings period is usually friendly to sports stations. NBA and NHL teams are into playoff runs. Most major markets have at least one NCAA team ready for the NCAA Tournament, along with regional conference tournaments leading in. Spring training is underway and baseball fans begin their optimism for the coming season. There is plenty to talk about. But it appears fewer people are around to talk about it.
As I have said earlier, I look at the overall audience ratings, since sports is not limited to 25 to 54 year old males.
In New York, WFAN dropped out of the top 10 in overall (6 AM to Midnight, 12+), now having lost half of a ratings point (3.0 to 2.5) since January. During the same period, WEPN 1050 has lost about 20% of its total audience. This while the Knicks and Rangers both headed toward playoff appearances (not common over the past few years) and the Yankees and Mets were in spring training.
San Francisco's KNBR, which carries the World Champion Giants games, shows as having lost more than 100,000 listeners since January.
In Chicago, WMVP 1000 gained .4 in the ratings and passed by rival WSCR The Score for the first time in several months in overall audience. Hard to say if that is due to WMVP airing the Bulls games as they were going toward finishing the regular season with the NBA's best record, or it is due to The Score giving such poor scoreboard and information updates (as discussed last week). However, neither station finished better than 25th place overall. During this time, Chicago had the Bulls charging to the top, the Blackhawks in a rush to the playoffs to defend their Stanley Cup championship, and the White Sox and Cubs in spring training. (Maybe this audience loss will convince WSCR to forget their "interactive" White Sox exhibition broadcasts where they stop the play-by-play only to take phone calls from fans to talk with the game broadcasters about the team.)
Sports radio remains dismal in Los Angeles, although this is not much of a change from the past year. Again, neither KSPN 710 or KLAC 570 did any better than a 1.0 overall. Even worse in Houston, where KILT has no change in their audience size since January. Neither KBME or KFNC had any increase since the (previous) February ratings, and none of these 3 competing stations so much as cracked the top 20 in overall ratings.
Similar story out of Atlanta, where neither WCNN or WQXI made the top 20 overall. In fact, their combined rating would barely crack the top 20 in the market.
Philadelphia sports fans had plenty going on during March. The Sixers and Flyers in their runs for the playoffs. Local teams in the NCAA tourney. The Phillies in spring training looking to return to the World Series. Yet, WIP 610 droped from a 3.1 to a 2.4 rating in just one month, and they had a 3.5 for the January ratings period. Like most of the other cities, the audience lost by WIP did not go over to the sports talk competition. WPEN's overall rating for March was nearly a 20% decrease from just the month before!
Of those large markets with the March ratings released thus far, only Dallas has a reasonable sports talk presence when compared with news and some music formats. A combined rating of WTCK The Ticket, KESN, and KRLD-FM would be 4th overall in the market. However, this is primarily because the 3 rival stations are bunched closely in the ratings, since none of the 3 cracked the top 20 overall in the market.
This trend would not be so alarming if one sports station was losing its audience to one or more other sports stations. The sports radio audience is sinking.
I have two separate theories as to why. (I'm interested in your feedback about which one you think is the biggest factor.)
One theory is that there continues to (in general) be too much emphasis on fan opinions and not enough on information and compelling and informative guests. Sports fans now have many other choices for sports information and can get expert opinion. They can "follow" experts of their favorite teams and sports online. They can go online and get all of the scores they want instead of hoping the local sports update will "bother" to give out of town scores.
The other theory is that sports fans have a certain amount of time to devote to following sports, and now use it to watch the actual games on TV instead of to merely hear what other fans think about them. While sports radio listenership has begun its decline, TV ratings for pro and even college sports has been rising significantly over the past couple of years.
Whether it is HD telecasts, fans wanting to get their money's worth because of paying so much more for cable or satellite packages for the games, or a combination, TV ratings keep rising. And those 2 to 3 hours spent watching one or more games each day could well be replacing the listening time to sports radio.
Just take a look at the ratings increases for every network involved in opening week telecasts of both the NBA and NHL playoffs this month. After a successful NCAA Tournament showing for CBS and Turner Sports. Coming off incredible ratings for the entire NFL season.
While on the subject, hockey fans actually "win" with the new TV package between the NHL and the NBC "family" including Versus. This new 10 year deal brings a ton of NHL games to fans around the country.
At least 100 regular season games will be televised by Versus and NBC starting next season, with Versus getting an increase from 50 to about 90 games. Come playoff time, every game will be televised on one of the channels, whether NBC, Versus, or perhaps CNBC or one of their others.
No word yet on how many telecasts NHL Network will be able to pick up starting next season.
On the local NHL television scene, it seems that the Pittsburgh Penguins were the most watched local team in terms of ratings for the 4th season in a row. The Chicago Blackhawks moved up to 2nd among local audiences, followed by Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia.
The bigger markets also dominated the NBA local market regular season ratings. The Lakers had the biggest regular season audience, followed by Chicago (which coincidentally, came in 2nd for both of its winter sports teams), New York Knicks, and Boston.
Yet, two of those markets also had an impact at the other end of the list. New Jersey Nets telecasts on YES were the NBA's lowest local ratings, for the 2nd season in a row, with the L.A. Clippers telecasts finishing just above Jersey.
NEW YORK: WEPN 1050 is reducing The Michael Kay Show by an hour each afternoon starting next month. Mike Lupica, the columnist and also ESPN "The Sports Reporters" panelist over the years, will begin a 2 to 3 PM weekday show starting May 9th. It will be interesting to see if management is looking for Lupica to springboard to more hours on WEPN each day, or if this is targeting to replace a show on the national ESPN Radio schedule.
SAN FRANCISCO/OAKLAND: From The Wolf to The Shark for 95.7? A few days after securing the Oakland A's baseball broadcasts effective immediately, 95.7 FM dumped "The Wolf" country music format and is now SportsRadio 95.7. The station is negotiating to also bring the NHL Sharks broadcasts over from KFOX to give them year-round local play-by-play.
Word is that 95.7 is also targeting Stanford football and possibly basketball, since those have been airing on KTRB, the station which bailed on the A's broadcasts just days before the season opener and still has its ownership status in limbo.