Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ESPN Reporters Making News

NFL fans want their football once again this season. The Sunday Night Football opener finished with extremely high ratings, even higher than expected since Dallas and a New York team were included. But I have to wonder if some viewers were burned out by Monday night. Just maybe the Monday Night Football doubleheader was too much for some folks, as the early ratings report for the night was down a bit, although still fairly strong. Not as many viewers as expected were watching when Ron Jaworski used the s-word on ESPN following a play.

At least Jaworski issued his own apology. That's better than ESPN's Bobby Knight who did the same type of slip last college hoops season and then did not apologize, instead leaving that to the play-by-play voice. Since Knight was not knowingly disciplined, I wouldn't expect Jaworski to be either.

Speaking of ESPN, it's interesting that they allow Erin Andrews to be hired as a commercial spokesperson for any entity, let alone a ticket reseller. It seems that a large national ticket reseller has signed Andrews for a sales program targeted toward women. I'm not sure what happened that makes it so acceptable for a reporter to be a 'pitch person' at the same time.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note how the initial news of the Peyton Manning injury which kept him out of the Colts' opener (and then some) was announced on a national level even before the media which regularly covers the Colts did.

It seems that Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, who has not been known as being gracious toward the local media over the years, went on ESPN 1050 in New York before any other media to comment about Manning being out for at least the then upcoming opening game. Hours later, Chris Mortensen of ESPN (nationally) was the one who broke the news about Manning's surgery. While I give major kudos to ESPN 1050 in NYC for breaking this story (as opposed to going with speculation or rumors), this raises the question of why The Fan 1070 in Indianapolis was not the first with this story.

Not only is 1070 The Fan the station which broadcasts the Colts games, but it also happens to be the ESPN Radio affiliate for Indianapolis.

To me, this is an instance where someone should get the blame. However, it's tough to say who. It might not be right to flat out blame The Fan 1070 for not having this story when a member of the team's upper management volunteers to unveil the initial information to a New York station. It's understandable that Mortensen would then get access to the follow up information. After all, ESPN is paying millions and millions of dollars currently, with it getting into the billions, for NFL telecasts and related programming for years to come.

If anything, some degree of blame should go to ESPN in New York because it scooped Indy's 1070 The Fan. If 1070 The Fan was not an ESPN affiliate, I could understand this to some extent. But they are. You would think the ESPN "family" would stick together on what was a huge local and national story. If ESPN's higher ups truly went along with Colts upper management and kept this as a national story, as a few media folks have speculated, then The Fan and other local station management should keep this in mind when the next local rights bidding comes up.

While on one hand, I'm wondering why 1070 The Fan wasn't more on top of the story, on the other I'm thinking about how much NFL fans (and even consumers who don't care about football) actually spend on NFL coverage, and thinking that the local Colts fans were cheated out of coverage.

Yet, we go back to radio station strategies. With the recent trend of moving news and sports AM stations onto FM simulcasts in Philadelphia (WIP) and Chicago (news WBBM added to FM including Bears broadcasts), WEEI in Boston has hopped aboard that bandwagon. Mike-FM turned off the mic, so to speak, and made room for WMKK-FM to simulcast WEEI-AM. This is to compete with WBZ 98.5 the Sports Hub.

While these moves could well increase the ratings of these stations due to combining, I continue to see this as having long term consequences. If and as the AM and FM dials wind up being the same stations with fewer local choices, it will result in even fewer reasons for consumers to keep from jumping to satellite or internet radio. Or, from continuing to listen to streams on phones and other portable devices which totally bypass radio as we knew it.

Yes, this is similar to the music stations selling listeners downloads of the songs they play. While the stations figure they have another revenue stream, encouraging listeners to download the songs they like best gives them reasons to use a device other than radio, have a playlist they really like, and not have to wait through clusters of commercials, contests, voice tracked shows, and the rest.

If it were up to me, these AM/FM combos would not be true simulcasts. What about one station airing the game broadcast as usual, and the other taking phone calls from outside analysts and even a few from fans about the game and the plays as it progresses? Or the "second" station could provide fantasy updates, details about out of town games, highlights from earlier in the game. If radio stations continue to take away and stop innovation, they won't survive against the competition they have allowed to take over.

WEEI did show an increase for the August ratings period, going up .8 in overall audience compared with July. But if the Red Sox September slump continues, it could be an interesting September ratings period even with the FM simulcast.

Still another example of radio giving up some of its uniqueness, and this courtesy of ESPN. As of this week (9/12), ESPNews now carries the video of The Herd with Colin Cowherd and the first two hours of the Scott Van Pelt Show between 10 AM and 3 PM on weekdays.

While I know the "argument" from ESPN is that they air SportsCenter and variations on ESPN and ESPN2 during that time and considered ESPNews as duplicate programming during that time. That's valid. But whether or not you like TV simulcasts of radio shows, these shows should not be carried on ESPNews.

This is the start of another example of how cable TV channels/networks stop doing what they did to gain placement on the various cable and satellite systems. (This is the how MTV rarely shows music programming, TVLand is not "classic TV" that often anymore, argument translating to sports.) ESPNews has had the sole purpose of always having SportsCenter available for fans wanting to get caught up on the latest. Yet, ESPNews has been afraid of "competing" with ESPN, ESPN2, and sometimes ESPNU, rather than compliment these and other channels.

These new TV simulcasts of radio shows mean that for at least 5 hours every weekday ESPNews is no longer doing what they set out to do. Just like ESPN Classic rarely shows the "big 4" sports games of the past like they did when that channel first started. We deserve better than poker and Bulgarian tiddly winks or whatever they put on in prime time these days. Again, whether consumers care about sports or not, millions of people are paying significantly more for our monthly cable or satellite bills, and ESPN is the single biggest factor in that taking place. We should expect each channel to fulfill the role they were created for.

TBS has a rainout to make up for, and has decided to do an MLB doubleheader on Sunday Sept. 25th. After the shock set in that ESPN is actually not going to televise a Yankees-Red Sox game, TBS has indeed scheduled the Boston vs. New York game for 1 PM ET on the 25th. Then, they will televise the San Francisco at Arizona possible showdown at 4 PM ET.

I'm afraid the TBS doubleheader will not go over well, yet is an idea they should seriously look at for next season and beyond. The NFL rules the TV roost, and the AZ vs. S.F. telecast will be going head to head with the Packers vs. the Bears (NFC Championship Game rematch) as the doubleheader game on Fox.

What TBS should look at is the 4 PM ET start time for next season. The TBS Sunday ratings have not set the world on fire. The TBS "argument" is that they go up against local telecasts. My argument to that is how TBS staggers its start times for the telecasts from week to week. I'd bet that many casual fans flip by at 1:30 ET some Sundays and they find a game going on one week and then not for the next 2 weeks. You never know. By always showcasing a west coast game, they would have three American League and three National League stadiums to show games from with multiple choices every week. Fans in the Eastern, Central, and Mountain time zones would know they could always tune in after their earlier local telecasts on Sundays and catch the action on TBS. It would provide them a consistent window.

On the college football scene, CBS has selected the Arkansas at Alabama game as its 3:30 ET featured game on Saturday Sept. 24th.

Fox Sports Radio has moved to replace Tony Bruno on its FSR Evenings show as of this week. Mike North, formerly of Chicago's The Score 670 morning show has been teamed with Rob Dibble for the 3-hour weeknight spot after the two have done some fill-in work on the network. Tony Bruno left his Fox Sports gig to return to Philadelphia and host middays on The Fanatic WPEN 950 and 97.5 starting October 3rd. His simulcast show will be going up against the simulcast of WIP. Both sports stations are gearing up for a busy October as the Phillies begin their post-season run while the Eagles season will be in full swing.

CLEVELAND: Great to have Jim Donovan back in the radio booth calling the Browns games on radio after missing several weeks due to having undergone a bone marrow transplant. Donovan, joined by analyst Doug Dieken, came back for the opener to begin his 13th season of calling the Browns game. In addition, Donovan returns to handle the sportscasts once again on WKYC-TV for the 6 PM and 7 PM newscasts. The 55 year old Donovan has been with Channel 3 since 1985.

VANCOUVER: David Pratt is out from CHUM The Team 1040 after years of co-hosting afternoons. No details given by either Pratt or the station, but it will be interesting to see how this impacts the audience without his "love him or dislike him" style.

TYLER TX: ESPN Radio continues to add affiliates after losing several to Fox Sports Radio earlier this year. KTBB-FM is dropping their talk format to become ESPN 92.1, while sister station KYZS 1490 has changed to ESPN Deportes.

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