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.