Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why Sports Telecasts Should Be Uniform

How many more un-needed distractions will sports fans have to put up with during telecasts in 2013? The time has come for the media to put its foot down for the benefit of the fans and viewers.

ABC and ESPN brought us more examples of this unfortunate trend on Christmas Day. Even as these networks combined to bring sports fans the five NBA games over 13 hours of live programming, viewers were forced to endure every participating team wearing a different uniform appearance. I tuned in a few minutes into the Boston vs. Brooklyn telecast early afternoon, and found myself having to double check to be sure it was an NBA game on. It looked as though it was two amateur teams playing hoops in their pajamas until I noticed the score on the screen indicated it really was the Celtics and Nets. Moments later a friend entered the room and asked me if there was a pro game on instead.

This became even more disturbing as the day and night went on, and every team was wearing solid color uniforms which looked more like pajamas or warm-up suits. The numbers were difficult to impossible to read unless it was a ground level replay. Players without distinguishing features such as facial hair, long hair, no hair, headbands, etc. were not identifiable as quickly as usual.

And for what? It seems to me every viewer tuning in already knew it was Christmas. Whatever happened to "Merry Christmas" being shown on the screen above the score at every time out or stoppage in play?

In a way, this was even worse than the alternate or throw-up uniforms ("throw back" as the leagues call them, which I keep hoping they will do). The totally dark uniforms worn by Brooklyn and Denver, as well as the drab gray worn by Houston, made it difficult to watch those teams play. Last month it was those bumble bee uniforms on the Pittsburgh Steelers when they played against Baltimore on Nov. 18th that viewers were forced to endure on Sunday Night Football.

This may not seem like content for a media related column, but I'm here to tell you it should be. If the Boston Celtics and Pittsburgh Steelers don't have the look of the Celtics and Steelers fans are used to over the years, the fans and viewers shouldn't have to put up with this on nationally televised games.

Ask sports fans how they would feel if there was advertising allowed on the uniforms, and chances are their immediate facial expression will provide an immediate answer. They don't want to see a uniform defaced and have to endure even more advertising than the bombardment we already get from most TV shots already. I'd like to know how having uniforms which are not true to the originals is any less distracting or annoying.

The TV networks pay literally billions of dollars for these TV rights. In some instances, they gain the power to change the starting time of games, even at the inconvenience of thousands of fans who have purchased tickets. Why do these networks put up with showing teams that are not easily identified by viewers?

It isn't just the NBA allowing this. Or the NFL. MLB has gotten as bad or worse over the years at this. As much as Jackie Robinson should be honored, having every player wearing the same uniform number (even for one day) is a horrible distraction to viewers. We don't need pink bats and holiday colors which in some instances forced teams to wear colors of a big rival, and old fashioned uniforms that look like extreme pajamas either.

As sports fans eagerly awaiting the next telecast, we are entitled to be able to tell which teams are playing, and to maintaining a tradition of team uniforms.

Speaking of the Christmas Day NBA feast, here's hoping that ABC/ESPN will move forward and put a true broadcast professional as host of its studio segments. The "all analysts all the time" format doesn't allow enough time for each expert to talk, and not having a true broadcaster to lead the way eliminates structure and continuity from the studio shows. Put the ex-NBA players at games instead. Even though Doris Burke does a solid job as analyst, the fact that she is at games (such as the Celtics-Nets on Christmas) while the likes of Magic Johnson and Jalen Rose are in the studio getting only a few seconds at a time to talk seems out of whack.

Still not nearly enough progress for The Dan Patrick Show since its move to NBC Sports Network. Although Bonnie Bernstein does a little bit of filling in when Patrick is off, the Show still offered up "Best of" over Christmas Eve and Day. Here is a network which is trying to rebuild its sports image on TV while starting a new radio network, but it has no problem with a re-run of time sensitive sports programming on days when there are plenty of games and stories to discuss. I'd like to think that the mile long list of participants on Sunday Night Football could each handle a live show or two on their own to talk football with the fans a couple of mornings a year instead.

CBS Sports has put together a special about the 75 years of the NCAA basketball tourney and some of the announcers who have been a big part of it. Greg Gumbel hosts while Dick Enberg, Gary Bender, Jim Nantz, Vern Lundquist, and Bill Raftery are among those participating. CBS Sports Network will air it starting Jan. 1 at 7 PM ET, as well as on Jan. 3rd at 7 and 10 PM ET, Jan. 4th at 9 AM ET, and Jan. 5th at 10 AM ET. I haven't seen whether or not any of Curt Gowdy's calls will be included, taking us back to the days of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton leading UCLA to its run of championships in the 70's. But I doubt they'll include the national championship game when Gowdy mispronounced the name of the Kansas starting players.

ESPN continues to work with the Dallas Cowboys and Cowboys Stadium on its Cowboys Classic season opening week college football telecasts. The Saturday Aug. 31st game will have LSU taking on TCU in prime time. They have also announced that the Aug. 30, 2014 game will be between Florida State and Oklahoma State.

PHILADELPHIA: Last Friday (12/21) marked the end of WPEN-AM 950, which was sold earlier this year. As a result, WPEN-FM 97.5 is the only spot on the dial for ESPN Radio Philadelphia. CBS Radio begins its direct competition next week with its national feed taking over WIP-AM 610 and the local lineup staying on 94.1 FM.

Have a great New Year celebration, and I'm looking forward to your comments and suggestions for The Broadcast Booth in 2013!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Pre-Game Network Battles

It is unfortunate that how the networks handle tragedy within their Sunday pre-game and game programming is again a top story. Even though the tragic loss of lives at the CT school last week was not football or sports related, both CBS and Fox devoted a portion of their NFL pre-game shows on Sunday (12/16) to its overall impact on all of us, which certainly transcended football.

CBS led with the CT tragedy on its NFL Today show, while Fox started its pre-game show with actor Jamie Foxx basically promoting a movie, which failed to "cover" any of the upcoming games or immediately address the tragedy until the following segment.

Personally, I was neutral about CBS' decision earlier this month to not lead with the Belcher Kansas City tragedy on its NFL Today show, although many in the media were highly critical. CBS won't say whether the criticism they received a couple weeks earlier had an impact on its decision to now lead with the CT tragedy, but I have to think it did.

On Sunday evening, NBC made the decision to leave the Sunday Night Football game for about 20 minutes in order to deliver President Obama's address regarding the CT tragedy. The network did move the game action over to both CNBC and NBC Sports Network during that time, thus accomodating its audience with the choice.

For all three networks which aired games on Sunday, there were programming decisions to be made in order to present viewers with a balance of coverage and reflection. Whether you agree or disagree with each decision, at least we know that each network had sufficient time to make their decision and run with it.

As for local market viewership of NFL games this past weekend, it is interesting to note that both Dallas and Chicago, which consistently draw significant ratings for Cowboys and Bears telecasts respectively over the years, were actually outdrawn by viewers of the opposing teams.

Milwaukee showed a 48.5 rating and an amazing 78 share for the Packers at Bears telecast on Fox, while Chicago's 31.5 rating and 59 share, while still respectable, was clearly behind.

The same thing happened with the Cowboys vs. Steelers telecast, as Pittsburgh scored a 47.5 rating and 70 share locally, with Dallas at 31.4 and 58.

For Sunday night, the big 49ers vs. Patriots telecast on NBC drew much better in Boston than it did for the San Francisco/Oakland market. That one is not a surprise.

NBC Sports Radio is now just over 2 weeks away from its debut, and has now finalized its weekend lineup, with some hosts handling both a Saturday and Sunday shift. Personalities will include Brian Webber (also on NFL Network's morning show), Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, and Newy Scruggs of NBC-5 TV Dallas.

CBS Radio Sports has had their lineup in place, but has been giving some "practice" time to author and columnist John Feinstein by way of Washington D.C.'s The Fan 106.7. Feinstein is doing some filling in over the holiday period only in D.C., with station (106.7) officials quoted as saying he is not in consideration for a local slot.

While in Boston, it seems that 98.5 Sports Hub is not going to continue with Damon Amendolara as its overnight host after all when he joins the CBS Sports lineup as its overnight host. Amendolara, who had been hosting overnights locally on the Sports Hub, had been selected for the national spot in the same time slot, leaving many of us to think that what is really the Boston overnight show would be picked up for national airing. Now it turns out that Boston's "loss" could be good for the rest of the country since the overnight show does not figure to be Boston biased. As of press time, the Sports Hub has yet to name the overnight replacement, but says it will, keeping the Hub local during that time.

KANSAS CITY: The market will soon have its first FM sports station, as The Fan 102.5 is now scheduled to launch on Jan. 2nd. This appears to be a "late" decision, as the station has yet to announce any local programming to start, instead going with CBS Sports Radio. This format replaces "Funny 102.5" which had been a comedy station. Those who find the current Chiefs season and recent Royals season as "laughable" will probably see a tie-in with the formats.

MIAMI: After more than 20 years on WQAM-AM, some listeners and fans have probably forgotten that host Joe Rose played in the NFL for seven seasons. Rose remains so popular with the station that the morning host has received a 3-year contract extension that runs though 2015.

CINCINNATI: Like with Kansas City, sports talk comes to FM on January 2nd when WCFN 100.3 hits the airwaves. And like K.C., there is no word yet and if and when for local hosts. The station has brought in Rick The Brick Ucchino as its morning sports anchor, and will be heard with scores and headlines during local breaks. Ucchino had been an afternoon co-host on WQRT 1160 during the sports shows it has aired during that time. WQRT is "Real Talk" with the majority of its programming being non-sports.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

End of an Era - Sporting News Going Online Only

It's one of those blockbuster announcements that shows your age. Or, if you are not over 40, chances are it isn't even a blockbuster announcement at all. But for those of us who grew up in the era before cable TV, all-sports radio, the internet, cell phones, and constant communication, the announcement that The Sporting News will no longer publish is significant.

TSN will go all digital as of January 1st, which, according to the announcement, ends a 126-year history in print. The most important news is that the content will be free and advertiser supported, which hopefully will send a different sort of message to newspaper and magazine publishers around the country.

The Sporting News had been a weekly publication into 2008 when it reduced to bi-weekly, and then to a monthly only publication just over one year ago.

For those who grew up as sports fans in the 50's, 60's, and early 70's, the publication was known as "the sports bible" and introduced generations to the thought of waiting for the mailman to come on Tuesdays with that week's edition. It was our entree into out of town team news, statistics, and even box scores, that we couldn't always get in our local newspapers, radio, or TV reports. Columnists from all over the country shared details about sports stories of national interest.

Those of you who remember "The National" daily sports newspaper from the late 80's and into June 1991 and how much great content it delivered on a daily basis can relate to the impact of TSN on a weekly basis 20+ years earlier.

Granted, I'm among those that stopped relying on The Sporting News in the 80's when ESPN came into prominence and more and more sports events were being televised. By then, we as sports fans were being brought a daily dose of highlights, headlines, and current statistics which were "old news" by the time TSN arrived in the mail.

From my having followed sports, reported on them, taught college students about it, and having been a "fan" for more than 50 years, losing the print version of The Sporting News is still significant. It's how Detroit Tigers fans felt when Tiger Stadium wasn't there anymore, Yankees fans felt about the "new" stadium, and fans of the likes of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field will feel years from now when those parks aren't there anymore. Just as new stadiums and arenas for the events offer new perks and conveniences for the fans, we will never forget the venues which came before and built up our "hunger" as sports fans. Just as "The Sporting News" in print did for fans before the newer methods and sources of coverage came along.

Elsewhere, the impact of the lack of NHL hockey is being felt by more media than NBC Sports Network. It shows even more on the Canadian side. The latest radio ratings from Vancouver show that CKST 1040, the flagship station for the Canucks, has dropped from #2 to #10 in males 25-54 during the most recent ratings period, which took place during the time the NHL would normally have been playing. The Fan 960 in Calgary has seen a similar drop.

SAN DIEGO: XEPRS XX 1090 is reportedly bringing back Scott Kaplan and Billy Ray Smith to its 3-7 PM weekday spot, after the two were removed from the air in February of this year due to inappropriate on-air comments about local reporter Andrea Lloyd. The pair are, at least for now, keeping their morning TV gig for U-T TV.

In another significant move, XX 1090 has brought back Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton for morning drive, as of this week, replacing Dave Palet and Jeff Dotseth. Darren Smith moves up from afternoons for Noon to 3.

MINNEAPOLIS: Mike Morris is out after nearly 10 years with KFAN-AM 1270. The former Viking had been co-hosting the "Power Trip" morning show along with Vikings post-game shows. Not that it helps to pay the bills during the holiday period, but it wasn't anything personal. Morris was one of many staff cuts implemented by Clear Channel, which also owns WFAN.

SEATTLE: Hard to believe it was 21 years, but Mike Gastineau has left KJR-AM 950 following last Thursday's (12/6) show. The former N.Y. Jets and NFL standout says he decided to move onto "something new", but did not rule out a return to radio in the future. No official replacement named as of press time.

HOUSTON: Steve Bunin, formerly with ESPN for more than nine years, is joining the new Comcast SportsNet Houston as a "SportsNet Central" anchor.

HARTFORD: Sorry to report the passing, at the age of 82, of Arnold Dean, who seemingly forever (he started in 1965) was a part of WTIC 1080. Dean is widely considered to have pioneered local sports talk in Hartford, where he began hosting sports talk in 1976. He co-hosted the pre-game "Tailgate Show" this past season for UConn football games, including the final home game just a couple weeks ago.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why CBS Played A Different Game

There are those times every year when a sports event or sports news is overshadowed by a serious and sad news story. Unfortunately, the murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs this past weekend became one of those times.

It is safe to assume that the vast majority of football fans knew this had taken place long before the various NFL pre-game shows began on Sunday (12/2). The NFL Network, Fox NFL Sunday, and ESPN NFL Countdown each took steps to include this horrible news within the early part of their coverage. CBS-TV handled this much differently.

ESPN went to the extent of not airing its regular segment with comic Frank Caliendo, for example.

Although the majority of Chiefs games are shown by CBS-TV, the Chiefs' hosting of Carolina on Sunday meant that it was a rare Fox telecast. Although CBS-TV has been under criticism for not making the Belcher story a priority on its pre-game show, this decision actually was not without precedent. However, in this day and age of media competition for viewers and advertising dollars, it is possible that CBS might have handled it differently.

For those who missed it, CBS opened its NFL Today with it's "Drive For the Playoffs" segment, and THEN went into the Belcher story. This included Lesley Visser on live from Kansas City which included a Chiefs official explaining the decision on playing the game on Sunday, prior to the studio crew, including Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher, reflecting on the story. Unlike ESPN, CBS did not drop its "lighter" segment with Jim Rome interviewing a Vict. Secret model, which seemed to take longer than the Kansas City report. Essentially, CBS "refused" to let this tragic news story impact its pre-game show.

Of course, I am not going to defend CBS for doing so. They actually had their reasons, whether we agree with them or not.

After all, the NFL is entertainment. Network officials reasoned that people tuning in for an afternoon of football were still planning to watch the game(s) since there was nothing they could do about the tragic Belcher story. In addition, calling the extra and priority attention to this story would have reminded viewers that CBS was not carrying the Chiefs game that afternoon, which it does on most other Sundays.

By conveniently delaying the Belcher coverage by a few minutes, any CBS viewers who would then have tuned over to Fox's or ESPN's pre-game shows would have done so following those networks' coverage of the same story. Hence, CBS viewers were sent an indirect message that this story was no longer as big of a priority, and set the scene to go on with the games about to be played.

Back to that precedent I mentioned earlier. CBS-TV and its NFL coverage was faced with a tragic situation back on October 24, 1971 during game coverage. During its regional telecast of the Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions game that afternoon, Lions receiver Chuck Hughes collapsed on the field during a play. The seriousness of his collapse was such that Dick Butkus, the future Hall of Fame linebacker for the rival Bears, was by Hughes and waving frantically for help. It turned out that Mr. Hughes never recovered and passed away on the field.

As a college student in Chicago at that time, I was actually watching that telecast as well as the national doubleheader game which followed. During the remainder of the Bears-Lions telecast, as well as throughout the natonal doubleheader game, there was no mention made of Hughes' condition. It wasn't until a (Chicago) local newscast came on WBBM-TV after the doubleheader game ended that viewers were told that Hughes has died shortly after the collapse.

In other words, CBS did not report on the player's death despite live NFL coverage for more than three hours after viewers saw the play. I still remember a couple of friends telling me the next day that they heard about Hughes' death via other stations well before the CBS station first reported it.

Again, this doesn't make it right. But even then, CBS took the "It is entertainment, and let's allow people to enjoy the game" approach.

Their role is to provide the coverage and "entertain" the viewers. While I'm not defending CBS this time around, this was another decision that could be criticized no matter which way it goes.

We don't know for certain if Fox would have made the Belcher story its top priority if CBS were showing the Chiefs' game on Sunday. And Fox and CBS compete with each other moreso than ESPN and NFL Network because each airs one hour shows leading into game telecasts.

However it is handled, it is a difficult situation for the decision makers, as well as for all concerned. If I were going to criticize anyone about this, I would be more inclined to be critical of the NFL for "allowing" the Chiefs to play the game with their players in shock. Frankly, I believe that if this had happened early enough in the season, before the Chiefs and Panthers had bye weeks, it is possible that the NFL would have then rescheduled the game. But now they could not. All the media did was determine how to cover this tragic story as they saw fit.

Something positive from the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, and it's media related. While the debate rages about which players should or shouldn't get in, no one will dispute the upcoming induction of former Toronto Blue Jays voice Tom Cheek, who was selected for the Excellence in Broadcasting wing and goes in next July. Cheek called more than 4,300 regular season games and 41 post-season games for the Jays until his untimely passing following the 2005 season.

ESPN is going back to a 3-man booth for Sunday Night Baseball, adding John Kruk to the booth along with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser for the 2013 season.

NEW YORK: The Jets are struggling on the field but ESPN 98.7 WEPN has locked up the broadcast rights for years to come with a new multi-year contract extension. WEPN-AM 1050 will also retain the Spanish broadcasts. This re-upping was crucial for ESPN with the current growth and expansion of CBS Sports Radio. WFAN 660 and 101.9 continues with the Giants broadcasts.

Whether it is due to the few miles move from the Jersey side to Brooklyn, or the early strong showing of the Nets, the results are positive for YES Network's Brooklyn Nets telecasts already this season. The YES telecasts are up more than 200% over the first month of the season. Last Saturday's (12/1) telecast against the Miami Heat was the highest rated telecast not involving the Knicks since a 1998 Nets game against Chicago when Michael Jordan was heading toward another championship.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

CBS vs. NBC - Is That All There Is?

It seems like a journey back in time as we explore the sports "battle" between CBS and NBC on both the radio and TV side. Before cable networks took over a dominant share of pro and college sports, both TV networks had their years of domination for sports coverage. As we come closer to the start of 2013, both networks are going at it again, although they both face a similar uphill battle.

On the TV side, NBC Sports Network has the added challenge of trying to replace hours of NHL games and surrounding programming that was intended to be its centerpiece of winter existence. The continued lockout, which leaves fans with little hope at this point in time, is certainly not the Network's fault. What hurts them even more is the lack of promotional time to attract and keep viewers for its other programming.

To its credit, NBC Sports Network has added more college hoops, now into presenting at least 50 live telecasts. The network lucked out last Saturday (11/24) when its "Battle 4 Atlantis" Tournament coverage brought them the Duke vs. Louisville telecast of two of the top five ranked teams. However, NBC faced another "tough luck" situation, as that telecast was up against the Notre Dame vs. USC football telecast on ABC.

However, NBC Sports Network got stuck again last Friday (11/23) when, once again, The Dan Patrick Show that morning was a "Best of" show. I know I have mentioned this many times over the years, and that Dan Patrick deserves his time off, but I, for one, continued to be offended that there is not a live show on his days off. This was the morning after three NFL games were played, while college football and basketball games galore are taking place all weekend, as well as some good NBA matchups. Although I understand that NBC does not have control over this matter, I'd like to think they'll care enough to put a stop to airing outdated sports segments. I tuned in to see it was a "Best of" and saw a segment "previewing" an NFL game that had already been played.

You can't tell me that NBC couldn't step in and help come up with someone to host a live show, and/or that Patrick couldn't have provided some still current interviews recorded earlier in the week to still be topical. This is an embarassment to a Network that is trying to establish itself, and to the advertisers who paid thousands of dollars to appear on a show with zero reasons to watch. Keep in mind that ESPN was on with multiple LIVE programming, even with backup hosts, at the exact same time.

Over at CBS, the CBS Sports Network will prove it already has too much time on its hands next week. While I'm as patriotic as anyone, the Army vs. Navy football game simply is not a big deal anymore. I can understand a national telecast, since the game is on December 8th and doesn't interfere with a ton of college football games. Yet, CBS Sports Network is, believe it or not, making a one-week extravaganza about this meaningless game. Starting on Monday (12/3), the network has actually scheduled late afternoon and prime-time replays of games between the two going back to 1998. Frankly, this is right there with outdated Dan Patrick Show segments. I actually placed a couple of phone calls to be sure this was not a prank press release. If you know of anyone, outside of a participating player or coach and their immediate family, that would actually watch, please let me know.

All this while CBS' telecast of the Baltimore at San Diego game on Sunday (11/25) started with the telecast not showing the opening kickoff. While the kickoff was in the air, viewers were shown Ravens coach John Harbaugh watching the ball sail into the end zone, and then a blank color screen. By the time the production crew corrected this error, the play was over. From an announcing standpoint, I can understand the broadcast team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts remaining calm about it. However, Eagle could have provided a more thorough description of what happened since viewers didn't see it.

On the radio side, CBS Sports Radio has created its morning drive show for the 24-hour network starting on January 2nd. Tike Barber (former N.Y. Giant turned broadcaster), Brandon Tierney (of The Game 95.7 San Francisco/Oakland), and Dana Jacobson (formerly with ESPN), were named to the new show. As of press time, the network has yet to announce its early evening (ET) host or hosts, although this will be during the time period when many of the games are taking place.

I'm curious to see whether or not CBS goes with a scoreboard "game night" type of show during the east and central prime time period or adds another host or hosts instead. If they go with another hosted show, all ESPN Radio needs to do is maintain its "game night" updates and focus on the games being played, and they'll do just fine.

It all makes me wonder if ESPN's biggest fear of competition is from what Fox Sports might announce soon rather than what CBS and NBC are up to. Fox Sports is reportedly looking at changing its Speed Channel to a full-on sports cable network, while its radio network has grabbed a few affiliates away from ESPN Radio within the past year.

Meanwhile, the radio ratings for mid-October to mid-November are coming out, but this ratings period is an exception to recent trends. Between the election and the big storm Sandy, most of the country was not in typical listening mode.

Even with the great ratings for NFL telecasts over Thanksgiving weekend, I couldn't help but notice that the NFL actually had THREE of its game telecasts blacked out locally. In Cincinnati, home town fans were not shown the home contest against Oakland, even though it was the return of former Bengals QB Carson Palmer. In Tampa, even the Conference's best record team, Atlanta, coming in didn't sell enough tickets. And, the San Diego Chargers game vs. a first-place Baltimore team failed to sell out in time, resulting the game being blacked out in San Diego as well as "secondary market" Los Angeles. (Never mind that CBS blacked out the kickoff to everyone!) I haven't kept track, but I don't recall a Sunday with three games blacked out in the home markets in quite a long time.

Of course, NBC Sunday Night Football had another ratings triumph (11/25) with the N.Y. Giants vs. Green Bay telecast, as you would expect. But the numbers produced an interesting find. As you would expect, the top two local markets for audience ratings were Milwaukee and New York. But which market was third, with a 17.8 local rating?

Would you believe it was Memphis? There was one other "hard to explain" market in the Top 10 local markets, as Albuquerque NM finished 10th with a 15.3 local rating.

That game also led to a great media moment on Tuesday (11/27) for Milwaukee listeners. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, while appearing on his Tuesday segment on WAUK ESPN 540, apologized on the air for "that disappointing loss". The significance of this honest quote is that it was not said moments after the game and/or in a "heated" or confrontational interview. That it was said during Rodgers' regular radio appearance shows that he intended to say this to the fans. That's a nice treat, considering the generally conservative nature of scheduled weekly radio and TV segments and shows involving NFL players.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Extra Holiday For Sports Talkers

A note to sports radio programmers. The holiday is Thursday. On Friday (11/23), it will be Black Friday, a day on which many have an extra day off and will be around the house and in the car waiting to park and go shopping. For many, it is a chance to listen in to the midday and/or mid-afternoon hosts on the local sports talker that they don't usually get to listen to and participate with. A chance for these stations to hopefully attract more listeners and solidify their audiences.

Oh, wait a minute. Programmers are also giving these regular hosts an additional day off, as if they are white collar workers. They don't seem to realize the number of current and potential listeners that will instead hear an unfamiliar or less familiar name and not be as interested in the content. Another blown chance for AM and FM radio stations to regain the audiences they are gradually losing.

Never mind that Thanksgiving weekend is generally the busiest holiday sports weekend of the year. (Even without the NHL, it's still jam-packed with football and basketball galore!) All these games and matchups to discuss, while the people best at discussing them are "off" for the day.

Of course, I'm not against people having an extra day off. But in the sports media, there are no holidays. Or so it used to be.

Certainly not for David Schuster of WSCR The Score in Chicago. At press time, the station's on-air schedule (which also showed them broadcasting the "Houston Texans vs. Detroit Tigers" on Thursday afternoon) had Schuster scheduled to host 12 of the 24 hours from 6 AM Thursday to 6 AM Friday. In a way, that's not as amazing to me as the lineup for Friday which consists of all weekend hosts instead of the regular lineup.

NBC-TV benefits from quality vs. quantity this season when it comes to college football. Having shown the Notre Dame home games as the majority of its college football coverage on the main network is paying off big time as Notre Dame enters Thanksgiving weekend with the #1 ranking. This season's ratings for the home game telecasts were up more than 67% over last year's, also marking the first time in seven seasons that three telecasts averaged more than five million viewers. By comparison, not one of their ND telecasts in 2011 averaged five million.

This is made even more impressive when you consider that NBC does not have a college football lead-in, such as ESPN/ABC, and sometimes Fox Sports have before their telecasts.

Of course, the biggest college football and TV story of the week was the upcoming additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten Conference starting in a couple of years. ESPN/ABC figure to benefit by having a lot of Big Ten football telecasts, which will take on added significance in the NYC and Baltimore/D.C. TV markets. The Big Ten Network figures to gain additional subscriber revenue, especially in the Baltimore/D.C. region, where it is currently (and mostly) available on an optional higher cost tier.

On the college hoops side, Turner Sports is looking at not charging its cable and satellite subscribers for watching the streams of NCAA Tournament telecasts in March. (This past March viewers had the option of paying to access the games online.) This is certainly a fair deal for the fans (for a change). Consumers pay for the access to TV channels, and whether they watch on a TV set or computer monitor should not make a difference. Here's hoping this goes through.

Speaking of good moves, the NBA has taken steps to make it's upcoming NBA D-League (developmental) games available to its fans, and at no cost. The NBA has arranged for a live stream, via a YouTube player on, of around 350 games starting on Friday (11/23) with four of its games available. This gives fans the opportunity to watch prospects for their favorite teams, as 16 of the D-League teams have direct affiliations with NBA teams.

MLB Network has hired Heidi Watney as a studio reporter starting after the first of the year. She joins MLB Network after less than two years in L.A. with Time Warner Cable. Watney is well known from her work in prior years covering the Red Sox on NESN.

Speaking of Time Warner Cable, its sports channel featuring the Lakers is finally being carried in Southern California by DirecTV, which, however, is still not carrying the Pac-12 Network. Dish Network is still not carrying the Time Warner channel. DirecTV reportedly has nearly 2,000,000 subscribers within the market area. The financial implications have not been revealed, although it's a safe bet that those consumers will soon feel the pinch.

Just having a new regional TV sports network doesn't guarantee success. The Houston area's new Comcast SportsNet Houston is still a secret to Rockets fans. Or it could be that the interest in Rockets basketball isn't there. This past Friday (11/17), ESPN's national telecast of the New York vs. Memphis game had higher ratings than the Rockets vs. Portland telecast on CSN. On Sunday night (11/18), CSN showed the Rockets game from Los Angeles against the Lakers, which figured to be a nice draw for the new network. Yet, the Sunday Night Football game on NBC (Baltimore at Pittsburgh) had a Houston area rating literally 10 times higher! And before you argue that it is the popularity of the NFL, upon further review the NASCAR Sprint Cup race on ESPN also drew a larger audience than Rockets at Lakers.

St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 and Kevin Slaten have parted ways again. At least this time Slaten was technically not fired. His show was canceled by the station last week after Slaten made comments with racial overtones. When several callers voiced their displeasure, Slaten responded by calling one of them "stupid". This was not the first time that Slaten has been part of a racial comments controversy. However, since Slaten was brokering the time for his KFNS show, the station simply canceled the contract. The station is now airing Paul Finebaum's syndicated college football show durijng the afternoon drive time slot, with no replacement named (or under time broker contract) at press time.

BOSTON: WBZ-FM Sports Hub found a way to keep Damon Amendolara as its popular overnight host. And save money in the process. The CBS Sports Radio network announced that it is adding Amendolara's show to its national 2:00 to 6:00 AM ET schedule as of the first of the year. However, the show will likely be less Boston focused, since the network announced the show will also air in Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Baltimore, among other markets.

DENVER: ESPN 105.5 will now air Colorado State football and basketball, along with coaches shows, as part of a new 5-year deal which takes effect for the 2013 football season. The basketball games will again air on KLZ 560 for this season.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Texans Will Grow Them (Ratings) Big.....

As great as the Sunday Night Football ratings have been again this season, things are in place for NBC to kill in the ratings this Sunday night (11/11). They couldn't have had a better matchup if they used flex scheduling. It's the 7-1 Chicago Bears vs. the 7-1 Houston Texans. The Chicago market always has high ratings for Bears telecasts, even when the team is not in first place by two games. The Texans are off to an amazing start, even to the point where the sports radio station which airs their games has shown ratings gains this season. (Not easy, considering how many times the four Houston sports talkers hadn't even combined to finish in the top 15!) In addition, with banks and government offices closed on Monday in observance of Veteran's Day, more people than usual in the Eastern time zone will be able to "stay up" for the conclusion of the game. If the game stays close, the ratings battle won't be.

College basketball is upon us. This Friday night (11/9) is when the "Battle on the Midway" will take place, as Syracuse takes on San Diego State aboard the USS Midway Museum Aircraft Carrier at 5 PM PT. Fox Sports Network is distributing the telecast, and has brought in Dick Enberg to call the game, along with Steve Kerr as analyst.

Meanwhile, a poor media reflection by Bobby Hebert, the former New Orleans Saints QB. Hebert, now a host on WWL New Orleans, was escorted out of the LSU press box last Saturday during the team's loss to Alabama due to "cheering" in the working media environment. It was at least the second time this (an ejection) has happened to Hebert, with this time happening when a record number of media credentials were issued for the game.

After years of coaching against each other in the NBC, the Van Gundy brothers are now both serving as analysts. Stan Van Gundy, most recently the head coach at Orlando, has joined NBC Sports Network and Radio as its NBA analyst. He is expected to debut on the NBC Sports Network telecast of Georgetown vs. Florida on Friday. Van Gundy will co-host a one hour NBA specific show on NBC Sports Radio. Actually, the bigger news is that Georgetown vs. Florida gives NBC Sports Network a rare live telecast with two prominent teams, since there is no NHL action. This is an improvement over the North Podunk State vs. Generic Southern (or so it seems) telecasts they have shown and have scheduled.

CINCINNATI: It's actually not a CBS station which is bringing the CBS Sports Radio Network to town starting at the first of the year. WMOJ-FM 100.3, which just dropped its music format in favor of holiday tunes, has announced it will carry the CBS lineup starting in January. Early indications are that the station will rely on the Network morning show since a co-host is Boomer Esiason, who played in Cincinnati during his most successful seasons. This will be an interesting test to see if people really do want sports radio on FM, since it will be a start-up. At the moment, WCKY ESPN 1530 and Fox Sports WSAI 1360 go up against the play-by-play and part-time sports talk on powerhouse WLW 700. So it's not as though either of those stations is starting a simulcast (at least not yet!) to promote and switch fans over to the FM dial for sports. For now. We'll see if either of those stations seeks an FM outlet or lets it ride to see what happens with 100.3 first.

Reds announcer Thom Brennaman gets a "home game" this Sunday (11/11) when he calls the Bengals game in Cincinnati against the N.Y. Giants. This is a rare opportunity for Brennaman, since Fox only gets one or two local telecasts when NFC teams come in, to not have to travel to call his game for Fox Sports. However, as of press time, the game had not sold out, leaving open the realistic possibility that Cincinnati fans will not get to see the game with his call. As usual, "coach" Brian Billick will serve as analyst.

DALLAS: The Texas Rangers are keeping their broadcast teams in tact for the 2013 season. Eric Nadel returns for his 35th season of broadcasting the Rangers, and will be joined again by Matt Hicks on ESPN 103.3, with Hicks returning for what will be his first "full" season. Steve Busby, a part of the team's radio and TV coverage for more than 25 seasons, will again work with Tom Grieve on the TV side in what will be Grieve's 19th season in the TV booth.

HOUSTON: The Rockets' season is now well underway, but many viewers are not able to see the telecasts on the new regional Comcast SportsNet. Three of the national services (A.T.&T, DirecTV, Dish Network) still are not offering the games or the channel to viewers, even though they carry other CSN regional networks elsewhere around the country. If the Rockets continue with a good start (2-1 at press time), it could make a difference in getting deals done. The Network also will have the Astros, but coming off a horrible season and switching over to the less familiar American League doesn't exactly create urgency for fans to demand those games. Some blame the teams and network, while others blame the carriers for this not happening yet. I blame both. Put the monthly price out there and let the fans decide whether or not it is worth it. The end user should have those choices.

CHICAGO: Comcast SportsNet Chicago is adding a lot more college hoops than it usually airs, most likely due to not having Blackhawks and NHL telecasts. The Network now has a 56 game schedule including DePaul, Loyola, Illinois Chicago, Illinois State, Bradley, and Southern Illinois University games. If and when the NHL returns, the Network would move conflicting telecasts to tape delay.

WMVP ESPN 1000 will air 19 of the The University of Illinois Chicago games this season. Dave Juday will now handle the play-by-play with Kenny Williams (the former Flame standout, not the White Sox baseball executive) as analyst.

LOS ANGELES: The power of Blake Griffin has come full force in the early going of the NBA season. The team he plays for has gone from being the "hapless" Clippers to the "Los Angeles Clippers". In a media miracle, the Clippers are being showcased on national TV (TNT, ESPN, NBA-TV) more often than the Lakers during this first month. If the current national telecast schedule holds for the regular season, the Clippers would have more total appearances than the Lakers.

PITTSBURGH: KDKA-FM 93.7 The Fan has named Ryan Maguire as its new Program Director, bringing him to Pittsburgh from KCSP Kansas City. Our congrats to the 35-year old Maguire, who began at WTKA Ann Arbor.

FINALLY: Of course, the saddest story in sports media this week is the sudden passing of Jim Durham, who spent the past few years as the voice of the NBA on ESPN Radio. So many great things have been, understandably, written and said about him this week, both as a person and as a broadcaster. All I can do is agree with them. He got his big break when he was in his late 20's and doing Chicago Bulls radio. When I first started covering NBA games in the early 70's, Durham was one of the first broadcasters I encountered. I was delighted to see that he didn't let his lofty postion get in his way. It showed in his personality, and his ability to provide accurate and exciting descriptions of every game. He was just on the air last week calling the Miami vs. Boston opener, starting his 40th season of calling NBA games. But he is already missed tremendously.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sports Talkers On The Rise

First and foremost, our sincere prayers and best wishes to all those impacted by Hurricane Sandy and all that went with it. For the moment, it puts sports and how it is covered in the background, but soon, a lot of people will need the relief and the escape that sports is supposed to provide.

At press time on Tuesday, some of the late September to mid-October radio ratings are coming out for the top markets. In New York, as WFAN is about to begin its move to the FM dial on Saturday (11/3), the station showed a .4 overall increase to a 3.2, good for 13th place. Of course, the increase is more likely due to the Yankees being in the East Division race until the last day of the season (before clinching it) and then into the post-season for the duration of the ratings period.

In Los Angeles, KSPN 710 is showing signs of life, inching up to 24th place overall, while KLAC 570 lingers in 32nd place, even after a full season as the Dodgers' flagship station. Chicago listeners have again increased WSCR The Score 670 up to 13th place overall. Although rival WMVP ESPN 1000 showed a significant .6 increase (to a 1.9 overall), it finished 23rd overall. San Francisco listeners, as you might expect, had Giants fever and put KNBR 680 into the top spot overall. Despite the amazing season by the Oakland A's and the sellout crowds during the final homestand and Division Series, KGMZ The Game showed only a slight increase and is out-rated by KNBR by a higher than 4-to-1 margin.

Perhaps Philadelphia is the most interesting race among the sports stations around the country. The move to FM seems to have taken over in Philly. WIP-FM has risen to 10th overall, and now has more than six times the total audience of WIP-AM, which now airs more separate programming than in the past. WPEN-FM ESPN rose by .3 and is up to 19th overall, also trumping the ratings by its AM signal. This would seem to bode well for WFAN going to FM, at first with a simulcast, and a possible "split" with the AM going to national programming just after the first of the year.

As for baseball ratings, the World Series ratings seem to reflect the decline in the local telecast ratings of several MLB teams during the just concluded season. Ratings were down overall in comparison for the World Series, even with two of the top market teams involved (Detroit and San Francisco). It could be that football, both college (Saturday night Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma) and NFL (Sunday and Monday nights) was a factor. It wasn't that long ago that NBC did not provide a Sunday Night Football telecast during World Series weekend.

Yet, there is a cause for concern for MLB. Although it is an indirect comparison, the NBA Finals did better in the ratings this year than the World Series, making it five times in the  past seven years that has happened. And this June's Finals were decided in only five games, so you can't "blame" a deciding game. In 2012, even the NCAA BCS Championship Series (football) and Final Four (basketball) showed better audience numbers than the World Series.

MLB Network is returning its "Hot Stove" show on Monday November 12th. What's interesting this time is that the show will supposedly originate in the morning, rather than early evening. This could be MLB looking to compete against the NFL Network's weekday morning show by starting during the off-season. This gives MLB Network the chance to refine and develop the show, in hopes of luring viewers over after the Super Bowl leading into the start of spring training.

In an ironic twist, the Dan Patrick Show will be seen on NBC Sports Network starting next Monday (Nov. 5). The Show was dropped a few weeks ago by the Comcast SportsNet regional networks, which, of course, are owned by NBC. Hopefully, and especially with the holiday season coming up, NBC Sports Network will assure having guest hosts on the holidays (and days such as the Friday after Thanksgiving) so that the Dan Patrick Show will have live and fresh content every weekday. Especially now, there is NO excuse for showing repeats during mornings when there are plenty of games and sports news to talk about, and when many viewers can watch who do not otherwise have the opportunity during the regular work week.

CBS-TV will bring viewers an SEC doubleheader on Saturday (11/3), with Ole Miss at Georgia at 3:30 ET (Tim Brando on the call) and then Alabama vs. LSU at 8:00 ET (with Verne Lundquist).

St. LOUIS: A great move, in more ways than one, for sports fans courtesy of KMOX. As the station moves from its long-time studios, the station has posted a link to comments from several major sportscasters and reporters reflecting:

SARASOTA: WTMY 1280 is returning its local 3 to 6 PM "Ozzie & The Godfather Show" after only two weeks of national programming.

SCRANTON: Congrats to John Sadak on being named as play-by-play voice of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees minor league games starting in 2013. The former voice of the Wilmington Blue Rocks replaces Mike Vander Woude, who had announced that he was leaving the position after the team was eliminated from the International League playoffs last month. Sadak is expected to continue calling regional college football games for ESPN.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Will TV Ratings Jump Through The Hoops?

While the NFL telecasts continue to produce major ratings and the NHL is no closer to starting (as of press time), it remains to be seen how the early season NBA telecast ratings will fare now that the regular season is only a few days away from starting.

As always, NBA fans will be treated to four consecutive nights of nationally televised doubleheaders. Next Tuesday (Oct. 30) has TNT with season openers from Miami (including the ring ceremony vs. the Celtics) and then Dallas at Los Angeles (Lakers). On Wednesday (Oct. 31), NBA-TV takes over with a doubleheader that has San Antonio opening at New Orleans followed by the Lakers playing in Portland.

On Thursday, TNT shows another local matchup, as the Brooklyn Nets will host the New York Knicks, followed by another strong Western Conference matchup between Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Then, on Friday (Nov. 2), ESPN makes its regular season telecast debut with Miami at New York followed by the Lakers and Clippers from Los Angeles.

Granted, the NBA could have some serious sports audience competition for as many as three of those four nights. The first two scheduled regular nights' viewership could depend on the length of the World Series, while the Nov. 1st telecasts on TNT will be up against the NFL Thursday game. Even though it is not one of the better Thursday night NFL matchups (San Diego at Kansas City), it is the NFL.

If the World Series ends on or by Monday, it could be a very good ratings start for the NBA, especially without the NHL which is usually in full swing by this point.

College hoops are now less than three weeks from going full throttle. Tuesday Nov. 13th is the date for the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, which will include 11 games in 24 hours, starting with a Midnight ET game between West Virginia and Gonzaga. In fact, if you include the ESPN "family" of networks, there will be only five days without at least one college hoops telecast between Nov. 13th and March 10th. And two of those are Dec. 24 and 26.

On another positive note, Dan Shulman will again call college hoops for ESPN, including the prime Saturday night slot working with Dick Vitale. In addition, Shulman will be back as the primary baseball voice, again handling Sunday Night Baseball on TV and then post-season radio play-by-play.

SAN FRANCISCO: CSN Bay Area is going all out, understandably, with its 'surrounding' coverage of the Giants games in the World Series. Its expanded pre-game and post-game coverage includes Greg Papa, Scott Reiss, Duane Kuiper, and Mike Krukow, along with Vida Blue, Bip Roberts, and Bill Laskey as analysts. Impressive as it may be, let's hope it's not still another instance of having too many analysts and not enough time for any of them to properly express their thoughts and concerns.

CHICAGO: Bears radio broadcasts will stay put on WBBM 780 (and its 105.9 FM simulcast) as part of a multi-year contract extension announced this week. Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer will remain in the booth. The deal also continues the (Head Coach) Lovie Smith show, known as "Bears Insider" for one hour on Monday nights (except when the Bears are playing, of course).

Sister station WSCR 670 The Score will again be airing DePaul basketball for the 15th consecutive season. While Zach Zaidman continues as play-by-play voice, local sportscaster Jeff Blanzy becomes the new analyst. The choice of Blanzy is an odd one. Not because of his ability as a sportscaster. It's because DePaul has produced several NBA players over the years. Yet, somewhere between the University and the station, no one sees the need for a former player to be the analyst. Three of the games will air on WYLL 1160 due to conflicts.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP 610 now has a multi-year agreement to air Villanova basketball starting on November 9th. In addition, "Talking Villanova Basketball With Jay Wright" will air on a weekly basis. The station will also air Villanova football starting with the 2013 season.

St. LOUIS: Fox Sports Midwest has picked up 10 of the St. Louis University Billikens basketball games, meaning that 23 of their games are now scheduled to be televised locally.

Ft. MYERS: ESPN Radio 770 is spreading the wealth among its sister stations in order to help with the large number of area play-by-play conflicts it faces. Its 98.1 FM (South Ft. Myers), 101.5 FM (Bonita Springs), and 105.1 FM (Naples) stations will air their fair share of broadcasts throughout the year. College football broadcasts include Florida State and Miami University, although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers games are expected to air on 770 each Sunday. During basketball season, the Miami Heat and college hoops will be spread around, along with the Tampa Bay Lightning (if and when the NHL season appears). When the 2013 baseball season rolls around, the stations will be able to carry both the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays games. In addition, 770 will continue to air play-by-play from ESPN Radio, including the World Series and NBA games.

SIOUX FALLS: ESPN 99.1 has expanded the role of local native Jeff Thurn. Known for his work on Sirius XM and markets such as Nashville, Thurn now hosts "Overtime With Jeff Thurn" from 4-7 PM weekdays, moving from having been a weekend show. Thurn was quoted as being pleased to be back in his hometown, and we wish him well on this.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Giant Steps For A Buck

Joe Buck calls entire games in two major sports on the same day. Was it a publicity stunt, or did Fox Sports allow it because it was physically possible to do?

Whether you enjoy Joe Buck as a broadcaster or not, you have to give him credit for calling back-to-back games to a large national audience, especially when it involved both football and baseball. This past Sunday, Buck was in San Francisco. First, he called the doubleheader game from San Francisco with the N.Y. Giants playing at the 49ers. Since there was no overtime and the game ended about when it was expected to, Buck was escorted over to the nearby baseball stadium and proceeded to call the entire Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals NLCS game in prime time. Not only the same city, but both games happened to involve the Giants!

That experience has to be one of Buck's career highlights. It's not the first time an announcer has called two sports on national TV the same day in the same area (Keith Jackson did it), but it appears to be the first with both games in progress within an hour of each other. The preparation is nothing short of amazing. It's not only knowing all of the teams involved, but it's knowing the different production and support personnel on each telecast, and then being able to carry it off so well.

A lot has been written and said about the TBS post-season coverage, with most of it less than positive. I think they have done better than most people. However, they suffer from what seems to be a network "syndrome" with announcers not always being in the exact role they are best suited for.
Ron Darling and John Smoltz are both doing well as analysts. However, why have two pitchers and no position player or manager? Aren't the fans entitled to analysis from a prominent hitter? Shouldn't Cal Ripken (like him or not as an analyst) be in the booth with either Darling OR Smoltz?

Yet, it's not only TBS that does this. I have pointed out numerous times how absurd it is that ESPN has Doris Burke as an analyst sitting courtide during some NBA telecasts, while former players sit in the studio? (And I think Doris does a very good job - it's just that she didn't play in the NBA.)

At least ESPN realizes the error of their ways and is finally (long overdue) assigning a host for the ABC/ESPN studio portion of its NBA telecasts starting this season. Bill Simmons, although more known as a basketball author than a broadcaster, has been named to host. It will still be Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson in the studio. It's not whether or not you enjoy their respective commentary, it's that because there are so many analysts, it seems none of them get the time they need to bring out their complete thoughts. Same with TBS, with Ripken, David Wells, and Dennis Eckersley in the studio. Do we really need what amounts to FOUR pitchers to comment on the same plays?

I suppose this is due in part to the major ratings success of the NFL. The executives who make these decisions see the endless parade of analysts on Fox and CBS, and the parade of hosts and analysts on Sunday Night Football, and seem to think that doing the same for baseball and basketball will make a difference.

At least Fox has done it more sensibly, having a former QB (Bradshaw), former defensive standout (Long), and a former coach (Johnson) on their crew. I'd prefer they each have more individual segments instead of all three seemingly commenting on everything.

Let the viewers enjoy and appreciate each analyst, instead of force-feeding multiple opinions about every play or move.

Meanwhile, auto racing coverage in the news these past few days, as the networks vie for the loyal and consistent audiences it delivers. Fox Sports announced an 8-year extension with NASCAR which will soon include streaming as part of their coverage.

NBC Sports Group has a new 4-year deal, starting in 2013, to cover Formula One races. NBC will show only four of the major races, with as many as 16 others to be shown on NBC Sports Network.

The NBC Sports Network continues to suffer without the NHL to act as its anchor. The filler live programming isn't going to bring in enough viewers. Just putting "any" college football and (soon) basketball games with unfamiliar teams to most isn't going to make a dent.

COLUMBUS: Scott Torgerson has been suspended (as of press time) from WBNS 97.1 The Fan because of a Twitter comment. Normally, I'd be wondering why a comment not made on the air would have such an impact, but I'll go along with this one. Torgerson stated that he wished that ESPN's Desmond Howard "would get fired or die". In this instance, especially with WBNS being the flagship station for Ohio State football, the station had to make this move. It remains to be seen how long the suspension will last, and what will happen to Torgerson's role if and when he returns.

CHICAGO: No word (as of press time) regarding a replacement for Bob Brenly as analyst on Chicago Cubs telecasts starting next season. Brenly left after eight seasons in the role, and is reportedly in line to join the AZ Diamondbacks broadcast team.

CINCINNATI: WQRT-AM 1160 is adding to its sports content, bringing two more hours of afternoon drive sports talk as of this week. Now that the Reds' season is over, WQRT has brought in Jeff Piecoro from Fox Sports Ohio to host from 5-7 PM on weekdays, while Dennis Walker will host sports talk from 3 to 5 PM. The station airs non-sports (talk) programming the rest of the day. This change may or may not continue past next spring when the Reds' 2013 season starts.

CLEVELAND: The biggest competition the Browns may be involved in could be regarding their radio rights after this season. All signs indicate that WTAM 1100 is going to have a bidding war on its hands from the rival sports network groups seeking the most valuable rights in town for themselves.

TAMPA: Sports fans now have plenty of radio choices. WHNZ 1250 has picked up Fox Sports Radio, which was made available when WDAE 620 switched, understandably, to ESPN a few weeks back. In addition, 98.7 The Fan is the local CBS Sports station, while 1010 AM is expected to carry the national CBS Sports feed starting with the new year. WHBO 1040 had chosen to go with NBC Sports. The move by WHNZ gives Fox Sports more coverage, especially south of the Bay, as WTMY 1280 continues to air Fox Sports programming. The end result figures to be a highly saturated audience during the nights when the various games are airing on TV.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Too Many Big Losses

What a sad week for sports media everywhere, as we have lost four important members since the weekend.

Alex Karas probably deserved even more recognition for his NFL accomplishments on the Lions' defensive line, but we all remember him for his time as an analyst on Monday Night Football, in addition to movie roles and a couple of TV shows. One story I remember from his playing days was how he almost "stopped" history. Karas used to tell the story of how he was on the field when Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints kicked his record 63 yard field goal in the last seconds to upset the Lions. He recalled getting a hand up and "almost" getting a piece of the football as it sailed toward the goal post. Yet, if he had even tipped the ball slightly and stopped it from going through, chances are nobody would have remembered it this many years later. No one would have believed a field goal of that length would have been made.

Beano Cook's passing at age 81 is another that takes our memories back to another era. Cook's unique style of college football analysis has been a part of ABC/ESPN since 1982, including part of this season. Whether you liked him or not, you have to respect his style and ability to keep it fresh season after season and through all of the changes in the college game.

In addition to Karas, Detroit sports fans suffered still another loss on Tuesday. Frank "Budd" Lynch seemingly invented Red Wings games. Lynch did play-by-play of the first Red Wings game ever televised in 1949 and in 1985 was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for his broadcasting work.

Also in 1985, he became the Red Wings' public address announcer and continued in that role for as long as he could. Even though his passing comes at the age of 95, he will never be replaced.

Chicago area sports fans lost writer Bill Jauss earlier this week, also at the age of 81. Jauss was a sports writer for 50 years before retiring in 2005, most of that with the Chicago Tribune. He was also a participant in "The Sports Writers" radio show on WGN Radio in the 80's, and later on "The Sports Writers On TV" on a regional sports network.

This all combines for a tremendous loss for long-time sports fans. These were individuals who did what they did, and quite well, for a long period of time, and mostly with one employer. Here's hoping they all leave a lot of inspiration behind.

Meanwhile, we'll see if the Game 5's and competitive Division Series can rescue the MLB post-season ratings. (Press time is on Thursday afternoon while the games are being played.) Even with the Yankees on Monday night in their ALDS series against Baltimore, the ESPN Monday Night Football telecast of the Jets vs. Houston more than doubled the TBS baseball ratings. And, as usual, NBC Sunday Night Football telecast finished well ahead of TBS' Sunday telecasts, which also included the Yankees. It should be pointed out, however, that both the Sunday and Monday night Yankees games began after a rain delay, which likely sent some audience members off to the NFL telecasts never to return. Then again, this comes on top of a regular season which reportedly saw more than half of the MLB teams showing a decline in local TV ratings over the course of the season.

The NFL Network has added Andrea Kremer, formerly with ESPN and NBC, to its roster of reporters.

CBS Radio continues a serious effort to push its new sports network, especially in New York City. The acquisition of WRXP-FM 101.9 leads to a simulcast of WFAN 660, as well as FM dial competition for ESPN Radio. Although WFAN will be simulcast on FM, it appears that the two will change to separate sports programming by the end of the year. One frequency will likely shift to the CBS Sports Radio national programming, while the other continues with the WFAN local personalities. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the play-by-play broadcasts of the Mets, Giants, Nets, and Devils games. The positive aspect to that is that fans will know where to tune when there are conflicts, especially with the Nets and Devils (if and when the NHL has a season).

In Philadelphia, CBS is poised to change WIP-AM over to CBS sports programming while maintain the local presence on WIP-FM, and the NYC acquisition is reportedly designed with the same plan in mind. As a result, rumors are flying in Chicago. There, CBS is currently simulcasting WBBM NewsRadio 780 on 105.9 FM, and has a struggling music station on 104.3 FM. Some are speculating that CBS will switch one of those two stations over to WSCR The Score 670.

HOUSTON: As the Astros change leagues to start the 2013 season, they are also completely changing radio announcers. Although the retirement of Milo Hamilton after this season was known, there is some surprise that Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond have not been retained either. Then again, what they really need to change is the players.

DENVER: The Rockies, meanwhile, are keeping their broadcast teams in tact for 2013. Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel return for their 4th season together on KOA 850, while Drew Goodman, George Frazier, and Jeff Huson will return on the TV side.

ATLANTA: SportsRadio 92.9 The Game continues to build an impressive staff for its debut. Its football related local personnel already includes Randy Cross, former QB Kordell Stewart, and former Falcons tackle (and NFL Network analyst) Jamie Dukes. Basketball analysis includes Rick Kamla of NBA-TV. The station has also brought in Jason Goff from WSCR The Score in Chicago to host one of its shows.

ORLANDO: The musical chairs of national networks continues for Orlando listeners. Last week we noted that WHOO 1080 mysteriously dropped ESPN to pick up NBC Sports. As you might expect, ESPN Radio will be back on (or before) November 12th on WDBO 580.

On the TV side, fans of the NBA Magic won't have to constantly search the TV listings to find the games between Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports. Starting this season, Fox Sports Florida will air every game, except for exclusive national telecasts. And without Dwight Howard, at this point in time only one Magic game (Dec. 14th vs. Golden State) will be shown elsewhere. David Steele and Matt Goukas continue as the broadcast team.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Hidden NFL Stories

As the NFL continues to dominate in the TV ratings, the league's impact on the media is also quite significant these days. Last week, understandably, the emphasis was on the replacement referees and their role in getting the "real" officials back on the field. Those events enabled the NFL to turn a negative into a positive. And, to squash another story which could have had more of a negative impact on the league.

While the referees story was so dominant, it gave the NFL the opportunity to get the saga of the New Orleans Saints players involved in the bounty penalties out of view. Just days earlier, the previously suspended players were allowed to return to the lineup, but it would be "upon further review", to use a favorite term of the NFL. Late last week, I asked five friends who are NFL fans but do not work in the media, "What happened with those Saints players? Are they playing?". And four of them were not certain. That was the proof I needed. The media, outside of the Saints' market, abandoned that story to run with the real officials returning and debate the Green Bay vs. Seattle controversy. But frankly, the NFL should not have gotten away with having the Saints players story buried like that.

Yet, the NFL publicity machine keeps barreling on, as Sunday night and Monday night ratings were through the roof once again. But I'm convinced the ratings would have been astronomical even without the return of the "real" officials. Fans still would have watched in big numbers to see if the replacement refs would have screwed up even worse than the previous Monday night.

At Fox Sports, they do not have MLB coverage these next two weekends (since TBS has the Division Series games in both leagues except for MLB Network showing one game on Sunday), they are going all out with football. Along with the usual NFL fare on Sunday afternoon, Fox will have a college football doubleheader on Saturday (10/6), thus keeping alive the late afternoon slot which had been for baseball over the past 2+ months. The Arizona at Stanford game will air starting at 3:30 ET, with West Virginia at Texas scheduled for 7:50 ET. This means that Fox goes up against ABC's college telecasts in both time slots. Then for Saturday Oct. 13th, Fox plans to air a live Pac-12 Conference doubleheader. Utah will be UCLA late afternoon with USC at Washington as the prime-time game. And that most recent time that Utah football was nationally televised was?

On the baseball side, plenty has been said by others about the new MLB deals which begin for 2014. Although TBS gets screwed by having to pay millions more for just under half of the inventory it has this year, the fans win because of the increase in available games on a national basis. The lifting of local blackouts for ESPN Monday and Wednesday night and TBS Sunday telecasts could be noteworthy in a few markets where not as many fans enjoy the local announcing teams. Yet, if and as the local originating telecast crew does a sufficient to excellent job, those stations/networks won't have anything to worry about in terms of losing audience share when telecasts compete.

Kudos to ESPN and MLB Network for their coverage of the last two days of an exciting regular season. MLB Network's ability to pick up the Texas at Oakland showdown on Wednesday afternoon was a tremendous service to baseball fans. And, of course, ESPN's dual coverage of the final Yankees and Orioles regular season games with the East Division on the line was right on.

Locally, it is most likely the increased ratings on YES for Yankees telecasts for their final two regular season series that could keep this season's ratings from finishing at their lowest point since the 2003 season. This is highly unusual given the Yankees' being in such as close race with Baltimore. It's one thing that the Phillies' ratings dropped more than 35% for this season, given that they went from first place in 2011 to not even contending this year.

The Baltimore/DC area has the most to celebrate in terms of local ratings. The Nationals' telecasts showed the biggest increase of any other team at more than 70%, while the Orioles ratings increased by more than 40%.

A nice act by Josh Lewin as he completes his first season calling the Mets on WFAN. On Wednesday (10/3), the final day of the regular season, Lewin sent out a Tweet to thank the fans.

Meanwhile, CBS Radio Sports continues in its attempt to grow its start-up national radio network and battle ESPN Radio in several key markets and for team broadcast rights. Somehow, they managed to embarass themselves in Chicago. WSCR The Score 670 is the flagship station for White Sox broadcasts. The White Sox were battling the Tigers for first place in the A.L. Central until two days were left in the season. Most of the time over the past week, the White Sox and Tigers were playing at the same time.

Believe it or not, on more than one occasion, play-by-play voice Ed Farmer told listeners he "is waiting for the Tigers score to come up on the scoreboard". And this happened several times earlier in the season. Let me get this straight. A CBS owned sports station hosting MLB play-by-play has no way to get instant scores to its listeners? They can't afford to have online access in the booth? Sorry, but they should have monitoring the Tigers' games on a separate TV feed and provided listeners with continuing accounts. If not batter-by-batter, certainly no less than when every half inning came to an end. This is a Chicago station, not a minor league broadcast where one guy has to handle everything. Why would fans listen to the station at other times when they aren't getting important information when it matters most?

There is absolutely no excuse for that, whether it is the cheapness of one station or a representation of CBS Sports.

In Cincinnati, ESPN 1510's "Bengals Gameplan" show on Wednesday (10/3) was scheduled (as of press time) to have Jimmy Cefalo and Rich Gannon among its guests. No question about having Dolphins' broadcaster Cefalo on. But having "Rich Gannon of CBS Sports" on has to make you wonder. An ESPN station, with all of its resources, turns to a CBS expert?

TAMPA: WHBO 1040 has decided to go with NBC Sports Radio, giving the new network one of few "major league" market signups. It is believed the primary reason is to add The Dan Patrick Show to the late morning lineup. Back in August, 98.7 The Fan was launched as a CBS Sports affiliate. (WHOO 1080 Orlando also signed up with NBC and added Dan Patrick to its lineup this week.)

CHICAGO: WRTO-AM has signed a 3-year extension to broadcast Chicago Bulls home games in Spanish again this season, now doing all home games. Oscar Ramos continues with play-by-play.

CLEVELAND: It seems not worth doing for one segment per week, but WKYC-TV Channel 3 has hired former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. The "A Moment With Jim Tressel" segment will air within the station's Wednesday night 7:00 newscasts.

CINCINNATI: Fox Sports Ohio has picked up seven Xavier University basketball telecasts for the upcoming season. Brad Johansen and Steve Wolf will call the mixture of home and road games.