Monday, January 9, 2012

The Hosts With The Least

For as much as sports coverage on TV has increased and generally improved over the past few years, there are a few things that could use improvement for the benefit of sports fans. Now it seems another possible trend is emerging by way of ESPN, and it's time to point it out.

A sports reporter or analyst, especially at the network level, is knowledgeable and brings most sports fans a lot of information and insight. However, this does not automatically make him or her an established broadcast professional. ESPN seems to be forgetting this.

Perhaps it is a coincidence. I hope so. But I'm wondering whatever happened to the idea of a true "host" for a program or studio segment. On Friday night I was watching portions of the NBA doubleheader on ESPN, when the studio segments, including pre-game and half time, went on without a true host. What ever happened to Stuart Scott? For those not tuned in, the studio portion was "hosted" by Michael Wilbon. Wilbon is very good with sharing his knowledge of all things NBA. Yet, for some strange reason, it was just Wilbon with Jon Barry and Magic Johnson and one other analyst and no true host. No one to moderate the discussion. If Stuart Scott wasn't available, what was so difficult about having another ESPN 'broadcast' personality handle the hosting?

This was national TV. It's bad enough that ESPN, along with most of the other networks, provide so many studio analysts that the better ones don't get enough air time. Now they seem to think it is acceptable for one to act as a professional broadcaster and "host" the proceedings.

Then, on Sunday morning, on The Sports Reporters on ESPN, Mike Lupicka was acting as program host AND giving his usual commentaries and thoughts on the topics discussed. Same thoughts. As much as I appreciate Lupicka's thoughts, whether I agree with them or not, I also appreciate having a moderator to run the show as if it is a professional presentation at the network level.

About the only redeeming factor for both of these shows is that they are not like College GameDay during which analysts are often drowned out by the annoying and screeching crowds cheering as if it is just fine to distract the viewers.

Here's hoping that the networks and stations show more respect to "true" broadcast professionals. Not just anybody can host a studio show. And not just anybody has to watch them if they are not done to our satisfaction.

As we easily guessed last week, CBS scored major ratings with the Denver Broncos in the playoffs and running into prime time on Sunday (1/8). The overtime win over Pittsburgh finished as the highest rated Wild Card playoff game since 1988 (on any network). Although the final numbers were not available as of press time, prelimary reports show a 56 rating (that's rating - the share was about 77) for the Pittsburgh market, with a 49 (and a share near 78%) for the Denver market.

Tim Tebow is having that much impact on the TV audiences, as those who love him and those who don't all seem to be watching. The ratings were not as kind to NBC on Saturday, especially for the opening Cincinnati vs. Houston telecast. Early word from Cincinnati is that the ratings, for this post-season game, locally were lower than a couple of the regular season telecasts were in that market. Keep in mind that the Bengals failed to sell out all of their home games this season and had some local telecasts blacked out.

The lower interest in Cincinnati didn't stop a couple of the TV stations from going for the Bengals fans. On Friday (1/6) night, WKRC-TV aired a one hour special (7 to 8 PM) previewing the playoff game, while WLWT-TV aired a half hour special between 7:30 and 8, making Bengals fans choose between the two shows.

For the regular season, the NFL (nationally) reached its second highest viewership in more than 20 seasons, including a record 37 game telecasts which reached at least 20,000,000 viewers.

Meanwhile, on the day (1/9) that Barry Larkin was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a shortstop, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association announced its Assocation Hall of Fame awards and inductees. (Larkin has been broadcasting for MLB Network and prior for ESPN since his playing days.)

Bob Costas, now of NBC Sports and MLB Network was named to the NSSA Hall of Fame, along with sports writer John Feinstein, while ESPN's Dan Shulman was named "National Sportscaster of the Year". The NSSA Hall of Fame celebrates its 50th year in 2012, capped off with the induction for Costas and Feinstein on June 11th. The California Sportscaster of the Year is Vin Scully, named to this honor for the 31st time. So far.

On the radio side, an interesting report published by writer Chris Huff regarding the audience ratings of News/Talk stations which carry play-by-play and the sports talk stations around the country.

His analysis shows that from November (2011) to December, WLW Cincinnati took over the national "lead" among News/Talk stations which air play-by-play from WTMJ Milwaukee. This despite the reduced interest in the Bengals during their drive to reach post-season play while the Packers were on their way to the NFL's best record. Cleveland's WTAM-AM 1100 and Atlanta's WSB-AM 750 also finished in the top 5 despite a decrease into December.

Among full-time sports stations, WGFX Nashville again finished with the biggest overall audience share of any major market sports station in the country, with WXYT-FM The Ticket Detroit and WBNS-FM Columbus now tied for 2nd (although The Ticket dropped and WBNS went up in December). In Boston, WBZ-FM The Sports Hub was #9 nationally.

This ranking signals another victory of sorts for The Sports Hub and for sports radio in the Boston market overall. Both WBZ-FM and WEEI 850 and 93.7 showed audience gains over the past three months, including increases for both stations in the morning, midday, and afternoon time slots. Dennis and Callahan showed a bigger increase in the morning than the gains posted by Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich, but both stations should be pleased.

While Fox Sports Radio has been developing into a contender over the past few months based on adding more affiliates and adding stronger programming, it seems that Fox Sports is also looking to upgrade its regional cable networks as well. Fox is starting a new programming division to produce more sports related programming in order to make more productive use of what is currently dead time. It is possible that some of the programming from this new wing could also appear on over-the-air Fox affiliates prior to weekend sports events such as NFL and NASCAR telecasts.

NEW YORK: YES Network is adding at least four telecasts of Fordham University basketball games starting on January 28th, with Ryan Ruocco (who is a Fordham grad) and Jim Spanarkel calling the majority of these telecasts.

PHILADELPHIA: Although it's not exactly a ratings producer for WIP 610, the station now airs "Hawk Talk", dedicated to St. Joseph's University basketball, from 10 to 11 PM on Mondays for the remainder of the current basketball season. Hosts Phil Martelli and Joe Lundardi record the show with audience questions earlier each Monday evening at a restaurant in Havertown.

St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 now has Kevin Slaten working as the sole host of the 3 to 6 PM weekday show, and it will be interesting to see if this gives the ratings a boost. Slaten's co-host for the past year was 25 year-old Ashlee Feldman, who was a part of MTV's "Real World" show in 2010 prior to coming to KFNS last January, departs the station. Perhaps the audience will return and stick around now that the "real world" of Slaten's show will be sports.

BATON ROUGE: Even the football national championship contention by LSU couldn't sway The Score 1210 from dropping its sports talk format on New Year's Day. To the point of the station changing to a gospel music format. However, it appears that none of the on-air hosts will be dismissed, as some of the sports programming moves over to sister station WJBO 1150, including Richard Condon who now hosts a Sunday morning sports talk show.

MITCHELL S.D.: KUQL 98.3 becomes an affiliate for the University of South Dakota football and basketball beginning in August.

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