Monday, January 23, 2012

A Super Week For Live Sports - Again

Fans continue to watch live sports on TV in record numbers. The NFL had another banner day on Sunday (1/22) with its AFC and NFC Championship game telecasts, especially given how both games went down to the wire. The Giants vs. 49ers game finished among the 2 highest rated "non Super Bowl" NFL telecasts of the past 15 years.

In fact, Fox scored its combined highest NFL combined ratings (not including its Super Bowl seasons) for all of its years televising the NFL. Both the NYC and San Francisco markets set ratings records for post-season (other than Super Bowl) telecasts.

Those following the competitive battle among Boston's sports talk radio stations will enjoy these two weeks of Super Bowl hype in support of the Patriots' appearance in the game. Due to the new national radio with Dial Global (formerly Westwood One Radio), WEEI 680 will be able to carry the national broadcast of the Super Bowl. Granted, the unbiased national broadcast probably won't make a dent compared with Gil Santos' local Patriots call on WBZ-FM, but it does give both stations the ability to go with the non-stop hype of the game and the "And you can hear that game right here.....", which has not been the case in previous years. WEEI has been airing the Pats' playoff games to this point via the national feeds.

The NBA is also enjoying increased ratings to the point where NBA-TV is seeing a ratings increase from its telecasts from local feeds. Maybe it has something to do with the increased promotion of these telecasts via its TNT and ESPN partnerships. Whatever the reason, NBA-TV is up more than 68% in both viewers and households for its telecasts (through Jan. 17) thus far. And on that night, the San Antonio vs. Miami telecast it picked up had the most viewers of any of it's "Fan Night" games during the first month of the regular season. NBA fans vote online for which telecast they would like to see for the following Tuesday night on NBA-TV.

The NHL has also seen a ratings increase, and continues to provide increased coverage with the NBC Sports combination. After showing games on five consecutive days/nights last week, this week the group shows games on four straight days/nights, including Sunday (1/22) from Pittsburgh on NBC, and from Detroit Monday on NBC Sports Network. The "Network" will show national games from Colorado on Tuesday (1/24) and from Montreal on Wednesday night.

NBC Sports Network is also a factor in NBC making and finishing its serious effort to get the Breeders Cup telecasts back. After having the rights from 1984 into 2005, NBC has signed a multi-year agreement to get these races back, including a prime time telecast of the Breeders Cup Classic on NBC which will be on November 3 this year. Other races in the series will air on NBC Sports Network. Then again, considering the dollars spent on college football conferences and telecasts, ESPN probably wasn't as aggressive about filling an early November Saturday with any other sport.

On another topic, the sports media lost two more of its own on Sunday (1/22). It's a sad coincidence that both were long-time multiple sports play-by-play men.

Jim Irwin, who described everything Wisconsin for many years, passed away due to cancer. Irwin is best remembered for having been a part of the Packers radio team for 30 seasons, including 23 seasons of play-by-play from 1976 through 1998. His football seasons also included Saturdays calling University of Wisconsin football. In addition Irwin filled in on Brewers broadcasts for many years, especially during the seasons when Bob Uecker had national TV commitments, as well as on Milwaukee Bucks broadcasts. These assignments were in addition to thousands of sportscasts for Milwaukee's WTMJ Radio and TV.

Andy Musser, who called Philadelphia Phillies games on radio for 26 seasons, also passed away, at the age of 74. Musser shared the booth with Haray Kalas and Richie Ashburn, among others, including the world championship season of 1980. Musser also called 76ers games among his NBA experience, as well as Villanova and other Big Five basketball games. He was also the TV voice of the Chicago Bulls in the early 1970's. His football resume included USC and the San Diego Chargers radio during the 70's. Somehow, he also managed to host sports shows during the week on CBS Radio including interviews and commentary.

Having been fortunate enough to work with him (as statistician) during some of his baseball and basketball broadcasts, I will always remember his tireless pursuit of all things sports, and wondering if he ever slept. One weekend in the mid-70's I worked stats for him during a Chicago Bulls telecast from Milwaukee against the Bucks. (Come to think of it, that was probably Musser and Irwin both calling that game for their respective teams.)

Before that game, I had to have even more information than usual ready for him because he arrived later than he would have liked. It so happened that USC played at Notre Dame in South Bend (about 200 miles away), and he called that game back to Los Angeles before the 3 1/2 hour drive to Milwaukee for this Saturday night game. Yet, I still remember him showing me his folder with information for his next broadcast. It was a San Diego Chargers home game - the very next afternoon. He laughed when I commented that at least he didn't have to do his next CBS Radio show until all the way into Monday.

Both Musser and Irwin will be missed and remembered for a long time. The ability to do 3 sports well for years at that level is becoming even more of a rarity. Hopefully their respective careers will inspire other sportscasters.

PHILADELPHIA: Tom Byrne continues his "leave of absence" from The Fanatic 97.5 while awaiting a preliminary hearing next week (Feb. 3) for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver in Philadelphia on January 15th. The station has issued an apology, and has (as of press time) no further comment regarding a return date.

ERIE PA: Now back to radio sportscaster stories of modern times. Chico Bormann, host of the afternoon show "Chico & Company" on ESPN 1260 The Score, has left the station just a few weeks short of five years there. Why? The station would not comment but a local newspaper quoted Bormann as saying that after his latest pay cut, "I was making $40 a day". The station plans on naming a permanent replacement and continuing with local sports talk during the afternoon. I can't help but think management is still deciding how much they can cut back on that pay rate before hiring a replacement.

PORTLAND Maine: An interesting twist for baseball fans courtesy of WBAE 1490, as well as simulcast partner WVAE 1400 Biddeford. The talk stations have decided to add baseball play-by-play to the mix starting with the coming season. However, they need to compete with Red Sox broadcasts on other stations in the area, being located in big time Red Sox country. The WBAE and WVAE plan? They will air the Yankees broadcasts, claiming in their announcement of this decision that they have several "very interested" advertisers lined up.

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