Miami sports night in the national spotlight this past Wednesday (4/4) night surprised those who pay attention to the TV ratings. ESPN had the Marlins' season opener and debut regular season game in their new stadium starting an hour before ESPN2 had the highly anticipated matchup between the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, also shown from Miami.
Even with the shortened season coming off of the lockout, the Heat vs. Thunder telecast came in with a 67% increase in the ratings over last year and had a higher audience than the baseball telecast. In fact, the late "doubleheader" NBA telecast between the L.A. Lakers and Clippers, which aired on ESPN after the baseball telecast, also outdrew the baseball telecast.
In the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale market, the Heat telecast also outdrew the Marlins' opener by more than 2 to 1 in terms of total audience, including both the ESPN2 and Sun Network (local) telecasts. The folks at TNT and ESPN/ABC are certain to be keeping this in mind with the start of the NBA playoffs now less than 3 weeks away.
Fox Sports is looking at establishing a new prime time habit for sports fans, having scheduled the majority of Saturday nights with live prime-time sports telecasts, including baseball, NASCAR, and college football. This is in addition to the baseball telecasts almost every Saturday (all but 2 total) which will air during the afternoon prior to the prime-time sports event on those Saturdays when there is not a prime-time baseball telecast during the MLB season.
NASCAR events will air on the next two Saturday nights, with Fox airing its baseball telecast during the 1:00 PM time slot this Saturday to assure its regional telecasts are finished well in advance of the NASCAR telecast. Fox had to gain additional cooperation from Major League Baseball to gear up for eight prime-time telecasts this season, up from two last year. The prime-time baseball telecasts will also include the new and expanded pre-game show produced in conjunction with MLB Network.
College football season will have Fox Sports showing Pac-10 Conference games during the 12 week regular season, including the ability to select which game airs nationally. Fox Sports' regional networks will carry other Conference games, although these telecasts will often go head-to-head with ABC's nationally televised games in Saturday prime-time.
In addition, there will be a couple of Saturday night Ultimate Fighting Challenge telecasts. The concept of having one night out of the week to show live sports in prime-time on most Saturdays is not new, but a network (Fox) promoting it as aggressively as it appears they will is new. ABC-TV had sports in prime-time for at least half of the year back in the 1970's when they aired Monday Night Baseball during the summer weeks and then went into Monday Night Football from September into December.
NEW YORK: Baseball telecasts did prove popular in NYC, as SNY reports the Mets' season opening telecast vs. the Atlanta Braves set a ratings record which was established in 2002.
Michael Kay's afternoon show on local ESPN Radio has an interesting addition for once each week, as Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine has been signed on to appear only for the New York audience. We can certainly understand the move from Kay's and the station's point of view to want the rival manager on its airwaves as a draw to the audience of Yankees fans. However, it is tough to understand Valentine being so open and willing to address fans of "his" team's biggest rival on a regular basis.
It is not as though Valentine has no other media outlet, as he will also appear on a weekly basis on WEEI Boston's "The Big Show", which is perfectly understandable. If Valentine wanted to continue to have this much media exposure, he should have stayed with ESPN and done additional commentary on their various local stations. I'd say Red Sox fans have a right to be upset about the fact that their new manager is taking time away from his team to talk to the play-by-play voice of and fans of "his" team's biggest rival on a regular basis to supplement his income.
LOS ANGELES: KLAA 830's Roger Lodge is now getting plenty of air time when it comes to the Angels' new season. Although Lodge continues to co-host the station's morning show, he is also hosting the additional pre-game talk show which begins about 90 minutes before each Angels home game and usually airs from Gate 5 of The Big A. Lodge actually hosted the morning show live from outside the stadium on Opening Day (this past Friday 4/6) and later returned to the same location for his pre-game talk show. Word is that he had about 100 or so fans on hand with him by the time his morning segment ended.
CHICAGO: WSCR The Score 670's Dan McNeil returned to the station's midday show on Monday (4/9) after a 6-week absence due to what he termed "depression and substance abuse". Other station hosts and reporters filled in for McNeil during his time away, during which no specific reasons were given until his return.
St. LOUIS: With the Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Cardinals' season in full swing, both KMOX Radio and Fox Sports Midwest will have some conflicts regarding which game to air live. In both instances, the Cardinals' management reportedly has agreed to be flexible, unlike several situations around the country where one team clearly has priority in the event of a conflict.
On the radio side, if and when Cardinals and Blues conflicts occur, one will air as usual on KMOX 1120 while the other broadcast moves to KEZK 102.5. On the TV side, Fox Sports Midwest has indicated that conflicting telecasts, not handled by Channel 5 (the local NBC affiliate) will air on FSM Plus. FSM reports that Blues' telecast ratings were up about 14% over last season.
PHILADELPHIA: Sorry to learn of the passing of Steve Fredericks on Saturday at the age of 72. The long-time Philadelphia area sportscaster is probably best remembered for his stint on WIP-AM when he co-hosted afternoons with Mike Missanelli. Fredericks also held numerous local play-by-play assignments over his 44 years in the business, and had retired in 2004.
RAPID CITY: K-TALK 1340 has now officially become the local ESPN Radio affiliate after a 3 month abscence from the market when KRKI switched to Fox Sports Radio. In addition, K-TALK will continue to carry University of Nebraska football and select local high school broadcasts.St. GEORGE UT: Another market has gone to making sports radio into an AM-FM combo, now with 102.3 and 107.3 FM carrying the ESPN programming and extensive play-by-play. The stations will continue to carry Utah Jazz games, BYU, Dixie State College, and selected local high school games.
BLOOMINGTON/NORMAL IL: WZIM 99.5 has become "The Ticket" and is a Fox Sports Radio affiliate, dropping its music format last week in time for the opening of the baseball season. The station continues to carry Chicago Cubs baseball.
SCHEDULES: Finally, for those looking ahead to NFL Football, the networks have announced the bulk of their pre-season national TV schedules:
Sunday August 5 Hall of Fame Game: Arizona Cardinals - New Orleans Saints (NFL Network 8PM ET)
Thursday August 9 Green Bay Packers - San Diego Chargers (ESPN 8PM)
Monday, August 13 Dallas Cowboys - Oakland Raiders (ESPN 8PM)
Thursday August 16 Cincinnati Bengals - Atlanta Falcons (FOX 8PM)
Friday August 17 Detroit Lions - Baltimore Ravens (FOX 8PM)
Sunday August 19 Indianapolis Colts - Pittsburgh Steelers (NBC 8PM)
Monday August 20 Philadelphia Eagles - New England Patriots (ESPN 8PM)
Thursday August 23 Arizona Cardinals - Tennessee Titans (ESPN 8PM)
Friday August 24 Chicago Bears - New York Giants (CBS 8PM)
Saturday August 25 Houston Texans - New Orleans Saints (CBS 8PM)
Sunday August 26 San Francisco 49ers - Denver Broncos (FOX 4PM)
Carolina Panthers - New York Jets (NBC 8PM)