The endlessly growing appetite for sports on TV continues into the month of May. The NHL and NBA playoffs are attracting larger audiences, while even the NFL Draft (not a game) last week scored in the ratings.
It seems the NHL picked the best time to move up to the level of the other major pro sports and have every playoff game televised nationally for the first time ever. While one could make the "argument" that NBC had the huge market teams in action through the first round (New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington), having 16 overtime games during just the first round seems to have helped to maintain many viewers for longer time frames.
Through the first round, this season's NHL playoffs are the most watched ever, including the NHL's years on ESPN. It doesn't stop there, and NBC's weekend coverage showed a 39% increase in viewers over last season (through 6 telecasts). Perhaps more significantly, the Rangers win over Ottawa in Game 7 last Thursday (4/26) was up 6% vs. the Boston-Washington Game 7 telecast last season. Think about this. The night of April 26th also had an NBA doubleheader including a N.Y. Knicks game important to the playoff seedings and the NFL Draft up against the Rangers' win. Plus, with Ottawa being a Canadian team that receives very little attention, the "win" over the Boston vs. Washington telecast last year (with 2 large markets having a rooting interest instead of one) adds more flavor to the NHL ratings to this point. Not to mention the strong ratings for both ESPN and NFL Network which each televised the NFL Draft round 1 that night.
It's not just the NHL. TNT reports increased viewership again this season, its 5th consecutive season with more fans watching. The network reported an average of 100,000 more viewers for its Thursday night doubleheaders this season. Not bad considering the season began almost 2 months later than originally scheduled.
PHILADELPHIA: It seems that major east coast radio stations and groups are convinced that the higher sports telecast audiences will also translate to local radio broadcasts. Within hours of ESPN Radio New York starting on FM, the Philadelphia stations escalated their battle over the 'winter teams' broadcast rights.
In a stunning deal, the Sixers have changed flagship stations at the start of the current NBA playoffs, as ESPN Radio WPEN secured a multi-year deal. The "stunning" part is the immediate move to a new station during the hours between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. I simply do not recall a broadcast contract which did not include an adjacent post-season, especially when the NBA or NHL is involved (when so many teams go on to the post-season). Tom McGinnis continues on play-by-play on WPEN-FM 97.5 The Fanatic, with "some games" simulcast on WPEN 950.
Yet, WPEN didn't stop with adding the Sixers games. WPEN also announced that it will also air the Flyers' games, starting with the coming 2012-13 season, with all Flyers games to air on WPEN 950 AM. Tim Saunders and Chris Therien will broadcast the Flyers games.
On the nights (or days) when both the Flyers and Sixers are playing, the Flyers will always be on the AM side, while the Sixers will always be on the FM side. WPEN announced that when there are conflicts, the Flyers will also be on FM, with those simulcasts moved to WMMR 93.3, otherwise a rock station.
These moves by WEPN break up the pro sports "monopoly" which WIP had, ending their reign of airing the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers. The Phillies are now airing on WIP-FM, making it the first time all of their games have been on the FM side. Otherwise, WIP has been doing more to separate the sports programming it provides on the AM and FM side, bringing listeners more choices.
It is most likely not a coincidence that ESPN Radio scores these deals for a large local market, since this comes when ESPN New York has secured an an FM frequency in the NYC area and is reportedly about to bid heavily for the Yankees and Mets local broadcasts by next year.
HOUSTON: This market might provide a key indicator as to whether or not CBS Radio will be an aggressive player for local radio play-by-play or not. Now that the Houston Rockets' season is over, so is the deal for sports station KILT 610 to air the Rockets games. While the ownership status of KFNC ESPN 97.5 is reportedly in question, this situation could represent still another opportunity for ESPN to snap up play-by-play in a large market.
Ft. WAYNE: Froggy will soon croak. Although this is likely a cost-cutting move rather than a signal or ratings strategy, WKJG ESPN 1380 will be simulcast on WFGA 106.7 (technically licensed to nearby Hicksville OH) starting June 4th. The stations will debut a local afternoon drive sports show, "Stiller and Brian" from 4 to 7 PM on that date. WFGA will be dropping its current music format, having been known as "Froggy 106.7" for the past few years.
TWIN FALLS ID: A positive change for sports fans begins later this month (May 24th) when FM 103 changes to KVNO ESPN Radio The Zone, dropping its current Mix 103 music format and the KMVX call letters. Jonathan Drew, who will continue to call play-by-play of the College of Southern Idaho that moves to this new station, will host the 3 to 6 PM weekday slot. The College's games come off the campus station, KEZJ 1450, which is heard mainly surrounding the campus. In addition, The Zone plans to air high school games, and is reportedly pursuing airing the Utah Jazz games starting next season along with a Sunday NFL package.
TOPEKA: WIBW 580 shifts to "news/talk" and has added a new 4 to 6 PM weekday "Sports Talk" show as of this week. Jack Lebahn and Mark Elliott, who each hosted individual 2-hour shifts on the station prior, are being teamed up for this "new" show. On nights when WIBW airs play-by-play, the show will extend beyond 6 PM until the game (or pre-game show) it is broadcasting begins.