Monday, June 25, 2012

Sports Networks Abound

Some major sports media related announcements over the past week show how many broadcast executives think that the huge ratings for live sports coverage in the past couple years automatically translate into demand for a dramatic increase in sports "coverage" on radio and to some extent television. That remains to be seen (or not seen).

Rather than debate whether or not it is a coincidence that both CBS Radio and NBC Radio announced starting sports networks by the first of the coming year, it is better to examine the degree of oversaturation it could bring to our AM/FM radio dials, and how much above the true demand it is.

At present, listeners already have ESPN Radio, Fox Radio Sports, and Yahoo Sports Radio as national sports networks available in most markets and as competition in some. As regularly discussed here in The Broadcast Booth, some markets across the country are strong in sports radio listenership, such as Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, and Nashville. Others such as Los Angeles and Houston have competing sports stations which fail to combine to make a ratings dent.

Currently, many sports stations, especially in medium and smaller markets, suffer from a lack of local programming, airing upwards of 20 hours per day of network or syndicated sports programming. The moves just announced by CBS and NBC Radio could add to the "outside" programming factor on many of these stations.

This is not "If you build it, they will come", as certain radio executives seem to think. Here's hoping serious consideration will be given to how they build it. If either of these "sports networks" are ever going to thrive, they need to be tenacious about using their resources and providing immediate coverage of breaking stories.

In the past few years, sports fans appear to be far more consumed with actual game or event coverage than with hearing fans give their opinions about their favorite teams or schools. Fans deserve better than a CBS Sports station telling us that "ESPN Sports reports that (name of player) will be traded......." instead of using their own resources to confirm or deny the same story.

A Buffalo station airing a live show from WFAN in NYC won't automatically attract additional listeners for the Buffalo station, and so it goes around the country. Yet, for markets airing sports on both FM and AM, these resources, if done well, give sports fans more choices, if they want them.

Baltimore will be one example, as the initial plan is to have WJZ-AM 1300 air the CBS Sports "national" feed while WJZ-FM 105.7 continues with its local personalities. My point is better illustrated by the "news" that Houston will have the CBS Sports national feed come January on KIKK-AM 650, which is a daytime only station, and would make it FIVE sports stations in that market. As mentioned last week, KGOW-AM, the flagship station for Yahoo Sports literally had no rating for the most recently released market ratings.

In Tampa, WSJT 98.7, which is scheduled to go all-sports in August, is a CBS station, and replaces the reduced night-time signal of WQYK 1010 AM. However, WQYK currently trails WHBO ESPN 1040, while it is even further behind WDAE 620, which airs the Rays and Buccaneers games.

The reality is that CBS really wants this sports network to be able to reduce programming costs for some of its stations, and in some instances to get its affiliates to drop ESPN or Fox Sports Radio affiliations to promote CBS. A group of Cumulus Broadcasting stations (which currently has a direct deal to syndicate ESPN Radio) are expected to move over to CBS Sports Radio in this deal.

As a business person, I understand the CBS and NBC reasons for doing this and beefing up the competition. As a sports fan, I'm waiting to see if CBS and/or NBC Sports can actually develop solid coverage of the sports world and truly use the resources they have. If they fail, they will give still more sports fans reasons to not listen to radio for sports news and coverage.

In addition to CBS and NBC Sports, the NFL Network is beefing up its TV attack on weekday mornings, also going hard after the "sports" audience to start the day. Starting on July 30th, just as training camps are in full swing, "NFL AM" will be a full morning TV show dedicated to NFL coverage every weekday. I'm here to tell you that this announcement is potentially more significant than the new sports radio networks. Based on the reputation NFL Network has for its Sunday pre-game show, its unparalleled coverage of pre-season games, and training camp reports, this new morning show could take a chunk out of the radio morning show audience, whether local or syndicated.

Now we'll also see where the TV sports fans go on Labor Day morning when the NFL season is about to start and The Dan Patrick Show is showing and broadcasting a rerun up against it.

Speaking of ESPN, the start of their Wimledon coverage this year has them ready to do an impressive job. They can provide hour after hour of live coverage with a family of networks and resources to provide every match live throughout. The promise of up to 140 hours of live coverage, including simultaneous coverage of multiple matches (including online streaming from all courts) is extremely impressive.

Speaking of CBS Radio, WFAN 660 New York celebrates its 25-year run as an all sports station on Sunday (July 1st) with a special schedule of shows. On the schedule for the day are Steve Somers and Russ Salzberg (The Schmoozer and the Sweater), Dave Sims and Ed Coleman (now the Mets beat reporter), Chris Carlin and Kim Jones, and Howie Rose. New York radio fixtures such as Spencer Ross (who does sportscasts for sister station WINS 1010) and Len Berman will also host hour long segments during the afternoon. At 7 PM ET on Sunday, WFAN will air "The Top New York Sports Moments of the Past 25 Years" prior to its Mets vs. Dodgers broadcast an hour later. As far as we know (at press time), WFAN will also be streaming on Sunday.

NEW YORK: The minor league Brookly Cyclones now have a radio deal, as WSOU 89.5 will air 38 games, with David Rind, Vince Coughlin, and Chris Paizis calling the games. What is odd about this is that 37 of the broadcasts are road games. Thus, the broadcasters are not able to promote the next day/night's home games.

SAN FRANCISCO: Ralph Barbieri, fired by KNBR 680 after more than 15 years as a host, announced he is filing a lawsuit against KNBR claiming wrongful termination. Barbieri announced the lawsuit, of all places, on 95.7 KGMZ The Game, which (as discussed here last week) lags way behind KNBR for the sports radio audience.

SAN DIEGO: The story here is not as much the struggling sports stations as it is the cable TV situation for fans who simply want to be able to see all of the games. There is still nothing about Time Warner Cable's new regional TV network (based in L.A.) specifically entering the San Diego market, and the word is that nothing is imminent about that.

The demise of the Mountain West Network, and San Diego State University moving to the Big East Conference for football in 2013, mean that fans will need a pencil and scorecard to watch the SDSU football games for the upcoming season. As of now, CBS Sports Network has three games already scheduled, NBC Sports Network has two others, and the Sept. 1 season opener at Washington will air on the Pac-12 Network. The remaining games are held by CBS Sports Network, which reportedly is negotiating with Channel 4, while an SDSU spokesperson assures fans that those games will also be televised.

MONTREAL: The radio station which airs the Canadiens games is getting ready for the pre-season to start as much as the team is. The station has been authorized to switch frequencies by the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-TV Commission) and will move from 990 AM to become TSN 690. This huge technical project is not yet complete, and station management "hopes" the change will take place between Sept. 1st and Sept. 15th, around the time the pre-season games are currently scheduled to start.

Monday, June 18, 2012

NBC Comes Back To Radio

On one hand, I'll give credit to NBC Sports for extending its resources as it unveils a new sports radio network to provide hourly updates to begin in September. With the NBC Sports family having extended over the past couple of years to include several regional Comcast SportsNet networks, along with NBC Sports Network, there are more actual sports reporters along with play-by-play voices and analysts around the country to call upon. The timing is set to begin these updates as football season begins, baseball is into its final month of the regular season, and the NHL season (which is dominant on NBC Sports Network) is about to begin.

On the other hand, NBC Radio had been gone for years, having failed to establish themselves to sports fans when they were a player on the network radio scene. Back in the 70's and 80's, when radio was a primary source for sports news and scores, CBS Radio offered up daily sports shows from the likes of Brent Musburger, Phil Rizzuto, Andy Musser, and others, along with weekend scoreboard updates such as those anchored by the late Win Ellliot. ABC Radio offered up weekend updates from Lou Boda and others hour after hour. Other than the couple years of NBC Radio's "NIS News & Information Service" which was carried by a handful of stations and offered sports updates every half hour within the format, NBC was not a factor for sports fans.

Now that radio has, unfortunately, lost its status as "go to" for sports scores to the internet, mobile updates, and social media, it will be interesting to see how long NBC sticks with this. This new effort is most likely an attempt to promote its NBC Sports Network and the regional networks around the country. My feeling is that if (and when) the NBC Sports Network ratings fail to show overall improvement by the end of the first quarter of 2013 that the NBC Sports Radio updates will quietly fade away.

Those who dislike talker Jim Rome gained even more ammunition on Wednesday (6/13). NBA Commissioner David Stern was nice enough to guest on Rome's show when things became heated. Rome wanted to bring up about how the New Orleans Hornets, which is owned by the NBA at this time, secured the top draft pick later this month in the NBA Draft when it won the recent draft lottery. As only Rome would do, he asked the question by saying "Was the fix in for the lottery?". This clearly upset David Stern, which is understandable. As much as I would like to give Rome some credit for raising the topic, I'm not going to. The professional way to handle a delicate situation would have been to ask Stern, "What do you say to those fans who find it suspicious that New Orleans won the lottery?" and not ask it in such a clearly demeaning way. It will be interesting to hear if Rome gets any quality guests on his show from the NBA going forward. Well, interesting for those who wish to endure Rome's childish antics on the air, that is.

Speaking of ESPN, while the ABC/ESPN coverage of the NBA Finals continues to be very strong, there doesn't appear to be much hope for the studio segments being hosted by a true broadcast professional. For some reason (there must be one somewhere), the network seems far too content with Michael Wilbon being put into the closest role to being a host. Although Wilbon is a knowledgeable and interesting writer, the show continues to hurt without a broadcast professional to keep things in order. As was the case again with TNT's coverage, there are too many analysts in the studio every time, not to mention some game telecasts with an additional analyst in place. There are only so many valid opinions and angles, no matter how important the games become in June. There is no reason why Mike Torico shouldn't be hosting the ABC studio coverage after having done NBA play-by-play all season. Wilbon could be kept on as an analyst when called upon to comment.

One example is when Fox Sports tried to pull off not having a true host on its NFL studio programming a few years back. After the likes of Terry Bradshaw attempting to run the show, they knew something had to be done and put Curt Menefee in as host, even though he maintains a low profile and is not considered the "star" of the program. Whether Torico or one of the many capable ESPN anchors, here's hoping ABC corrects this for next season, if not by the clinching game of the Finals.

Speaking of ESPN analysts, Curt Schilling has taken what is termed a "leave of abscence" from ESPN just days after his video game company reportedly filed for bankruptcy.
On the radio side, the ratings for the month of May are being released. This month, let us focus on just four of the markets we have been watching most closely.

In San Francisco, the Giants' good start and renewed rivalry with the Dodgers (not that it ever went away, but the Dodgers are playing their best baseball in years) has helped to keep KNBR 680 as the market's top rated station overall with still another increase. The significance is that KNBR has its highest ratings in a year, which is after the departure of host Ralph Barbieri. Yet, 95.7 The Game, which airs the A's games, lost some of its audience this season, and it has yet to so much as challenge KNBR since it went on the air.

In Houston, KILT continues to be the leader among the all sports stations even though its overall audience has dipped since March and the station is now only at #20 overall in the market. KBME 790 is more than 1/2 of a ratings point behind, while KGOW 1560, the Yahoo Sports flagship station, showed up with a .1 rating over all. That is POINT one, the lowest possible rating to show up with.

And in Milwaukee, it continues to be "play-by-play or bust" for sports listeners. WTMJ, which is the Brewers' flagship station, has shown nearly a 50% overall increase from March through May, remains a solid #1 overall as a news/talk station otherwise. However, the 2 local sports talk stations now combine for less than a 1.0 rating overall. Thus, these sports stations now combine for literally 10% of the audience size that WTMJ currently has.

In Los Angeles, KLAC 570 showed a slight increase, but to only a 1.0 overall rating, even with the Dodgers broadcasts having started this season and the team's sizzling start.

SAN DIEGO: In what figures to be a positive move, 1360 XTRA has moved the Higgins and Ello Show to its 6 to 9 AM spot as of this week. This gives XX 1090's Dave Palet and Jeff Dotseth much needed local competition in the morning. Ben Higgins and Chris Ello has been airing from Noon to 3 PM. To its credit, XTRA moved The Dan Patrick Show from morning drive into that Noon to 3 PM spot, citing its "inconsistent ratings".

SACRAMENTO: Has it really come to this? Former KHTK 1140 host Carmichael Dave wants to talk Sacramento sports so much that he and former co-host Sean Thomas have just started a nightly internet only show to stream at 7 PM on weeknights. In addition, Dave will also stream a midday show, on which he will be joined by former ESPN analyst (and NFL QB) Sean Salisbury. As if people are going online to stream a talk show at night when the actual games are in progress. The kicker is that these shows are the only shows available on his web site, which promotes "from 7 PM to whenever" and promises weekends with "Repeats and whatever we feel like".

SCHEDULES: CBS-TV has announced the three SEC football telecasts it has scheduled in advance for the coming season. In addition to Alabama vs. LSU in prime-time on Nov. 3 (and it's tempting to say, in "still another" meeting), CBS has Georgia vs. Florida on Oct. 27th and LSU vs. Arkansas on Nov. 23rd (day after Thanksgiving). Its other national telecasts will be announced during the prior week.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Kings' Success Crowns TV Deal

Los Angeles teams continue to make media news, even after the news and talk about the sale of the Dodgers settles down. The NHL's Kings, in addition to their Stanley Cup Finals battle (still in progress at press time), have already capitalized (literally) on their successful season with a new long term deal to be televised on Fox Sports West, which has been televising the Kings since 1985. Although financial terms have not yet been disclosed, estimates are as high as $250 million. Kings fans are delighted with the news that Bob Miller and Jim Fox return to the booth. Next season will mark the 40th season that Hall of Fame broadcaster Miller calls the games, while Fox returns for his 24th season as analyst.

The Lakers have just announced an extension of their radio deal to keep the games on 710 ESPN in what is believed to also be a multi-year deal. John Ireland remains on play-by-play while Mychal Thompson will return for his 10th season as analyst.

NEW YORK: Whether it is social media, word of mouth, or a combination of both, the excitement spread on Friday (6/1) as Johan Santana was in the process of pitching the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history. SNY proudly announced that its telecast of the milestone was the most watched TV show in New York, cable or broadcast. To its credit, SNY re-aired the telecast on Monday (6/4), which was an open day for the Mets.

The highest rated quarter hour, of course, was the 9:45 to 10:00 PM spot, which included the final outs in the 9th inning. Obviously, this telecast would not have drawn such a large audience were it not the for history being made. In the old days, fans watching the game would call friends who are baseball fans to alert them to tune in. There was probably some of that in place. But now, I'm sure a ton of people were alerted by posts on Twitter and Facebook, and were able to make it a point to get to a TV in time. This is why it is becoming more important for media outlets to use social media to alert their following. As a sports fan, this is a great service, after years of "I wish I knew. I would have loved to have seen that live!" conversations.

SOUTH BEND: WAOR 95.7 began as an all-sports station this week, although the morning drive is the only true locally originated show. "Ragz and the Bartender", co-hosted by Program Director Mike "Rags" Ragozino. Other than bringing in some of the afternoon drive show from nearby Ft. Wayne (the Brian & Stiller BS Show), it will be syndicated sports talk on weekdays and most weeknights. The station has added play-by-play, including Friday high school football, selected weekend Chicago White Sox games, and Chicago Bears football. The station had been an album rock station going back to 1975 until this past Monday (6/4).

OMAHA: 1180 AM has become all sports and is now known as "The Zone 2". However, as of now, it is all syndicated talk shows. On a positive note, the station will be heavy on play-by-play, airing Creighton University basketball and baseball, Omaha Storm Chasers baseball, and regional or national NCAA football and NFL football games in season.

MINNEAPOLIS: Another loss for the sports media, as George Chapple has passed away at the age of 66. His real name, however, is not nearly as well known as his air name, Dark Star. He most recently worked on KFAN, but is best remembered (besides the goofy on-air name) for his 25 year run on WCCO's Sports Show, often co-hosting with longtime local columnist Sid Hartman.

SCHEDULE: TBS Sunday Baseball continues its New York to New England coverage (ooops, I mean national games) these next two Sundays as usual. This week (6/10) Steve Physioc will call the game between the Mets and Yankees, while Brian Anderson will call the game the following Sunday (6/17) when the Yankees travel to Washington to take on the Nationals.