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.

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