Monday, July 30, 2012

Injuries Could Hurt The Sports Media

A story out of the Jacksonville Jaguars camp raises some concern for the sports media as well as NFL fans. The Jaguars, by way of Coach Mike Mularkey, have threatened their players with a fine reported to be several thousand dollars for talking "publicly" about injuries.

This sort of thing would be understandable if it wasn't for the regular "reporting" of such information throughout the league. The teams are required to have a depth chart, and to show any players that are "probable", "out", or on injured reserve for the coming week's game. Many newspapers and web sites with NFL content run injury reports for the local team and often league-wide. Beat reporters and national analysts are scouring every possible source for any possible information about injuries, trades, and un-signed players available to be plugged in to an opening.

These reporters are now facing being put into some difficult situations if the Jaguars (and certainly other teams will follow since this ability to fine was reportedly "signed off" by the NFL office) who are looking to keep fans up to date about the status of players. Fans want to know about the status of players on "their" team, and fantasy league "coaches" want to know before they submit their starters for the coming week's games.

As it is, sports fans are getting way too much speculation and not enough fact when it comes to possible trades, player transactions, and signings. The baseball example from last week in which an MLB official reportedly confirmed a trade involving Ryan Dempster going from the Cubs to the Braves as happening only to have it picked up and then denied within an hour is another recent example of this.

Team reporters could be put in the postion of speculating about an injury if they are not able to get it from the players before the team issues an update. If the player will be fined, he won't talk. If the reporters pursue a player who appears to be injured knowing that players could be fined, those reporters will be shut out by the majority of players, and I can't blame them.

Let's say a lineman for the Jaguars shows up for practice tomorrow on crutches, but the team does not yet have the medical report so it (team) isn't saying yet. Reporters from the team now cannot ask the player, or any other players who may have been on the field or with that possibly injured player, about what happened, because any player who "discusses" the injury could be fined several thousand dollars.

It can, quite legimiately, happen where a player has to stay off an ankle (and on crutches or on wheels) for even a couple of days to rest as possible minor sprain, in hopes of playing on the coming weekend. The team wants to wait 24 to 48 hours to see how a treatment responds before making a decision about that player's starting status. A reporter sees this player unable to practice, but cannot ask him. If the reporter "reports" that (name of player) is on the sidelines on crutches, he or she is doing his/her job. Yet, without the facts to back the story, the speculation will start. How long would this player be out? Is it worse than the team is letting on?

Fans want to know how their favorite team looks for the coming weekend. The NFL supports fantasy leagues by making so many more statistics available and by allowing its TV,radio, and online partners access to publish in-game and up-to-the-minute individual player stats.

These networks, local stations, sports related web sites, and those who report on NFL teams should be very concerned about at least one team looking to control what its players tell the media about something which is important to the fans.

While NFL Network gets ready to debut their 4-hour morning show next week, as of press time the network was hours away from losing more than 600,000 subscribers in the midwest due to another network vs. cable company price dispute. This will especially impact the Cincinnati Bengals' markets, as the most impacted areas will be Cincinnati, Columbus, Louisville, Lexington (KY), and Bowling Green. Time Warner Cable, which has taken over Insight Cable, reportedly opted not to renew, while Cablevision (which serves other parts of the country) also had not struck a new NFL Network deal as of this past Friday.

The bigger shame is that the subscribers have no say in whether or not to pay the same or additional fees, or have the networked dropped and move on.

A few days after adding to its roster of football analysts, ESPN is beefing up their college hoops analyst roster. In addition to adding Jalen Rose to some college hoops telecasts and programming along with his NBA duties, the network has added former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and former VA Tech coach Seth Greenberg to the mix. Each will handle studio segments as well as some game assignments starting with the coming season.

ESPN has announced its Big 12 "Big Monday" schedule for the coming season, including a King Day (1/21) doubleheader. West Virginia, the newest addition to the Conference, will be featured in three Monday games, while Kansas will make four appearances.

Compass Media, which will broadcast the Big Ten Championship (football) Game and Big Ten (basketball) Tournament, will also be able to carry regular season broadcasts of selected football and basketball games via Learfield Sports on a national basis by picking up school broadcasts. Among the schools handled by Learfield are Alabama, Oklahoma and OK State, Boise State, Texas A & M and Texas Tech, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin, as well as North Carolina and N.C. State.

The "time-filler" battle to have live sports on no matter what the event is continues. Now CBS Sports Network has signed to carry the United Football League games on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the UFL season. The kicker is that these games will likely be available to more homes than the NFL Network.

SAN FRANCISCO: Looks as though the NFL is gaining still another media related income source. ESPN Deportes KTRB 860 has signed a deal to air the 49ers games through the 2018 season - in Spanish. Several NFL teams do not have any radio deal locked up for the next seven seasons, or any Spanish radio broadcasts. Ironically, KTRB had turned down a multi-million dollar offer from the Oakland A's who had used the station as their flagship for the 2010 season before the station was sold to the group which went to the Spanish language sports format.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM ESPN 980 has brought over WTTG-TV channel 5 Sports Director Dave Ross to fill in for Tony Kornheiser on weekdays from 10 AM to Noon. As you would expect, the Redskins will be the focus (even with the Nationals on their first-ever serious run for the post-season) and the show will originate, most days, from the WTEM remote studio at Redskins Park.

HOUSTON: KILT 610 has added former NFL players Seth Payne, Ted Johnson, and Chester Pitts to its roster of Texans analysts for its ongoing coverage. The three former players replace N.D. Kalu and Greg Koch, who left to go to KBME 790 a few weeks ago. It appears the three will share time with Barry Warner on the evening shift, as Shaun Bijani has given up his co-host role as of this week. Bijani has returned to high school coaching.

KBME, meanwhile, will air University of Houston football and basketball through 2015 under a just announced new agreement, including two hours of programming surrounding each football broadcast.

COLUMBUS: Fox Sports Ohio will now air "Game Time With Urban Meyer" for one hour at 9 AM each Saturday morning starting on September 1st and continuing for 13 weeks through November.

FT. COLLINS: KFKA 1310 adds a local midday show starting next Monday (8/6). Troy Coverdale, who has been with the station for the past ten years, and basketball analyst Brady Hull will co-host. Coverdale will continue to host "Northern Colorado Preps Preview" on Friday nights.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tweet Tweet Go The Lineups

Baseball fans can thank social media, especially Twitter, for stepping up the information provided hours prior to big league games. Within the past year, it has become almost commonplace for fans to know the starting lineup for their favorite team(s) as early as four to five hours before the scheduled first pitch.

I noticed this trend starting last season on Twitter, as well as on the ESPN Bottom Line (although used primarily for games that ESPN was about to televise or broadcast). This after years of many radio and TV stations seemingly delaying providing fans with the starting lineups to even later than in the years prior.

Many fans like to know if a favorite player will be in the lineup, if a regular is being rested, as well as wanting the information ahead of time for fantasy leagues. (Some fantasy leagues allow daily changes, sometimes up until minutes before the first pitch of the day's scheduled games.)

Yet, over the years, even team radio broadcasts would not address the starting lineups during their pre-game shows, waiting until moments before the start of the game to give them. Some telecasts have been even worse, thinking nothing of waiting until the home team is about to come to bat before giving the specifics of the batting order. (Just setting the defense in the top of the first is not enough for American League home games, since there is also a designated hitter playing and who could be batting anywhere in the lineup.)

As much as we would like to think that radio and TV would be taking the lead in getting the lineups out, especially when there are situations such as WFAN in New York and WSCR in Chicago which are full-time sports stations that air baseball, but they did not. It took Twitter to allow reporters covering the teams to begin posting the lineups a few hours before the games to get the long established media to follow. And not many have done so yet.

Cheers to WTMJ Milwaukee, for example, which now tends to give fans the lineup for the night's Brewers game (to be broadcast later) on its afternoon drive sports reports, usually anchored by Trenni Kusnierek. Even though WTMJ is not a full-time sports talk station.

While it is great to have Twitter provide innovations for sports fans, my point is that radio (and to an extent, TV) are the "followers" in this service, even though they have long had the ability and the time to provide specific information about upcoming games in advance.

Now since Twitter began this trend, we finally see some TV stations and regional networks televising games providing the batting orders during their extended pre-game shows. It is too bad many of these stations and networks never knew to do that in the years they were the primary source of news and information about their upcoming games.

Here's hoping the networks televising NFL games will pick up on this. I could never understand why, when networks air live pre-game shows lasting anywhere from one to four hours, that viewers need to wait until the team that kicks off receives the ball before its offensive starters, as well as the fresh defense starters, are finally shown to viewers. It stinks even more when the first play from scrimmage is a long gain or unusual play, and viewers lose out on replays and analysis because they are still telling you who is now in the game. Same for football that fans want the complete lineup information ahead of time, whether to know about their favorite team or for fantasy league purposes.

Fantasy players know that while the in-game player stats are nice, knowing for sure who is starting at receiver (for example) a couple hours before a game is more important than five guys in the studio discussing the secondary or showing the previous week's highlights.

Baseball and football are the sports where the starting lineups and matchups mean the most. Radio and TV have an opening to provide this information ahead of time so that fans don't have to go to or monitor Twitter as closely.

As for the NFL's TV blackout rule revision, it continues to not have a true impact. The Cincinnati Bengals, like Buffalo and San Diego, have announced they will not change a thing. Thus, only Tampa Bay has gone along with the reduction in the number of tickets which need to be sold in advance in order to have home games shown locally. The Bengals have failed to sell out for eight of their most recent ten regular season home games, and finished last in average attendance for the 2011 season.

Meanwhile, the TV sports networks' new and expanded coverage from the various college conference media days is coming off as a wonderful innovation. One example was ESPN's networks providing full coverage and air time for each SEC school during and following its annual football media day. Providing fans of the schools and fantasy players with comments from each head coach as well as additional analysis is another growing trend, especially with so much time available.

With the Pac-12 Conference Networks set to begin on August 15th, the play-by-play voices for football have been unveiled and will include some familiar names. Ted Robinson is set to call the San Jose State at Stanford telecast on August 31st, Kevin Calabro gets the San Diego State at Washington game in prime-time (west coast time) on Sept. 1st, and Dave Fleming handles the Nevada at Cal game on the afternoon of Sept. 1.

NBC Sports Network continues its desparation to show more live sports. In addition to some lesser conference college telecasts on Saturdays, the network has picked up a series of Canadian Football League telecasts which begin August 27th. These games will, as has been the case when NFL Network and ESPN aired some games in the past, be simulcasts of TSN coverage from Canada. On one hand, NBC Sports Network will offer more games and a better package than NFL Network and ESPN have in the past. NFL Network had, in reality, picked up the rights to games in case the 2011 lockout took away from the regular season, and then buired the CFL games once they were no longer needed. Although I like that NBC Sports Network is going for live games as often as possible, their choices are not exactly audience builders.

Only one thought on the media coverage of the Penn State penalties. It is extremely disappointing to see and hear stories in the media about a specific sponsor which chose to pull out of advertising on Penn State radio. The insurance company which did so received thousands (if not millions) of dollars in "free" publicity because of the blogs, online columns, newspapers, radio, and TV reporters who mentioned it by name. The company just received more publicity to a wider audience by pulling out than they would have had the run the spots. If and as the Penn State Radio Network sales team sells that time, this company's decision will not have cost Penn State (or those involved with the advertisements) any money. The story should not have been treated as part of the "coverage". Report the actual news instead of helping a PR exec toward his or her bonus.

BOSTON: It's front page news when the Patriots' broadcast booth has a change. After 32 seasons, Gino Cappelletti will not be back as the lead analyst with Gil Santos on 98.5 The Sports Hub. This figures to mean an increased role for Scott Zolak, who would move from the sidelines up to the booth. It should be made official within the next few days.

The Sports Hub WBZ-FM has also announced a multi-year extension to continue as flaship station for the Bruins.

DALLAS: Providing fans with in-depth coverage of local teams, even during the off-season, is something that should be a natural for sports radio stations. The Ticket 1310 has made tremendous strides over the past few weeks. Even with the Rangers off to a great start, the Cowboys around at any time of the year, and everything else going on, The Ticket is maintaining a steady diet of coverage of the NHL Stars. Recent on-air interviews include Derek Roy (recently acquired from Buffalo), Mike Madano, and Steve Ott, even though training camp doesn't open for more than a month.

CHICAGO: Former NFL QB Jim Miller is taking over as analyst for the Bears' local pre-season TV games, replacing another former Bears and NFL QB Erik Kramer. Miller joins play-by-play voice Sam Rosen for three exhibition telecasts on WFLD-TV, starting with the August 9 telecast against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

Sarah Kustok will be leaving Comcast SportsNet Chicago after three years as a reporter and anchor. Kustok also was used on some NBC Sports Network NHL coverage handling interviews.

SAN FRANCISCO: Comcast SportsNet Bay Area adds Dave Feldman to its 49ers coverage starting next month. Feldman returns to his home area and will report from camp and handle post-game game shows. He comes by way of WTTG Washington D.C.

LAS VEGAS: Sorry to report the passing of Bob Blum, former voice of UNLV football and basketball, who passed away on Sunday (7/22) at the age of 91. Blum's play-by-play resume also included San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders football, as well as football and basketball for San Jose State and University of Santa Clara.

ALBANY: WTMM 104.5 has started a weekly one-hour show devoted to the local horse racing scene. The specialty show "At the Post Live - Serling on Saratoga" airs on Thursday nights, mostly from 9 to 10 PM. It will air earlier on nights when Yankees baseball conflicts. Andy Serling hosts, and plans to have the show be live from a local restaurant most weeks.

GLENS FALLS: WMML 1230 will carry all Buffalo Bills games this season including the exhibition games.

BOISE: Congratulations to Riley Corcoran on the award for "Best Play-by-Play Broadcaster", as well as another award for "Best Radio Sports Program" for Idaho on The Fan 630. His local show airs from 4-6 PM.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Quiet At The Right Time.....

One of the interesting baseball stories of the past few days was the return of Kevin Youkilis to Fenway Park to face the Red Sox shortly after having been traded away to the Chicago White Sox. Youkilis was one of the most popular players among Red Sox fans over the past few seasons. His return was a hot topic among fans, at least from what I heard, on WEEI Sports Radio during the day leading in to the game.

A lot of credit should go to Red Sox TV voices Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy for their handling of the first at-bat by Youkilis on the NESN telecast. As a good broadcaster should (although not all do), Orsillo and Remy did not say a single word after the first out of the inning was completed and Youkilis was about to be introduced. NESN aired the public address announcement and then showed the fans giving him a standing ovation, focusing in on several fan made signs to welcome him back.

Orsillo waited until after the first pitch was completed before saying anything. He and Remy knew to keep quiet and let the visuals tell the story, which they did. Great job!

Sorry to learn of the passing of former Chicago area sportscaster Bob Greenberg at the age of 68 due to cancer. Greenberg worked on several Chicago area stations over the years, as well as covering major sports for ABC Radio in his early days. What made Bob unique was that even though he was blind for all but his first few months of life, he got the job done. As one of his network of "seeing eye people" back in the 70's, I knew first-hand how hard he worked and all that he overcame to accomplish his goals in life. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one who noticed. The late Lou Boda of ABC Radio Sports went so far as to record a special audio tape endorsing Bob's work, for example. It was wonderful to have been able to be among those who "saw" things his way.

Fox Sports had two problems to deal with on Saturday (7/14) when its Detroit vs. Baltimore telecast, shown in much of the country, went into extra innings and ran into prime time. In addition to the delayed start for its prime time schedule, the network was burned during the brief post-game interview with Detroit catcher Taylor Teagarden following his game-winning homerun. It seems that a few seconds into the interview, happy teammates planted a shaving cream pie-in-the-face on Teagarden, who responded with the "s-word" that was not bleeped and was clearly audible to the viewers.

We thought the revised NFL home game telecast policy revision would make a difference for the coming season, but it might not be such a big deal after all. Hidden in that announcement is that each team has the option of allowing a local telecast even if a game is only 85% (or higher) sold out 72 hours before kickoff. Training camps haven't even opened, and already the Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, and San Diego Chargers have stated that they are sticking to the 100% sold out in advance in order to have a local telecast policy. As of press time, only Tampa Bay has said they will allow home telecasts with an 85% or higher sellout 72 hours before.

Granted, of those three teams only Buffalo had a losing record last season. In Tampa, 13 of the last 15 Buccaneers home games have been blacked out locally, which is understandable given the team's 4-12 record last season. Yet, you have to wonder how many NFL fans in the Tampa/St. Pete area are transplants from up north and prefer to have other (and usually better) teams be available on the local stations. It's amazing how after all these years, all of the TV dollars paid to the NFL, and with no other pro sport having a this many restrictions on home game telecasts, how some NFL teams are still allowed to get away with not having every game shown.

Radio ratings for sports stations for the month of June were generally not as good as earlier this year. In New York, even with WFAN steady at a 3.3 overall rating (11th place), WEPN AM-FM (including the fairly new FM signal factored in) finished down slightly from the previous ratings period, while The Fan continues to have more than twice the overall audience. Chicago's WSCR The Score held steady while finishing 18th in the market, while rival WMVP ESPN 1000 has now lost more than one-third of its overall audience since the March ratings.

San Francisco's KNRB dropped slightly, but is still #4 overall in the market, while the Giants were struggling (during the June ratings period - before they made their move in the N.L. West) and the other Bay Area teams were quiet. KGMZ The Game, and the A's flagship station, showed up with a .6 overall rating, and is still not a factor. Even with Rangers off to a strong start, since it's not yet Cowboys time, KTCK-AM showed a 20% audience dip to 16th overall in Dallas, while KESN is nearly a ratings point behind in 22nd and KRLD held steady and finished #28 overall.

In Boston, WEEI again leads the Sports Hub WBZ-FM, coming in #9 overall and holding steady, while WBZ-FM has shown a 25% overall audience dip since the April ratings. In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket came in strong at #2 overall with a 6.7. In Philly, WIP-FM has dropped to #16 (with WIP-AM now down to a .6 overall), while WPEN-FM has dipped to #29 in the market while WPEN-AM only showed a .2.

The sports radio audience still isn't taking to Los Angeles, Houston, or San Diego. The excellent start by the Dodgers hasn't helped their new flagship KLAC 570 very much, as KLAC went up in these ratings to #29 overall. KSPN 710 dropped slightly to #25 with a 1.6 during the same time period.

While it remains to be seen whether or not a potentially promising season by the Texans will help Houston sports talkers, KILT dropped to #21 overall, while KBME scored a .8 overall. KGOW came in with a .2, but since they had a .1 last time, the optimists would point out that they doubled their audience in one month. In San Diego, XPRS is now at #23 overall.

Now that Fox-TV has completed its 8-week run of Saturday prime-time telecasts, the ratings have the network running about equal to last season. The two highest rated of the prime-time games were both Yankees telecasts (vs. the Red Sox and Mets). Yet, the five "lower rated" prime time telecasts brought in a larger audience than the comparable afternoon telecasts did last season. Look for Fox to continue and possibly extend its prime-time run of games for next season, especially with the opportunity to present rare interleague matchups every week due to the MLB's scheduling revision starting in 2013.

ESPN's Mike & Mike will host a new 30 minute NFL highlights show each Tuesday on ESPN at 3 PM ET. Technically, this would be the only fresh highlights show that will include every game from the just completed weekend, since it would (obviously) include the Monday Night Football highlights. The network also announced that Bill Walton will return as a basketball analyst, primarily for its NCAA coverage, at least to start. Walton, who appears recovered from his latest series of surgeries, will also be an analyst for the new Pac-12 Network. He is also expected to return to NBA analysis via selected Sacramento Kings telecasts (as in when his schedule will allow), and if all goes well for ESPN during the NBA playoffs.

On the college football side, ESPN begins its extensive SEC coverage on August 30th, announcing that the South Carolina at Vanderbilt game will air in prime time. On September 8, the networks will air a live tripleheader with Auburn at Mississippi State, Florida at Texas A & M (A & M's SEC initiation), and then Washington vs. LSU in prime time.

NFL Network is gearing up for a full slate of exhibition game telecasts, but with a wonderful difference for this August. The Network now has plans to air 11 of those games live (rather than on delay, often by days), using local team telecasts such as MLB Network and NBA-TV do.

Here is the live telecast schedule, times are Eastern:

 Sunday, Aug. 5
 8:00: Arizona vs. New Orleans at Canton, Ohio

 Friday, Aug. 10
 7:30: Cincinnati at N.Y. Jets
 Saturday, Aug. 11
 7:00: Houston at Carolina
 10:00: Tennessee at Seattle
 Sunday, Aug. 12
 1:30: St. Louis at Indianapolis

 Saturday, Aug. 18
 7:00: N.Y. Giants vs. N.Y. Jets
 9:00: Dallas at San Diego (joined in progress)

 Saturday, Aug. 25
 4:00: Indianapolis at Washington

 Wednesday, Aug. 29
 7:30: New England at N.Y. Giants (blacked out in Capital Region)
 Thursday, Aug. 30
 7:00: Kansas City at Green Bay
 11:00: Denver at Phoenix

Yet, N.Y. Giants fans in the NYC area will need a pencil and scorecard to merely keep track of when and where to follow the team's exhibition action. Even though they are Super Bowl champs, their four games will be on three different TV channels. Their opener at Jacksonville will be shown on WWOR-TV (and heard on WCBS-FM due to a Mets conflict on WFAN), with the Aug. 18th game vs. the Jets (as of now) being a Jets telecast on WCBS-TV. The Aug. 24th game against Chicago is a national telecast by CBS (and airs on WCBS-TV, with radio again on WCBS-FM), and the Aug. 29th game, which is a Super Bowl rematch vs. New England, will be nationally televised by NBC and air on WNBC-TV. For the regular season, WPIX-TV 11 will carry the NFL Network telecast of the Thursday Sept. 16th game vs. Tampa Bay.

HAMPTON ROADS: ESPN 94.1 debuted a local afternoon drive show on Monday (7/16), with Nick Cattles hosting the show starting at 4:00 PM.

TRAVERSE CITY: WCCW-AM 1310 is going Fox Sports Radio during the last week of August (in time for football season), and will also provide play-by-play of U. of Michigan and Detroit Lions football. In addition, the station will carry the Detroit Tigers and Pistons broadcasts as its schedule allows. WSRJ 105.5 (along with 106.7 WSRT Gaylord) will pick up ESPN Radio on August 30th.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting Ready For Some Football.......

Is it revenue or viewers that got the NFL to make a slight revision in its TV blackout restrictions beginning with the coming season?

Now it is possible for local home games not completely sold out 72 hours prior to game time to be shown in the local and secondary markets if a game is "at least 85% sold out" and team officials allow it. Granted, the NFL claims only 6% of its games were blacked out last year under the previous restriction. Really, all this does is save some local TV stations, local sponsors, and in some instances, the teams themselves, from buying up blocks of remaining tickets to be able to show the local team and sell the advertising time. Yet, there are times when the "previous" blackout policy came in handy.

Many NFL fans in the city of a poor performing team often prefer to see a more competitive and meaningful game instead of watching the locals lose still again. In those situations, there are reasons not related to the economy as to why enough of the game tickets are not purchased.

I'll go with the more important TV change being the pushing back of the national doubleheader game until 4:25 ET to allow those viewers to see the conclusion of the early game(s) in their market.

Let's credit ESPN with a nice innovation for Sun Belt Conference football fans. The Conference's "Media Day" for its football coaches is next Monday (7/16), and ESPN will stream speeches or interviews with all 10 head coaches. In addition, Cole Wright will host and Cole Cubelic, who handles analysis during some of the Sun Belt football telecasts, will also participate. Considering the amount of college football coverage on ESPN, providing this type of in-depth coverage for fans is fitting with the network, even if it is being promoted as a stream. Hopefully ESPN will schedule time on Monday (or Tuesday at the latest) to show this content on at least one of its channels. It's hard to believe that ESPNU isn't carrying this instead of or in addition to the stream, but the concept is a good one.

The Pac-12 Network is now scheduled to launch on August 15th, with plans in place to air more than 800 live events over the next 12 months. For the coming 12 months, this includes 35 football telecasts and more than 130 basketball telecasts. In addition, the Network is splitting up into six regional channels with two member schools (determined geographically) and providing around 50 more events per school at the regional level.

Baseball fans who can recieve the MLB out-of-town games package via their "expanded" or "preferred" cable or satellite package should check those channels over the next few days. Several cable and satellite systems will be offering the games as a free preview from Friday (7/13) through next Thursday (7/19) in an attempt to sign up more viewers to purchase the package for the remainder of the season. For those who contend that they pay enough each month to watch the games via ESPN, MLB Network, TBS, and the local teams on cable/satellite, this is a chance to catch some of the announcers around the country a couple of times. The Dodgers (with Vin Scully) are home during the coming week, as are the Padres (with Dick Enberg) early next week, for example.

Sorry to learn of the passing of former NBC-TV President Julian Goodman last week at the age of 90. Goodman is actually responsible for sports fans seeing the conclusion of nationally televised games even when they run into prime-time TV schedules, even though it took a TV 'disaster' to make it happen. He was in charge in 1968 when he determined that NBC-TV would cut away from the N.Y. Jets vs. Oakland Raiders playoff game to show the movie "Heidi", only to have the Raiders stage a late 4th quarter comeback to defeat the Jets and create a media storm. Ever since, the games were shown to conclusion, and "60 Minutes" on CBS-TV has been seen "in its entirety" following the late game.

DALLAS: Rangers play-by-play voice Dave Barnett now figures to be out of the TV booth for the remainder of the season, having taken a leave of abscence after his June 18th on-air babbling experience. The 54 year-old Barnett, to his credit, went on KTCK 1310 The Ticket last week to talk publicly about the incident, and how he is seeking medical attention.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Some of the Redskins' radio broadcasts won't be the same starting with the coming season, as ageless Sam Huff has officially reduced his workload to 10 (out of 16) regular season games. Huff will be on the air for all 8 regular season home games, and only travel to Dallas and New York, since those games are, well, against Dallas and New York. He has been a radio analyst since the 1975 season. Larry Michael continues on play-by-play, and Sonny Jurgensen will continue as analyst for all games. Jurgensen has been an analyst on Redskins radio since 1981.

St. LOUIS: This week sees a call letter and name change for KSLG 1380, as it has become KXFN "The Fan 2". Sister station KFNS 590 "The Fan" and KXFN 1380 are already doing cross-promotion of their sports programs.

MEMPHIS: Chris Vernon has joined WMFS 680/92.9 as of this week (7/9) and now handles the 11 AM to 2 PM show. Vernon left KQPN Sports 730 to move over to WMFS.

WATERLOO: KWLO 1330 has dropped its music format and turned into ESPN Radio, and is now competing with KCNZ 1650 The Fan, which carries Fox Sports Radio. However, KWLO has only Northern Iowa University women's sports for its local play-by-play.

JACKSON TN: WBFG-FM 96.5 has started a new weekly high school football show which airs each Monday from 6 to 8 PM (as of 7/9) and will continue through the playoffs. "Prep Football Opening Drive" features local coach interviews and is hosted by reporter Brandon Shields and longtime local coach Joe Holloway.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Fan At 25

The impact of WFAN 660 New York on its 25 year anniversary as an all-sports radio station over the weekend has been more significant to other media than it is to radio at this point in time. But The Fan has made a significant impact.

This is not to say that the impact on the radio industry is not significant. It was, even into the past five years. Even with some rough sailing in the early years, WFAN opened the doors for other markets to go on with all-sports radio stations, as well as for  getting radio the long overdue recognition as a hot resource for sports coverage. Back in 1987, sports fans did not have the internet. The TV sports networks were not always full-time, often existing to show the games and studio shows, and little else. Only ESPN was a full-time sports network, presenting SportsCenter a few times per day when the games and their "time filler" events didn't pre-empt. Newspapers were still a hotbed for sports information even though they were hours behind radio for getting information to the public.

Since New York has two teams in the metro area (including the New Jersey entries), the local sports scene has long had two (and in the case of hockey with the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils, three) teams to analyze and discuss going back to before WFAN was started.

What WFAN started was the in-depth coverage and discussion of all things sports, branching it out from the 2-hour sports talk shows on a couple of stations in each market, as well as from "sports final" extended recap shows which several 'major league' market stations would provide.

Upcoming player drafts could be analyzed, the next road trip or series could be previwed and predicted. Fans had a regular means to hear what other fans thought. More importantly, expert analysts had a longer outlet to inform interested fans. Having grown up years before this happened, having an all-sports radio station was just a dream. In the late 80's, it came true, and the format spread across the country.

While it was great to have WFAN acknowledge this 25-year anniversary, the way they did so indirectly showed how much as changed regarding sports talk and sports coverage during that time span. Along with "why" it has.

The FAN could have done a lot better than to promote Mike Francesa going on with Boomer & Carton (morning show) as being a "special guest". So help me, they did that. In my 40 years of working in and covering sports media, I had never heard of a co-worker at the same station being considered a "special guest". Much of the Sunday (7/1) "25th Anniversary Celebration" on WFAN consisted of current and former staffers handling one to two hour segments. It wasn't until the last hour, prior to the station's Mets broadcast (which happened to be on Sunday Night Baseball), that the station devoted an hour to "the major sports happenings of the past 25 years". I always thought it was the format, and not the hosts, that was the most significant.

Twenty-five years later, sports radio is an accepted part of almost every radio market, often to the point of more than one station providing the format. In some markets, including NYC, San Francisco, and Detroit, the leading sports station is among the most listened to stations. In others, it barely makes a dent.

These days, WFAN faces radio competition from ESPN Radio, which has just added an FM signal to the mix. The FAN has been able to fend off the challenge by a respectable margin. However, unlike 1987, local sports fans have many more choices today. They have SNY and YES, which are local and (almost) full-time sports TV networks. Local web sites, including an ESPN New York site, are devoted to providing updated and fresh information and an outlet for fan opinions. Fans are getting scores, game details, and in some cases trade information on their phone no matter where they are.

That is what sports radio stations in NYC, as well as other markets with different players, are really competing against. For the WFAN's to do so, they'll need to do better than promoting on-air colleagues as a "special guest" to show how far they have come along in 25 years.

Elsewhere, a great move by the NFL to push back national doubleheader games to 4:25 ET starts beginning with the coming season in order to allow fans to see the conclusion of the majority of the early games. After years of fan complaints when local stations would have to cut away from a dramatic end to an early game because of contractual obligations to show the late game, this move shows that the NFL is aware of these concerns. A significant part of this announcement is that the 4:25 start is not uniform for late games. Instead it will only apply to the primary doubleheader games, with other "regional" late games continuing to begin at 4:05 ET.

As a result, it should mean that fans watching late regional games will likely have their game end in time to see the conclusion of the national game, which sometimes is an even better matchup than a failed local team's. Now we need to hope that the early games do not become lax with their kickoff time and commercial breaks that would allow early games to run even longer and potentially negate this decision.

It will also be interesting to see if or how NBC reacts when it comes to starting its expanded pre-game show leading into Sunday Night Football. This change assures that the primary doubleheader game(s) will run even further into NBC's pre-game show on a regular basis, unless NBC decides to delay its start until 7:30 PM ET. Don't count out the possibility of NBC Network taking that time back to run some half hour shows as a make or break for other time slots.

ESPN is allowing Chris Berman to call play-by-play of the late game of its Monday Night Football opener in September when Oakland hosts San Diego at 9:15 PM ET, with Trent Dilfer as analyst. As a result, Suzy Kolber will host Monday Night Countdown for the opening week. Berman will, as usual, host Sunday NFL Countdown from Bristol the morning before, and fly out to Oakland later in the day.

Congrats to Len Dawson on being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame "again" this year. On August 3rd, the 77 year-young Dawson will enter as a broadcaster. Dawson was already a TV sportscaster in Kansas City going back to 1966 during his playing career. He is about to begin his 28th season as analyst on the Chiefs' Radio Network, and of course, was a fixture on "Inside the NFL" on HBO for 24 seasons staring in 1977, when not many sports fans knew what HBO was.

On the other extreme, still no word (as of press time) about the return of Daron Sutton to the AZ Diamondbacks broadcast booth, after he was reportedly suspended for unconfirmed reasons last week. Sutton had also been scheduled to call the D-backs vs. Brewers telecast for Fox Sports on Saturday, but called upon Eric Collins instead, as if to honor the team's decision. For however long this lasts, Greg Schulte moves over from the radio booth to the TV side along with Mark Grace, while Jeff Munn fills in along with Tom Candiotti on the radio broadcasts. Sutton has not been on since calling the June 20th game vs. Seattle.

Fox Sports has moved the St. Louis vs. Cincinnati game on July 14th from a night game to 4:05 ET in order to make the N.L. Central battle one of its regional telecasts as the network returns to afternoon telecasts from its Saturday prime-time run.

Moving over to college basketball, Fox Sports has the TV rights to the San Diego State vs. Syracuse game on November 9th which will be played on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum at 7 PM ET. The network has decided to put the telecast on Fox Sports Network and its affiliates which can clear the game. Fox Sports San Diego will definitely air the contest. Calling the game will be none other than Dick Enberg, who has called his share of memorable college hoop battles over his great career.

HOUSTON: After 10 seasons on KILT, the Rockets will launch on KBME 790 this fall in the first season of a new four-year contract. Craig Ackerman and Joel Blank will continue as the broadcast team. KILT continues to carry the Texans, and has added to its branding as "Texans Radio" as a lead-in to the upcoming NFL season.

BALTIMORE/D.C.: Recent TV ratings confirm that both Orioles and Nationals telecasts on MASN and MASN2 are up for the current season, just as both teams are in the standings. Nationals games are showing a much stronger 50% audience increase as of late June, putting both baseball teams ahead of the NHL Capitals and NBA Wizards telecast ratings from the most recent season.

BOSTON: Tim Wakefield has joined NESN as a studio analyst for Red Sox telecasts as of this past weekend. The former pitcher retired this past off-season after 19 seasons in the big leagues, mostly with the Red Sox.

St. LOUIS: KPLR-TV Channel 11 will be air the Rams' exhibition games in August, although the Aug. 18 and 30 home games would be shown on delay if not sold out, which seems likely at this point in time. More importantly, KPLR will also have the local simulcast from NFL Network of the Oct. 4th Thursday Night Football telecast vs. Arizona at 7:20 PM local time.

PITTSBURGH: WXDX 105.9 has a three-year renewal to continue airing the Penguins games into at least the 2017-18 season. The station has aired the games since 2006, and will now expand the pre-game show to one hour.

PHILADELPHIA: Comcast SportsNet has added Danny Pommells as an on-air reporter after having worked part-time for the Network since earlier this year.

BUFFALO: Good news for Sabres fans, as Rick Jeanneret announced that he plans to call every game for the upcoming season, which will be his 41st with the team.

NEW ORLEANS: Fox Sports Southwest will become Fox Sports New Orleans in October, and has acquired the Hornets games. FSNO plans to show 75 regular season games, although nothing has been confirmed yet (as of press time) regarding whether or not Bob Licht and Gil McGregor will continue to call the games. FSNO will also carry SEC football and hoops, as well as Big 12 and Conference USA sports. The network is also planning to air selected Texas Rangers baseball and Dallas Stars hockey games.

MEMPHIS: WHBQ 560 is now simulcast on 87.7 FM.

OMAHA: With local host Kevin Kugler taking on more responsibilities with Big Ten Network, along with some NFL and college hoops play-by-play for Dial Global, he has left his afternoon hosting spot on The Zone 1620. Kugler will do some guest spots and occasional fill-in work for The Zone. As of press time, a replacement host for afternoons has not been determined.