Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Tweet It Is For The NFL

The impact of social media on the sports world had not been as evident as it has become over the past few days. Especially for NFL fans.

Obviously, the biggest sports story of the week (and perhaps the entire season) was Monday night's referee fiasco at the conclusion of the Green Bay vs. Seattle game. ESPN did a tremendous job of covering the reaction and providing analysis of the play that changed the season. Not just because they televised the game and had access to resources at the stadium and with the NFL.

It was social media that added even more to the thorough ESPN coverage that extended into the following day on their SportsCenter and other shows. Wisely, ESPN showed numerous Twitter comments, including from players on both the Packers and Seahawks as well as players from around the NFL. Their providing this brought fans additional input about how players and team personnel were feeling and dealing with the situation. In the 'old days', when reporters would pick up the phone and attempt to get players and team personnel to comment for use on the air, many players would either say "no comment", or ask that their comments not be used on the air. They would not want to be linked to anything controversial and/or something they would have to defend later.

But with Twitter and Facebook, reporters are able to find direct quotes from the players (and team and league personnel) which are public and use them to contribute to their news stories and coverage. I give ESPN a ton of credit for having a system in place that enabled them to gather and present comments from players and others from around the country within a short period of time.

Even though the SportsCenter format of moving from sport to sport to sport and not having a flow for viewers especially interested in one sport or league can be annoying, the fact that the SportsCenter which followed the Packers vs. Seahawks game attracted record numbers for SportsCenter shows that fans are thinking ESPN for breaking sports news.

The NFL has had its share of other social media dealings this month. There was the recent situation where a fan of the K.C. Chiefs went on Twitter and in a moment of frustration blasted the team's ownership and its unwillingness to spend the big bucks. It seems that someone in the front office of the Chiefs saw this Tweet, and sent out a Twitter reply via the team's offical feed which questioned this fan's knowledge and told him it was "your choice to be a fan". It seems the team also went ahead and blocked this fan from the team's Twitter account.

Then it turns out that the team official apologized. However, since the fan was blocked from future tweets, the fan was not aware of any apology and had already spread the word about getting such a negative response from the team.

(For those not aware of all of this, the specifics are at )

As a result, there was more embarrassment caused to the Chiefs than to this fan based on this story getting out into the media. Obviously, without this form of social media, we don't have this story. But because of it, millions of NFL fans are aware of how a team official berated one of its fans publicly.

Then, on Sunday (9/23), those DirecTV viewers with Sunday Ticket who were watching the overtime of the Detroit vs. Tennessee game saw an accidental and very ill-timed start to a commercial during the game's most important play. As the game-tying "hail Mary" pass was completed to Titus Young, commercial started and played for a few seconds. Viewers missed anywhere from part of the actual play to the immediate reaction, depending on the timing of their local system. And how do we know this? Because, obviously, fans who spend hundreds of dollars to have Sunday Ticket went to Twitter and Facebook to express their frustration with DirecTV, regardless of their feeling about the outcome of one of the most exciting games we'll have all season.

Tie it all together, and it shows how many facts, opinions, and incidents we wouldn't otherwise know about if it wasn't for social media.

Not all of the social media use is good, but at least social media gives us the ability to move ahead to the next post and/or delete and move on.

Take the case of Comcast SportsNet Chicago earlier this week. Their news feed, usually consisting of local sports news, interviews, and features, included sending out the video of a brand new commerical featuring Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls. Asking fans to watch a commercial just because it features a local star seems a bit much for what is otherwise presented as a news organization.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports Radio Network is adding the Jim Rome Show to its national network lineup to start on January 2nd. What this does is helps to make CBS Sports Radio a formidable option for stations, and perhaps listeners in smaller markets, instead of Fox Sports Radio programming.

TBS has put together its announcing teams for its upcoming MLB post-season coverage. The number one team will be Ernie Johnson along with John Smoltz and Ron Darling. Look for them to call the Yankees games (if and as they make the post-season and win the first round) for both its ALDS and ALCS coverage. Brian Anderson will call a division series along with Joe Simpson. In addition, the other two division series will have announcing teams of Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly, as well as Don Orsillo and Buck Martinez, who have (with the exception of Brenly) worked multiple seasons on the TBS post-season coverage. Although Smoltz and Darling each do solid jobs as analysts, it does not make sense to have two pitchers and no position players in analyst roles at the game.

ATLANTA: The Game 92.9 Sports Radio will now make its debut in mid-October, and should be announcing its lineup within the next few days. I suppose that since this is a CBS station they want to get somewhat established before the first of the year and the new national network. Yet, the timing of this is strange. The start of this station could come more than a week after the Braves play their last game, although they could be in the NLCS at the time. The football season is well underway, obviously, meaning that the pro and college football fans most likely already have the football based shows they listen to already established.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Media Competes Just Like The Teams

Is the impact that sports has on media greater than the impact media is having on sports right now? Several developments on both fronts this week make that a most interesting question.

NBC is at both ends of the spectrum in terms of the sports impact on the media. Its NFL opener and two Sunday Night Football telecasts have brought tremendous ratings, as expected, and the network has several major matchups to bring us, including its first ever Thanksgiving prime-time telecast. However, the NHL lockout (as of press time) and its threat to delay or even wipe out the scheduled season would mean a severe blow to NBC Sports Network on cable/satellite. NBCSN started to enjoy the benefits of its thorough and expanded NHL coverage from last season, which included the first time showing every post-season game on a national basis.

Since NBC has not been a serious contender (to this point) for any of the MLB or NBA telecasts, the NHL games became the central focus for NBCSN. Although the network has added a few "lesser" college football telecasts and just began some MLS telecasts (with dismal ratings), the lack of live pro sports content without the NHL would be a severe blow to its progress. In addition, the newly added NBC Sports Radio Network loses much of its promotional opportunity from TV until or unless the masses have a real reason to tune in to NBCSN. Yet, this is a sports impact, since NBC has no control over whether or not there is an NHL season or a sufficient number of games available for its audience.If the NHL lockout does go on for weeks, certainly the fans, owners, and current players lose out big time. In this instance, so would NBCSN and indirectly the new NBC Sports Radio Network.

The competition also continues to heat up between CBS Radio Sports and ESPN Radio, although in this instance more at the local level than on a national platform. We have already seen the effort by CBS in New York to maintain its Yankees and Mets rights and keep local baseball away from the expanded signal of ESPN on FM there.

Now, CBS Radio wants to get into the act in Cleveland. Word is that WKRK 92.3 (a CBS station) is making a serious bid to air the Indians baseball games starting with the 2013 season, which would end the long-time run on WTAM 1100. Here is a case where the Indians' bottom line could benefit because of the influx of radio sports networks and for no other reason. This is the Cleveland Indians, fresh off their typical season of falling off the face of the earth after the All-Star break and playing spoiler in front of dropping crowds. If it wasn't for CBS and NBC Radio starting sports networks this quarter, I'd have a hard time believing there would be anything even close to a bidding war for Indians baseball on the radio. Realistically, the team might instead be negotiating for the time to sell its own advertising and hope to do better than break even.

In Boston, ESPN Radio has managed to firm up its battle against CBS' WEEI based on a major announcement earlier this week. While CBS' WBZ-FM The Sports Hub continues to generate strong overall ratings and looks to be one of the stronger CBS Radio Sports Network stations in terms of a major market presence, WEEI is allowing ESPN to take a stronger position in the market. WEEI will no longer simulcast its AM and FM signals as of October 5th, when 850 AM will switch to full-time "national" ESPN Radio, while 93.7 FM will continue the local "regular" WEEI programming, including the Red Sox and Celtics play-by-play. This seems like an ESPN corporate push in the radio battle with CBS, but may not have anywhere near the impact ESPN seems to think it will. The passionate "local" fans would be more likely to switch over to the Sports Hub than to a national feed. Where this could (and emphasis on "could") make a difference would be in fringe areas beyond the FM signal who also can easily receive WFAN 660 from NYC. Some of those listeners might choose the ESPN brand over what WFAN has to offer. I'm just not sure it will make enough of a ratings difference to justify this locally, although ESPN Radio will gain financially based on increased national and/or regional sales.

Still another reminder of media impact on the game comes with the unfortunate passing of Steve Sabol earlier this week. The former President of NFL Films, along with his late father Ed Sabol, spent the past 50 years revolutionizing how football is televised. It wasn't only the innovations, such as slow-motion replays, reverse angle replays, and implementing showing single plays from multiple angles that made NFL Films so great. Nor was it just the amazing editing and packaging of game highlights lasting anywhere from 30 seconds of key plays to 30 minutes of highlights from a single game. Nor was it the unforgettable voices of John Facenda and Harry Kalas making every play seem legendary to our ears.

We can't overlook how comparably little TV coverage the NFL had when the Sabols were in their prime with NFL Films. When Monday Night Football first started in 1970, ABC-TV used NFL Films for their half-time highlights of the Sunday games. At that point in time, every NFL market would have either two or three games shown on Sunday afternoon. The network pre-game shows were 30 minutes, and some (but not all) NFL markets added another half hour pre-game on Sunday mornings. The "post-game" we saw on Sunday afternoons was often up to five minutes to go through the scoreboard and maybe show us a key touchdown or two from around the country.

Even into the 1970's, fans often waited for the following Saturday after a specific NFL game to see extended highlights on the half hour "NFL Game of the Week" TV series, and only then if the featured game was the one they were most interested in. It was within this extended highlights format that fans learned to watch plays in slow motion, from different angles, and hear player and coach reaction from the moment. These aspects of NFL coverage that we all take for granted today were started 40+ years ago by the Sabols. Media coverage of football, and for that matter all sports, was brought to this level with a big thanks from NFL Films. How wonderful that Ed Sabol (Steve's father) was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, and that Steve was around to enjoy it.

Even with the later 4:25 ET start time for NFL primary doubleheader game telecasts this season, it's good to see the networks are sensitive to wanting fans to see the conclusion of a long running opening game. This past Sunday (9/15), CBS stayed with the conclusion of the Baltimore at Philadelphia game before switching viewers over to the Jets vs. Steelers doubleheader game in many northeast markets. In this instance, the New York and Pittsburgh markets, along with nearby "secondary" markets for the respective teams, did get switched to the Jets vs. Steelers in time for the start.

However, the Ravens vs. Eagles telecast could have gone a lot better, especially when CBS' #2 NFL team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf were involved. The telecast showed Ravens safety Bernard Pollard injured on a play, but for whatever non-acceptable reason, failed to follow up. Several minutes of playing time elapsed before Gumbel and Dierdorf even mentioned Pollard's replacement. Despite the fact that Pollard made a key first quarter interception in the end zone to stop an Eagles drive in perhaps the most significant play of the first half. Pollard did not return to the game, yet his injury and its status went uncovered. Here was one of the few instances when a game telecast could have actually had some benefit from having a "sideline reporter", and CBS blows an important in-game injury story.

Over at Fox Sports, their Saturday afternoon MLB coverage on Saturday (9/14) scored the highest overnight for a Fox Saturday baseball telecast in more than 2 months. Then, its USC vs. Stanford prime-time college football telecast was the highest of the first three weeks of its Saturday night games, showing an increase each week, and less domination by the ABC prime-time telecasts.

The new Pac-12 Network has added "coach" Rick Neuheisel to its Saturday football studio coverage.

Speaking of new TV networks, Comcast SportsNet Houston is getting ready to make its debut on October 1st, in time to begin its Rockets coverage as the team's new TV home. CSN Houston also takes over televising the Astros for next season, with the challenge of being a new network having to showcase a team which lost over 100 games as it begins play in a new league. Kelli Johnson has been signed as an anchor and reporter, coming over from CSN Mid-Atlantic where she had been covering the Nationals on a regular basis.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Out Fox The Coverage

Promoting the wrong game might not rank with giving out inaccurate scores or information, but it does show the need to verify information before it goes out on the air. Fox Sports seems to have gotten away with promoting a non-existent game this past Saturday (9/8) several times during an approximately 90 minute period. Looks like a case of their Saturday MLB Game going up against a strong weekend of college football helped save some of the embarassment.

The upper midwest was shown the Chicago White Sox hosting the Kansas City Royals as one of its regional telecasts. Each half inning during the scroll of MLB scores and runs of Fox Sports promos (including the following day's NFL openers), included was the schedule of Fox regional games for Saturday 9/15. Or so they'd like us to believe. This game was also of interest to Detroit Tigers fans, since their team is chasing the White Sox in the A.L. Central and was playing later that night. Yet, for the first five innings, Fox promoted "Det @ Minn" among its scheduled upcoming games.

It so happens that on Saturday 9/15, the White Sox are playing at Minnesota, and the game is NOT one of the Fox games. I couldn't help but wonder why no one double checked or caught this. Finally, in the 6th inning, with no fanfare, the promo was changed to indicate that the "Det @ Cleve" game will be among their regional telecasts. Yet, no correction (at least that I was aware of) was shown, nor did play-by-play voice Steve Physioc mention the correction. Not faulting Physioc, but viewers should feel insulted that Fox Sports simply changed an error and didn't acknowledge it. Considering how fans often rely on the bottom line scroll, especially when also watching other games or sports, it makes me hope that we are getting accurate scores and fantasy information.

As it is, I have no idea if this wrong game also appeared on the other regional telecasts or not, since none of my friends or contacts were watching.

Of course, Fox Sports was all over the media news due to its involvement in the Big-12 Conference TV rights deal made public late last week. Fox Sports and ESPN/ABC will be televising Big-12 games to their hearts' content. I'm thinking the only winners with all of this are the play-by-play announcers and analysts, since so many college games will continue to be televised.

How can rights fees for college sports have reached the point where the biggest networks are now sharing a package? That is disturbing for people getting fed up with the increased cost of cable or satellite. The networks, in this instance, will undergo processes for selecting which network shows which games and when. Fair as it may be, ESPN and Fox will be losing key games to the other. In addition, there will be numerous conflicting telecasts, and many "other" telecasts such as "smaller" sports and additional women's basketball.

(I'm not against women's basketball, by the way. Just not seeing how those telecasts should be part of a multi-million dollar agreement when the ratings and the audience aren't there.)

CHICAGO: Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has been signed as a "regular weekly contributor" to WMAQ-TV Channel 5's Bears related coverage, having been scheduled to make his debut hours after his first regular season game with the team this past Sunday (9/9). He is scheduled to appear each Sunday on "Sports Sunday" throught the regular season.

Former WMAQ-TV Sportscaster Chet Coppock attended the Bears' season opener hosting the Indy Colts this past Sunday. Normally not anything worth reporting. Until you realize that Coppock always attends, going back to growing up and aspiring to be a sportscaster. This was his 62nd consecutive Bears home opener in person.

It turns out that Dial Global Sports' NFL broadcasts will air in Chicago after all this season. It did not look like there would be room on any of the sports or talk stations until classic rock station WLUP 97.9 announced it will carry Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football broadcasts which do not involve the Bears.

NEW YORK: An interesting move by ESPN Deportes at 1050 AM (which was ESPN Radio until the move over to the stronger 98.7 signal earlier this year). The station has announced a deal to air Jets football games in Spanish. Interesting that all of a sudden both NYC and Chicago stations are now broadcasting local NFL teams in Spanish - after all of these years of none.

BOSTON: Former Celtic and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine is returning to the Boston area now that his NBA playing career has ended. Scalabrine has joined CSN New England's Celtics coverage. His role is expected to include studio work, and filling in as analyst in place of Tommy Heinsohn for the 11 telecasts which Heinsohn is scheduled to miss.

As a result, CSN New England picks up on the popularity of Scalabrine's appearances a few years back on the Toucher and Rich Show on 98.5 Sports Hub. We have to believe that eventually taking over full-time for Heinsohn is Scalabrine's job to lose for the next season or two. But this seems like a good hire.

BUFFALO: You can tell the only major league team in town is into their season. WGR-AM Sports Radio 550 is overdosing on its Bills coverage. Take the weeks of 1 PM ET Bills broadcasts (with John Murphy and Mark Kelso). Their local pre-game shows now begin at 7 AM and continue up to kickoff. Post-game coverage will run until 8 PM, ending moments before the Sunday Night Football game. Then, on Mondays, every daypart includes at least one Bills related segment, including on-air visits from coach Chan Gailey and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick during morning drive.

BALTIMORE: Congrats to Johnny Holliday, the long-time voice of University of Maryland football and basketball, who will receive a well deserved John Steadman Lifetime Achievement Award from the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame in early November.

TAMPA: WHBO 1040 Sports Talk Florida adds Charlie Bernstein (from Fox Sports and NFL Radio on Sirius) as its afternoon drive host.

PHARR TX: KVJY 840 has dropped its sports-talk format and gone to Spanish programming. However, the station will now air Astros baseball and Cowboys football play-by-play, but each will now be the Spanish versions.

CRESTON IA: KSIB 1520 has switched to sports, adding Fox Sports Radio. However, this is a daytime only station, so they'll be off the air when the weeknight games are taking place.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nearly Out-Foxed By NCAA Opener

It's been a week of positives from some of the national sports networks. However nerve wracking it was for Fox Sports on Saturday (9/1), they came through with flying colors in their transition from the MLB Game of the Week to their prime-time college football telecast.

The network was able to delay the opening kickoff of its USC vs. Hawaii telecast so that the entire country would get the entire game when two of their three MLB telecasts ran long. Fox lucked out when neither its Nationals vs. Cardinals or Phillies vs. Braves telecasts went into extra innings, especially given the length of both games. This allowed the majority of viewers around the country to see the entire baseball game they were shown while not missing any of the football action.

In a wonderful coincidence for Fox, its regional telecast of the Angels vs. Mariners, shown in Southern California (including L.A., the home market) ended early enough to enable Fox to produce its scheduled pre-game show for the "home" region of USC. Had either baseball game gone extra innings, I'm sure there would have been complaints to Fox for sticking with the conclusion of the baseball game(s) it was contracted to show. For those of you saying "I certainly would have complained", I'd ask you how you felt when the 'early' NFL game was interrupted to go to the kickoff of the doubleheader game in your market. The new 4:25 PM ET start which goes into effect on Sunday (9/9) should remedy that problem, but there are no guarantees.

The upgraded ESPN deal for MLB games through 2021 looks great on paper. The only negative I see is that it provides still more opportunity for ESPN to keep consumer prices up for our cable or satellite TV, and that's a big negative. The increase in the number of games and daily coverage is a positive. That local markets will no longer be blacked out (as of 2014) on Monday and Wednesday night telecasts is also a positive. Frankly, if a team's local telecasts are well produced and fans are happy with the announcers, having another version of the same telecast shouldn't be a problem.

In those cities where fans have to put up with overly cluttered telecasts and/or subpar announcers, those paying each month to receive these channels should have the option to watch the game where they please. The team receives revenue from both telecasts anyway.

Meanwhile, both CBS and NBC Sports have begun their new radio sports networks this week. CBS has the clear early advantage due to having more prominent stations at this point.

Allen Pinkett will return to the Notre Dame football radio booth, but not until the 4th game of the season, after serving a three broadcast "suspension" without pay due to comments made on a Chicago sports talk show last week. This is somewhere between reasonable and harsh, but it's good to see that Pinkett did not lose his job over comments made separately from a Notre Dame broadcast.

NEW YORK: After weeks of hype about ESPN Radio supposedly going all out for the Yankees broadcasts, the Yankees quietly extended their agreement to remain on WCBS-AM 880 through the 2013 season. ESPN's NYC FM signal helps, but clearly doesn't replace the CBS Radio cluster of stations, which also include WFAN 660 and the highly rated music station WCBS-FM. The thinking here is that ESPN Radio will drive up the bidding for WCBS for 2014, but that the team will keep the games on 880 instead. As mentioned above, ESPN-TV will be able to show the Monday and Wednesday night Yankees national telecasts locally. The Yankees won't want their radio station promoting that "both ESPN Radio and TV will have the game starting at......" when so much revenue is driven through its YES TV coverage. Keeping the games on another radio chain, especially when WFAN competes with, and at this point is ahead of, ESPN Radio, prevents ESPN Radio from additional promotion of ESPN telecasts to Yankees fans.

MINNEAPOLIS: After weeks of hype about the Twins changing flagship radio stations, it will happen for the 2013 season. KTWN-FM will begin airing all games. Not a surprise, considering that KTWN-FM is owned by a company owned by the Pohlad family which also owns the Twins. Yet, KSTP-AM, an ESPN Radio affiliate which has been airing the games, is not being completely shut out after this season. As of now, the plan is for KSTP-AM to continue to provide some Twins related programming, given that KTWN-FM is not an all-sports station. No word yet about the future of the play-by-play team, but they are expected to continue.

SAN FRANCISCO: KGMZ 95.7 The Game continues its quest to make a dent in the ratings of KNBR 680. It reamins to be seen whether or not the Oakland A's being in unexpected contention will show up in the ratings for the flagship station. Now the station deals with the loss of Eric Davis from its afternoon show as Davis heads off to The NFL Network. Starting Thursday (9/6), Ric Bucher of ESPN moves into a co-host role during The Game's afternoon drive show along with Brandon Tierney.

MIAMI: WQAM is again adjusting its weekday lineup this week, shifting Dan Sileo from afternoon drive into the 10 AM to 1 PM spot formerly held by Michael Irvin. A familiar voice steps in to the 3 to 7 PM spot, as Jorge Sedano, who had been 790 The Ticket's morning host earlier this year, takes over. Sedano will be busy, as he is expected to continue with his TV gigs for Sun Sports (hosting pre game post-game shows) and filling in on Channel 4 sportscasts from time to time. Sileo had only been on afternoons for a few months, having replaced Sid Rosenberg earlier this year.

WAXY has hired former Dolphin Jason Taylor as an additional NFL analyst during Dan LeBatard's Monday show.

BOSTON: Comcast SportsNet New England has a new anchor/reporter, as Trenni Kusnierek is the new hire. Kusnierek, who left MLB Network a couple of years ago to be a sportscaster at top-rated WTMJ 620 Milwaukee, replaces Nicole Zaloumis, now with The NFL Network.

The network has also announced a truckload of Patriots related programming during the week and game day coverage, including a two-hour "pre-game" show on Sunday mornings. CSN Chicago provides similiar coverage of the Bears, although does not currently air pre-game programming.

Although WEEI and WBZ-FM don't figure to have much to worry about (other than each other) WWZN 1510 has picked up the NBC Radio Sports Network from 7 PM until 5 AM five days a week.

DENVER: Sandy Clough has begun is 9 AM to Noon show on The Fan 104.3, with Sports Director Nate Lundy taking over evenings while the station looks for a new night host. The station, understandably, wants Clough on the air at a time other than when the games are in progress.

PITTSBURGH: WBGG has named David Todd as host of its 2 to 4 PM weekday show.

And now, let's all get ready to enjoy the coming weekend, with NFL opener, a full NCAA slate of games, and MLB going strong. Happy viewing!