Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Hidden NFL Stories

As the NFL continues to dominate in the TV ratings, the league's impact on the media is also quite significant these days. Last week, understandably, the emphasis was on the replacement referees and their role in getting the "real" officials back on the field. Those events enabled the NFL to turn a negative into a positive. And, to squash another story which could have had more of a negative impact on the league.

While the referees story was so dominant, it gave the NFL the opportunity to get the saga of the New Orleans Saints players involved in the bounty penalties out of view. Just days earlier, the previously suspended players were allowed to return to the lineup, but it would be "upon further review", to use a favorite term of the NFL. Late last week, I asked five friends who are NFL fans but do not work in the media, "What happened with those Saints players? Are they playing?". And four of them were not certain. That was the proof I needed. The media, outside of the Saints' market, abandoned that story to run with the real officials returning and debate the Green Bay vs. Seattle controversy. But frankly, the NFL should not have gotten away with having the Saints players story buried like that.

Yet, the NFL publicity machine keeps barreling on, as Sunday night and Monday night ratings were through the roof once again. But I'm convinced the ratings would have been astronomical even without the return of the "real" officials. Fans still would have watched in big numbers to see if the replacement refs would have screwed up even worse than the previous Monday night.

At Fox Sports, they do not have MLB coverage these next two weekends (since TBS has the Division Series games in both leagues except for MLB Network showing one game on Sunday), they are going all out with football. Along with the usual NFL fare on Sunday afternoon, Fox will have a college football doubleheader on Saturday (10/6), thus keeping alive the late afternoon slot which had been for baseball over the past 2+ months. The Arizona at Stanford game will air starting at 3:30 ET, with West Virginia at Texas scheduled for 7:50 ET. This means that Fox goes up against ABC's college telecasts in both time slots. Then for Saturday Oct. 13th, Fox plans to air a live Pac-12 Conference doubleheader. Utah will be UCLA late afternoon with USC at Washington as the prime-time game. And that most recent time that Utah football was nationally televised was?

On the baseball side, plenty has been said by others about the new MLB deals which begin for 2014. Although TBS gets screwed by having to pay millions more for just under half of the inventory it has this year, the fans win because of the increase in available games on a national basis. The lifting of local blackouts for ESPN Monday and Wednesday night and TBS Sunday telecasts could be noteworthy in a few markets where not as many fans enjoy the local announcing teams. Yet, if and as the local originating telecast crew does a sufficient to excellent job, those stations/networks won't have anything to worry about in terms of losing audience share when telecasts compete.

Kudos to ESPN and MLB Network for their coverage of the last two days of an exciting regular season. MLB Network's ability to pick up the Texas at Oakland showdown on Wednesday afternoon was a tremendous service to baseball fans. And, of course, ESPN's dual coverage of the final Yankees and Orioles regular season games with the East Division on the line was right on.

Locally, it is most likely the increased ratings on YES for Yankees telecasts for their final two regular season series that could keep this season's ratings from finishing at their lowest point since the 2003 season. This is highly unusual given the Yankees' being in such as close race with Baltimore. It's one thing that the Phillies' ratings dropped more than 35% for this season, given that they went from first place in 2011 to not even contending this year.

The Baltimore/DC area has the most to celebrate in terms of local ratings. The Nationals' telecasts showed the biggest increase of any other team at more than 70%, while the Orioles ratings increased by more than 40%.

A nice act by Josh Lewin as he completes his first season calling the Mets on WFAN. On Wednesday (10/3), the final day of the regular season, Lewin sent out a Tweet to thank the fans.

Meanwhile, CBS Radio Sports continues in its attempt to grow its start-up national radio network and battle ESPN Radio in several key markets and for team broadcast rights. Somehow, they managed to embarass themselves in Chicago. WSCR The Score 670 is the flagship station for White Sox broadcasts. The White Sox were battling the Tigers for first place in the A.L. Central until two days were left in the season. Most of the time over the past week, the White Sox and Tigers were playing at the same time.

Believe it or not, on more than one occasion, play-by-play voice Ed Farmer told listeners he "is waiting for the Tigers score to come up on the scoreboard". And this happened several times earlier in the season. Let me get this straight. A CBS owned sports station hosting MLB play-by-play has no way to get instant scores to its listeners? They can't afford to have online access in the booth? Sorry, but they should have monitoring the Tigers' games on a separate TV feed and provided listeners with continuing accounts. If not batter-by-batter, certainly no less than when every half inning came to an end. This is a Chicago station, not a minor league broadcast where one guy has to handle everything. Why would fans listen to the station at other times when they aren't getting important information when it matters most?

There is absolutely no excuse for that, whether it is the cheapness of one station or a representation of CBS Sports.

In Cincinnati, ESPN 1510's "Bengals Gameplan" show on Wednesday (10/3) was scheduled (as of press time) to have Jimmy Cefalo and Rich Gannon among its guests. No question about having Dolphins' broadcaster Cefalo on. But having "Rich Gannon of CBS Sports" on has to make you wonder. An ESPN station, with all of its resources, turns to a CBS expert?

TAMPA: WHBO 1040 has decided to go with NBC Sports Radio, giving the new network one of few "major league" market signups. It is believed the primary reason is to add The Dan Patrick Show to the late morning lineup. Back in August, 98.7 The Fan was launched as a CBS Sports affiliate. (WHOO 1080 Orlando also signed up with NBC and added Dan Patrick to its lineup this week.)

CHICAGO: WRTO-AM has signed a 3-year extension to broadcast Chicago Bulls home games in Spanish again this season, now doing all home games. Oscar Ramos continues with play-by-play.

CLEVELAND: It seems not worth doing for one segment per week, but WKYC-TV Channel 3 has hired former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. The "A Moment With Jim Tressel" segment will air within the station's Wednesday night 7:00 newscasts.

CINCINNATI: Fox Sports Ohio has picked up seven Xavier University basketball telecasts for the upcoming season. Brad Johansen and Steve Wolf will call the mixture of home and road games.

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