Wednesday, November 28, 2012

CBS vs. NBC - Is That All There Is?

It seems like a journey back in time as we explore the sports "battle" between CBS and NBC on both the radio and TV side. Before cable networks took over a dominant share of pro and college sports, both TV networks had their years of domination for sports coverage. As we come closer to the start of 2013, both networks are going at it again, although they both face a similar uphill battle.

On the TV side, NBC Sports Network has the added challenge of trying to replace hours of NHL games and surrounding programming that was intended to be its centerpiece of winter existence. The continued lockout, which leaves fans with little hope at this point in time, is certainly not the Network's fault. What hurts them even more is the lack of promotional time to attract and keep viewers for its other programming.

To its credit, NBC Sports Network has added more college hoops, now into presenting at least 50 live telecasts. The network lucked out last Saturday (11/24) when its "Battle 4 Atlantis" Tournament coverage brought them the Duke vs. Louisville telecast of two of the top five ranked teams. However, NBC faced another "tough luck" situation, as that telecast was up against the Notre Dame vs. USC football telecast on ABC.

However, NBC Sports Network got stuck again last Friday (11/23) when, once again, The Dan Patrick Show that morning was a "Best of" show. I know I have mentioned this many times over the years, and that Dan Patrick deserves his time off, but I, for one, continued to be offended that there is not a live show on his days off. This was the morning after three NFL games were played, while college football and basketball games galore are taking place all weekend, as well as some good NBA matchups. Although I understand that NBC does not have control over this matter, I'd like to think they'll care enough to put a stop to airing outdated sports segments. I tuned in to see it was a "Best of" and saw a segment "previewing" an NFL game that had already been played.

You can't tell me that NBC couldn't step in and help come up with someone to host a live show, and/or that Patrick couldn't have provided some still current interviews recorded earlier in the week to still be topical. This is an embarassment to a Network that is trying to establish itself, and to the advertisers who paid thousands of dollars to appear on a show with zero reasons to watch. Keep in mind that ESPN was on with multiple LIVE programming, even with backup hosts, at the exact same time.

Over at CBS, the CBS Sports Network will prove it already has too much time on its hands next week. While I'm as patriotic as anyone, the Army vs. Navy football game simply is not a big deal anymore. I can understand a national telecast, since the game is on December 8th and doesn't interfere with a ton of college football games. Yet, CBS Sports Network is, believe it or not, making a one-week extravaganza about this meaningless game. Starting on Monday (12/3), the network has actually scheduled late afternoon and prime-time replays of games between the two going back to 1998. Frankly, this is right there with outdated Dan Patrick Show segments. I actually placed a couple of phone calls to be sure this was not a prank press release. If you know of anyone, outside of a participating player or coach and their immediate family, that would actually watch, please let me know.

All this while CBS' telecast of the Baltimore at San Diego game on Sunday (11/25) started with the telecast not showing the opening kickoff. While the kickoff was in the air, viewers were shown Ravens coach John Harbaugh watching the ball sail into the end zone, and then a blank color screen. By the time the production crew corrected this error, the play was over. From an announcing standpoint, I can understand the broadcast team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts remaining calm about it. However, Eagle could have provided a more thorough description of what happened since viewers didn't see it.

On the radio side, CBS Sports Radio has created its morning drive show for the 24-hour network starting on January 2nd. Tike Barber (former N.Y. Giant turned broadcaster), Brandon Tierney (of The Game 95.7 San Francisco/Oakland), and Dana Jacobson (formerly with ESPN), were named to the new show. As of press time, the network has yet to announce its early evening (ET) host or hosts, although this will be during the time period when many of the games are taking place.

I'm curious to see whether or not CBS goes with a scoreboard "game night" type of show during the east and central prime time period or adds another host or hosts instead. If they go with another hosted show, all ESPN Radio needs to do is maintain its "game night" updates and focus on the games being played, and they'll do just fine.

It all makes me wonder if ESPN's biggest fear of competition is from what Fox Sports might announce soon rather than what CBS and NBC are up to. Fox Sports is reportedly looking at changing its Speed Channel to a full-on sports cable network, while its radio network has grabbed a few affiliates away from ESPN Radio within the past year.

Meanwhile, the radio ratings for mid-October to mid-November are coming out, but this ratings period is an exception to recent trends. Between the election and the big storm Sandy, most of the country was not in typical listening mode.

Even with the great ratings for NFL telecasts over Thanksgiving weekend, I couldn't help but notice that the NFL actually had THREE of its game telecasts blacked out locally. In Cincinnati, home town fans were not shown the home contest against Oakland, even though it was the return of former Bengals QB Carson Palmer. In Tampa, even the Conference's best record team, Atlanta, coming in didn't sell enough tickets. And, the San Diego Chargers game vs. a first-place Baltimore team failed to sell out in time, resulting the game being blacked out in San Diego as well as "secondary market" Los Angeles. (Never mind that CBS blacked out the kickoff to everyone!) I haven't kept track, but I don't recall a Sunday with three games blacked out in the home markets in quite a long time.

Of course, NBC Sunday Night Football had another ratings triumph (11/25) with the N.Y. Giants vs. Green Bay telecast, as you would expect. But the numbers produced an interesting find. As you would expect, the top two local markets for audience ratings were Milwaukee and New York. But which market was third, with a 17.8 local rating?

Would you believe it was Memphis? There was one other "hard to explain" market in the Top 10 local markets, as Albuquerque NM finished 10th with a 15.3 local rating.

That game also led to a great media moment on Tuesday (11/27) for Milwaukee listeners. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, while appearing on his Tuesday segment on WAUK ESPN 540, apologized on the air for "that disappointing loss". The significance of this honest quote is that it was not said moments after the game and/or in a "heated" or confrontational interview. That it was said during Rodgers' regular radio appearance shows that he intended to say this to the fans. That's a nice treat, considering the generally conservative nature of scheduled weekly radio and TV segments and shows involving NFL players.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Extra Holiday For Sports Talkers

A note to sports radio programmers. The holiday is Thursday. On Friday (11/23), it will be Black Friday, a day on which many have an extra day off and will be around the house and in the car waiting to park and go shopping. For many, it is a chance to listen in to the midday and/or mid-afternoon hosts on the local sports talker that they don't usually get to listen to and participate with. A chance for these stations to hopefully attract more listeners and solidify their audiences.

Oh, wait a minute. Programmers are also giving these regular hosts an additional day off, as if they are white collar workers. They don't seem to realize the number of current and potential listeners that will instead hear an unfamiliar or less familiar name and not be as interested in the content. Another blown chance for AM and FM radio stations to regain the audiences they are gradually losing.

Never mind that Thanksgiving weekend is generally the busiest holiday sports weekend of the year. (Even without the NHL, it's still jam-packed with football and basketball galore!) All these games and matchups to discuss, while the people best at discussing them are "off" for the day.

Of course, I'm not against people having an extra day off. But in the sports media, there are no holidays. Or so it used to be.

Certainly not for David Schuster of WSCR The Score in Chicago. At press time, the station's on-air schedule (which also showed them broadcasting the "Houston Texans vs. Detroit Tigers" on Thursday afternoon) had Schuster scheduled to host 12 of the 24 hours from 6 AM Thursday to 6 AM Friday. In a way, that's not as amazing to me as the lineup for Friday which consists of all weekend hosts instead of the regular lineup.

NBC-TV benefits from quality vs. quantity this season when it comes to college football. Having shown the Notre Dame home games as the majority of its college football coverage on the main network is paying off big time as Notre Dame enters Thanksgiving weekend with the #1 ranking. This season's ratings for the home game telecasts were up more than 67% over last year's, also marking the first time in seven seasons that three telecasts averaged more than five million viewers. By comparison, not one of their ND telecasts in 2011 averaged five million.

This is made even more impressive when you consider that NBC does not have a college football lead-in, such as ESPN/ABC, and sometimes Fox Sports have before their telecasts.

Of course, the biggest college football and TV story of the week was the upcoming additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten Conference starting in a couple of years. ESPN/ABC figure to benefit by having a lot of Big Ten football telecasts, which will take on added significance in the NYC and Baltimore/D.C. TV markets. The Big Ten Network figures to gain additional subscriber revenue, especially in the Baltimore/D.C. region, where it is currently (and mostly) available on an optional higher cost tier.

On the college hoops side, Turner Sports is looking at not charging its cable and satellite subscribers for watching the streams of NCAA Tournament telecasts in March. (This past March viewers had the option of paying to access the games online.) This is certainly a fair deal for the fans (for a change). Consumers pay for the access to TV channels, and whether they watch on a TV set or computer monitor should not make a difference. Here's hoping this goes through.

Speaking of good moves, the NBA has taken steps to make it's upcoming NBA D-League (developmental) games available to its fans, and at no cost. The NBA has arranged for a live stream, via a YouTube player on, of around 350 games starting on Friday (11/23) with four of its games available. This gives fans the opportunity to watch prospects for their favorite teams, as 16 of the D-League teams have direct affiliations with NBA teams.

MLB Network has hired Heidi Watney as a studio reporter starting after the first of the year. She joins MLB Network after less than two years in L.A. with Time Warner Cable. Watney is well known from her work in prior years covering the Red Sox on NESN.

Speaking of Time Warner Cable, its sports channel featuring the Lakers is finally being carried in Southern California by DirecTV, which, however, is still not carrying the Pac-12 Network. Dish Network is still not carrying the Time Warner channel. DirecTV reportedly has nearly 2,000,000 subscribers within the market area. The financial implications have not been revealed, although it's a safe bet that those consumers will soon feel the pinch.

Just having a new regional TV sports network doesn't guarantee success. The Houston area's new Comcast SportsNet Houston is still a secret to Rockets fans. Or it could be that the interest in Rockets basketball isn't there. This past Friday (11/17), ESPN's national telecast of the New York vs. Memphis game had higher ratings than the Rockets vs. Portland telecast on CSN. On Sunday night (11/18), CSN showed the Rockets game from Los Angeles against the Lakers, which figured to be a nice draw for the new network. Yet, the Sunday Night Football game on NBC (Baltimore at Pittsburgh) had a Houston area rating literally 10 times higher! And before you argue that it is the popularity of the NFL, upon further review the NASCAR Sprint Cup race on ESPN also drew a larger audience than Rockets at Lakers.

St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 and Kevin Slaten have parted ways again. At least this time Slaten was technically not fired. His show was canceled by the station last week after Slaten made comments with racial overtones. When several callers voiced their displeasure, Slaten responded by calling one of them "stupid". This was not the first time that Slaten has been part of a racial comments controversy. However, since Slaten was brokering the time for his KFNS show, the station simply canceled the contract. The station is now airing Paul Finebaum's syndicated college football show durijng the afternoon drive time slot, with no replacement named (or under time broker contract) at press time.

BOSTON: WBZ-FM Sports Hub found a way to keep Damon Amendolara as its popular overnight host. And save money in the process. The CBS Sports Radio network announced that it is adding Amendolara's show to its national 2:00 to 6:00 AM ET schedule as of the first of the year. However, the show will likely be less Boston focused, since the network announced the show will also air in Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, and Baltimore, among other markets.

DENVER: ESPN 105.5 will now air Colorado State football and basketball, along with coaches shows, as part of a new 5-year deal which takes effect for the 2013 football season. The basketball games will again air on KLZ 560 for this season.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Texans Will Grow Them (Ratings) Big.....

As great as the Sunday Night Football ratings have been again this season, things are in place for NBC to kill in the ratings this Sunday night (11/11). They couldn't have had a better matchup if they used flex scheduling. It's the 7-1 Chicago Bears vs. the 7-1 Houston Texans. The Chicago market always has high ratings for Bears telecasts, even when the team is not in first place by two games. The Texans are off to an amazing start, even to the point where the sports radio station which airs their games has shown ratings gains this season. (Not easy, considering how many times the four Houston sports talkers hadn't even combined to finish in the top 15!) In addition, with banks and government offices closed on Monday in observance of Veteran's Day, more people than usual in the Eastern time zone will be able to "stay up" for the conclusion of the game. If the game stays close, the ratings battle won't be.

College basketball is upon us. This Friday night (11/9) is when the "Battle on the Midway" will take place, as Syracuse takes on San Diego State aboard the USS Midway Museum Aircraft Carrier at 5 PM PT. Fox Sports Network is distributing the telecast, and has brought in Dick Enberg to call the game, along with Steve Kerr as analyst.

Meanwhile, a poor media reflection by Bobby Hebert, the former New Orleans Saints QB. Hebert, now a host on WWL New Orleans, was escorted out of the LSU press box last Saturday during the team's loss to Alabama due to "cheering" in the working media environment. It was at least the second time this (an ejection) has happened to Hebert, with this time happening when a record number of media credentials were issued for the game.

After years of coaching against each other in the NBC, the Van Gundy brothers are now both serving as analysts. Stan Van Gundy, most recently the head coach at Orlando, has joined NBC Sports Network and Radio as its NBA analyst. He is expected to debut on the NBC Sports Network telecast of Georgetown vs. Florida on Friday. Van Gundy will co-host a one hour NBA specific show on NBC Sports Radio. Actually, the bigger news is that Georgetown vs. Florida gives NBC Sports Network a rare live telecast with two prominent teams, since there is no NHL action. This is an improvement over the North Podunk State vs. Generic Southern (or so it seems) telecasts they have shown and have scheduled.

CINCINNATI: It's actually not a CBS station which is bringing the CBS Sports Radio Network to town starting at the first of the year. WMOJ-FM 100.3, which just dropped its music format in favor of holiday tunes, has announced it will carry the CBS lineup starting in January. Early indications are that the station will rely on the Network morning show since a co-host is Boomer Esiason, who played in Cincinnati during his most successful seasons. This will be an interesting test to see if people really do want sports radio on FM, since it will be a start-up. At the moment, WCKY ESPN 1530 and Fox Sports WSAI 1360 go up against the play-by-play and part-time sports talk on powerhouse WLW 700. So it's not as though either of those stations is starting a simulcast (at least not yet!) to promote and switch fans over to the FM dial for sports. For now. We'll see if either of those stations seeks an FM outlet or lets it ride to see what happens with 100.3 first.

Reds announcer Thom Brennaman gets a "home game" this Sunday (11/11) when he calls the Bengals game in Cincinnati against the N.Y. Giants. This is a rare opportunity for Brennaman, since Fox only gets one or two local telecasts when NFC teams come in, to not have to travel to call his game for Fox Sports. However, as of press time, the game had not sold out, leaving open the realistic possibility that Cincinnati fans will not get to see the game with his call. As usual, "coach" Brian Billick will serve as analyst.

DALLAS: The Texas Rangers are keeping their broadcast teams in tact for the 2013 season. Eric Nadel returns for his 35th season of broadcasting the Rangers, and will be joined again by Matt Hicks on ESPN 103.3, with Hicks returning for what will be his first "full" season. Steve Busby, a part of the team's radio and TV coverage for more than 25 seasons, will again work with Tom Grieve on the TV side in what will be Grieve's 19th season in the TV booth.

HOUSTON: The Rockets' season is now well underway, but many viewers are not able to see the telecasts on the new regional Comcast SportsNet. Three of the national services (A.T.&T, DirecTV, Dish Network) still are not offering the games or the channel to viewers, even though they carry other CSN regional networks elsewhere around the country. If the Rockets continue with a good start (2-1 at press time), it could make a difference in getting deals done. The Network also will have the Astros, but coming off a horrible season and switching over to the less familiar American League doesn't exactly create urgency for fans to demand those games. Some blame the teams and network, while others blame the carriers for this not happening yet. I blame both. Put the monthly price out there and let the fans decide whether or not it is worth it. The end user should have those choices.

CHICAGO: Comcast SportsNet Chicago is adding a lot more college hoops than it usually airs, most likely due to not having Blackhawks and NHL telecasts. The Network now has a 56 game schedule including DePaul, Loyola, Illinois Chicago, Illinois State, Bradley, and Southern Illinois University games. If and when the NHL returns, the Network would move conflicting telecasts to tape delay.

WMVP ESPN 1000 will air 19 of the The University of Illinois Chicago games this season. Dave Juday will now handle the play-by-play with Kenny Williams (the former Flame standout, not the White Sox baseball executive) as analyst.

LOS ANGELES: The power of Blake Griffin has come full force in the early going of the NBA season. The team he plays for has gone from being the "hapless" Clippers to the "Los Angeles Clippers". In a media miracle, the Clippers are being showcased on national TV (TNT, ESPN, NBA-TV) more often than the Lakers during this first month. If the current national telecast schedule holds for the regular season, the Clippers would have more total appearances than the Lakers.

PITTSBURGH: KDKA-FM 93.7 The Fan has named Ryan Maguire as its new Program Director, bringing him to Pittsburgh from KCSP Kansas City. Our congrats to the 35-year old Maguire, who began at WTKA Ann Arbor.

FINALLY: Of course, the saddest story in sports media this week is the sudden passing of Jim Durham, who spent the past few years as the voice of the NBA on ESPN Radio. So many great things have been, understandably, written and said about him this week, both as a person and as a broadcaster. All I can do is agree with them. He got his big break when he was in his late 20's and doing Chicago Bulls radio. When I first started covering NBA games in the early 70's, Durham was one of the first broadcasters I encountered. I was delighted to see that he didn't let his lofty postion get in his way. It showed in his personality, and his ability to provide accurate and exciting descriptions of every game. He was just on the air last week calling the Miami vs. Boston opener, starting his 40th season of calling NBA games. But he is already missed tremendously.