Monday, December 30, 2013

Avoiding New Year's Blackouts

As we enter 2014 it appears that the NFL's local TV blackout policy will continue indefinitely. However, even those in support of eliminating it need to realize that the issue is not as significant at this time than it was several years ago. Now that the regular season has concluded, the final tally reveals that a grand total of just TWO telecasts were blacked locally over the entire 17 weeks. For all teams combined. The fact is that the NFL did not have a single local blackout during 15 of the 17 weeks, which is a record low. I suppose it is not worth arguing about if this is going to be the case.

Yet, I continue to find it curious that the TV networks, paying hundreds of millions for the telecast rights, somehow forget to take this up during the negotiation and renegotiation periods. For that much money, the local stations should have the right to show whichever games they want to attract the biggest audiences on "any given Sunday".

When this version of the home team blackout rule went into effect about 40 years ago, it was a time when home games in all of the  major pro sports were quite often not available. The original intent was for NFL fans to now be able to see home games, but "only" when the team sold out in advance. MLB, the NBA, and NHL had no such possibility, leaving most fans to see mostly (if not exclusively) select road games during that era.

Forwarding to 2014, it has become newsworth to find ANY MLB, NBA, or NHL game not televised, with many pro teams having every game shown on cable or over-the-air TV each season. Over the years, the NFL "innovation" of finding a way to make home games available to the local audience has been passed up and lapped by the other pro sports.

The zillions of dollars in rights fees paid by the networks are being passed along to all of us, sports fans or not, who pay a hefty monthly fee for cable or satellite TV. These networks should have the ability to show all of the games they want to in any market, regardless of local coverage, "secondary" market status, and which televising network.

Even the NBA is now, understandably, showing signs of flex scheduling due to circumstances beyond its control this season. Granted, the ABC/ESPN Christmas Day schedule of five games is something which, due to the holiday status, was not able to be changed, there are other opportunities.

Injuries and team slumps have made a mess of this young NBA season. At the start of the season, it was hard to question ESPN/ABC and TNT combining to schedule teams such as Miami, the Lakers, Chicago, New York, and Brooklyn for upwards of 20+ telecasts, more than 25% of their season, for national games.

However, major injuries to players such as Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez and others, have hurt the seasons for the Lakers, Bulls, and Nets. The Knicks have disappointed as well. The NBA has to be aware that scheduling so many of its national prime-time matchups for TV before the regular season begins is too risky. For example, having both the Knicks and Nets at several games below .500 this far into the season hurts when you realize that all four of their head-to-head meetings are scheduled for either TNT or ESPN/ABC.

Now there are signs of hope. The NBA has moved the Jan. 8th game of the L.A. Lakers at Houston off of ESPN, replacing it with Phoenix at Minnesota. Word is that the NBA is fine with this and that fans can expect more flex scheduling for this season. For example, Portland is off to its best start in years, and had originally been scheduled for only two ESPN telecasts.

ESPN/ABC could prosper with its NBA telecast schedule by flex scheduling, primarily because there are generally a multitude of games available on Wednesday and Friday nights, when ESPN shows the majority of its games. However, TNT, despite having market exclusive telecasts on most Thursdays, does not have as much flexibility because the Thursday night schedule is generally lighter.

The paying fans are entitled to have more flexibility of which games they see locally, while the networks should be able to show ANY game in any market.

The November into early December radio ratings are coming out during this holiday period. The only one worth commenting on continues to be the Boston sports radio race. During this period, WBZ-FM Sports Hub maintained a similar lead, and it is a convincing lead, over WEEI-FM, compared with the month prior.

However, the significance is that BOTH stations dropped by more than 1 1/2 ratings points, which is a large dip for the total audience. Consider that five of the top six rated radio stations in Boston for the month GAINED in audience at the same time. This shows how the local sports market is what drives sports radio, and not the personalities and the specific shows.

Both stations dropped during that time because this ratings period was after the dust had settled from the Red Sox championship, and questions remained (during this ratings period) as to where the Patriots would wind up in the playoff race. Yet, such a big deal was made when WEEI made changes to its afternoon show and its Program Director. If one station went down and the other rose in audience accordingly, a case could be made for the specific programming of the stations.

Elsewhere, sorry to learn of the passing of former long-time Cleveland Indians (and Milwaukee Brewers before that) analyst Mike Hegan at the age of 71. After a playing career with several teams including the Brewers and Yankees, Hegan went on to spend 23 seasons in the Indians' booth.

HOUSTON: It's odd timing that as the NFL regular season ends (especially for the Texans) is when former NFL QB Sean Salisbury returns to co-host a sports talk show. Yet, that's what is happening in what could be a secret even to Houston sports fans. KGOW 1560 is bringing in Salisbury, starting Monday (1/6) to co-host 3 to 7 PM with John Granato. The station also let go of John Harris, who had been with the lowly rated station since 2007, and earlier in December lost Josh Innes to KILT 610.

COLUMBIA SC: WOIC 1230 becomes ESPN Radio on New Year's Day, returning ESPN Radio to the market after nearly 1 1/2 years. However, the station plans to only have local weekday programming during the 4 to 7 PM time period, with Duane "Shot Doctor" Everett, Bobby Gist, and Ernest Robinson hosting. The station will be NBA heavy, airing the Charlotte Bobcats broadcasts in addition to the ESPN Radio national games.

Thanks for all of your feedback and input. We're back with more next week. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Happenings For Sports Radio & TV

Two of the biggest injuries in the NBA this season will hurt in another way on Christmas. Along with the teams suffering the loss of star players (Chicago without Derrick Rose and the Lakers without Kobe Bryant), ABC/ESPN will likely lose out on viewers and ratings for their entire day of NBA games.

The opening game, at Noon ET, with Chicago at Brooklyn sure looked good on paper when the schedule came out. This will still be these two teams' first meeting since the 7-game opening round playoff series in the spring. However, with Derrick Rose out for Chicago and Brook Lopez out for Brooklyn, even the fans of those teams may have a tough time making this a "must see" game.

Game two, with Mike Breen and Hubie Brown, is Oklahoma City vs. New York, which features what has been a disappointing Knicks team thus far. Then, the third live game of the day, scheduled to be the marquee matchup, loses luster as the Lakers face Miami without Kobe Bryant. Mike Torico and Jeff Van Gundy will call that game. The best matchup of the five could very well be the L.A. Clippers vs. Golden State at 10:30 PM ET, with Dave Pasch and Jon Barry on the call. However, the late start for most of the country combined with four live games being shown nationally earlier, might take away some of the audience for those reasons. It is certainly not the fault of ABC/ESPN, which thought it had a monster when these games were originally scheduled.

Speaking of ESPN, their concept of multiple, or as they say, "Megacast" coverage of the BCS Championship Game on January 6th appears to be another idea "borrowed" from Turner Sports.

ESPN plans to use its video feed over its entire network that evening, with different audio on each. In addition to the "regular" telecast on ESPN, ESPN2 will present live analysis by guest coaches, players, and what it terms "celebrities". ESPNews will present other guest analysts and feature "multiple angles" of key plays. ESPN Classic promises a "no announcer" version with additional graphics and crowd noise, while online promises video feeds with the separate radio versions from both the Florida State and Auburn networks.

While I can understand ESPN wanting to continue to hype of this game and make it dominant over their entire network, this concept just happened to be unveiled a few weeks after Turner Sports announced a similar plan for the NCAA basketball Final Four tournament in late March.

On the NBA side, ESPN had already taken a page from TNT's coverage a couple of seasons back when they (ESPN/ABC) made their NBA studio coverage a crowded room of analysts. This came after the relative success of TNT continuing to add studio analysts such as Shaq to an already crowded room with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.

At least ESPN made a major improvement for this season by adding a true broadcaster as host, after a couple of seasons of not having a true host and causing the impact of the show to suffer.

Actually, I like the BCS coverage idea of multi-plexing, in theory. It is quite possible that the casual fan would enjoy switching around and hearing the different perspectives. I'm just not sure there could be enough different points of view to justify having all of the different analysts be available to comment after every play.

LOS ANGELES: As KLAC struggles to gain an audience, even with having had the Dodgers broadcasts this past season, the station has managed to get Petros & Money away from Fox Sports Radio and bring it back to being a local Los Angeles show each afternoon.

Even if a couple of days late, we want to wish L.A. Kings radio voice Nick Nickson a happy 60th birthday (12/21). Nickson is still going strong after calling more than 2,800 Kings games during his more than 30 seasons with the team. This goes back to when Nickson was often teamed with Bob Miller on radio when games were not televised, and his being Miller's analyst in the early days of Prime Ticket telecasts in the 80's.

NEW YORK: Sid Rosenberg is back on WFAN, but it's not what you think. Rosenberg is filling in over the holiday period and is expected to host (or co-host) several shows through New Year's Day. He last worked full-time on WFAN back in 2005. He currently hosts a morning show on WMEN in the Palm Beach FL area.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-FM 94.1 is adding Josh Innes to its weekday lineup for its 6 to 10 PM slot. Innes comes to Philly by way of KILT Houston. In addition, the station has moved Glen Macnow off of the weekday afternoon co-host spot, but will keep him on the Saturday midday show with football writer Ray Didinger. Macnow will also be a part of Phillies pre and post-game programming on sister station WPHT 1210. Rob Ellis moves from a sports anchor into the weekday afternoon co-host spot along with Anthony Gargano.

HOUSTON: Just as KILT 610 has found some respectability in the ratings (not easy for a sports radio station in Houston), it loses Josh Innes to Philadelphia. Innes had been hosting afternoons along with Rich Lord for the past three years, and contributed to the recent growth of the station's audience.
KILT has announced that, starting no later than Jan. 6th, Sean Pendergast will become the new afternoon co-host, moving on up from KGOW 1560. 

PITTSBURGH: The Fan 93.7 is making a couple of lineup changes for the new year. Former Steelers punter Josh Miller is being moved from afternoons to co-hosting the morning show along with Gregg Giannotti, while Colin Dunlap will now host the 6 to 10 PM slot. The revised lineup starts on January 6th.

NEW ORLEANS: Well, almost New Orleans. Nearby KLRZ 100.3 from nearby Larose is dropping its talk format and picking up ESPN Radio starting on January 1st. The station's signal covers much of the New Orleans area.

PALM SPRINGS: Ironic timing indeed for KFSQ 1270, which just last week (12/18) switched over to Fox Sports Radio. Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, the station was hoping to have a regional feel thinking it would get the Petros & Money Show out of Los Angeles as part of the deal. Coincidentally, within a matter of hours after the change came the word that PMS (another name for Petros & Money Show) was going local for KLAC Los Angeles and coming off from the Fox Network.

Have a great holiday, and we look forward to serving you throughout 2014 and beyond.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Secondary Markets Should Come First for NFL

The time has come for the NFL to seriously re-consider their "secondary market" telecast policy, at least for the final three weeks of the regular season. This week's example of why comes from Los Angeles, the nation's #2 television market, which is still considered a "secondary market" for San Diego Chargers telecasts.

The Chargers, a long shot to make it to the post-season, sold out their home game against the 4-10 Oakland Raiders for this coming Sunday (12/22) earlier this week. As a result, KCBS-TV Los Angeles viewers are, well, stuck, with that game instead of the Baltimore vs. New England telecast. The Ravens vs. Patriots game was moved by CBS to the doubleheader spot due to the playoff implications it has.

One would think that with all of the dollars the TV networks pay to the NFL for the rights to televise that those networks would have a bigger say in getting the "best available" games to the viewers in every market.

Of course, the NFL is busy concentrating on generating even more TV dollars starting in the next two years. The league is expected to decide well before its 2014 season begins on splitting off an additional Thursday night games package, leaving fewer telecasts exclusive to NFL Network.

Obviously, a new deal, perhaps with Turner Sports, isn't going to come cheap. And, the NFL continues to work with DirecTV about the satellite service retaining the Sunday Ticket package, which is currently scheduled to end in 2014. The current package is valued at almost $1 billion, and, again, it's not like the cost will be reduced.

NEW YORK: It has become official that YES Network will end its nearly 10 years of simulcasting some or all of Mike Francesa's WFAN Radio show on weekday afternoons. In a bizarre coincidence, the final simulcast is scheduled for Friday Jan. 31st, which is the final weekday leading into Super Bowl weekend with the big game being staged only minutes away from WFAN's studios. This relationship goes back to the days of "Mike and the Mad Dog". YES Network plans to 'replace' the simulcast with live sports talk related programming, leading to easy speculation that it will pick up WEPN-FM ESPN 98.7 and the Michael Kay Show.

Kay and YES Network seem to be an obvious fit, given that Kay is the TV play-by-play voice for most Yankees telecasts.

Either way, YES would have a Yankees flavor with its simulcast, since WFAN becomes the flagship radio home of the Yankees in a few weeks.

ATLANTA: Steven "Steak" Shapiro moves back over to The Fan 680 during the first week of January. Shapiro had originally moved to Atlanta, from Boston, back in 1994 to be part of the morning show on The Fan when it made its debut, lasting about nine months. "Steak" will handle the 9 AM to Noon "The Front Row" show along with Brian Finneran and Sandra Golden.

CHARLOTTE: WZGV ESPN 730 has a new evening co-host who is new to full-time sports talk, but is certainly not new to the market. Al Gardner, who is well known for "Charlotte's Morning News" on WBT AM/FM for the past 14 years, started this past Monday night (12/16) in his new role. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Fox In The Hole On Coverage

It is technically not the fault of Fox Sports, but many NFL fans were left hanging on Sunday (12/8) when Fox "had to" leave its early game telecast in time for the start of its San Francisco vs. Seattle doubleheader game telecast at 4:25 PM ET. As Kurt Menefee explained to viewers when Fox broke away from the Minnesota at Baltimore thriller with :04 remaining, the switch was "due to contract regulations".

At the time, Baltimore had just scored the game winning TD with seconds remaining against Minnesota. In fact, the scoring play was "under review" at the time of the switch of the regional telecast for those feeds which had not carried the entire game. By this time, fans of the other regional games (including Green Bay vs. Atlanta and Detroit vs. Philadelphia) had already been switched to this game.

At the time, all that remained was the officials' review, which as it turned out confirmed the touchdown, and the kickoff to Minnesota and the possibility of one play from scrimmage. Although a "contract is a contract" (seemingly except for players who renegotiate), Menefee told viewers of the regional feeds that we "would be kept up to date".

Yet, when viewers were switched to the Seattle vs. San Francisco game, it was several minutes of real time before Fox game the final score of the Minnesota game. That delay in providing the information was NOT a contract regulation.

There is no excuse for Fox delaying providing fans with the information that the Minnesota at Baltimore game had ended, especially considering how many different telecasts had joined and left that game. Not to mention the last second comeback by Baltimore to win the game. Those are two solid reasons why there should have been some continuity.

Sorry, but the conclusion of an exciting game, which actually had multiple scores in the final few minutes to decide a close game, is more "urgent" than the first couple of plays from scrimmage in the game that just started.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that "It's a good thing I can watch Sunday Ticket" so that you could have stayed for the end of the Minnesota vs. Baltimore game before switching over. And it was a good thing. But this is part of my point. There are some people who would be less likely to spend the dollars for Sunday Ticket if they could get the coverage they want from the broadcast networks.

For the millions and millions of dollars that Fox (and other networks) spend for these rights, they should feel a bigger obligation to those remaining viewers to keep us informed. That SHOULD be their contractual obligation.

One long-time broadcast tradition has returned, while another is going away.

The long time Voice of the Indy 500, Paul Page, will be back in the spring as the radio voice of the Indy 500 as well as the IndyCar Series. Page, now at age 68, first joined the Indianapolis Speedway Radio Network in 1974 and became its lead voice following the unfortunate passing of Sid Collins before moving over to call the big race on TV years later. His returned is welcomed by race fans everywhere.

In Milwaukee, for the first time since 1926, University of Wisconsin football fans will turn somewhere else other than WTMJ 620 for the game broadcasts. Starting Aug. 30, 2014, when Wisconsin faces LSU, the games will air on WRIT 95.7 and WOKY 920, which will also air UW basketball starting next November. WOKY 920 is now a sports station with a tiny audience (a mere .02 overall in November), and this acquisition is the station's first "local" play-by-play. WRIT-FM is an oldies station but brings an audience to the table.

Word is that WTMJ did not bid for renewal since the contract did not allow the station to sell enough "station" commercial time, and the station had to farm out several football games each year due to conflicts with Brewers broadcasts. The station will continue to carry Brewers baseball and Packers football. But after 86 seasons, this is definitely a tradition coming to an end.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to expand its international revenue potential, and this time is taking the media with it. There will be three regular season games in London starting with the 2014 season (up from one currently). What makes this even more interesting is that the NFL is allowing the Sunday Oct. 26, 2014 game between Detroit and Atlanta to begin at 1:30 PM London time and be shown live on Fox. That means that the kickoff will be just after 9:30 AM ET.

As a result, the game figures to be concluded by or about 1 PM ET, which would be in time for the "early" regional games to start. No word yet as to whether or not Fox will make this a national game. If so, it would mean a window for fans to view FOUR entire NFL games in one day, since the regular doubleheader of games would follow and then Sunday Night Football on NBC after that. It's probably a good thing that this time slot was not given to a west coast team (6:30 AM PT kickoff?), as Oakland will play Miami in London next Nov. 9th, but at 1:00 PM ET.

If this does become a quadrupleheader TV day, it would be interesting to see the ratings of an 8:30 AM ET (5:30 AM PT) pre-game show start for Fox, and what the ton of other NFL pre-game shows on TV and radio would do with their schedules for that morning.

Within hours of ESPN losing baseball analyst Orel Hersheiser to the Dodgers broadcast crew, the network came back with the announcement that Curt Schilling will join the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crew as an analyst, along with John Kruk, working with Dan Shulman. Schilling has been with ESPN since 2010. Incredibly, 2014 will be the 25th year of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.

Finally, as if there isn't enough to ridicule in Washington D.C. these days, now there is The Fan 106.7 and its The Sports Junkies show. The show has added a new segment for Thursday mornings (approximately 8:40 AM). It seems that the station has cleared a segment with Rob Ford, the Toronto Mayor in the news of late for admitting to an episode smoking cocaine while also being drunk. Ford is on to discuss his NFL picks. I have no idea who would actually tune in just for this, but it can certainly be said that he would seem to fit on a show with "Junkies" in the title.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Up The Stream Of NBA Telecasts

The fact that the NBA Eastern Conference only has a couple of teams with decent records more than a month into the season is certainly not good timing for the league's media presence. Having numerous teams near or below the .500 mark does not increase the appetite for fans to want to watch their favorite team more often. This while the NBA and its teams are pursuing the live streaming of local telecasts more than ever.

As of now, the only teams offering live streams of their games are in the Western Conference. L.A. Lakers telecasts are again streamed via Time Warner Cable. The Portland Trailblazers are again offering an independent package of up to 58 of their games for one fee (currently $99.99), mainly because the team does not have "full" local cable/satellite coveraage through local providers. The Blazers' package is technically not "pay-per-view" because it covers all remaining regular season telecasts whether they are "viewed" or not by the purchaser. Sports Business Journal reports that as of Thanksgiving week, there were only 150 subscribers, even at a cost averaging out to under $2 per game (at this point in time).

Some fans understandably argue that they already pay a large amount for their cable/satellite service without having to pay anything extra to watch more of a local team.

Reports are that Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet are gearing up to allow streaming of local team games their regional networks have the rights to, perhaps as soon as the first few weeks of 2014.

With the regional networks paying all of those millions for the rights to televise the games, and the subscribers paying higher fees to watch these networks, this should be sooner rather than later. And at no additional cost.

Meanwhile, NBCSN provided a funny and sad moment at the same time this past Friday (11/29). The network has begun to promote that it will have "LIVE" coverage of Olympics events in February, an obvious reference to viewers who in the past have complained about delayed telecast of events overseas in past years. And that is quite understandable, given the technology and the availability of multiple network platforms which NBC has.

What made it both funny and sad on Friday is that these promos, running on the bottom screen scroll, were running during the morning's The Dan Patrick Show. The show that was, unfortunately, a "Best of Dan Patrick". Therefore, this "live event" promotion was airing during a re-run of outdated segments!

I suppose NBCSN doesn't think it has a large enough audience in the morning for their content to matter, but that is no excuse. This is an embarassment. As I have said before, Dan Patrick is entitled to his days off. But his "Show" is not. Given the resources of NBC, I can't believe they couldn't find other sportscasters to host some or all of the show and provide the live and fresh content viewers are entitled to. Or, at the very least, if the show "can't" be done live, then record and plan for topical features.

That morning's "The Dan Patrick Show" could have consisted of highlights and recaps of the Thanksgiving NFL games, one of which was shown on NBC hours before, with Patrick as part of the cast of thousands that co-host it.

What makes this even more incredible is that just one hour after Patrick's show ended, NBC-TV showed its first ever Thanksgiving Friday NHL game in the afternoon (ET and CT) with little fanfare.

Yet, NBCSN, which airs the most NHL games in the U.S., did not even have a LIVE preview of the game in the hours leading up to it.

Sports fans are entitled to a live sports show instead of a hapless rerun of outdated segments, especially with the rising cost of cable/satellite these days. Advertisers are entitled to be a part of a live show that would hold an audience, no matter how small.

Elsewhere, TV sports networks continue the trend of bringing radio shows to TV, as if doing so will bring in more viewers. After CBS Radio Sports failed to make a dent (in many markets) with its airing of WFAN 660 New York's "Boomer & Carton" morning show, it has decided to bring this show to TV. If anyone is paying attention to CBS Sports Network on TV, they will see "Boomer & Carton" from 6:00 to 10:00 AM ET starting in early January.

It remains to be seen whether or not the show will retain a New York focus or go more toward a national sports show. If they risk going more national and lose some of the New York flavor and appeal, it would likely mean a ratings dip for WFAN, which adds the Yankees broadcasts starting in March. If they keep it to NYC, the national appeal will be far less than Mike & Mike, who do a national sports show successfully for ESPN Radio and TV.

LOS ANGELES: Time Warner Cable Los Angeles is spending money almost like the Dodgers are spending Time Warner's money. While some think that TWC is pursuing Orel Hershiser away from ESPN to do color on Dodger telecasts, the network has snagged Nomar Garciaparra for pre-game and post-game analysis of its telecasts. Garciaparra had been with ESPN in an analyst role for the past four years.

CHICAGO: Congratulations to Bruce Fasol, who was honored on Saturday (11/29) for calling more than 3,000 West Frankfort H.S. Redbirds games over the past 40 years. Fasol was presented with the Distinguished Media Service Award from the Illinois High School Association for his efforts. Even though Fasol's broadcasts have only been heard on very small stations and he is not well known even in the Chicago area, 40 years of broadcasting at any level is worthy note and this award!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Sports Team To Provide Its Own Coverage

The Boston Celtics and the NBA made what seems to be a "small" announcement earlier this week, but it really continues the alarming trend of teams and leagues increasing their own sports media presence. That is not good for a couple of important reasons.

"Home Court Advantage" is the name of a 30-minute pre-game show to be available approximately one hour before the start of Celtics home games. This "show" promises player interviews, a look at team practices, and player features, but will be live and is also slated to include social media Q & A with fans.

What makes this show so different, and significant? Plenty. The show is being produced by the Celtics, who sold a sponsorship tie-in with a charge card company, and will be available on most smart phones via the team's free mobile app as well as streaming via

As much as I like having a live pre-game show, and the fact that it will be available to those in attendance prior to the game, the fact remains that the team will be producing this show. Let's face it. If the Celtics are on a losing streak, or a particular player is struggling, how objective is this show really going to be? Do you think, for one second, that the team will allow negative questions via social media to be addressed?

In addition, because the team will be promoting this show, it could or will take away from the pre-game coverage of the radio and TV broadcasts of home games. The Celtics could command interviews from specific players and provide "team" information which even the official radio and TV station or network might not, considering the team has the players, coaches, and executives under contract.

This is a slap in the face to the radio and TV outlets, which are paying the team millions of dollars for broadcast rights. Now, the Celtics are directly competing for the SAME fan base, as well as for the advertising dollars they have secured by creating this program.

From the standpoint of the fans, they will now be getting "team biased" coverage instead of potentially objective coverage, while still paying higher monthly cable/satellite fees caused partially by the fees charged by the sports networks which show the games.

Pro teams are becoming media and marketing entities, instead of being focused on putting a winning team on the field, court, or ice. And now more and more teams are causing the media itself and the fans to pay for it.

On the NHL side, what a huge deal for Rogers Media in Canada, which has seemingly purchased the entire league for itself in Canada with the just announced reported $5.2 BILLION deal. Starting next season (2014-15), Rogers will have complete Canada rights to all Canadian telecasts (including some regional networks) in all languages, as well as mobile platforms, online streaming, and even Hockey Night In Canada telecasts.

The deal awaits approval by NHL owners during their upcoming December 9/10 meetings. It is hard to imagine that the owners would not jump at a multi-billion dollar offer that does not directly impact the U.S. rights to the majority of its teams. This deal, upon approval, will give Rogers the ability to re-sell certain telecasts to other networks and entities. One early report claims that Rogers will sell Hockey Night In Canada rights back to TSN, even though it might compete with those (previously exclusive) telecasts on some level in certain cities. Also expected to be included is Rogers taking over NHL Center Ice and NHL Game Center Live, and handling advertising sales across the board for starting next season. This is reportedly a 12-year deal.

Keep in mind that Rogers also already owns regional rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs, among others, airing more than 200 games per year, as well as owning the Toronto Blue Jays.

TSN appears to be the big loser in this new deal, although that network, with more than 9 million paying subscribers, will continue to televise locally about 25 Maple Leafs games, 60 Winnipeg Jets games, and the majority of Montreal Canadiens games, all during the regular season.

The mid-October to mid-November radio ratings are starting to come out (as of press time), with the largest markets available. In New York, WFAN and WPEN remained the same overall, although WFAN finished tied for #10 overall in the market. In Chicago, both WSCR The Score 670 and WMVP ESPN 1000 rose by .2, with WSCR at #14 overall, one of its best ratings periods ever.

There is movement among the Dallas sports stations, with KRLD-FM now up more than 35% over the past three months. KTCK AM-FM also went up more than one-half of a ratings point, while KESN dropped .7 overall from just two months earlier. Philadelphia also has a very strong showing for sports radio in general, with WIP-FM now tied for #3 in overall audience and WPEN at #12. If those two stations' ratings were combined, they would be #1 in the market by a wide margin.

However, the sports radio rise is not across the board, at least based on what is announced so far. Houston's KILT remained at a respectable 2.1 rating, while KFNC and KBME each continue to flounder at under a 1 rating. In Los Angeles, the end of the Dodgers' post-season run meant a drop of .1 in the over all ratings, the same margin by which KSPN went up, but neither station is near the top 15 overall. And in Atlanta, WGZC-FM increased to a 1.3 rating (still not in the top 20 stations) while WQXI held steady at under half of the WGZC-FM audience.

In Washington, D.C., we will soon have media teaming up to provide additional coverage. In what is being called a "content sharing agreement", the Washington Times will begin using Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic Network's digital coverage within its print and online content. This announcement comes as rumors of Comcast looking to acquire Time Warner Cable have surfaced.

Quite interesting when you realize that CSN Houston is currently in court regarding a possible bankruptcy involving its failed Houston Astros deal. Yikes.

Thanks for the feedback from several of you regarding the Turner Sports decision to televise the same NCAA Final Four games three different ways. The majority of those who responded think this will be overkill and agree that Turner Sports might be better suited toward keeping all of their production eggs in one basket.

Meanwhile, sometimes my memory isn't what I think it is. ClassicSportsTV caught it last week when I refered back to Curt Gowdy bungling the names of the Kansas Jayhawks starters during the 1978 NCAA tournament he did play-by-play for on NBC-TV. The Kansas vs. UCLA game was not during the Final Four (as I mistakenly stated). It was during the regional finals of that tournament.

But I do remember to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Lot Left In The TV Rights Battle

Team and league rights fees and advertising dollars continue to dominate the sports media news this week. Even the lawsuits currently going on regarding Aereo and its online TV station delivery station have begun moving into the sports world. Aereo is currently allowed to provide subscribers with access to local "over-the-air" TV stations in various markets around the country for only a few dollars per month. Those are for stations which are also available on TV sets with a digital antenna. Local TV stations have begun fighting this service as if they are entitled to revenue for signals that they have been sending "free" for years.

Now comes word that NFL and MLB are requesting court intervention to prevent Aereo and any other similar services from adding other stations which show their games to outside markets. The leagues reportedly generate in the area of $100,000,000 in "retransmission rights" from "broadcast stations".

It appears that both leagues overlook the millions in rights fees they receive for local "over the air" telecasts, even though they are becoming fewer and further between in most cities. The more games the pro leagues allow cable networks to show, the lower the "over the air" rights fees will be, and many local advertisers will have one less resource.

This, while CSN Houston continues in a significant court battle over Astros rights, and while upstart cable networks are openly struggling for viewers. An Advertising Age report last week revealed that certain Fox Sports 1 advertisers are already being given additional time on Fox Sports college and NFL related programming in order to bring them some results. The story also revealed that some of those advertisers got some of the "extra" commerical availabilities during World Series telecasts, such as during pitching changes.

Fox Sports 1 only averaged just over 100,000 more prime time viewers during the third quarter than it did as Speed Channel during the similar period last year.

Meanwhile, an interesting Sunday (11/17) for CBS when the Baltimore at Chicago NFL game was delayed for nearly two hours due to the severe storm that moved through the Chicago area. Viewers in the Chicago area missed out on much of the pre-game show due to storm coverage, which WBBM-TV also continued with throughout much of the delay, while most of the rest of the audience for that game was sent to other games while waiting. This also gave CBS two additional hours of "coverage" in some areas until the game, which went into overtime, was concluded, bumping up against Fox Sports and its doubleheader telecast.

The viewer reaction in Chicago was mixed. Some people actually complained about weather coverage bumping some of the football coverage, while others had the opposite complaint due to the severity of the storm. Even the media reporters had a mixed reaction to the situation. This happened to be the second and last time this season that CBS had the Bears telecast in Chicago, since only two AFC teams per season play at Soldier Field in Chicago. However, WBBM-TV does not have an additional digital channel, and thus could not devote one channel to complete football coverage and another to weather coverage. That would have been the ideal solution, but it was not available.

It will be interesting to see if or how the NFL reacts to this. After all, it has only been in the past few years that football games have begun to experience rain or storm delays. (The power loss delays are a different matter.) I have to wonder what might have happened to the Bears-Ravens telecast had that been the doubleheader game and been delayed well into prime time - and directly against NBC's Sunday Night Football pre-game and game telecast window.

Elsewhere, a couple of unusual announcements. Turner Sports has decided to expand its exclusive telecasts of the NCAA Final Four telecasts on the Saturday leading into the championship game. TBS will continue as planned with the traditional national telecast of each semi-final game, marking the first time these games will be only on cable. Yet, sister networks TNT and TruTV will take the same production and make those "team" telecasts for fans of one of the teams.

I would love to get some feedback about this. On one hand, the network showing these games should be providing as thorough of coverage of each team as it can, and the "regular" national telecast should be sufficient. Other than Curt Gowdy goofing up the names of the Kansas team in the championship game many years ago, the finals have been well covered by whichever network. It seems as though we the people accept that championship games have been relatively neutral with their coverage.

On the other hand, this concept does give viewers a new option they have not experienced before, at least for TV. (Satellite radio listeners have had the option of hearing the national or either local broadcasts for many playoff and championship broadcasts over the past few years.) The ability to experience one team coverage and different announcers could add enjoyment even for the casual fan.
The thought of a having a controversial play (and how often that happens in a championship game!) and the ability to switch between all of the coverage has a lot of intrigue.

Finally, there was the announcement that the Oakland Raiders now have a separate channel on Pandora. At first, my thought was that Pandora is taking another step toward knocking off HD Radio by featuring a team and adding to their content inventory. I was expecting to read about replays of games and a long list of content. But no. Instead, the press release explains that the channel "is going to be a bunch of tracks to get you pumped up and ready for Raider football". In other words, this is nothing but a music channel along the lines of a music shuffle channel. I'm not seeing how that would pump anybody up for a football game.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Viewers Rights vs. Rights Fees

The rising cost of fans seeing live sports on TV continues to become a bigger and bigger issue. Perhaps the biggest ongoing story in this regard is still pending, while CSN Houston's fate could well be decided by a judge in the near future based on the court case regarding the multi-million dollar long-term contract with the Astros.

While the NFL has yet to have a local telecast blacked out (through the first nine weeks of the current season), we have the possibility of DirecTV losing the Sunday Ticket package following the 2014 regular season.

Now we have the FCC and the National Association of Broadcasters each speaking out regarding blackouts of local telecasts. Last week, the Acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn announced a proposal to eliminate the FCC's sports blackout rules, which includes the NFL's. For some strange reason, a NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) spokesperson was quoted (via TVNewsCheck) as speculating that games which would have otherwise been blacked out would increasingly become available only via cable/satellite and/or pay TV services.

What makes the NAB response so insane is that the "services" which are spending literally billions of dollars for TV rights are owned by the big TV networks that the NAB represents. If the NAB truly feels this way, they should be taking steps to have Monday Night Football moved back to ABC, which is owned by ESPN. Same story with CBS, now giving up even more of its NCAA Tournament coverage because of revenue from Turner Sports. NBC Sports has the NHL rights, but puts the majority of its games on NBC Sports Network, and soon we will have Fox Sports moving MLB games to its new cable networks (if they survive long enough).

All of this, with a lot still to be determined, while fans, along with millions of "non-sports fans", being charged more and more every month for their cable/satellite service. Shouldn't the NAB be concerned about THAT?

At press time, we have reports that the Chicago Cubs could be ending their "forever" agreement with WGN-TV to televise their games following the upcoming 2014 season. Even though the Cubs are part owners of CSN Chicago, which now televises more games than WGN-TV, reports are that the team is considering starting its own network, along the lines of the Yankees' YES Network. Of course, it is possible that this is speculation to increase the bidding from other sources. This will serve to make the Houston ruling even more significant. If the judge rules against CSN Houston and voids that contract, the Astros and their MLB worst record may not get anywhere near the "original" amount for their TV rights moving forward.

This may seem an unrelated fact, but it is cause for media concern. Sam Walker reported that the percentage of viewers of the recent World Series in the age range of six to 17 was only 4.6%. If the younger set is not getting into the habit of watching the biggest of MLB games now, the prospect of them turning into the coveted 18-34 demographic does not bode well for those bidding on MLB telecasts in the near future. Especially when you consider that the same study showed the NHL Conference Finals at approximately 9% - and that was during the shortened season.

NBC has begun to flex its Sunday Night Football schedule, taking the Kansas City at Denver game away from CBS on Nov. 17th (week 11). This move puts the Green Bay vs. N.Y. Giants game on Fox as a doubleheader game, while moving the San Diego at Miami telecast on CBS to 4:05 PM ET that day.

NEW YORK: The Mets now have their new radio deal in place, with the emphasis on promotion rather than revenue. WOR 710 has the games for at least the next five seasons, but a key to the deal is the promotional value of WOR's sister stations. This will be the first time since 1987 that the Mets will not be heard on WFAN 660, which, instead will air the Yankees games. Howie Rose will continue as the play-by-play voice. This move leaves WEPN ESPN 98.7 without local baseball, thought to have been a big part of their move to an FM frequency.

WEST PALM BEACH: Dan Sileo is at it again. Or, in this case, no longer at it. This time it was a Tweet about an FSU football player that was cause for WMEN 640 (West Palm Beach) to let him go. Sileo is running out of Florida markets to talk sports in. Within the past two years, he has been let go from WDAE Tampa and WQAM Miami for similar personal comments or slurs.

PORTLAND OR: Even though the market only has one pro team among the four major sports leagues, the market now has a fourth all-sports radio station. In case anyone notices, KMTT 910 has picked up CBS Radio Sports, as if that would be anything to compete with The Fan 1080, KXTG 750 The Game, or even KPOJ 620. At least The Fan and The Game have decent ratings.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Much Will NBC Direct TV for the NFL?

The NFL certainly knows how to parlay its television dominance into the coming years. Just as the NFL TV ratings hold steady against a very competitive baseball World Series, the word is that the NFL is considering adding still another TV network to the mix for some of its Thursday prime time games.

NFL Network is airing its 13 exclusive national games on Thursday nights again this season, and reportedly wishes to retain at least some live games in order to justify the increased subscriber fees. But of course, the prospect of still another national network in the mix could soon reduce its number of telecasts.

My hunch is that NFL Network will schedule six telecasts of Thursday night games, most likely during the first six weeks of the regular season. This way, the Network will have six live game telecasts as well as the Red Zone, the draft, live and replay exhibition game telecasts, and its full draft coverage to offer in order to maintain the subscriber demand.

Doing this would allow the NFL to put ten Thursday night games, including Thanksgiving, up for bid (minus the final week of the regular season). There would be plenty of bidding for this additional package. NBC Sports Network needs something people pay attention to besides the NHL, and these NFL games show up at a key time for the Network to further promote its NHL package. In addition, it would provide the NBC Group with Sunday AND Thursday night prime time telecasts.
Fox Sports 1 would likely bid, looking to give its potential audience a reason to tune in for the first time. And, we should not overlook Turner Sports, which already has an extensive NBA package as well as MLB mainly for the post-season.

Right now, with the discussion about how a couple of lesser NFL regular season telecasts held their own against the MLB post-season, the NFL knows to begin to look at the possibilities to generate even more revenue for their product.

What makes this even more interesting is that the Sunday Ticket package operated by DirecTV is still set to run out following the 2014 regular season.

Here is why I think the Thursday night possibility is related to Sunday Ticket. Have you noticed how many more commercials Xfinity (which is Comcast - and which owns NBC) has been airing which directly attack DirecTV?

My hunch is that Comcast/NBC is going to make a HUGE combined bid to take a Thursday night package AND Sunday Ticket along with it. NBC then beefs up the NBC Sports Network beyond the NHL, expands the promotional tie-in with Sunday Night Football on the main network. Xfinity then offers Sunday Ticket to its millions of Comcast Cable subscribers, which sends DirecTV reeling, and means that NBC shows every NFL regular season game somewhere, other than the ESPN Monday Night Football games and the few games that NFL Network retains. And, at the same time, it helps to keep Fox Sports 1 from being any threat of competition.

You heard it here first.

Meanwhile, even though it happened a few days before this writing, it is still sad to learn of the recent passing of Bill Mazer at the age of 92. Just as Eddie Einhorn invented the college basketball telecast, Mazer practically invented dedicated sports talk shows on the radio. Younger sports fans, as well as those without access to New York City radio, probably were not aware that Mazer was hosting sports talk on WNBC 660 New York as early as 1964 when he held the 4:30 to 6:00 PM time slot. (Yes, that's the 660 frequency that has been WFAN all these years.)

Mazer also provided commentary on Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets telecasts in the 60's, and appeared on CBS-TV's NHL package in the early 70's.

The mid-September to mid-October radio ratings are available, and they show Boston strong when it comes to sports programming. WBZ-FM Sports Hub continues to rise, moving up to #5 overall (actually tied with WBZ-AM). Of course, being the flagship station for the Patriots and Bruins (as well as the Celtics, who are just starting their season) certainly contributes. WEEI-FM, the flagship for the Red Sox, also increased to #9 overall in its third consecutive ratings increase. Expect more of the same strong showings for both stations next month.

In Washington D.C., I have to think that the controversy about the name Redskins is going to prove a money maker for the team's ownership, like it or not. WTEM increased its rating again, to nearly DOUBLE the overall audience it had three months ago, during the period of time when the Redskins' name was a big topic. Add in that the Nationals were nowhere to be seen by the time this ratings period began and that WJFK-FM dropped .4 of a ratings point during the SAME time. If you are not aware, WTEM is owned by Dan Snyder, who also owns the Redskins.

WFAN held steady in NYC, while WEPN ESPN 98.7 improved by nearly one-half of a ratings point in just the one month. In San Francisco, KNBR, even with the Giants failing to make the post-season, came in at #2 overall, with more than three times the total audience of KGMZ The Game, which aired the A's playoff games during this stretch.

Philadelphia fans went nuts for sports radio during this time. WIP-FM equaled the largest overall audience rating for a local sports station and finished #3 overall. Both WIP-FM and WPEN-FM ESPN jumped .6 of a rating point. For that matter, WIP-AM moved up .2 overall. This while the Phillies were eliminated and the Eagles struggle with a new head coach.

Seattle's sports audience is finally moving up, perhaps due to the Seahawks' solid start. KJR-AM increased by .7 of a ratings point and is now just behind the steady KIRO-AM. Even though these stations came in at #18 and #19 overall, their combined rating makes sports talk a strong local format, at least for the moment.

Perhaps the biggest surprises among other markets are Minneapolis and Tampa. KFXN-FM has jumped all the way to #5 overall, with a one-month increase of more than one and one-half ratings points, despite the Twins playing out a long and disasterous season and the Vikings going nowhere. Tampa's WDAE-AM rose to #11 overall and has increased its overall audience by 20% over the past three months.

And I will mention Houston, as KILT-AM continues a climb toward respectability with its fourth consecutive increase. KILT-AM has now increased its overall audience by 33% over the past three months, most likely due to the Texans' solid start. Even as KBMC, KFNC, and KGOW all struggle with ratings of less than 1.0 overall (each), KILT is showing that just maybe sports talk radio could be a factor in Houston after all.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Former Redskin Dexter Manley is out from WTOP 103.5 after calling Troy Aikman "a queer" on the air. Even saying "I take that back" right after did not help save his job. Over at WJFK 106.7 The Fan their "new" evening host is a most familiar voice. Don Geronimo returns to D.C. and is now hosting the 7 PM spot on those few weeknights when a Capitals, Wizards, or (next year) Nationals broadcast does not pre-empt. Geronimo may also be a part of Redskins programming on Sundays.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-AM will again air St. Joseph University basketball this season, which will be its third consecutive. Matt Martucci and Joe Lunardi will again handle the play-by-play.

LOS ANGELES: KLAC 570 has begun its "Dodger Talk - Offseason Edition" on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM from now through February, hosted by Kevin Kennedy and David Vassegh.

LANSING: Here is something you can't criticize ESPN for. ESPN will have two staff members meeting with selected students at Michigan State University on Monday (11/4) regarding careers in sports media. WKAR sports hots Al Martin will host a special Q & A session later in the day on campus. Having taught sportscasting at the college level myself for seven semesters, I can tell you first hand what a wonderful thing this is, and ESPN is behind it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The NFL Flies At Midnight

The power of the NFL as a TV draw was as evident as ever this past weekend. And it wasn't only because of having an attraction such as Denver at Dallas as a doubleheader game contributing to record ratings.

There was also the stadium conflict in Oakland which forced the NFL to move the Raiders game against San Diego from its original late afternoon slot to late night. Of course, it was probably a positive break for the NFL that fans throughout California were able to also see the Denver vs. Dallas game instead of the much less appealing Raiders vs. Chargers matchup.

Since NBC has the exclusive window on Sunday nights, the NFL moved the Raiders game to an 8:35 PM kickoff, and was forced to move the telecast from CBS to its NFL Network, using the originally scheduled CBS announcing team in the process. Thus, this late night telecast, only made public a few days before, came after fans had a total of THREE complete NFL games shown around the country, beginning literally 10 1/2 hours before the kickoff.

With all of those odds stacked against the Raiders vs. Chargers telecast, the ratings were enough to finish ahead of the lowest rated NFL telecasts of the past 15 years. The ratings for this late night matchup trailed the other matchups of the day by far, and this is understandable.

I can't help but wonder how this would have played out had an attractive east coast NFL team been playing in Oakland this past Sunday (10/6) and how much protesting there would have been. But the fact that an NFL telecast, which began at 11:30 PM ET on a Sunday night, could still generate enough of an audience to not be a complete failure is nothing short of amazing.

On the college side, CBS will televise an SEC doubleheader on October 19th, with Georgia vs. Vanderbilt at Noon ET followed by Auburn vs. Texas A & M.

With the NBA season less than three weeks from opening, and with NBA-TV showing a larger number of exhibition games than ever before, ESPN/ABC has added former Sixers (and others) coach Doug Collins as a studio analyst. Although Collins, who has served for several seasons as a color commentator on TNT telecasts, is still one of the best analysts in the business, the problem is that Collins merely adds to the overflow of studio analysts ESPN/ABC already offer. It seems that Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose, and Bill Simmons will all be returning to the NBA pre-game, half-time, and post-game studio show.

However, there is still no announcement of a true broadcaster to serve as host, even after the disasters of last season when all we saw were analysts struggling for air time and no one to ride herd on the show. Unfortunately, it appears that ESPN/ABC viewers will be stuck with another season of comments on how the televised teams are playing, and little to nothing about other games, upcoming telecasts, and actual news content from around the NBA.

LOS ANGELES: ESPN Radio KSPN 710 has gone ahead and extended its radio deal with the Lakers through the 2019-20 season, and is also keeping the broadcast team the same. John Ireland and Mychal Thompson continue with play-by-play and analysis, while both continue their respective co-host roles on the two midday shows which air on KSPN Monday through Friday.

LONG ISLAND NY: Although college radio station WRHU 88.7 has just begun its fourth season as the flagship station for the N.Y. Islanders, the team has added another Long Island station which will increase the coverage area for the team's broadcasts. WRCN 103.9 now airs all of the games, providing coverage from Islip to Montauk (Suffolk County). Chris King continues on play-by-play, and Hofstra University students will continue to participate within the broadcasts.

DALLAS: The Ticket 1310 is now "ticketed" for a new FM location. Starting October 21, The Ticket will also air on 96.7, which will soon become KTCK-FM, and adds coverage of the station to the northwest portion of the Dallas Metroplex. This simulcast will replace what had been the simulcast of WBAP 820.

Over at ESPN 103.3, afternoon drive will be changing with the news that Randy Galloway has ended his 3 PM to 6 PM talk show as of this week after more than 25 years on Dallas area radio. The 70-year old Galloway had originally intended to retire from the show toward the end of 2013, but did so ahead of schedule with Cumulus Media taking over the marketing of the station from ESPN/Disney this month.

BOSTON: Congrats to Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione, who is also waiting to learn whether or not he will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster next July. Castiglione is coming back for at least the next two seasons under a just signed extension.

CHICAGO: A nice move by the DePaul University online radio station by adding another "channel" which will dedicated to school sports coverage. The school has completed a new studio and announced expanded plans to broadcast everything from soccer to softball to volleyball and mmore.

The second channel enables the students and the University to provide this coverage without disruption of the "regular" online station schedule. This does create the opportunity for students to get experience in the live coverage of sports events, and that is a good thing. It will be at:

RATINGS: More from the radio ratings for August into September. Three more markets are clearly being dominated by one sports station ahead of the others. While Indianapolis' WFNI The Fan 1070 showed a slight increase in overall audience, WNDE 1260 and WXNT 1430 combined for less than one-half of a ratings point.

In Nashville, WGFX The Zone showed more than a 20% overall increase over the previous month ratings to finish with a very respectable 5.2 rating. That is now more than five times the total audience of WPRT-FM, even with an increase there.

Similar story across the state in Memphis, where WMFS finished at #15 overall. Yet, WHBQ, WPGF, and WMC combined for less than a 1 rating, with two of those three stations showing an overall decrease.

The disaster continues for CBS Radio Sports as well. WXNT Indianapolis, which barely showed with its .01 rating, is a CBS Radio Sports station. Over in Jefferson City MO, the CBS Sports affiliation was just removed from KBBM 100.1 and, at least for now, stuck on the lesser signal at 104.1. The kicker is that, and I'm not making this up, KMBB 100.1 already switched to Christmas music.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sports Radio Missing The Boat Again

It is probably the radio in my blood coming out again. What was once the dominant media for sports fans continues to sit around while other media and technology passes it by. Over the past few weeks, I have used this space to point out several instances in which sports leagues and organizations have taken to doing for themselves what radio (and TV for that matter) used to do.

Still another example came to light earlier this week with the announcement that MLB Advance Media is upgrading its "At The Ballpark" phone app for next season. MLB officials provided selected onlookers with a demonstration at Citi Field in New York, showing features such as how a coupon would pop up when a "user" at the ballpark walks into a merchandise shop, the ability to upgrade seats once inside, and several more features.

What does this have to do with radio? In my opinion, plenty!

Once upon a time, back in the days long ago and far away when radio was king, a percentage of fans coming to an MLB or NFL game wouldn't think of entering the stadium without their trusty radio. You could not find a place to sit in Dodger Stadium without hearing Vin Scully's play-by-play from at least one nearby radio if you were not using your own.

Now we fast forward to today. Some radio stations hosting play-by-play of the games, for which they have paid millions of dollars to do, maintain an on-air delay which means that people at the game do not even get a "live" description of what they are seeing. (Some sports venues, such as the Milwaukee Brewers, promote an FM frequency for the "live" feed within the venue, but not enough of them do this.)

Even with easily available technology providing pitch by pitch or down by down accounts of all other games in progress, the majority of pro and college sports radio broadcasts rarely provide enough updates of other games going on, some of which are of definite interest to fans of that team. How ironic that these play-by-play broadcasts brought us MORE updates on other games when all they had was a Western Union ticker doing so every few minutes.

I have nothing against phone apps and teams and leagues working to improve the fan experience at the venue. Actually, at these ticket prices, they had better be. However, radio stations could and SHOULD be at the forefront of this.

What about having the play-by-play announcer TELL fans listening at the game that "The pizza stand at aisle 110 has a free slice when you buy another available this inning only"? That "There is room for ten fans in the 300 level to move down to section 105 for only $5 more". And so on.

By doing this, the team and the station are providing thousands of fans with additional reasons to have a radio with them and listen to the broadcast. Fans not at the game are hearing about all they can do once they do come. And, fans at the game do not have to have a certain type of phone, have downloaded an app and hope it works, worry about their phone draining on them, or be distracted from the field of play.

Instead, radio stations go on thinking that the fans will get the other scores and the weather on their phones, and don't bother with this. While at the same time, incredibly, teams and leagues are spending money (which comes from these radio stations) to develop their own way of communicating with their fans. And leaving radio in the dust.

Meanwhile, the radio ratings for the August into September period are coming out this week for the larger markets, with this report being a mixed bag.

All eyes are on Boston, where both WBZ-FM Sports Hub and WEEI-FM showed overall audience increases of more than one-half of a ratings point for month, which is good. Although The Sports Hub is still ahead, WEEI has closed the gap over the past few weeks following its controversial Program Director change.

In New York City, WFAN, wrapping up being the flagship of the Mets with a dismal season, dropped one-half rating point overall for the month. Much of this audience probably went to the Yankees broadcasts on sister station WCBS 880 until next season. WCBS was strong overall, and finished #1 overall in the ratings for the Nassau-Suffolk specific ratings for Long Island.

San Francisco listeners, with both sports stations hosting local baseball, showed KNBR down slightly as the Giants faded out of contention. We have to wonder if The Game KGMZ is going to be a contender, however. Even with the A's fighting for the playoff berth they achieved, The Game again held steady with the previous two ratings periods. Yet, in Detroit, where the Tigers were going for a Division title (just as the A's), WXYT-FM The Ticket rose overall by more than one-half of a ratings point for the second consecutive month. This while WMGC-FM literally lost more than half of its total audience within the same time period.

In Texas, sports radio continues to be more of a factor in Dallas when compared with Houston. Dallas' KTCK The Ticket, KESN-FM ESPN 103.3 and The Fan KRLD-FM all showed total audience increases from .2 to .3 of a ratings point. The start of Cowboys season and the Rangers fighting for another playoff berth were certainly contributors, but having all three stations increase indicates it is the situation and not anything one of the stations is or is not doing. Yet, in Houston, KILT has started showing a pulse, by way of a one-half point increase over the prior month. However, KBME, KFNC, and KGOW, once again did not even combine to come up near what KILT has. What makes the
Houston sports radio race even more frustrating is that it is now Texans season, while Astros and Rockets telecasts are not or will not be available in very many homes due to provider negotations with CSN Houston.

Philly and D.C. are helped by NFL season, as expected. Philadelphia showed noteworthy overall increases for both WIP-FM and WPEN-FM as the Eagles season got underway. In D.C., WJFK-FM, also the flagship for the Washington Nationals, showed its highest overall ratings in more than a year, while WTEM ESPN 980, the flagship station of the Redskins, increased by .6 of a ratings point for the month.

Yet, several of the markets which struggle with sports talkers brought the same result this time. In Los Angeles, KLAC 570, even with the Dodgers broadcasts during a remarkable season, continues to finish below the Top 20 stations, while KSPN 710 dropped for the 2nd consecutive month. In Miami, it took the combining of WAXY AM and FM to total a 1.0 rating, while WQAM and WINZ remain below that level.

CBS Radio Sports continues to struggle. In both Atlanta and Tampa (with both markets having MLB teams headed for the post-season), each market's CBS Sports station came in, AGAIN, with less than a single ratings point overall. And in Seattle, KFNQ did not even show up in this ratings book, even more embarassing when you learn that both KRIO and KJR have increased their overall audiences by one-half of a ratings point EACH over the past three months.

On the TV side, TBS did reasonably well with its "unscheduled" telecast of the Tampa vs. Texas play-in game on Monday night (9/30). The game was not set until about 27 hours before it began, went up against a strong Monday Night Football telecast (involving south teams), yet showed respectable audience numbers. Suprisingly, Tampa actually showed a higher local rating than Dallas, odd considering how many more fans saw the Rangers at home all year compared with the Rays.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Not Enough Hoops For Sports Media

Must the media report on what the media will report? The "news" that the NBA has revised its media guidelines somehow was published in and on a variety of sports media over the past few days. That makes absolutely no sense. The public doesn't need to know how easy the reporters and writers covering the league have it in terms of media access to players and coaches on a regular basis.

Years ago, before the glut of cable TV sports channels and networks, multiple sports radio stations in every city, and various web sites devoted to teams and leagues, the few reporters assigned to specific teams or leagues faced the challenge of coming up with fresh and interesting information to engage the fan base. It helped to be around the teams as much as possible, sometimes more than the "other guys" who had the same assignment so that they could hopefully gain an exclusive story.

Being the only reporter to witness an injury in practice, a conflict between a player and coach in the locker room, or notice a player working a different position (for example) was what helped to distinguish many a reporter or writer. Years ago there were NO league mandates that any team personnel had to talk with any media. That often included local radio and TV broadcasts, for which the stations pay a lot of money. I recall several post-game shows during which the "star of the game" didn't even show up for a live interview after being promised to listeners or viewers.

So now the NBA has announced that coaches are no longer required to meet with the media after morning shootarounds prior to home games, but that the visiting coach "has to". And that injurred players need to speak to the media "at least once" if sidelined with a long-term injury.

Although I have no problem with leagues and organizations having a policy in place, the fact that this policy was published for fans to be aware of is absurd. This tells fans that the "beat reporter" from their favorite station, newspaper, or web site, probably had the same access to the coaches and key players that all of the other reporters had. They didn't really report that "Player X did not practice due to a hand injury today" because he or she was watching practice and noticed when the injury happened. Instead, he or she now finds out at the same time as everyone else because the coach or the player tells the "group" of reporters at the same time.

As a result, everyone gets the same stories and quotes at the same time. Staying with the NBA example, fans can usually watch the post-game coaches press conference on their local sports network post-game show, and often see key player reaction from the press room or while surrounded by reporters in the locker room. And then those fans read, hear, or see those exact same quotes later on when watching, going online, listening to radio, or reading the morning paper.

Reporters do not have to dig for stories, since everyone gets them at the same time. No wonder so much of the content is merely reporting what another reporter or source is reporting, instead of trying to confirm or deny using one's own sources. Allowing and having guidelines for media access is actually taking away from the fans if every source has the same information at the same time.

However, I am pleased to be able to report on an exception to this, even if it was not heard by a very big audience. Kudos to WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago for following up on a possible story that other reporters did not. It's nice to know that some people are paying attention.

WSCR is the flagship station for the White Sox, who are completing one of the worst seasons in team history this week. I happened to be listening to their September 15th game vs. Cleveland when ace pitcher Chris Sale was being knocked out by the Indians, who had also defeated Sale a couple of times earlier this season. This season, Cleveland had, by far, the most statistical success against Sale of any team in the league.

White Sox radio broadcasters Ed Farmer (a former pitcher) and Darrin Jackson (a former outfielder) began speculating on the air about the possibility of the Indians picking up signs or a tendency of Sale and those being reasons why Cleveland was having so much success against him. To the best of my knowledge, no other reporters even raised this possibility following the game or in the couple of days which followed.

A couple of nights later, White Sox broadcast pre-game show host Chris Rongey was interviewing White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, and thought to ask coach Cooper about the possibility of the Indians knowing something more about what Sale was about the throw in his most recent game. To my amazement, Cooper responded on the air that he heard about what the broadcasters were discussing, and had already begun "looking into it with our staff".

Even though this started from an actual game broadcast and not from a sports station "report", the point is that this possible story began on the broadcast, was noticed by team personnel, and taken into account. Yet, had reporter Chris Rongey not thought to ask the question, the fans never would have known. That was a great job.

To tie all of this together, the possible tipping of pitches was not a story which would have typically come up during the daily media sessions or post-game mass interview. That is why the media should have fewer guidelines and more creative time.

Meanwhile, next week brings us the opening of the MLB post-season and the NHL regular season. NBC Sports Network begins its thorough NHL coverage on Tuesday Oct. 1st with a one-hour pregame show leading into showing the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks' opening game against Washington.

TBS will begin its post-season coverage that same day (Oct. 1, unless a 'game 163' for playoff position is shown on Sept. 30) with the two Wild Card playoff games and then all but two of the Division Series games. (MLB Network has the rights to two telecasts.)

As expected, Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling will be the primary crew, also calling the NLCS for TBS. To their credit, TBS has added Cal Ripken along with Darling, replacing John Smoltz who was the "third man" last year. This move makes a ton of sense, but is not a reflection of the broadcasting talents of Ripken or Smoltz. It made zero sense for TBS last year when they had two pitchers as analysts. Now, they have one pitcher and one hitter, as it should be. At least as it should be if they must have three in the booth.

The other TBS and TNT broadcast crews for the Division Series will be Brian Anderson, along with Smoltz and Joe Simpson; Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly; and Don Orsillo along with Dennis Eckersley and Buck Martinez.

Having Orsillo on one of its series this season presents an interesting decision for Turner Sports. Orsillo, of course, is the TV play-by-play voice of the Red Sox, who this year are in the Division Series. Thus, TBS either puts the announcer for one of the teams on an unbiased national forum if they put Orsillo on the Red Sox series, or they put him on another series and take away from expertise of having covered one of the participating teams for the entire season. (Either way, Orsillo will do just fine as always.)

BOSTON: Not that many people will notice, but WUFC 1510 has switched over to Yahoo Sports Radio. The station has already dumped out of NBC Sports Radio and ESPN over the past couple of years. This does give rivals WEEI and WBZ-FM Sports Hub something to agree on, for a change, which is that Boston sports radio will remain a two station race.

NEW YORK: With nothing announced (as of press time) regarding a TV simulcast for Boomer and Carton from WFAN's morning show, it appears more likely that this show will be picked up by YES Network during the first quarter of 2014. Their show had been simulcast, until recently, on MSG Network, which did not renew the contract but reportedly could match an agreement with YES Network. YES Network figures to pay a higher price for this same show, however, which MSG Network would probably not match. With WFAN airing the Yankees games starting next spring and YES Network owned by the Yankees, having a "Yankees flavored" morning show for both WFAN and YES Network makes a lot of sense for listeners/viewers as well as for advertisers. Same for the Brooklyn Nets, who are shown on YES as well as broadcast by WFAN.

HOUSTON: Quite a find for David Barron of the Houston Chronicle, who dug and discovered that, officially, no one was watching on Sunday (9/22) when CSN Houston was showing the Astros game vs. Cleveland up against the NFL Texans. Barron did think to contact a couple of sports bars to find that several had the Astros game on at least one screen although a couple of them did not, implying that a handful of people could have been watching. For that matter, two WNBA games shown on ESPN, neither involving Houston, had higher ratings than the Astros.

This is not to pick on the Astros. The significance is that CSN Houston is still not carried in much of the Houston market, despite paying huge money for the Astros and Rockets games. And with the season the Astros are having (or not having), and these low low ratings, it is hard to believe that CSN Houston can generate much income from subscriber fees or advertising.