Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How Football Helped NBA Ratings

Just how did the pro and college post-season football schedule last weekend help NBA ratings? It shows the importance of sports media, and its influence.

Here's what I think. Thursday and Friday of last week (Jan. 3 & 4) were the days leading into the four NFL division playoff games on the weekend, which were on the brink of the college football championship game the following Monday night.

ESPN, obviously with its season long NFL coverage and its (then) upcoming telecast of the Notre Dame vs. Alabama college championship game, knew it would have a larger than usual audience for its SportsCenter shows and related "talk" programming on those days.

On Friday (1/4), I noticed that ESPN was running one "non-football" story prominently, which was to preview the Friday night NBA game between the L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers. The angle was there. The Clippers have had the best record of any NBA team over the past month, while the Lakers have struggled near .500 despite the usual high expectations. ESPN was airing "lead-in" reports from Los Angeles with interviews and highlights specific to this matchup.

Oh, by the way, ESPN was showing the game as the late night portion of its Friday NBA doubleheader. That meant that seemingly every commercial break all day long included a promo for the Lakers vs. Clippers telecast, even moreso than its early telecast of Chicago at Miami which was the lead-in game.

This seemed odd, despite the intrigue of this Lakers vs. Clippers matchup at the time. The Lakers are on national TV on a regular basis. The Clippers don't exactly have a huge national following, to put it diplomatically. So why would ESPN "hype" this game ahead of Miami vs. Chicago?

My answer came on Monday, when I saw that ESPN's Lakers vs. Clippers telecast scored its best ratings for a late night NBA telecast (of any teams) in years. With Derrick Rose still not back with the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles telecast was its best option to promote heavily.

Clearly, ESPN knew they would have a bigger than usual audience due to the hype for the upcoming weekend of important football games. And they used it to their advantage. And to the NBA's advantage. It worked. Their additional "coverage" leading into the game, combined with constant promotion, enticed a percentage of the ESPN audience to check out the game.

Many weeks during the NBA regular season, ESPN does a Friday night NBA doubleheader, while TNT does a Thursday night doubleheader. Based on this strategy, ESPN just gave itself an advantage when going after advertisers, and in terms of its late night ratings.

Just the same, the timing of the NHL lockout wasn't soon enough to help NBC. During its Saturday (1/5) NFL playoff doubleheader, the network did not have even one specific NHL telecast to promote to a large prime-time audience.

We may see how much local telecast promotion can mean for ratings in early February. What will the local telecast ratings be for a "previously unscheduled" NBA game?

The Indiana Pacers had to re-schedule a home game, which was supposed to have been played on Dec. 26th but was postponed due to a blizzard, against the Chicago Bulls for Monday Feb. 4th. Yes, for the night after the Super Bowl. Because of this, this telecast does not appear on pocket and calendar team schedules, and will not appear on TV listings published in advance of this just announced make-up date.

In fact, at press time the Pacers' official web site does not show a telecast for the game on Fox Sports Indiana. On the Chicago side, where Comcast SportsNet Chicago continues to have respectable ratings for Bulls telecasts this season, even without Derrick Rose, it will be interesting to see how much their promoting of this "added" telecast impacts their total audience compared with other weeknight games during that period. Measuring that is a solid indication for the Network about the power (or lack of) in promoting specific games.

Meanwhile, when it comes to outside promotion gone wrong, CBS Boston takes the honor for 2013 hands down. It's another case of the carelessness that plagues radio and TV organizations these days, while executives sit around wondering where their power of the audience has gone. At least in this instance, it's downright funny.

On Monday of this week (1/7), I saw the story about former Red Sox Manager (and recent ESPN analyst) Bobby Valentine joining NBC Sports Radio for the upcoming baseball season. Obviously, that info is more newsworthy in the Boston area after the harsh media treatment Valentine received upon the disappointing Red Sox season in 2012.

One of the media sources carrying the story on its web site happened to be WBZ-FM The Sports Hub on the CBS Boston web site. I couldn't help but chuckle. The CBS Sports web site promoting the fact that an important local name will be heard on NBC Sports Radio, and no one caught it?

But it gets better. Now it is press time on Wednesday afternoon (1/9), more than 48 hours after this "news" was posted on the CBS site, and the story is still there:

Funny as this is for NBC, there is a serious side to this. It makes me wonder if or when CBS Sports checks its content. The NBC Sports Radio is an attempt to compete with the new CBS Sports Network. Even with the carelessness in today's media coverage, I can't believe someone at CBS didn't catch this and either pull it, or edit out the NBC reference in the story and only say that Valentine will be a radio analyst.

Speaking of national networks, we should keep an eye on Sports USA Media Network, which handles one of the sets of national NFL regular season broadcasts and a college football "Game of the Week" on Saturdays during football season. The network has added radio management veteran Bob Moore to its staff. During his amazing GM period in Los Angeles, Moore worked with the Dodgers and Angels, the Kings, and USC regarding broadcast arrangements. We could be looking at a boom in "local team" networks going regional in the not so distant future.

CHICAGO: WMAQ-TV channel 5 has added Rebecca Haarlow to its sports anchor staff on a limited basis as her busy schedule allows. Haarlow continues on Big Ten Network and NFL Network. WMAQ, however, continues its rotation of sportscasters for its newscasts and still does not have a "clear" number one anchor.

MILWAUKEE: As documented here over the past couple of years, while WTMJ 620 leads the market with only some well placed sports talk surrounding having all of the major teams' play-by-play, the full-time sports stations, WAUK 540 and WSSP 1250 continue to linger with ratings of less than 1.0 overall. So what does WOKY 920 do in the new year? They went full-time sports, making it three stations going head to head against the market giant. WOKY now carries its so-called local programming from WTSO-AM in Madison, including U. of Wisconsin Badgers announcers Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas. (Interesting considering that U. of Wisconsin football airs on WTMJ.) The new "Big 920" will carry mostly national programming and carry the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl, the NCAA tourney in March, and continue to carry NASCAR, which it did in its prior format as a country music station.

SYRACUSE: The Score 1260 has moved Mike Lindsley from middays into the 3 to 6 PM spot. The "Bud (Poliquin) & The Mainchild Show" moves to 10 AM to Noon. However, these will be the only five hours on weekdays featuring local programming, other than play-by-play including Syracuse University basketball.

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