Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fans Priced Out By The Media?

Still another fresh example of the media influence over sports and how consumers are being expected to help pay for it. Now Cablevision Systems, with nearly three million customers in the NYC area, has implemented a nearly $3.00 per month ($2.98 to be exact) "Sports Programming Surcharge" to begin in April. The system carries local/regional sports networks MSG, YES, and SNY, along with the national networks. This amount will add to already higher monthly costs for consumers whether they watch each network or not. DirecTV has already added a similar charge.

These and other sports networks are spending huge dollars on play-by-play rights in a matter of survival. The problem is that these networks then expect the fans to pay the freight in the form of higher fees, and carriers such as Cablevision (and others) are charged more. Then these costs are passed along to the consumers.

It's only getting worse, as more pro teams are seeking and getting billion dollar long term TV deals from startup networks and some existing networks looking to survive. We have to start being concerned about how this could all play out over the next ten years. Consumers who are not sports fans are likely to draw the line at these increased costs and start canceling. I'm also thinking that a percentage of sports fans who are already priced out at the box office could also become priced out of their monthly cable/satellite bill.

A big part of the problem is that the consumers have little to no choice. Some consumers are forced to pay for sports programming they don't want or watch, while others do not even have the opportunity to pay for it if they do. One example is the fairly new CSN Houston regional network. The Houston Rockets are improved over last season, yet their viewership for the current regular season (as of early February) is down over 60% from last season. The reason is actually because CSN Houston is not available to more than half of the market. Certain cable systems refuse to pay those prices, and to pass them along to customers.

Thus, some people that would pay the extra money can't get certain games they want, while others who don't want them are forced to pay extra. But the fans do not have the ability to decide for themselves. It may take a few networks, providers, or teams suffering financially to change this. The more fans who get priced out of home TV, the fewer potential fans to attend games and support the teams.

Lakers fans are into it, however. Even with the new and pricey Time Warner SportsNet, Lakers telecasts check in as the fifth highest rated local telecasts thus far this season, well ahead of the ratings for the L.A. Clippers despite the Clippers being in or near first place all season while the Lakers struggle.

Elsewhere, as more MLB teams offer webcasts of spring training games, it also creates opportunities for minor league announcers to call some big league action. The Phillies will have Matt Provence and Jon Schaeffer, who handle play-by-play for their Lehigh Valley farm club, call a few Phillies games. The White Sox have Russ Langer, the Las Vegas Stars' radio voice, handling several of their webcasts again this season.

BOSTON: As WEEI-FM settles in with its revised lineup, it is interesting to note that the January ratings showed WEEI-FM with a half-point overall ratings gain for the month. It was after this that the station changed its afternoon drive hosts in its battle to hang in there with Sports Hub WBZ-FM.

BALTIMORE: We overlooked Baltimore last week when commenting about how sports talk is on the rise in several major markets. WJZ-FM came in 5th in the market, gaining over a full ratings point.

DALLAS: KESN 103.3 has revised much of its weekday lineup after not renewing the local "Ben & Skin" show (Ben Rogers and Jeff Wade) that had aired from 9 AM to Noon. The station now airs national programming from 9 to 11 AM, with Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett now handling 11 AM to 3 PM. Another result of this change is the move of Chuck Cooperstein now being heard at 6 PM on nights when the Mavericks (for which Cooperstein does play-by-play) or Rangers are not scheduled. He had been paired with Nate Newton during the 2:00 hour. Newton remains with the station, likely expanding his role as the Cowboys analyst.

INDIANAPOLIS: It's the newest market to have an AM/FM sports combination, as WFNI 1070 has added the recently acquired 107.5 FM signal. At present, the station will simulcast both its local and ESPN Radio programming except when local play-by-play commitments conflict. The station continues to air Pacers basketball along with Butler University and select high school playoff games. During the fall, it airs Colts and Indiana University football. For example, this Saturday afternoon (3/2), the AM station airs the Butler game while the FM side airs high school hoops. Both stations air ESPN Radio national play-by-play. This Sunday, each will air a live NBA triple header, as ESPN Radio airs a Sunday afternoon doubleheader prior to the Pacers hosting Chicago in the evening.  It is interesting that ESPN Radio goes to AM/FM in the market, a move that CBS Radio has done in several markets within the past few months. And this happened in another market as well......

WEST PALM BEACH: ESPN 760 has acquired an FM signal and already begun to simulcast as ESPN 106.3. No changes to its lineup (as of press time), and the station continues to air Miami Heat and Florida Atlantic University basketball broadcasts.

TAMPA: Not every CBS Radio Sports move to FM has been a success story thus far. WHFS-FM, which made its debut this past August, has already reduced its weekday local content. The station has dropped below 1 overall rating and, although not a fair comparison, has less than half of the total audience it had a year ago when it was a music station, while WDAE 620 easily maintains its lead. The station also moved Nanci Donnellan (the Fabulous Sports Babe to some) into the 7 PM evening slot, replacing Todd Wright.

HOUSTON: Dylan Gwinn is out from KBME 790 as he shifts over to Yahoo! Sports Radio starting this weekend (3/2). Gwinn will host regular weekend shows and also fill-in as needed on weekday shows. He will air in Houston on KGOW 1560, which will seemingly double its listening audience if Gwinn's immediate family listens to him.

MINNEAPOLIS: KTWN, which began this week as the new radio home of the Twins, is adding former Twin Ron Coomer to its afternoon drive show starting next week (3/4). The show is co-hosted by Mark Rider and Lindsay Guentzel.

CHICAGO: WVON-AM 1690, primarily an inner city talk station, has decided to continue its Sunday night sports show. Although hidden from 9 to 11 PM, "The Sports Cypher" will now be hosted by Faruq Basir and Maya Akai.

NORTH DAKOTA: Here's a story that should have received a lot more attention from the sports media. The play-by-play voice of North Dakota basketball, Paul Ralston, has returned from being suspended for two game broadcasts last week. What makes this even more interesting is that Ralston, in addition to play-by-play, is also the Director of Broadcast Properties for the school itself.

Earlier this month, after North Dakota made 21 turnovers and missed five key free throws in an overtime loss to Northern Arizona, Ralston was clearly upset on the air. Then, while interviewing ND coach Brian Jones live after the game, Ralston used the term "choke job" directly to the coach, which prompted the suspension for the following two games. Those two games were not assigned to a "regular" sportscaster, however. Instead, it was Kyle Doperalski who called the games. Kyle's job? He is North Dakota's Associate Athletic Director. It's safe to say, even without hearing those broadcasts, that there was zero criticism of ND players and coaches for those games, no matter what happened. While I can most certainly understand Coach Jones being upset about Ralston's comments, it should be pointed out that a two game "suspension" is severe. I know he works for the school as well, but it would sure be interesting if any of the school's coaches or sports program personnel say something based on emotion they immediately wish they hadn't, and how quickly it goes on the air.

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