Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are TV Dollars Influencing Rosters Now?

The L.A. Dodgers are among the teams (and college conferences) receiving huge long-term money for TV and media rights. Earlier this year, the Dodgers announced that their big bucks TV contract, which starts in 2014, will include the telecasts being available in THREE languages, to include Korean. The team brought pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu to camp under a contract stating that he (Ryu) cannot be sent down to the minor leagues without his approval. Ryu could be the first Korean pitcher to go directly to the minor leagues. On Saturday (3/2), a Los Angeles Times report indicated that the Dodgers are "looking at" adding Korean language radio broadcasts of "selected games" in time for this season.

Is this a coincidence?

We may never know for sure, but the question needs to be raised. A lot has changed since Fernando Valenzuela became a sensation for the Dodgers and significantly increased the demand for the Spanish language broadcasts, as well as attendance and support from the Latin community. At that time, the TV and media rights fees were not long term and not amounting to billions. In fact, when Fernando was a rookie, the Dodgers were televising fewer games than the majority of the teams. However, the supposed contract clause for Ryu that he cannot go to the minor leagues without his approval, seems to be an unusual one, especially for an untested rookie.

Obviously, the Dodgers are hoping that Ryu will pitch effectively, and that it will become a modern day version of "Fernandomainia", this time complete with Korean radio broadcasts when he pitches. At this point, this looks from here to be a media based decision because of the big dollar potential of adding the Korean market for ticket sales and for advertisers seeking to directly reach them.

As it stands now, the TV and media money being thrown at college conferences is having an impact on when, where, and in which conference many schools are playing. Even long standing rivalries are being cast aside in favor of taking in more money. Now we could be seeing the start of pro teams making personnel decisions based more on media rights than on ability to play the position. It will be interesting to see if one or more pitchers proves more effective in spring training than Ryu, but do not make the pitching staff although Ryu does. While it's bad enough that consumers are being, in some cases, forced to foot the bill for the exorbitant TV rights fees, the serious sports fans have to hope that player personnel decisions are based on what is best for the team and not for the media rights.

Meanwhile, "Fox Sports 1" has been announced as official, with a scheduled national launch date of Saturday August 17. Fox is using its ability to force its way onto the major cable and satellite systems and expects to debut in more than 90 million homes. To its credit, FS1 will already have a respectable amount of choice inventory to choose from, including major college football and NASCAR right away. The network will be able to air MLB games beginning with the 2014 season (since it begins too late into the '13 regular season), and will also offer up a slate of college basketball games starting in November. Additional live programming such as soccer and UFC will add to the mix, providing fresh content instead of hours of recorded material and/or informericals.

As you might expect, FS1 is also looking to include a nightly 11 PM highlights show to go head-to-head with SportsCenter, along with a daily live shows such as "Fox Football Daily" which will utilize the network's NFL studio personnel and analysts on a regular basis. This announcement has been long rumored, but I'll give Fox Sports a lot of credit for waiting until it has a respectable roster of games and events to start with. This compares favorably, for example, to NBC Sports Network, which went 24 hours but other than the NHL, lacks quality games.

With that, it was NHL Network that beefed up its attack last weekend and not NBC Sports Network, even as several teams are enjoying increased local ratings. NHL Network showed four games live on Saturday (3/2), with games from Philadelphia at Noon ET, Winnipeg at 3 PM, Montreal at 7 PM, and then Vancouver at 10:30 PM. Then on Sunday (3/3) when NBC only offered a single game at 12:30 PM ET, NHL Network came right back with the St. Louis at Dallas telecast at 3 PM, making it a doubleheader for those fans who knew to switch over.

Just to show how the "league" networks are continuing to make an impact, we actually have an instance of hiring away. Fran Charles, who was recently a studio host for NFL Network's GameDay Final and Total Access, has been hired away by MLB Network to be used on some of its studio programming. Prior to NFL Network, Charles worked at HBO as well as WNBC-TV New York and WHDH-TV Boston.

MIAMI: No more controversy for Dan Sileo on WQAM. Sileo had joined WQAM 560 last April and had been suspended for a couple of days in January due after he got personal with insults directed toward Erin Andrews. That followed his rant in September following a University of Miami loss during which he actually urged players to "pull a knife" on an opposing quarterback. WQAM solved the problem by "parting ways" with Sileo and not giving him the chance to say goodbye, or anything else for that matter, on the air. His last 10 AM to 1 PM show was on Friday (3/1). Kevin Rogers and Brandon Guzio are co-hosting the show until a replacement is named. Wonder if Erin Andrews is being considered as a replacement.

St. LOUIS: While the market continues to see a drop in its sports radio listenership, Kevin Slaten is back on the air as of this week. However, Slaten is now on KQQZ 1190, which is a talk (and not a sports) station from 3 to 6 PM. Slaten had been a local sports talker for nearly 20 years before being let go last year by KFNS.

LANSING MI: As Michigan State University and local fans gear up for March Madness, sports talk becomes more regional in scope as of this week. WVFN 730 The Game just started to carry "The Drive With Jack Ebling" from 3 to 6 PM, going up against "The Huge Show" with Bill Simonson on WBBL 107.3. Just how "local" these shows are remains the question. The fact is that both of these shows originate from Grand Rapids stations. Grand Rapids has more of a balance of fans of University of Michigan as well as MSU. This has me curious to hear how this will play out starting in August when football fans will be talking up U of M on two "local" stations in Lansing.

FLORENCE SC: Hard to say that it is due to overwhelming demand, but this market now has joined the ranks of those with two competing sports stations. WOLH 98.9 dropped a music format to become ESPN Radio. The station will air some local programming, including "The Press Box" with Allen Smothers and Emerson Phillips during the unusual time slot of 8 to 10 AM on weekdays and Phil Kornblut from 6 to 8 PM. The station continues to broadcast South Carolina basketball, and is also airing the University's baseball broadcasts for the first time. CBS Sports Radio airs on 100.1 FM, which had dropped ESPN at the start of the year to go with CBS.

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