Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Radio Losing Out To Sports Fans

Sports radio stations continue to "fight" against each other instead of focusing on maintaining their listening audience. They can't afford to miss out on any more opportunities.

With the baseball season starting in less than a week, and with baseball having been the most "radio friendly" sport over the years, we are seeing some very current examples. It's not the fault of radio that the vast majority of games are televised. Years ago every team had a percentage of games which were "radio only". Not only has radio lost the exclusivity of at least some of the games, it now is "losing" to more than television.

Those who grew up from the 50's into the 80's still remember the days of bringing your portable radio with to the game so that you could enjoy the legendary broadcasters while watching the action for yourself. Listeners to Vin Scully on Dodgers home games might recall his sometimes having to ask fans at the game to "turn down your sound" so that there would not be any more feedback over the air, as well as the times he (Scully) would announce something and you could hear the crowd react directly to what he said.

Now, even though every MLB game is still aired on radio, most broadcasts have let not only television, but modern technology, pass them by.

MLB just announced some results from a survey of its fan base around the country via the "Fans At Bat Panel". While the results show a lot of positives for baseball (and in a way, for all sports) in terms of fan involvement, radio is nowhere to be found. More than 60% of respondents said they use "any" digital multimedia device while watching an MLB game on TV. These "devices" do not include radio. Instead, it refers to internet access for tracking statistics and/or interacting with other fans, whether via cell phone, tablet, or desktop computer. Interacting with other fans includes Facebook and Twitter.

Many of the TV stations and regional networks which televise the games now have and promote
interactive capabilities during the games, providing updated statistics and avenues for fan reaction. Viewers watching the game can use the station or network web site to track statistics and interact throughout. You can also track other games easily, especially later in the season if your team is in the race.

Yet, the majority of MLB radio broadcasts seem to have regressed during the same period. With so much clutter (commercials, team promos, etc.) during the broadcasts, the amount of time spent on out-of-town scores and general team coverage seems to have dropped significantly over the past few years. Even though the internet makes it easier than ever for broadcasters (and producers and assistants in the booth) to track other important games as closely as pitch-by-pitch. It seems like the "out of town scoreboard" is limited to every couple of innings as a throw-in so that it can be sponsored.

Think back 25 or 30 years. There was no internet and no having out-of-town games on all over the place. All the broadcasters had was the ticker. Yet, between pitches, you would hear "and Atlanta just scored three runs in the top of the sixth to lead Philadelphia five to two" and a couple of batters later that "Kansas City failed in the seventh in Baltimore". The announcers would keep fans up to the minute on other games and baseball news. You would also hear about pitching changes in the other games.

In this survey, about 33% said they keep track of their fantasy team while at home. While radio broadcasts only mention out-of-town homeruns and sometimes the pitchers.

Now, for the most part, the broadcasters and the stations seem to assume that fans are checking the scores on the phone or are online. And that's the problem. Even if fans are, radio's not providing this information makes it (radio) a much less valuable resource.

To that point, the Fans At Bat Panel survey also showed that 43% use a personal device when attending a MLB game. And a "personal device" no longer includes radio.

Let's take this point one step further. At press time, the Chicago White Sox had announced that their new General Manager, Rick Hahn, will be available to fans of the team for a "chat" at Noon Chicago time on Tuesday (3/26). You would think it would be over WSCR 670 The Score, which is a sports radio station that airs the White Sox games. But you would be wrong.

The White Sox are "hosting" this chat themselves, providing fans who have purchased tickets and/or are on the team's e-mail list with a phone number and a pin code to access the chat. Then again, WSCR Radio is not airing ANY of the team's scheduled final five exhibition games. In other words, the team didn't think to use radio for this purpose. Already in spring training, they have had players "chat" via Twitter.

Here we are watching the sports radio ratings in several markets. In Boston, WEEI made a major change in its afternoon drive lineup a few weeks back after WBZ-FM The Sports Hub made significant ratings gains. For the February ratings period, BOTH stations went down. Yet, these radio stations continue to concede that fans of the local teams are clearly turning to media and technology other than radio for what they need.

Look at the ratings records that TV stations and networks have been setting in every major sport. Even the hockey fans frustrated by the NHL lockout are coming back in record numbers in certain cities and even on some national telecasts this season. Here's hoping that radio will get its act together and make an effort to save its place among sports fans.

CHICAGO: Nothing like an alleged fist fight between two analysts, off the air, to make local media news. Former NBA standout Kendall Gill has been suspended "for the rest of the season" from his role as studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Bulls telecasts. Speculation is that Gill could lose his job after that. This is a result of supposedly throwing or landing a punch on analyst Tim Doyle after Doyle's on-air criticism of Gill's analysis of a referee call during the previous night's Bulls telecast. The confrontation took place off the air. Gill also is an analyst for the Big Ten Network and has been seen on NBA-TV. No word about his status or any action from either of those networks. This puts CSN in a tough spot. I'm sure they would hate to lose a popular analyst, but this becomes a Human Resources matter moving forward.

WMVP ESPN 1000, which is now a more distant second to WSCR in the Chicago sports radio race, will switch its midday and afternoon drive crews starting on Monday (April 1st). Carmen DeFalco, who has been with the station since 1998 and was just signed to a multi-year extension, and John Jurkovic will move to the 10 AM to 2 PM spot, with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman to air from 2 to 6 PM. Jurkovic's contract, currently scheduled to run out this summer, has not yet been renewed.

WLS 890, a news/talk station for nearly 25 years, continues to add sports programming to its daily lineup. Steve Stone, the former Cy Young Award winner who continues to be the TV analyst for the White Sox, has been hired as the station's baseball analyst and will appear Monday through Friday either during the station's morning or afternoon drive shows. Stone had been the analyst for WSCR over the past few seasons. What makes this curious, especially when you consider the first few paragraphs of this column, is that Stone will appear five days a week on the news/talk station. Yet, he only appeared a couple of times each week when on the all-sports station before.

TAMPA: WDAE has pulled long time host Steve Duemig from afternoon drive and had removed him from the station web site with all signs pointing to a contract negotiation tactic as the reason. Duemig's contract reportedly expires in May, but contains a 60-day negotiation period, which would now be underway. Tom Krasniqi is hosting afternoons but, as of press time, is considered as interim host.

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