Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Reporter's Question Is Not A Story

The sports reporting media is not supposed to be sports news. Nor should a reporter's question. On Monday (4/22) night in Vancouver, Karen Thomson of Team 1040 sports radio was working post-game interviews following the Canucks' victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

What happened was that it appeared to some observers that the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith was about to be whistled for a penalty less than two seconds before Vancouver's Daniel Sedin scored a key goal in the third period. The goal, of course, would have wiped out a delayed penalty call, if there was going to be one at all, since there was no whistle by a linesman to stop play.

After the game, Thomson was in the Chicago locker room and asked Duncan Keith about the play.

As you might expect, Keith denied any knowledge of a possible penalty and even questioned Thomson for asking him about that.

By the next morning, this so-called incident was prominent on Chicago area sports media as well as on social media. There were even a couple of media members calling for Keith to apologize. This "story" was written and talked about on Tuesday on the Chicago sports talk stations and shows.

How things have gotten to the point of an inappropriate question by a reporter being a "story" is beyond me. The player answered the reporter's question and made it clear he didn't appreciate it. The reporter's question, based on a transcript which was published in several sources, would clearly an attempt to seek an admission of guilt from the player.

As sports fans, we never should have known this even happened. I have asked some strange questions of players and coaches in the post-game scramble for reaction over the years, as have the majority of media members. Yet, I didn't think I would ever need to be thankful that none of them were ever published.

During a week in which the NHL playoff battles are being formed, the NBA playoffs are underway, the NFL Draft is hours away, and baseball is in full swing, there is certainly enough to talk about and report on, especially in Chicago. Thankfully, no apologies were issued for the Vancouver incident. Frankly, those who did a "report" about this are the ones who should apologize.

SEATTLE: Former Seahawks (and Packers) head coach Mike Holmgren has been added to KJR Sports Radio on a regular basis as of this week. Holmgren will appear on the morning, midday, and afternoon drive programs on a rotating basis each Monday through Thursday. He is added to the staff just in time for the NFL Draft on Thursday (4/25) night and can help to explain to local fans about the team's choices.

MIAMI: WQAM 560 has replaced Dan Sileo's show with The John Renshaw Show, featuring Renshaw and co-host Alex Donno. Renshaw moves up from his weekend and fill-in work, while Donno expands upon his Miami Hurricanes coverage role.

ST. LOUIS: ESPN 101 has named Chris Duncan and Anthony Stalter as its new midday team starting on Wednesday May 1st. Duncan, who played on the 2006 Cardinals team which won the World Series, moves up from his afternoon drive co-host role as well as having co-hosted the local "Baseball Tonight" program. This new show is the replacement for Bernie Miklasz who announced his return to newspaper work last month.

DENVER: KOA 850 retains its dominant play-by-play position for the Denver area with the announcement of an additional four seasons as flagship station for Broncos football. In addition, the game broadcasts will be simulcast on KRFX Fox 103.5, which is a classic rock station. Dave Logan, returning for his 24th season this fall, will again be joined by Ed McCaffery on the broadcasts. In addition, KOA airs the Rockies and University of Colorado football.

LOS ANGELES: Fans of Kings' long long time play-by-play voice Bob Miller get a rare chance to meet him this week. Miller, who has released an updated copy of his book, "Tales From The Kings' Locker Room", is doing signings this week as the Kings prepare to begin their playoff defense of the Stanley Cup early next week. One of those appearances will be two hours before Saturday's (4/27) regular season finale, and will take place at the ESPN Zone across the street from Staples Center. What a great idea to give the loyal fans the opportunity to meet Miller on their way to a game!

BOSTON: WEEI 93.7 has added Jen Royle to its lineup, allowing her to return to her hometown. For the time being, her regular show will air only on Saturday afternoons from 1 to 3 PM. Royle has been working hte Baltimore/D.C. area with MASN and The Fan 105.7.

ATLANTA: WGST 640 is pulling the plug on ESPN Desportes at the end of May, after only a few months. The ratings for Desportes were so bad that the station is returning to the news/talk format it abondoned last summer.

SPRINGFIELD IL: Sorry to learn of the passing of Jeff Hoffman at the age of 60 following a long illness. Hoffman had been a part of WFMB Sports Radio 1450 since 1998.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are TV Rights Fees All That's Left?

The TV team rights insanity continues, this time in Seattle. ROOT Sports will carry on, but soon it will have majority ownership by the Seattle Mariners. The team has reportedly "purchased" a controlling stake in the network from DirecTV, and will have its games on ROOT through the 2030 season. This transaction just happens to come at a time when Seattle has the possibility of regaining a local NBA franchise, and, in effect, could set up the Mariners to benefit financially from another team and league by way of TV revenue. Now, fans are hearing about how this deal "will help the Mariners compete" in the American League West.

Sorry, but I don't see any way that Mariners or baseball fans "win" with this deal. This week's announcement takes precedence over the 10-year deal the Mariners signed with DirecTV which started in 2011, and reportedly pays (or paid, once this deal takes effect) more than $45 million per year. At that amount (or higher) for the past two complete MLB seasons, it would have paid more than half of the Mariners' payroll. Factor in the team's share of revenue from the current MLB national contracts from Fox, ESPN, and TBS, and the team has had its payroll "covered" for the past two seasons right there. That is without including revenue from even one game ticket sale.

Check the standings from April 2011 until this week, and you will notice that the Mariners have not been "competitive" with the top two teams in the West just yet. It's not as if they are one more free agent away from being a major threat. And who knows what will happen to the monthly cost for ROOT Sports in the near future? Chances are that thousands of cable and satellite subscribers who are not sports fans will be forced to pay higher fees because of this channel.

It seems that the Mariners had the ability to opt out of their 2011 started deal with DirecTV after 2015. Now, DirecTV remains a "partner" with the team into 2030, while the team opens up future revenue streams which it could not have done otherwise. If an NBA team comes to the city (as is still possible if the Sacramento Kings situation isn't bolted down) or even an NHL team comes, the Mariners can now directly benefit from those rights fees. On top of the new and even more lucarative MLB contracts which begin in 2014.

In other words, the revenue will be there regardless of ticket sales. That's the "Root" of the problem.

Meanwhile, the sports media is, understandably, reflecting about the passing of Pat Summerall on Tuesday (4/16). It's too bad that he couldn't have lived longer and enjoyed his retirement. Personally, I couldn't ignore this story. However, my thoughts are that I'll never understand why or how he became so popular based on his NFL play-by-play. Summerall had an excellent voice and delivery, especially for a former player who came into broadcasting only for that reason. His clear and soft-spoken voice was ideal for golf and tennis, even though those sports were not his background.

For the NFL, all Summerall did was an exact copy of Ray Scott, with whom he did analysis for years on CBS-TV's NFL telecasts. I loved Ray Scott's work despite his few words. Scott had a sharper inflection and an enthusiasm for the game that came across every time. Summerall, however, did not.

I literally fell asleep several times listening to Summerall's play-by-play even with John Madden's enthusiasm coming across every few seconds. You could never tell by his (Summerall's) voice if it was 1st and 10 on the opening drive or 4th and 1 with ten seconds left in a tie game. It was the same monotone every time. If there was a local or national radio broadcast available of the game he was calling for CBS or Fox, I would listen to that with the TV sound on mute instead. I'm certainly sorry to learn of his passing.

Elsewhere, congrats to NBC's Dan Hicks on becoming the play-by-play voice of Notre Dame football beginning in late August. Hicks will continue to anchor the NBC golf coverage and some of the minor sports they televise. Mike Mayock remains as analyst. Word is that Tom Hammond will continue with NBC in another capacity, adding some mystery to this surprise move. Hammond has done a solid job of covering the college sports scene going back to his days as Sports Director of WLEX-TV Lexington in the mid-70's.

BOSTON: WBZ-FM The Sports Hub has the "half empty half full" glass this week. The March ratings, released earlier this week, show the station dropping overall from a 4.7 to 4.0 in just one month. But the "full" part is that they still lead rival WEEI-FM by more than 25% (a 2.9), with the Hub being the 7th most listened to station in the entire market. It is not going well for WEEI-FM, which dropped nearly half of a ratings point, and had host Pete Sheppard announce his resignation on the air on Saturday. Sheppard had returned last year after having left WEEI back in 2010.

DALLAS: KRLD 105.3 The Fan dismissed Greggo Williams, although fans did not learn of this one on the air. Instead, Williams actually broke the news via his own Twitter feed. Co-host Richie Whitt continues, at least for now, on The Fan. This completes a hat-trick of sorts for Williams, who has also worked for KTCK The Ticket 1310 and KESN 103.3 ESPN. As of press time, no word on a replacement on KRLD, nor of a new gig for Williams.

BALTIMORE: While a lot of sports stations around the country are having challenges, we have to acknowledge the great job that WJZ-FM has been doing of late. The new ratings show the station at #6 overall in the entire market for the month of March. For those, myself included, who didn't take their strong showing earlier this year seriously and instead attributed it to the Ravens' Super Bowl win, the March success proves the station is maintaining and growing its audience.

CHICAGO: I don't give WSCR The Score 670 much credit, but they do have a most interesting idea for next week. Since it is only one station (no AM or FM simulcast), the station is addressing that it has a White Sox broadcast next Thursday (4/25) running up against the NFL Draft. To its credit, the station is planning an NFL Draft "broadcast" with NFL analyst Hub Arkush from 6 to 10 PM CT to cover the Draft, which will air on the station's web site only. The "broadcast" will originate from a suburban restaurant and be open to the public. This is an excellent concept, especially from a station which often lacks sufficient reporting of actual sports news but goes to great lengths to air usless fan opinions.

WSCR The Score also announced that University of Illinois football and basketball broadcasts will return to the station beginning with the 2013-14 basketball season. The football broadcasts in Chicago will remain on WIND 560 for the coming 2013 season. The station also will continue to air DePaul University basketball. However, for the coming season, WSCR now plans to only air those DePaul games which do not conflict with Illinois broadcasts. With a strong midwest signal at night, this will be good news for Big 10 basketball fans who do not have access to cable or satellite TV for the games.

HOUSTON: The University of Houston will have a new play-by-play voice for both its football and basketball broadcasts starting this summer. Tom Franklin's contract was officially not renewed. In addition, the status of football analyst Ted Pardee and basketball analyst Elvin Hayes has not yet been announced.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's All In The Name

The impact of sports media continues to reach well beyond informing and entertaining the fans. You wouldn't think that the name of a specific team would be considered a sports media issue, but it could well be.

Sports fans over the years likely recall the occasional fan or ethnic group protest over team names such as the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, and others. It is understandable, even though after all of the years the majority of fans do not associate the team names with any ethnic group, liking, for example, the Rangers just the same as the Redskins.

Earlier this month, a group of "concerned parties" as well as former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials went as far as to directly ask Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the official name of his team out of respect to the Native Americans. Reed Hundt, who was the FCC Chairman from 1993 to 1997, was among those who personally co-signed a letter to Snyder in this regard.

This letter cites how "the FCC has long tried to encourage broadcasters to be aware of language used over the air. In some cases, following the dictates of Congress, the FCC has levied fines. As chairman of the FCC, I prosecuted a case against Howard Stern for violating indecency rules. Such cases have often led to subtle debates in appellate courts about the application of the First Amendment. "

Even more significant, with Hundt being among those who signed the letter, is the part which reads "the FCC clearly has the authority to investigate whether broadcasters’ use of derogatory names to describe sports teams and players comports with the public interest."

Later, the complaint to Snyder refers to incidents of broadcasters being disciplined or fired for on-air racial slurs, such as Jimmy The Greek and Howard Cosell did in separate national TV incidents years ago.

While I understand the position taken by the officials and the ethnic groups in this regard, I'm not understanding why Hundt and the others see this as something the media should be more involved in. All the sports media is doing, as they have for years, is reporting on these teams, which need to be identified within the context of each story.

It might seem unrelated, but for years I have taken issue with how freely the sports media, especially TV and radio, have gone along with stadiums and arenas changing names for fun and profit. Corporations continue to receive thousands of dollars in free publicity on many of the same TV and radio stations which are desperate for advertising revenue. To put it another way, how could a TV network (for example) allow a game telecast to promote "from A T & T Park" when T-Mobile has purchased commercial time?

All they would need to do is say the telecast is from "San Francisco". So why does this happen?

The response I have heard to that point is that the media is "reporting" the name of the venue, which it is their job to do. Hence, the media is doing the same thing with regard to the team names. It is simply not the role of media to change a name they didn't create. But maybe we'll soon see the day of "Stay tuned for Atlanta vs. San Francisco from the stadium in San Francisco".

On another note, the sports media has mostly ignored what could be a major story regarding betting on pro sports that broke earlier this week. On Monday (4/8), a U.S. Senate committee held a hearing about a bill which, if passed, would allow private investment groups to place sports wagers as a single entity in Nevada. The result could be groups of "investors" literally betting thousands or perhaps millions of dollars, as a single bet, on a game just the same as individuals at the casinos. The current laws allow individuals to place bets.

Even though no action was taken on this bill, even the possibility should be a worthy topic for the sports talk shows. If such a system were to pass (and the casinos have millions of reasons to want it), the possibility of significantly higher amounts being wagered on certain teams for specific games could impact point spreads across the board. Not to mention the amount of information about specific games that the large groups of "investors" would want and need from the media in order to make their decisions. (It is SB346 for those who wish to research this Bill.)

It makes me wonder how many more "odds" shows or programming segments would pop up on sports radio stations as well as regional and national TV sports networks. For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised if a CNBC, Bloomberg, or Fox Business Net (if not all three) would start shows specifically targeting these "investors" about to make their nightly wager. There is no denying how many millions more dollars would circulate every day if large scale wagering becomes a reality.

The accounts that I read said that the gambling industry officials who spoke in favor of this bill did not provide specifics as to how this would work in Nevada. Just a guess, but I'd bet that a "sports investment" company anchored in Nevada, which could place millions of dollars on a single bet(s) every single day would not be required to have all of its "members" physically located within Nevada. So you had better believe that if this Senate Bill passes, the coverage and attention to point spreads, injuries, weather, and pre-game information would be more in demand than ever before.

One quote from the accounts of the testimony about this Bill came from Randy Sayre, a former member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. He said "This is an enormous untapped market".

Elsewhere, why does ESPN have such a problem using "real" broadcast professionals on its studio pre-game and half-time shows? The lack thereof has gotten out of hand lately. This past Sunday (4/7) at 12:30 PM ET, ABC-TV had its NBA Preview show for a half hour before its first NBA game telecast of the day. Once again, the four "co-hosts" of the show were each either former players or writers. Michael Wilbon has tremendous knowledge of and insight into the NBA, but, as viewers can tell over and over again, is not an experienced broadcaster in a hosting role.

Yet, at the very same time, ESPN's Baseball Tonight was hosted by Tim Kurkjian, with his only guests during the 30 minutes being Buster Olney and a couple of other writers. Same story. Kurkjian is a baseball expert, and the information given to viewers during the show was solid. But Kurkjian is also not experienced or trained to be a program host. ESPN is a big-time network. They should be able to afford to use professional broadcasters to run the show.

MONTREAL: TSN Radio 690, the English speaking sports station for Montreal, has been the recipient of what so far is a successful petition campaign to remain on the air. The web site has already generated more than 15,000 to one such petition, in addition to more than 1,000 letters of support including some from advertisers. All of this has generated a May 6th public hearing regarding the future of the station, which airs the English broadcast of the Canadiens games.

KANSAS CITY: Henry Lake has joined SportsRadio 610 as co-host of the midday show along with Jay Binkley. Lake comes from KFAN Minneapolis. The revised midday show means that Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison have moved into the 2 to 6 PM spot on days when there are no Royals broadcasts during that time.

ATLANTA: Kristen Ledlow has joined the "Opening Drive" morning show on 92.9 The Game, replacing C.J. Simpson.

TAMPA: Another sports station bites the dust, although in this instance it is a Spanish language sports station. ESPN Deportes 1550 went to a Spanish music format last week, making it the second time that ESPN Deportes has been dropped in the Tampa Bay market.

FARGO: The Fan 740 is expected to add a news talk show to its lineup in early May when new management takes over, and technically will not be a full-time sports station. Joel Heitkamp's "News and Views", which currently airs on a weaker signal, is expected to be moved to 740 for the 8:30 to 11 AM time slot. Otherwise, 740 will continue to carry some of the KFAN programming from Minneapolis and other sports shows.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

More Teams Not Helping Radio

As much as I wish it were not the case, the past week has brought still more instances which show how much radio is losing its status, especially when it comes to sports.

The Cleveland Browns' radio situation is both interesting and bizarre. CBS and ESPN, competing for the remaining sports radio audience throughout the country, decided to team up for the Browns' radio contract. As a result, the Browns games will all air on three different stations at the same time. WKNR 850, The Fan 92.3, and WNCX 98.5 will all air the games, although only WKNR will air the four hour pre-game and two-hour post-game shows.

This move will only help the Browns. The team will benefit from both major sports stations promoting and covering the heck out of the Browns all week in order to promote their broadcast. With WNCX being a rock station, the broadcasts (even without the pre and post-game) will reach a "non-sports" audience as well.

For the stations, they will not have an exclusive on ad sales. What would otherwise be "one" audience listening to the broadcasts will probably be divided between the stations. A combined rating does not help each station sell advertising, especially when two of those stations are otherwise direct competitors. For the fans, it means having to go to different stations for the surrounding coverage instead of one station with everything on game day.

Jim Donovan and Doug Dieken will continue as the broadcast team.

If a move does not strengthen the total audience for one station, and potentially gets in the way of ad sales, it is not good for the station. That's not good for radio. But there's more.
Over in Syracuse, while the big local story is the NCAA Final Four, there is the matter of the baseball AAA Syracuse Chiefs. After two seasons on WSKO The Score 1260, the Chiefs have decided to no longer broker the time on the sports station. So what did the team decide? No more radio for all of their games.

Instead, the team has decided to have announcers Jason Benetti and Kevin Brown call all of the games online and sell all of the advertising themselves. The team, reportedly, did not even notify WTLA 97.7 ESPN of any opportunity to pick up the games either. The 144 regular season games will stream on My guess is this is not good for the local fans who are at the ballpark, working, driving, etc., and can no longer hear the games live. It could be good for fans around the country, especially of the Nationals (the Chiefs are their AAA team), who can now hear the live broadcasts online.

Put these two stories together, and it is NOT at all positive for radio. One team splits up the pie, while another abandons ship.

On the TV side, a note to say what a great job CSN Houston did in its telecast of Yu Darvish's almost perfect game against the Astros on Tuesday (4/2) night. Even in the 7th inning, the Network was ready with graphics and Bill Brown, Alan Ashby, and Geoff Blum on the telecast were ready with notes about perfect games, no-hitters, and the Astros' history with them.

The coverage even stayed at the Stadium through the middle of the ninth inning in order not miss a second of the drama. (Darvish lost the perfect game with two out in the 9th.) Even if the game wasn't "perfect", the coverage was. At least those who either have the national baseball package or whose cable or satellite systems actually carry CSN Houston were able to experience it.

Looks like we will all see an innovation coming from HBO Sports, even if there is nothing to innovate. Ken Hershman, the HBO Sports President, told a Harvard Law School Symposium last week that "HBO Go" is expected to be ready by the end of this year. This feature would allow subscribers to receive "real time sports" by phone, tablet, and PC.

However, the only sport that HBO currently airs is boxing. Yet, another HBO official was quoted as saying that HBO does not plan to offer boxing in any form other than live (and replay) telecasts.

In an equally bizarre story, Florida Atlantic University's football stadium will not change its name to be named for the GEO Group. Normally, we don't care about these stadium and arena names. I continue to be amazed that the media cooperates by promoting these corporate sponsorships so easily, especially when they don't have to. In this instance, the GEO Group operates prisons, and this "naming rights" deal was already the subject of protests. As a result, the school loses out on a multi-million dollar deal, at least for now. The kicker is that if it wasn't for this story, it's likely that most of us sports fans would never have known about that company's mission if it wasn't for the protest. That's quite the media influence.

NEW YORK: It might have been to further infuriate Red Sox fans, or it could have been to keep his hand in broadcasting. Whatever the reason, Bobby Valentine will make about a dozen appearances on SNY's Mets telecasts.

MINNEAPOLIS: CBS Sports Radio can say it has an affiliate and that its national lineup is airing in the Twin Cities area. But if a tree falls in this forest, well, it's hard to say. It's airing on a regional group of stations, WXRP 105.3 Cambridge, WGVZ 105.7 Eden Prairie, and WGVX Lakeville 105.1. Considering that KSTP The Fan dropped again in the most recent ratings, and that the Twins broadcasts now air on KTWN 96.3, which is not all-sports, I wouldn't make a big deal about this.

St. LOUIS: In addition to the loss of two of its former all-sports stations, now Bernie Miklasz has announced he will be leaving WXOS 101.1 and the midday show at the end of April.

COLUMBUS: Similar story in the Columbus area, where WHOK 95.5 from Circleville has dropped music and gone to all-sports, where it will be known as "The Game".

ALBANY: WTMM 104.5 has brought in Mike Lindsley to host its 1 to 4 PM show as of this week. Lindlsey comes from Syracuse where he hosted afternoons at WKSO. Lindsley will also host the station's local early pre-game show before the N.Y. Yankees games it airs.
Nearby WGNY 1220 Newburgh has become ESPN Radio, having just dropped its music format.