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.

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