Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NFL Fans Get Their Pick - Late

Although the month of May is now upon us, the NFL has managed to dominate the sports media news even though we are literally in the middle of the off-season. The NFL Draft, which took place this past weekend, drew record ratings for both networks which did telecasts of the entire event, ESPN and NFL Network. Both networks were able to add to the theatrical element of their respective telecasts by delaying the official announcement of the picks in the first round in order to give them time to be ready with video and thorough statistics about the players chosen. The NFL cooperated by holding off making the public announcement, seemingly handled like a TV timeout in the final minutes of a game, by doing so up to two minutes later.

Viewers saw "Pick is in" on the screen and the next team on the clock while the networks scrambled
to be ready with the "package" about the player as soon as the official announcement was made.

Meanwhile, some of the reporters on the scene went ahead and used social media, especially Twitter, to get the info about the picks out to the fans as soon as possible. For some unknown reason, some members of the media were upset about those who spread the news of the picks "early". The feeling from here is that the NFL should not have gone along with a delay in waiting for the announcement and enable ESPN and NFL Network to show the news right as it happens.

As we (viewers) could see, it takes only a couple of minutes to bring up the prepared 'package' with the selected player's statistics, background, and video. After it is shown, the analysts on the telecast reacted to the selection and then began to set the stage for the next team's pick. It would seem that these networks should have had the draft picks be shown announced immediately. The analysts could have then reacted immediately (instead of having minutes to prepare their comments), and THEN the video and statistical information could have been shown as soon as possible.

Many viewers went with the "delay" before the picks were announced because they enjoyed the analysis and speculation about the picks that each network was providing in competition with each other. But that doesn't mean they wanted to wait to get their information.

In the San Francisco Bay area, the Raiders have decided to change radio stations for the coming season and left KITS 105 and 1550 in favor of the all sports KGMZ The Game 95.7. The Game officially began their extended Raiders coverage with a 3-hour draft coverage special hosted by Greg Papa, who will continue with radio play-by-play. The station is already planning support programming specific to the Raiders during the week. However, The Game showed up with less than 1/3 of the total audience of KNBR 680 in the most recent ratings period, with KNBR expected to remain solid as the flagship station for Giants baseball. To its credit, The Game obviously expects to be in "the game" for the long run, now having play-by-play for both the A's and the Raiders.

New England Patriots fans now know who they will need to get used to for radio play-by-play, as Bob Socci has been named as the team's radio voice on WBZ-FM Sports Hub 98.5. Socci replaces the legendary Gil Santos, who handled the duties for the past 36 seasons. Scott Zolak returns as analyst.

Moving over to baseball, it is great to see MLB make some of the classic games library available to fans. I had noticed that MLB Network showed very few "classic games" this past off-season compared with those before it (since coming on the air on 2009). While that was disappointing, those games were yanked in favor of mostly fresher programming. Of course, once upon a time ESPN Classic actually showed classic games of the big four major sports, but as we all know, that has died off significantly within the past three years.

Now, MLB has gone to YouTube, and that is excellent news. MLB Advanced Media has an official license agreement via YouTube and has already begun uploading hours and hours of classic games, as well as highlights of practically every game going back to the 2010 season. "Fans around the world are getting more Major League Baseball video than ever before on YouTube, continuing to make YouTube a daily sports destination," said Frank Golding, Director of North America Sports Content Partnerships.

Entire classic games are already available, as well as extended highlights. One search I did brought up some complete game telecasts of no-hitters, for example. Best of all, as of now, there is no (additional) cost to view these via YouTube. Great idea, but it becomes ironic that consumers are having to pay a monthly fee (whether they want it or not) for the ESPN Networks, while YouTube now shows more and better baseball classics than ESPN Classic.

It is finally NHL playoff time, and this marks only the second year in which every post-season game will be televised nationally. First, we have to marvel at the TV audience marks gained by the Pittsburgh Penguins of late. The Penguins' TV ratings on Root Sports could finish as the highest EVER for a regional sports network over the course of a regular season. On a national scale, according to Sports Business Daily, the season ratings will likely finish ahead of those for the 2007 Red Sox, the 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs, and even the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls' ratings in Michael Jordan's final season with that team.

Locally, the Penguins have nearly doubled their TV ratings over the 2008-09 season. Very impressive. Same with the Boston Bruins, whose telecasts on NESN wound up at a 35% increase over the previous season.

During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the various regional sports networks are only to show first round games in addition to the NBC and NHL Network national coverage. Starting with the second round, the games will only be available via the NBC Sports Group. NBC will show up to five of the seven games of the Stanley Cup finals, which include the opening game and then the clinching game.

Those of us who pay attention to sports media should keep a closer eye on the PGA Tour over the next few months. Andrew Chapman of the PGA Tour marketing team revealed in a presentation that golf now has a bigger part of its audience following via online, even while at home. Chapman admitted that the vast majority of site visitors monitor the leader board, with research showing that roughly 59% over the age of 50. It will be interesting to see how the PGA plans to reach a younger audience, which is necessary to build loyalty for years to come.

IMG Sports Media is combining its overseas sports production wing and post-production studios into one location for the first time. Located near London, the new facility will handle "sports and entertainment content distribution", as well as becoming what it terms "directly connected" to many of the sports stadiums and facilities in the UK. The facility is expected to be fully operational by this time in 2014. This move reportedly does not effect IMG's New York or Stockholm facilities.

NBA Hall of Fame member Isiah Thomas is returning to broadcasting, although this time not in a basketball role. For whatever reason, Thomas has been selected to host "Unfinished Business With Isiah Thomas", which will focus on Americans who have overcome obstacles to become successful. It is not considered to be a sports show. However, the biggest obstacle could well be that the show will air on Cinemoi North America TV starting next month (June). Finding potential viewers who have even heard of that network, let alone knowing where and when to find the show is a signficant challenge already.

ABC/ESPN is already touting some of its college football telecasts for the coming season. Having a Big Ten package also allows it to show a pair of early season key road games for Notre Dame, including the Irish at Michigan on Sept. 7th and at Purdue on Sept. 14th, both now scheduled for prime time. The network also thinks that Ohio State is going places next season, having already scheduled a prime time telecast at Northwestern (which means portable lights) for October 5th.

ESPN is also expanding its college baseball coverage this month, adding another 50 exclusive telecasts to its list of games. The network plans to show every Super Regional game (which could be as many as 24 from eight locations) which lead into the College World Series it has been televising in full. ESPNU will show the announcement of the 64 team field at Noon ET on Memorial Day.

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