Friday, June 28, 2013

The Teams Win While The Media Doesn't

The near future of sports media appears to be reflected in the results of a marketing survey revealed by Sporting News Media, based on more than 1,000 interviews of American adultsin 2013. Among the most significant results are that about 44% are now watching sports in HD, while online sports consumption seems to have passed radio and print.

Personally, I find it disappointing that radio and print have been "passed up", after the majority of my years as a sports fan having been spent with both of those playing a major role in shaping my sports world. The results of the SNM Survey show just how much Twitter and Facebook now play a role for sports fans, and to me it is the role that radio used to play.

Not everyone that reads this blog has reacted well to my comments over the past couple of years about sports talk radio losing its luster in many large markets. As much as I would rather this recent survey produced results to prove differently, they don't. Speaking from a sports fan viewpoint, the fact that radio (moreso than print) could have done so much more to prevent this from happening is what makes this frustrating.

Before the internet and mobile and remote access to TV came upon us, radio was the most instant and constant "reporting" media for sports fans. The news stations in major markets would usually have at least one sports focused show or sportscast during each drive time. The (then) few all sports stations spent time reporting on actual sports news and trying to break stories, instead of speculating and guessing with casual fans all day long.

If the radio stations had continued like they used to and maintained a high level of sports reporting and kept the fans' interest, they might not have lost so much of the audience. There have been too many occasions lately where all sports stations air a "scoreboard update" at night or on a weekend, and the out of town scores are often left out or not even updated. A few years ago, this would not have happened this way.

Too many radio stations seems to assume that the listener has access to the updated scores online and/or by phone, and they think they don't need to give them as often, if at all. Therein lies the problem. If I, as a sports fan, need to go online (or somewhere besides that radio station) for the latest scores and headlines, I have far less of a need to listen to that station.

Radio play-by-play has become saturated with more commercials and promos than ever before. It's getting to the point where every type of play is sponsored by an advertiser. Worse yet, the "out of town scoreboard" now seems to be sponsored by still another advertiser, which means it is only heard at certain pre-scheduled times of the broadcast.

Compare this with the good old days when the teams in the same division as your favorite team were mentioned throughout the game you were listening to. No more. The days of "Detroit just scored a run in the 5th inning......" are long gone. Partially because there is so little time for such information because of the clutter of commerical and promotional announcements which plague most play-by-play broadcasts. One more thing that drives sports fans to faster and more instant sources.

The print media has made the huge error of making the internet separate from their operation instead of making it an enhancement. These days, we have newspaper organizations looking to have readers pay for their content online instead of allowing advertisers to make it all happen. Many, if not most, newspapers charge advertisers different rates for the print vs. the online side. Because of that, they guard their online content, even though online viewers almost always see advertising on the same page as the content they are seeking.

Instead of having a newspaper's online site update the morning's content and updating with new stories and columns, they practically hide it from us. Again, because of the prominence of sports related web sites and other news sources, sports fans go elsewhere other than to a newspaper web site. As a result, many sports fans stop thinking of their local newspaper (and often their favorite radio station) as a source of information. Instead, as the marketing survey confirms, they are going to other web sites or even trusted sources online FIRST.

Not all radio or TV stations have adapted well to social media either. We had the example last week of Q101 Chicago, a music FM station which does not do any sports, putting out a controversial tweet. After the (eventual Stanley Cup champion) Blackhawks lost Game 3 of the Finals to Boston, a tweet by the radio station said the team was "raped" during the loss. Needless to say, fan complaints prompted disciplinary action.

However, the fact that the tweet was in poor taste is not my point for this column. The point is that the radio station is being blamed for the tweet as if it went out over the air, and it did not. Now a station with no sports credibility has damaged its "reporting" reputation, and it was over something that was not even on the air. On a different level, this sort of thing is along the lines of newspapers treating their web site(s) as a separate entity, and shows the damage it does for its current, former, and potential audience.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Give Us Action - Not Opinions

It should be obvious that sports fans love their live play-by-play of the games as they happen. The ratings for TV and in most cases for radio prove that month after month. Hopefully, even the broadcast executives are aware of this. However, it seems that not all of them are.

Fans clearly do NOT want a talk show or an abundance of excess commentary while "their" games are being shown. Look at how many markets show much stronger audience ratings for live game telecasts than they do for the local sports talk stations. And with good reason.

However, the New England Patriots appearantly don't think this is the case, and this could be alarming. The NFL continues to be a ratings bonanza, especially for television. Let's face it. Whether you are interested in Tim Tebow or not, there will be a lot of attention paid to the Patriots in the early going with a focus on whether or not Tebow plays, and how he might perform if he does see game action.

It was with great concern when I saw that the Pats' pre-season local TV for this season will no longer have Don Criqui and Randy Cross, each of whom has done games for national networks over the years, calling the exhibition games they can televise locally starting in just a few weeks.
Kraft Sports Productions, which controls the local telecasts, has every right to make a change in announcers. Heck, listeners to Patriots radio already have to get used to life without Gil Santos, which for many listeners will literally be the case.

The problem on the Channel 4 local telecasts, which begin on August 9th when the Patriots play Philadelphia, is that Kraft Sports is planning to turn the telecast into a talk show, with a (to be announced as of press time) "host" and an analyst on the field, even during the game itself.

Kraft Sports claims they will have reporters who cover and specialize in the Patriots available during the telecast to review the plays. As you might expect, the word is that social media will also play a role.

Could there be a dumber idea than this? Why would they take away emphasis from the game itself?

The fans who watch these pre-season games do so because they want to see how the team(s) looks in preparation for the season. How are the draft choices and free agents doing? For that matter, WHO are the players that just completed the play? After all, in pre-season with larger than ever rosters, even the most avid fan doesn't know the number of every player. Coaches often change players from play to play to see certain guys work in specific situations.

If, instead, fans will be hearing from "experts" instead of being told what specifically is happening on the field, it will resemble a sports talk show moreso than a game telecast.

This appears to be the only instance of an NFL team going to this, and hopefully it will stay that way - if they go through with it. This concept is not completely new, however. For probably the same bizarre reason, the Chicago White Sox have tried this for the past three or four years with some of their pre-season radio broadcasts.

In that case, they actually air the first four or five innings of "regular" play-by-play before then stopping to take phone calls with the game broadcasters and sometimes do related interviews.

Fortunately, this has been the only attempt at this on the MLB side.

At least in the case of the Patriots, the exhibition games will be on TV, so hopefully fans will be able to see every play as it unfolds. Yet, if fans are not told the name of the player(s) involved in each play, instead having analysis, it will make watching those games more of a challenge.

In both of these cases (Patriots and White Sox), there is NO need to clutter up a live game broadcast with this. The Patriots receive plenty of solid coverage aside from the games. WEEI and WBZ-FM Sports Hub devote hour after hour to analysts and fan opinion. The White Sox games air on WSCR The Score, a full-time sports station which could just as easily air White Sox coverage with the broadcasters and team officials at any other time of the day or night during spring training.

Fans tune in for the games. Not to have them analyzed or discussed in place of the action. These days, we as sports fans are paying out of our wallets for these telecasts. (Look at the price of cable / satellite fees every month.) The days of "free" over-the-air games which are completely advertiser supported are over. As it is, we are forced to deal with the excessive amount of advertising and clutter throughout every pro and now many college telecasts.

Now, teams such as Patriots and White Sox have begun steps to rob us of actual descriptions and concentration on the game itself. I still don't see where people are watching the TV sports network "talk shows", whether they feature various reporters and analysts or fan opinions, more than the game telecasts. On the radio side, in most 'major league' markets, the stations airing the play-by-play have better ratings than the stations taking endless phone calls from fans asking and giving their opinions about the teams.

Where is the demand for commentary ahead of actual play-by-play?

Let's carry this a step further. What kind of "analysis" will fans get from these team controlled "interactive" game broadcasts? In the case of the Patriots, Kraft Sports Productions is under Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots. White Sox broadcasts are, likewise, controlled by the team. Do you think that if Tim Tebow throws three consecutive interceptions, he will be ripped apart?

What about the advertisers? Most of them are advertising for the purpose of sponsoring the play-by-play game broadcast. If, instead, their ad dollars are going to a "host" reading or showing a Twitter feed that "Joe from the north side thinks the team should trade its first round draft choice", those advertisers are really not getting what they paid for.

Same for the fans. If we as fans want analysis and honest opinion on the Patriots or White Sox (or whatever team), we would tune to one of the sports talk stations (not controlled by the team), read the social media we choose, call our friends, or whatever else we have been doing for years.

Giving fans more reasons not to tune into pre-season games is not healthy for teams looking to sell tickets for the upcoming season and/or merchandise. Please stop the madness - before it begins.

Elsewhere, more of the May radio ratings have come along.

Speaking of Boston, the WBZ call letters have major value at this point in time. WBZ-FM Sports Hub has raised its overall audience by a full ratings point within the past three months, with the Sports Hub clearly taking away from WEEI-FM, which fell by more than 1/2 of a ratings point just from the prior month.

In Detroit, the Tigers' climb into first place and expected serious run this season has already translated to a more than 20% increase in the overall rating for WXYT-FM The Ticket. The flagship station for the Tigers is now in third place in the market. Another example of play-by-play helping the station is in Seattle. KIRO has risen just over of a 1/2 ratings point since March thanks to the Mariners broadcasts, even though the Mariners are slipping away in the standings already.

In Denver, KOA has shot up more than 1 1/2 ratings points since March due mainly to its Rockies broadcasts, while the station continues its news/talk format otherwise. Yet, KKFN The Fan 104.3 dropped slightly again in this book, while KDSP ESPN 102.3 held steady with less than 1 rating.

That's also the story in Cincinnati, where WLW keeps its overall rating in double figures, while not one of the three all-sports stations there could muster anything better than a mere .6 overall. Up in Cleveland, WTAM with the Indians games has risen over a full ratings point since March, while WKRK (all sports) has dropped nearly 1/2 point during the same period. In Kansas City, KCSP, the flagship station for the Royals, has improved more than 1 1/2 ratings points since March while WDAE Sports Animal and WHFS The Fan 98.7 both showed dips during the same time.

In other markets, the fear that I had when CBS and NBC entered into the sports radio derby at the start of this year is coming to fruition.

In Minneapolis, KFXN The Fan continues with strong ratings, while KSTP ESPN 1500 has held steady with less than half of The Fan's overall audience, while the WGVX/WGVZ/WRXP combo of CBS Sports stations has already plummted to a mere 1/2 point overall. Similar story in Tampa, where WDAE Sports Animal, even with a slight dip, still more than doubles up on WHFS 98.7 The Fan, and while WHFS 1010 and its CBS Sports national station didn't even show up. In Orlando, the "competition" is such that WDBO has gone up to only a 1.0 overall rating, which now more than doubles WYGM The Game 740.

Memphis sports fans were excited about the Grizzlies run in the NBA Playoffs, as WMFS showed a more than 1 1/2 ratings point increase since March and entered the market's Top 10 most listened to stations. Yet, the other sports stations, WHBQ, WPGF, and WMC each dropped during the same time and are all under a 1 rating.

One positive note for NFL fans who enjoy the "extra" coverage and analysis. ESPN, NBC, and NFL Network have, coincidentally, added former team executives to analyst roles in time for the coming season.

Former Rams GM Billy Devaney and former Browns GM Phil Savage have both been added to ESPN's new "NFL Insiders" show, which is now scheduled to debut on August 5th. The NFL Network has added Charley Casserly, who has been GM for both Washington and Houston, to an analyst role, with the specifics of his duties to be announced soon.

NBC has countered by adding former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli to its Sunday Night Football coverage. While a welcome addition, it already seems as though there are more hosts and analysts on Sunday Night Football than there are players in the game. Pioli will also appear on NBC Sports Network's Pro Football Talk on Mondays.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The "Finals" For Less Advertising On The Court

There will be one more thing to remember from the current NBA Finals between Miami and San Antonio other than the obvious. These game telecasts on ABC will likely be the "Finals" for clutter free televised pro basketball. ABC/ESPN and TNT are paying the big bucks for NBA television rights, and because of that the NBA itself is letting these networks, along with several regional sports networks, have their way for their advertisers.

Those of you enjoying the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the NHL season have undoubtedly noticed the increase in the number of advertisements which clutter up the boards in each venue. Plus, in some cases, there are advertisements actually on the ice, in addition to the names of some of the arenas.

Now, the NBA is taking their game telecasts to this level. The league has gone as far as to send a memo to the individual teams about where and how much more "in-game" advertising is being allowed beginning with the coming season. Teams are now able to sell space on the sideline areas between the baselines and the coach's box. From the sound of things, this will be similar to what the NHL has allowed for the boards.

And there's more. The NBA will also allow local teams to have an advertiser's logo on the floor in front of one or both team benches. The league memo says that these logo ads will need to be removable and will be "restricted" to locally televised games. Which, of course, is the majority of the games for even the most popular teams.

My personal contention is that this added advertiser clutter is only going to get worse. Much of the feedback I receive from writing "The Broadcast Booth" focuses on my complaints about teams wearing alternate uniforms (or "throw-up" jerseys as I call them), as well as crap such as pink or special colored wrist bands, patches, bats, shoes, and other items during professional game telecasts.

This practice especially annoys me when players are forced to wear something which is not even a team color and/or that makes it harder to read the numbers or player names.

I'm here to tell you that this is really a "warm-up" for viewers to prepare us for when (and I do mean WHEN) pro leagues allow advertising on the uniforms. At this rate, ten years from now the players will look more like NASCAR drivers than representatives of the teams they play for.

Here's hoping they stop the madness, but I'm not counting on it.

Should game telecasts and broadcasts focus solely on the game when related "news" is breaking?

Last week brought us an interesting example of both sides of that debate in the New York market.

Hours after the story broke (on June 4th) about the possible punishment for MLB players such as Derek Jeter and Ryan Braun, among others, the Yankees game was underway. Those watching the Yannkees telecast vs. Cleveland on YES heard about the story during the game only when studio host Jack Curry gave a brief report during his in-game update. Otherwise, Michael Kay, Al Leiter, and John Flaherty did not discuss this "news", instead sticking with the game accounts and the "regular" information.

This came up on Kay's sports talk show the following afternoon on 98.7 ESPN, on which Kay was responded by saying, in effect, that game telecasts are not for the purpose of opinion and discussion.

At the same time, Tuesday night on the Yankees radio broadcast, John Sterling and Syzyn Waldman went as far as having N.Y. Daily News reporter Mark Feinsand in the booth with them to discuss the situation as it might pertain to Derek Jeter.

That same night, SNY was televising the Mets game against Washington. Gary Cohen and Ron Darling directly discussed the drug story during the game. (I was not able to find out by press time whether or not Mets radio addressed this or not.)

Personally, I understand both viewpoints as to why and why not review the story, especially when it is as heavy as being drug related. However, this situation occurs even when the "news" is not as 'heavy'.

For another example, I'll go back to late September 2011 when the word got out during a Chicago White Sox game that Ozzie Guillen was being fired from his manager position. The White Sox telecast included discussion of the situation, while the radio broadcast, also controlled by the team, did not. It was to the point where the radio broadcast only referred to a "press conference after the game" without so much as speculation, even though the flagship station is an all-sports radio station which supposedly covers breaking news.

Whichever philosophy you agree with (discuss or not discuss), I would hope you would agree that a pro sports league should have a policy in place for its team broadcasts. For all we know, this is a personal decision.

But here is another question. Why does a pro sports league take the time to detail exactly where local advertising can be placed upon its playing surface, but not have a "news coverage" policy in place for those same broadcasts?

The radio ratings for May are starting to be released this week. Briefly, NYC showed slight gains for both WFAN and WEPN. In Chicago, a surprise as WGN Radio, flagship for the Blackhawks and Cubs, showed an overall decrease of 1/2 ratings point. WSCR The Score 670 showed a slight decrease while no longer doubling up on the total audience of WMVP ESPN 1000 which showed a .4 overall ratings increase.

In San Francisco, KNBR continues to lead the market with help from its Giants broadcasts, and continues to have more than four times the overall ratings of The Game KGMZ. The Game, however, did show its biggest audience increase to date as the Oakland A's got off to a solid start.

It's the usual for Los Angeles and Houston where sports talkers continue to struggle. In Houston, only KILT came in with anything above a 1.0 rating (and not by much), while two of its sports stations failed to show up in the ratings book. And you wonder why KTRH got rid of the Astros broadcasts?

CHICAGO: WGN Radio has a problem it enjoys from being the flagship station for both the Blackhawks, now in the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Cubs. The station has decided to go with the Blackhawks as a priority and move the Cubs baseball games which conflict over to WLUP 97.9. Earlier in the Stanley Cup playoffs, WGN was sending the Blackhawks broadcasts over to "The Loop". If the Blackhawks vs. Bruins series goes seven games, there would be three such conflicts.

This could also be due to the fact that Comcast SportsNet's ratings for Cubs baseball are reportedly down about 15% from the same number of early season telecasts as last season. The White Sox, also off to a disappointing start, are showing ratings down more than 20% compared with last season.

ALBANY: Nearby WPTR 1240 Schenectady has become the area's third sports radio station, dropping music to pick up the CBS Sports Radio Network. Curious timing when you realize that WTMM ESPN 104.5 has seen an overall ratings drop of more than 50% this year while Fox Sports 980 failed to show up in the winter ratings book.

JONESBORO AR: KCJF 103.9 The Game will be dropping its sports programming at the end of this month and returning to an undisclosed (as of press time) music format.

BOZEMAN MT: Montana State football will be seen quite often in the region this fall. Max Media has announced that it will televise seven of the school's games, while ROOT Sports has already scheduled four telecasts. As of now, only the MSU at Southern Methodist game on Sept. 7th is not yet scheduled for TV.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Play-by-play Rules The Ratings

Even as the weather finally improves throughout most of the country, sports fans continue to flock to live telecasts, especially for the playoff games. The NHL continues with strong ratings over the past week. For the current Conference Finals series, solid numbers are to be expected, given the hockey friendly markets of Pittsburgh, Boston, and Chicago. Los Angeles, even with the defending champion Kings, continues to be another story. This past Sunday (6/2) the NBC Sports Network Game 2 telecast from Chicago had a local rating of 2.3, compared with the 16.6 rating for the same telecast in Chicago. Ouch. Especially when you consider that the Saturday Game 1 telecast of Boston vs. Pittsburgh on NBC in prime time resulted in higher ratings than those in both local markets.

The Miami Heat probably saved the day for ABC by beating out the Indiana Pacers in seven games. An Indiana vs. San Antonio finals series would not have been a ratings grabber, but the most casual of basketball fans wants to see if LeBron James and company can win for the second straight year.

However, it appears that even with a prime time pre-game show, ABC will be keeping the same studio crew which still lacks a true broadcaster. Even though Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose, Magic Johnson, and Bill Simmons each offer solid analysis, they still need someone to be in charge. The best example of this is when Fox Sports tried to do its NFL studio show with Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, and the others before finally bringing in Curt Menefee and putting him in the host chair. Right now, this is a case of too many analysts and not enough hosts. Prime time viewers deserve better.

On the baseball side, it appears that fans know exactly when and where they are watching. Last week's "rivalry" stretch provided some interesting local market results for choices with duplicate telecasts. In New York, the Yankees vs. Mets series actually finished with a slightly higher rating for the Mets' telecasts over the Yankees' telecasts, with each showing games on cable and over the air. In Chicago, the Cubs and White Sox rotated telecasts on Comcast SportsNet and over the air, and came in with only a very slight edge to the Cubs.

Yet, in California it's a different story, which is most likely a reflection of the announcing. In the San Francisco area, the Giants' telecasts tripled in the ratings over the A's telecasts, even though the Oakland telecast of their Wednesday meeting had a season high. Frankly, A's announcing over the years hasn't been the most enthusiastic, especially since the days of Bill King.

But same situation in L.A. where the Dodgers telecasts outrated the Angels telecasts by a full ratings point, while the Dodgers games were called by Vin Scully.

An even more interesting MLB ratings find is that sometimes it makes a difference who the pitcher is. At least when Yu Darvish starts for the Rangers. Through his first 11 starts of the 2013 season, the Rangers telecasts on Fox Sports West have an average rating of 1.2 rating points higher than all other local Rangers telecasts this season.

For St. Louis Cardinals fans, it's almost as if ESPN is trying to interfere with Fox Sports Midwest. ESPN has now scheduled the Cardinals for their 4th Sunday Night Baseball appearance, which will be on June 23 vs. Texas. The Cards will also be on this coming Sunday (6/9) from Cincinnati and are scheduled vs. the Cubs on July 14th. They were already featured on April 21st, and could be shown on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball a maximum of five times this season.

ESPN also announced that Baltimore vs. N.Y. Yankees will be its June 30th telecast.

TBS is bringing in Keith Olbermann to be studio host for its MLB post-season coverage. This actually marks a return to Turner Sports for Olbermann, whose first national sportscasting gig was with CNN years ago. His reporting from the NFL strike in 1982 helped bring him to national prominence. Olbermann will handle the post-season studio assignment because once again Ernie Johnson Jr. will be calling play-by-play on the #1 crew, while Brian Anderson will handle the #2 crew play-by-play in October.

DENVER: Congrats to Gary Miller who adds play-by-play of Colorado State University football and basketball airing on ESPN 105.5 starting this summer to start a 3-year contract. Miller has been with KCNC-TV for more than 20 years, and the early word is that he will reduce his TV workload before the start of football season. Brian Roth will continue in the analyst role, returning for his 14th year. Miller, who previously called the Broncos on radio for seven seasons, will also host CSU coaches shows.

CALIFORNIA: Riverside's KTDD 1350 has gone to Fox Sports Radio, dropping its music format, and starting it without local programming. Up in Visalia, KIGS 620 has pulled the plug on Fox Sports Radio, which it had changed to less than a month ago. KIGS has changed over to NBC Sports Radio.

WINNIPEG: CFRW 1290 TSN Radio has already benefited from having the NHL Jets on the station. The station just showed its strongest ratings in nearly ten years, rising more than 1 1/2 rating points overall. This looks more impressive when you factor in that news/talk CJOB 680 dropped to its lowest overall audience in nearly 15 years even though it still leads the market. The realignment of the NHL in time for the 2013-14 season will likely mean even more interest in the Jets, which will be back in the Western Conference and play more games against Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Chicago, and Los Angeles.