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.

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