Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teams Doing The Media The Media Should Be Doing

Although I'm all for pro sports teams doing what they can to provide for their fans, it seems that some pro teams are now providing what the sports media should be concentrating on. Two instances within the past week reflect this. I'm not understanding why networks and local stations are paying huge money for rights to games and coverage of teams and leagues, yet some teams are now in the media business as well.

The first such story is about how the Dallas Cowboys' stadium will offer fans in attendance at their home games a "free dimensional video" feature which uses 24 high speed cameras in each red zone to create video game style replays. This system reportedly has taken about one month to install, and will be used by NBC-TV during the Sunday Night Football telecasts it has scheduled from Arlington TX this season. The curious part is that the Cowboys "partnered" with NBC to be able to provide this for fans attending the games.

On one hand, it is a positive that the fans will be able experience this feature at all home games (including those not televised by NBC), giving fans in attendance an additional element. But my concern is that the team is a "partner" in this venture. Aren't team executives supposed to focus on the player personnel and other such matters?

The next story involves the past weekend's Chicago Blackhawks Convention for fans.

Understandably, the downtown Chicago hotel convention sold out completely following the team's Stanley Cup championship. To the point that many of the panel discussions, seminars, and festivities over the weekend were streamed live. Where?

On ChicagoBlackhawks.com, which also provided exclusive interviews and other content. While it was a great idea for the team to provide this coverage and the extras at no cost to fans, it brings me to the rest of my point.

Isn't the media supposed to enhance the coverage of the teams? In recent years, we all know how broadcast rights fees have skyrocketed. And now it comes to expanded replays and convention coverage, and suddenly the teams are taking over and not the sports media.

This does reflect how fans, in addition to the live telecasts, want factual interviews and live coverage of their favorite teams. There is a reason that teams are becoming involved in this, and that they recognize the demand for it. However, this is the media's responsibility to provide it. Here we have a whole bunch of sports radio stations struggling for an audience, and a growing number of TV regional and national sports networks which are starving for quality content.

Within the same week, the Big Ten Network unveiled BTN2Go, an application for phones and tablets allowing live streaming (to all who are cable/satellite subscribers. In addition to the regular BTN, this application will make the "extra" football telecasts (when they show overlapping games) available for streaming, along with access to current season games and other archives of past telecasts. A great service, indeed, but it is the Conference offering this up and not a TV or radio rights holder.

There are a couple of media related attempts at this, but with a "catch". The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is offering a mobile site for NFL information, primarily about the Green Bay Packers (understandable) but with access to a variety of updated NFL information and coverage via MJSFootball.com. However, the site will be free for what it terms "a limited period" and then become part of a paid subscription.

So let's get this straight. Some teams are leagues are expanding live and updated coverage of their teams as a benefit to their fans. At the same time, some of the media which is covering these teams is planning to charge even more for fans to follow their teams. And so many people wonder why the audiences are becoming so fragmented.

All that said, the NFL is back, with this Sunday (Aug. 4) marking the return with the opening exhibition game on NBC at 8 PM ET. The Hall of Fame Game with Dallas against Miami will feature the regular Sunday Night Football crew in action.

The NFL Network has added two more reporters. Judy Battista, who has covered the NFL for the NY Times since 2004, has been added to the Network's roster, along with Jenn Brown, formerly with ESPN. Brown will host NFL Total Access and appear on other live programs throughout the year.

Fox Sports 1, which debuts within the next month, has added several analysts for its Fox Sports Live program, which is one of its time-fillers (ooops, I mean new programs) on its daily schedule. These include Andy Roddick, Gary Payton, and Donovan McNabb (who will no longer be seen on NFL Network).

Meanwhile, CBS Sports Radio still hasn't made a dent, and the outlook isn't getting any better. The latest casualty is WCFN 100.3 The Fan in Cincinnati, which (today before press time) on July 30th dropped its CBS Radio Sports and its sports programming completely and flipped back to music. Almost all of the local sports staff was released. After seven months, the station still ranked last in the market.

In Topeka KS, KTOP 1490, which also had joined CBS Sports earlier this year, failed to show in the latest ratings book. In Toledo OH, WLQR-FM The Ticket, which recently switched to CBS Sports Radio, has literally dropped more than 2/3 of the total audience it had earlier this year.

NEW YORK: ESPN Radio continues to be aggressive about the New York area market. Long Island's WLIR 107.1 Hampton Bays and 96.9 Selden is about to begin a simulcast of WESN New York. This will reportedly include the Knicks, Rangers, and Jets broadcasts. Word is that only Stony Brook football will air locally on these stations. What this does is put ESPN Radio into a better regional reach for competing against the strong WFAN 660 AM signal. The timing is important, since radio rights to the Yankees and Mets are still in the works for next season and beyond.

SEATTLE: While Steve Raible is returning for his 32nd season as Seahawks radio play-by-play voice, he will have a new analyst as Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon has been brought in to fill that role starting next week. Including his stint as a wide receiver for the team as well as his time calling the games, Raible has missed only four games in the team's entire history.

On the TV side, not many people outside of Seattle are aware that the TV pre-season voice of the team will again be Curt Menefee, who actually begins his fifth pre-season in that role. Yes, that's Curt Menefee who hosts Fox NFL Sunday. Former Seahawks Brock Huard has been named as his analyst for the pre-season telecasts on Fox Channel 13 Seattle.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM ESPN 980 is changing its afternoon drive show, starting this week (Aug. 1). Steve Czaban, former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and Al Galdi will host "The Drive With Cooley and Czabe" from 4 to 7 PM. This replaces "The Sports Reporters" which ran for 13 years, most recently with Czaban and Andy Pollin. Pollin will remain with the station, at least for now, doing fill-in work.

MARQUETTE MI: WZAM 970 ESPN has added its 93.3 FM and is now simulcasting throughout the Upper Peninsula. However, the daily local show, with Casey Ford and Bill Blohm, stays at only one hour from 4 to 5 PM on weekdays.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NBC Joins The Race

NBC Sports Group appears to be on the way to a checkered flag of sorts for its effort in securing significant NASCAR rights this week. The Group reportedly significantly outbid ESPN (word is with a nearly 50% increase in rights fees) to gain the package and other broadcast benefits.

I'll admit I personally remain curious as to why ESPN let this package go. I'm sure there will be the good sounding answers such as ESPN "not having enough time for sufficient NASCAR content" based on its relationships with the NCAA, MLB, NFL, and the NBA (and that is valid). My hunch is that the real reason for not pursuing this NASCAR package is that ESPN did not want to share any part of this with Fox Sports.

Over the past few years, once competitive networks have been forced to share sports packages. We see examples most of the year, such as NBA telecasts on TNT cross-promoting scheduled games on ESPN/ABC and vice versa. Now that Fox Sports is attempting to compete with ESPN and various regional sports networks with Fox Sports 1, I'm thinking that ESPN doesn't want to be put in that position of having to so much as acknowledge Fox Sports 1's existence. And now they don't. This piggy-backs on the Keith Olbermann hiring announced last week which "just happens" to coincide with the debut of Fox Sports 1. ESPN continues its defensive stance against Fox Sports, trying to make sure it struggles to get off the ground.

For NBC Sports Group, however, they stand to win big time from this rights acquisition. Plans are already underway for NASCAR series telecasts to be on NBC and NBC Sports Network, each of which figures to benefit from "major" spring and summer content moving forward.

Included in this deal are exclusive rights (for NBC Sports Group) to practice and qualifying sessions and video-on-demand rights. Other than NHL season, NBCSN is starved for quality live content and being able to provide thorough coverage of a sport which draws a respectable audience gives them just that. (Sorry, but the "North Podunk vs. South Podunk State" college telecasts they seem to have during college football season don't cut it.) Whether you respect NASCAR or not (and I'll admit that NASCAR hasn't exactly dominated this column over the past few years), it delivers a faithful audience from certain hotbeds around the country year after year. Since Fox Sports had already negotiated an extension with NASCAR, it means that ESPN and Turner Sports will be losing their NASCAR coverage by the end of 2014 when current contracts run their course (pun intended).

NBC Sports Group also has secured the Spanish broadcast rights as part of this deal. And, of course, it is likely that the various Comcast SportsNet regional networks (also owned by NBC) will begin to saturate the various "local" sports shows with much more NASCAR coverage when this new contract takes effect.

Sports media also took a turn, with an indirect assist from NASCAR, earlier this month during TNT's telecast of the NASCAR 400 from Daytona, due to an advertiser and social media. During the telecast, a phone company introduced a "real time Twitter race" during a commercial and then "updated" during the telecast as viewers "voted" via the social media service for a favorite "driver".

Real time "reports" showing the top 5 leaders (vote getters), and it turned out that Dale Earnhardt Jr. received the most votes, a trophy, and a $10,000 donation to a charity of his choice.

Normally, I would be very much against a "fake" race being included within a live telecast of a "real" sports event. However, I see a value to this feature for other sports telecasts, and think this use on the NASCAR telecast was actually a solid test. A real time form of audience participation on a live sports telecast could be used to keep a blowout game interesting.

I could see it in the near future where, for example, fans tweet during an NFL time out as to whether "their" team should go for a one or two point conversion if a touchdown is scored.

Elsewhere, ESPN announced two more of its Sunday Night Baseball telecasts for August. Tampa vs. the L.A. Dodgers provides an interesting interleague matchup on Aug. 11th. To the surprise of absolutely no one, it will be the Yankees vs. the Red Sox on August 18th.

SEATTLE: The Seahawks will now have their games, including pre-season, broadcast in Spanish by Alex Rivera and Raul Sandoval starting with the team's August 8th pre-season opener. The ESPN Deportes group of three smaller stations will air the games, along with a two hour pregame and minimum one hour postgame wrapup, with those being KBRO 1490 Bremerton, KLDY 1280 Lacey, and KNTB 1480 Lakewood.

DALLAS/Ft. WORTH: The Ft. Worth area gains another sports station, as KCLE 1460, which also airs Rangers baseball to the west portion of the Ft. Worth area, is picking up ESPN programming and ending its days as a country music station.

DETROIT: Not sure anyone will notice, but WCAR 1090 has become an NBC Sports Radio affiliate, which the station somehow thinks would "replace" ESPN Radio.

ATLANTA: 92.9 The Game is moving Rick Kamla from mornings to middays and pairing him with Jamie Dukes, finally replacing Jerome Jurenovich (who has been gone since April). Jason Bailey comes in to co-host mornings. Bailey joins The Game from Orlando, and is not the Jason Bailey who co-hosted mornings on a local country music station.

As is the case in most other big league markets, the play-by-play rules the roost. On the TV side the word is that Braves baseball telecasts have shown better than a 17% increase over last season through the All-Star break.

SAN FRANCISCO: KGO 810 has extended its deal to broadcast University of California football and basketball by another five seasons. This continues what has already been a 40-year relationship between KGO and the school.

PITTBURGH: Congrats to Bill Hillgrove, who is about to begin his 40th season of broadcasting Pittsburgh Panthers football next month. This will be the fourth season on 93.7 The Fan, which now gives listeners a three-hour pregame show before each game. Pat Bostick continues as analyst. This season's broadcasts also mark the return of another local broadcast veteran, as Larry Richert, who actually produced the Pitt football broadcasts for four seasons in the 80's, and is currently morning host on sister station KDKA 1020.

CHICAGO: Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has been signed for his second season as analyst on WMAQ-TV Channel 5's "Sports Sunday" show which airs about an hour after NBC's Sunday Night Football game ends.

OKLAHOMA CITY: Matt Pinto will return for another season of Thunder broadcasts on WWLS 98.1 and now sister station KPWN 640 under a contract renewal with specifics not announced. The "Sports Animal" also plans to add a Thunder call in show prior to the start of the coming season. WWLS has aired the Thunder during its entire history.

Ft. MYERS: Looks like "The Fan" couldn't decide between CBS and NBC Sports Radio, so they are splitting up their simulcast of WFWN 1240 Ft. Myers and WNOG 1270 Naples. One is now an NBC Sports station and the other is CBS as of this week. But no word yet on local programming for either.

SCRANTON: WDMT 102.3 is dropping music and going sports in early August, soon be known as The Sports Hub. Although the station promises to provide a local afternoon drive show, the remainder, however, is slated to be NBC Radio Sports.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Olbermann The Alternative

Bringing back Keith Olbermann is actually a good "defensive" move by ESPN this time around. Olbermann is returning to host a nightly (11 PM ET when live telecasts allow) highlights and discussion show beginning the week before Labor Day. The timing coincides with the start of football season, although my thinking is that football was not as much of a factor in this hire as most people will think.

Here's hoping that Olbermann will be able to do what he does best, which is to report on sports news and games, while finding a twist or an angle to make the topic even more interesting to viewers while keeping things light when the story merits. Many fans have long forgotten how Olbermann first came to national prominence during the NFL strike in 1982 with his unique reporting for a "new" national network, CNN. This show could well be a much needed alternative to SportsCenter, which airs at that time on ESPN on most nights. SC has been jumping around so much from one story to the next that all continuity is lost, and if a show such as "Olbermann" (as it will be known initially) takes off, it gives fans a choice between the two shows.

ESPN smartly recognized that it needs to retain viewers who are getting fed up with SportsCenter's staggered approach to every sports. Even though the upcoming Fox Sports 1 has not yet provided ESPN with a reason to be concerned, this "defensive" move is designed to keep viewers from punching up the remote.

Even though Fox Sports 1 is scheduled to begin during August, the majority of what quality programming it will have won't be starting for a while. Some events, such as its MLB package, will not get going until 2014. All Fox Sports 1 is doing is filling time, as evidenced by its announcement earlier this week that their nighly "discussion" show, called "The Crowd Goes Wild" will be hosted by Regis Philbin. (Should that have been a period or a question mark at the end?)

Take a poll among sports fans you know. If they had to choose between watching Keith Olbermann or Regis Philbin for their sports information and discussion, who would they all choose?

This is exactly what makes ESPN starting the "Olbermann" show so timely. A pre-emptive strike against a possible future competitor. At least ESPN has an audience, making this more meaningful than the hype last fall when CBS and NBC both decided to cook up radio sports networks to begin this year and have barely been heard from since.

ESPN is even allowing Olbermann to maintain his earlier commitment to TBS as a studio host during its post-season MLB coverage, to the point of not airing his show during that time.

The radio ratings for the month of June are out, and only a couple of the big markets made progress regarding sports stations. NYC's WFAN went up to 13th place overall, now with twice the audience of WEPN. In San Francisco, KNBR 680 held on to a tie for first place overall, even with the World Champion Giants struggling to get out of last place this season. KNBR has to be pleased that KGMZ The Game, even with the A's games, still have less than 25% of the total audience that KNBR has.
In Philadelphia, WIP-FM dropped a bit but is 12th in overall audience, while WPEN increased and is now 21st in the market. But the news still isn't good in many other markets.

Chicago's WSCR The Score and ESPN 1000 WMVP combined for a 1/2 point overall dip, while in Dallas neither KTCK The Ticket, KESN ESPN, or KRLD showed any increase in overall audience. Atlanta's WQXI 790 dropped again and still is not in the top 20.

Houston and Los Angeles continue with sports radio struggles. KSPN 710, which is not even in the top 25 stations overall, dropped again yet has double the audience of KLAC (even with the Dodgers broadcasts) and KLAA is even lower. In Houston, only three of the four sports stations showed up in this ratings book, with not one showing an overall increase or being any higher an a mere .8 rating.

Cincinnati and Milwaukee continued their trend of the baseball play-by-play and some sports programming ruling the roost. WLW showed its highest ratings since last summer, while WCKY ESPN 1530 dipped again, now at a .5 overall. Yet, WCKY is well ahead of WSAI, while the CBS Sports Radio WCFM FM 100 turned up with a .1.

CHICAGO: The Chicago Bears have hired former defensive tackle Anthony Adams to co-host a new weekly TV show designed to focus on what the players do when not on the field, practice, or training camp. The "Inside The Bears" show will air weekly on (sister TV stations) WFLD and WPWR. What makes this interesting is that the Bears will actually produce the show for the stations while using a studio that the team has built. The team also plans to have segments of this show, and more features, available via the team's web site.

While this is a nice idea for the fans, it raises the question of why a pro team needs to do this on its own. Hopefully, some of these struggling all sports radio stations will get the hint that fans enjoy live games and fresh content a lot more than hearing anonymous callers giving their opinions.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

One That Should Not Have Been Reported

Even though it is the media's job to report stories, and I'm among those that finds too much speculation and not enough actual reporting, there are certain things that should go unreported. One such example came last week, when a few stories came out about jerseys of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who was recently arrested in a murder scandal.

Shortly after this occurred, I saw and heard several stories about how the Patriots were accepting Hernandez jerseys being returned and offering to replace them at no cost with a jersey of another Patriots player. It was quite understandable that this received media attention. Whether you think this was a necessary move or a nice gesture by the team, that information needed to be reported to sports fans.

However, to my dismay, there were a couple of stories that came out a couple of days later about how Hernandez jerseys were selling for and being offered on Ebay and other auction sites for upwards of $2,000. One of those stories reported on an actual sale that fetched into four figures. In this instance, this was a story that should have gone unreported.

Do we really need to teach young people to hang on to memorabilia of an accused murderer for possible financial gain?

My answer is no, we don't. I wish the reporters that checked this story out would be spending more time at team practices and actual games looking to break stories that are informative to sports fans.

What has become of our newspapers lately? The saying "If you build it, they will come" seems to be as forgotten as the afternoon paper with all of the late box scores from the night before. Sure, they are in business to make money, but until recently their "business" was to provide quality and informative content to serve their audience. In return, advertisers would be more than willing to spend in order to reach their target audience, and subscribers would renew every few months and further support the publication(s).

One example is last week's announcement by the Miami Herald about the E-book they published all about the Miami Heat and their NBA Championship run, complete with photos and a recap of their just concluded post-season. Once upon a time, the major newspapers in cities which have championship teams would rush to put out at least one extra section with the photos, highlights, and recaps of a championship season. These sections would be included within a Sunday paper or perhaps on a specified weekday, with the idea of increasing the circulation for that day. In addition, people remember the section and the newspaper for a long time as they save them, with a reinforced image of that newspaper being a primary source for coverage of their team.

Yet, the Herald did not give away its book. Anyone who wanted one had to go online and pay $3.99 to get it. This is not to say that the Ebook wasn't worth $3.99 for all it contained. This is not a book review. My bet is that this "offer" turned off more Heat fans than it turned on. Once upon a time, the whole idea behind doing such a book was to give a lot of people a compelling reason to buy a particular issue. Maybe some who bought will also be impressed with the other content to consider buying more editions of the paper or maybe add a Sunday or full subscription. That same $3.99 could have gone for a couple of Sunday papers or for a week of buying the entire paper. Instead, those who paid the $3.99 now have little to no added reason to read the regular editions of the paper.

Elsewhere, it was reported by the (excellent) Awful Announcing web site that the Boston Herald will be unveiling an online news and sports stream within the next few days. The Herald's web site is expected to have a sports program with news and comments from fans via phone calls and social media.

Wouldn't the Herald be better off to use their personnel to better report the sports news and write the columns instead of copying other sports shows online? How is this going to help sell more papers if fans can go online and stream the information for free?

For that matter, why would Boston fans need to go online to the Herald site when they have their current sources as well as the fierce competition between WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM for the sports talk audience?

In both of these instances (Miami and Boston), sports fans are being asked to go somewhere other than to the newspaper itself to get the information they might want. This is the same thing I have been saying about radio stations. If the newspapers (and radio stations) had continued to do the job of reporting and discussing sports well enough in the first place, chances are the sports information available online and via social media would not have caught on as much or as quickly. Instead, they are chasing when they could have still been leading.

On top of this, Gallup poll results announced just this week showed that more than twice as many consumers get their "news" from the internet than from newspapers. If they aren't thinking about the local newspaper, chances are that includes their web sites.

Meanwhile, last week's no-hitter in Cincinnati thrown by Homer Bailey led to some interesting live TV moments in the minutes that followed the last out. MLB Network, which happened to be originating a live national telecast, has reporter Sam Ryan ready on the field for the first interview. During that time, Bailey was doused by his happy teammates. Yet, Ryan stayed on live and padded until Bailey dried up with a towel enough to answer a couple more questions.

That was probably not the way Bailey wanted to celebrate. And it showed moments later when Fox Sports Ohio's Jeff Piecoro decided to ask Bailey about the one walk which, as it turned out, kept him from a perfect game. Bailey responded with a profanity and Piecoro and the Reds' broadcast crew were left to apologize right after.

SAN FRANCISCO: Great news that Hal Ramey returned to KCBS Radio last week, returning after successful surgery on his vocal chords that has had him off the air since February.

CHICAGO: WGN Radio, riding on being the flagship radio station of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, has now gone to all sports every weeknight from 7 PM until midnight. The David Kaplan Show will air on nights that WGN does not have a Cubs, Blackhawks, or Northwestern University game broadcast. On the nights of "full" shows, the 11 PM to Midnight hour will be hosted by Jordan Bernfield and Mark Carman and include a recap of earlier interviews and highlights.
Kaplan will continue to host "Sports Talk Live" on Comcast SportsNet Chicago most weeknight evenings before the radio show begins.

St. LOUIS: WGNU 920, licensed to Granite City IL, has decided to enter the sports talk derby now that KFNS has gone away from it. Starting the first week of August, McKernan & Company (with Tim McKernan coming over from KFNS along with Doug Vaughn and Jim Hayes) in the morning, followed by Frank Cusumano. Bryan Burwell, Joe Strauss, and Charlie Marlow will host early afternoons, with Kevin Slaten to handle 3 to 6 PM along with (former Cardinals standout) Jack Clark as his co-host.

Our readers over 50 may remember WGNU from when Harry Caray came to Chicago to do White Sox radio in the early 70's, and WGNU became an affiliate so that Harry could still be heard in the St. Louis area.

ATLANTA: Georgia Tech football and basketball games will now be heard only on WYAY 106.7 FM starting this season, as the games will no longer air on The Zone 790. It seems odd that The Zone would lose local play-by-play at this time, especially with the recent changeover of its morning show from Chris Dimino, Stake Shapiro, and Nick Cellini.

LAS VEGAS: They haven't yet established odds of which radio sports network will go where locally, but at this rate.....

Now KMZQ 670 has dropped Yahoo Sports and picked up Fox Sports Radio for all times other than its weekday morning syndicated talk show. KWWN ESPN 1100 and 98.9 continue to dominate the local sports radio market (although only at a 1.6 overall rating most recently), while KXST 1140 barely shows up in the ratings as a CBS Sports Radio affiliate.