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.

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