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.

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