Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Much Will NBC Direct TV for the NFL?

The NFL certainly knows how to parlay its television dominance into the coming years. Just as the NFL TV ratings hold steady against a very competitive baseball World Series, the word is that the NFL is considering adding still another TV network to the mix for some of its Thursday prime time games.

NFL Network is airing its 13 exclusive national games on Thursday nights again this season, and reportedly wishes to retain at least some live games in order to justify the increased subscriber fees. But of course, the prospect of still another national network in the mix could soon reduce its number of telecasts.

My hunch is that NFL Network will schedule six telecasts of Thursday night games, most likely during the first six weeks of the regular season. This way, the Network will have six live game telecasts as well as the Red Zone, the draft, live and replay exhibition game telecasts, and its full draft coverage to offer in order to maintain the subscriber demand.

Doing this would allow the NFL to put ten Thursday night games, including Thanksgiving, up for bid (minus the final week of the regular season). There would be plenty of bidding for this additional package. NBC Sports Network needs something people pay attention to besides the NHL, and these NFL games show up at a key time for the Network to further promote its NHL package. In addition, it would provide the NBC Group with Sunday AND Thursday night prime time telecasts.
Fox Sports 1 would likely bid, looking to give its potential audience a reason to tune in for the first time. And, we should not overlook Turner Sports, which already has an extensive NBA package as well as MLB mainly for the post-season.

Right now, with the discussion about how a couple of lesser NFL regular season telecasts held their own against the MLB post-season, the NFL knows to begin to look at the possibilities to generate even more revenue for their product.

What makes this even more interesting is that the Sunday Ticket package operated by DirecTV is still set to run out following the 2014 regular season.

Here is why I think the Thursday night possibility is related to Sunday Ticket. Have you noticed how many more commercials Xfinity (which is Comcast - and which owns NBC) has been airing which directly attack DirecTV?

My hunch is that Comcast/NBC is going to make a HUGE combined bid to take a Thursday night package AND Sunday Ticket along with it. NBC then beefs up the NBC Sports Network beyond the NHL, expands the promotional tie-in with Sunday Night Football on the main network. Xfinity then offers Sunday Ticket to its millions of Comcast Cable subscribers, which sends DirecTV reeling, and means that NBC shows every NFL regular season game somewhere, other than the ESPN Monday Night Football games and the few games that NFL Network retains. And, at the same time, it helps to keep Fox Sports 1 from being any threat of competition.

You heard it here first.

Meanwhile, even though it happened a few days before this writing, it is still sad to learn of the recent passing of Bill Mazer at the age of 92. Just as Eddie Einhorn invented the college basketball telecast, Mazer practically invented dedicated sports talk shows on the radio. Younger sports fans, as well as those without access to New York City radio, probably were not aware that Mazer was hosting sports talk on WNBC 660 New York as early as 1964 when he held the 4:30 to 6:00 PM time slot. (Yes, that's the 660 frequency that has been WFAN all these years.)

Mazer also provided commentary on Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets telecasts in the 60's, and appeared on CBS-TV's NHL package in the early 70's.

The mid-September to mid-October radio ratings are available, and they show Boston strong when it comes to sports programming. WBZ-FM Sports Hub continues to rise, moving up to #5 overall (actually tied with WBZ-AM). Of course, being the flagship station for the Patriots and Bruins (as well as the Celtics, who are just starting their season) certainly contributes. WEEI-FM, the flagship for the Red Sox, also increased to #9 overall in its third consecutive ratings increase. Expect more of the same strong showings for both stations next month.

In Washington D.C., I have to think that the controversy about the name Redskins is going to prove a money maker for the team's ownership, like it or not. WTEM increased its rating again, to nearly DOUBLE the overall audience it had three months ago, during the period of time when the Redskins' name was a big topic. Add in that the Nationals were nowhere to be seen by the time this ratings period began and that WJFK-FM dropped .4 of a ratings point during the SAME time. If you are not aware, WTEM is owned by Dan Snyder, who also owns the Redskins.

WFAN held steady in NYC, while WEPN ESPN 98.7 improved by nearly one-half of a ratings point in just the one month. In San Francisco, KNBR, even with the Giants failing to make the post-season, came in at #2 overall, with more than three times the total audience of KGMZ The Game, which aired the A's playoff games during this stretch.

Philadelphia fans went nuts for sports radio during this time. WIP-FM equaled the largest overall audience rating for a local sports station and finished #3 overall. Both WIP-FM and WPEN-FM ESPN jumped .6 of a rating point. For that matter, WIP-AM moved up .2 overall. This while the Phillies were eliminated and the Eagles struggle with a new head coach.

Seattle's sports audience is finally moving up, perhaps due to the Seahawks' solid start. KJR-AM increased by .7 of a ratings point and is now just behind the steady KIRO-AM. Even though these stations came in at #18 and #19 overall, their combined rating makes sports talk a strong local format, at least for the moment.

Perhaps the biggest surprises among other markets are Minneapolis and Tampa. KFXN-FM has jumped all the way to #5 overall, with a one-month increase of more than one and one-half ratings points, despite the Twins playing out a long and disasterous season and the Vikings going nowhere. Tampa's WDAE-AM rose to #11 overall and has increased its overall audience by 20% over the past three months.

And I will mention Houston, as KILT-AM continues a climb toward respectability with its fourth consecutive increase. KILT-AM has now increased its overall audience by 33% over the past three months, most likely due to the Texans' solid start. Even as KBMC, KFNC, and KGOW all struggle with ratings of less than 1.0 overall (each), KILT is showing that just maybe sports talk radio could be a factor in Houston after all.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Former Redskin Dexter Manley is out from WTOP 103.5 after calling Troy Aikman "a queer" on the air. Even saying "I take that back" right after did not help save his job. Over at WJFK 106.7 The Fan their "new" evening host is a most familiar voice. Don Geronimo returns to D.C. and is now hosting the 7 PM spot on those few weeknights when a Capitals, Wizards, or (next year) Nationals broadcast does not pre-empt. Geronimo may also be a part of Redskins programming on Sundays.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-AM will again air St. Joseph University basketball this season, which will be its third consecutive. Matt Martucci and Joe Lunardi will again handle the play-by-play.

LOS ANGELES: KLAC 570 has begun its "Dodger Talk - Offseason Edition" on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM from now through February, hosted by Kevin Kennedy and David Vassegh.

LANSING: Here is something you can't criticize ESPN for. ESPN will have two staff members meeting with selected students at Michigan State University on Monday (11/4) regarding careers in sports media. WKAR sports hots Al Martin will host a special Q & A session later in the day on campus. Having taught sportscasting at the college level myself for seven semesters, I can tell you first hand what a wonderful thing this is, and ESPN is behind it.

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