Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sports Radio Missing The Boat Again

It is probably the radio in my blood coming out again. What was once the dominant media for sports fans continues to sit around while other media and technology passes it by. Over the past few weeks, I have used this space to point out several instances in which sports leagues and organizations have taken to doing for themselves what radio (and TV for that matter) used to do.

Still another example came to light earlier this week with the announcement that MLB Advance Media is upgrading its "At The Ballpark" phone app for next season. MLB officials provided selected onlookers with a demonstration at Citi Field in New York, showing features such as how a coupon would pop up when a "user" at the ballpark walks into a merchandise shop, the ability to upgrade seats once inside, and several more features.

What does this have to do with radio? In my opinion, plenty!

Once upon a time, back in the days long ago and far away when radio was king, a percentage of fans coming to an MLB or NFL game wouldn't think of entering the stadium without their trusty radio. You could not find a place to sit in Dodger Stadium without hearing Vin Scully's play-by-play from at least one nearby radio if you were not using your own.

Now we fast forward to today. Some radio stations hosting play-by-play of the games, for which they have paid millions of dollars to do, maintain an on-air delay which means that people at the game do not even get a "live" description of what they are seeing. (Some sports venues, such as the Milwaukee Brewers, promote an FM frequency for the "live" feed within the venue, but not enough of them do this.)

Even with easily available technology providing pitch by pitch or down by down accounts of all other games in progress, the majority of pro and college sports radio broadcasts rarely provide enough updates of other games going on, some of which are of definite interest to fans of that team. How ironic that these play-by-play broadcasts brought us MORE updates on other games when all they had was a Western Union ticker doing so every few minutes.

I have nothing against phone apps and teams and leagues working to improve the fan experience at the venue. Actually, at these ticket prices, they had better be. However, radio stations could and SHOULD be at the forefront of this.

What about having the play-by-play announcer TELL fans listening at the game that "The pizza stand at aisle 110 has a free slice when you buy another available this inning only"? That "There is room for ten fans in the 300 level to move down to section 105 for only $5 more". And so on.

By doing this, the team and the station are providing thousands of fans with additional reasons to have a radio with them and listen to the broadcast. Fans not at the game are hearing about all they can do once they do come. And, fans at the game do not have to have a certain type of phone, have downloaded an app and hope it works, worry about their phone draining on them, or be distracted from the field of play.

Instead, radio stations go on thinking that the fans will get the other scores and the weather on their phones, and don't bother with this. While at the same time, incredibly, teams and leagues are spending money (which comes from these radio stations) to develop their own way of communicating with their fans. And leaving radio in the dust.

Meanwhile, the radio ratings for the August into September period are coming out this week for the larger markets, with this report being a mixed bag.

All eyes are on Boston, where both WBZ-FM Sports Hub and WEEI-FM showed overall audience increases of more than one-half of a ratings point for month, which is good. Although The Sports Hub is still ahead, WEEI has closed the gap over the past few weeks following its controversial Program Director change.

In New York City, WFAN, wrapping up being the flagship of the Mets with a dismal season, dropped one-half rating point overall for the month. Much of this audience probably went to the Yankees broadcasts on sister station WCBS 880 until next season. WCBS was strong overall, and finished #1 overall in the ratings for the Nassau-Suffolk specific ratings for Long Island.

San Francisco listeners, with both sports stations hosting local baseball, showed KNBR down slightly as the Giants faded out of contention. We have to wonder if The Game KGMZ is going to be a contender, however. Even with the A's fighting for the playoff berth they achieved, The Game again held steady with the previous two ratings periods. Yet, in Detroit, where the Tigers were going for a Division title (just as the A's), WXYT-FM The Ticket rose overall by more than one-half of a ratings point for the second consecutive month. This while WMGC-FM literally lost more than half of its total audience within the same time period.

In Texas, sports radio continues to be more of a factor in Dallas when compared with Houston. Dallas' KTCK The Ticket, KESN-FM ESPN 103.3 and The Fan KRLD-FM all showed total audience increases from .2 to .3 of a ratings point. The start of Cowboys season and the Rangers fighting for another playoff berth were certainly contributors, but having all three stations increase indicates it is the situation and not anything one of the stations is or is not doing. Yet, in Houston, KILT has started showing a pulse, by way of a one-half point increase over the prior month. However, KBME, KFNC, and KGOW, once again did not even combine to come up near what KILT has. What makes the
Houston sports radio race even more frustrating is that it is now Texans season, while Astros and Rockets telecasts are not or will not be available in very many homes due to provider negotations with CSN Houston.

Philly and D.C. are helped by NFL season, as expected. Philadelphia showed noteworthy overall increases for both WIP-FM and WPEN-FM as the Eagles season got underway. In D.C., WJFK-FM, also the flagship for the Washington Nationals, showed its highest overall ratings in more than a year, while WTEM ESPN 980, the flagship station of the Redskins, increased by .6 of a ratings point for the month.

Yet, several of the markets which struggle with sports talkers brought the same result this time. In Los Angeles, KLAC 570, even with the Dodgers broadcasts during a remarkable season, continues to finish below the Top 20 stations, while KSPN 710 dropped for the 2nd consecutive month. In Miami, it took the combining of WAXY AM and FM to total a 1.0 rating, while WQAM and WINZ remain below that level.

CBS Radio Sports continues to struggle. In both Atlanta and Tampa (with both markets having MLB teams headed for the post-season), each market's CBS Sports station came in, AGAIN, with less than a single ratings point overall. And in Seattle, KFNQ did not even show up in this ratings book, even more embarassing when you learn that both KRIO and KJR have increased their overall audiences by one-half of a ratings point EACH over the past three months.

On the TV side, TBS did reasonably well with its "unscheduled" telecast of the Tampa vs. Texas play-in game on Monday night (9/30). The game was not set until about 27 hours before it began, went up against a strong Monday Night Football telecast (involving south teams), yet showed respectable audience numbers. Suprisingly, Tampa actually showed a higher local rating than Dallas, odd considering how many more fans saw the Rangers at home all year compared with the Rays.

No comments: