Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another Sports Team To Provide Its Own Coverage

The Boston Celtics and the NBA made what seems to be a "small" announcement earlier this week, but it really continues the alarming trend of teams and leagues increasing their own sports media presence. That is not good for a couple of important reasons.

"Home Court Advantage" is the name of a 30-minute pre-game show to be available approximately one hour before the start of Celtics home games. This "show" promises player interviews, a look at team practices, and player features, but will be live and is also slated to include social media Q & A with fans.

What makes this show so different, and significant? Plenty. The show is being produced by the Celtics, who sold a sponsorship tie-in with a charge card company, and will be available on most smart phones via the team's free mobile app as well as streaming via Celtics.com.

As much as I like having a live pre-game show, and the fact that it will be available to those in attendance prior to the game, the fact remains that the team will be producing this show. Let's face it. If the Celtics are on a losing streak, or a particular player is struggling, how objective is this show really going to be? Do you think, for one second, that the team will allow negative questions via social media to be addressed?

In addition, because the team will be promoting this show, it could or will take away from the pre-game coverage of the radio and TV broadcasts of home games. The Celtics could command interviews from specific players and provide "team" information which even the official radio and TV station or network might not, considering the team has the players, coaches, and executives under contract.

This is a slap in the face to the radio and TV outlets, which are paying the team millions of dollars for broadcast rights. Now, the Celtics are directly competing for the SAME fan base, as well as for the advertising dollars they have secured by creating this program.

From the standpoint of the fans, they will now be getting "team biased" coverage instead of potentially objective coverage, while still paying higher monthly cable/satellite fees caused partially by the fees charged by the sports networks which show the games.

Pro teams are becoming media and marketing entities, instead of being focused on putting a winning team on the field, court, or ice. And now more and more teams are causing the media itself and the fans to pay for it.

On the NHL side, what a huge deal for Rogers Media in Canada, which has seemingly purchased the entire league for itself in Canada with the just announced reported $5.2 BILLION deal. Starting next season (2014-15), Rogers will have complete Canada rights to all Canadian telecasts (including some regional networks) in all languages, as well as mobile platforms, online streaming, and even Hockey Night In Canada telecasts.

The deal awaits approval by NHL owners during their upcoming December 9/10 meetings. It is hard to imagine that the owners would not jump at a multi-billion dollar offer that does not directly impact the U.S. rights to the majority of its teams. This deal, upon approval, will give Rogers the ability to re-sell certain telecasts to other networks and entities. One early report claims that Rogers will sell Hockey Night In Canada rights back to TSN, even though it might compete with those (previously exclusive) telecasts on some level in certain cities. Also expected to be included is Rogers taking over NHL Center Ice and NHL Game Center Live, and handling advertising sales across the board for NHL.com starting next season. This is reportedly a 12-year deal.

Keep in mind that Rogers also already owns regional rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs, among others, airing more than 200 games per year, as well as owning the Toronto Blue Jays.

TSN appears to be the big loser in this new deal, although that network, with more than 9 million paying subscribers, will continue to televise locally about 25 Maple Leafs games, 60 Winnipeg Jets games, and the majority of Montreal Canadiens games, all during the regular season.

The mid-October to mid-November radio ratings are starting to come out (as of press time), with the largest markets available. In New York, WFAN and WPEN remained the same overall, although WFAN finished tied for #10 overall in the market. In Chicago, both WSCR The Score 670 and WMVP ESPN 1000 rose by .2, with WSCR at #14 overall, one of its best ratings periods ever.

There is movement among the Dallas sports stations, with KRLD-FM now up more than 35% over the past three months. KTCK AM-FM also went up more than one-half of a ratings point, while KESN dropped .7 overall from just two months earlier. Philadelphia also has a very strong showing for sports radio in general, with WIP-FM now tied for #3 in overall audience and WPEN at #12. If those two stations' ratings were combined, they would be #1 in the market by a wide margin.

However, the sports radio rise is not across the board, at least based on what is announced so far. Houston's KILT remained at a respectable 2.1 rating, while KFNC and KBME each continue to flounder at under a 1 rating. In Los Angeles, the end of the Dodgers' post-season run meant a drop of .1 in the over all ratings, the same margin by which KSPN went up, but neither station is near the top 15 overall. And in Atlanta, WGZC-FM increased to a 1.3 rating (still not in the top 20 stations) while WQXI held steady at under half of the WGZC-FM audience.

In Washington, D.C., we will soon have media teaming up to provide additional coverage. In what is being called a "content sharing agreement", the Washington Times will begin using Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic Network's digital coverage within its print and online content. This announcement comes as rumors of Comcast looking to acquire Time Warner Cable have surfaced.

Quite interesting when you realize that CSN Houston is currently in court regarding a possible bankruptcy involving its failed Houston Astros deal. Yikes.

Thanks for the feedback from several of you regarding the Turner Sports decision to televise the same NCAA Final Four games three different ways. The majority of those who responded think this will be overkill and agree that Turner Sports might be better suited toward keeping all of their production eggs in one basket.

Meanwhile, sometimes my memory isn't what I think it is. ClassicSportsTV caught it last week when I refered back to Curt Gowdy bungling the names of the Kansas Jayhawks starters during the 1978 NCAA tournament he did play-by-play for on NBC-TV. The Kansas vs. UCLA game was not during the Final Four (as I mistakenly stated). It was during the regional finals of that tournament.

But I do remember to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Lot Left In The TV Rights Battle

Team and league rights fees and advertising dollars continue to dominate the sports media news this week. Even the lawsuits currently going on regarding Aereo and its online TV station delivery station have begun moving into the sports world. Aereo is currently allowed to provide subscribers with access to local "over-the-air" TV stations in various markets around the country for only a few dollars per month. Those are for stations which are also available on TV sets with a digital antenna. Local TV stations have begun fighting this service as if they are entitled to revenue for signals that they have been sending "free" for years.

Now comes word that NFL and MLB are requesting court intervention to prevent Aereo and any other similar services from adding other stations which show their games to outside markets. The leagues reportedly generate in the area of $100,000,000 in "retransmission rights" from "broadcast stations".

It appears that both leagues overlook the millions in rights fees they receive for local "over the air" telecasts, even though they are becoming fewer and further between in most cities. The more games the pro leagues allow cable networks to show, the lower the "over the air" rights fees will be, and many local advertisers will have one less resource.

This, while CSN Houston continues in a significant court battle over Astros rights, and while upstart cable networks are openly struggling for viewers. An Advertising Age report last week revealed that certain Fox Sports 1 advertisers are already being given additional time on Fox Sports college and NFL related programming in order to bring them some results. The story also revealed that some of those advertisers got some of the "extra" commerical availabilities during World Series telecasts, such as during pitching changes.

Fox Sports 1 only averaged just over 100,000 more prime time viewers during the third quarter than it did as Speed Channel during the similar period last year.

Meanwhile, an interesting Sunday (11/17) for CBS when the Baltimore at Chicago NFL game was delayed for nearly two hours due to the severe storm that moved through the Chicago area. Viewers in the Chicago area missed out on much of the pre-game show due to storm coverage, which WBBM-TV also continued with throughout much of the delay, while most of the rest of the audience for that game was sent to other games while waiting. This also gave CBS two additional hours of "coverage" in some areas until the game, which went into overtime, was concluded, bumping up against Fox Sports and its doubleheader telecast.

The viewer reaction in Chicago was mixed. Some people actually complained about weather coverage bumping some of the football coverage, while others had the opposite complaint due to the severity of the storm. Even the media reporters had a mixed reaction to the situation. This happened to be the second and last time this season that CBS had the Bears telecast in Chicago, since only two AFC teams per season play at Soldier Field in Chicago. However, WBBM-TV does not have an additional digital channel, and thus could not devote one channel to complete football coverage and another to weather coverage. That would have been the ideal solution, but it was not available.

It will be interesting to see if or how the NFL reacts to this. After all, it has only been in the past few years that football games have begun to experience rain or storm delays. (The power loss delays are a different matter.) I have to wonder what might have happened to the Bears-Ravens telecast had that been the doubleheader game and been delayed well into prime time - and directly against NBC's Sunday Night Football pre-game and game telecast window.

Elsewhere, a couple of unusual announcements. Turner Sports has decided to expand its exclusive telecasts of the NCAA Final Four telecasts on the Saturday leading into the championship game. TBS will continue as planned with the traditional national telecast of each semi-final game, marking the first time these games will be only on cable. Yet, sister networks TNT and TruTV will take the same production and make those "team" telecasts for fans of one of the teams.

I would love to get some feedback about this. On one hand, the network showing these games should be providing as thorough of coverage of each team as it can, and the "regular" national telecast should be sufficient. Other than Curt Gowdy goofing up the names of the Kansas team in the championship game many years ago, the finals have been well covered by whichever network. It seems as though we the people accept that championship games have been relatively neutral with their coverage.

On the other hand, this concept does give viewers a new option they have not experienced before, at least for TV. (Satellite radio listeners have had the option of hearing the national or either local broadcasts for many playoff and championship broadcasts over the past few years.) The ability to experience one team coverage and different announcers could add enjoyment even for the casual fan.
The thought of a having a controversial play (and how often that happens in a championship game!) and the ability to switch between all of the coverage has a lot of intrigue.

Finally, there was the announcement that the Oakland Raiders now have a separate channel on Pandora. At first, my thought was that Pandora is taking another step toward knocking off HD Radio by featuring a team and adding to their content inventory. I was expecting to read about replays of games and a long list of content. But no. Instead, the press release explains that the channel "is going to be a bunch of tracks to get you pumped up and ready for Raider football". In other words, this is nothing but a music channel along the lines of a music shuffle channel. I'm not seeing how that would pump anybody up for a football game.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Viewers Rights vs. Rights Fees

The rising cost of fans seeing live sports on TV continues to become a bigger and bigger issue. Perhaps the biggest ongoing story in this regard is still pending, while CSN Houston's fate could well be decided by a judge in the near future based on the court case regarding the multi-million dollar long-term contract with the Astros.

While the NFL has yet to have a local telecast blacked out (through the first nine weeks of the current season), we have the possibility of DirecTV losing the Sunday Ticket package following the 2014 regular season.

Now we have the FCC and the National Association of Broadcasters each speaking out regarding blackouts of local telecasts. Last week, the Acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn announced a proposal to eliminate the FCC's sports blackout rules, which includes the NFL's. For some strange reason, a NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) spokesperson was quoted (via TVNewsCheck) as speculating that games which would have otherwise been blacked out would increasingly become available only via cable/satellite and/or pay TV services.

What makes the NAB response so insane is that the "services" which are spending literally billions of dollars for TV rights are owned by the big TV networks that the NAB represents. If the NAB truly feels this way, they should be taking steps to have Monday Night Football moved back to ABC, which is owned by ESPN. Same story with CBS, now giving up even more of its NCAA Tournament coverage because of revenue from Turner Sports. NBC Sports has the NHL rights, but puts the majority of its games on NBC Sports Network, and soon we will have Fox Sports moving MLB games to its new cable networks (if they survive long enough).

All of this, with a lot still to be determined, while fans, along with millions of "non-sports fans", being charged more and more every month for their cable/satellite service. Shouldn't the NAB be concerned about THAT?

At press time, we have reports that the Chicago Cubs could be ending their "forever" agreement with WGN-TV to televise their games following the upcoming 2014 season. Even though the Cubs are part owners of CSN Chicago, which now televises more games than WGN-TV, reports are that the team is considering starting its own network, along the lines of the Yankees' YES Network. Of course, it is possible that this is speculation to increase the bidding from other sources. This will serve to make the Houston ruling even more significant. If the judge rules against CSN Houston and voids that contract, the Astros and their MLB worst record may not get anywhere near the "original" amount for their TV rights moving forward.

This may seem an unrelated fact, but it is cause for media concern. Sam Walker reported that the percentage of viewers of the recent World Series in the age range of six to 17 was only 4.6%. If the younger set is not getting into the habit of watching the biggest of MLB games now, the prospect of them turning into the coveted 18-34 demographic does not bode well for those bidding on MLB telecasts in the near future. Especially when you consider that the same study showed the NHL Conference Finals at approximately 9% - and that was during the shortened season.

NBC has begun to flex its Sunday Night Football schedule, taking the Kansas City at Denver game away from CBS on Nov. 17th (week 11). This move puts the Green Bay vs. N.Y. Giants game on Fox as a doubleheader game, while moving the San Diego at Miami telecast on CBS to 4:05 PM ET that day.

NEW YORK: The Mets now have their new radio deal in place, with the emphasis on promotion rather than revenue. WOR 710 has the games for at least the next five seasons, but a key to the deal is the promotional value of WOR's sister stations. This will be the first time since 1987 that the Mets will not be heard on WFAN 660, which, instead will air the Yankees games. Howie Rose will continue as the play-by-play voice. This move leaves WEPN ESPN 98.7 without local baseball, thought to have been a big part of their move to an FM frequency.

WEST PALM BEACH: Dan Sileo is at it again. Or, in this case, no longer at it. This time it was a Tweet about an FSU football player that was cause for WMEN 640 (West Palm Beach) to let him go. Sileo is running out of Florida markets to talk sports in. Within the past two years, he has been let go from WDAE Tampa and WQAM Miami for similar personal comments or slurs.

PORTLAND OR: Even though the market only has one pro team among the four major sports leagues, the market now has a fourth all-sports radio station. In case anyone notices, KMTT 910 has picked up CBS Radio Sports, as if that would be anything to compete with The Fan 1080, KXTG 750 The Game, or even KPOJ 620. At least The Fan and The Game have decent ratings.