Monday, December 30, 2013

Avoiding New Year's Blackouts

As we enter 2014 it appears that the NFL's local TV blackout policy will continue indefinitely. However, even those in support of eliminating it need to realize that the issue is not as significant at this time than it was several years ago. Now that the regular season has concluded, the final tally reveals that a grand total of just TWO telecasts were blacked locally over the entire 17 weeks. For all teams combined. The fact is that the NFL did not have a single local blackout during 15 of the 17 weeks, which is a record low. I suppose it is not worth arguing about if this is going to be the case.

Yet, I continue to find it curious that the TV networks, paying hundreds of millions for the telecast rights, somehow forget to take this up during the negotiation and renegotiation periods. For that much money, the local stations should have the right to show whichever games they want to attract the biggest audiences on "any given Sunday".

When this version of the home team blackout rule went into effect about 40 years ago, it was a time when home games in all of the  major pro sports were quite often not available. The original intent was for NFL fans to now be able to see home games, but "only" when the team sold out in advance. MLB, the NBA, and NHL had no such possibility, leaving most fans to see mostly (if not exclusively) select road games during that era.

Forwarding to 2014, it has become newsworth to find ANY MLB, NBA, or NHL game not televised, with many pro teams having every game shown on cable or over-the-air TV each season. Over the years, the NFL "innovation" of finding a way to make home games available to the local audience has been passed up and lapped by the other pro sports.

The zillions of dollars in rights fees paid by the networks are being passed along to all of us, sports fans or not, who pay a hefty monthly fee for cable or satellite TV. These networks should have the ability to show all of the games they want to in any market, regardless of local coverage, "secondary" market status, and which televising network.

Even the NBA is now, understandably, showing signs of flex scheduling due to circumstances beyond its control this season. Granted, the ABC/ESPN Christmas Day schedule of five games is something which, due to the holiday status, was not able to be changed, there are other opportunities.

Injuries and team slumps have made a mess of this young NBA season. At the start of the season, it was hard to question ESPN/ABC and TNT combining to schedule teams such as Miami, the Lakers, Chicago, New York, and Brooklyn for upwards of 20+ telecasts, more than 25% of their season, for national games.

However, major injuries to players such as Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez and others, have hurt the seasons for the Lakers, Bulls, and Nets. The Knicks have disappointed as well. The NBA has to be aware that scheduling so many of its national prime-time matchups for TV before the regular season begins is too risky. For example, having both the Knicks and Nets at several games below .500 this far into the season hurts when you realize that all four of their head-to-head meetings are scheduled for either TNT or ESPN/ABC.

Now there are signs of hope. The NBA has moved the Jan. 8th game of the L.A. Lakers at Houston off of ESPN, replacing it with Phoenix at Minnesota. Word is that the NBA is fine with this and that fans can expect more flex scheduling for this season. For example, Portland is off to its best start in years, and had originally been scheduled for only two ESPN telecasts.

ESPN/ABC could prosper with its NBA telecast schedule by flex scheduling, primarily because there are generally a multitude of games available on Wednesday and Friday nights, when ESPN shows the majority of its games. However, TNT, despite having market exclusive telecasts on most Thursdays, does not have as much flexibility because the Thursday night schedule is generally lighter.

The paying fans are entitled to have more flexibility of which games they see locally, while the networks should be able to show ANY game in any market.

The November into early December radio ratings are coming out during this holiday period. The only one worth commenting on continues to be the Boston sports radio race. During this period, WBZ-FM Sports Hub maintained a similar lead, and it is a convincing lead, over WEEI-FM, compared with the month prior.

However, the significance is that BOTH stations dropped by more than 1 1/2 ratings points, which is a large dip for the total audience. Consider that five of the top six rated radio stations in Boston for the month GAINED in audience at the same time. This shows how the local sports market is what drives sports radio, and not the personalities and the specific shows.

Both stations dropped during that time because this ratings period was after the dust had settled from the Red Sox championship, and questions remained (during this ratings period) as to where the Patriots would wind up in the playoff race. Yet, such a big deal was made when WEEI made changes to its afternoon show and its Program Director. If one station went down and the other rose in audience accordingly, a case could be made for the specific programming of the stations.

Elsewhere, sorry to learn of the passing of former long-time Cleveland Indians (and Milwaukee Brewers before that) analyst Mike Hegan at the age of 71. After a playing career with several teams including the Brewers and Yankees, Hegan went on to spend 23 seasons in the Indians' booth.

HOUSTON: It's odd timing that as the NFL regular season ends (especially for the Texans) is when former NFL QB Sean Salisbury returns to co-host a sports talk show. Yet, that's what is happening in what could be a secret even to Houston sports fans. KGOW 1560 is bringing in Salisbury, starting Monday (1/6) to co-host 3 to 7 PM with John Granato. The station also let go of John Harris, who had been with the lowly rated station since 2007, and earlier in December lost Josh Innes to KILT 610.

COLUMBIA SC: WOIC 1230 becomes ESPN Radio on New Year's Day, returning ESPN Radio to the market after nearly 1 1/2 years. However, the station plans to only have local weekday programming during the 4 to 7 PM time period, with Duane "Shot Doctor" Everett, Bobby Gist, and Ernest Robinson hosting. The station will be NBA heavy, airing the Charlotte Bobcats broadcasts in addition to the ESPN Radio national games.

Thanks for all of your feedback and input. We're back with more next week. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Happenings For Sports Radio & TV

Two of the biggest injuries in the NBA this season will hurt in another way on Christmas. Along with the teams suffering the loss of star players (Chicago without Derrick Rose and the Lakers without Kobe Bryant), ABC/ESPN will likely lose out on viewers and ratings for their entire day of NBA games.

The opening game, at Noon ET, with Chicago at Brooklyn sure looked good on paper when the schedule came out. This will still be these two teams' first meeting since the 7-game opening round playoff series in the spring. However, with Derrick Rose out for Chicago and Brook Lopez out for Brooklyn, even the fans of those teams may have a tough time making this a "must see" game.

Game two, with Mike Breen and Hubie Brown, is Oklahoma City vs. New York, which features what has been a disappointing Knicks team thus far. Then, the third live game of the day, scheduled to be the marquee matchup, loses luster as the Lakers face Miami without Kobe Bryant. Mike Torico and Jeff Van Gundy will call that game. The best matchup of the five could very well be the L.A. Clippers vs. Golden State at 10:30 PM ET, with Dave Pasch and Jon Barry on the call. However, the late start for most of the country combined with four live games being shown nationally earlier, might take away some of the audience for those reasons. It is certainly not the fault of ABC/ESPN, which thought it had a monster when these games were originally scheduled.

Speaking of ESPN, their concept of multiple, or as they say, "Megacast" coverage of the BCS Championship Game on January 6th appears to be another idea "borrowed" from Turner Sports.

ESPN plans to use its video feed over its entire network that evening, with different audio on each. In addition to the "regular" telecast on ESPN, ESPN2 will present live analysis by guest coaches, players, and what it terms "celebrities". ESPNews will present other guest analysts and feature "multiple angles" of key plays. ESPN Classic promises a "no announcer" version with additional graphics and crowd noise, while online promises video feeds with the separate radio versions from both the Florida State and Auburn networks.

While I can understand ESPN wanting to continue to hype of this game and make it dominant over their entire network, this concept just happened to be unveiled a few weeks after Turner Sports announced a similar plan for the NCAA basketball Final Four tournament in late March.

On the NBA side, ESPN had already taken a page from TNT's coverage a couple of seasons back when they (ESPN/ABC) made their NBA studio coverage a crowded room of analysts. This came after the relative success of TNT continuing to add studio analysts such as Shaq to an already crowded room with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.

At least ESPN made a major improvement for this season by adding a true broadcaster as host, after a couple of seasons of not having a true host and causing the impact of the show to suffer.

Actually, I like the BCS coverage idea of multi-plexing, in theory. It is quite possible that the casual fan would enjoy switching around and hearing the different perspectives. I'm just not sure there could be enough different points of view to justify having all of the different analysts be available to comment after every play.

LOS ANGELES: As KLAC struggles to gain an audience, even with having had the Dodgers broadcasts this past season, the station has managed to get Petros & Money away from Fox Sports Radio and bring it back to being a local Los Angeles show each afternoon.

Even if a couple of days late, we want to wish L.A. Kings radio voice Nick Nickson a happy 60th birthday (12/21). Nickson is still going strong after calling more than 2,800 Kings games during his more than 30 seasons with the team. This goes back to when Nickson was often teamed with Bob Miller on radio when games were not televised, and his being Miller's analyst in the early days of Prime Ticket telecasts in the 80's.

NEW YORK: Sid Rosenberg is back on WFAN, but it's not what you think. Rosenberg is filling in over the holiday period and is expected to host (or co-host) several shows through New Year's Day. He last worked full-time on WFAN back in 2005. He currently hosts a morning show on WMEN in the Palm Beach FL area.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-FM 94.1 is adding Josh Innes to its weekday lineup for its 6 to 10 PM slot. Innes comes to Philly by way of KILT Houston. In addition, the station has moved Glen Macnow off of the weekday afternoon co-host spot, but will keep him on the Saturday midday show with football writer Ray Didinger. Macnow will also be a part of Phillies pre and post-game programming on sister station WPHT 1210. Rob Ellis moves from a sports anchor into the weekday afternoon co-host spot along with Anthony Gargano.

HOUSTON: Just as KILT 610 has found some respectability in the ratings (not easy for a sports radio station in Houston), it loses Josh Innes to Philadelphia. Innes had been hosting afternoons along with Rich Lord for the past three years, and contributed to the recent growth of the station's audience.
KILT has announced that, starting no later than Jan. 6th, Sean Pendergast will become the new afternoon co-host, moving on up from KGOW 1560. 

PITTSBURGH: The Fan 93.7 is making a couple of lineup changes for the new year. Former Steelers punter Josh Miller is being moved from afternoons to co-hosting the morning show along with Gregg Giannotti, while Colin Dunlap will now host the 6 to 10 PM slot. The revised lineup starts on January 6th.

NEW ORLEANS: Well, almost New Orleans. Nearby KLRZ 100.3 from nearby Larose is dropping its talk format and picking up ESPN Radio starting on January 1st. The station's signal covers much of the New Orleans area.

PALM SPRINGS: Ironic timing indeed for KFSQ 1270, which just last week (12/18) switched over to Fox Sports Radio. Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, the station was hoping to have a regional feel thinking it would get the Petros & Money Show out of Los Angeles as part of the deal. Coincidentally, within a matter of hours after the change came the word that PMS (another name for Petros & Money Show) was going local for KLAC Los Angeles and coming off from the Fox Network.

Have a great holiday, and we look forward to serving you throughout 2014 and beyond.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Secondary Markets Should Come First for NFL

The time has come for the NFL to seriously re-consider their "secondary market" telecast policy, at least for the final three weeks of the regular season. This week's example of why comes from Los Angeles, the nation's #2 television market, which is still considered a "secondary market" for San Diego Chargers telecasts.

The Chargers, a long shot to make it to the post-season, sold out their home game against the 4-10 Oakland Raiders for this coming Sunday (12/22) earlier this week. As a result, KCBS-TV Los Angeles viewers are, well, stuck, with that game instead of the Baltimore vs. New England telecast. The Ravens vs. Patriots game was moved by CBS to the doubleheader spot due to the playoff implications it has.

One would think that with all of the dollars the TV networks pay to the NFL for the rights to televise that those networks would have a bigger say in getting the "best available" games to the viewers in every market.

Of course, the NFL is busy concentrating on generating even more TV dollars starting in the next two years. The league is expected to decide well before its 2014 season begins on splitting off an additional Thursday night games package, leaving fewer telecasts exclusive to NFL Network.

Obviously, a new deal, perhaps with Turner Sports, isn't going to come cheap. And, the NFL continues to work with DirecTV about the satellite service retaining the Sunday Ticket package, which is currently scheduled to end in 2014. The current package is valued at almost $1 billion, and, again, it's not like the cost will be reduced.

NEW YORK: It has become official that YES Network will end its nearly 10 years of simulcasting some or all of Mike Francesa's WFAN Radio show on weekday afternoons. In a bizarre coincidence, the final simulcast is scheduled for Friday Jan. 31st, which is the final weekday leading into Super Bowl weekend with the big game being staged only minutes away from WFAN's studios. This relationship goes back to the days of "Mike and the Mad Dog". YES Network plans to 'replace' the simulcast with live sports talk related programming, leading to easy speculation that it will pick up WEPN-FM ESPN 98.7 and the Michael Kay Show.

Kay and YES Network seem to be an obvious fit, given that Kay is the TV play-by-play voice for most Yankees telecasts.

Either way, YES would have a Yankees flavor with its simulcast, since WFAN becomes the flagship radio home of the Yankees in a few weeks.

ATLANTA: Steven "Steak" Shapiro moves back over to The Fan 680 during the first week of January. Shapiro had originally moved to Atlanta, from Boston, back in 1994 to be part of the morning show on The Fan when it made its debut, lasting about nine months. "Steak" will handle the 9 AM to Noon "The Front Row" show along with Brian Finneran and Sandra Golden.

CHARLOTTE: WZGV ESPN 730 has a new evening co-host who is new to full-time sports talk, but is certainly not new to the market. Al Gardner, who is well known for "Charlotte's Morning News" on WBT AM/FM for the past 14 years, started this past Monday night (12/16) in his new role. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Fox In The Hole On Coverage

It is technically not the fault of Fox Sports, but many NFL fans were left hanging on Sunday (12/8) when Fox "had to" leave its early game telecast in time for the start of its San Francisco vs. Seattle doubleheader game telecast at 4:25 PM ET. As Kurt Menefee explained to viewers when Fox broke away from the Minnesota at Baltimore thriller with :04 remaining, the switch was "due to contract regulations".

At the time, Baltimore had just scored the game winning TD with seconds remaining against Minnesota. In fact, the scoring play was "under review" at the time of the switch of the regional telecast for those feeds which had not carried the entire game. By this time, fans of the other regional games (including Green Bay vs. Atlanta and Detroit vs. Philadelphia) had already been switched to this game.

At the time, all that remained was the officials' review, which as it turned out confirmed the touchdown, and the kickoff to Minnesota and the possibility of one play from scrimmage. Although a "contract is a contract" (seemingly except for players who renegotiate), Menefee told viewers of the regional feeds that we "would be kept up to date".

Yet, when viewers were switched to the Seattle vs. San Francisco game, it was several minutes of real time before Fox game the final score of the Minnesota game. That delay in providing the information was NOT a contract regulation.

There is no excuse for Fox delaying providing fans with the information that the Minnesota at Baltimore game had ended, especially considering how many different telecasts had joined and left that game. Not to mention the last second comeback by Baltimore to win the game. Those are two solid reasons why there should have been some continuity.

Sorry, but the conclusion of an exciting game, which actually had multiple scores in the final few minutes to decide a close game, is more "urgent" than the first couple of plays from scrimmage in the game that just started.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that "It's a good thing I can watch Sunday Ticket" so that you could have stayed for the end of the Minnesota vs. Baltimore game before switching over. And it was a good thing. But this is part of my point. There are some people who would be less likely to spend the dollars for Sunday Ticket if they could get the coverage they want from the broadcast networks.

For the millions and millions of dollars that Fox (and other networks) spend for these rights, they should feel a bigger obligation to those remaining viewers to keep us informed. That SHOULD be their contractual obligation.

One long-time broadcast tradition has returned, while another is going away.

The long time Voice of the Indy 500, Paul Page, will be back in the spring as the radio voice of the Indy 500 as well as the IndyCar Series. Page, now at age 68, first joined the Indianapolis Speedway Radio Network in 1974 and became its lead voice following the unfortunate passing of Sid Collins before moving over to call the big race on TV years later. His returned is welcomed by race fans everywhere.

In Milwaukee, for the first time since 1926, University of Wisconsin football fans will turn somewhere else other than WTMJ 620 for the game broadcasts. Starting Aug. 30, 2014, when Wisconsin faces LSU, the games will air on WRIT 95.7 and WOKY 920, which will also air UW basketball starting next November. WOKY 920 is now a sports station with a tiny audience (a mere .02 overall in November), and this acquisition is the station's first "local" play-by-play. WRIT-FM is an oldies station but brings an audience to the table.

Word is that WTMJ did not bid for renewal since the contract did not allow the station to sell enough "station" commercial time, and the station had to farm out several football games each year due to conflicts with Brewers broadcasts. The station will continue to carry Brewers baseball and Packers football. But after 86 seasons, this is definitely a tradition coming to an end.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to expand its international revenue potential, and this time is taking the media with it. There will be three regular season games in London starting with the 2014 season (up from one currently). What makes this even more interesting is that the NFL is allowing the Sunday Oct. 26, 2014 game between Detroit and Atlanta to begin at 1:30 PM London time and be shown live on Fox. That means that the kickoff will be just after 9:30 AM ET.

As a result, the game figures to be concluded by or about 1 PM ET, which would be in time for the "early" regional games to start. No word yet as to whether or not Fox will make this a national game. If so, it would mean a window for fans to view FOUR entire NFL games in one day, since the regular doubleheader of games would follow and then Sunday Night Football on NBC after that. It's probably a good thing that this time slot was not given to a west coast team (6:30 AM PT kickoff?), as Oakland will play Miami in London next Nov. 9th, but at 1:00 PM ET.

If this does become a quadrupleheader TV day, it would be interesting to see the ratings of an 8:30 AM ET (5:30 AM PT) pre-game show start for Fox, and what the ton of other NFL pre-game shows on TV and radio would do with their schedules for that morning.

Within hours of ESPN losing baseball analyst Orel Hersheiser to the Dodgers broadcast crew, the network came back with the announcement that Curt Schilling will join the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crew as an analyst, along with John Kruk, working with Dan Shulman. Schilling has been with ESPN since 2010. Incredibly, 2014 will be the 25th year of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.

Finally, as if there isn't enough to ridicule in Washington D.C. these days, now there is The Fan 106.7 and its The Sports Junkies show. The show has added a new segment for Thursday mornings (approximately 8:40 AM). It seems that the station has cleared a segment with Rob Ford, the Toronto Mayor in the news of late for admitting to an episode smoking cocaine while also being drunk. Ford is on to discuss his NFL picks. I have no idea who would actually tune in just for this, but it can certainly be said that he would seem to fit on a show with "Junkies" in the title.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Up The Stream Of NBA Telecasts

The fact that the NBA Eastern Conference only has a couple of teams with decent records more than a month into the season is certainly not good timing for the league's media presence. Having numerous teams near or below the .500 mark does not increase the appetite for fans to want to watch their favorite team more often. This while the NBA and its teams are pursuing the live streaming of local telecasts more than ever.

As of now, the only teams offering live streams of their games are in the Western Conference. L.A. Lakers telecasts are again streamed via Time Warner Cable. The Portland Trailblazers are again offering an independent package of up to 58 of their games for one fee (currently $99.99), mainly because the team does not have "full" local cable/satellite coveraage through local providers. The Blazers' package is technically not "pay-per-view" because it covers all remaining regular season telecasts whether they are "viewed" or not by the purchaser. Sports Business Journal reports that as of Thanksgiving week, there were only 150 subscribers, even at a cost averaging out to under $2 per game (at this point in time).

Some fans understandably argue that they already pay a large amount for their cable/satellite service without having to pay anything extra to watch more of a local team.

Reports are that Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet are gearing up to allow streaming of local team games their regional networks have the rights to, perhaps as soon as the first few weeks of 2014.

With the regional networks paying all of those millions for the rights to televise the games, and the subscribers paying higher fees to watch these networks, this should be sooner rather than later. And at no additional cost.

Meanwhile, NBCSN provided a funny and sad moment at the same time this past Friday (11/29). The network has begun to promote that it will have "LIVE" coverage of Olympics events in February, an obvious reference to viewers who in the past have complained about delayed telecast of events overseas in past years. And that is quite understandable, given the technology and the availability of multiple network platforms which NBC has.

What made it both funny and sad on Friday is that these promos, running on the bottom screen scroll, were running during the morning's The Dan Patrick Show. The show that was, unfortunately, a "Best of Dan Patrick". Therefore, this "live event" promotion was airing during a re-run of outdated segments!

I suppose NBCSN doesn't think it has a large enough audience in the morning for their content to matter, but that is no excuse. This is an embarassment. As I have said before, Dan Patrick is entitled to his days off. But his "Show" is not. Given the resources of NBC, I can't believe they couldn't find other sportscasters to host some or all of the show and provide the live and fresh content viewers are entitled to. Or, at the very least, if the show "can't" be done live, then record and plan for topical features.

That morning's "The Dan Patrick Show" could have consisted of highlights and recaps of the Thanksgiving NFL games, one of which was shown on NBC hours before, with Patrick as part of the cast of thousands that co-host it.

What makes this even more incredible is that just one hour after Patrick's show ended, NBC-TV showed its first ever Thanksgiving Friday NHL game in the afternoon (ET and CT) with little fanfare.

Yet, NBCSN, which airs the most NHL games in the U.S., did not even have a LIVE preview of the game in the hours leading up to it.

Sports fans are entitled to a live sports show instead of a hapless rerun of outdated segments, especially with the rising cost of cable/satellite these days. Advertisers are entitled to be a part of a live show that would hold an audience, no matter how small.

Elsewhere, TV sports networks continue the trend of bringing radio shows to TV, as if doing so will bring in more viewers. After CBS Radio Sports failed to make a dent (in many markets) with its airing of WFAN 660 New York's "Boomer & Carton" morning show, it has decided to bring this show to TV. If anyone is paying attention to CBS Sports Network on TV, they will see "Boomer & Carton" from 6:00 to 10:00 AM ET starting in early January.

It remains to be seen whether or not the show will retain a New York focus or go more toward a national sports show. If they risk going more national and lose some of the New York flavor and appeal, it would likely mean a ratings dip for WFAN, which adds the Yankees broadcasts starting in March. If they keep it to NYC, the national appeal will be far less than Mike & Mike, who do a national sports show successfully for ESPN Radio and TV.

LOS ANGELES: Time Warner Cable Los Angeles is spending money almost like the Dodgers are spending Time Warner's money. While some think that TWC is pursuing Orel Hershiser away from ESPN to do color on Dodger telecasts, the network has snagged Nomar Garciaparra for pre-game and post-game analysis of its telecasts. Garciaparra had been with ESPN in an analyst role for the past four years.

CHICAGO: Congratulations to Bruce Fasol, who was honored on Saturday (11/29) for calling more than 3,000 West Frankfort H.S. Redbirds games over the past 40 years. Fasol was presented with the Distinguished Media Service Award from the Illinois High School Association for his efforts. Even though Fasol's broadcasts have only been heard on very small stations and he is not well known even in the Chicago area, 40 years of broadcasting at any level is worthy note and this award!