Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fans Priced Out By The Media?

Still another fresh example of the media influence over sports and how consumers are being expected to help pay for it. Now Cablevision Systems, with nearly three million customers in the NYC area, has implemented a nearly $3.00 per month ($2.98 to be exact) "Sports Programming Surcharge" to begin in April. The system carries local/regional sports networks MSG, YES, and SNY, along with the national networks. This amount will add to already higher monthly costs for consumers whether they watch each network or not. DirecTV has already added a similar charge.

These and other sports networks are spending huge dollars on play-by-play rights in a matter of survival. The problem is that these networks then expect the fans to pay the freight in the form of higher fees, and carriers such as Cablevision (and others) are charged more. Then these costs are passed along to the consumers.

It's only getting worse, as more pro teams are seeking and getting billion dollar long term TV deals from startup networks and some existing networks looking to survive. We have to start being concerned about how this could all play out over the next ten years. Consumers who are not sports fans are likely to draw the line at these increased costs and start canceling. I'm also thinking that a percentage of sports fans who are already priced out at the box office could also become priced out of their monthly cable/satellite bill.

A big part of the problem is that the consumers have little to no choice. Some consumers are forced to pay for sports programming they don't want or watch, while others do not even have the opportunity to pay for it if they do. One example is the fairly new CSN Houston regional network. The Houston Rockets are improved over last season, yet their viewership for the current regular season (as of early February) is down over 60% from last season. The reason is actually because CSN Houston is not available to more than half of the market. Certain cable systems refuse to pay those prices, and to pass them along to customers.

Thus, some people that would pay the extra money can't get certain games they want, while others who don't want them are forced to pay extra. But the fans do not have the ability to decide for themselves. It may take a few networks, providers, or teams suffering financially to change this. The more fans who get priced out of home TV, the fewer potential fans to attend games and support the teams.

Lakers fans are into it, however. Even with the new and pricey Time Warner SportsNet, Lakers telecasts check in as the fifth highest rated local telecasts thus far this season, well ahead of the ratings for the L.A. Clippers despite the Clippers being in or near first place all season while the Lakers struggle.

Elsewhere, as more MLB teams offer webcasts of spring training games, it also creates opportunities for minor league announcers to call some big league action. The Phillies will have Matt Provence and Jon Schaeffer, who handle play-by-play for their Lehigh Valley farm club, call a few Phillies games. The White Sox have Russ Langer, the Las Vegas Stars' radio voice, handling several of their webcasts again this season.

BOSTON: As WEEI-FM settles in with its revised lineup, it is interesting to note that the January ratings showed WEEI-FM with a half-point overall ratings gain for the month. It was after this that the station changed its afternoon drive hosts in its battle to hang in there with Sports Hub WBZ-FM.

BALTIMORE: We overlooked Baltimore last week when commenting about how sports talk is on the rise in several major markets. WJZ-FM came in 5th in the market, gaining over a full ratings point.

DALLAS: KESN 103.3 has revised much of its weekday lineup after not renewing the local "Ben & Skin" show (Ben Rogers and Jeff Wade) that had aired from 9 AM to Noon. The station now airs national programming from 9 to 11 AM, with Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett now handling 11 AM to 3 PM. Another result of this change is the move of Chuck Cooperstein now being heard at 6 PM on nights when the Mavericks (for which Cooperstein does play-by-play) or Rangers are not scheduled. He had been paired with Nate Newton during the 2:00 hour. Newton remains with the station, likely expanding his role as the Cowboys analyst.

INDIANAPOLIS: It's the newest market to have an AM/FM sports combination, as WFNI 1070 has added the recently acquired 107.5 FM signal. At present, the station will simulcast both its local and ESPN Radio programming except when local play-by-play commitments conflict. The station continues to air Pacers basketball along with Butler University and select high school playoff games. During the fall, it airs Colts and Indiana University football. For example, this Saturday afternoon (3/2), the AM station airs the Butler game while the FM side airs high school hoops. Both stations air ESPN Radio national play-by-play. This Sunday, each will air a live NBA triple header, as ESPN Radio airs a Sunday afternoon doubleheader prior to the Pacers hosting Chicago in the evening.  It is interesting that ESPN Radio goes to AM/FM in the market, a move that CBS Radio has done in several markets within the past few months. And this happened in another market as well......

WEST PALM BEACH: ESPN 760 has acquired an FM signal and already begun to simulcast as ESPN 106.3. No changes to its lineup (as of press time), and the station continues to air Miami Heat and Florida Atlantic University basketball broadcasts.

TAMPA: Not every CBS Radio Sports move to FM has been a success story thus far. WHFS-FM, which made its debut this past August, has already reduced its weekday local content. The station has dropped below 1 overall rating and, although not a fair comparison, has less than half of the total audience it had a year ago when it was a music station, while WDAE 620 easily maintains its lead. The station also moved Nanci Donnellan (the Fabulous Sports Babe to some) into the 7 PM evening slot, replacing Todd Wright.

HOUSTON: Dylan Gwinn is out from KBME 790 as he shifts over to Yahoo! Sports Radio starting this weekend (3/2). Gwinn will host regular weekend shows and also fill-in as needed on weekday shows. He will air in Houston on KGOW 1560, which will seemingly double its listening audience if Gwinn's immediate family listens to him.

MINNEAPOLIS: KTWN, which began this week as the new radio home of the Twins, is adding former Twin Ron Coomer to its afternoon drive show starting next week (3/4). The show is co-hosted by Mark Rider and Lindsay Guentzel.

CHICAGO: WVON-AM 1690, primarily an inner city talk station, has decided to continue its Sunday night sports show. Although hidden from 9 to 11 PM, "The Sports Cypher" will now be hosted by Faruq Basir and Maya Akai.

NORTH DAKOTA: Here's a story that should have received a lot more attention from the sports media. The play-by-play voice of North Dakota basketball, Paul Ralston, has returned from being suspended for two game broadcasts last week. What makes this even more interesting is that Ralston, in addition to play-by-play, is also the Director of Broadcast Properties for the school itself.

Earlier this month, after North Dakota made 21 turnovers and missed five key free throws in an overtime loss to Northern Arizona, Ralston was clearly upset on the air. Then, while interviewing ND coach Brian Jones live after the game, Ralston used the term "choke job" directly to the coach, which prompted the suspension for the following two games. Those two games were not assigned to a "regular" sportscaster, however. Instead, it was Kyle Doperalski who called the games. Kyle's job? He is North Dakota's Associate Athletic Director. It's safe to say, even without hearing those broadcasts, that there was zero criticism of ND players and coaches for those games, no matter what happened. While I can most certainly understand Coach Jones being upset about Ralston's comments, it should be pointed out that a two game "suspension" is severe. I know he works for the school as well, but it would sure be interesting if any of the school's coaches or sports program personnel say something based on emotion they immediately wish they hadn't, and how quickly it goes on the air.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's Up - It's Good

Although we're not even through February yet, it already appears that one of the most significant sports media stories of 2013 is the increase of time and effort Americans are showing when it comes to consuming sports events and information. Nielsen Research recently released its "2012 Year In Sports" Report that bears this out.

Their report shows that nearly 60% of people now access "sports content" (as in scores, news, and highlights) on a daily basis on a smart phone or tablet device, and that 99% of sports events were "consumed" live or on the same day. The study goes on to claim that more than 40% of tweets were sports (or sports programming) related among the people it surveyed. This comes on top of the amazing TV ratings for the recent NFL season, and the NHL going strong even after the lockout eliminated more than 1/3 of its current season.

Now, the January radio ratings are showing an overall growth in the sports radio audience. And this is while CBS and NBC Radio are in the early stages of providing national networks which include large markets.

In New York, WFAN showed a better than 1/2 point ratings jump over December after adding its FM signal. Yet, WEPN ESPN dropped .2 and has well under 1/2 of the overall WFAN audience totals despite its move to a stronger FM signal last year. Chicago listeners continue to grow WSCR The Score 670, which turned up 11th overall in the market with a one month gain of more than 1/2 point. (This may wind up as their best monthly ratings ever.) But unlike New York, the Chicago sports radio audience is growing across the board. WMVP ESPN 1000 also raised their ratings, although by .2 overall, meaning that both stations gained while other formats lost.

In San Francisco, KNBR's overall ratings are up 1/2 point, putting them #4 in the market. Yet, KGMZ The Game, which had been floundering for the past year, went up by .6. Although KNBR has more than triple "The Game's" audience and The Game finished at #25 overall, the significant fact is that, like Chicago, both stations rose.

Philadelphia listeners seem to have embraced both stations moving to FM, as WIP-FM finished #10 in the market while increasing its total audience by 25%. Yet, WPEN-FM increased by about 15% and finished at #16, also reflecting the upward trend.

This is not to say that every large market has this trend, but the positive news is that sports radio is holding steady in those markets without a noteworthy increase. In Dallas, KTCK The Ticket leads the pack of three sports stations finishing #18 overall, but it dropped slightly. Yet, KRLD-FM and KESN-FM each showed slight increases. If the three Dallas sports stations were combined, they would rank #2 overall in the market. In Los Angeles, KSPN-AM came in at #23 in the market, yet showed a 1/2 point ratings increase. Although KLAC-AM and KLAA-AM remain too far down to make an impact, they did each hold steady enough to indicate that the increase for KSPN came from other formats.

Same in Houston, where KILT went up .3 and came in at #18 (a move into the top 20), while the three other stations held steady with what little audiences they retain. The Houston ratings confirm our point from last week, where KTRH, which knew to get rid of the Astros broadcasts, finished with nearly triple the total audience of KBME which is stuck airing the games.

Elsewhere, as college hoops fans and media gear up for March Madness, it will be interesting to see whether or not ESPN continues to, finally, start to bury Bobby Knight as an analyst. Just maybe it's possible that the network realizes it can survive without bowing down to Knight as if he owns them and put him out to pasture at the first opportunity. Even though Knight embarassed the very media he scorned and toyed with during his coaching career.

It appeared, after he used the "s-word" on camera and then did not apologize and appeared to be asleep on camera during a "Game Day" live telecast, that no matter what ESPN would stand behind him. Not to mention his supposed refusal to acknowledge the U. of Kentucky last year prior to its championship run, as if that was an acceptable way to act. However, throughout this season he has appeared on games shown via ESPN2 rather than what could be considered prime telecasts. Hopefully the regular season will be the end of Knight as an analyst, and he'll be dismissed, like he should have been a while ago. And when he is, let's hope the media totally ignores him.

As we gear up for spring training, MLB Network has announced its plan to air about 150 spring training games either live or within 24 hours. Oddly enough, at press time, which is several days after the schedule was announced, the MLB Network web site does not have the schedule of game telecasts or the list of which teams will appear on which days for its "30 Clubs in 30 Days" series. That is odd, as MLB Network has been very good and providing that info in its past seasons. MLB Network has added Darryl Hamilton as an analyst.

Fox Sports has unveiled its Saturday Game of the Week schedule for the 2013 season, which will again include eight weeks of prime-time coverage. Those will air from May 25th through July 13th. The start times for its afternoon telecasts will, again, not be consistent, moving to an earlier slot when Fox has a NASCAR or college football prime time telecast scheduled in order to reduce the chances of runover. While that is understandable, not having a consistent start time often impacts viewer habits, since people don't always know when to check for or tune in for a game telecast.

KANSAS CITY: One less voice in the Royals' mix of announcers on its radio and TV broadcasts for this season. After 16 seasons of calling the games, Bob Davis has given up his spot in the booth in order to spend more time with his wife who suffers from Parkinson's Disease. As a result, Denny Matthews will work with Steve Physioc, Ryan Lefebvre, and Steve Stewart.

BOSTON: After several days of speculation, WEEI 93.7 has brought Mike Salk back to Boston for its 2 to 6 PM show, pairing him with Michael Holley. Salk had worked with 890 ESPN from 2005 to 2009, as well as having hosted SportsCenter Saturday on ESPN Radio Network. He comes back to Boston from Seattle's 710 ESPN, putting an end to "The Brock and Salk Show" there. In Boston, he replaces Glenn Ordway, let go last week after 27 years with the station.

CLEVELAND: Fox Sports is nearing its decisions about taking over STO (Sports Time Ohio), including announcing a revised name for the network. In addition, decisions will be made about local STO programming, such as the call-in shows "All Bets Are Off" with Bruce Drennan and "Chuck's Last Call" with Chuck Galeti. Those shows are among those which may or may not be continued.

The Time Warner Sports Channel has expanded the "More Sports & Les Levine Show" to now be shown throughout Ohio rather than around the Cleveland area. The show's focus shifts from beyond just the Cleveland area to include Cincinnati, Dayton, and Ohio State University sports.

ATLANTIC CITY: In a curious move, the Philadelphia Phillies games will air, starting this season, on WZXL-FM 100.7 as the start of a five-year deal. What makes it interesting is that WZXL is, and will remain for the forseeable future, a classic rock station.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kick 'em In The Astros

Whether for media coverage or on-the-field projections, the Houston Astros are already a storm and it's only the first days of spring training camp. The new owners took the "arrangement" of moving into the American League in order to get approved, and somehow managed to line up a lucarative deal long-term for a new TV network. Now you have to wonder how long MLB will allow the printing of money with no return to continue before stepping in, as virtually every projection is for the team to lose well over 100 games on the field this season.

On Tuesday (2/12), ESPN Radio's Scott Van Pelt hosted a national segment which he called "Astro Or Not". This segment consisted of him naming players and asking fans to call in and say whether or not that player was actually on the Houston Astros roster. Five of eight callers that I'm aware of were correct, but either way the point was made about how non-descript the team has already become.

At the same time, any local fans not already alienated and actually looking to follow the team are facing challenges in doing that. The new TV network has had negotiation issues with some of the cable and satellite providers. (As of this week, less than 40% of the market can receive the games, if anyone chooses to watch.) And it's hard to believe that even the "serious" Astros fan feels the need to fork over extra money to watch the team get toasted night after night. Long time play-by-play voice Bill Brown has already decided to reduce his workload by about 33% starting this season. There hasn't even been an announcement yet (as of press time) as to who will take over on play-by-play for the games Brown will not be calling.

On the radio side, as of press time, there has yet to be an announcement of any of the broadcasters yet, even though exhibition games are less than two weeks away from starting. But it gets worse. Out of sight, out of mind, seems to be the feeling when Clear Channel decided to pull the Astros games off of KTRH 740 after many years, moving the broadcasts to lower rated KBME 790. KBME also airs Rockets basketball games, and it will be the Rockets' broadcasts shifting over to the higher rated KTRH when the Rockets and Astros conflict.

Although the stations' management is acting as though it makes sense to move the Astros over to an all-sports station, I'm not buying it. This move didn't come about until it has become obvious that the Astros don't care who plays for them this season. It is understandable that radio management doesn't want to bog down a highly rated station with hours of games that figure to have very little interest. This is one of the large broadcast entities trying (elsewhere) to make fans believe that baseball needs to be on FM stations these days, even though it is more to try and appeal to certain larger advertisers more than the fans.

In this instance, this company also owns FM stations in Houston. Instead, it is significant to note that they are dumping the Astros games on a station which has done OK within its target demographic but not well in overall audience ratings instead of doing the "move" to FM.

This is an era where the media is dominating and controlling sports with increased rights fees and more ability to change game times, along with college teams able to jump conferences and end long time traditional rivalries. Yet, the Houston Astros have no broadcast teams in place, reduced TV penetration, and now a "lesser" radio station to cover a sub-par team which starts play in just a few days.

You have to wonder if or how soon MLB will step in. This season could damage the overall MLB broadcast audience figures (by losing listeners and viewers in a major market), as well as the integrity of the game by having an extremely poor record allowing teams in the same division to gain additional "easy" victories and throw off the post-season teams balance.

BOSTON: It's truly the end of an era in sports radio with the departure of Glenn Ordway from WEEI after nearly 27 years with the station. His tenure goes back to 1987 when the station was still at 590, well before moving to 850 and expanding to a regional network of sports radio stations.

The Sports Hub 98.5 has passed up WEEI in the ratings in recent months, sending WEEI into desperate measures to regain and retain their audience hold. As of press time, no replacement had been named, despite a Boston Globe story that Mike Salk, formerly of WBPS 890 ESPN, would return to Boston from his current post at KIRO Seattle. (This story was denied while writing this, which is still another example of "reporting" when it is speculation, and this time it is about a media hire.)

It will be interesting to see if Sports Hub WBZ-FM reacts to this by hiring Ordway or not. Even if they were to use Ordway on a roving basis, it would add familiarity and listener credibility to what is really the upstart sports station, while giving listeners one less reason to go back to WEEI. As the saying goes, stay tuned.

CINCINNATI: No doubt about Reds broadcasts. WLW 700 has already strengthened its Reds broadcasting partnership by extending through the 2017 season. That 2017 season will be WLW's 49th season of airing the Reds games. For this season about to start, it also will be Marty Brennaman's 40th consecutive season as radio voice of the team. The Reds' Radio Network is now at 93 stations total.

ALBUQUERQUE: The Team 101.7 has added Robert Portnoy as play-by-play voice of University of New Mexico baseball, starting later this month. This will be the fourth season of airing the school's baseball games. Portnoy actually returns to The Team, for which he hosted "The Locker Room" show back in 2008 when the station had first launched.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Even College Signing Day Gets Coverage

Wednesday (Feb. 6th) is one of those days where sports fans truly see the impact of having numerous all sports networks and stations around the country. College football "signing day" has gone from the local station doing a "home town player makes good" story to now warranting national and regional "coverage".

ESPN plans coverage at various times of the day, starting at 7:30 AM ET when ESPNU is scheduled to carry "the decision" with its top rated high school player expected to announce his school of choice. The network also has a 90 minute special scheduled to begin at 3 PM ET. Over at CBS Sports Network, a Noon ET one hour report is scheduled and includes coach Ron Zook as an analyst.

The Big Ten Network plans a 90 minute special at 3:00 PM ET, which will likely be repeated, while the Pac-12 Network plans a 2-hour special at 5 PM ET. I'm not sure there is enough demand for this many hours of programming about this, but it is good to see these networks making the effort to cover actual news and information which targets their viewers.

As many of my readers over the years know, I'm not in favor of promoting the media competition at all on sports reports or in any other situation. It seems, however, that The Dan Patrick Show took this unfortunate trend one step further last Thursday (1/31). The Show sent out more than one tweet about having Chris Berman coming up as a guest on that day's show.

Now, if the Patrick Show regularly tweeted out information about the day's guests on upcoming segments, I could maybe understand this. Heck, they should instead tweet out that they are on live so that listeners know it won't be another outdated rerun (like the Patrick Show does even on minor holidays instead of providing live content).

So of all the guests they have on, they think that having Chris Berman on the show is the most worthy? This isn't about whether or not you or I enjoy Chris Berman, since some do and some don't. It is about how Berman is known for being a primary voice of ESPN. While Dan Patrick is now on NBC Sports Radio. Berman wasn't even a former player now with ESPN. That's all he is known for over the past 30+ years. Sure, I know that Patrick used to anchor SportsCenter on ESPN and that was where he rose to fame. The point is that Patrick's Show was really promoting a competing and much more established and successful network than his own. It just doesn't make sense.

PHILADELPHIA: The listeners to Jon Marks and Sean Brace on their Saturday morning show over the past couple of years were not surprised when the pair was moved to weekdays on 97.5 The Fanatic. The pair air from Noon to 2 PM, with NFL analyst Brian Baldinger now co-hosting from 6 to 7 PM with Joe DeCarma, even though the football season is now over. The Fanatic feels that having Baldinger practically year-round will maintain its Eagles talk base. The Mike Missanelli Show continues from 2 to 6 PM on weekdays.

CLEVELAND: Fans who actually want to hear the Indians games this season will have plenty of opportunity on the radio dial. WTAM 1100 remains the team's flagship station through 2017, while the new contract extension also places about 144 of the games on WMMS 100.7. WTAM will also carry 15 of the spring training games starting later this month. Jim Rosenhaus has been signed to remain as the play-by-play partner of Tom Hamilton, as he is about to begin his third full season in the booth.

WKNR 850 has moved T.J. Zuppe into a co-host role on its "The Hooligans" afternoon drive show, along with Bruce Hooley and Greg Brinda. Zuppe replaces Chris Fedor, who was dismissed last week after nearly seven years with the ESPN station.

CHICAGO: Another one for the "What were they thinking?" list this week. WMVP ESPN 1000 went live from an on-air "Lunch With A Legend" broadcast it scheduled with midday hosts Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman even though former Chicago Bulls and NBA standout Dennis Rodman was the featured guest. Doing this is certainly not in the same category as CBS-TV picking up the live profanity from Joe Flacco just after the Super Bowl win.

To the surprise of no one other than WMVP management, the station had to drop its live broadcast from the air and dump into Scott Van Pelt on ESPN Radio after only a few minutes. During those few minutes, Rodman, for those keeping score, said the "s-word" two more times than the "f-word", at least during the portion which aired live.

SEATTLE: KJR 950 and 102.9 has paired Mitch Levy with Dick Fain for its 6 to 10 AM show, boasting that it has the "only local morning sports talk show in Seattle", as part of its revised weekday lineup. The station remains local through afternoon drive, with a new pairing of Jerry Brewer and Elise Woodward from 10 AM to Noon, and Ian Furness and Jason Puckett handling Noon to 3 PM. Dave "Softy" Mahler handles the afternoon show having replaced Mike Gastineau in that role.

MILWAUKEE: Although more pro sports teams are adding Spanish broadcasts of home games to the mix, this might be a bit of a stretch. The Brewers will have some home games in Spanish again this season, with Andy Olivares returning for his sixth consecutive season on play-by-play. However, Olivares won't be overworked in 2013. WRRD 1510, which is a daytime only station, is only going to air the daytime home games, which consist of less than one-third of the home schedule.

FRESNO: The only pro team is a AAA minor league team. Yet, KJZN 105.5 seems to think the market needs a third sports station in support of its play-by-play of the Fresno Grizzlies baseball broadcasts. And "The Game 105.5" is born. The station is a CBS Sports Radio affiliate, with no plans yet for local programming.

SCHEDULE: Spring training baseball isn't that far away, and ESPN has announced its schedule of weekday telecasts during March. Again this season, the network ignores games from Arizona, where roughly half of all MLB teams train.

Here is the ESPN exhibition game schedule, with each telecast scheduled to begin at 1 PM ET:

Mon, Mar. 11 1 p.m. St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees

Mon, Mar. 18 1 p.m. Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves

Tue, Mar. 19 1 p.m. New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies

Wed, Mar. 20 1 p.m. Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Mon, Mar. 25 1 p.m. Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles

Tue, Mar. 26 1 p.m. St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets

Wed, Mar. 27 1 p.m. Philadelphia Phillies at Detroit Tigers

Thu, Mar. 28 1 p.m. New York Mets at Washington Nationals

MLB Network will be announcing its schedule of live and delayed spring training telecasts soon.