Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Play-By-Play Draws The Viewers and Listeners

The sports fans' collective hunger for live play-by-play continues, even providing the NHL with reasons to be pleased. Coming off a seemingly forgotten lockout which threatened the entire season, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have become a plus for NBC as well as NBC Sports Network. And there are still two rounds to be played.

On Saturday (5/25), the NBC telecast of the Detroit at Chicago Game 5 drew significantly higher ratings than Fox Sports' MLB prime time telecast at the same time. Fox can't even use the excuse that this was its first prime-time telecast of the season, since this was also NBC's first Saturday prime-time telecast of the year as well.

Home markets are another way to measure. Another example was on Monday (5/27) night in Chicago when Game 6 of the Chicago vs. Detroit series doubled the audience of the local baseball telecasts of the White Sox vs. Cubs "City Classic" game. Granted, the hockey game was a potential clinching game compared with the baseball being the opening game of a 4-game series. Chicago ratings records have been set throughout this past regular season as well, especially with the Blackhawks having begun the shortened season with a record non-beaten streak.

On the radio side, baseball and basketball each continue to do well for most local stations which are flagship stations. Recent research via Arbitron reveals that Cincinnati and Milwaukee continue to be strong baseball on radio markets, with sports stations in San Francisco and Detroit (as mentioned here previously) showed increased overall audiences in the recent ratings period which included the baseball season opening week.

In Los Angeles, the Lakers broadcasts helped KSPN Radio, as the Lakers showed much better in cumes than the Clippers even though the Clippers had a much better regular season. New York's teams, the Knicks and Nets, also helped to increase the numbers for their flagship stations. Perhaps the best testimony to this is the increase that came to WTAM Cleveland despite another poor regular season by the Cavaliers.

It does, however, appear that KEX Portland needs to do more promotion of its Blazers broadcasts for next season. The station took over the play-by-play prior to this season, but showed only approximately half of the audience from when the games aired on KXTG The Game.

Not being one to ignore radio, ESPN has quietly (for them) worked a deal for radio rights to the five NFL teams without some form of regional or national distribution for their radio broadcasts. Many would joke that ESPN would have only wanted most of these teams even if more were available.

ESPN Radio can air certain games of the NY Giants, NY Jets, and New England Patriots. They can also air some Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins games. These broadcasts can only air on ESPN stations in NFL markets if and when not opposed by the local team's game. For example, if the Patriots have a 4:00 game, the New England stations could only air an available 1:00 game.

Elsewhere, I continue to hope that the TV networks spending all those millions for the rights to show the games will finally speak up and complain to the pro sports leagues about the "special" uniforms they force the players to wear. This came to light again on Memorial Day for baseball fans. Even though we all knew it was Memorial Day and it has significance, it doesn't mean that all of the teams need to wear special uniforms which render it difficult to impossible to read the numbers when watching on TV or at the game. And then to have umpires wear special camoflage caps?

Teams have their own colors for many reasons, one of which is so that they can be readily identified. When you tune in a baseball game and cannot tell which teams are playing, let alone who the players are because you can't read the number or name, it has gone too far. I would like to think that the networks paying all those millions (as well as the fans that are being gouged in the wallet by having to pay their cable/satellite provider whether they watch or not) should be able to demand continuity.

There should be only two uniforms per pro team. Home and road. Stop the madness.

Speaking of stopping the madness, how can NBC Sports Network continue to show reruns of Dan Patrick Show segments on holidays? It makes no sense for a network looking to draw viewers away from the likes of ESPN and the regional networks (some of which are owned by NBC and had regular staffing that morning). Once again, on Memorial Day morning, fans were asked to watch reruns of segments with Patrick instead of being able to hear and talk about all of the big sports news of the day. They might as well have posted a "We don't care" graphic in between commercials and saved money instead of editing the rerun package.

AUSTIN: KVET The Zone 1300 has reduced its Austin based local programming to afternoon drive on weekdays. The station has picked up (or been forced to add, since it is the same ownership) two hours of the Mike Taylor morning show from nearby KTKR 760 The Ticket from San Antonio to air before KVET goes to its midday syndicated lineup. At least they picked up from the next market over, so a good portion of the "local" programming will be relevant.

DES MOINES: Sorry to learn of the passing of Iowa radio legend Jim Zabel at the age of 91. Zabel handled play-by-play for more than 6,000 sports events (if you include the Drake Relays, bowling, and the like) over the past 60+ years. Just to put this in the proper light, the Sports Director of WHO Radio before Hanley took over was none other than Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Should Social Media Fit The Bills?

I'd like to think that those fortunate enough to be able to cover sports for a living would retain a passion for finding actual news and facts to report and seek the thrill of being the first to report or break an accurate story. It doesn't always appear to be that way, even in this era of technology and the additional resources it can bring.

Instead, I see more and more "items" like the one from WGRZ-TV channel 2 in Buffalo sportscaster Jonah Javad. While this is not intended to be a criticism of Javad's reporting or his sportscasts, it is intended to show the need for more aggressive sports reporting.

Last week, Javad was making a big deal about how WGRZ-TV has "teamed up" with the Bills fan social media community known as Bills Mafia. The "teaming up" includes Javad using some of the fan comments from Bills Mafia on his sportscasts along with promoting various fan polls and input.

Call me an old school fuddy-duddy if you must. But, come on, give those of us who watch or listen to a sportscast a break. Please. If we want opinions from casual fans on a slow news day, we can listen to many of the sports talk radio stations that seem to think these opinions are more important than player and coach interviews and score updates all day and evening long.

If I want to read what some of the hardcore Bills fans are thinking, I could also go on social media and see for myself, and respond if I care to. I certainly don't need to wait until the 6:00 news to see what fans might be talking about, especially when I should be seeing comments from Bills players and employees themselves instead.

In my opinion, it is things like this which are the cause of the decline in quality of the sportscast segments within local TV newscasts. This causes the "hardcore" sports audience to have no reason to watch when they can turn to a regional sports network and/or to ESPN for details. Some of the local TV newscasts have reduced or even eliminated the local sports segments as if they have already lost out to the sports only networks. They didn't have to. If WGRZ-TV was providing expert coverage of the Buffalo area teams far better than ESPN or the regional nets currently do, they'd be attracting viewers BECAUSE OF their sports segments. Instead of whisking them away.

This is not to say that Bills Mafia should not be of value to Javad and channel 2, as well as similar social media groups for local stations around the country. Instead of being content when it is really opinion, the Javads of the sports reporting world should be using these social media communities to gauge feedback and then to elicit "official" response to it.

Let me give a made-up example. Suppose a large percentage of the Bills Mafia community was posting about not being happy with the Bills' kicker. A sports "reporter" monitoring fan feedback, which is always one of the tips I pass along for my broadcasting students to do, should pick up on these complaints, and hopefully pull a couple of specific plays or games which prompted these complaints.

This reporter could, for example, research available free agent kickers and compare stats with the current kicker. Perhaps the reporter could get an on-camera or on-phone interview with a coach or team executive and ask if the team is pursuing another kicker.

Just maybe that reporter would come up with a story that there is an available kicker who compares statistically to the current one and provide or show the result of his or her question to a team official about it.

Doing this would show viewers that this reporter is looking to break a story, responsive to fan feedback, and is sincere about devoting coverage to the team. Isn't that better for viewers than simply grabbing a quote from some random fan in order to put a sportscast together?

Social media could enhance TV and radio sportscasts. Not take away from them.

Meanwhile, NBA executives are likely concerned about how the San Antonio vs. Memphis Western Conference Finals play out for ABC/ESPN. Even though the Spurs have had a national network presence with their continuing success over the past 15 years, the Spurs have not always drawn the TV ratings to reflect that. And now with playing against the Memphis Grizzlies, the 'big market' factor is out the window. Both New York and both Los Angeles teams are now eliminated, as are Chicago and Boston. There go the markets that bring in the big numbers, both in terms of local audience and somewhat of a national following.

It showed in Game 1, with the lowest Conference Finals ratings in six years, and ratings lower than the majority of opening round telecasts from this playoff season. That this is happening while the national TV rights for NBA telecasts are about to be negotiated is significant. The NBA is undoubtedly counting on a bidding war from Fox Sports and the likes of TNT and ESPN looking to retain the relationship with the league. Obviously, poor Conference Finals ratings could reduce the bidding among the potential suitors.

Perhaps the fans could benefit by this. We know that at least one network will pony up to get the rights to these games. If that network or those networks secure the rights for less money, it should mean less out of pocket for cable and satellite subscribers because of it.

This is why the current situation surrounding the Houston Astros could wind up helping consumers in the long run. The Astros having a pathetic season and alienating their fan base has already resulted in their new regional TV Network not being picked up by many cable and satellite systems. Reportedly under half of the homes in the Houston area can't even get the games, with reports surfacing that some consumers have gone as far as to ask their cable system NOT to bring on the channel.

Frankly, I'm in favor of that. The public needs to be heard and not charged each month even if they don't want the games. In this case, the lack of being carried directly costs the team money that is saved by consumers.

For years and years the public had local team telecasts on "free" TV and it was completely advertiser supported. Let that be the case now, or don't show the games. It should not be up to consumers to pay for these games whether we want them or not. Based on the ratings over the past couple of years, there is a big demand for live TV sports. Even the Super Bowl telecast sells out. Let the advertisers pay the freight and not consumers.

JACKSONVILLE: Even if the Jaguars still are not going anywhere in the standings for the coming season, the radio coverage of team certainly is. The radio team of Brian Sexton with analysts Jeff Lageman and Tony Boselli (with Boselli added for the 2013 season) will also appear on team related programming on WOKV 104.5. The station is planning 2-hour shows on Monday nights (to recap) and Thursday nights (to preview) which will involve the broadcast team. Boselli joins the radio team after having been the TV analyst for the team's pre-season games for the previous seven seasons. Sexton, meanwhile returns for his 19th season as the voice of the Jaguars, having called every game in the team's history.

St. LOUIS: KXOX 101.1 is about to begin its final season as the Rams' flagship station, although word is the station holds options to continue. What the station will do for Saturdays of college football is still not settled. As of press time, it is still not definite that the station will continue to air St. Louis University football, since that deal expired at the end of last season. The station does have the option to replace, or add, University of Illinois football, since that package was dropped by KFNS along with its sports programming.

DALLAS: Abilene Christian University is about to enter NCAA Division I football with its move to the Southland Conference for this season, but that still isn't enough to get either of the three Dallas sports stations to be interested in airing the games. That part is understandable. To its credit, the school has partnered to get its games on the radio in Dallas. In addition to its flagship station 98.1 The Ticket in Abilene, the school's games will air in Dallas on KBXD 1480, which otherwise is a gospel music format.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Live Sports Streaming Takes A Turner For The Better

The news that TNT and TBS will begin live streaming is important for sports fans, since it turns out that their live sports programming will be included. This is expected to be operational in time for the TBS coverage of the MLB post-season, and probably for some of their Sunday afternoon regular season telecasts. TNT's stream is also slated to include its NBA regular season and post-season coverage (starting Fall 2013), as well as the TNT/TBS coverage of the NCAA Tournament in March.

Turner plans to have provide apps for phone and computer use. However, viewers will reportedly be required to log in via their cable or satellite provider account information. Yes, I said "However". This would indicate that consumers who have abandoned (or refuse to pay that much in the first place) cable or satellite will not be able to watch either network. By pointing this out, the hope is that TNT and TBS would make their streaming service available, perhaps on a monthly basis, to anyone who wishes to subscribe for a reasonable fee. Otherwise, this is really something that cable and satellite services should already be providing to their customers. We pay a lot of money each month to access the channels, whether we want them or not, and should have options above and beyond TV sets to do so.

The latest radio ratings for April have been released this week, and it remains a mixed bag for sports radio competition in the larger markets.

Boston continues to be the most curious sports radio city, especially with the recent programming changes made by WEEI-FM as it looks to come back against WBZ-FM Sports Hub. Of course, having the Red Sox play-by-play with the team having its best start to a season in at least three seasons helps, as WEEI-FM rose one full ratings point overall from March to April and moved up to #11 overall. As positive as that seems for WEEI, the audience gain did not come from The Sports Hub. WBZ-FM actually increased its total audience again, having grown by nearly a full ratings point since February, and came in at #7 overall. What this does show is that, unlike some other large markets, the demand for sports radio remains heavy in Boston.

San Francisco loves its Giants, as the defending World Champs helped put KNBR 680 back to #1 overall, as it came close to double the audience it had for the previous ratings period!
Yet, even with the A's off to a good start, KGMZ The Game 95.7 showed only a slight increase and remains buried way back in the pack. KNBR now has literally more than six times the overall audience of The Game. Even though it's a one-horse town, it means that sports radio listening is also up in the Bay Area.

Chicago and Dallas both showed slight increases in the sports audiences. Chicago's WSCR 670 The Score finished slightly up at #14 overall while WMVP ESPN 1000, which had the Chicago Bulls broadcasts during their playoff run, held steady with well under half of the total audience of The Score. In Dallas, KTKS The Ticket remains more than a full ratings point in front over KESN ESPN 103.3 even though it held steady for this book. KESN rose .4 during the month while KRLD-FM dropped .2. This results in a .2 overall sports radio audience increase for the month.

In Detroit, the Tigers best start in a few seasons is paying off for WXYT-FM The Ticket, which showed a gain of nearly two ratings points and once again cracked the market's Top 5 stations overall. In Washington D.C., the Nationals' hot start translated into a half point ratings gain for The Fan WJFK-FM, which now has surpassed WTEM after its .3 ratings drop.

No surprise in Cincinnati, where the Reds rule the airwaves and gave WLW 700 more than a 25% overall audience increase in just the one month. Listeners want the play-by-play way more than the typical sports talk fare, however. (WLW is not full-time sports.) WCKY ESPN 1530 continues to have under a 1 rating, while WSAI Fox Sports 1360 somehow managed to drop to a mere .2. Yet, WSAI is above WCFN FM 100 The Fan, which showed up with a .1 overall.

Of course, the sports talk radio situation continues to be stale in both Los Angeles and Houston. In L.A., KSPN 710 held steady this book, but remains out of the Top 20, while KLAC 570, even with Vin Scully calling the Dodgers games, still can't pull even a 1 rating overall. In Houston, the sports radio audience dipped overall. What makes that newsworthy is how little margin there is for that to happen. KILT dropped by .2 overall, but holds the "top spot" among sports stations by being the only station barely above a 1 rating overall. Even with ratings lower than a 1, KBME and KFNC ESPN 97.5 both dropped again, while KGOW once again showed up with .1, the lowest possible rating.

Perhaps the most interesting sports talk market, other than Boston, is going to be Minneapolis over the next few months. The Twins, off to a poor start and in and out of last place, are now on KTWN, which is not a full-time sports station. The station does show a full rating point overall increase for April, which is a lot more impressive than the team itself. Yet, Sports KSTP, the former flagship station of the Twins, has only lost .2 from its overall ratings since February.

You can interpret that in a number of ways. The gain of the Twins station, which otherwise is mostly music, far outweighs the audience loss from KSTP and an audience gain of KFXN The Fan. This is not as hopeless as Cincinnati and Milwaukee (where the play-by-play and not full-time sports stations are miles ahead of the sports stations), but this ratings race bears watching. Oh, and the small station combo of CBS Sports Network stations, WGVX, WGVZ, and WRXP, totaled up to a .5 overall rating.

CHICAGO: Sports totally dominated the local TV scene on Wednesday (5/15) night with two playoff games airing as part of national TV packages. The NBA Playoff telecast in which the Bulls were eliminated by the Miami Heat finished with a local rating of 8.87 (according to overnight numbers), while the Blackhawks round 2 opener win over Detroit came out at 8.13. The games began one hour apart. What makes this even more noteworthy is that there were no local telecasts of either game, meaning that it is likely a percentage of potential viewers were not aware of where to find the game. TNT had the Bulls game, while NBC Sports Network aired the Blackhawks game.

KANSAS CITY: It was a wonderful tribute the Royals allowed within hours of the death of former long-time radio voice Fred White on Wednesday (5/15). Sadly, White passed away that same day at the age of 76 due to Melanoma, just one day after his sudden retirement announcement. White called Royals games from 1974 through 1998 and was associated with the team for 40 years.

The Royals telecast on Fox Sports Kansas City from Anaheim went silent for the top of the first inning as the team's way of remembering and honoring White.

NEW YORK: CBS managed to retain the play-by-play for the Giants and announced a multi-year extension to remain on WFAN 660 and 101.9. The Fan is expected to add more Giants specific programming beginning during training camp and continuing through its regular season coverage. Bob Papa, Carl Banks, and Howard Cross will continue as the broadcast team.

ATLANTA: As the NBA Hawks have concluded their season, one of the changes before next season could very well be on the radio dial. Reports have surfaced that the team could be soaring over to The Game 92.9, with an official announcement possible by the end of this month.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Broadcast The Big Game - Just Don't Talk About It

Suppose you aired a huge game in the forest, but nobody could talk about it. Would anyone listen?

Obviously, that doesn't make sense. But neither did Chicago's sports radio stations on Saturday night. As NBA fans can tell you, the Chicago Bulls pulled off a miracle win with a 7th game victory in Brooklyn to advance in the playoffs. Fans of the Bulls were surprised and ecstatic, and still frustrated because superstar Derrick Rose still is not playing. Plenty to talk about.

However, WMVP ESPN 1000, which is the flagship station for the Bulls, simply aired the regular post-game show and then joined the national ESPN Radio programming. Over at WSCR The Score 670, all the local fans could hear was CBS Radio Sports.

I already know that everyone in radio (that hasn't already) can't wait to tell me that "It was a Saturday night and the audience isn't there!". But this was not just "any" Saturday night! With this having been a 7th and deciding playoff game, WMVP (if not both) should have been prepared with a local host taking calls and playing highlights and interviews until at least two hours after the game ended.

Here is why. The audience would have been more than the 'typical' Saturday night. There were a number of local fans who were out and about, would find out the result, and want to talk about it and hear other fans basking in the glory. Instead, it is another instance where radio let them down.

Radio is supposed to be instant. Expecting fans to wait until the "regular" hosts are in place on Monday morning means waiting until the excitement has worn off and the victory is "old" news. This is still another way that radio says "We don't really care" to its listeners. The "It only matters if it happens during weekdays" attitude is a big part of the problem.

The station just aired play-by-play of the biggest game for the team in more than a year. Yet, they didn't know to schedule even one of their hosts to talk about it immediately after, no matter how many people were listening.

Sorry, but for a sports radio station, especially in a major market, the on-air schedule needs to be treated in ways other than a 9-to-5 corporate schedule. Big games take place on the weekends, and local hosts need to be in place. Although this wasn't as bad as The Dan Patrick Show having reruns when Patrick is away, executives need to look at moves (or lack thereof) such as this one when they wonder where the radio audience is going. It's not the players who need to be prepared for the big games. It should also be the sports radio stations.

Here we go with another college conference forming a TV network, for which people who are not sports fans or do not wish to support any schools in the conference will wind up paying more. Now it's the SEC with a 20-year deal to have its own network and show its own content. I guess the $205,000,000 that the Conference already takes in annually from its ESPN and CBS deals aren't enough to keep the member schools competitive. Ooops, that's the pro teams' excuse.

INDIANAPOLIS: The new Program Director of WFNI The Fan 1070 is not new to the station. Greg Rakestraw, who has been hosting the Colts pre-game show and filling in for various hosts, has been named to the position as of this week. Rakestraw is no stranger to the market either, having been a sports reporter for WNDE 1260 for about four years, and later was P.D. at WXLW 950, which used to be the ESPN affiliate in Indy. (The Fan 1070 is ESPN Radio now.) In addition, Rakestraw will also oversee sister station WYXB 105.7, which is a soft rock station.

PHILADELPHIA: Sorry to learn of the passing of Robert Russo Sr., the former producer of hundreds of radio play-by-play broadcasts in NYC and Philadelphia. Russo, who was 75, produced Eagles football games for WIP in the late 60's and returned in the early 80's, also producing Flyers broadcasts. In addition, he produced Mets, Nets, and Islanders broadcasts for WHN-AM in the early and mid-70's.

BOSTON: The Brick is back. WEEI 93.7 has brought back J.T. The Brick to host overnights starting this week. He had been hosting overnights on Fox Sports Radio.

MEMPHIS: WMC-AM Sports 790 is dropping Fox Radio and picking up CBS Radio Sports beginning this coming weekend.

ANCHORAGE: This is hard to believe. Anchorage AK now has three sports radio stations. Obviously, a lot of national programming dominates the airwaves there. This is because KHAR 590 is about to drop its music format and pick up CBS Sports Radio. KTZN 550 airs ESPN Radio, while KUDO 1080 airs Fox Sports Radio.

Although it seems a stretch to call it "local" play-by-play, Anchorage does get its share of play-by-play in addition to the games ESPN Radio brings. KTZN airs Seattle Mariners games, while KUDO airs the Seattle Seahawks and U. of Washington football.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NFL Fans Get Their Pick - Late

Although the month of May is now upon us, the NFL has managed to dominate the sports media news even though we are literally in the middle of the off-season. The NFL Draft, which took place this past weekend, drew record ratings for both networks which did telecasts of the entire event, ESPN and NFL Network. Both networks were able to add to the theatrical element of their respective telecasts by delaying the official announcement of the picks in the first round in order to give them time to be ready with video and thorough statistics about the players chosen. The NFL cooperated by holding off making the public announcement, seemingly handled like a TV timeout in the final minutes of a game, by doing so up to two minutes later.

Viewers saw "Pick is in" on the screen and the next team on the clock while the networks scrambled
to be ready with the "package" about the player as soon as the official announcement was made.

Meanwhile, some of the reporters on the scene went ahead and used social media, especially Twitter, to get the info about the picks out to the fans as soon as possible. For some unknown reason, some members of the media were upset about those who spread the news of the picks "early". The feeling from here is that the NFL should not have gone along with a delay in waiting for the announcement and enable ESPN and NFL Network to show the news right as it happens.

As we (viewers) could see, it takes only a couple of minutes to bring up the prepared 'package' with the selected player's statistics, background, and video. After it is shown, the analysts on the telecast reacted to the selection and then began to set the stage for the next team's pick. It would seem that these networks should have had the draft picks be shown announced immediately. The analysts could have then reacted immediately (instead of having minutes to prepare their comments), and THEN the video and statistical information could have been shown as soon as possible.

Many viewers went with the "delay" before the picks were announced because they enjoyed the analysis and speculation about the picks that each network was providing in competition with each other. But that doesn't mean they wanted to wait to get their information.

In the San Francisco Bay area, the Raiders have decided to change radio stations for the coming season and left KITS 105 and 1550 in favor of the all sports KGMZ The Game 95.7. The Game officially began their extended Raiders coverage with a 3-hour draft coverage special hosted by Greg Papa, who will continue with radio play-by-play. The station is already planning support programming specific to the Raiders during the week. However, The Game showed up with less than 1/3 of the total audience of KNBR 680 in the most recent ratings period, with KNBR expected to remain solid as the flagship station for Giants baseball. To its credit, The Game obviously expects to be in "the game" for the long run, now having play-by-play for both the A's and the Raiders.

New England Patriots fans now know who they will need to get used to for radio play-by-play, as Bob Socci has been named as the team's radio voice on WBZ-FM Sports Hub 98.5. Socci replaces the legendary Gil Santos, who handled the duties for the past 36 seasons. Scott Zolak returns as analyst.

Moving over to baseball, it is great to see MLB make some of the classic games library available to fans. I had noticed that MLB Network showed very few "classic games" this past off-season compared with those before it (since coming on the air on 2009). While that was disappointing, those games were yanked in favor of mostly fresher programming. Of course, once upon a time ESPN Classic actually showed classic games of the big four major sports, but as we all know, that has died off significantly within the past three years.

Now, MLB has gone to YouTube, and that is excellent news. MLB Advanced Media has an official license agreement via YouTube and has already begun uploading hours and hours of classic games, as well as highlights of practically every game going back to the 2010 season. "Fans around the world are getting more Major League Baseball video than ever before on YouTube, continuing to make YouTube a daily sports destination," said Frank Golding, Director of North America Sports Content Partnerships.

Entire classic games are already available, as well as extended highlights. One search I did brought up some complete game telecasts of no-hitters, for example. Best of all, as of now, there is no (additional) cost to view these via YouTube. Great idea, but it becomes ironic that consumers are having to pay a monthly fee (whether they want it or not) for the ESPN Networks, while YouTube now shows more and better baseball classics than ESPN Classic.

It is finally NHL playoff time, and this marks only the second year in which every post-season game will be televised nationally. First, we have to marvel at the TV audience marks gained by the Pittsburgh Penguins of late. The Penguins' TV ratings on Root Sports could finish as the highest EVER for a regional sports network over the course of a regular season. On a national scale, according to Sports Business Daily, the season ratings will likely finish ahead of those for the 2007 Red Sox, the 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs, and even the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls' ratings in Michael Jordan's final season with that team.

Locally, the Penguins have nearly doubled their TV ratings over the 2008-09 season. Very impressive. Same with the Boston Bruins, whose telecasts on NESN wound up at a 35% increase over the previous season.

During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the various regional sports networks are only to show first round games in addition to the NBC and NHL Network national coverage. Starting with the second round, the games will only be available via the NBC Sports Group. NBC will show up to five of the seven games of the Stanley Cup finals, which include the opening game and then the clinching game.

Those of us who pay attention to sports media should keep a closer eye on the PGA Tour over the next few months. Andrew Chapman of the PGA Tour marketing team revealed in a presentation that golf now has a bigger part of its audience following via online, even while at home. Chapman admitted that the vast majority of site visitors monitor the leader board, with research showing that roughly 59% over the age of 50. It will be interesting to see how the PGA plans to reach a younger audience, which is necessary to build loyalty for years to come.

IMG Sports Media is combining its overseas sports production wing and post-production studios into one location for the first time. Located near London, the new facility will handle "sports and entertainment content distribution", as well as becoming what it terms "directly connected" to many of the sports stadiums and facilities in the UK. The facility is expected to be fully operational by this time in 2014. This move reportedly does not effect IMG's New York or Stockholm facilities.

NBA Hall of Fame member Isiah Thomas is returning to broadcasting, although this time not in a basketball role. For whatever reason, Thomas has been selected to host "Unfinished Business With Isiah Thomas", which will focus on Americans who have overcome obstacles to become successful. It is not considered to be a sports show. However, the biggest obstacle could well be that the show will air on Cinemoi North America TV starting next month (June). Finding potential viewers who have even heard of that network, let alone knowing where and when to find the show is a signficant challenge already.

ABC/ESPN is already touting some of its college football telecasts for the coming season. Having a Big Ten package also allows it to show a pair of early season key road games for Notre Dame, including the Irish at Michigan on Sept. 7th and at Purdue on Sept. 14th, both now scheduled for prime time. The network also thinks that Ohio State is going places next season, having already scheduled a prime time telecast at Northwestern (which means portable lights) for October 5th.

ESPN is also expanding its college baseball coverage this month, adding another 50 exclusive telecasts to its list of games. The network plans to show every Super Regional game (which could be as many as 24 from eight locations) which lead into the College World Series it has been televising in full. ESPNU will show the announcement of the 64 team field at Noon ET on Memorial Day.