Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Should The League Have The Media Power?

There has been even more evidence over the past few days of sports leagues and organizations gaining too much control, especially when it comes to media. Before long, this will become still another means to price the major sports out of the reach of potentially millions of casual fans, because now even more sources want more than their fair share of pieces of the pie.

Within the past week, Sports Business Journal unveiled that NASCAR is looking at facilitating an earlier than scheduled change of its TV network coverage. As you may be aware, in recent weeks Fox Sports and NBC Sports Network, both in need of live and better quality programming to fill air time, secured long-term rights to NASCAR from 2015 to 2024 which (already) total more than 8 BILLION dollars for NASCAR.  According to the SBJ story, ESPN and Turner Sports are now both willing to bail out early on their "current" NASCAR packages. What makes this worth watching is that NASCAR itself is reportedly becoming involved to facilitate this possible change. Seems to me this should be between, say, ESPN and NBC and Turner and Fox, or vise versa, and should not be public knowledge at this point in time. For example, ESPN recently "sold", or "licensed" as they put it, the rights to a group of college football telecasts it didn't care about to CBS Sports Network to help it (CBS) fill up air time. However, it is possible that NASCAR has, by contract, the ability to step in if this situation were to arise. If that is the case, it seems to give NASCAR additional power over major media, and that is not necessarily a good thing.

Also over this past week, MLB Advanced Media (a part of Major League Baseball) announced it has acquired the distribution rights to an upcoming major concert in New York City, which has absoutely nothing to do with baseball. In reading the Press Release to announce this, it comes out that MLB Advanced Media already owns some of the technical distribution for Glenn Beck's online channel, a major airline's in-flight TV service, and ESPN3's live streams of events.

By the way, it is not just "some concert". Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and the Kings of Leon are among the acts booked to participate.

In this instance, the fact that MLB now owns a variety of media distribution opportunities, which are NOT specific to its own product, means that some of the billions of dollars it takes in from broadcast rights are being used to directly compete with some of the media companies it provides product to.

If ESPN, for example, started its own baseball league, don't you think that MLB would be objecting like crazy? If that would be the case, why are the sports being allowed to compete with those that feed them?

But it doesn't stop there.

Also within the past week, the technology news site, All Things D, broke a story about Google and the NFL holding meetings to raise the possibility of Google coordinating for live streaming of the NFL Sunday Ticket package beginning with the 2015 season (after the DirecTV package runs out end of the 2014 season).

According to this story, if Google were to obtain a possible one BILLION dollar or more per year deal with the NFL for online distribution, it would not necessarily mean that DirecTV could not still retain the "TV rights" for Sunday Ticket.

Think about this. Reading between the lines, this tells us that the NFL could potentially double their league revenue for the same live action distribution rights, while putting streaming up against the TV networks already paying billions for those rights. It would appear that the TV networks would not even have a say, at least for the short term.

Sure, the concept of being able to watch the game of your choice online and not need to have DirecTV has appeal for the NFL fans at the moment. But that is not the point here.

Put all of these recent and current stories together. We have the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR each handling negotiations for multiple billions of dollars in revenue for years to come. After all these years of generating significant revenue from broadcast rights, merchandising, ticket sales, and, as best said, the games (or events) themselves.

Instead, these leagues and organizations are seizing the power. These right fees already mean additional dollars every month on the majority of cable/satellite costs (whether you are a fan or not). Sports ticket prices continue to rise on average every year so that teams supposedly can "meet" personnel and stadium costs.

With all of the money these leagues and organizations are ALREADY generating, shouldn't they be concentrating on keeping their sport within financial reach of its fans who made them what they are today? Sure doesn't look like it. We should all be concerned.

BOSTON: Shortly after the important Program Director change at WEEI came word that WEEI (and sister WRKO) will no longer carry the Celtics games effective immediately. No word yet, as of press time, regarding the "new" flagship station.

Speculation has begun that rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub could go after the games, even though it already airs the Bruins games, and use its sister stations to handle conflicting broadcasts. Doing so would figure to be a solid move for The Sports Hub, since it would then capture both audiences (Bruins & Celtics) for the station.

At the moment, the Bruins are the bigger story than the Celtics, coming off making it to the Stanley Cup Finals only a few weeks ago, while the Celtics are in rebuild mode with a new coach and less familiar starting lineup.

From here, WEEI letting go is as questionable of a move as changing Program Directors. I'm sure they (WEEI) will tell you that not having either the Celtics or the Bruins "frees up" the ability to provide unbiased coverage. If, however, WBZ-FM does add the Celtics to the mix, it means that "all" fans will be tuning in to Sports Hub for play-by-play and surrounding coverage. The hardcore Celtics who has been listening to WEEI for its coverage of the team would be given reasons to listen to its big competitor that it didn't have before. (The Sports Hub came into existence during the just ended stint of WEEI and WRKO holding the rights to the Celtics.)

Or, it could be interesting to see if a station or group other than CBS (owners of Sports Hub) come along and grab the Celtics' rights. Either way, it helps to take away from WEEI, and at a time when they can least afford it. Either way, the good news is that Sean Grande and Cedrick Maxwell will return for their 12th season as the radio broadcast team.

CHICAGO: Comcast SportsNet Chicago has added Jen Lada as a full-time anchor and reporter. In addition, CSN Chicago has brought in Tony Rice, who was the QB of Notre Dame's 1988 championship team, as its Notre Dame football beat reporter. CSN Chicago will also start airing full replays of Notre Dame home game telecasts later that Saturday night (or overnight). Amazing how this happens since NBC, which owns CSN, airs the home games live and NBC Sports Network is adding expanded pre-game coverage for this season.

Have a great Labor Day - and college football kickoff!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Competition For The Same Audience

The sports media bandwagon has been in high gear over the past few days, as stations and networks continue to look for more ways to compete with each other instead of leading the way.

In Boston, the local radio battle between WEEI and WBZ-FM Sports Hub could be taking another twist, based on last week's ouster of Jason Wolfe from the VP of Programming and Operations position he most recently held during his 22-year stint with WEEI. WEEI has seen its ratings on the decline while rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub has made significant (compared with WEEI) gains.

What gets me about this announcement was the comment from WEEI management that it is time for "new ideas" at WEEI. Perhaps moving Glenn Ordway from afternoons early this year, and the move to an emphasis on the FM frequency before that were not "new" enough. Kevin Winter came and went in the midday. WEEI made these changes in an attempt to stir ratings, and they didn't work.

Those were "new" ideas.

Over the past three months, The Sports Hub hasn't had much movement in the overall ratings either. This indicates that WEEI is not necessarily losing its audience to the competition. At least they haven't tinkered with Dennis & Callahan's morning show. This could all be a part of the problem which plagues TV even more, which is that there is simply too much competition for the sports audience, and only so many hours in the day. Sorry, but it's hard to believe that anyone could do any better than Jason Wolfe to maintain a presence for WEEI in the months to come. But, as they say in sports, that's why the play it out on the field.

Also on the radio side, sort of, is the announcement from Sirius XM about expanding its contract to carry all MLB broadcasts to now run through 2021. This announcement also makes a big deal that Sirius subscribers can now also receive these broadcasts, which were only on XM all of this time.

Seems to me that Sirius and XM merged years ago. This "move" should have taken place years ago but didn't until now. The "announcement" also conveniently overlooks how some "basic" Sirius subscribers still need to upgrade their package in order to receive these broadcasts. I can understand Sirius XM making it look like this is some kind of innovation and "new" service to cover up this delay and smooth over the fact that some of the subscribers are still left out.

What I don't understand is the large number of media reports about this failed to point this out. And there's more. The cost to "upgrade" for the basic Sirius subscribers so that they can receive this MLB package is more per year than the cost of the basic "At Bat" app for phones from MLB. And "At Bat" provides both the home and away broadcasts via phone, whereas many Sirius XM channels cannot even be accessed by phone.

On the TV side, CBS Sports Network is adding its own competition, partially to fill up air time and more likely to add to what is already there.

They have added American Athletic Conference football and basketball telecasts starting this year. The basketball telecasts figure to have more appeal, with the likes of U. of Louisville, U. of Cincinnati, South Florida, and Memphis included in this package. However, in order to get these games, CBS-SN also needs to show some women's games. This package is actually a sub-license from ESPN, so it's really nothing "new" for viewers. Because of this, ESPN generates "licensing revenue" while being able to show other games it can sell, and reduce its number of women's basketball telecasts. (I'm not knocking the caliber or rallying against women's basketball, but the ratings for those telecasts show a lack of demand.)

CBS-SN has also decided that the fans need still another expanded NFL pre-game show on Sunday mornings. As a result of this, Sunday Sept. 8th (week 1) they will be on from 9 AM to 1 PM ET with still another pre-game show. This one goes head-to-head with the NFL Network, with the later part on against ESPN and the final hour against Fox and, well, CBS. Adam Schein has been named as hot, with NFL Today analysts and on-site announcers expected to participate. This even includes James Brown. This show has been named "That Other Pregame Show". And I'm not joking. At least not yet. Heck, let's just do the same exact thing, but for four times as long, and see what happens.

NFL Monday QB will air on CBS-SN on Mondays at 6:30 PM ET, with Schein also hosting, and analysts to include Phil Sims, Rich Gannon, and Steve Beuerlein.

This from the network which is bringing us a bunch of college football telecasts this season. They are bringing us matchups such as Morgan State vs. Army (Aug. 30); Winston-Salem State at UNC-Pembroke (Sept. 5); Delaware at Navy (Sept. 14); West Alabama at Florida Tech (Sept. 19); and Harding at Southern Arkansas (Oct. 3). And to think that part of our cable/satellite monthly cost goes to help bring this all to us.

Then again, Fox Sports 1 comes at us with national college football telecasts such as Nicholls State at Oregon (Aug. 31);  Louisiana-Layfayette at Kansas State (Sept. 7); and VA Tech at East Carolina (Sept. 14) within the next month. Yet, to read some media reports this week, you could think that Fox Sports 1 has already established itself as an important presence in the lineup of available sports networks.

As we get ready for college football to begin, ESPN/ABC has announced it will use the same broadcast pairings as last season. (As if this was worthy of being an announcement?) Nonetheless, Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit return for Saturday Night Football for their 8th season together, while Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge will handle the #2 game for their 5th consecutive season.

The ESPN2 game on Saturday nights will again have Mark Jones and Brock Huard, while Clay Matvick and Matt Sinchcomb come back for season two on the featured ESPNU game. The Thursday College Football Primetime games will be called by Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, and David Pollack.

CHICAGO: WMVP ESPN 1000 has renewed "The Jay Cutler Show" for its second season, although the show is being moved to afternoon drive. Cutler will be heard on Mondays from 5 - 6 PM CT following Sunday Bears games, and on Tuesdays following the Bears two scheduled appearances on Monday Night Football. What makes Cutler's show unique from other NFL quarterback (and/or star player) shows is that Cutler, to his credit, appears live and in person each week, including those done from a restaurant or venue including a live audience in person.

WIND-AM 560 adds a two hour pre-game show from 10 AM to Noon CT on Sundays (NFL kickoff is at Noon local time), hosted by Fox Sports Radio's Mike North, the former morning host at WSCR The Score. Yes, it is a station which does not air any NFL games airing a 2-hour pre-game show on Sundays against all of the TV shows, and often against Bears pre-game programming.

STATE COLLEGE PA: Penn State Football's radio team of Steve Jones and Jack Ham has been signed to an extension for at least three more seasons. The pair has teamed up to provide the play-by-play for the past 13 seasons on what is currently a 60-station network. Jones has also called PSU basketball for 30 years.

COLLEGE PARK MD: The University of Maryland Football Network has added former QB Scott McBrien to its radio broadcasts in time for the upcoming season. However, at least to start, McBrien will merely serve as sideline reporter. Johnny Holliday and Tim Strachan will continue as the main broadcast team.

OKLAHOMA CITY: KRXO 107.7 has dropped its music format and has gone all sports, now known as "The Franchise 107.7". Play-by-play will include Oklahoma University sports and and network fed NFL games.

MONTEREY CA: KYZZ 97.9 has dropped ESPN Radio. In fact, it dropped sports and went to music.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Oddest Sports Media Week

Those fans who constantly disagree with the coach or manager of their favorite team will understand this week in Sports Media just the same. Some, well, odd decision making going on these days by station and network executives.

St. LOUIS: Just as quickly as it started, Kevin Slaten and Jack Clark are already gone from their afternoon drive sports show on WGNU 920. On Friday (8/9), Clark was on the air claiming that Albert Pujols had used performance enhancing drugs during his time with the Cardinals. Upon Pujols' emphatic denial hours later, the InsideStL.com group (buying the time for the show on KGNU) announced that Clark, along with co-host Kevin Slaten, were both sent packing. This even though Slaten was not involved in the specific claim that Clark made.

NEW YORK: It seems that now sports telecasts are getting into the "clutter" business. It is bad enough that regular programming on many networks is filled with endless and distracting clutter on the lower screen promoting other shows. Those watching KNBC-TV 4's NFL exhibition telecast between the Giants and Steelers on Saturday (8/10) had to deal with an oil company logo for much of the telecast. Worse yet, it was ABOVE the score box at the bottom. As if all of the advertising visible on practically every camera shot during the games isn't enough. What a distrubing trend, if this is indeed a new trend. Now that the "over-the-air" local TV stations are charging for subscribers, the viewers shouldn't have to endure still more on-screen distractions.

On a separate NY note, congrats to Bobby Lewis, the 40+ year director of both Knicks and Rangers telecasts for MSG Network, on his retirement.

ATLANTA: 92.9 The Game is taking a controversial measure in trying to gain an audience. Not satisfied with getting the play-by-play rights to the Hawks games starting for this season, the station wanted college football for its Saturday afternoon lineup. Since the U. of Georgia and GA Tech are aired elsewhere, The Game has decided to air University of Alabama football each week.

It will be the regular Alabama broadcast with Eli Gold and Phil Savage. One thing for sure. By the end of the upcoming season, The Game will have an idea of what percentage of its current audience are hardcore U. of Georgia fans. Hard to believe they would be interested in local programming on a "rivalry" station.

Usually, carrying a "rival" football game would be something a low-signal station at 1600 on the AM dial would do for lack of anything else.

DETROIT: The success of The Ticket over the past couple of years has led to WMGC 105.1 dropping its music format and turning all sports as of this week (8/12). The station is adding Drew Lane as afternoon drive host. At least for now, the station is airing ESPN national programming mornings and middays, although plans are supposedly in the works to add more local programming.

Why not START with more local programming? If mornings and middays are treated as a "throwaway" to start, why would people flock to the new station?

What makes this interesting is that WMGC is looking to compete with The Ticket, which is a CBS Sports Radio station. Detroit is one of the very few markets where CBS Sports Radio has any kind of impact. Of course, there has been no serious sports radio competition. Makes me wonder if (and that is IF) WMGC actually puts up some viable and local competition just how CBS Radio Sports would hold up in Detroit.

You'll notice that in most cases, the only CBS Radio Sports stations doing anything worthwhile in local ratings is where they have an edge over the competition, such as in Detroit.

Speaking of Michigan, the upcoming start of Michigan football means the start of the 33rd and final season for radio voice Frank Beckmann. To put that in perspective, Beckmann replaced the legendary Bob Ufer at the start of the 1981 season. Ufer called the games for 40 years prior to that. Therefore, everyone of us under the age of 70 have had no more than TWO voices calling Michigan football in our lives.

As of now, Beckmann plans to continue his "general" talk show middays on WJR Detroit.

DENVER: KJAC 105.5, which will be airing Colorado State football and basketball starting this fall, has added Jim Rome's syndicated show to the midday mix. Normally, this is not worth comment.

What makes this story so interesting is that last Tuesday (8/6) the Rome Show aired on The Zone 1600, as it had been. Then, as of Wednesday (8/7), the show moved, with no announcement, over to KJAC and its stronger signal. The Zone 1600 simply brought in another syndicated sports show.

And finally, there is the debut of Fox Sports 1 this coming Saturday. Other media and reporters act like this is a big deal and as though this network will be "competing" with ESPN.

While FS1 does have some impressive NFL analysts lined up, it's not as though they have any significant live content on the docket in the immediate future. It's hard to get excited about "overflow" events that other networks didn't want and still more discussion and analysis. Let alone FS2 also scheduled to start up.

Look at how little CBS and NBC Radio Sports has done this year. No reason to get excited about FS1 or FS2 just yet.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spaning The Globe For Coverage

The media covering the media took over with the announcement about the owners of the Boston Red Sox buying the Boston Globe. While the concern is understandable at the beginning, this is a story that will eventually play out one way or the other regardless of the initial reaction.
If the readers are not happy with how the news is covered, they'll stop reading and buying. If they are pleased with the content, the Globe will remain a viable entity. Give the readers credit. They'll know if the coverage is biased or slanted, and it will reflect directly.

Plenty of people seem to have overlooked that the Globe was sold by the New York Times Company. The NY Times, of course, reports on the Yankees  and Jets (among other teams and news) to its readers, many of whom don't like the Red Sox or the Patriots. Yet, I don't know of complaints about bias in the NY Times against the Red Sox or Patriots. The Globe is in business to make money, and not to determine reporting policy. Those media members expressing concern about this transaction might be better served to find actual news to report on instead of non-stop rumors and speculation.

While few will admit to the curiousity about Alex Rodriguez and his "comeback" to the Yankees on Monday night (8/5), many were watching. Even though the Yankees were playing the last place White Sox in Chicago, the YES Network telecast, according to the overnight numbers, was the highest rated game of the season thus far. Even in Chicago, the ratings on CSN Chicago were the highest for any prime time telecast this season. (The afternoon Opening Day telecast drew more viewers.)

The TV ratings for local baseball telecasts are definitely being impacted by the division races this season. Last week (7/30), the K.C. Royals drew the 2nd highest ratings ever for a Fox Sports Kansas City telecast, and that game was against the lowly Minnesota Twins. But the Royals were on a big winning streak at the time, and with ratings up more than 40% for the entire first half of this season.

The Cleveland Indians, also in contention in August for the first time in years, have upped their local ratings by more than 30% from last season. Their recent winning streak included two of their highest rated Sports Time Ohio telecasts of the season, and those were against the last place White Sox.

Same story in Pittsburgh with the Pirates holding on to first place. The July 30th ROOT Sports telecast of the Pirates against St. Louis in a battle for first place was the highest rated Pirates game ever for ROOT Sports.

The soon to debut Fox Sports 1 has added Hall of Famer Chris Chelios as its NHL analyst to help fill all of the time it will have when it debuts until or unless they add enough quality content to make the network viable. While Fox continues to hype this to no end, I'm wondering if they'll even attract the same size audience (in the early going) that the Speed Channel has had over the past couple of years.

The latest radio ratings are breaking this week from the mid-June to mid-July period. Based on the larger market data already released, there is little change or growth for the all sports stations again. In fact, Chicago's WSCR The Score 670 dipped one-half of a rating point overall, while rival WMVP ESPN 1000 also declined slightly.

In Houston, where the sports stations continue to struggle, KBME 790 has removed the morning team of Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler after it finished well behind KFNC ESPN 97.5 and KILT 610 in the morning.

CHICAGO: While WMVP ESPN 1000 continues to struggle, the station gave midday co-host John Jurkovic what was termed a multi-year extension to continue as midday co-host along with Carmen DeFalco. Jurkovic has already been on WMVP for 13 years.

ATLANTA: Even with the Georgia Tech games being heard on 106.7 this season, 680 The Fan will carry the weekly football and basketball coaches shows along with a daily GA Tech segment.

MORGANTOWN: Tony Caridi will indeed return for his 16th season of West Virginia radio football play-by-play, although an analyst to work with him has yet to be named.

CLEBURNE TX: KCLE 1460 has dropped music and gone all sports as ESPN 1460. The station will continue to provide local high school play-by-play with Ward Whites, who is also the Station Manager, on the call.