Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Much Will NBC Direct TV for the NFL?

The NFL certainly knows how to parlay its television dominance into the coming years. Just as the NFL TV ratings hold steady against a very competitive baseball World Series, the word is that the NFL is considering adding still another TV network to the mix for some of its Thursday prime time games.

NFL Network is airing its 13 exclusive national games on Thursday nights again this season, and reportedly wishes to retain at least some live games in order to justify the increased subscriber fees. But of course, the prospect of still another national network in the mix could soon reduce its number of telecasts.

My hunch is that NFL Network will schedule six telecasts of Thursday night games, most likely during the first six weeks of the regular season. This way, the Network will have six live game telecasts as well as the Red Zone, the draft, live and replay exhibition game telecasts, and its full draft coverage to offer in order to maintain the subscriber demand.

Doing this would allow the NFL to put ten Thursday night games, including Thanksgiving, up for bid (minus the final week of the regular season). There would be plenty of bidding for this additional package. NBC Sports Network needs something people pay attention to besides the NHL, and these NFL games show up at a key time for the Network to further promote its NHL package. In addition, it would provide the NBC Group with Sunday AND Thursday night prime time telecasts.
Fox Sports 1 would likely bid, looking to give its potential audience a reason to tune in for the first time. And, we should not overlook Turner Sports, which already has an extensive NBA package as well as MLB mainly for the post-season.

Right now, with the discussion about how a couple of lesser NFL regular season telecasts held their own against the MLB post-season, the NFL knows to begin to look at the possibilities to generate even more revenue for their product.

What makes this even more interesting is that the Sunday Ticket package operated by DirecTV is still set to run out following the 2014 regular season.

Here is why I think the Thursday night possibility is related to Sunday Ticket. Have you noticed how many more commercials Xfinity (which is Comcast - and which owns NBC) has been airing which directly attack DirecTV?

My hunch is that Comcast/NBC is going to make a HUGE combined bid to take a Thursday night package AND Sunday Ticket along with it. NBC then beefs up the NBC Sports Network beyond the NHL, expands the promotional tie-in with Sunday Night Football on the main network. Xfinity then offers Sunday Ticket to its millions of Comcast Cable subscribers, which sends DirecTV reeling, and means that NBC shows every NFL regular season game somewhere, other than the ESPN Monday Night Football games and the few games that NFL Network retains. And, at the same time, it helps to keep Fox Sports 1 from being any threat of competition.

You heard it here first.

Meanwhile, even though it happened a few days before this writing, it is still sad to learn of the recent passing of Bill Mazer at the age of 92. Just as Eddie Einhorn invented the college basketball telecast, Mazer practically invented dedicated sports talk shows on the radio. Younger sports fans, as well as those without access to New York City radio, probably were not aware that Mazer was hosting sports talk on WNBC 660 New York as early as 1964 when he held the 4:30 to 6:00 PM time slot. (Yes, that's the 660 frequency that has been WFAN all these years.)

Mazer also provided commentary on Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets telecasts in the 60's, and appeared on CBS-TV's NHL package in the early 70's.

The mid-September to mid-October radio ratings are available, and they show Boston strong when it comes to sports programming. WBZ-FM Sports Hub continues to rise, moving up to #5 overall (actually tied with WBZ-AM). Of course, being the flagship station for the Patriots and Bruins (as well as the Celtics, who are just starting their season) certainly contributes. WEEI-FM, the flagship for the Red Sox, also increased to #9 overall in its third consecutive ratings increase. Expect more of the same strong showings for both stations next month.

In Washington D.C., I have to think that the controversy about the name Redskins is going to prove a money maker for the team's ownership, like it or not. WTEM increased its rating again, to nearly DOUBLE the overall audience it had three months ago, during the period of time when the Redskins' name was a big topic. Add in that the Nationals were nowhere to be seen by the time this ratings period began and that WJFK-FM dropped .4 of a ratings point during the SAME time. If you are not aware, WTEM is owned by Dan Snyder, who also owns the Redskins.

WFAN held steady in NYC, while WEPN ESPN 98.7 improved by nearly one-half of a ratings point in just the one month. In San Francisco, KNBR, even with the Giants failing to make the post-season, came in at #2 overall, with more than three times the total audience of KGMZ The Game, which aired the A's playoff games during this stretch.

Philadelphia fans went nuts for sports radio during this time. WIP-FM equaled the largest overall audience rating for a local sports station and finished #3 overall. Both WIP-FM and WPEN-FM ESPN jumped .6 of a rating point. For that matter, WIP-AM moved up .2 overall. This while the Phillies were eliminated and the Eagles struggle with a new head coach.

Seattle's sports audience is finally moving up, perhaps due to the Seahawks' solid start. KJR-AM increased by .7 of a ratings point and is now just behind the steady KIRO-AM. Even though these stations came in at #18 and #19 overall, their combined rating makes sports talk a strong local format, at least for the moment.

Perhaps the biggest surprises among other markets are Minneapolis and Tampa. KFXN-FM has jumped all the way to #5 overall, with a one-month increase of more than one and one-half ratings points, despite the Twins playing out a long and disasterous season and the Vikings going nowhere. Tampa's WDAE-AM rose to #11 overall and has increased its overall audience by 20% over the past three months.

And I will mention Houston, as KILT-AM continues a climb toward respectability with its fourth consecutive increase. KILT-AM has now increased its overall audience by 33% over the past three months, most likely due to the Texans' solid start. Even as KBMC, KFNC, and KGOW all struggle with ratings of less than 1.0 overall (each), KILT is showing that just maybe sports talk radio could be a factor in Houston after all.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Former Redskin Dexter Manley is out from WTOP 103.5 after calling Troy Aikman "a queer" on the air. Even saying "I take that back" right after did not help save his job. Over at WJFK 106.7 The Fan their "new" evening host is a most familiar voice. Don Geronimo returns to D.C. and is now hosting the 7 PM spot on those few weeknights when a Capitals, Wizards, or (next year) Nationals broadcast does not pre-empt. Geronimo may also be a part of Redskins programming on Sundays.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-AM will again air St. Joseph University basketball this season, which will be its third consecutive. Matt Martucci and Joe Lunardi will again handle the play-by-play.

LOS ANGELES: KLAC 570 has begun its "Dodger Talk - Offseason Edition" on Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM from now through February, hosted by Kevin Kennedy and David Vassegh.

LANSING: Here is something you can't criticize ESPN for. ESPN will have two staff members meeting with selected students at Michigan State University on Monday (11/4) regarding careers in sports media. WKAR sports hots Al Martin will host a special Q & A session later in the day on campus. Having taught sportscasting at the college level myself for seven semesters, I can tell you first hand what a wonderful thing this is, and ESPN is behind it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The NFL Flies At Midnight

The power of the NFL as a TV draw was as evident as ever this past weekend. And it wasn't only because of having an attraction such as Denver at Dallas as a doubleheader game contributing to record ratings.

There was also the stadium conflict in Oakland which forced the NFL to move the Raiders game against San Diego from its original late afternoon slot to late night. Of course, it was probably a positive break for the NFL that fans throughout California were able to also see the Denver vs. Dallas game instead of the much less appealing Raiders vs. Chargers matchup.

Since NBC has the exclusive window on Sunday nights, the NFL moved the Raiders game to an 8:35 PM kickoff, and was forced to move the telecast from CBS to its NFL Network, using the originally scheduled CBS announcing team in the process. Thus, this late night telecast, only made public a few days before, came after fans had a total of THREE complete NFL games shown around the country, beginning literally 10 1/2 hours before the kickoff.

With all of those odds stacked against the Raiders vs. Chargers telecast, the ratings were enough to finish ahead of the lowest rated NFL telecasts of the past 15 years. The ratings for this late night matchup trailed the other matchups of the day by far, and this is understandable.

I can't help but wonder how this would have played out had an attractive east coast NFL team been playing in Oakland this past Sunday (10/6) and how much protesting there would have been. But the fact that an NFL telecast, which began at 11:30 PM ET on a Sunday night, could still generate enough of an audience to not be a complete failure is nothing short of amazing.

On the college side, CBS will televise an SEC doubleheader on October 19th, with Georgia vs. Vanderbilt at Noon ET followed by Auburn vs. Texas A & M.

With the NBA season less than three weeks from opening, and with NBA-TV showing a larger number of exhibition games than ever before, ESPN/ABC has added former Sixers (and others) coach Doug Collins as a studio analyst. Although Collins, who has served for several seasons as a color commentator on TNT telecasts, is still one of the best analysts in the business, the problem is that Collins merely adds to the overflow of studio analysts ESPN/ABC already offer. It seems that Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose, and Bill Simmons will all be returning to the NBA pre-game, half-time, and post-game studio show.

However, there is still no announcement of a true broadcaster to serve as host, even after the disasters of last season when all we saw were analysts struggling for air time and no one to ride herd on the show. Unfortunately, it appears that ESPN/ABC viewers will be stuck with another season of comments on how the televised teams are playing, and little to nothing about other games, upcoming telecasts, and actual news content from around the NBA.

LOS ANGELES: ESPN Radio KSPN 710 has gone ahead and extended its radio deal with the Lakers through the 2019-20 season, and is also keeping the broadcast team the same. John Ireland and Mychal Thompson continue with play-by-play and analysis, while both continue their respective co-host roles on the two midday shows which air on KSPN Monday through Friday.

LONG ISLAND NY: Although college radio station WRHU 88.7 has just begun its fourth season as the flagship station for the N.Y. Islanders, the team has added another Long Island station which will increase the coverage area for the team's broadcasts. WRCN 103.9 now airs all of the games, providing coverage from Islip to Montauk (Suffolk County). Chris King continues on play-by-play, and Hofstra University students will continue to participate within the broadcasts.

DALLAS: The Ticket 1310 is now "ticketed" for a new FM location. Starting October 21, The Ticket will also air on 96.7, which will soon become KTCK-FM, and adds coverage of the station to the northwest portion of the Dallas Metroplex. This simulcast will replace what had been the simulcast of WBAP 820.

Over at ESPN 103.3, afternoon drive will be changing with the news that Randy Galloway has ended his 3 PM to 6 PM talk show as of this week after more than 25 years on Dallas area radio. The 70-year old Galloway had originally intended to retire from the show toward the end of 2013, but did so ahead of schedule with Cumulus Media taking over the marketing of the station from ESPN/Disney this month.

BOSTON: Congrats to Red Sox radio voice Joe Castiglione, who is also waiting to learn whether or not he will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster next July. Castiglione is coming back for at least the next two seasons under a just signed extension.

CHICAGO: A nice move by the DePaul University online radio station by adding another "channel" which will dedicated to school sports coverage. The school has completed a new studio and announced expanded plans to broadcast everything from soccer to softball to volleyball and mmore.

The second channel enables the students and the University to provide this coverage without disruption of the "regular" online station schedule. This does create the opportunity for students to get experience in the live coverage of sports events, and that is a good thing. It will be at:

RATINGS: More from the radio ratings for August into September. Three more markets are clearly being dominated by one sports station ahead of the others. While Indianapolis' WFNI The Fan 1070 showed a slight increase in overall audience, WNDE 1260 and WXNT 1430 combined for less than one-half of a ratings point.

In Nashville, WGFX The Zone showed more than a 20% overall increase over the previous month ratings to finish with a very respectable 5.2 rating. That is now more than five times the total audience of WPRT-FM, even with an increase there.

Similar story across the state in Memphis, where WMFS finished at #15 overall. Yet, WHBQ, WPGF, and WMC combined for less than a 1 rating, with two of those three stations showing an overall decrease.

The disaster continues for CBS Radio Sports as well. WXNT Indianapolis, which barely showed with its .01 rating, is a CBS Radio Sports station. Over in Jefferson City MO, the CBS Sports affiliation was just removed from KBBM 100.1 and, at least for now, stuck on the lesser signal at 104.1. The kicker is that, and I'm not making this up, KMBB 100.1 already switched to Christmas music.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sports Radio Missing The Boat Again

It is probably the radio in my blood coming out again. What was once the dominant media for sports fans continues to sit around while other media and technology passes it by. Over the past few weeks, I have used this space to point out several instances in which sports leagues and organizations have taken to doing for themselves what radio (and TV for that matter) used to do.

Still another example came to light earlier this week with the announcement that MLB Advance Media is upgrading its "At The Ballpark" phone app for next season. MLB officials provided selected onlookers with a demonstration at Citi Field in New York, showing features such as how a coupon would pop up when a "user" at the ballpark walks into a merchandise shop, the ability to upgrade seats once inside, and several more features.

What does this have to do with radio? In my opinion, plenty!

Once upon a time, back in the days long ago and far away when radio was king, a percentage of fans coming to an MLB or NFL game wouldn't think of entering the stadium without their trusty radio. You could not find a place to sit in Dodger Stadium without hearing Vin Scully's play-by-play from at least one nearby radio if you were not using your own.

Now we fast forward to today. Some radio stations hosting play-by-play of the games, for which they have paid millions of dollars to do, maintain an on-air delay which means that people at the game do not even get a "live" description of what they are seeing. (Some sports venues, such as the Milwaukee Brewers, promote an FM frequency for the "live" feed within the venue, but not enough of them do this.)

Even with easily available technology providing pitch by pitch or down by down accounts of all other games in progress, the majority of pro and college sports radio broadcasts rarely provide enough updates of other games going on, some of which are of definite interest to fans of that team. How ironic that these play-by-play broadcasts brought us MORE updates on other games when all they had was a Western Union ticker doing so every few minutes.

I have nothing against phone apps and teams and leagues working to improve the fan experience at the venue. Actually, at these ticket prices, they had better be. However, radio stations could and SHOULD be at the forefront of this.

What about having the play-by-play announcer TELL fans listening at the game that "The pizza stand at aisle 110 has a free slice when you buy another available this inning only"? That "There is room for ten fans in the 300 level to move down to section 105 for only $5 more". And so on.

By doing this, the team and the station are providing thousands of fans with additional reasons to have a radio with them and listen to the broadcast. Fans not at the game are hearing about all they can do once they do come. And, fans at the game do not have to have a certain type of phone, have downloaded an app and hope it works, worry about their phone draining on them, or be distracted from the field of play.

Instead, radio stations go on thinking that the fans will get the other scores and the weather on their phones, and don't bother with this. While at the same time, incredibly, teams and leagues are spending money (which comes from these radio stations) to develop their own way of communicating with their fans. And leaving radio in the dust.

Meanwhile, the radio ratings for the August into September period are coming out this week for the larger markets, with this report being a mixed bag.

All eyes are on Boston, where both WBZ-FM Sports Hub and WEEI-FM showed overall audience increases of more than one-half of a ratings point for month, which is good. Although The Sports Hub is still ahead, WEEI has closed the gap over the past few weeks following its controversial Program Director change.

In New York City, WFAN, wrapping up being the flagship of the Mets with a dismal season, dropped one-half rating point overall for the month. Much of this audience probably went to the Yankees broadcasts on sister station WCBS 880 until next season. WCBS was strong overall, and finished #1 overall in the ratings for the Nassau-Suffolk specific ratings for Long Island.

San Francisco listeners, with both sports stations hosting local baseball, showed KNBR down slightly as the Giants faded out of contention. We have to wonder if The Game KGMZ is going to be a contender, however. Even with the A's fighting for the playoff berth they achieved, The Game again held steady with the previous two ratings periods. Yet, in Detroit, where the Tigers were going for a Division title (just as the A's), WXYT-FM The Ticket rose overall by more than one-half of a ratings point for the second consecutive month. This while WMGC-FM literally lost more than half of its total audience within the same time period.

In Texas, sports radio continues to be more of a factor in Dallas when compared with Houston. Dallas' KTCK The Ticket, KESN-FM ESPN 103.3 and The Fan KRLD-FM all showed total audience increases from .2 to .3 of a ratings point. The start of Cowboys season and the Rangers fighting for another playoff berth were certainly contributors, but having all three stations increase indicates it is the situation and not anything one of the stations is or is not doing. Yet, in Houston, KILT has started showing a pulse, by way of a one-half point increase over the prior month. However, KBME, KFNC, and KGOW, once again did not even combine to come up near what KILT has. What makes the
Houston sports radio race even more frustrating is that it is now Texans season, while Astros and Rockets telecasts are not or will not be available in very many homes due to provider negotations with CSN Houston.

Philly and D.C. are helped by NFL season, as expected. Philadelphia showed noteworthy overall increases for both WIP-FM and WPEN-FM as the Eagles season got underway. In D.C., WJFK-FM, also the flagship for the Washington Nationals, showed its highest overall ratings in more than a year, while WTEM ESPN 980, the flagship station of the Redskins, increased by .6 of a ratings point for the month.

Yet, several of the markets which struggle with sports talkers brought the same result this time. In Los Angeles, KLAC 570, even with the Dodgers broadcasts during a remarkable season, continues to finish below the Top 20 stations, while KSPN 710 dropped for the 2nd consecutive month. In Miami, it took the combining of WAXY AM and FM to total a 1.0 rating, while WQAM and WINZ remain below that level.

CBS Radio Sports continues to struggle. In both Atlanta and Tampa (with both markets having MLB teams headed for the post-season), each market's CBS Sports station came in, AGAIN, with less than a single ratings point overall. And in Seattle, KFNQ did not even show up in this ratings book, even more embarassing when you learn that both KRIO and KJR have increased their overall audiences by one-half of a ratings point EACH over the past three months.

On the TV side, TBS did reasonably well with its "unscheduled" telecast of the Tampa vs. Texas play-in game on Monday night (9/30). The game was not set until about 27 hours before it began, went up against a strong Monday Night Football telecast (involving south teams), yet showed respectable audience numbers. Suprisingly, Tampa actually showed a higher local rating than Dallas, odd considering how many more fans saw the Rangers at home all year compared with the Rays.