Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Weather Or Not For Sports Media

Which is worse? A media owner controlling on-air content or the rest of the media being so quiet about it?

It seems that the Super Bowl weather prediction segment on The Dan Patrick Show was reportedly "forced" to change guests, with the request coming from management at DirecTV. (The L.A. Times reported this story on Tuesday (1/28).) The story quotes at DirecTV spokesperson as admitting that DirecTV causing a change and having Paul Douglas from WeatherNation as Patrick's guest.

Orginally, Patrick planned to have the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore on the show. However, the show is owned by DirecTV, which recently dropped The Weather Channel from its lineup,  replacing it with (you guessed it) WeatherNation.

The problem is that this change of guest had nothing to do with which is more accurate forecasting the weather. Clearly, this had everything to do with the DirecTV change of its weather source. In this instance, it means that management was dictating content.

During this week, when seemingly the smallest detail related to the Super Bowl gets a mountain of media hype, this story has not caused one bit of controversy. At least not yet.
Sports fans need to be concerned over this. Now we have a blatant case of management dictating content. In recent weeks, this column has pointed out several instances of pro teams taking more steps toward controlling their own content, which is sometimes better than what the traditional media and social media has access to.

One more point. How is that DirecTV doesn't care enough to have a live show with guest hosts fill in for Dan Patrick on his days off, but knows to force a guess change for specific segments?

Chances are we will see Sunday TV sports ratings go from one extreme to the other by this time next week. It seems that the Sunday before the Super Bowl wasn't as kind to the TV ratings, except for the Pro Bowl telecast on NBC. Over at ABC/ESPN, there is some disappointment from the first of several Sunday NBA doubleheaders on ABC.

Both the Lakers at Knicks and Spurs vs. Heat telecasts wound up with ratings around 30% less than the same week last year. Over at CBS, not having Tiger Woods hurt, as final round coverage of the PGA tourney also dropped more than 30% compared with last year (as did their third round coverage on Saturday).

Of course, this coming Sunday with the Super Bowl figures to be the highest TV ratings for any Sunday of the year.

Speaking of which, I still don't get the attention paid to the Super Bowl on local sportscasts outside of the Seattle and Denver coverage areas, except for the various Fox radio and TV stations (which do so to promote the Fox telecast). The other stations should limit it to any "real" news related to the game, such as injuries and weather conditions. Listeners and viewers know that both teams practiced and are looking forward to the game. Worse yet is how some TV stations have the nerve to take time out of a sportscast to promote commercials which will air and other "non-sports" aspects of the game, instead of giving viewers actual sports news.

Regarding Fox Sports, these next couple of months will be most interesting in terms of shaping the future. One of the most important missions for Fox on Super Bowl day will be to promote its Fox Sports 1 Network to the maximum number of TV viewers. You had better believe that we will all see numerous promos for FS1 all evening.

However, it also means that if FS1 doesn't show an increase in audience over the next few weeks that Fox can no longer say that people don't know it exists. There will be no excuse.

It should also be noted that 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox Sports Media Group is looking to take a majority stake in YES Network, which has been owned (in majority) by the Yankees. The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval but is expected to close during the second quarter of 2014.

My hunch is that if and as FS1 fails to generate viewership (after the Super Bowl promos) that Fox Sports will then do some combining of FS1 and YES Network in order to force FS1 to gain an audience. Don't forget that FS1 has the rights to show MLB games starting this season. Owning the network with the rights to all Yankees telecasts could make things interesting.

LOS ANGELES: The new SportsNet LA will no longer send a separate broadcast crew to the road games which Vin Scully does not broadcast. Instead, Charlie Steiner will move over to the TV booth (from the radio side) and to call those games and have Orel Hershiser as analyst. On the radio side, for those road games, Rick Monday will take over as lead play-by-play voice, and will have Nomar Garciparra as his analyst. In recent years, the Dodgers have used Eric Collins and Steve Lyons as the TV crew the majority of their road telecasts only. It still remains to be seen how many will be able to watch these games, however. There are still several cable and satellite carriers not yet signed to air SportsNet L.A.

SAN FRANCISCO: A change in the 49ers radio booth is coming for the 2014 season. Play-by-play voice Ted Robinson will now have former defensive lineman Tim Ryan as his analyst. Ryan grew up nearby in the San Jose area, and replaces Eric Davis, who held that role for the past three seasons. Davis will continue his role on the NFL Network's morning show.

MINNEAPOLIS: The Twins probably won't have many "big" games in 2014, based on their current roster, but if and when they do they will have Jack Morris. Not on the mound, but in the booth. Morris has been signed to be an analyst for both the Fox Sports North and KTWN broadcasts.

RICHMOND: ESPN 950 will now be simulcast on WZEZ-FM 100.5, which is actually licensed to nearby Goochland VA, except for some play-by-play conflicts. The station airs University of Richmond games, as well as national games from ESPN and Westwood One.

ROCHESTER: These small stations may be in upstate New York, but they have decided to air Boston Red Sox games this season. Both WRSB 1310 Canandaigua and WASB 1590 Brockport plan to carry the entire schedule. The funny part is the press release mentioning that this includes "preseason and playoffs". Makes you wonder how the Yankees fans who currently listen to either of these stations reacted to hearing or reading about upcoming Red Sox playoff games.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Truly a "National" football league

Whether it is due to superior marketing, fantasy leagues, or both, the NFL continues to be the strongest sports draw on the national level. No other sport is "guaranteed" the huge audiences for its ultimate championship. A study of local NFL viewership, as reported in the Dallas Morning News, actually confirms this.

Regular season and post-season ratings have been strong in the biggest NFL markets this season, which is no surprise. However, we are seeing instances of large markets showing fewer viewers for the local teams, which tells me that fans are hooked into a "good" game no matter who is playing.

The study took local ratings for the past two regular seasons (2012 and 2013), and shows that since the 2011 season the N.Y. Jets have "lost" approximately 19% of their audience. Before the Giants fans stop reading this to call their Jets fan friends, it seems that the Giants' ratings have dropped about 15% during the same period. The "loss leader", so to speak, is actually the Oakland Raiders with a viewer loss of around 22%. Football crazed markets such as Pittsburgh and Nashville also have shown double-digit drops during the same time period. Even more amazing, Dallas Cowboys local viewership is reported as down about 12%. It will be interesting to see the local breakdown for these markets for the Super Bowl.

This shows the importance of TV for the NFL being a league deal for TV rather than the local team deals which exist in the other major pro sports. If, for example, a Dallas local station had the rights to its own Cowboys telecasts and lost more than 10% over two seasons, it would hurt the station's revenue and perhaps rights fees if a renogiation was scheduled. Since every NFL team is part of a national package, all that matters to the NFL is "total" viewership. And that is what the NFL has.

To its credit, ESPN continues to swap out some of its previously scheduled NBA telecasts. This week it announced two more changes. On Weds. Feb. 5th the scheduled Detroit vs. Orlando game has been (thankfully) replaced by Portland at the N.Y. Knicks. A month later (March 5) the Knicks vs. Minnesota gets bounced with Dallas at Denver as the replacement. The balance of power in the Western Conference is such that ESPN is taking out the "same old East teams" and showcasing more of the West. It is good to see more flex scheduling.

KANSAS CITY: It seemed to have taken longer than it should, but it is status quo in the Royals booth for the coming season. Denny Matthews returns (while again missing a couple of extended road trips) for his 46th season on the radio side, with the rest of the crew dividing the radio and TV duties. Ryan Lefebvre returns for his 16th season, along with Steve Physioc and Steve Stewart. In addition, Rex Hudler will be back on the TV side for his third season.

NEW YORK: Sorry to learn of the passing of Carlos Silva at the age of 50. Silva had served as producer and engineer for the Yankees Radio Network, while also engineering for Nets broadcasts and for some ESPN Radio assignments over the years.

CLEVELAND: WKNR 850 is adding a local "prime time" weeknight show from 8 to 10 PM. Dave DeNatale will move over from a reporter and anchor role to host the show, which will follow "Munch On Sports".

YORK PA: It looks as though the minor league baseball team, the York Revolution, wants to be certain that its games will be broadcast without conflict. WOYK 1350 has been the flagship station, and will definitely remain that way going forward. Why? Because the team is purchasing the station, which is expected to continue to be all sports. Word is that the station will continue to air York College sports, although I think we know which team gets priority in the event of game conflicts.

NORFOLK: The format change at WTAR 850 means that two syndicated sports shows will be part of the weekday lineup even though the station is going to "News/Sports/Talk". The "Sports" part of this will be middays when the station now carries Dan Patrick and Jay Mohr. As of now, there are no plans for any local sports talk.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

College Voices In The Air - Not On The Air

While college football fans await changes in the post-season format starting late this year, it looks to be a season of change for national media as well. When long time network college football voices such as Brent Musberger and Tim Brando both may or may not be calling games or hosting studio shows for their "current' networks, you know something is up.

Multiple reports have Tim Brando out completely from CBS Sports, where he has been a big part of their college football and basketball coverage going back to the mid-90's. A basketball replacement will need to be made relatively soon, in order to give the new host enough time to prepare for the CBS coverage of the NCAA Tournament in March.

Over at ESPN, Brent Musberger's contract has not been renewed (as of press time), even though ESPN increases its football post-season presence at the end of the 2014 season.

Can't help but wonder if these two could wind up switching places. While Musberger has spent many years with ABC/ESPN of late, his greatest accomplishment remains building the NFL Today from a time-filler into the institution known as NFL pre and post-game programming. There will never be anyone who could do it like Brent did it, even though there are much stronger supporting casts today.

Both Musberger and Brando have done their share of studio hosting and play-by-play over the years. It will be interesting to see if either or both CBS and ESPN/ABC are looking to go with "new" and younger voices, or if they would consider the other. Then again, it is still not over between Brent and ESPN/ABC. So we now get wonder who we will be "LOOKING LIVE" at later this year.


ESPN is already looking ahead to its 25th season of MLB telecasts. (Yikes! 25th season!) The network has announced its opening day telecast schedule, with the L.A. Dodgers at San Diego opening the season on Sunday night March 30th including an extended 90-minute pre-game show. The only change in the booth will be Curt Schilling joining the Sunday Night crew in place of Orel Hersheiser, who has joined the Dodgers' broadcast crew.

On Monday March 31st, ESPN will air five more games. These will be Chicago (Cubs) at Pittsburgh, Boston vs. Baltimore, and St. Louis vs. Cincinnati during the afternoon, with Colorado at Miami and Seattle at Los Angeles (Angels) at night. The Mariners at Angels game has the marquee matchup of Robinson Cano's first game with the Mariners and Albert Pujols returing to the Angels lineup.

Speaking of the Padres, there will be a new voice speaking "for" the Padres, as the team still needs to hire a Public Address Announcer to begin this season. In an interesting move, the team is going fan friendly, and is planning to hold live auditons for the job on Saturday Jan. 25th at the ballpark.

As many of us continue to forget that Fox Sports 1 has been on the air for a few months, even their Fox Sports Live nightly report is showing signs of struggle. Industry insider Robert Seidman (TV By The Numbers) reported that the January 7th Fox Sports Live drew an estimated 7,000 viewers. Keep in mind that this was the night after the BCS Championship telecast on Fox Sports (which included several promos for Fox Sports 1), and was actually fewer viewers than FS1 had going up against the BCS Championship telecast the night before. And this show has content from the day's sports news, unlike so much of the filler that takes up the rest of the network.

BALTIMORE: WBAL 1090 continues as the Orioles' radio flagship for at least two more seasons, with the radio team of Joe Angel and Fred Manfra remaining in place. The station will also air 16 spring training games. The O's returned to WBAL in 2011 and this coming season will be their 45th season total airing on the station. In addition, this Thursday (1/16) begins the weekly Hot Stove show at 7:00 PM.

St. LOUIS: Putting the retirement rumors to rest, Mike Shannon will return for his 42nd season in the Cardinals' radio booth, although he will only be working less than half of the team's road games moving forward. Shannon will again be teamed with John Rooney on KMOX. No official word yet as to who will handle the duties for approximately 50 of the road game broadcasts.

HOUSTON: Looks as though KILT 610 is taking its recent audience growth seriously. Fred Davis is out after about two years on the station's night time slot, while co-host Ted Johnson (the former NFL linebacker) remains with the show. No replacement yet (as of press time) with Paul Gallant and Patrick Creighton filling in until the new co-host is determined.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Nothing Negative About The Film Room

Nice to see a new innovation to highlight the New Year in sports media. For as much hype as ESPN gave to its "multi-cast" of the college football championship game on Monday night (1/6), the "Film Room" portion on ESPNews received glowing reviews from media and fans alike. ESPN, picking up on a good thing, replayed the entire "Film Room" telecast on Tuesday (1/7) on its ESPNU, creating its own version of an Instant Classic game telecast. This concept featured current NCAA  head coaches providing instant commentary on each play, as well as predicting trends within the game. 

The question now will be to see how far this concept goes. Since ESPN has NFL rights for Monday Night Football, it could make for an interesting off-season in this regard.


It certainly didn't take a crystal ball to predict solid ratings for the NFL Wild Card weekend telecasts either. As if coming off a strong regular season of TV ratings wasn't enough, the frigid conditions gripping much of the northern part of the country certainly played a part in this. The San Francisco at Green Bay telecast, understandably, set a wild card playoff ratings record, according to early returns. You might say that all of the "elements" were there for this to happen.

One very curious thing took place at the end of the exciting game with New Orleans winning in Philadelphia on a last second field goal. I'm not sure if Al Michaels feared for his safety after the game winning kick or what happened. For whatever reason, Michaels' call of the big kick was extremely subdued. Not to be harsh, but his call was closer to a Pat Summerall version than what it should have been for the conclusion of a post-season NFL game. 

Having listened to and enjoyed Al Michaels during the most exciting of calls going back to when he was doing the Cincinnati Reds games on radio (only) in the early '70's, I can't help but wonder why this was such a casual call. Perhaps it was how quiet the Philadelphia crowd became. Yet, the call of the kick and the end of the game telecast sounded more like a pre-season game than what it really was.


Sorry to learn of the passing of Jerry Coleman on Sunday (1/5) at the age of 89. Coleman was very much overlooked during most of his 40 seasons calling the Padres games and rarely mentioned in the same breath as other Hall of Fame broadcasters. Coleman was aware of this, as best remembered by a line of his many years back. It went something like "There is the ocean to the west, Mexico to the south, the desert to the east, and Vin Scully to the north!". He will be missed. As for his play-by-play, you can hang a star on it.


PHOENIX: An interesting move as KTAR 620 begins an FM simulcast, adding 98.7 KPKX. What makes this interesting is that the music station known as "The Peak" that comes off the FM signal has had much stronger overall audience ratings within the past six months. The addition of the FM signal will keep play-by-play conflicts 'in house', which is significant considering that everybody that's anybody airs on KTAR. This will solve the problem from the numerous conflicts of having hockey (Coyotes) and basketball (Suns and AZ State) all winter, as well as the NFL Cardinals and AZ State football during the fall which often conflict with Diamondbacks baseball.

In some markets, AM sports talkers are adding FM signals with regard to possible competition. However, in Phoenix, KGME 910 has recently held ratings of less than half of the KTAR-AM audience, while KDUS 1060 has moved "up" to have only about 10% of the audience that KTAR holds.


LIMA OH: WCIT 940 has become this market's second sports station, a sister station to WWSR 93.1 The Fan.