Monday, February 24, 2014

Where Was The Real News From NFL Combine?

This time of the year there are, or at least there should be, enough sports stories taking place that some of the sports media does not need to manufacture stories.

It is no secret that the NFL Combine is becoming still another big publicity event for the league and that more fans are paying attention to the coverage and the additional information it brings about the top draft prospects. Of course, it is no secret that draft prospect Michael Sam is gay, and anticipates being the first openly gay player to be battling for an NFL job in August.

However, there was no need for this "story" to be rehashed with absolutely nothing additional as part of the coverage of the Combine. Sam is still gay, and still (supposedly) wants to be judged based on his football ability. Nothing changed since the story first broke. And because of his "news conference" and the number of reporters who didn't see anything else to report, comment, or write about, NFL fans received more coverage of a two week old story.

One thing that most of the media did not report on is that Michael Sam has hired a publicist, Howard Bragman of A publicist, not an agent.

No wonder this "story" was rehashed again, overtaking what should have been attention paid to some of the top draft prospects. What Michael Sam has done, with help from his publicist, is position himself for the media spotlight regardless of how high or low he is drafted, and possibly whether or not he even makes an NFL team this summer.

If the story that Sam is gay had just broken, a press conference at the Combine would have been understandable. Rehashing it when the national spotlight should be on players based on their ability is not. Sam's publicist managed to assure him (Sam) of a nice income whether he makes an NFL roster or not. A book deal, a media deal, or something like it likely awaits if Sam does not make it as a pro.

The media already covered the story when it was announced. We as fans deserve better from our media outlets.

With the NHL stalled due to the Olympics, the NBA has basked in the pro sports spotlight when it comes to TV ratings. It wasn't just the NBA All-Star Game telecast which attracted a higher than expected number of viewers. This past Thursday (2/20) TNT drew excellent ratings, understandably, for its Miami vs. Oklahoma City matchup, with its highest national viewership since the opening night of the regular season when it had the return of Derrick Rose (Chicago vs. Miami). In OK City, despite being only shown on TNT (with no local telecast), it wound up as the highest rated telecast of the regular season (as of press time).

Fox Sports 1 is not waiting until the baseball regular season gets underway to begin showing games. The struggling network now plans to begin with several spring training telecasts. These will start next week when it carries a pair of Angels afternoon telecasts from Arizona on Monday March 3, vs. Arizona and then on Tuesday March 4 vs. Texas. It will actually carry the Angels' telecast (from Fox Sports West), with the regular Angels TV voices Victor Rojas and Mark Gubicza on the call.

FS1 will be airing Saturday afternoon games, instead of Fox Network, during April, late July, and August this season, as Fox Network will only be airing Saturday prime time games from May into July and afternoon games in September. In fact, they began this week by adding new Hall of Famer Frank Thomas as a studio analyst, a role he held for the past three seasons on White Sox pre and post-game studio segments for CSN Chicago.

It is likely that FS1 will air additional Angels telecasts during spring training, as Fox Sports West will be televising 26 of the Angels exhibition games. This is by far the most they have done, an obvious move to compete with the new Dodgers Network that will be televising all of the their exhibition games.

In fact, there will be more spring training national telecasts than ever before, starting this Wednesday (2/26). MLB Network plans to air at least one live game every day including weekends, with more than 100 additional games shown on delay within 24 hours of having been played, showcasing every MLB team.. ESPN usually kicks in with a couple of weekday exhibition game telecasts in order to give its crews a run through before their regular season coverage starts.

However, with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers opening the regular season in Australia on March 22 and 23, there is no word yet about a national telecast of those games. Fans went through this last year when Oakland and Seattle opened overseas, with MLB Network picking up the second game live in the early morning hours. It's hard to believe that MLB would make the same mistake again this season. It's not like a national telecast would impact ticket sales.

CBS has added another studio analyst for its NFL Today show starting next season, moving former Jets and Ravens linebacker Bart Scott over from its CBS Sports Network pre-game show. He replaces Shannon Sharpe, meaning that there will still be too many analysts and not enough time.

Meanwhile, an interesting idea out of Hungtingon WV continues its growth pattern. What began as a high school sports radio show for WMUL-FM (Marshall University station) on Friday nights continues to spread across West Virginia as more stations join the fold. Currently, and obviously, the show now focuses on live updates about high school basketball games from around the state between now and its March 21st edition.

Hosted by Ryan Epling, Ric Morrone, James Collier, and Rudi Raynes, the show is now carried in six other West Virginia markets with a network of contributors. Morrone has been coach of the Tolsia H.S. girls basketball team for more than 20 years, as well as 15 years with WFGH Ft. Gay, which is among the stations airing this show.

The show now airs live from 9 PM to Midnight on Fridays, and  now streams on Nice to see the cooperation on this idea.

ITHACA NY: The market has a new sports station in 98.7 The Buzzer. The station has taken over Cornell University basketball, and has also booked Buffalo Bills broadcasts, with plans in the works to add more. However, the station is, at least for the moment, only airing CBS Radio Sports programming during its broadcast day and has no immediate plans to air local sports talk.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sports Radio On The Rise in 2014

The January radio ratings proved exceptionally good for many of the nation's major sports radio stations, and that is a long time coming. What makes this significant is that the local teams were not always behind the boost. The best example is Baltimore, where The Fan WJZ-FM rose by more than a full ratings point during January to finish #3 overall in the market. This is amazing, considering that the Ravens were not in a position to defend their 2013 Super Bowl championship.

In New York City, WFAN 660 saw its total audience rise by more than 20% from the previous month during the January 2014 ratings period, finishing #8 overall, with more than double the audience of WEPN. This while neither local NFL team was in the playoffs and the local NBA and NHL teams more of a disappointment toward mid-season. In Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 showed an overall audience increase and finished #15 in the market, while WMVP ESPN 1000 held steady and remains several positions behind.

In Dallas, where the Cowboys were long gone after their season and the Mavericks were so-so, The Ticket increased by more than one-half of a ratings point while KESN and KRLD tied for a much lower position.

Another example of the rise in sports radio is San Diego, where XPRS increased by more than 25% over the previous ratings period, even after moving Lee Hacksaw Hamilton off its morning show last month.

Having the Patriots in the playoffs and the Bruins doing a solid job of defending their Eastern Conference title paid dividends for both major Boston sports stations. WEEI-FM showed a one-half ratings point increase in its overall audience, even though it is now more than two full ratings points behind Sports Hub WBZ-FM. The Hub increased as well, and now sits as the #5 most listened to station overall, as these two stations continue their audience battle.

San Francisco's KNBR benefitted from the 49ers strong season, moving back up to #3 overall. Even KGMZ-FM The Game increased by 20% during the January ratings period, even though it has less than 30% of the audience that KNBR now has.

Of course, not every market was as positive, but enough markets were "up" to perhaps indicate a return to sports talk on radio. In Philadelphia, where most of the pro teams are struggling, WIP-FM dropped to #8 overall (still respectable) with WPEN holding steady but still behind.

In Houston, KILT held steady with its respectable 2.1 rating (a big improvement over the past year), while KBME and KFNC each have less than one-third of that audience. And it's "steady" in Los Angeles where KSPN has a mere 1.0 rating which out ranks KLAC.

Looks like the March ratings period will be the next one to watch, moreso than February's. That will measure during the NCAA Tournament, late season NBA and NHL, and baseball spring training.

Meanwhile, good to see CBS-TV making changes to its NFL Today lineup, and with plenty of time to get things in place before the 2014 season. Tony Gonzalez is in and Dan Marino is out, and it appears that won't be all of the changes in the cast. Marino had become predictably conservative with his comments, almost making us forget that he played, let alone having a Hall of Fame career. What CBS should do is combine NFL Today with the CBS Sports Network expanded pre-game show they started for the 2013 season and feature that crew as well. Do it as one four hour (if it must be that long) pre-game show, with the first three hours on CBSSN, and then move it over to CBS for the final hour.

Let's get back to KNBR San Francisco. This past Sunday (2/16) morning, the sports station was among those which picked up the radio broadcast of the U.S. vs. Russia hockey game, to its credit. It's always a good thing when a sports station takes on live coverage. However, the station chose to cut away when the game ran long to air the weekly "Hooked On Golf" show. While I'm not certain whether "Hooked" is brokered or not, I would have liked to have believed that a station such as KNBR would have prepared in advance for this possibility and not left its audience hanging.

There is no excuse for cutting out of a live sports event for a talk show. If the hockey game was not important enough to air entirely, then KNBR should not have scheduled the game. Radio stations can't afford to alienate their audience, even on a Sunday morning.

CHICAGO: WGN Radio has implemented a very local mostly sports station in an attempt to compete against WSCR The Score and ESPN 1000. With an agreement in place to take over low power station WGWG 87.7, the station has added 21 hours per day of weekday sports programming, including moving David Kaplan to middays and taking his evening show off WGN 720. The station continues a "non-sports" morning show and will have locally originated programming except for overnights and some weekend spots. However, I know of people less than 20 miles from downtown Chicago that cannot receive this low power signal clearly enough to listen. The master plan is for the station to be getting its act together for if and when WGN acquires a better Chicago area FM frequency.

It will be interesting to see if CBS, which owns WSCR The Score, reacts right away or waits until or unless WGN secures a "serious" FM frequency. CBS currently simulcasts its WBBM NewsRadio on 105.9 FM, which has an excellent signal covering the area. My hunch is that within hours of the announcement of a better frequency for a WGN FM, CBS will switch its FM simulcast to The Score to create immediate FM dial competition.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Out-Foxed By NBCSN?

Even though Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN continue to struggle in the all important department of getting people to watch, we are seeing the importance of securing both quality and original content making a difference in how the two networks are going about it.

NBCSN has the ability to attract some new viewers beyond this month as it airs hours of overflow Olympics content from NBC Network. This serves to put this channel on the map for the many who enjoy the Olympics but are not "traditional" sports fans. To its credit, NBCSN is not stopping there.

Since it will begin to air NASCAR events under its new contract no later than July 2015, NBCSN is beginning a Monday through Friday live "NASCAR America" 30-minute studio show in less than two weeks. The debut is scheduled for Monday Feb. 24 at 5 PM ET, to be hosted by Rick Allen, who will serve as the lead NASCAR play-by-play voice, or Leigh Diffley, who handles Formula One and IndyCar play-by-play.  Not wasting any time, the live daily studio show will also feature drivers Kyle Petty and Bobby Labonte among its studio analysts.

Of course, adding this studio show isn't going to significantly boost their overall audience, but it is a step in the right direction to provide extended unique programming on a regular basis to a widespread potential audience. This seems more practical for long term growth than adding more college games not quality enough to be on a major sports network.

Having the extensive NHL coverage, including plenty of studio analysis on top of a full slate of national games now provides an average of three nights per week of "quality" live programming through the month of May.

Over at FS1, it's a different story. Maybe carrying some MLB telecasts will help call some attention to their existence, but so far there has not been so much as one telecast date announced. Even that may not create the demand that FS1 seems to be counting on while they believe that if you build it they will come, regardless of quality.

They have no excuse after promoting FS1 numerous times during the Super Bowl only to have ESPN attract nearly TEN times the viewership of FS1 during the post-game period. The fact that the second half of the Super Bowl was boring (to those outside of Seattle) is not an excuse given the comparative percentage that still tuned to ESPN for the wrap up. After all, the Super Bowl post-game coverage on FS1 wasn't even its biggest audience ever for their sportscast, despite coming after the largest promotion the network may EVER receive.

Since then, all we have is the rumor (as of press time) that FS1 could pick up WFAN's Mike Francesa out of New York and simulcast it during the late afternoon. It is live content, but it doesn't mean that those outside of New York actually want even more New York biased sports talk as part of their day.

My thinking is that the only real reason FS1 would put Francesa on FS1 is because Fox Sports is likely to be approved to take over a majority interest in YES, which televises the Yankees and could provide simulcast material for games since FS1 has MLB rights. Thus, they could show x number of Yankees games without additional production costs. And WFAN Radio is now the radio flagship for the Yankees.

The killer from all of this is how ESPN continue to dominate both of these networks, effort or not, even though ESPN could stand to make some improvements. Some fans woudn't mind an alternative on those days when ESPN is somehow fixated on team coverage of Tim Tebow's breakfast or LeBron James' shoe laces.

It's just that content is king, and FS1 and NBCSN seem to have gone on the air without enough of it.

Speaking of New York radio baseball, the Mets begin their flagship switch to WOR in a few days, and the crew of Howie Rose and Josh Lewin appear to be remaining in place for what will be their third season.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

NFL Gets Its CBS In Gear

The NFL and CBS have certainlyl engineered a "win-win" situation for themselves, as well as for NFL fans everywhere, with the new Thursday night package for the coming 2014 season. 

Football fans "win" because of the added "over the air" games that CBS will provide during the first half of the regular season. As consumers, we all know that if Turner Sports, Fox Sports, or ESPN had been the high bidder, cable and satellite subscribers would have seen still another increase in their monthly costs (whether football fans or not).

CBS "wins" because it gains live NFL games on a heavier TV viewing night than Sunday (which is NBC's night), and will be airing these games during the fall, against the new lineup of shows on the other networks and in support of its own programming.

And the NFL wins in multiple ways. In addition to the millions more in revenue for the league and its teams, part of this deal results in CBS handling all of the production (and the costs associated with it) for all of the Thursday Night package, including those games which will be exclusively on NFL Network (and local stations of the televised teams).

Yet, there are two important questions still to be answered about this. The one I am most curious about is that this agreement, as of press time, is ONLY for the upcoming 2014 season, and not a multi-year arrangement. It's hard to believe that CBS would be willing to be held hostage by the NFL and have to bid all over again if and when the coming season proves mutually successful. After all, the Sunday (and Monday night) deals are routinely issued for multiple seasons, and it is not as though prime time NFL telecasts are anything new.

Part of this arrangement calls for CBS to handle every aspect of each telecast, including announcers, producers, and the related technical crew. The initial announcement has the #1 CBS team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms as the announcers (including those games only on NFL Network), in effect replacing Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock, and this is understandable. However, it will be interesting to see whether or not Nantz and Simms also work the CBS primary Sunday telecasts in addition.

Other than Thanksgiving weekends when Fox used subject us to the boring Pat Summerall (and lately with the much improved Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) calls on both Thanksgiving day and the following Sunday, announcing crews have never regularly broadcast two games each week for the same network. (This is different from announcers who, for example, call a college game on Saturday for one network and an NFL game on Sunday for another network.)

It will also be interesting to see, once these telecasts begin in September, if or when NFL Network is mentioned on these telecasts, or if the early season "simulcast" on both networks will only include the CBS logo and graphics. And then to see if any of this changes for the final eight telecasts only on NFL Network.

PHILADELPHIA: As of press time (on 2/6) there was nothing further regarding the indefinite suspension of Mike Missanelli from his show on The Fanatic 97.5. Management suspended Missanelli due to "unacceptable behavior" based on a series of e-mails between the host and what some consider to be a harrassing listener.

Without going into the specifics, the conduct shown by Missanelli, according to published reports, appears worthy of disciplinary action. However, what makes this interesting is that he was pulled off the air over something which did not take place on the air. Because of this, the station actually brought significantly more attention to the incident by doing so.

Had the station not suspended Missanelli, this incident (and the contents) would not have been made public. Frankly, that would have been better for all concerned. This could hurt both parties.

Obviously, Missanelli has some apologizing to do. But in the long run, this action could also hurt the station's audience. Some people may no longer wish to listen to Missanelli once he returns to the air.
Others may choose his time away to sample the competition, which already has a larger audience.

The solution should have been for Missanelli to go on the air and offer up an explanation and an apology before any negative publicity could make the situation any worse. If he had said what he said on the air, it would be a different story. This should be treated much like a player or coach going off on a "personal" tirade during or surrounding a game who is disciplined by a fine or other means and is back out there on the field or court within 24 to 48 hours.

While this plays out, the very capable Jon Marks and Sean Brace are hosting in place of Missanelli.

SAN DIEGO: A curious move has moved Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton from the ace of the staff to a utility infielder. Hacksaw has been taken off the XEPRS Mighty 1090 morning show as of this week, but he has not been assigned to another specific shift (as of press time). While an announcement is likely by the end of this month, the station seems fine with Billy Ray Smith and Scott Kaplan in the afternoon drive spot. 

Those who have listened to Hamilton over the more than 25 years he has been talking sports from San Diego may or may not like his flair for the dramatic, but can never question how much he does his homework and knows the sports scene, especially football.

What makes this move so odd is that the morning drive replacement is Dan Sileo, who comes to San Diego from Florida after being fired for saying some outrageous things, including anti-Semetic comments. Not just one firing. He was fired by WQAM Miami for on-air remarks after also having been suspended earlier for harsh remarks about Erin Andrews. WDAE Tampa fired him in 2012 for other on-air remarks. Most recently, he was hiding out on WMEN Palm Beach until being fired in November for putting out a bounty on a college football player via Twitter.

As I said, a curious move.

Meanwhile, the Padres broadcast crew adds a new voice from south Florida, but this is purely a coincidence. Jesse Angler will handle some of the play-by-play on radio and some TV duties starting this season, coming over from WINZ Miami where he was actually prominent Dolphins football broadcasts. Ted Leitner and Bob Scanlan will both continue on the radio side.

Angler replaces Andy Mazur, who continues with University of San Diego basketball play-by-play on ESPN 1700 for the next few weeks.

SAN ANTONIO: I doubt that three will be a charm, but the market now has a third sports radio station (plus a separate Spanish sports station in the market) as of this week. KONO 680 has made the change, although there is nothing about any local sports talk programming. The station plans to air some high school football games, and at this time has no 'big league' play-by-play in any sport. Not only that, but the majority of its network programming will be from CBS Sports Radio. Yikes.

LOUISVILLE: ESPN Louisville, which has been airing only on WHBE 680, is now simulcast on nearby WTUV 105.7. However, there are still parts of the market which have difficulty receiving one or even both signals at after dark.

OTTAWA: Media rights deals are also huge on the Canadian side. CFGO TSN 1200 along with TSN (TV) will air the Ottawa Senators games on radio and TV (including French TV rights) under a new 12-year agreement which could bring the team as much as $400 million between now and the 2025-26 season.