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.

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