Tuesday, April 22, 2014

ESPN Gets The Wild Card; Pistons No Longer The Ticket

A big sports media day with announcements and ratings:

First, the NFL media rights will enable them to print up even more money with today's (4/22) announcement that ESPN officially joins the post-season group as of the upcoming season. ESPN will air one Wild Card Playoff game, starting in January 2015 as part of an 8-year contract extension for Monday Night Football.

The significance is that it will become the first ever post-season game to be televised on cable, although ESPN promises that the participating teams will be able to air a simulcast in the local markets, as has been the case with Monday Night Football.

This change also impacts the other networks' post-season coverage. NBC now only gets to televise one Wild Card Playoff game instead of two, but picks up a Division Playoff game instead. The network, which airs the Super Bowl in February 2015, will alternate years of taking a telecast away from CBS and Fox, which lose out on some post-season coverage as a consequence of this new ESPN deal.

Meanwhile, a local radio deal may not seem significant, but there is plenty for others around the country to take note of following the Tuesday (4/22) announcement that Detroit Pistons radio is moving to Detroit Sports 105.1 starting with the coming season. Granted, Pistons fans are not exactly counting down the hours until next season begins, but that's another story.

Locally, the importance is because this rights acquisition breaks up the pro sports monopoly of WXYT-FM The Ticket, which lost the Pistons games. With having the Tigers, Red Wings, and Lions, it means that all of the local pro teams will no longer be on the same station (or sister station WWJ 950 for conflicts).

This comes on the heels of CBS stations (of which The Ticket is) losing the Flyers and Sixers broadcasts, in that case to WPEN-FM ESPN radio. In New York, WFAN (a CBS station) just began as the Yankees flagship after dropping the Mets, which were picked up by WOR-AM. And in Chicago, CBS Radio is reportedly in the running to get Chicago Cubs broadcasts away from WGN Radio for 2015 and beyond.

On the Detroit side, Detroit Sports WMGC-FM 105.1 also plans to stream its broadcasts, and open up 105.1 HD2 as "Pistons Radio" with extended coverage and game replays. The announcing team of George Blaha, Rick Mahorn, and Mark Champion, are being retained under the new multi-year agreement.

While that's fine and dandy, the Pistons are coming off another awful season, while WXYT-FM The Ticket had literraly more than five times the total audience of WMGC-FM in the most recent ratings period.

Elsewhere, fans continue to watch the post-season, whether NBA or NHL. TNT reported a 30% ratings increase compared with last season for its overtime telecast between Memphis and Oklahoma City on Monday (4/21), while the doubleheader telecast ratings were up approximately 19% over last year. What makes this even more impressive is that the opening telecast, again, was between Memphis and OK City. That's two of the league's smaller markets.

On Sunday (4/20) afternoon, ABC clearly beat out NBC's NHL coverage around the country.

Yet, the NBA has reasons to be concerned about several of its local team telecast ratings for the recently concluded regular season. In New York, both the Knicks and Nets local telecast ratings dropped at least 20% for the season, even though the Knicks were in the playoff hunt until the final week, and the Nets easily made it to the post-season. In Los Angeles, the Lakers, without Kobe Bryant and with their poorest record in years, saw their ratings drop by more than 50% for the season.

Yet, the Clippers, despite winning the Pacific Division title, saw a 19% overall ratings decline. In Chicago, the Bulls playing without star Derrick Rose, saw about an 8% decline over the previous season.

It's no surprise that Milwaukee, coming off the worst record in the NBA, saw a 65% overall audience drop. On the positive side, the Phoenix Suns "rose" most noticably, showing better than a 90% increase over the previous season. Oklahoma City and Indianapolis also showed nice audience gains, which were clearly bolstered by the great seasons each of those teams had.

On the NHL side, the majority of the first-round series are doing very well. Detroit and Boston showed double digit ratings in early games in both markets for that matchup. The Sunday national telecast on NBC from St. Louis showed its best ever ratings for a national telecast from St. Louis, up more than 30% from a N.Y. Rangers vs. Washington telecast at the comparable point last season.

Pittsburgh showed the highest "local" ratings early, while Columbus, making only its 2nd ever post-season appearance, showed ratings nearly four times as big as their regular season telecasts.

Only the Anaheim and Dallas opening round series has, as of press time, been a ratings disappointment.

While NBC has some things to be proud of, I must point out the story they put on the NBC Sports web site last week. On April 16th, NBC Sports posted a story about the upcoming release of the NFL regular season schedule. That's all good. However, the story, published on the NBC web site, also refers to "full one hour coverage" of the schedule release for both ESPN and NFL Network. ESPN, especially, is competition for the sports audience against NBC. While this release makes no mention of any such "coverage" on NBC or NBCSN, even though NBC's Sunday Night Football schedule will be a part of this.

It sure makes me wonder if anyone at NBC Sports is in charge of editing or checking stories before they are published. How does it happen that a story gets published which clearly promotes the direct competition?


Over at ESPN, more of its 2014 college football schedule has just been released. ESPN/ABC will show at least three live games on Saturday Aug. 30th, starting at 8:30 AM ET with Central Florida vs. Penn State from Dublin Ireland on ESPN2. Florida State takes on Oklahoma State at 8 PM ET on ABC, while ESPN has Wisconsin vs. LUS at 9 PM ET among its selections.
ESPN will also air the Saturday Aug. 23 game between Sam Houston State and Eastern Washington.

Big Ten Network has announced some of its prime-time telecasts, to include Michigan State hosting Maryland (yes - a Big Ten Conference game now) at 8 PM ET on Nov. 15th, making for the latest ever (in the calendar year) home night game in MSU history, and the network's latest outdoor telecast at night.

MLB Network has added another studio analyst. Former pitcher Ryan Dempster, who just retired prior to spring training, joins the network.

Finally, sorry to learn of the passing of Walter Hill, who for 20+ years was the voice behind "Saturday Night In Tiger Stadium" on the LSU Sports Network. Much of nation heard Hill, along with the late John Ferguson, provide play-by-play and color on WWL New Orleans from the early 60's until Hill left the booth in 1986.  Hill's final appearance on the LSU broadcast actually came in 1993 when he returned for the "Centennial Game" and guested with Jim Hawthorne and Doug Moreau during the broadcast. Hill was 86.

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