Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Baseball Drives Radio Ratings Again

The latest radio ratings continue to prove the romance between baseball and radio. Detroit's WXYT-FM The Ticket showed more than a 20% overall audience increase from the March ratings book through the just released April book with its Tigers broadcasts. San Francisco's KNBR shot up to 2nd place over all that market with the Giants off to a hot start. KMOX St. Louis rose 1.5 full ratings points with Cardinals season underway. WGN Chicago showed a large increase with the Cubs broadcasts back.

Yet, the baseball station to keep an eye on throughout the baseball season is KLAC 570 Los Angeles, the sports station which is also the flagship station for the Dodgers. KLAC technically doubled its overall audience from late March into late April, with their overall rating going from a mere 0.5 to a 1.0.

There are those that say, and rightfully so, that this is a natural increase for KLAC, given that this could again be Vin Scully's final season calling the games, with the first three innings of each game simulcast on radio, and high expectations for the Dodgers this year. What makes the ratings book worth following is to measure the impact of the Time Warner Cable standoff which has resulted in the majority of the L.A. market being unable to pay high prices to watch the Dodgers on TV. As a result, it is radio or "nothing" for thousands of Dodgers fans. The longer into the season this dispute goes, the less likely it is that either the providers or TWC will budge.

TV ratings for the Angels telecasts have been up. Whether that is due to their easy availability, Albert Pujols' hot start, or a combination, remains to be seen, so to speak. Yet, on the radio side, the Dodger station showed a bigger increase than the Angels stations did, at least for the first few weeks of the season.

In Boston, the Red Sox season has brought WEEI-FM a bit closer to rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub, even though the Sports Hub now has a full rating point lead after dropping to #7 overall in the market.

New York City showed an audience increase for both of the "new" baseball stations. As expected, WFAN as the Yankees flagship station increased by .7 overall to #11 overall, while WOR Radio gained .2 overall. This appears to be the Yankees contributing directly to WFAN's increase, since sports radio rival WEPN held steady from its March to April overall ratings.

A similar baseball success story in Philadelphia, where WIP-FM went up .6 overall with Phillies baseball, although WPEN also showed an overall increase and has two-thirds of the overall audience size of "the whip".

Sports stations in Washington D.C. were trading listeners during the March to April period. WJFK-FM went up .6 of a ratings point during the month, while WTEM-AM dropped by .5 of a ratings point at the same time. Similar jockeying for position in the three station Dallas sports radio race. WTCK The Ticket has dropped .5 overall since February, while KESN went up .5 during the same period and is closing in on The Ticket. KRLD-FM went up by .3, but remains in third place in that battle.

While Houston's sports stations continue to make the occasional changes to their lineups, it's the teams that drive those stations, or, as we should say, keep them in 'park' this time of the year. As we hit the mid-point of the Texans' off-season, KILT has dropped back to a 1.3 overall and #20 in the market, KBME, even with an increase, is only at a 1.0 rating, with KFNC at only half of that.  Similar disappointment in Atlanta, despite the Braves starting a season of contending and the Hawks making their first round NBA playoff run. WZGC-FM dipped by 25% overall during the one-month period, meaning that neither WZGC-FM or WQXI 790 are in the top 20 in the market.

Getting back to Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 went up .3 overall with White Sox baseball starting during that time, with WMVP ESPN 1000 increasing by .2 during the Bulls first round playoff run. As mentioned earlier, WGN Radio showed a larger audience increase due mainly to Cubs broadcasts.

What makes this interesting is that this is the final season of WGN having the Cubs broadcasts under the current radio contract, with WGN Radio reportedly having lost its exclusive window of opportunity to negotiate an extension. There would appear to be an incentive for other Chicago radio stations (groups) to enter the negotiations. Even as a "loss leader" these other stations would see this as an opportunity to keep the WGN overall audience down going into next year and beyond.

Elsewhere, I must congratulate ESPN on hyping its way to a major ratings coup by getting its competition to, in effect, promote their coverage. Think about it. The NFL Draft is not a "game".

There is no betting line (at least not yet). Not that long ago, fans would start hearing about the NFL Draft a couple of days before with a bit of speculation about the needs of the various teams.

But the pre-draft "coverage" has swelled of late. I'm an NFL fan but I couldn't believe how every sports network had tons of analysis of college players, mock draft after mock draft, and 'experts' popping out of the woodwork for the better part of a month leading into the Draft. I can understand ESPN and NFL Network doing this constantly. It's NFL Network's role to cover and hype the draft. ESPN does it because they provide extensive and complete live coverage.

This year, for whatever reason, Fox Sports, NBC, CBS, and the regional sports networks also felt the need to devote a significant amount of "coverage" to what is really speculation leading into the Draft. Sorry, but unless there is trade or an actual pick is made, it really isn't "news" until something actually happens.

As a result of constant hype everywhere NFL fans watched and listened, the audience for ESPN's live coverage of the Draft was essentially built with the help of all of their competition. The TV ratings for the Thursday (5/8) Round One coverage on ESPN were incredible. The NFL Draft had more than double the audience for the NBA Playoffs (including Miami vs. Brooklyn), and those were televised on ESPN2, and more than TRIPLE the audience for the Boston vs. Montreal Stanley Cup playoff game on NBCSN, at the same time. Not to mention how ESPN's Draft coverage trounced the various local and regional networks' baseball telecasts that night.

ESPN's Draft coverage had more than triple the audience of the NFL Network coverage as well. If you combine those two networks, they more than tripled the NBA coverage, had over SIX times the NHL audience, and so on.

And people wonder why these other networks don't come close to out-drawing ESPN, even on the rare times they have quality content. 

BOSTON: WEEI-FM is making still another schedule change, this time adjusting its midday show. "Middays with MFB", with Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria as co-hosts, and Mike Mutanski being moved to another show. The "B" in the show will be Tim Benz, who is expected to join the station next week, coming over from ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.

ATLANTA: It's now Braves or "bust" for WYAY 106.7, which is technically no longer "all news". The station will now only have news blocks during morning and afternoon drive, instead of for the majority of its broadcast day. Word is the station is no longer staffing its newsroom on nights when the Braves are broadcast, and is already airing syndicated talk content on nights when there are no games. Another instance of radio stations holding out on quality content except for when they "think" enough people are listening, while wondering where their audience has gone.

DETROIT: For those that even notice WCAR 1090 and its attempt at sports radio, the station has again changed its syndicated sports programming. After dropping (or losing, depending on whom you believe) its ESPN affiliation in July 2013, the station went with NBC Sports Radio. Now, for those keeping score at home, the station shifts over to Yahoo Sports as of next week.

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