Thursday, May 22, 2014

Not Enough Players In The Broadcast Rights Game

The impact of the high cost of sports media broadcast rights dominates this week. On a national level, the likely purchase of DirecTV by AT&T reportedly has one of the conditions being DirecTV's ability to retain its NFL Sunday Ticket package after the coming season. Even the possibility that an estimated $49 billion deal could hinge upon football rights shows us all where things are headed.

You have to think that there were some collective high fives in the NFL offices when that became public knowledge. Not exactly the negotiation strength that DirecTV wants. Of course, sports fans should be even more concerned about this merger/acquisition, because fewer players means less competition and that means fewer "deals" for our cable and satellite services. This is happening while Time Warner and Comcast are in a similar situation. We could be faced with having two "players" in the cable/satellite world in the next few years, which does not bode well for our monthly costs going down.

As a local story, still nothing further for Dodgers fans regarding the majority of them having the opportunity to see the games on TV, even if willing to pay the high price to do so. As mentioned last week, the ratings and audience share for KLAC 570 (the Dodgers flagship radio station) nearly doubled from March to early May coinciding with the season starting. Now comes word, as I thought, that Fox Sports West reports a 30% increase in its audience for the first few weeks of its Angels telecasts, which are more readily available to the majority of the market. You can't use the argument that the Dodgers lead the National League in attendance, since the team's run to the post-season in 2013 was a huge factor in people buying tickets early.

It may not be until late this season, if the Dodgers fall off in the race, or into next year before we see an attendance drop at Dodgers games. My thinking is that a continued attendance drop needs to happen  before the Dodgers step in and do something to ease the situation so that more people can watch their games. Frankly, the Dodgers should have stepped in by now. Not only to help their fans to be able to see the games, but also because they won't have Vin Scully calling the games forever.

ATLANTA: The lack of success of sports radio stations in the market could very well be leading to having one less sports station in the market by the end of 2014. Maybe not many people have noticed, but WQXI 790 has "laid off" its morning and afternoon drive local shows. The "Locker Room" morning show is gone, as are (former Falcon) Alge Crumpler and J.P. Peterson, while the afternoon team of Mike Bell and David Archer are also gone as of this week. The station does not have any local play-by-play scheduled until football season, when it is scheduled to continue as the flagship station of the Falcons and carry SEC games on Saturdays. WQXI is airing all ESPN Radio all the time for the moment. With its play-by-play only slotted for weekends during the fall, it's not like there is a reason to stick with all sports programming. It will be interesting to see if the other two sports stations show any gains in audience over the next couple of ratings books or not.

NEW YORK: It seems like a blast from the past, but longtime sportscaster Spencer Ross is having a busy weekend. Ross will call as many as five baseball games of the Big East Conference baseball championships. Hopefully for his sake someone will be listening. Most of the games will be on, while the championship game will air on Sunday afternoon on Fox Sports 1.

CHICAGO: It's about securing rights this week. While WGN Radio has not locked up its Cubs radio broadcasts beyond the current season (and still may not), WGN-TV has been able to extend its agreement with the NHL Blackhawks to televise up to 20 regular season games for an additional three seasons. It now holds those rights through the 2018-19 season.

Sorry to report the passing of Bill Berg, a Chicago sports radio pioneer who passed away this week at the age of 77. Berg had one of the market's first ever radio sports shows, going back to his weeknight show on WIND Radio. He actually had opinions and didn't back down. Today, he would be just another sports talk host, but back then he was among the very first to shake it up with listeners. He also did some color for Chicago Bulls broadcasts. Mr. Berg went on to WGN Radio in the 70's, hosting afternoon drive, while also filling in on Cubs baseball broadcasts and calling DePaul and Loyola University basketball games. He went on to do play-by-play for the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors into the late 80's before retiring.

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