Monday, July 21, 2014

Will The Dodgers Telecasts Remain A Secret?

Word is that the Dodgers are looking into a partnership or outright purchase of KLAC 570, which currently serves as the team's flagship radio station. At first, I questioned this, based on what has (or hasn't) happened when other MLB teams have bought into a radio station for their game broadcasts.

The Cardinals returned to KMOX in 2013 after the ratings disaster from their purchase of 570 AM as well as complaints from fans who could not easily pick up the broadcasts. The Angels share some of their broadcasts with KSPN 710 in order to increase their audience from the KLAA broadcasts. The Twins broadcasts are now on the much lower rated KTWN, which is also owned by the team. And so it goes.

What makes the Dodgers situation different is the team's TV contract with Time Warner and the ramifications it brings. My new theory is that a Dodgers purchase (or joint venture) of their flagship radio station plays right into their hands, and that, frankly, it is not good for the frustrated fan base.

Here is why.

If the Dodgers are going to take over KLAC, it would happen in time for the 2015 season. Since this is now late July and there is no movement on getting the Dodgers TV games into any more homes, it probably won't happen at all this season. If the team has control over the radio inventory, along with the stadium advertising, signage, web site(s), and related marketing opportunities, they can add the total multi-media package onto selling the TV spots to the limited audience.

In other words, the Dodgers could give large scale advertisers a combination of TV, radio, signage, stadium, and online commercials based on the "total" audience these combine to reach on a regular basis. Even with a TV audience limited to less than one-third of its potential, this plan, if successful, would allow the Dodgers to boast that a large percentage of their TV ads are sold out. This would help the team justify the huge contract the team has with Time Warner for years to come.

Advertisers would then be reaching the audience via TV, radio, online, and at the stadium in one media buy. If the Dodgers own and/or control the radio station, the Dodgers can appeal to even more advertisers which would participate in other station programming for an amount less than the actual games, thus creating more revenue opportunities for the team.

While team officials are acting frustrated by the Time Warner deal keeping other cable and satellite companies from airing their games, the word "acting" is meant in the literal sense. Just like the quotes last week from Commissioner Bud Selig about being frustrated about Dodgers TV. They are all saying that because they have to.

While they laugh all the way to the bank. This deal (alone) brings the Dodgers hundreds of millions of dollars each season for years to come. Even with a team payroll close to $200,000,000, this TV deal covers their costs even if no one bought tickets and they played in a closed stadium. Think about that. (There is the revenue that could very well be buying the team its own radio station!)

Here are the 2014 Dodgers seriously contending for a West Division title, and the fans continue to fill Dodger Stadium for many of the home dates. That ticket, concession, and parking revenue adds even more to the coffers. As long as the team is in the mix, fans will buy tickets. While their TV contract, no matter how few fans can watch the majority of the games, continues to pay the freight.

Why would MLB be frustrated by this? I don't think they are one bit concerned. Think back 25 years ago when the first round of massive new stadiums were being introduced. Team owners were making threats of moving the team without a new stadium deal, and several of them (new stadiums) happened. So when one prominent franchise pulls off a massive TV deal for BILLIONS (which is partially shared around all teams), it could set the template for other teams to follow. Especially if the other teams can show a "sold out" TV inventory and the ability to contend, such as the Dodgers are doing.

DirecTV appears to be frustrated over this. But when you think about it, right now they benefit from the current media wars. First of all, DirecTV is about to enter its final season of the current NFL Sunday Ticket package, so the more publicity they generate, the more possible subscribers (especially sports fans) become aware of them. If they were able to offer the Dodgers games in Southen California within a more expensive package, its percentage of the take would be that much greater, since x percent of $5 per month will mean more profit for them than x percent of $1, but they would have "no choice" in the matter.

What about Time Warner? How will they survive with a debt of billions of dollars over the next 20 years? There actually is an answer. TWC is looking to be sold, possibly to Comcast. If not, word is that Fox (Murdoch money) is next in line to acquire TWC's cable rights, which includes Turner Sports, which gets them NBA and additional MLB and PGA rights to start.

From a business standpoint, TWC can include the "billions in debt" as part of the sale conditions, and walk away from the Dodgers deal while still taking in millions for the purchase of their business. In effect, the buyer of TWC pays a lot to the Dodgers instead of the TWC people, but gets this rights deal instead.

This could very well be the reason that TWC refuses to lower the costs for other cable and satellite providers for the Dodgers games, and ultimately to the fans. They now have a valuable bargaining chip, and if they plan to be sold, the long-term profitability is no longer a major concern.

One more thing. There is one more major reason why the Dodgers want to have this "combined buy" situation for advertisers. It is not only to make the TV games fit in. Keep in mind, as much as we all hate to face it, that Vin Scully won't be around forever. It could be that he won't even be around next season, or will further reduce his schedule. And that will make even the radio package (on which Vin is heard in simulcast for three innings on the games he broadcasts) less desirable. Thus, the Dodgers want the ability to sell everything in combination.

While the team "wins" by this, Time Warner "wins", and MLB "wins" under this arrangement and the possibilities in the near future, it is only the paying fans of the team that lose out.

I hope somebody can prove me wrong on this.

Elsewhere, ESPN has chosen its August 10 Sunday Night Baseball game, which will be the Nationals vs. the Braves.

ATLANTA: The Game 92.9 has added Mike Bell to its afternoon drive show, along with Carl Dukes, and has extended the show to now air from 2 to 7 PM weekdays. What makes this an interesting hire is that Bell comes over after having most recently spent 15 years on 790 The Zone, which (790) got rid of its local programming in May.  Of course, the station still remains well behind The Fan 680/93.7 in the ratings.

SAN DIEGO: Let's go with a different syndicated programming source for XTRA Sports 1360. KLSD has decided to try Dave Palet and Jeff Dotseth, who have been hosting weekends on Fox Sports Radio, as its "local" morning team from 6 to 9 AM, and will plug in Fox Sports Radio for the midday and weekends. As of now, Steve Hartman and Mike Costa will continue locally in afternoon drive Judson Richards will continue "The Chargers Power Hour" from 6 to 7 PM and then stay on (most weeknights) for "XTRA at Night". For those scoring at home, the station simply dropped NBC Sports Radio to do this.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's Really Content That Is "King" in Cleveland

My "content is king" theory for sports radio stations turned into "content is King" for Cleveland's WKRK 92.3 The Fan last week when it came to reporting on "King James" returning to Cleveland.

While much of the Cleveland media was surrounding LeBron James' suburban mansion as the word spread that an official announcement could be coming very soon, WKRK's Joe Lull scooped them when he reported that Cavaliers team owner Dan Gilbert was on his plane headed to South Florida.

That is where LeBron was at the time. Gilbert reportedly posted on social media that he was "enjoying the backyard", even though Lull was tracking the exact location status of the plane (via FlightAware). Even when Gilbert was made aware that word had leadked out, he had his crew change the flight into a different airport, hoping to avert anyone seeing him arrive in Florida. However, that move did not effect Lull's ability to track the specific location of the plane.

This enabled reporter Anthony Lima to (reportedly) be the first to broadcast the announcement that LeBron is returning to Cleveland, doing so during the Baskin & Phelps Show.

At that moment, WKNR 850 had Aaron Goldhammer on the air, but without vacationing co-host Tony Rizzo, while WTAM 1100 (news radio and the Cavs' flagship station) was into a long commercial break, before both stations soon after jumped on the story.

The sports media should be saluting and taking note of the work by Lull and Lima to be the first to report the most important local sports story in years. This is a whole lot better than reporting that some other network is "reporting" that LeBron "could be" about to return to Cleveland. And they scooped the team's flagship station in the process.

As it should be, this was about being the first to break a story and taking the steps necessary to do so ahead of the competition. It is all too rare in the sports media these days. For once, it was great to see radio lead the way.

However, a couple of days later there was reason to, again, be very disappointed in the sports media and what they "report". Fox Sports decided to reveal that it is making a change of the sideline reporter for its primary NFL telecast announcing team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. I'll say this again. In more than 50 years of personally viewing NFL games on a weekly basis, I have never made a viewing choice, nor met anyone who has, based on who the "sideline reporter" is, or even whether or not there is one.

This item should have been nothing more than a one-line blurb buried in the NFL News. How disappointing to tune to sports radio stations and read sports columnists spending ANY time about Erin Andrews and Pam Oliver. Even Fox Sports stations should know to have something of importance or urgency to be discussing instead. Way too many outlets acted as though this was a "news" story, and it should be cause for embarrassment if this is something to actually talk or write about.

Then there was ESPN, faced with an unfortunate rain delay during its Yankees vs. Orioles Sunday Night Baseball telecast (7/13). The network had presented its full hour "Baseball Tonight" leading into the telecast, and had a crew in Minneapolis for the following night's Home Run Derby telecast.

Yet, all ESPN chose to do during the rain delay was to join ESPNews for "SportsCenter". At the start, they were doing an extended wrap up of the World Cup. Don't get me wrong. I understand the significance of the World Cup. However, this was during MLB time. ESPN is not one of the regional or local sports networks that doesn't have anything to show during a rain delay and sticks viewers with a rerun. Where was any of their baseball crew? At the very least, they should have replayed the still timely segments from "Baseball Tonight" recapping the day's action and previewing the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.

Over at NBCSN, they are getting ready to begin having what will be an extended post-game show following NBC Sunday Night NFL telecasts. The network "just happened" to have scheduled the NBCSN Sunday Sports Report for 11:30 PM ET, the time that their upcoming Sunday Night telecasts could end if the game is played at a reasonable pace. The show will actually debut on August 17th.

Once the NFL regular season starts, this should prove to be a good idea for NBCSN. Many football fans would prefer a national wrap up of the SNF game and other NFL action instead of the local news (on the NBC station) or alternative programming on the west coast.

PHOENIX: Three sports radio stations seems to be not enough for KTAR 620, which plans to take on ESPN Radio no later than mid-September. As a result, plans are reportedly in the works for KMVP 98.7 to take on being the primary station for the city's pro sports team broadcasts. This will mean that when there are no conflicts (of more than one local team playing at the same time) that the local play-by-play would be on the FM dial, while the AM dial would likely have THREE stations with seemingly the same "national" sports talk. In addition to KTAR, there is KGME 910 (Fox Sports Radio) and KDUS 1060 (NBC Sports Radio). Yikes.

DETROIT: During this time when 97.1 The Ticket is enjoying excellent ratings, it is now officially 20 years since full-time sports radio arrived in Detroit. It was July 11, 1994 when WDFN 1130 took the air in that role. The timing back then was impeccable. The Lions were about to begin their season under much-maligned head coach Wayne Fontes, while MLB was headed toward the labor dispute that stopped an exciting season which never finished.

Come to think of it, those are still more compelling topics right now than who will be the sideline reporter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Out "Fox-ed" Again

It's not 'lead story' material, but it is good to see some genuine competition among TV sports sources. On Wednesday (7/9) afternoon, Fox Sports promoted a scheduled appearance by David Ortiz of the Red Sox shortly after 6 PM ET on Fox Sports 1. Sure enough, at 4:20 PM ET, viewers of MLB Network, shortly after its live airing of the Dodgers vs. Tigers game, "just happened" to score a live interview with none other than David Ortiz.

Getting the jump on a competitor is how it used to be in the media. This sure beats them reporting what the other is reporting instead of using company resources to confirm or deny.

Elsewhere, a definite Ohio flavor this week.

Our congratulations to Bob Trumpy, who is going to receive this year's "Pete Rozell Radio and TV Award" during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend of Aug. 1st to 3rd. During his playing days with the Cincinnati Bengals, Trumpy was among the very first athletes to transition into radio sports talk, doing so at a time when maybe one or two stations in a large market even had a show dedicated to sports talk.

Trumpy managed to host a show on WCKY Radio during his playing days in 1976, later to be hired away by WLW 700. This helped lead to being hired as a game analyst for NBC, working with Dick Enberg and Charlie Jones among others, and later doing at least one Super Bowl on national radio.

Having worked in the Cincinnati region during that time, I personally witnessed Trumpy go from his playing days to covering and talking about the games, and still recall who adept he was at that transition. He brought a strong broadcast presence from day one, and, unlike many former athletes turned analysts, worked hard at learning the other sports and making his opinions known.

These days in Cincinnati, Reds fans are enjoying watching their team on the tube. You would not guess this, but for the first half of the current baseball season, Reds telecasts have the third highest local ratings on Fox Sports Ohio. Not surprisingly, the top two local team telecast ratings come from Detroit and St. Louis.

In Cleveland, WTAM 1100 is picking up on the increased popularity of the Indians (and perhaps anticipating more interest in the Cavs games?) with regard to its nighttime lineup. On weeknights when there are no Indians (or Cavaliers games during NBA season), the station has added Nick Camino as its show host from 7 to 11 PM. Camino is the station's Indians reporter and host of "The Sports Feed" as well. Even though Camino's show will not be 100% sports focused, he replaces Bob Frantz, who is (as of this week) no longer with WTAM. Frantz had been with the station since 2006, his second stint there.

With the Indians hosting a series of 20-year anniversary celebrations for what is now Progressive Field, the August 1st home date will include a salute to radio voice Tom Hamilton. Fans at the game will be treated to Hamilton's calls of his "top 10 ballpark moments". A well deserved salute, indeed.

Meanwhile, CBS continues to gear up for its Thursday Night Football package, which begins in just two months. Former NFL official Mike Carey has been added to the on-air crew to comment about specific calls and explain rule interpretations. Carey is also expected to participate in the network's regular Sunday coverage as well.

OLYMPIA WA: KGY 1240 and KAYO 96.9 have announced they will no longer air high school football or basketball games effective immediately. This even includes playoff games. Management reports that the stations lost money on these over the past ten years, which, to their credit, shows this was not a typical radio "impulse" decision. But it is a shame for even one radio station to give up on something that it could offer exclusively to local listeners.

BILOXI MS: Sorry to hear of the passing of Walter "Waldo" Thornton last week at the age of 53 following a heart attack. Thornton is remembered as a long time play-by-play voice of Pascagoula High School (where he was a standout player on the 1976 MS state championship team) as well as Moss Point H.S. He also hosted sports talk shows on WPMO during his career.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ESPN Plan Well Drafted

Let's give ESPN credit once again for its handling of the NBA Draft last week. ESPN finished with its highest ever ratings, with the previous best being back in 2003 when LeBron James and Dwayne Wade were among the top picks. The reason to give ESPN the credit is because of its role in generating fan interest.

The other sports networks and sources see and hear how much ESPN hypes the events it covers, with the NBA Draft being no exception. For the weeks leading in to it, the network brings on its NBA experts and analysts to discuss and predict the draft. Fans watching everything ESPN has to offer see the "Bottom Line" including analyst "mock draft" picks on the scroll in between scores, headlines, and actual sports happenings. This is really a subliminal way to make the Draft seem as important as the actual games and headlines of the days before.

Because of this, the likes of Fox Sports, CBS Sports, etc., which are desparately seeking the ESPN audience, go into copycat mode and bring out their own analysis and mock drafts to serve their audiences. What this extra hype really does is raise fan interest in the Draft, which is only televised on ESPN.

This is even more the case for the NFL Draft, even though it is also shown live on NFL Network. ESPN gets the higher audience, but the hype from all of the other networks contributes to that draft night audience as well.

Last Thursday (6/26), ESPN's ratings for the draft coverage were also about 19% above last year.

The rating was 19 percent higher that last year (2.6). If you don't believe this theory yet, consider that three of the top six local markets for NBA Draft coverage ratings are NOT in NBA markets, but are major college basketball markets. The highest rated local market was Louisville, while Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro were also in the top six. That Louisville and Raleigh-Durham both had bigger audiences than Cleveland, which had the number one pick in the Draft, tells us a lot. After all, ESPN is the network that televises the most college basketball, having shown a ton of games involving each of those markets where interest is high.

Yet, Fox and the rest bring out their experts and show mock drafts, only to have their viewers tune in on Draft night to have to head over to rival ESPN to watch it happen live.

We don't have this kind of attention for the MLB or NHL draft telecasts. But ESPN doesn't show either of them. Thus, there is a lot less hype and mock drafts leading in, and the rival networks cool their jets as well.

Elsewhere, more delays in determining the fate of Comcast Sports Houston and its court battles regarding the future telecast rights to the Astros and Rockets. The Houston Chronicle reports that EnTouch Systems, a suburban (Houston) cable company, has withdrawn its complaint about getting out of its deal to carry CSN Houston and its cost to subscribers. However, the speculation is that this is only due to the high legal costs of fighting this battle.

TBS returns to Sunday MLB games this week with the New Yankees vs. Minnesota game on July 6th. Terms of the new contract allow for these TBS telecasts to be shown non-exclusively in at least the home team market, which had not been the case in the past. Ernie Johnson will handle play-by-play this week.

Sports fans everywhere wish a speedy recovery to Buffalo Sabres voice Rick Jeanneret, who has called the team's games for the past 43 years and (hopefully) counting. Jeanneret, 71, has been diagnosed with a form of throat cancer, and doctors have told him he has an 85% chance of recovery. In a tremendous gesture, the Sabres have set up a special e-mail address,, so that fans can wish him well during this challenging time.

CBS Sports Network, the TV version, has decided to go with live content from 3 to 6 PM on weekdays when not showing a live event. What did they choose? A simulcast of the Doug Gottlieb Show as it airs on CBS Sports Radio. Enough said.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-FM 94.1 has extended the contract of Ray Didinger, who will continue his weekend co-hosting duties with Glen Macnow, and add him to football coverage on WPHT 1210 for the coming season. He may also appear on KYW 1060 on occasion. The contract news was not good for Tony Bruno, who has, according to the company "chosen to resign" after not being given a new contract and is gone from the 10 AM to Noon co-hosting gig while Harry Mayes remains. This means that Bruno is now without a local gig, after years of having been a national figure on ESPN Radio, and later on Fox Sports Radio.