Friday, August 8, 2014

Still The Teams - Not The Hosts

Sports radio stations can continue to act as though certain personalities make a difference on the station, but what current status of sports in a given market is what it's all about. The latest radio ratings, covering the period from late June to late July, continue to indicate this in certain key markets.

The sports talk race in Boston has been a big story for the past couple of years, especially when WBZ-FM Sports Hub overtook WEEI and was going strong. But look again. The Bruins and Celtics finished up weeks ago, and the Red Sox are headed toward the distinction of going from worst to first to worst in the East Division over three seasons. The Patriots are just starting, so we'll see some audience growth by October.

WBZ-FM Sports Hub has now dipped to #17 overall, officially having lost nearly 50% of its overall audience since its May ratings. And, of course, in May the Bruins and Celtics were in the post-season while the Red Sox were expected to contend. If WBZ-FM lost its audience to WEEI-FM, you could argue that station content makes a difference. But WEEI-FM has dropped again as well, although it now holds a .4 overall lead over WBZ-FM.

In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket remains the #1 overall most listened to station, and it's no coincidence that they also air the Tigers games while the team can coast into the MLB post-season. In Pittsburgh, KDKA-FM, which also features Pirates broadcast while they contend again, just rose to #6 overall with a .7 rise in just the past month.

Philadelphia teams are struggling, especially the Phillies this season, and the 20% overall audience dip by WIP-FM since May reflects this. An ever better example is San Antonio, where the Spurs remain the only show (pro team) in town. With this ratings period taking place mostly following the Spurs' championship run, not one of the three English sports stations in the market so much as cracked the top 20 in overall audience or have a rating above a 1.0.

Meanwhile, on the TV side of things, nothing further on the Dodgers TV situation, or lack thereof, in Los Angeles. There may now be less hope for immediate action due to the withdrawl of the Murdoch/Fox bid to purchase Time Warner Cable from earlier this week. It looks more and more like it will take a merger/takeover by Comcast to make the Dodgers games more readily and economically available, and that is likely months and months away.

This past week had the four games between the Dodgers and Angels, shown to most of the market via Fox Sports (Angels telecasts) receive significant ratings increase. The Angels telecasts received double their typical ratings for the current season (which are also well up from last season's). On the radio side, these latest ratings were up for both KSPN and KLAA which are sports stations that share Angels radio broadcasts.

While the Dodgers local telecasts continue with low ratings (because so few fans can receive the games at any price), the Angels' result is more typical of how the various local and regional sports networks are doing this season with MLB telecasts when the teams are in contention. Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Cincinnati are each coming up with #1 ratings for local prime time telecasts this season.

The Houston Astros are far from contention, but are now showing the potential to peform like a true big league team by next season although still mired in a legal dispute about having their games shown on more systems. The possibility of a bankruptcy court awarding ownership of the regional network they share with the NBA Rockets to AT&T and DirecTV to operate as a Root Sports network brings hope that the games could be readily available well in advance of the 2015 Astros season. The anticipated court ruling will likely come within the next two months, potentially allowing the entire Rockets season to be available to possibly millions more viewers.

CLEVELAND: The start of exhibition games also means the start of the vast new radio coverage of the Browns games. All of the team's games will air on three local radio stations, WKNR, WKRK, and WNCX. WKNR will air the bulk of the surrounding coverage, including what is now a four hour pre-game block with a separate two hours prior to the Browns Radio Network two hour show.

Play-by-play voice Jim Donovan will, however, shift over to WKYC-TV 3 for three of the four exhibition games shown only on a local basis, where he will be joined by analyst Solomon Wilcots. Donovan will do the radio call for the Aug. 9 game vs. Detroit since ESPN will show it nationally. Jeff Phelps, afternoon host on KRKK 92.3, will handle radio play-by-play for those three games, while Doug Dieken remains radio analyst for all games. But you do have to wonder how you keep a pre-game show longer than an overtime game would be interesting to the audience.

WISCONSIN: A chain of three AM stations in a region are all becoming sports stations this month, each dropping music formats. WXCE 1260 Avery, WHSM Hayward, and KKIN 930 Atkin MN will share programming and be known as "Red Zone Sports" stations.

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