Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fans Still "Raven-ous" For Game Telecasts

While the NFL continues to deal with off the field issues and unwanted media attention, the fans continue to watch the telecasts. The curiousity over how the Baltimore Ravens are and will respond remains high, as each of the team's three telecasts have averaged around 60% of Baltimore market households tuned to the telecasts. The network will air each of the Ravens' next three telecasts as well.

CBS' early game ratings from Sunday (9/21) were up 11% over week three from last year, leading in to the Denver at Seattle Super Bowl rematch in its doubleheader game which scored high ratings. What makes this curious is that the Fox regional telecasts actually came in about 8% lower than Week 3 did for them last year, while the Sunday Night Football NBC telecast of Pittsburgh vs. Carolina was down more than 8% from last year's Week 3, which also coincidentally featured the Steelers.

On the MLB side, ESPN came through with its added telecasts this week of "Post-season Impact Games", adding the Tuesday (9/23) and Wednesday (9/24) Giants vs. Dodgers telecasts with its Sunday Night Baseball crew handling it. The ability for ESPN to add late September games is part of the new contract which took effect this year. The network also added the Yankees vs. Orioles game on Tuesday, although this one was more of an excuse to get another Derek Jeter telecast on than a game with any true post-season impact.

Dodgers fans are already enjoying being able to watch their team on TV the rest of the way. The arrangement allowing KDOC-TV 56 to carry the Time Warner telecasts of the final six games this week (with Vin Scully on the call) got off to a strong start on Monday night (9/22). Even with an increase on the ratings only on TWC, the KDOC simulcast went to around three times the total audience share as TWC's version.

Also this week, L.A.'s KFWB 980, which has been all-sports as of this month, is now branded as "The Beast" and has added some weekday local programming. The morning show is co-hosted by Marques Johnson and Jeanne Zelasko (formerly of Fox Sports), while long time local sportcaster Fred Roggin handles Noon to 3 PM. George Wrighster and Brett Winterble co-host 3 to 7 PM while "L.A. Sports Today" airs from 7 to 9 PM.

PITTSBURGH: It certainly appears that interest in the Penguins is running high for the coming season. The team drew a respectable 2.2 rating on Monday (9/22) night during part of its pre-season opening telecast, which aired in prime time against Monday Night Football and with the Pirates still in the running for the MLB post-season.

CHICAGO: It is now news that there is no news about Cubs TV for next season. The predicted announcement that Fox owned WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV would be taking on the over-the-air package starting next season hasn't happened yet. WGN-TV supposedly does not wish to continue beyond this season. CSN Chicago would certainly take on the additional telecasts if nothing materializes, but not having anything in place by now is quite curious.

PHOENIX: The Coyotes are still in town as the NHL season is about to start, and the team will actually have three radio stations airing the games this season with the start of a new 3-year deal. KTAR 620, 98.7, and 92.3 will all air the games, with 98.7 also airing a weekly coaches show. Bob Heethuis returns for his 10th season of play-by-play, now with Nick Boynton (former Coyotes defenseman) on color.

HOUSTON: Barry Warner, who earlier "retired" from KILT 610 and is a former Rockets TV analyst, is making what could be called a 'brief' return. The "Barry Warner Classic Minute" will hit the local airwaves, but only on low rated KFNC 97.5 The Ticket and KGOW 1560.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Fox Should Be Hounded

While the NFL continues under a high profile public relations nightmare this week, the execs at Fox Sports are able to fly under the radar with their own challenges.

Speaking of "challenges", Fox was not when there could have been a huge coach challenge during its Seattle at San Diego telecast this past Sunday (9/14). Perhaps the biggest single play of the Chargers' huge upset of the defending Super Bown champions was the 51 yard TD run by Percy Harvin. The play in which Harvin appears to have stepped out of bounds yards before reaching the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown, helping San Diego to the seven point win.

As the play unfolded and even through the PAT and into the commercial break, Thom Brennaman did not even acknowledge the possibility that Harvin stepped out while he ran along the sidelines. We won't know for sure, but the lack of comment could have led to the lack of a challenge of the call.

A couple hours later, NBC ran the slow motion shot (on Football Night In America) which showed Harvin appear to have stepped out of bounds well before reaching the end zone.

Also during the late games, CBS added an interesting element to its Green Bay vs. N.Y. Jets coverage after a time out call took away a Jets TD at a key time in what wound up as a Green Bay victory. The Jets were granted a time out by officials, but a CBS replay with sound from the field revealed that it was not the head coach who called for the time out. Per NFL rules, that time out could only have been called by the Head Coach, and it the special replay (with on field sound only) revealed that it was not.

Put these all together from the same couple of hours, and we see that Fox, which was the first to hire a former NFL official as a special analyst for its telecasts, was by far the least active in providing fans with information that brings the game officials into question. The point is that now, in all of the "big 4" sports, replay and video is used to help determine the outcome of games, meaning that video which conflicts with the decision of game officials is more valuable than ever before.

Because Fox did not initially question a sideline run, it is possible that Seahawks fans, those with dollars riding on Seattle vs. the point spread, and fantasy players facing a "team" with Percy Harvin may have lost out because Fox did not point out what it should have right away.

Early ratings reports showed that Fox overall drew about a 4% lower rating for its Week 2 regional telecasts than it did in 2013, even with having New York (Giants) and Dallas among their markets.

We move back to Saturday (9/13) when Fox wound with a telecast conflict at 4 PM ET. Even though a rain delay was not their fault, allowing only a 3-hour window for MLB was clearly not enough time to allow for either a long game or a weather problem. Sure enough, many Fox stations left the Yankees vs. Orioles telecast in the 7th inning (which was delayed nearly an hour by rain) in order to show the entire Illinois at Washington college football telecast. Although I will grant you that the markets which switched over did so because of higher interest in the football game, the point is that having to leave a live telecast before its conclusion is not a good thing for a network, especially one which is trying to build its sports networks.

On top of all this, Brian Urlacher started off this week by announcing he is leaving Fox Sports 1 "effective immediately" only two weeks into the NFL regular season. I'm not buying the "to spend more time with his family" story. This was Urlacher's second season with Fox, so he clearly knew what is involved based on last season. It will be interesting to see whether or not a replacement is named within the next few days or not.

Meanwhile, the advance scheduling of an NBA exhibition game telecast would normally not be national news. But ESPN is clearly into promoting its NBA ties, especially with the likely upcoming contract extension. The Cleveland vs. Miami pre-season game, which will be played in Rio on Saturday Oct. 11th, will be shown live at 5 PM ET. The significance is the first meeting of LeBron James vs. the Miami Heat in more than 4 years. In another first, this live telecast will be on ESPNNews, since the other ESPN networks are filled with live college football telecasts.

LOS ANGELES: Time Warner Cable is throwing frustrated Dodgers fans a bone for the final week of the regular season. KDOC-TV will show the team's final six games over-the-air from Dodger Stadium, hosting the Giants for three games and then the Rockies on the final weekend, with Vin Scully on the call. The station is also carried on all of the region's cable and satellite providers.

I'm thinking this is a grand experiment for TWC. If and as there is advertiser demand (and with the Dodgers going for a Division title and having not been seen very much that is quite likely) and strong ratings, I look for TWC to consider farming out some games to KDOC again next season. This way they could continue to hold out for high fees from the other providers when they can show the increased demand for the games.

It will also be interesting to see if DirecTV, AT&T, and other providers will buy spots within those telecasts, and if so, what they would promote to Dodgers fans.

PHILADELPHIA: The Phillies will again be heard on WIP 94.1 and WPHT 1210 for at least the 2015 season, with only a one-year extension announced this week. Although the team reportedly only negotiated with CBS (which owns these stations), the feeling is that this sets the stage for a major bid from rival WPEN ESPN 97.5 for a long-term deal. This gives WIP-FM additional time toward structuring a solid deal for a long-term extension. WIP-FM also has the Eagles, while WPEN airs the Sixers and Flyers broadcasts.

CHICAGO: WBBM Newsradio 780, the flagship station for the Bears and starting next season for the Cubs, has added Rick Gregg to its sports anchor roster. Gregg has been filling in since late June following the passing of Eric Brown.

St. LOUIS: Washington MO, which is west of St. Louis, now has a Sports KRAP station. And a sense of humor in attracting attention to itself. The former WWMO has received the actual KRAP call letters and 1350 AM is "Sports KRAP" 24 hours a day, including SportsKRAP.com. The station will be an affiliate for Blues hockey and also airs K.C. Chiefs football. However, it airs mostly syndicated shows, and its web site, frankly, lives up to its name. A visit to it on Tuesday (9/16) still showed its headlines being from Sunday's game results and included prominent links to game and headline stories from earlier than that. At least the name is honest!

NEW ORLEANS: WODT 1280 has changed to Fox Sports Radio after an unsuccessful run as ESPN Deportes for the past two years.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Will NFL Blackouts Really End?

The FCC appears to be closing in on lifting TV blackout restrictions aimed at the NFL with a vote scheduled for September 30th and an official response from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (which is linked below). What remains to be seen, if and as this passes, is whether or not the current TV contract language between the NFL and the networks would take precedence over what the FCC says.

What also makes this interesting is how this vote, taking up valuable government time (since it is the "Federal" Communications Commission), is primarily geared toward the NFL. As of this season, the current MLB contracts with Fox, ESPN, and TBS allow for home team "duplicate" telecasts to also be shown, giving local subscribers the choice of watching their local or the national telecast. With the majority of NBA and NHL games being televised locally, including home games, blackout possibilities are rarely even an issue. 

That leaves the NFL, which has mostly enforced its ability to keep a local team telecast out of the primary home market in the event a game is not at least 85% to 100% sold out at least 72 hours before scheduled kickoff. The league may or may not have the language in place to keep things as they are. If they do, it will make it interesting to see if there is a challenge to the blackout of specific local telecasts, and how the networks would handle them.

Count me among the majority of fans who agree that based on the vastly increased cost to receive cable or satellite each month, much of which is inflated due to the high cost of sports rights fees, who believe that we are entitled to every local game on TV whether anybody shows up in person or not.

While this is going on, the report from Sports Business Journal that the NBA is closing in on the next TV rights contracts with both ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports shows how the NBA could benefit big time by helping these entities keep out the competition. The rights fees could jump to around $2 billion (that is with a "b") per season starting in 2016, while the two networks would, basically, retain a similar arrangement to what has been the case for the past two years.

The reason that both are so anxious to secure these rights for themselves is really to keep even one of the struggling networks attempting to compete for the national audience. After all, Fox Sports 1, NBCSN, and CBS Sports Network would stand to gain by getting in on NBA telecasts, and closing on the next agreement so early puts ESPN/ABC and Turner in the same position of strength they share now.

All three of these other networks have lesser packages of college sports, while FS1 has MLB telecasts in near secrecy. At least MSNBC retains quality programming during the same time of the year as the NBA with its large inventory of NHL telecasts and related programming.

While the new package will, of course, add to more price increases in monthly costs for subscribers, chances are those costs would be rising anyway. If one or more of the "next three" networks were to enter into the bidding, chances are the amounts still would have risen to the $2 billion mark anyway with the increased competition.

Although the media attention right now is, understandably, on the new NFL season, it is hard to overlook how fantasy football is quietly becoming a multi-million dollar operation which is having an impact on sports media. Fantasy is a huge part of the reason for the abundance of Sunday morning live NFL preview shows, some as long as four hours on national TV (such as CBS Sports Network's show). Fans are definitely participating in at least one league and the numbers seem to be on the rise.

You may not have been aware, even if you noticed one or more commercials for FanDuel last week, how some media companies are now in competition for fan attention and fantasy dollars. If you don't think that generating income for hosting fantasy leagues is a big deal, try this on for size. According to Media Monitors, FanDuel bought more than 21,300 commercials on national radio (not including local stations) just last week, for the days leading into the NFL openers. This made the company the #7 largest national radio advertiser for the week, up from the previous week when FanDuel purchased more than 12,000 national radio spots.

Meanwhile, whether you like his commentary or not, it is great to see that Curt Schilling is scheduled (at press time) to return to ESPN on Thursday (9/10) on Baseball Tonight now that his cancer treatments have reportedly been successful. Schilling might even be well enough to rejoin Sunday Night Baseball for at least one of the final telecasts this season.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WJFK-FM 106.7 The Fan has finally eliminated its broadcast conflicts when both the Wizards and Capitals are playing on the same day or night. The Capitals will remain on The Fan, while all Wizards broadcasts will move to sister station WNEW 99.1. This makes it easier for Wizards fans to find the broadcasts on a regular basis, while providing a better signal over most of the Washington/Baltimore area than WFED 1500, which previously aired the Wizards when the two teams had conflicts.

CHICAGO: Bears QB Jay Cutler will continue with his radio show on WMVP ESPN 1000 this season, but the number of shows is being reduced and the air time changed. What makes Cutler's "show" different from most of the other NFL QB (or team star) shows around the country is that Cutler actually goes to the studio and takes calls from listeners as well as direct questions from station co-hosts. However, instead of 17 shows (on Mondays when appropriate or Tuesdays if a Monday night game), Cutler will have his show a total of eight times, with the first one having been this past Monday (9/8) following the Bears' opening game. In addition, the show time moves to 2 to 3 PM instead of from 6 to 7 PM. This season, rival WSCR 670 The Score will air Cutler's weekly (as in EVERY week) official team press conference live each Wednesday at Noon, which means The Score will have Cutler on for more total days during the season while not paying him for the appearance.

Howard Griffith of Big Ten Network has been assigned a heavier workload and therefore can no longer co-host on WGWG 87.7 The Game's Noon to 3 PM show as of this week. Co-hosts Alex Quigley and Ben Finfer will continue on. The station continues its effort to be all about the Bears with former Bear Olin Kreutz being signed for a weekly phone segment and current safety Ryan Mundy appears twice each week, once each on the afternoon show and the late morning show. Defensive back Tim Jennings appears on Tuesdays nights from 7 to 8 PM on "Jennings and Jarrett". Jarrett is Jarrett Payton, the son of Walter Payton.

CSN Chicago has entered into a multi-year agreement to televise Illinois High School Association football and basketball playoff games, along with other championship events such as soccer and volleyball.

HUNTSVILLE: Cole Cubelic has returned to sports talk radio, now hosting mornings on WUMP 730 and 103.9. The former Auburn University lineman will, of course, focus mainly on college and pro football. He was previously on WZZN co-hosting an afternoon sports show, and for now will host the only local morning sports talk show.

AKRON: Must be a local market thing, but WAKR 1590 has added "The Average Sports Show" from 5 to 7 PM weekdays, hosted by Brad Russell. There does seem to be an explanation for that show name. Russell appears on sister station WONE 97.5 (a rock station) as "The Average Browns Fan". Here's hoping the show will, at the very least, live up to its name!

And, as promised, here is the link to the statement from Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC:


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The High Cost of Free TV

For as much attention as the regional sports networks in L.A. and Houston are getting for the lack of distribution, the problem for fans has become more widespread this month. DirecTV subscribers in the New Orleans and Cleveland markets are, as of press time, dealing with a similar issue at the moment.

DirecTV and WVUE-TV New Orleans could not reach an agreement as of Monday (9/2) which could mean that subscribers would not be able to see the Saints opener against Atlanta on Sunday, and potentially miss out on Fox telecasts for as long as this dispute goes on. (This has nothing to do with home games being sold out or not.)

What makes this interesting is that DirecTV carries the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which is required to black out the local team telecasts. It remains to be seen whether or not the NFL would step in and allow Sunday Ticket to show the Saints vs. Falcons telecast locally, given the relationship that Fox has with the league. Last season, New Orleans had the highest local telecast rating of any NFL team, with nearly double the local audience of several NFL local team telecasts.

Same story, but a different station owner, for Cleveland Browns fans. Also as of press time, no progress between WOIO-TV 19 and WUAB-TV 43, owned by Raycom Media, and DirecTV. WOIO-TV will show the Browns vs. Steelers opener on Sunday. These negotiations supposedly have been going on for three months. WOIO-TV's web site now (as of press time) lists information on how to contact other cable and satellite providers while not mentioning DirecTV.

Unlike the majority of viewers in L.A. and Houston, fans in New Orleans and Cleveland have easier options to see the games. Even without switching to another provider, those with digital TV antennas can see the telecasts (as well as all station programming).

Many Cleveland fans may also face the disappointment of not having Johnny Manziel start at QB, although it is possible he could see some playing time. CBS is obviously disappointed as well, having switched announcing teams. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts will call the game for the network, which was originally assigned to the #1 team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.

Fans interested in the Buffalo at Chicago NFL opener on Sunday should keep in mind that the game will be shown on Fox even though it is an AFC road game. Fox gets the large Chicago audience on Sunday in return for CBS getting the telecast of the Bears at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.

BOSTON: The radio ratings are in for August, and the trend of WEEI-FM coming back against the Sports Hub continues. WEEI-FM is now #10 in overall audience going from a 3.0 in July to a 3.3 rating for August, a 10% overall increase. This increase was not gained from the competition, however. WBZ-FM Sports Hub showed a slight gain as well going from 2.6 to a 2.7 rating.

DETROIT: A great month for 97.1 The Ticket which increased from a 7.2 to a 7.6 overall rating and an even stronger foothold on #1 overall.

MINNEAPOLIS: The ratings book was good for K-FAN 100.3 which showed a 1/2 point overall ratings increase even though rival KSTP-AM also increased by more than 10%. But while the Twins continue to struggle on the field, KTWN, which now airs the games, showed an audience drop of more than 20% since June.

LOS ANGELES: While only a percentage of Dodgers fans can see the telecasts, radio flagship KLAC showed a 20% overall ratings increase during August after holding steady for the first half of the baseball season. Yet, while the Angels' TV ratings have risen this season, KSPN (which airs some Angels radio) dropped 25% overall while KLAA held steady but with a dismal .4 overall rating.

Vin Scully has decided that he will travel for any and all Dodgers post-season road games this season, but now plans to scale back on even more road games in 2015. Unless he has a change of heart later in the season, the only "road" telecasts he will do will be when the Dodgers play the Angels in Anaheim.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WJFK 106.7 The Fan has extended its contract to air Virginia Tech football and basketball through at least 2018.

CANADA: Rogers Network has announced a couple of announcer changes for its local/regional NHL telecasts. Edmonton Oilers local telecasts will now have Kevin Quinn teamed with former San Jose Sharks analyst Drew Remenda, while Paul Romanuk and Dave Randorf will handle the call for Toronto Maple Leafs games. John Shorthouse and John Garrett remain with the Vancouver Canucks telecasts, while CBC's Rick Ball and Kelly Hrudey will call the Calgary Flames this season.

COLLEGE STATION TX: Congrats to Chip Howard, who continues his afternoon drive show on KZNE 1150 The Zone this week, exactly 20 years after he started it. Howard estimates he has done more than 4,000 live shows, and has no plans to stop.

LANCASTER PA: WKZF 92.7 has become a sports station, airing ESPN Radio as of Wednesday (9/3) as the station dropped its music format and will simulcast WLPA 1490 most of the time. WLPA will continue to air Phillies baseball and Penn State football.

VICTORVILLE CA: KVVB 910 will air a series of 10 high school football games this season, starting next week, which will also be streamed. Eight games will be televised on digital channel 33.1. Dan Hubbard will call the games, which will feature several of the local schools. This is the third season of the radio broadcasts, and will be the first for the telecasts and the web stream. Nice idea.