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:


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