Thursday, October 30, 2014

Blame MLB For Lower World Series Ratings

Even though MLB had a very exciting post-season and a seven game World Series, the executives need to look in the mirror even moreso than to Fox Sports, to examine why the viewership was so (comparably) low for Game 7 and those before it. Specifically, MLB needs to quickly re-evaluate its having allowed its TV partners place the majority of the post-season on cable instead of over-the-air.
The "small market" argument no longer holds in pro sports TV ratings. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are among those NBA teams which draw respectable NBA national telecast ratings. The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints drew millions of people to their prime-time game last week on Sunday Night Football.

Why didn't the Kansas City Royals do the same? While I will grant you that part of the reason is that the Royals lack a big name superstar (i.e. George Brett from the 80's), it is really because millions of casual baseball fans (who make the difference between lackluster ratings and strong ones) had little to no chance to get familiar with them.

As of this (just concluded) season, the national networks began MLB contracts at higher revenue, but with significantly fewer regular season telecasts, especially over-the-air.

TBS reduced its regular season workload by 50%. By the time it started showing games, at staggered times on Sundays, fans had already forgotten to even look for a game telecast, as well as NFL telecasts competing for the final month. Fox will tell us that it aired more MLB games than ever, and they did. However, their reduction of Saturday telecasts on "over-the-air" Fox Sports killed any momentum it might have built. As is obvious by the ratings, not many fans (in comparison) knew to seek out Saturday telecasts on Fox Sports 1 if they even knew about them at all.

Even if you include the regular package of games on ESPN, I do not recall the Royals being on any full national telecasts all season. Then, you factor in that NONE of the Royals' post-season games were "over-the-air" until the World Series, and this tells you why the audience MLB hoped for did not come around.

Of course, MLB is going to take the money and stop. It is no different than the NFL and NBA deals in that respect. However, the NFL keeps all regular season and post-season games over-the-air, and its network partners show games every week at every opportunity. If the Green Bay Packers did not appear on over-the-air national TV at all until the Super Bowl, would they still attract the same audience?

Your answer came from the Kansas City Royals, participants in one of the lower rated Game 7 telecasts in history.

Sure, Fox and TBS could have and should have shown their previous steady diet of regular season games. But how does MLB allow them to reduce the exposure its teams received?

And don't think that Fox Sports itself didn't suffer from not enough telecasts. Heads should be rolling after the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 when Fox blew the coverage. With only one more out to go, Alex Gordon of the Royals hit a ball in the gap and was flying around the bases representing the tying run in the final inning of the deciding game of the season.

What did Fox do? It stayed with the ball in the outfield, and failed to show Gordon until he was already slowing up while heading into third base. After the game, all the media could do was to speculate about whether or not Gordon could have made it all the way home and tied the game. Say what?

Personally, I have never produced or directed a telecast. But I have watched enough, as well as participating in other aspects of pro and college telecasts to know what SHOULD have happened.

All Fox needed to do was switch back and forth between Gordon flying around the bases and the ball going to the wall and being kicked around. Instead, they did a poor job of showing what could have been one of the most important plays in baseball history.

Now we have five months before the 2015 MLB regular season begins, and a new commissioner scheduled to take over before it does. How about making sure that fans get to see all of the contending teams "over-the-air" ahead of the World Series?

Meanwhile, the radio ratings continue to prove the point that the teams and sports content makes sports stations instead of the talent. The just released ratings for mid-September into mid-October, which includes the baseball pennant chases and the NFL season in full swing, left its mark in the usual important markets.

In New York, having the Yankees broadcasts helped WFAN rise to #6 overall with a full ratings point increase in just one month. It is important to note that the increase did not come from WEPN-FM, as the ESPN flagship saw its ratings increase by .5 overall during the same month.

San Francisco's KNBR 680 again finished #1 overall, since it is a sports station and the flagship for the (now) World Champion Giants. During this period, it went from a 5.7 to a 6.6 rating while staying on top. In fact, the station also rose from a 4.7 to a 5.6 in the San Jose rating book, which is considered a separate market by Nielsen.

Chicago sports radio stations all increased during the month, with WSCR The Scorer 670 and WVMP ESPN 1000 each increasing by .3. Even WGWG-FM The Game rose from a .4 to a .5, marking the first time that three sports stations in Chicago have all increased their rating during the same book.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles broadcasts helped WIP-FM, which rose to #5 overall, going from a 3.7 to a 5.3. Yet, WPEN-FM also rose .6 of a ratings point during the same time.

Sports radio continues to be at its strongest in Boston, especially with the Patriots and Bruins underway and expected to contend. WBZ-FM Sports Hub (Patriots flagship) rose to #7 overall with a ratings increase of 1.1 in just one month. Yet, rival WEEI-FM finished #9 overall and showed a 1.0 ratings point increase, despite the Red Sox finishing in last place.

You continue to see the impact a strong local team has on sports radio in several other top markets. Dallas' KRLD-FM went from a 1.8 to a 2.5 in one month while the Cowboys started off hot. Detroit's WXYT-FM The Ticket not only finished #1 overall again, but rose from a 7.4 rating to 8.3 with the Tigers in the post-season and the Lions off to a solid start. Baltimore's WJZ-FM rose to #6 overall, with an impressive rise from 3.6 to 5.1. And if you don't think the local team makes a difference, consider that WBAL, the Orioles flagship, went from a 4.2 two months earlier to a 5.7 this time as the Orioles entered the post-season.

Other examples include Seattle's KIRO-FM rising .5 in the ratings to #3 overall with its Seahawks coverage, and Pittsburgh's KDKA-FM The Fan moving up to #4 overall with a .7 ratings rise.
Folks, it doesn't always matter who co-hosts from Noon to 3 PM on these stations.

On the NFL side, it will be interesting to see how the NFL handles scheduling games from London next season. The Detroit vs. Atlanta game last Sunday (10/26) drew ratings much higher for Fox than the pre-game shows combined, and would seem to indicate that the league will look to add more early starts in the future.

Its choice of having the early start on this date is a very curious one. With fans around the country having the opportunity to have already watched three complete NFL games prior to NBC's Sunday Night Football, it is really no surprise that SNF drew its lowest ratings of the season thus far.
By choosing Oct. 26th, the NFL has its alabi. The SNF telecast went up against Game 5 of the World Series on Fox. Therefore, the NFL can point to the World Series as having taken away from its audience for the one night, and not alarming anyone about football burnout from four complete live telecasts in one day.

I'm thinking that the NFL will only add "early" international telecasts on days such as the Sunday during the World Series so it can have an excuse for a decline for the fourth game.

CBS Sports has announced its SEC doubleheader for November 8th, with Auburn vs. Texas A & M for its afternoon tilt at 3:30 ET. The prime time telecast will feature the huge rivalry of Albabama at LSU. No surprise with either choice.

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