Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Free Press Couldn't Help A Brother Out

The Broadcast Booth would love to be in the holiday spirit and have a very positive update for our last one in 2014, but this week's sports media related events are not making that possible.

First, mistakes happen. Sports media and otherwise. The Detroit Free Press made one on Monday, and as you might expect, competitors and much of the sports media well beyond Detroit had a field day with it. Its news of Coach Jim Harbaugh going from the San Francisco 49ers to the University of Michigan was huge, especially in the Free Press' home market, which includes Ann Arbor.

However, a careless photo editor ran a photo of Jim's brother John Harbaugh instead, meaning that the print edition went out with a wrong photo on its front page. Whereas those who publish a fact or photo incorrectly online (including social media) have the ability to change or delete something and make amends, there is nothing which can be done immediately when it is in print.

As much as I am against mentioning a competitor within a sportscast or report, in an instance such as this, I can't blame other media members for pointing out that a publication with one of the nation's best reputations has made a prominent goof. This is a way to indirectly make a competitor seem less trustworthy and point out that "we" had it right.

However, I see some long term effects which are not good for sports fans and some in sports media. This incident further discredits newspapers as being a valuable source of information. In the long run, that is not good.

The Free Press has always had a solid reputation for its reporting and coverage. After all, this was a photo and not a factual error. Because thousands of newspapers were printed and distributed with the wrong photo, the Free Press was not able to "delete" its error and update it like it was no big deal.

Yet, so many of the sources which jumped on touting the Free Press error have the ability to instantly "update" or delete an error they put out there.

In this era when far too many "reporters" do nothing but relay something someone else reported so that they can be "first" and "safe" with their information, most newspapers still go in-depth with their information, investigation, and actual reporting on stories of local importance. We should all hope this is never lost.

Next, more disturbing news for sports fans this week. Multichannel News says that Time Warner Cable is implementing a $2.75 per month "sports surcharge" in early 2015 for its customers not currently under a promotional rate. In addition, it says that Cablevision, DirecTV, and Mediacom Communications are also planning to implement or increase a "sports surcharge" as well.

This is the same TWC which continues to hold L.A. Dodgers fans hostage by now lowering its price for other carriers to distribute its Dodgers Network around Southern California. As recently as Monday (12/29), TWC again issued a statement saying they are willing to go to "binding arbitration" in the matter. As if our court system needs to take valuable time to decide how much fans should pay to watch Dodgers games on TV?

DirecTV has announced a price increase for its programming packages from 3.5% to 6% as of Feb. 5, 2015, along with an increase in its fees for each additional connected TV. This, of course, comes just after DirecTV bid hundreds of millions of dollars to retain its NFL Sunday Ticket package, which it claims is "part of" selected regular packages and is without an extra charge.

Something has to give before sports become games not only played by millionaires, but only watched by them as well.

Meanwhile, the recent tradition of Christmas and basketball is starting to take control. ABC's doubleheader on the afternoon of Dec. 25th was up about 14% over 2013, while the TNT night doubleheader finished as the highest rated Christmas prime-time doubleheader ever for TNT.

CHICAGO: Not the typical feud between broadcasters at WMVP ESPN 1000 when a current player is involved. Bears receiver Brandon Marshall (who also appears nationally on Inside The NFL each week) used his regular radio appearance to call station host Carmen DeFalco "a clown" who "shouldn't be on the radio". The reason? (Or so it appears) DeFalco has been critical of Marshall's play this season as the Bears finished at a disappointing 5-11. Wonder what Marshall would have said if DeFalco wasn't on the same station. It will be interesting to see whether or not Marshall is retained by WMVP (or another Chicago station) for next season (if still with the Bears). A professional broadcaster is not supposed to criticize a co-worker, especially without explaining his or her reason for doing so, without justification.

ALBANY: Not sure this was by popular demand, but the market is about to get its fourth sports radio station by mid-January. WZMR 104.9 is about to become WINU and be known as "Win 104.9", adding CBS Sports Radio. For those keeping score, WPTR 1240 will switch from CBS to NBC Sports Network, as both go against WTMM ESPN 104.5 The Team and WOFX Fox Sports 980. That seems like a lot of national coverage for a market which doesn't even have a pro sports team.

KNOXVILLE: WVLZ 1180 is dropping its oldies format next week (Jan. 5) to become a sports station, with the call letters to stand for "Vols" as in the Tennessee Volunteers. However, at least to start, the daytime only station will carry Yahoo Sports.

TALLAHASSEE: WNLS 1270 The Team has not survived into the new year, dropping its sports format, after more than 15 years, to simulcast a music format from a local FM station.

Happy New Year to you all! We'll be back next week and throughout the year ahead. As always, we appreciate your feedback and comments.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wait 12 Minutes - Or Promote Your Competitor?

Maybe it's because I began the broadcasting portion of my career during an era when you did anything and everything you could to NEVER so much as mention a competitor over the air. These days, we have some media outlets not only mentioning, but in effect promoting their competition.

The benching of Jay Cutler from his starting QB position for the Chicago Bears last week was a huge story in Chicago, as well as to NFL fans around the nation, as well as being unexpected (since it was not due to injury).

As it happened that afternoon, I was watching CSN Chicago's "Sports Talk Live" show hosted by the hard working David Kaplan with a live panel of media members. In the midst of a live segment, Kaplan interrupted to say something to the effect of "Adam Schefer of ESPN just reported that Jay Cutler is being benched and Jimmy Clausen will start at QB for the Bears on Sunday!".

The panel then began to discuss "if it's true.....". This is not to specifically pick on Kaplan, who does an excellent job of reporting. Unfortunately, "reporting" what someone else is "reporting" has become far too common these days, especially in the sports media.

Reporters still don't understand how damaging this can be.

Of course, I understand the wanting to credit the source of a breaking story in case it needs to be retracted. However, in this instance (like many other situations in which this happens), a few minutes internally can make a huge difference.

Upon hearing this "report", I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer (who CHOSE Kaplan's show) to immediately switch over to ESPN, whether the TV network or the local ESPN 1000 Radio station, which, needless to say, were already all over this major sports story.

It wasn't until about 12 minutes later when Kaplan commented, to the effect of, "It is true. CSN is now reporting that Jay Cutler will not start on Sunday.....", and the discussion continued. We can speculate all we want about how much of the CSN audience may have been lost to ESPN by then.

How should this have been handled?

The fact is that CSN Chicago produced several hours of Bears specific programming as well as originating live pre-game and post-game shows before every Bears game. In addition, CSN is part of the NBC Sports group, which pays the NFL millions of dollars for Sunday Night Football and offers NFL programming on its NBCSN channel as well. CSN has both current and prominent former Bears players on its payroll.

Upon hearing this "report", the "story" could and should have been checked internally for verification. It obviously was, since CSN began "reporting" the story about 12 minutes after the ESPN "report" aired.

My point is that the vast majority (if not the entire) audience watching CSN at that time would not have known what rival ESPN was "reporting" during those few minutes until CSN sources were able to confirm the story. "Sports Talk Live" spends perhaps more of its time each week during football season about the Bears than any other local team or sports story.

They, in effect, told their audience that the biggest story about the Bears in months was first reported by a competitor.

Kaplan and the crew should have waited the 12 minutes, not said a word about the Cutler story, and THEN interrupted and started with "CSN has learned that.......". The viewers would not have known if or that any other media source was first with the story, nor would they have been given a reason to tune to a different channel or station.

Again, this sort of thing happens way too often. These programs, stations, and networks, depend on audience ratings in order to survive. A few minutes spent confirming a story makes a lot more sense than promoting a direct competitor. You read that here first.

SEATTLE: A ton of credit to KRJ Sportsradio and host Dave Mahler, who last week had Kevin Mather, the President of the Mariners, as an in-studio live guest on his show. In addition to taking calls from fans, Mather answered direct questions about the team payroll, the current ownership structure, and free agents not signed by the team.

It also made for an interesting part when host Mahler, who does not have many guests on his show, revealed that he went to school with Mahler's daughter and talked about the connection with the family. This is one area where sports radio stations could thrive, by giving listeners more direct access with team management. A ton more interesting than hearing from "Steve from the west side.....".

HOUSTON: Even though the Astros are finally showing some promise to compete in the American League West in the near future, the game broadcasts will remain on sports radio KBME 790, which now has a 4-year extension of its contract to air the games. KBME also airs the Rockets games, along with (non-conflicting) Texas A & M football and basketball. This announcement even though sister station KTRH 740, which aired the games for years prior, continues to have much higher overall audience ratings.

MIAMI: Down to two jobs now for Joe Rose, who has done his final sportscast, after 22 years, at WTVJ Channel 6. Rose anchored his last "Sports Final" on Sunday (12/21) night. Of course, Rose's other duties will keep him plenty busy, especially his continuing morning gig at WQAM 560. Rose also remains with the Dolphins radio crew.

BANGOR: WEZQ The Ticket 92.9 is changing its afternoon drive show to an even heavier sports focus. Teaming up with SportsNet Maine, Jim Churchill, Jeff Solari, and Wes Hart, will co-host "The Drive", which targets area pro teams, the University of Maine, and local high school sports starting Jan. 5th.

Rich Kimball, the voice of University of Maine football for the past 18 seasons, will have his show, which partially focused on sports, move over to WZON 620 (where Kimball was on the air for years prior) and will run head-to-head against the new show on The Ticket.

Finally, a Merry Christmas to you, yours, and theirs!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Not A 'Bunch' of Complaints For Brady

It's a story of a man named Brady, who was busy reacting with profanity when things went wrong during his team's battle against the Green Bay Packers. Something his three lovely children of his own shouldn't be seeing, either.

The SmokingGun web site revealed the actual complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission resulting from CBS showing the reactions of Tom Brady of the Patriots during a frustrating loss. One can debate how times have changed and how important it is, or isn't, to keep profanity off the public airwaves. For however long, current FCC regulations prevent the networks and local stations from airing profanity, subject to heavy fines and risk of license renewal.

Many will question CBS for showing an immediate player reaction when there is a likelihood that it won't be a family friendly one. But knowing that, as the saying goes, "stuff happens", this has become more of a common occurrence on sports telecasts over the past couple of years. It is also a sign of the times that SmokingGun went ahead and printed the "f word" (which is what lip readers could clearly see Brady saying several times on TV) within its factual article.

Rather than agree or disagree, let's take a look at a very important fact based on the SmokingGun article about this (including the actual complaint documents) from December 16th, more than two weeks after the New England at Green Bay telecast on CBS (Nov. 30).

There have been a grand total of THREE complaints filed to the FCC. While I will grant you that each complaint on the grand scale supposedly represents multiple viewers, let's not forget that this telecast could very well be the most watched NFL game of the entire regular season. Three complaints is one thing if it is a local telecast on a low rated station. But three complaints from literally millions of viewers is another matter.

You don't have to review the viewer demographics from Nielsen to find out that there were a lot of children watching this game, as well as the parents. With this in mind, this really means a decided lack of opposition to the profane outburst. You can't (or shouldn't) blame Tom Brady for anything he said. He is on the football field, in the moment, and trying to win a game he is being paid a ton of money to do. He shouldn't have to worry about what he says in what he considers to be a human reaction with some degree of privacy.

As tempting as it is to blame CBS for showing this, especially on multiple occasions within the same telecast, the network is spending millions and millions of dollars to televise these games, and wants to provide millions of fans with as much of the flavor as it possibly can.

But to see only three formal complaints when millions of people were viewing? Makes The Broadcast Booth think that CBS, and other networks which televise the NFL, may not be, ummmm, screwed by any of this.

Meanwhile, this may have come as a surprise to many, but Jon Gruden will remain as the Monday Night Football analyst for ESPN based on his just announced contract extension which now runs through 2021. Gruden even discussed the extension during the halftime segment of Monday's (12/15) telecast of the New Orleans at Chicago game. Many observers noticed how outspoken Gruden was about the problems the Chicago Bears have been having in the past few games and his criticism of QB Jay Cutler among others. Even in today's market, those were some strong team oriented opinions coming from a "national" analyst.

Gruden has become a "love him or hate him" analyst and has his detractors, while others anticipated him returning to coaching at either the NFL or NCAA level within the next two seasons.

CHICAGO: Dave Juday, who has been on the air as an anchor/reporter at WMVP ESPN 1000 since 1996, is no longer with the station on a full-time basis. However, he will be heard on the station a few more times, as his play-by-play for the University of Illinois Chicago basketball will continue to air on WMVP through this current season. In addition, Juday continues to host the "Jack Swarbrick Radio Show" with the Notre Dame Athletic Director (until late March, as previously scheduled), which airs in Chicago on WLS-AM.

SCRANTON: Now we'll get the chance to compare ratings of off-the-air vs. CBS Sports Radio to see which would be more successful. WARM 590, which was literally off the air for a short time after having been an oldies station for years, has received FCC permission to broadcast with a reduced signal. Their decision is to air CBS Sports Radio, even though the market already has three other sports stations already on the air.

Finally, for those who asked since the initial posting, here is the link to the Tom Brady complaints:


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Johnny Football On The Spot For Fox

A big break for Fox Sports became even bigger this week. Another schedule flexing brought them this Sunday's (12/14) Cleveland vs. Cincinnati telecast, originally scheduled for CBS. Now, the Browns going with Johnny Manziel as the starting QB brings even more interest to the telecast. Fox has already expanded the number of markets around the country that will not air this telecast ahead of their orginally scheduled Green Bay at Buffalo early regional telecast.

Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the call on many more Fox stations, which includes Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Dallas added to the list. Fox figures to generate significant ratings, especially on the west coast, all day with this telecast leading into its primary doubleheader game of San Francisco vs. Seattle.

A schedule coincidence keeps major midwest markets Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis from each of the games, however. These and surrounding markets remain focused on the "local" Central Division, with Green Bay at Buffalo shown early and the Minnesota vs. Detroit game being shown late.

This is an ironic twist for CBS, which lost the Browns telecast due to a flex. As of now it appears that NBC will finish the entire season without flexing any of its Sunday Night Football telecasts, which in recent years has cost CBS a couple of key game telecasts.

Over on the baseball side of things, there is still nothing further or imminent regarding having L.A. Dodgers telecasts on any more stations or providers by the start of the 2015 season. Team President Stan Kasten appeared on MLB Network on Wednesday (12/10), acting as if the team is "concerned" about the situation when asked by host Chris Russo. Kasten basically confirmed my theory within that interview, with comments to the effect of how the team is awaiting the proposed merger of Time Warner with Comcast as a means to increase the distribution. What Kasten neglected to mention is that this proposed merger is likely a long way off if it makes it past the approval process.

Major congratulations to Dick Enberg on being selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a result of his many years of broadcasting baseball games. Enberg, in addition to calling games for NBC Game of the Week and post-season coverage during the 70's and 80's, has also had a couple of stints as radio voice of the Angels. He continues as TV voice of the Padres. Oh my!

ESPN officials are most likely jumping for joy about having scheduled their Sunday Night Baseball opener on April 5th as the Cubs hosting the Cardinals. In addition to the managerial debut of Joe Maddon with the Cubs and this history of this rivalry, this game figures to be the debut of Jon Lester in a Cubs uniform as well. Yet, as of press time, the Cubs still do not have a TV arrangement in place for as many as 70 of their regular season telecasts in place yet.

TAMPA: WHFS-FM 98.7 The Fan has given up the struggle to attract an audience, stopping abruptly on December 4th when it went to holiday music during the afternoon. Always a sad thing to have staffers lose jobs, but The Fan never had enough wind from day one.

MINNEAPOLIS: Just as the Twins are strugging to get out of last place for 2015, so is KTWN-FM, which is owned by the Twins. The flagship station has reportedly ordered new web domains after eliminating Eric Perkins as a morning show co-host last week. The station's ratings have barely been better than a 1.0 rating most of the year, failing to gain after the miserable Twins season ended. This would indicate another format change could be in the works prior to the upcoming Twins season.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NBA-TV Gives Viewers Their Philly

It was 'Game Time' of a different sort for the decision makers at NBA-TV on Wednesday (12/3) based on its move to highlight what is essentially a negative statistic.

Since ESPN, even with the multi-millions spent for NBA telecast rights, only doing its Friday night doubleheaders when it feels like it, they were spared from making the very decision that NBA-TV did. If the Philadelphia 76ers lose to Minnesota tonight (with our press time being a few hours before tipoff), the Sixers would tie the all-time NBA record for most consecutive losses at the start of a season.

NBA-TV plans a doubleheader for this Friday night (12/5), having had the Denver vs. Washington matchup as its first game telecast all along, until today (12/3). (It remains to seen whether or not the network would switch back to the Washington game, since it merely picks up the local telecasts, if Philly were to win vs. Minnesota.) As of press time, the network switched its schedule to include the Philadelphia vs. Oklahoma City telecast for Friday, prior to its Indiana at Sacramento telecast.

If the Sixers lose to Minnesota, their game vs. OKC would be a possible record setter if Philly were to lose again and be 0-19 for the first time ever in league history. Not the most positive statistic, of course, but the point is that this could be league history. The fact that a league run entity would go ahead and, in effect, promote a negative statistic, speaks volumes. They are not trying to bury this, even though the ideal setting for the league would be to have every team within a few games of each other all season long.

Few would have questioned the NBA for not making this telecast so prominent and bringing such a negative statistic to light. Of course, the TV folks know the value of showing the game that would potentially attract a bigger audience, and a game with the potential for league history would do that, no matter what the history. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Kevin Durant has just returned to the OKC lineup, and most fans around the country have not had the chance to see him play yet this season.

Still, I wonder what ESPN would, or wouldn't, have done if it had the doubleheader this week. In their case, it involves sending an entire crew to produce the telecast. Changing within the three days leading into the game might not have been the easiest logistical move. My hunch is that ESPN would have gone ahead with their originally scheduled telecast and made the Philly game a "spotlight" game with live look-ins from the local telecast.

Either way, it is wonderful to see NBA-TV's decision makers changing on the fly on behalf of its fans and providing (potentially) the game of most interest.

Over at CBS, they have reason to be pleased with their fortune of maintaining last Sunday's (11/30) Patriots vs. Packers NFL telecast. The game turned out to be most watched Sunday afternoon regular season game on CBS (or Fox for that matter) since 2007. It was also the highest rated NFL telecast of the 2014 season thus far, and the highest rated regular season telecast for CBS (in metered rating markets) in three years. CBS is certainly thanking its lucky stars that it did not lose this game to Sunday Night Football on NBC.

To that point, NBC is retaining, and understandably so, its Dec. 13th originally scheduled telecast between Philadelphia and Dallas in a quick rematch of Philly's Thanksgiving victory. The NFL has announced some flexing for earlier that day (12/13), moving its Minnesota vs. Detroit telecast to a 4:25 ET start and the earlier Cinci vs. Cleveland telecast from CBS to Fox. Not sure that the demand is there for the Vikings to be moved to doubleheader game action, but the Lions possible playoff berth is the big story there.

The NFL also announced that its Dec. 20th Saturday doubleheader will be Philly vs. Washington at 4:30 ET on NFL Network, with San Diego vs. San Francisco to follow at 8:25 PM ET on NFL Network and CBS. The later game is technically a replacement game for the final Thursday Night Football telecast moved up instead of Christmas night.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I can't prove this, but several of my friends heard what I heard on the CBS-TV pre-game show prior to the Chicago at Detroit matchup. It sure sounded as if Bill Cowher, when speaking about running back Shane Vereen, referred to him as "Ben Vereen", who was a movie actor years ago. Either no one on the crew caught it, or they prefer it be swept under the table.

Meanwhile, a few more radio ratings thoughts from the October into November (most recent) ratings period which were revealed after press time last week....

Cleveland listeners provided some rather curious results. While it doesn't shock anyone that sports WKRK-FM has risen by .7 of a ratings point over the past three months as the Browns flagship (along with sister station WNCX which has risen by .2 during the same time), it does shock us that WTAM has dropped by more than one and one-half rating points overall during that same time. You see, WTAM is the flagship station for the Cavaliers. As the TV ratings for the Cavs have been way up around the country since the return of LeBron James to the Cavs, a noticeable drop on the radio side is stunning.

Almost as amazing are results from Pittsburgh, where KDKA-FM The Fan had its overall Nielsen rating dip from a 6.7 to a 4.4 in just one month, coinciding with the end of the Pirates' run, meaning that Steelers talk was not a major factor.

Nashville listeners are engulfed with Titans coverage, as WGFX has risen to #2 overall in the market. And in Sacramento, KCTC ESPN 1320 continues its overtaking of KHTK back in September by increasing its lead over KCTC to more than one-half of a ratings point this go round.

Fox Sports has announced some of its title game telecast announcers. The Pac 12 championship telecast will be handled by Tim Brando and Joel Klatt, while the Big Ten Championship game will feature Gus Johnson and Charles Davis.

MLB Network has added Carlos Pena to its roster of studio analysts after his 14 season playing career. He is scheduled to debut this Thursday (12/4), just prior to the network's planned extended coverage of the MLB winter meetings next week.

An embarrassing moment for Mountain West Network last Saturday when play-by-play voice Robert Kekaula (the voice of Hawaii football since 2011) thought the Network had signed off at the end of its telecast of the University of Hawaii game at Fresno State. Kekaula saying "Good night from the armpit of America!" went out over the air. Fresno State University officials received an apology from Kekaula, while Oceanic Sports (the telecast originators) said there would be no further action taken since Kekaula issued a full apology. Got to wonder how many more Hawaii road game telecasts he will be assigned to, however.

PITTSBURGH: KDKA-FM 93.7 has announced that Colin Dunlap will still be on weekdays from 6 until 10. But with a major difference. Dunlap is moving from 6 to 10 PM to the morning show around the first of the year. Dunlap, who has only had his own show for less than two years, replaces Gregg Gianotti, who moves on to mornings at CBS Sports Radio. Dunlap has filled in occasion for Gianotti on the morning show over the past few months.

BOSTON: While the sports radio stations continue to fight it out for listeners, the market has one less familiar sports voice as of this week. Walt Perkins, who took over as morning sports anchor just over five years ago when Gil Santos retired, is no longer with WBZ 1030. This is one of those "no one is saying" endings, but Perkins being among those to point out his sportscasts were often limited to just 90 seconds is some indication.

From here in The Broadcast Booth, this is a bad move by WBZ. Both not having Perkins and the recent reduction in sportscast time during its drive time programming. Taking the "there are two major sports radio stations and plenty of TV sports networks to cover the sports, so we won't bother" approach is really telling listeners to go elsewhere for what WBZ has consistently delivered for more than 50 years. It would be one thing if the station was changing to a different format, but it isn't.