Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Too Many Sports Telecast Distractions

It's all about the TV ratings and the TV money in sports these days. But it should be more about the networks maintaining the best possible elements of their telecasts to be sure the audience is paying attention.

Even the networks cannot overlook the recent "Know The Fan Report 2014" research just released by Sporting News Media. Among the findings of the study are that about 44% of viewers, with access to a phone or internet device, are now also engaged with keeping up with other games at the same time. Another 20% are accessing highlights of other games. Again, this is among fans who are viewing a specific game at the time.

For now, the ratings are excellent for the most part. Right now, TNT has higher ratings for its NBA West Finals between San Antonio and Oklahoma City than last year's West Finals showed. NBC's hockey coverage is up across the board. The NFL had a ratings bonanza on NFL Draft opening night. And so it goes.

But if the Memorial Day weekend is an indication, the telecasts themselves could be doing more harm than good for the attention span of the audience, and the networks need to be careful. On Sunday (5/25) the ABC telecast of the Indy 500 was its usual superb effort until the end of the race when ABC decided to go with a split screen. For those not watching or not aware, it wasn't to be showing multiple drivers or even multiple angles of the final stretch.

Instead, it was a split screen to show the reaction of the key drivers' significant other. As if viewers want to see the expected facial reaction as much as the leading cars race to the finish line. Unless ABC hired the TMZ Network to direct its video, there is absolutely no excuse for making an obvious reaction such a priority. ABC executives should not be wondering why more and more people are monitoring other media sources DURING telecasts when they take away from their live coverage to that extent.

Next, on Monday (5/26), MLB again decided to have all teams wear "special" Memorial Day uniforms. Personally, I don't like it whenever a team wears anything except their usual colors and uniforms, but that's not important here. The problem with the Memorial Day plan is that the teams were mandated to wear "camoflague" uniforms which totally fade the numbers and names on the front and the back.

As a result, TV viewers (along with fans who paid their way into every game) had a difficult time seeing names and numbers of players for the teams they were watching. Several of the team uniforms were also changed to the point of making it tough to determine which team or teams you were watching when you tuned in. I'd bet the ranch that some casual fans thought they must have stumbled on to a college or minor league game and kept flipping the channels.

Somehow we as fans survived all these years knowing when it was a holiday without needing for teams to wear something different "in support".

However, this crap with the 'special', alternative, and 'throw-up' (whatever they call them) uniforms has gotten out of hand and makes it difficult for TV viewers to determine who they are watching. And now we get more evidence that fans are going more and more to "other" sources while watching these telecasts. Even the national telecasts on ESPN and MLB Networks showed teams wearing unrecognizable uniforms.

Sorry, but we fans now pay big bucks to our cable/satellite providers for these games (even if we don't want them). And the networks and stations pay big bucks to these teams for the rights to televise them. It is time for the media companies to speak up about having the teams they show wearing their easily identifiable uniforms, complete with names and numbers that are easily read.

Ironically, at the same time, more and more sources point to Disney honcho Bob Iger as a strong possibility to become the next Commissioner of Baseball. He is not a baseball man, but is a media guy at a time when several teams have significant deals starting while other teams come up for negotiation within the next five years. If it's about media rights, and keeping your audience looking at the screen instead of Twitter, you had better believe something should be done about giving the fans the best possible visual.

The current NHL ratings bring a very curious finding. It seems that the East Finals between the N.Y. Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have higher ratings on NBC and NBCSN than the West Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and L.A. Kings have. Chicago had record ratings for its local Blackhawks telecasts this season, while this matchup is between two of the top three TV markets. NBC does not get the benefit of the Montreal audience, since Canada has separate telecasts.

Elsewhere, Fox Sports has added former N.Y. Giants offensive lineman David Diehl to its roster of NFL analysts, starting for the upcoming season. Word is that Diehl, who was with the Giants since 2003, will be a game analyst on one of the revised Fox announcing teams.

LOS ANGELES: Chris Roberts, the voice of UCLA football and basketball since 1992, has decided that the coming seasons for both sports will be his last. Roberts is already inducted into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and has actually been calling college games in Southern California for more than 30 years.

EVANSVILLE: In perhaps the most bizarre sports media story of the month, rumor has it that WJLT 105.3 will drop its music format (which has increased by more than a full ratings point since March) and change over to ESPN Radio. It seems that there is currently not a full-time sports station in the market. And that is not even the bizarre part. The "source" of this story, which even named the current music air personalities who would be replaced, is WTVW-TV. Nothing like a TV station publishing a rumor about a local radio station. Quite the distraction for local social media followers!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Not Enough Players In The Broadcast Rights Game

The impact of the high cost of sports media broadcast rights dominates this week. On a national level, the likely purchase of DirecTV by AT&T reportedly has one of the conditions being DirecTV's ability to retain its NFL Sunday Ticket package after the coming season. Even the possibility that an estimated $49 billion deal could hinge upon football rights shows us all where things are headed.

You have to think that there were some collective high fives in the NFL offices when that became public knowledge. Not exactly the negotiation strength that DirecTV wants. Of course, sports fans should be even more concerned about this merger/acquisition, because fewer players means less competition and that means fewer "deals" for our cable and satellite services. This is happening while Time Warner and Comcast are in a similar situation. We could be faced with having two "players" in the cable/satellite world in the next few years, which does not bode well for our monthly costs going down.

As a local story, still nothing further for Dodgers fans regarding the majority of them having the opportunity to see the games on TV, even if willing to pay the high price to do so. As mentioned last week, the ratings and audience share for KLAC 570 (the Dodgers flagship radio station) nearly doubled from March to early May coinciding with the season starting. Now comes word, as I thought, that Fox Sports West reports a 30% increase in its audience for the first few weeks of its Angels telecasts, which are more readily available to the majority of the market. You can't use the argument that the Dodgers lead the National League in attendance, since the team's run to the post-season in 2013 was a huge factor in people buying tickets early.

It may not be until late this season, if the Dodgers fall off in the race, or into next year before we see an attendance drop at Dodgers games. My thinking is that a continued attendance drop needs to happen  before the Dodgers step in and do something to ease the situation so that more people can watch their games. Frankly, the Dodgers should have stepped in by now. Not only to help their fans to be able to see the games, but also because they won't have Vin Scully calling the games forever.

ATLANTA: The lack of success of sports radio stations in the market could very well be leading to having one less sports station in the market by the end of 2014. Maybe not many people have noticed, but WQXI 790 has "laid off" its morning and afternoon drive local shows. The "Locker Room" morning show is gone, as are (former Falcon) Alge Crumpler and J.P. Peterson, while the afternoon team of Mike Bell and David Archer are also gone as of this week. The station does not have any local play-by-play scheduled until football season, when it is scheduled to continue as the flagship station of the Falcons and carry SEC games on Saturdays. WQXI is airing all ESPN Radio all the time for the moment. With its play-by-play only slotted for weekends during the fall, it's not like there is a reason to stick with all sports programming. It will be interesting to see if the other two sports stations show any gains in audience over the next couple of ratings books or not.

NEW YORK: It seems like a blast from the past, but longtime sportscaster Spencer Ross is having a busy weekend. Ross will call as many as five baseball games of the Big East Conference baseball championships. Hopefully for his sake someone will be listening. Most of the games will be on, while the championship game will air on Sunday afternoon on Fox Sports 1.

CHICAGO: It's about securing rights this week. While WGN Radio has not locked up its Cubs radio broadcasts beyond the current season (and still may not), WGN-TV has been able to extend its agreement with the NHL Blackhawks to televise up to 20 regular season games for an additional three seasons. It now holds those rights through the 2018-19 season.

Sorry to report the passing of Bill Berg, a Chicago sports radio pioneer who passed away this week at the age of 77. Berg had one of the market's first ever radio sports shows, going back to his weeknight show on WIND Radio. He actually had opinions and didn't back down. Today, he would be just another sports talk host, but back then he was among the very first to shake it up with listeners. He also did some color for Chicago Bulls broadcasts. Mr. Berg went on to WGN Radio in the 70's, hosting afternoon drive, while also filling in on Cubs baseball broadcasts and calling DePaul and Loyola University basketball games. He went on to do play-by-play for the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors into the late 80's before retiring.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Baseball Drives Radio Ratings Again

The latest radio ratings continue to prove the romance between baseball and radio. Detroit's WXYT-FM The Ticket showed more than a 20% overall audience increase from the March ratings book through the just released April book with its Tigers broadcasts. San Francisco's KNBR shot up to 2nd place over all that market with the Giants off to a hot start. KMOX St. Louis rose 1.5 full ratings points with Cardinals season underway. WGN Chicago showed a large increase with the Cubs broadcasts back.

Yet, the baseball station to keep an eye on throughout the baseball season is KLAC 570 Los Angeles, the sports station which is also the flagship station for the Dodgers. KLAC technically doubled its overall audience from late March into late April, with their overall rating going from a mere 0.5 to a 1.0.

There are those that say, and rightfully so, that this is a natural increase for KLAC, given that this could again be Vin Scully's final season calling the games, with the first three innings of each game simulcast on radio, and high expectations for the Dodgers this year. What makes the ratings book worth following is to measure the impact of the Time Warner Cable standoff which has resulted in the majority of the L.A. market being unable to pay high prices to watch the Dodgers on TV. As a result, it is radio or "nothing" for thousands of Dodgers fans. The longer into the season this dispute goes, the less likely it is that either the providers or TWC will budge.

TV ratings for the Angels telecasts have been up. Whether that is due to their easy availability, Albert Pujols' hot start, or a combination, remains to be seen, so to speak. Yet, on the radio side, the Dodger station showed a bigger increase than the Angels stations did, at least for the first few weeks of the season.

In Boston, the Red Sox season has brought WEEI-FM a bit closer to rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub, even though the Sports Hub now has a full rating point lead after dropping to #7 overall in the market.

New York City showed an audience increase for both of the "new" baseball stations. As expected, WFAN as the Yankees flagship station increased by .7 overall to #11 overall, while WOR Radio gained .2 overall. This appears to be the Yankees contributing directly to WFAN's increase, since sports radio rival WEPN held steady from its March to April overall ratings.

A similar baseball success story in Philadelphia, where WIP-FM went up .6 overall with Phillies baseball, although WPEN also showed an overall increase and has two-thirds of the overall audience size of "the whip".

Sports stations in Washington D.C. were trading listeners during the March to April period. WJFK-FM went up .6 of a ratings point during the month, while WTEM-AM dropped by .5 of a ratings point at the same time. Similar jockeying for position in the three station Dallas sports radio race. WTCK The Ticket has dropped .5 overall since February, while KESN went up .5 during the same period and is closing in on The Ticket. KRLD-FM went up by .3, but remains in third place in that battle.

While Houston's sports stations continue to make the occasional changes to their lineups, it's the teams that drive those stations, or, as we should say, keep them in 'park' this time of the year. As we hit the mid-point of the Texans' off-season, KILT has dropped back to a 1.3 overall and #20 in the market, KBME, even with an increase, is only at a 1.0 rating, with KFNC at only half of that.  Similar disappointment in Atlanta, despite the Braves starting a season of contending and the Hawks making their first round NBA playoff run. WZGC-FM dipped by 25% overall during the one-month period, meaning that neither WZGC-FM or WQXI 790 are in the top 20 in the market.

Getting back to Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 went up .3 overall with White Sox baseball starting during that time, with WMVP ESPN 1000 increasing by .2 during the Bulls first round playoff run. As mentioned earlier, WGN Radio showed a larger audience increase due mainly to Cubs broadcasts.

What makes this interesting is that this is the final season of WGN having the Cubs broadcasts under the current radio contract, with WGN Radio reportedly having lost its exclusive window of opportunity to negotiate an extension. There would appear to be an incentive for other Chicago radio stations (groups) to enter the negotiations. Even as a "loss leader" these other stations would see this as an opportunity to keep the WGN overall audience down going into next year and beyond.

Elsewhere, I must congratulate ESPN on hyping its way to a major ratings coup by getting its competition to, in effect, promote their coverage. Think about it. The NFL Draft is not a "game".

There is no betting line (at least not yet). Not that long ago, fans would start hearing about the NFL Draft a couple of days before with a bit of speculation about the needs of the various teams.

But the pre-draft "coverage" has swelled of late. I'm an NFL fan but I couldn't believe how every sports network had tons of analysis of college players, mock draft after mock draft, and 'experts' popping out of the woodwork for the better part of a month leading into the Draft. I can understand ESPN and NFL Network doing this constantly. It's NFL Network's role to cover and hype the draft. ESPN does it because they provide extensive and complete live coverage.

This year, for whatever reason, Fox Sports, NBC, CBS, and the regional sports networks also felt the need to devote a significant amount of "coverage" to what is really speculation leading into the Draft. Sorry, but unless there is trade or an actual pick is made, it really isn't "news" until something actually happens.

As a result of constant hype everywhere NFL fans watched and listened, the audience for ESPN's live coverage of the Draft was essentially built with the help of all of their competition. The TV ratings for the Thursday (5/8) Round One coverage on ESPN were incredible. The NFL Draft had more than double the audience for the NBA Playoffs (including Miami vs. Brooklyn), and those were televised on ESPN2, and more than TRIPLE the audience for the Boston vs. Montreal Stanley Cup playoff game on NBCSN, at the same time. Not to mention how ESPN's Draft coverage trounced the various local and regional networks' baseball telecasts that night.

ESPN's Draft coverage had more than triple the audience of the NFL Network coverage as well. If you combine those two networks, they more than tripled the NBA coverage, had over SIX times the NHL audience, and so on.

And people wonder why these other networks don't come close to out-drawing ESPN, even on the rare times they have quality content. 

BOSTON: WEEI-FM is making still another schedule change, this time adjusting its midday show. "Middays with MFB", with Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria as co-hosts, and Mike Mutanski being moved to another show. The "B" in the show will be Tim Benz, who is expected to join the station next week, coming over from ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.

ATLANTA: It's now Braves or "bust" for WYAY 106.7, which is technically no longer "all news". The station will now only have news blocks during morning and afternoon drive, instead of for the majority of its broadcast day. Word is the station is no longer staffing its newsroom on nights when the Braves are broadcast, and is already airing syndicated talk content on nights when there are no games. Another instance of radio stations holding out on quality content except for when they "think" enough people are listening, while wondering where their audience has gone.

DETROIT: For those that even notice WCAR 1090 and its attempt at sports radio, the station has again changed its syndicated sports programming. After dropping (or losing, depending on whom you believe) its ESPN affiliation in July 2013, the station went with NBC Sports Radio. Now, for those keeping score at home, the station shifts over to Yahoo Sports as of next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

On The Air During An Accident

A live sports interview turns into a news story? That's what happened Wednesday (5/7) morning on Washington D.C.'s 106.7 The Fan when Nationals Manager Matt Williams was live on the air with "The Junkies" on their morning show. With a home afternoon game coming up against the Dodgers, Williams was doing his regular Wednesday morning interview live from a car while being driven to the ballpark when he announced that a car just rear-ended the one he was riding in.

Incredibly, Williams stayed on the air and described the scene as police were chasing the driver of the car that was trying to escape the scene. After Williams described what had happened, the conversation actually returned to the Nationals and the usual related topics.

That was amazing for Matt Williams to do, given that no one would have questioned him ending the conversation, at least for the moment, to deal with having been in an auto accident. Good job by "The Junkies" to continue, keep the show on the air, and handle it very well. That's what we call "breaking a story"!

It was quite the day for Williams, since the start of the afternoon game was delayed about 90 minutes due to rain, followed by both teams scoring two runs in the first inning.

The run of thrilling first round playoff series in both the NBA and NHL is paying off in the ratings as well as with fan excitement levels. TNT's extensive NBA playoff coverage is especially benefiting, showing double digit percentage increases over last year's first round coverage as well as for overall network viewership during that time. ESPN doesn't want to be reminded, but nine of the top 10 NBA first round telecasts in terms of viewership were TNT telecasts. More than 5 million viewers tuned in to at least a part of the TNT coverage of the historic Saturday (5/3) of three Game 7's.

Earlier this week, TNT's NBA studio show won Sports Emmy Awards for its production. While technically excellent, I'm afraid the studio segments themselves could use improvement in terms of content. The goofing around between the endless list of analysts has been out of control all season.
All of the talking over each other, inside jokes, and laugh fests take away from actual game analysis.

Of course, congratulations are in order for Mike Emrick on winning the play-by-play Sports Emmy for his excellent work on the NHL for NBC and NBCSN all season.

Then there was Fox Sports winning the Emmy for "Outstanding Live Sports Special" for its 2013 World Series coverage. Since when is the World Series a "Sports Special"? Didn't the Emmy people know that the World Series would be played in October? Weren't the dates and start times announced weeks ahead of time? Hasn't Fox been televising the World Series for years?

Elsewhere on the TV side, how about Seattle's KIRO-TV? While the Oklahoma City Thunder, formerly the Seattle Supersonics, play into the second round of the NBA Playoffs and are a threat to contend for the championship, KIRO-TV continues to show highlights of the Thunder's games on its local news and sportscasts. What makes this unique is that KIRO identifies the team as "Former Sonics" with its on-screen graphics instead of "Oklahoma City", "OKC", or "Thunder".

BOSTON: Not that very many people noticed, but WUFC 1510 quietly bailed from Yahoo Sports Radio and went is transitioning to a talk radio format between now and June 1st.

JACKSONVILLE: The moving of the Jaguars games over to WGNE and WJXL also means a new play-by-play voice. The new stations are placing their own Frank Frangie as the team's new voice, starting with the pre-season opener on August 8th. Frangie will no longer call college football games on Saturdays due to his new role, but is expected to continue with his weekday show. Former Jaguars Jeff Lageman and Tony Boselli will return as analysts. Brian Sexton, who had been the only play-by-play voice in team history and has called every game until now, will now cover the games for, and remain with WOKV 690.

ORLANDO: WRSO 810 Sports is relaxing its "all sports" format as of this week due to bringing Bubba The Love Sponge in for its morning show.

DAVENPORT IA: KJOC 1170 is returning to sports after nearly eleven years. However, the Quad Cities station will air ESPN Radio, with "no current plans" to air any local sports talk, except when it airs play-by-play of Chicago Cubs baseball and Iowa State University football and basketball.

MILTON FL: WTKE 1490 has gone to all sports, but also with no local programs to start. Randy Williams will be the local sports reporter and cover area college and high school games. The station does hope to add two-hour morning and afternoon local shows at some point, but will air Fox Sports Radio only for now.