Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Are Ready For Some Football

We enter the 2014 college football season with a ton of additional pregame and weekly programs on the various regional and national sports networks, as well as the debut of the SEC Network. This will be the first season in which the three largest conferences, the Big Ten, SEC, and PAC 10 all have their own networks to televise their games and provide surrounding programming to fans around most of the country.

On top of those, ESPN has announced a 13-year extension of its rights to the MAC (Mid-American Conference), maintaining "ownership" rights to every conference controlled football and basketball game through the 2026-27 season.

Fox Sports 1 begins a new studio program "Countdown to Kickoff" which will air almost every hour from Friday night until Noon ET on Saturdays in one hour segments, mostly repeated. They are guessing that a few people at a time will watch for an hour. Incredibly, Fox Sports "announced" that the show will be "hosted" by a variety of analysts and "insiders", rather than naming a formal host.

This, while ESPN continues its Game Day program which originates from a different game venue every Saturday and provides live reports from around the country. Now, Fox Sports counters with hours of a replay of a show with whoever shows up in their studio. It is along the same lines of how FS1 is going after ESPN with its MLB Whiparound show, that always seems to be up against ESPN Baseball Tonight during the week. If only they would come up with a reason to tune in.

Also at ESPN, they have decided that "Olbermann" is better suited to its daytime lineup instead of being moved around during its late night run. The show is moving to 5 PM ET Monday through Friday starting on September 8th. However, it will be shortened to a half-hour show from its current one hour length. The feeling here is that airing at a consistent time and being immediately better than anything else on sports networks going against it will outweigh the reduced length. The show will rarely be up against live sports during the week. No more problems such as Olbermann's excellent Pete Rose special (which debuted on Monday 8/25) airing from 10 minutes after one hour into the next, for example. I can hear Keith's opening statement on his daytime show, which will probably be something like "Surprise! We'll be here at the same time now."

ATLANTA: In the local radio version of the no-huddle offense, the Falcons changed FM flagships stations in between exhibition games last week. After the first two games this month aired on WSTR Star 94 (a music station), the games were moved (on less than two days notice for the 8/23 broadcast) to WZGC The Game 92.9. While it is understandable that CBS wants the Falcons on its FM sports station in an attempt to give it a pulse for the ratings, the AM station airing the same broadcasts is its competition. WQXI 790, which has less than half of the total overall audience of The Game, is the local ESPN Radio station.

It will be interesting to listen for the promotional announcements during the Falcons broadcasts when the regular season starts, since WQXI (ESPN) is technically the flagship station. Although CBS is probably doing this in order to get a foot in the door for future rights, there is the possibility that The Game could be airing mentions of its nearest competitor during these games.

LOS ANGELES: KFWB 980 decided not to wait until next week to convert from News/Talk to sports, having done so on Monday (8/25). However, the CBS Sports national feed will run exclusively for at least these two weeks before a little bit of local programming finally turns up. The station will air NFL games on Sunday evenings, Monday, and Thursdays via Westwood One, some "national" college football on Saturdays, and, of course, remains the flagship station of Clippers basketball.

CHICAGO: With host Dan McNeil not returning to WSCR 670 The Score, the station has added just retired Chicago Bear Patrick Mannelly as midday co-host. Mannelly joins Matt Spiegel starting on Tuesday (9/2) from 9 to 1 PM weekdays.

HOUSTON: KILT 610 has come up with an effective use of the station web site, by now streaming its midday show with Mike Meltser and Seth Payne. The show has led the station's ratings growth of the past year. In an even nicer innovation, the stream simulcast includes a scroll of sports headlines at the bottom.

PHILADELPHIA: Temple University football games begin airing on WPEN 97.5, and will continue to have Harry Donahue calling play-by-play for at least this season. Donahue will keep this position even though he retired last week (8/22) after 35 years on the morning show of KYW News 1060 and more than 40 years total with that station.

PITTSBURGH: WBGG 970 has announced that Duqesne University football broadcasts which have scheduling conflicts will result in those games airing on WJAS 1320 this season. In addition WBGG will be airing weekly coaches shows for both football and basketball.

NASHVILLE: Three hosts in the afternoon proved to be too many. For the station, not for the listeners. Despite ratings success, Clay Travis is officially out from 104.5 The Zone and its afternoon drive "3HL Show" after contract negotiations stalled. Travis reportedly wants to stay in local radio but has a 90-day non-compete clause to contend with. Brent Dougherty and (former Titan) Blaine Bishop remain as the two co-hosts for the show. Travis will continue as an analyst with Fox Sports for the football season.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WTMJ Leads The Way In More Ways Than One

It can happen. A prominent radio station making use of its web site to add innovation and expand its reach for its audience. WTMJ 620 Milwaukee is about to launch a new feature for its web site called "Preps Live". This will include live streaming broadcasts of at least 26 area high school football games this season, with plans underway to include basketball when that season arrives.

Matt Menzi and Alex Uhan will be the lead announcers for the series, which will also feature various football playoff games in November. Although WTMJ is not a full time sports talk station, the station has been Milwaukee's dominant play-by-play source over the years, including the Brewers, Packers, Bucks, and University of Wisconsin football.

This high school series of games will not be on the air, but having these games available live on their web site is still a nice innovation.

My contention has been that radio stations (sports and other formats) generally do not use their web site(s) to add to station content. They often give the audience FEWER reasons to listen to or engage with the over-the-air content.

When listeners to a sports station need to go to the web site to get out of town scores (not given on the air) or read a blog or opinion piece from a host or station reporter, it takes them away from listening to the station. If listeners don't have to tune in at a certain time to hear their favorite reporter's commentaries because they can read it on the web site, it serves to reduce the station's listening audience and reduces the urgency.

Too many sports stations fail to provide out of town scores, instead promoting them being on the station web site. What that really does is tells a percentage of the listening audience that they need to go elsewhere for information they want. Often times, the "elsewhere" is NOT the station web site. Thus, the station opens it up for a percentage of its audience to go to another source for the scores, as well as the opportunity to enjoy its content.

This is where the WTMJ innovation comes in. Not everyone in its listening audience is interested in local high school games. But those who are now have a special resource for it, which they can't get from another radio station or local source. And they can engage in WTMJ content while they listen. WTMJ  can provide this without having to program another entire radio station, and better serve its audience.

LOS ANGELES: KFWB 980 is going ahead with its all sports plans after all, even as KSPN and KLAC struggle for an audience. The station has reportedly added Ted Sobel, Bill Seward, and Bob Harvey to its local staff, and is now looking at starting in early September along with football season.

Across town, the current voice of the USC Trojans, who has also called L.A. Clippers games, Pete Arbogast, is going to be honored. Arbogast will be inducted into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in January.

BOSTON: The Sports Hub 98.5 has not only been losing its audience, but now has lost former Patriot Jermaine Wiggins from its talent roster. Wiggins left the station last week, and now has been added to the morning show of a music station instead.

HOUSTON: Listeners may need a magnifying glass to find him, but Barry Warner, a local radio veteran of the past 40 years, will return to the airwaves. The 70 year old Warner, most recently with KILT 610 until about a year ago, will appear on KFNC 97.5 and KGOW 1560 at least once per week. He is already scheduled to appear on Wednesdays with Geoff Ketchum and Sean Salisbury.

DES MOINES: The Champ 1700 is moving "The Zone" with Larry Cotlar and Jason Highly from middays, after a five year run, to the 4 to 6 PM spot starting next week. This is targeted toward taking away listeners from KXNO 1460 and its local "Miller and Brinson Show" which airs at the same time.

BENTON HARBOR MI: WSJM 1400 is dropping its news related talk shows in favor of going all sports starting next Monday (8/25). The station plans to expand its local high school sports coverage well beyond its 2-hour Saturday morning "The Coaches" show with Phil McDonald and Bret Witkoski.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When Suspends Hurt The Suspense

Note to radio executives: The recent wave of sports talk hosts being suspended or disciplined is going to result in more harm than good. This is not to say that on-air personalities who say or do something inappropriate should not be disciplined. It's just that the audience gets punished, and it is an audience of sports fans who have plenty of other easy resources for sports commentary.

Sure, a Boston radio host acted wrongly by specifically calling out a network sideline reporter last month. But the fact that I heard about the host being suspended on radio stations nowhere near Boston, as if the story had any meaning to a non-local audience, is a horrible waste of my time when I am listening for sports information. So what if a Miami sports host was shut down for buying advertisements in Cleveland?

Fans in other cities do not need to be bothered with this so-called "news" when there are local teams and colleges to cover. Let alone some of the "local" sports stations that don't bother giving out of town scores, but somehow make time for a waste of time story about a program host hundreds of miles away.

What is the harm? These "announcements" can make sports radio listeners think that any host that crosses the line will be disciplined in some way. If these hosts cut back, their shows won't be as entertaining. Or if the primary hosts are not on the air, listeners are forced to listen to a substitute instead. How does it help that Boston station when they had a secondary host as a fill-in for an entire week?

As it is, too many sports radio stations spend too much time on local callers and speculation and not enough time on actual sports news, guests, and local coverage. Having program hosts suspended and talkng about it as if it is big news provides the audience with ANOTHER reason to go elsewhere.

Those stations which fail to provide full scoreboard updates "argue" that the hardcore fan is getting those scores on their phone or personal device "anyway". While I "argue" that they can get more information and expert opinions from that same device than the station provides as well.

What these stations should do (or should have done) was to announce that "(Name) has been disciplined for (whatever was said or done)" and not reveal any details. When fans of him or her do not hear him/her on the air the first day, it keeps them tuning in every day to hear when he/she returns. Stations in other cities have zero reason to include this story on their newscasts. The advertisers which often need to be pleased and are the reason some of these suspensions occur will be made aware of the disciplinary actions.

This needs to change (stop) before even more listeners think there is less of a need to listen to their favorite local hosts.

CHICAGO: It is curious that there is still nothing regarding Cubs TV for next year, as rumors of a pending deal with the local Fox TV stations have yet to pan out officially. I'm thinking this is a case of the local stations and regional networks waiting to see how the standoffs regarding paying a truckload of dollars for TV rights in Los Angeles (Dodgers) and Houston shake out over the next few weeks. That both of these deals have been financial disasters for the entities which spent billions could be an incentive for Chicago stations to wait and see before spending millions more than they need to.

WBBM-TV 2 has added Camron Smith as a backup sports anchor. The former high school hoops coach has appeared on local high school basketball telecasts as well as on the Big Ten Network.

Northern Illinois University football, which has jumped into the national spotlight during this decade, will have a new Chicago radio home for the new season. WIND 560 will air all football games and at least 12 basketball games, along with a weekly one-hour coaches show during football season.

Chicago native Bill Hazen will be calling play-by-play for select Conference USA basketball games on Sinclair Broadcasting Group TV stations starting with the coming season. Hazen has called Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls telecasts in the past.

INDIANAPOLIS: Michael Grady, co-host of the "Grady & Big Joe Show" on WFNI 1070 and 107.5 and the P A announcer for the Pacers, has also been hired as a sports reporter for WRTV-TV 6.  He begins his new role on August 22nd.

PITTSBURGH: Meet the news boss. Same as the old boss. Must be the slogan at WWCS 540. The station will be dropping its Fox Sports Radio programming. What will replace it? By September 15th, the station will remain a 24 hour syndicated sports station, but will have the Yahoo Sports lineup instead.

CHARLOTTE: Fans who can't get enough of sports radio from the three stations already with that format in the market will have still another choice starting within the next few weeks. WRFX 99.7, a low power signal, will begin airing Fox Sports Radio and nothing but within the next few weeks.

NASHVILLE: WNSR 560 and 95.9 has a new sports show from 4 to 7 PM as of this week, as Johnny "Ballpark" Franks returns to the airwaves for the first time since the late 90's.

ROCHESTER: ESPN Radio 950 and 95.7 has a new local show from 3 to 7 PM. Scott Pitoniak and Dan Borrello now host "The Radio Press Box".

Friday, August 8, 2014

Still The Teams - Not The Hosts

Sports radio stations can continue to act as though certain personalities make a difference on the station, but what current status of sports in a given market is what it's all about. The latest radio ratings, covering the period from late June to late July, continue to indicate this in certain key markets.

The sports talk race in Boston has been a big story for the past couple of years, especially when WBZ-FM Sports Hub overtook WEEI and was going strong. But look again. The Bruins and Celtics finished up weeks ago, and the Red Sox are headed toward the distinction of going from worst to first to worst in the East Division over three seasons. The Patriots are just starting, so we'll see some audience growth by October.

WBZ-FM Sports Hub has now dipped to #17 overall, officially having lost nearly 50% of its overall audience since its May ratings. And, of course, in May the Bruins and Celtics were in the post-season while the Red Sox were expected to contend. If WBZ-FM lost its audience to WEEI-FM, you could argue that station content makes a difference. But WEEI-FM has dropped again as well, although it now holds a .4 overall lead over WBZ-FM.

In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket remains the #1 overall most listened to station, and it's no coincidence that they also air the Tigers games while the team can coast into the MLB post-season. In Pittsburgh, KDKA-FM, which also features Pirates broadcast while they contend again, just rose to #6 overall with a .7 rise in just the past month.

Philadelphia teams are struggling, especially the Phillies this season, and the 20% overall audience dip by WIP-FM since May reflects this. An ever better example is San Antonio, where the Spurs remain the only show (pro team) in town. With this ratings period taking place mostly following the Spurs' championship run, not one of the three English sports stations in the market so much as cracked the top 20 in overall audience or have a rating above a 1.0.

Meanwhile, on the TV side of things, nothing further on the Dodgers TV situation, or lack thereof, in Los Angeles. There may now be less hope for immediate action due to the withdrawl of the Murdoch/Fox bid to purchase Time Warner Cable from earlier this week. It looks more and more like it will take a merger/takeover by Comcast to make the Dodgers games more readily and economically available, and that is likely months and months away.

This past week had the four games between the Dodgers and Angels, shown to most of the market via Fox Sports (Angels telecasts) receive significant ratings increase. The Angels telecasts received double their typical ratings for the current season (which are also well up from last season's). On the radio side, these latest ratings were up for both KSPN and KLAA which are sports stations that share Angels radio broadcasts.

While the Dodgers local telecasts continue with low ratings (because so few fans can receive the games at any price), the Angels' result is more typical of how the various local and regional sports networks are doing this season with MLB telecasts when the teams are in contention. Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Cincinnati are each coming up with #1 ratings for local prime time telecasts this season.

The Houston Astros are far from contention, but are now showing the potential to peform like a true big league team by next season although still mired in a legal dispute about having their games shown on more systems. The possibility of a bankruptcy court awarding ownership of the regional network they share with the NBA Rockets to AT&T and DirecTV to operate as a Root Sports network brings hope that the games could be readily available well in advance of the 2015 Astros season. The anticipated court ruling will likely come within the next two months, potentially allowing the entire Rockets season to be available to possibly millions more viewers.

CLEVELAND: The start of exhibition games also means the start of the vast new radio coverage of the Browns games. All of the team's games will air on three local radio stations, WKNR, WKRK, and WNCX. WKNR will air the bulk of the surrounding coverage, including what is now a four hour pre-game block with a separate two hours prior to the Browns Radio Network two hour show.

Play-by-play voice Jim Donovan will, however, shift over to WKYC-TV 3 for three of the four exhibition games shown only on a local basis, where he will be joined by analyst Solomon Wilcots. Donovan will do the radio call for the Aug. 9 game vs. Detroit since ESPN will show it nationally. Jeff Phelps, afternoon host on KRKK 92.3, will handle radio play-by-play for those three games, while Doug Dieken remains radio analyst for all games. But you do have to wonder how you keep a pre-game show longer than an overtime game would be interesting to the audience.

WISCONSIN: A chain of three AM stations in a region are all becoming sports stations this month, each dropping music formats. WXCE 1260 Avery, WHSM Hayward, and KKIN 930 Atkin MN will share programming and be known as "Red Zone Sports" stations.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The "Price" We Pay For Actual Sports News

What ever happened to reporters waiting for facts before they report? The MLB trade deadline and all its fuery was fun for the fans, but aggravating at the time. The trade of David Price from Tampa to Detroit was the biggest of the trades made on deadline day, but it took a while to get the facts straight.

I happened to have been watching the Detroit vs. Chicago telecast at the time when rumors of the Tigers acquiring Price were going strong. The Chicago telecast also showed Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski go into the dugout and then motion for Tigers CF Austin Jackson to come off the field less than four minutes before the deadline time of 4 PM ET. This was during an at-bat, not between hitters or between innings.

Upon going to a variety of online sources, they were still "reporting" that baseball writer Ken Rosenthal was "reporting" the details of the trade. Even the Detroit Free Press web site has this "report" as its lead story. It took me at least 15 minutes before getting the official "facts" of that three way trade.

It shouldn't be such a big deal about who is first to break the facts of a story. How major news sources merely report what someone else is "reporting" without a confirmation or denial from their own sources is still beyond my comprehension. If you can't confirm or deny a report, then simply say "We are awaiting a possible trade involving David Price......." and leave it at that.

These same sources don't update their headlines to say "The Tigers are winning in the 9th inning, so they could win this game!". They wait until the game is over before publishing the final score. (That was example, regardless of how ineffective the Tigers bullpen has become!) They should be doing the same, if they are even going to bother with trade and signing rumors.

Worse yet are some of the "news" stories on sportscasts around the country within the past week. The NFL training camps are into full swing. The MLB trade deadline came and went with several major trades. The major college football conferences held media days. Yet, many sportscasts and reports outside of Boston wasted fans' time with the "story" about a Boston sports radio host being suspended because of comments about a sideline reporter.

This is not to say that punishment wasn't warranted, but, other than listeners of WEEI Boston (where the suspended host is employed), who cares? Why is this "news" in Chicago or Kansas City or anywhere else?

Same thing with controversial remarks by Stephen A. Smith. Other than possibly ESPN (which could "report" the controversy to smear his name) and Sirius/XM satellite which will now employ him for the Mad Dog Channel, why did stations and web sites bother to "report" this? If there isn't enough actual sports news to talk about, try confirming or denying speculation instead.

Meanwhile, ESPN managed to get Time Warner Cable, as well as Bright House, to pick up its SEC Network in time for its launch later this month leading into football season.  The Network will air at least 45 Conference football games. One of the markets that gains from this is the Cincinnati area, where University of Kentucky fans will be able to see those games shown on this channel. In addition, SEC Network plans to air three UK exhibition basketball games from the Bahamas in mid-August. And some were worried about having enough programming?

Fox Sports has added former NFL QB Brady Quinn to its NFL and college football coverage, where he will be a game analyst as needed. In addition, former pro and college coach Dave Wannstedt has been added as a college football analyst for Fox Sports, as well as on Big Ten Network. Wannstedt is expected to be a part of the Fox Sports college studio pre and post-game coverage.

LOS ANGELES: The chess game continues with the Dodgers TV situation, or lack thereof. As if it is a coincidence that Vin Scully, who in past years has waited until the off-season to announce a return to the booth, decides in July that he will be back for 2015. This "just happens" to provide an added element to Dodgers telecasts for next season, which are still not approved to be shown anywhere other than Time Warner Cable.

Earlier in the week, TWC said it is willing to allow for arbitration to determine a "fair price" for DirecTV and other carriers to carry the Dodgers channel. As expected, DirecTV does not approve. And the Dodgers brass still has no comment about all of this. Of course. DirecTV takes the "We don't want to raise our prices across the board" approach, while the Dodgers quietly generate enough money from the TWC contract to cover their payroll and then some no matter how few of their fans can watch the games.

On the radio side, and separate from the Dodgers, there is the possibility of KFWB 980 transitioning to all sports radio by Labor Day. What started as the intent to get the Jim Rome Show back on radio in Los Angeles has escalated to the point of the station considering adding more and more sports programming as well in hopes of gaining an audience. However, KSPN 710 ESPN barely cracks the top 20 in the ratings, KLAC hovers around a 1 rating even with the Dodgers broadcasts. KLAA, even with most of the Angeles games, has a tiny audience otherwise. While the only local team KFWB currently carries is the Clippers.

KABC 790 has jumped back into play-by-play with a new multi-year contract to air the Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings games starting in the fall. The Kings had been on KTLK 1150, and now gain a much stronger signal in the process. Nick Nickson will continue in his long-time play-by-play role.

BOSTON: It's still too soon to tell whether or not WEEI 93.7's Dennis & Callhan morning show will continue beyond Labor Day. The speculation is primarily the result of the simulcast of the show's first three hours is being pulled from NESN in September. No word yet if NESN will create its own morning show or what direction the TV network will go. It will be interesting to see whether WEEI makes a change or NESN will announce its morning intentions first.

SAN DIEGO: After moving from afternoons to mornings and put on shuffle over the past year, Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton is now gone from the Mighty 1090 XEPRS, as well as the Padres pre-game show, even though the season is still in progress. Hacksaw has been a part of the San Diego sports talk landscape for more than 25 years.

KNOXVILLE: Two smaller stations are dropping sports programming after nearly four years which included a huge focus on University of Tennessee sprots. WVLZ 1180 and WKCE 1120 (licensed to nearby Maryville TN) will be in a different format by the end of August.