Monday, January 5, 2015

NBC Wins At Football - Loses Out On Hockey

While sports is all about competition, the same should be said about sportscasts, sports stations, and sports networks. They compete against each other for the audience and advertising dollars, as well as for the scoop on breaking sports stories. However, it doesn't always appear that the decision makers always have this in mind.

There are times when a "news" story can help to impact the size of the listening and/or viewing audience for an upcoming sports event. It could be all in the game to air a story which indirectly keeps your audience from watching or listening to the competition.

The Broadcast Booth believes that NBC helped to slightly reduce its own audience for the NHL Winter Classic it aired on New Year's Day when the Chicago Blackhawks played at the Washington Capitals.

Since this was the first hockey game ever played at Nationals Stadium, it seems that league officials had not researched enough to address concerns over possible sun glare from the surface during the early portion of the game, scheduled to begin about 1:15 PM ET on Thursday (1/1). It wasn't until the day before that this factor became a possible issue, when the NHL let it be known that the start of the nationally televised contest could have been delayed for this reason.

It was certainly easy to understand why sources such as ESPN, Fox, and local stations in NHL markets (not affiliated with NBC-TV or NBC Radio Sports) would jump all over this story. After all, ESPN/ABC (especially) and ESPN Radio had the major bowl games airing on New Year's Day.

Thus, reporting that there might be a delay in the start of a much hyped national telecast going up against a couple of football bowl games gave fans a solid reason not to bother with the early stages of the NHL telecast on NBC. With no other NHL games scheduled during the 3+ hour time slot NBC had, it was not as if NBC had another game to cut away to or report on.

To put it mildly, the possibility of an expanded pre-game show for an NHL games, when the Capitals are not considered to be a nationally marketed team, is a turn off for many casual hockey fans.

Despite this, NBC stations as well as the Comcast SportsNet local reports, went ahead and aired this report that the glare from the ice could very well have delayed the start of the Winter Classic. While I will grant you that I am not and have never been a network level Sports Director or decision maker so I shouldn't criticize, if I were in that position and this happened, heads would have been rolling.

What NBC and its family of stations and regional networks did was provide thousands (if not millions) of viewers with a valid reason not to tune in for the start of the game. The rebuttal that "fans would be even more curious and tune in to see if it started on time" doesn't make sense. I have to believe that NBC turned away far more "early" viewers than it thought it could gain by making fans curious as to whether or not the game would start on time.

As a result, the 2015 Winter Classic scored the lower ratings than previous years for NBC, and that is with more than 20% of the national audience coming from the avid Chicago market. As it was, NBC was saddled with the Capitals (which is not as marketable of a team as the Bruins, Rangers, Red Wings, etc.) and a stadium with zero tradition. But to allow a story to air which gave potential viewers a reason not to tune in for the scheduled start on its own network is highly questionable.

On the football side, Sunday Night Football on NBC-TV again finished its season as the "most watched" network series in prime time in 2014. The local market which had the biggest ratings for the season on SNF wound up being Denver. Next, in order, are New Orleans, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Milwaukee. Only New Orleans is a surprise, given the losing record and disappointing season which the Saints just finished.

Another story which has been overlooked by the sports media could have an impact on viewer ratings as soon as October 2015. NBA teams have been surveyed by the league regarding reducing the number of preseason games in order to add another week to the regular season and start it about one week earlier in October. The purpose of doing so is to reduce the number of back-to-back game dates for each team (which could reduce injuries and fatigue) by adding more days off during the season.

From a TV standpoint, doing this would mean having at least the entire first week of the regular season in competition against the World Series on weeknights for the national telecasts. For the past few seasons, the NBA season openers have been on dates of a possible Game 6 and Game 7 of the World Series for a maximum of two nights of conflicts.

Considering how well the NBA early season ratings did against the World Series in 2014, it is possible that TNT and ESPN would embrace this change. It remains to be seen (or not seen) whether or not Fox Sports will continue to dump as much of its post-season coverage from Fox Sports (over the air) to the lesser Fox Sports 1, which was a ratings disaster for MLB.

It was a much improved start to the new year on The Dan Patrick Show on Friday (1/2) when the show was actually live with guest co-hosts while Patrick was off. This is worthy of mention because it (hopefully) signals the end of "Best Of" shows which have been airing for years on and around holidays. I never did understand how NBCSN, which airs the telecast, was putting up with outdated segments during busy sports periods when it is trying to compete with ESPN and other sports networks and stations for ratings and advertisers. Having a live show on the morning after the major bowl games and the day before the NFL playoffs start was critical. Hopefully this signals that NBCSN has turned a corner.

Meanwhile, sports fans and the sports media are saddened by the passing of Stuart Scott at the age of 49. Since Stuart, who most deservedly was the past recipient of the "Spirit of Jimmy V Award" by the V Foundation, ESPN has requested that those wishing to make a donation in his name do so to the V Foundation.

Interesting announcement by DISH Network to start off the year. Details are still to come, but DISH is planning to offer an internet only monthly service with several cable channels in packages starting at $20 per month. These packages reportedly will include ESPN and ESPN2. However, these will not include any local "over-the-air" channels, although viewers could view them via digital antenna with no monthly cost and supplement with a DISH package. It remains to be determined how much or how little sports programming, other than ESPN, will be made available by this method.

This is a story which bears monitoring over the next few weeks. One would think that many people who are not sports fans would jump at the chance to save big bucks by cutting the cord. However, for those of us sports fans that continue to fork out the big bucks (to cable/satellite providers) to watch our sports each month, fewer customers for the bigger carriers could jack up the sports package costs even more.

CHICAGO: WGN Radio (a news/talk format) is making significant changes to its sports presence for 2015, as the station prepares for its first summer in more than 50 years without Cubs baseball broadcasts. The station is bringing in Jarrett Payton (the son of Bears legend Walter Payton), as well as local sports talkers Connor McKnight and Adam Hoge, to handle a newer (yet to be named as of press time) weekend sports show. The previous "WGN Sports Central", which aired on WGN since 1982, has gone away with the new year, and it appears that previous co-hosts Jim Memelo and Glen Kozlowski may or may not be a part of WGN sports as of now.

The station continues to air Blackhawks hockey as well as Northwestern University football and basketball.

DES MOINES: KBGG 1700 The Champ appears to be carrying out its plan to drop the majority of its local sports programming with the arrival of the new year. Now Larry Cotlar is gone after more than five years with the station. For some reason, The Champ has increased its CBS Sports Radio Network programming. Cotlar, meanwhile, continues as the play-by-play voice for Drake University basketball.

1 comment:

Paul Herman said...

I'm not surprised that a lot of sportscasts, stations, and networks compete against each other for a larger audience. I can imagine that sports radio programs must be suffering since less people listen to the radio and choose to watch sports programs on TV instead. I suppose that now that there are less people watching TV there are a number of sports fans who listen to sports radio programs on their way to work.