Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Diamondback In The Rough?

Since when are the Arizona Diamondbacks telecasts in huge demand? Maybe I missed something along the way, but the recent agreement the Diamondbacks received for ongoing TV rights seems beyond comprehension. It seems that Fox Sports has extended its TV contract for Fox Sports Arizona to continue to show the Diamondbacks games regionally in what is reportedly a contract in the long term neighborhood of $1 billion total.

There was no indication about any other network (or local station) which would have driven up the bidding. I don't recall seeing the D-backs as being among the teams with the highest rated local telecasts over the course of a season. Where else were their games going to go?
I'm not sure there is enough interest specifically in the Diamondbacks to justify this. Sure, there are a ton of baseball fans, especially in the Phoenix area. Many of them are transplants from the east and Midwest who follow the game and/or their favorite team by watching the Diamondbacks games on a regular basis.

However, with another increase in rights fees, it would appear that, like with most teams or leagues, the fans will be asked (or more accurately, TOLD) to pay even more each month to their provider in order to receive Fox Sports Arizona. Just one year after the fiasco with Dodgers fans in Southern California not being able to see the majority of games, we have the potential for "negotiations" for the showing of these telecasts in Arizona.

Without a large enough audience to justify higher advertising costs, Fox Sports would "need to" charge still more and more to the providers for their network. In turn, those providers that accept will turn around and force the customers (fans or not) to pay even more each month. I'm not seeing enough "demand" or tradition that would create a huge impact if people couldn't watch the majority of Diamondbacks games. It is hard to believe that Fox Sports is this desperate to own the rights to this many MLB teams.

We move on to another announcer "suspension", with the Tuesday (2/24) announcement by ESPN that Keith Olbermann is "suspended" from hosting his TV show for the remainder of the current week. Not because of anything said on the air.

Instead, the suspension comes as a result of a Twitter barrage regarding some seemingly insensitive comments Olbermann made regarding a charity effort to some Penn State students. From here, it appears that this is another instance of the punishment not fitting the crime.

While I did not like Olbermann's Twitter comments either, the punishment should have been to "suspend" him from social media for the week following his apology. His remarks were not on the air, yet the network now, in effect, punishes the viewers by not having Olbermann on during four days he is scheduled to be. The viewers didn't do anything wrong - nor would they be aware of Keith's Twitter comments unless they also saw them via social media.

On the basketball court, ESPN's telecast of the North Carolina vs. Duke overtime game last week finished as the family of networks' most watched college basketball game of the season. The national ratings were significantly higher than the previous meeting between these same teams.

Back over at Fox Sports, struggling Fox Sports 1 has come up with a new weekend show to air on Sunday nights and to be hosted, starting on March 15, by Katie Nolan. Nolan, a former bartender who somehow wound up on their short-lived "Crowd Goes Wild" show working with Regis Philbin, will host "Garbage Time With Katie Nolan". Let's give Fox Sports 1 some credit on this one for incorporating the name "Garbage Time" into its fresh content.

CHARLOTTE: WEND 106.5 has stepped up for NASCAR coverage in a hub market, and will now air 38 NASCAR races, including the entire Sprint Cup Series starting this month. "End 106.5" is a music station during the rest of the week.

NEW YORK: Just in time for spring training broadcasts to begin (next week), WOR 710 has finally replaced Seth Everett as its studio host and occasional play-by-play voice for its Mets broadcasts. Wayne Randazzo comes over from Chicago's WSCR The Score to provide the studio pre and post-game shows, along with handling some play-by-play for games that Josh Lewin will miss due to network schedule conflicts. Howie Rose continues as the lead voice of the Mets, with the first broadcast for all scheduled for March 4th from Florida.

HOUSTON: No word, as of press time, about a new Program Director and/or midday co-host for sports stations KFNC 97.5 and KGOW 1560. Dave Tepper has bailed from those positions at the low rated stations in order to relocate to KOZN 1620 and KZOT 1180 in Omaha and become Operations Manager for those Nebraska based sports stations. Tepper most recently was paired with former NFL QB Sean Salisbury in Houston.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM ESPN 980 has announced a new and local morning show which will begin on March 16th from 6 to 10 AM. "The Man Cave" will be co-hosted by Chris Paul (not the NBA star) and Jason Reid. Paul has been on in the D.C. market regularly over the years, while Reid had been, among his duties, the Redskins beat writer for the Washington Post and NFL writer for ESPN.com. Word is that this new show will not be entirely focused on sports.

CLEVELAND: The TV ratings for the Cavaliers on Fox Sports Ohio are feeling the immediate impact of the return of LeBron James through mid-season. The Cavs have risen to have both the second highest local team telecast ratings in the NBA, while showing the second biggest percentage increase of overall audience compared with last season.
For the first half of the current season, only the defending champion San Antonio Spurs have a higher average local audience rating for their telecasts, while only the Milwaukee Bucks are showing a bigger percentage over last season's average.

CHAMPAIGN IL: WDWS-AM and WHMS-FM have expanded their University of Illinois sports commitment through the 2016-17 season. U of I football and basketball will continue to air as a simulcast on both stations. WDWS continues its participation to the point of also airing volleyball, baseball, and softball broadcasts.

COLUMBIA SC: WGCV 105.1 is bringing the pairing of Teddy Heffner and Rick Sanford back as a morning sports show this week from 7 to 9 AM, with the possibility of adding sister station WGCV-AM 620 as well. Once this happens, it would mean this market would have two local sports shows in the morning, going up against WKNT The Game 107.5

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sports Radio On The Rebound

The radio station ratings start to matter again as the holiday ratings period is officially behind us for the major markets. The month of January was good for news and sports stations (for the most part), including a noteworthy jump by WSCR The Score in Chicago. What adds to the significance is the fact that sports stations generally did not gain from competing stations.

In Boston, WBZ-FM Sports Hub rose significantly from a 5.1 to a 6.9 rating in just the one month, and is now tied for #2 overall in the competitive market.  (3.7 to 5.1) However, the Sports Hub did not cut into rival WEEI-FM's audience one bit. In fact, WEEI-FM rose from a 3.7 to a 5.1 rating during the same period, good for #7 overall. As a result, they combine for what appears to be the highest combined ratings for sports radio in Boston history.

In NYC, WFAN 66 The Fan rose to #7 overall in the market, while WEPN held steady and did not crack the top 20 stations list. In San Francisco, the hot season by the Warriors seems to have picked up for the lack of 49ers and Giants games as KNBR 680 went up from a 3.6 to a 4.3 rating in just the one month, putting back into the Bay Area's top 5 most listened to stations for the January 2015 ratings period.

Even Atlanta and Houston showed some growth from their leading sports stations, with WZGC-FM The Game in Atlanta jumping up to #16 overall from 2.3 to a respectable 3.0. Yet, WQXI 790 turned in a mere .3, barely 10% of The Game's audience. Houston's KILT hit the market's top 20 list with a 2.3 overall rating (#19 overall), which is at least one full ratings point better than any of the other three struggling sports outlets there.

As mentioned, WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago 'scored' with record high ratings in some demographics, moving up to #9 overall in the market with a 3.4 rating. WMVP ESPN 1000 also gained during January, edging up from 1.4 in December to 1.8 for January. (More about WSCR later.)

Detroit listeners returned to WXYT-FM The Ticket, even with the local sports scene being relatively calm, as it went from a 6.2 to a 7.0 rating, good for #2 in the market (behind news station WWJ). Baltimore's WJZ-FM rose to #4 overall as well. while Seattle's KIRO also rose significantly up to #6 overall, obviously helped by the Seahawks' Super Bowl run.

Even in San Diego, XPRS-AM rose to a 3.6 rating, putting it into that market's top 10 most listened to stations.

Well, not every major market did well with sports. In Los Angeles, KSPN failed to show up in the market's top 25 most listened to stations, yet still more than doubled Dodgers flagship (with no games, obviously, this time of year) KLAC 570. Even with the Clippers radio and having moved to full-time sports last fall, KFWB 980 came in with a miniscule .2 overall.

More nice work from the folks at Classic TV Sports, who actually take the time to investigate sports media stories, especially the facts. Earlier this week, several media outlets picked up on the "story" about the UNC vs. Duke basketball game being shown nationally via ESPN, and how Dick Vitale was not assigned to the game. Several stories, including one by the Tampa Bay Times, picked up by (as opposed to "reported" by) different sources, claimed that this would be the first time Vitale has not been assigned to this matchup going back to ESPN's beginnings back in 1979.

The Raleigh News & Observer went further, quoting Vitale about being a "team player" and "going where my bosses tell me to go" regarding going to help call Tuesday's (2/17) Kentucky vs. Tennessee telecast on ESPN instead.

Classic TV Sports later disputed this, pointing out that ESPN assigned Brent Musberger and Jim Valvano to this telecast back on March 7, 1993 (instead of Vitale), and then put a video clip of this telecast on its web site as proof.

While I give a ton of credit to Classic TV Sports, it needs to be pointed out that THIS is why I get so upset at media that merely "reports" what someone else is "reporting" and fails to confirm or deny based on their own resources. It makes me wonder how many other sports (or general news) stories we have all accepted as fact that really are not totally accurate. The writers in Tampa and Raleigh should be mighty thankful that I am not their boss this week.

Baseball fans begin counting down the days as spring training camps open this week, and MLB Network has announced an even bigger increase in its spring training coverage. In addition to its annual "30 Teams In 30 Days" feature, MLB Network has announced its schedule of, get this, 200 spring training telecasts including at least one live game every day for the entire month.

CHICAGO: While WSCR 670 The Score rides its high ratings, which figure to stay in place as the Blackhawks and Bulls race toward the playoffs and the White Sox and Cubs figure to have better seasons, will debut its new midday show on Monday (2/23). Jason Goff, earlier let go from his Atlanta gig, will return to The Score, this time as co-host with Matt Spiegel weekdays from 9 AM to 1 PM.

On the TV side, Comcast SportsNet Chicago is maintaining its high profile Chicago Bears coverage this week. Based on the increased local interest since the Bears changed General Manager and Head Coach, the network has not one, but TWO of its reporters assigned to Indianapolis to report on the NFL Draft Combine as it relates to the Bears. The network also has hired Vincent Goodwill as its new beat reporter for the Bulls, starting within the week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The High Cost of Watching Our Teams

The "How much more is it going to cost sports fans to watch the games?" question continues in much of the sports media news of the past week. The pro leagues and teams are already doing their best to stay one step ahead, as they see that more and more consumers are giving up their cable or satellite service due to rising costs.

It looks like new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred knows how important the TV revenue stream is, based on his interview with Forbes Magazine since taking over office. He somehow managed to place blame on distribution rights to the telecasts, acting as though MLB actually wants to help the fans in this regard.

Yet, at that very same time, MLB is "in negotiations" with Fox Sports regarding distribution rights for its own MLB packages within the Fox regional sports networks' territories. It is all about streaming rights for the "local" telecasts which Fox has the rights for. It is actually an issue because MLB Advanced Media wants to maintain control to stream these games via their MLB-TV pay package, which the Fox regional networks currently cannot do. This impacts an average of one-third of all regular season telecasts. If MLB winds up with streaming rights for Fox Sports telecasts, it would mean that consumers could possibly avoid paying Fox Sports or one of its providers for those games.

While it is understandable that Fox wants to protect its large investment, the point is that as of now consumers paying extra for the MLB package (whether the Extra Innings package via cable/satellite providers or the MLB-TV streaming capability) cannot access every game due to local blackout restrictions. This, in effect, forces consumers to pay for cable/satellite to view the local team telecasts (if they are interested in doing so), which means that fans are paying extra twice in order to have access to every live telecast.

At the same time, this week's story about the large number Comcast customer service issues is the latest factor in delaying review of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Not that anyone is in a hurry about that, but for Dodgers fans it adds to the stalling off of getting Dodgers telecasts on to any more cable/satellite systems with the new season now less than 60 days from starting.

The Dodgers situation has a lot more to do with MLB than MLB lets on. Reports are that MLB already received the bulk of its share of the funds for the 25 year huge contract, so it is not like they would want to renegotiate. If the merger happens, Comcast would likely expand the distribution, as they have done for their own (Comcast's) regional sports networks. TWC continues to hold the line or offer arbitration which means they would receive a pre-determined amount which may not be good for consumers either. Now with this merger possibility stalled again, it looks bleak for local TV again this season in the L.A. area.

All while MLB "negotiates" with Fox Sports and acts frustrated about the Dodgers TV situation.
The passing of Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, brings to mind how much he and his organization shaped sports media and the coverage of all things NFL. Fans over the age of 40, who go back to the days before cable TV came along, recall how NFL Films helped make football the "national" game that it is.

Innovations such as "The NFL Game of the Week" TV show made a huge impact. This was back before fans could see extensive highlights of out of market games. Giving fans in Ohio the ability to watch close up, slow motion, and ground level replays of a Dallas vs. San Francisco game (for example) was a huge factor in creating league wide interest. This type of film (video) helped to create interest in various teams around the league, instead of leaving fans with only highlights of the local team.

The NCAA Final Four telecasts will again be "Teamcast" on April 4th and 6th along with the regular national telecast. While Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill will call the main telecast, fans will also be able to watch the same telecast as described by each team's regular announcers and favoring their team. This remains a great idea, giving fans of the participating team the chance to hear their regular announcers while others have the regular national telecast. If any of the games turn into a blowout, it provides a chance for fans to sample the different announcing crew.

ESPN's College Game Day show for football season will have a new host, as Rece Davis will take over starting in August. Davis replaces Chris Fowler in the role, with Fowler having moved into a primary play-by-play role this past season. While it is understandable that ESPN likes the publicity and enthusiasm of bringing the show from different campuses, it would be nice if they reduced the number of panelists on location and had Davis be in their studio. Having a crowd screaming, cheering, and waving often becomes too much of a distraction from the information being presented.

ESPN again received the benefit of its publicity machine for no good reason on Feb. 3. Late that morning, the Chicago Sun-Times web site posted a "Breaking Sports" story that "an ESPN Blogger Predicts the Cubs to be better than the White Sox in 2015". How about the Sun-Times? Breaking this huge story more than two months before the regular season even starts. And before any of the baseball writer specialists it employs could make such a prediction.

This was not a "breaking sports" story anywhere, but ESPN also announced six MLB spring training telecasts for next month:

Thurs Mar 19 - NYY vs. Philly 7:00 ET
Tues Mar 24 - Atl vs. Philly 1 PM ET
Thurs Mar 26 - LAA vs. Cub 7 PM ET
Fri Mar 27 - Bost vs. Atl 1 PM ET
Thurs Apr - NYY vs. Det 1 PM ET

Moving from the front office into broadcasting took on a slightly different twist last week when former Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney, along with a partner, have leased WZGV 730 in Cramerton/Charlotte NC and WZGM 1350 in Ashville. In addition to running the stations, Hurney also co-hosts "Inside the Lines" from 1 to 3 PM weekdays on WZGV. I have a feeling there won't be very much disagreeing with him on the air moving forward.

Two major market sports stations are, coincidentally, losing their Program Directors during the first half of 2015. Jason Dixon has left Detroit's WMGC 105.1 and the struggle to come anywhere near The Ticket, which consistently ranks in the market's top three stations overall. Acquiring the rights to the Pistons broadcasts certainly didn't help, at least not this season as the team is struggling almost as much as the station.

Jason Barrett announced that he will be leaving his P.D. position at KGMZ 95.7 The Game no later than June when his contract expires. He was in a similar situation, with The Game miles behind the dominant KNBR 680.

NEW YORK: WEPN 98.7 has extended its contract to air both the Knicks and Rangers broadcasts, which they have done for the previous ten seasons. It remains to be seen whether or not WFAN will want to get in on winter sports local play-by-play or not, but it could well have that opportunity with the Islanders' planned move into Brooklyn for next season. Islanders NYC play-by-play rights have not been contracted for as of yet.

PHILADELPHIA: Tony Bruno has made a triumphant return to local radio, starting back as co-host of the WIP 94.1 afternoon show from 1 to 6 PM along with Josh Innes. Bruno, known nationally from his "Into The Night" syndicated show a few years back, was part of WIP's morning show (on 610 AM) with Angelo Cataldi in the early 90's. Cataldi, of course, is still on the station. Adding Bruno moves Rob Ellis back to the 6 to 10 PM shift on weeknights without play-by-play.

HARRISBURG: WHGB 96.5 (along with WGLD 1440 in York PA) have dropped Phillies baseball broadcasts effective immediately, although it has little to do with the team's horrible 2014 season. The stations became Washington Nationals affiliates, citing that the Nationals' AA team is based in Harrisburg. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Nationals are heavy favorites to win the Division and be well ahead of the Phillies in 2015. These stations become the only Nationals affiliates in Pennsylvania. The best the Phillies can do, so far, for their broadcasts in the region, is WLPA 92.7 in Starview PA.

SAN DIEGO: While Lee Hacksaw Hamilton awaits his next radio gig, Hamilton has joined XETV Channel 6 as a weekend sports anchor, following more than 25 years as a local sports talk host.

CHICAGO: With Cubs broadcasts about to begin on WBBM 780 (after thousands of years on WGN Radio), the station has named Mark Grote as host of its pre and postgame coverage along with providing scores and updates during the games. Grote, who comes back over to WBBM from sister station WSCR The Score, will also appear on WSCR reporting specifically on the Cubs.

Although the station is making its debut as the Cubs flagship, it only plans to broadcast the weekend spring training games, some of which go head-to-head against the NCAA Tournament games.

WSCR is about to begin its final season under the current contract to air the White Sox games. However, the station again plans what it calls "interactive broadcasts" for four of the few spring training games it plans to air. Once again, this is the only station to do such a thing, during which they stop the play-by-play after five innings to take phone calls on the air from fans while the game site. It's hard to believe they actually think that White Sox fans would rather hear what "Steve from the west side" thinks about the team than what their pitchers and hitters are actually doing at that moment. The games are either worth airing entirely or not at all, especially when there are 21 other hours in the day to merely take calls from listeners.

Comcast SportsNet is enjoying the success of the Chicago Bulls as much as the fans. The network's ratings for telecasts for the first three months of the current season are up more than 60% over the same period last season. In addition the network's pre and postgame shows are each up more than 35% over last season.

DETROIT: Fox Sports Detroit plans to rotate its game analysts this season, which means fewer games for long-timer Rod Allen. While Jack Morris will again handle a few games, FSD has added Kirk Gibson as an analyst for a still to be determined number of telecasts. It's too early to tell if Gibson's role will be determined by his on-air performance and fan reception or if he (Gibson) plans to pursue another job on the field.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Super Day of Comments, Too

Both the game and the NBC telecast were solid and worthy. For sports fans and the sports media, that should be enough, especially given the early indication of significant viewer ratings for this game. At the same time, social media was also more prominent than ever before when it comes to the "big game".

Reports indicate that Facebook had approximately 65 million users posting Super Bowl related comments on Sunday (2/1) only, mounting up to roughly 265 million posts. Twitter supposedly had 3.5 million more game related tweets vs. the 2014 game as well.

What is curious is that these totals include posts and comments made regarding the commercials shown during the telecast.

Of course the NBC ratings will be substantial. This year, compared with most others, the weather had a big impact on the number of viewers. Many major markets, including the Boston (and New England area) "home team" area, were getting and/or recovering from major snowstorms which kept millions of consumers at home to watch instead of going to parties and/or venues to watch.

Millions of people watching at sports bars go unmeasured compared with households, and the likes of NYC, Chicago, Detroit, and many other cities had an unusually higher number of "at home" viewers this time around. Obviously, this is also the reason for the increase in social media posts.

A large percentage of the social media posts focused on the commercials and the halftime show. Not to say these are not worthy of comment, but it makes me wonder how closely all of the viewers are paying attention to the game, and to NBC's telecast. Advertisers are paying millions of dollars for those commercials. If millions are commenting on them, how many are watching the "next" one in the break? How many actually saw the replays or analysis from NBC?

It's bad enough that NBC insists on having as many analysts on its studio segments as there are fans in the stands (or so it seems), but the huge social media impact does not bode well for the attention span of the millions of viewers.

ATLANTA: Even with the Falcon's sub .500 season, one year was enough for WZGC 92.9 The Game to extend its contract and remain the Falcons' flagship station for at least the next three seasons. WCNN 680 The Fan reportedly refused to raise its bid. Coincidentally, WZGC carried the Falcons from 2004 through 2011 when it was a rock music station.

LOS ANGELES: Like father like son, as the Dodgers Spanish radio broadcasts on KTNQ Radio will be handled by the father and son team of Jaime and Jorge Jarrin starting with the coming season. "Captain" Jorge, as he was known on traffic reports on KABC Radio for more than 20 years, joins his Hall of Fame broadcaster father Jaime, as Pepe Yniguez moves over to the TV side. Yniguez will call the Spanish telecasts on SportsNet L A (for those few who can actually receive them) along with Fernando Valenzuela and/or Manny Mota. The Spanish portion of the network plans to double the number of telecasts from 75 last season to about 150 this year.

CHICAGO: Now that football season is over, WSCR 670 The Score host Patrick Mannelly (a Bears player for 16 seasons) has given up his role as co-host of the stations 9 AM to 1 PM weekday show with Matt Spiegel. Mannelly will remain with and return to the station for the next NFL season. No word yet on a replacement, with speculation being that former host Dan McNeil, who did not re-sign with the station last summer and left that very time slot, would make a return to the show in the near future.

NEW YORK: The Mets telecasts on SNY will have a new pre and postgame analyst as former Met Bob Ojeda will not be returning as contract negotiations fell apart. Ojeda is expected to pursue other broadcasting opportunities.

OKLAHOMA CITY: OK City and the region will once again be able to see a steady diet of Texas Rangers baseball for the coming season. With the 25 game Friday night package of Rangers games about to vanish in most of Oklahoma, it turns out that Fox Sports Southwest will be airing 150 plus Rangers games. (This will be all games not exclusively nationally televised.) Steve Busby and Tom Grieve return as the Rangers TV broadcast team.

LANSING MI: From The Ticket to The Team for WQTX 92.1. The station is now known as "The Team", being forced to remove "The Ticket" from its name because WXYT-FM Detroit now has the Michigan trademark for that name. The programming and lineup remain the same, including airing University of Michigan basketball and football, local high school games, and minor league Lansing Lugnuts baseball.

ROME GA: Speaking of minor league baseball WGJK have signed a multi-season deal to air the Rome Braves starting on April 9th, with the broadcast team of Kevin Karel and Clarke Johnson.