Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Varied Verdict Coverage

To put it mildly, it was interesting to see how some of the key sports media outlets handled the announcement of the verdict in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial on Wednesday (4/15).

We start with ESPN, which led the way and went live with coverage, and did a thorough job. However, the part of things did not go so well. Their "flash" release of the verdict had a headline of "Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty......". Yet, the very first paragraph of content under that headline, for the first few minutes it was online, said "found not guilty in the murder of......".

You read that right. Their headline and first sentence of the story contradicted each other as the story was breaking. This from a news organization which has been quick to suspend employees over social media (and not on the air) comments in the past.

On the air, ESPN, along with CNN, stayed with the story following the guilty verdict for live reaction, with ESPN continuing its coverage (along with other sports news) during the hours which followed.

A different story, however, over at NFL Network, where they joined the coverage just prior to the verdict announcement, and then seemingly hurried back to regular programming, which was their scheduled pre-recorded fare. This raises an interesting question as to how an official league network should handle what is really a negative situation.

If NFL Network had stayed with the coverage and attempted to minimize the public relations impact on the League, there would have been criticism, just as there is for running away from extended live coverage as if they are not facing it head on.

From my point of view, the NFL Network blew it. Providing their own reaction coverage could have been a form of damage control. This is not to say that a guilty verdict on murder charges is minimal, but avoiding it was not the right call.

NFL Network had time to prepare for the verdict announcement and should have been ready to react. They could have had at least one Patriots official ready to comment about how upsetting this is, while reminding fans and viewers that Hernandez had no longer been a part of the team. They could have taken some reaction from fans of the Patriots and around the league. If the reaction was supportive of the team and the league, it would have reflected. If it was negative reaction, it would show the fans that NFL Network is not above criticism, while letting league officials know that they would need to do some crisis management as soon as possible.

Instead, fans who heard the news and wanted to see some reaction and turned to NFL Network had no choice but to tune over to ESPN, CNN, or in some instances to one of the regional sports networks where they could see immediate reaction and analysis of the verdict. Keep in mind that in two weeks the NFL Network will be directly competing with ESPN for viewers during the NFL Draft. Although fans would not put a murder verdict in the same category as draft news, the point is that other networks outshined in coverage of a league related story.

Of course, the verdict was bigger news in New England because of Hernandez having played for the Patriots. While both sports radio stations were among those on top of the developments, it was a split decision for the regional TV sports networks. Comcast SportsNet New England interrupted their programming to provide live coverage and reaction. However, NESN did not, continuing to air paid infomercials during the time its biggest competitor was airing the live reaction.

The radio station ratings for the March ratings period are coming out this week, with the general trend of major market sports stations being that they are at lower listener levels for March than they were for January. As always, the Boston sports station race bears a closer look. From January through the March ratings period, WBZ-FM Sports Hub has dropped in overall audience from a 5.5 to a 4.7.

As happens in most other markets, an audience dip of the leading sports station is not as a result of the "lower" rated station taking away listeners. Rival WEEI-FM, during the very same time frame, dropped from a 5.0 to their current 4.1.

These drops are not a disaster for either station, as those totals continue to put both sports stations in the nine highest rated stations in the Boston area, still by far the strongest showing for a combination of two sports radio stations.

It remains to be seen whether the next ratings period will show an impact from WEEI morning co-host John Dennis being off the air for what could be six weeks. Dennis has voluntarily checked himself into a local rehab facility. The "Dennis & Callahan Show" continues with co-host Gerry Callahan and Kirk Minihane during his absence.

On one hand, the NBA may not care when games air via their big spending TV partners, but on the other hand they should. Granted, the final round of the Masters was this past Sunday (4/12) and ESPN aired early round coverage, but that should not be a reason to concede viewers to CBS.
ESPN/ABC should be promoting its upcoming extensive NBA playoff coverage which begins this coming weekend with more than the usual number of appealing first round series. Yet, neither ESPN or ABC aired any NBA games during the usual Sunday afternoon window. That window included the 1 PM ET "first game" possibility, which would likely have ended during the first hour of CBS-TV's final round of the Masters coverage. There were four afternoon games on the NBA schedule on Sunday, and three of those had playoff implications.

This means that fans checking ESPN and ABC on the weekend days before the playoffs had no games to watch, and the NBA had significantly less promotional time for what is to come.

Although this blunder was via social media and not national TV (or lack thereof), an "ooops" moment on Twitter on Tuesday (4/14) was certainly embarrassing for the 26 minutes it was posted.

TurnerSportsPR put out on Twitter, "NBA on TNT Action Continues TONIGHT with Doubleheader Featuring Bulls vs. Heat & Trail Blazers vs. Warriors". However, that doubleheader was what TNT showed the previous week!

It wasn't until 22 minutes later (making it nice that Twitter feeds have a time stamp), then posted "Tonight’s #NBA lineup: 7pm/E @NBATV GameTime 8p @NBAonTNT @WashWizards vs. @pacers, 10:30p @LAClippers vs. @suns". There was no apology, nor was there any mention of this being a correction or of any earlier error. Yikes.

On the other side, NBC is taking a more aggressive approach to promoting its NHL Stanley Cup Playoff coverage. In addition to adding USA Network to the fold for a group of first and second round games, NBC has decided to televise the NHL Draft Lottery for the first time, and it will air in prime time. NBC has a first round game to air in prime time this Saturday (4/18) at 8 PM ET, which will be Game 2 of the N.Y. Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series. The Draft Lottery will air just prior to the opening face off.

According to Sports Business Journal, NBCSN scored its third best audience since acquiring the NHL telecast rights prior to the 2005-06 season, although viewership was actually down slightly from the previous season. The "Wednesday Night Rivalry" series did gain steam this season with increased viewership over the previous year, and finishing up with seven of the most watched NBCSN telecasts for its entire season of games. The report shows that Buffalo, Boston, and Pittsburgh were the top local markets for viewers. Looks like the majority of the snow-ins in the Buffalo area this past winter got interested in the NHL.

ESPN has announced that 78 year old Lou Holtz really has retired from his college football analyst role. The former Notre Dame coach held that role since the 2004 season.

PHILADELPHIA: After being so strongly rumored the actual announcement seemed liked no big deal, but it is official that Anthony Gargano will join WPEN 97.5 to co-host a new local morning show to start within a month. Gargano, formerly at soon-to-be rival WIP 94.1, will co-host with Jon Marks, who would reportedly move up from his current early afternoon slot. The ESPN station has been airing Mike & Mike in the morning since 2009.

CHICAGO: New Cubs manager Joe Maddon has been signed by WSCR 670 The Score for a regular Tuesday midday segment on The Spiegel and Goff Show. The move comes as sister station WBBM 780 has begun as the Cubs flagship station. Ironically, WSCR is currently the flagship station for the White Sox broadcasts, although in its final year of the current contract which has yet to be extended.

The Cubs newest TV station, WLS-TV Channel 7, experienced a horrendous start to the start of a very special season for them. For the first time in station history, they are televising 25 Cubs games this season. Last Wednesday (4/8) during the station's first ever local baseball telecast, the station aired a series of graphics featuring every National League team. However, it appears nobody thought to proof read them first. Viewers saw the "San Francisco Mariners" on the screen. Incredibly, that wasn't the entire blunder. San Francisco was misspelled, as were Milwaukee and Cincinnati. It is probably a good thing they didn't feature the American League that day.

Then, on Friday (4/10), the station was airing its usual 6:00 PM newscast, when long time sportscaster Mark Giangreco's segment came on just minutes after the White Sox home opener vs. Minnesota had just ended. Giangreco called for the White Sox highlights but no video came up. A few seconds later, highlights from the earlier Cubs game at Colorado came up, and he narrated them with no problem.

When the video ended, he said something like "But we are sorry, we do not have the White Sox highlights", and then went on with the other sports news. Say what?

I understand that technical problems can happen at any time. However, there is no excuse for not having any copy ready to, at the very least, give details about the game. Viewers got nothing. Not even information about the losing pitcher, who hit home runs, or anything else except for the score of the game. Not even an Opening Day feature. And then a shortened sportscast as if nothing went wrong?

It's only a week into the new season, but WLS-TV has a lot of work to do in order to salvage their baseball season.

NEW YORK: MSG Networks have found an easy way to keep the local teams in check for the first round of the NHL playoffs, since they show both the Rangers and Islanders games. MSG Network will show all of the Rangers games it can while the Islanders telecasts, even when on separate nights from the Rangers' series, will air on MSG+.  Any games airing nationally on NBC-TV will not be televised by MSG for either team.

HOUSTON: KILT 610 has added Sara Eckert to its reporting and update anchor staff. Eckert is known locally for her previous work with CSN Houston.

COLORADO SPRINGS: KREL 1580 has dropped its sports format, but not for the usual reasons. The station has changed to become the first radio station with a format of talking about and covering the marijuana industry, which is legal in Colorado. Seriously.

SPOKANE: KZFS 1280 and 99.3 has dropped its sports format. These stations have replaced it with Christian programming.

SCRANTON/WILKS-BARRE: WHBS 102.3 The Sports Hub is no longer, having changed over to a rock music format and its call letters to WMQX.

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