Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tournament 'Dukes' It Out For Strong Ratings

It turned out to be "ratings madness" for the NCAA tournament this year even though Kentucky fell short in its attempt to carry out an undefeated season. CBS, TBS and family drew huge audiences, gaining the tournament's highest average ratings in 22 years. The Monday night (4/6) championship game between Duke and Wisconsin drew the highest overnight rating for a championship game since (ironically) the Kentucky vs. Arizona battle in 1997. The Final Four telecast on Saturday (4/4) was up more than 38% over last year's Saturday games, and was the highest since 1996.

In addition to the TV side, word is that just the Monday night championship game generated approximately 3.4 million live video streams, which is also a record. Even with all of this, we'll never know what would have happened on Monday had the University of Kentucky been going for the unbeaten season.

The past couple of days also brought the start of the 2015 MLB season. From having watched at least one inning of several of the local and network telecasts of opening games, it seems as if the head honchos have put an unofficial gag order on the "speeding up the game" discussion.

Early in spring training, many of the local team telecasts made mention of the clock to time the between innings and pitching change breaks, along with batters needing to stay within range of the batter's box. Yet, now that the regular season is upon us, you would think there was no such rule. I didn't hear or see one mention of this, and that includes Sunday night's (4/5) ESPN opener.

For the St. Louis at Chicago Cubs telecast, ESPN generated its highest opening night ratings in five years, up nearly 40% from last season. In St. Louis, the single market overnight rating of 17.7 is reportedly the highest regular season MLB game in history on any ESPN network. The Chicago market ratings were strong, but likely hindered a bit by the more meaningful Blackhawks vs. St. Louis NHL game on NBCSN. (Coincidentally, national viewers were able to choose among two separate St. Louis at Chicago telecasts mostly head-to-head.)

Frankly, ESPN got lucky that enough people knew to check ESPN2. It could be due to contractual obligations, but ESPN stuck with the Women's NCAA tournament telecasts while Sunday Night Baseball was moved to ESPN2. An hour earlier, the start of Baseball Tonight on ESPN2 (the lead in) was delayed eight minutes due to some soccer telecast which ran over. Since when do soccer and women's basketball take such priority over MLB?
Speaking of ESPN, pleased to see that the network finally released Bobby Knight from his analyst role following its NIT coverage. Ever since the incident a couple years back where he used profanity on live TV and never apologized, it was incredible that the network stuck with him. After all, if one of his players had violated policy, you know Knight would have made sure the player was disciplined and that everybody knew all about how Knight took such action. Let's hope we have finally heard the last of him anywhere.

This week's BUSTED note has to go to Yankees radio voice John Sterling. During the season opening broadcast between the Yankees and Blue Jays on Monday (4/6), Sterling finished a play and quickly recapped and sent the broadcast to the end of inning commercial. One problem. That was only the second out. BUSTED

On a sad note, both MLB and NFL fans lost a legendary broadcaster with the passing of Lon Simmons over the weekend at the age of 91. Simmons had been a fixture in the Bay Area, mostly known for his work on the Giants radio broadcasts from 1958 (when they moved to San Francisco) to 1979 (missing 1974 and '75) and again from 1996 to 2002. From 1981 to 1995 he was across the Bay as one of the A's radio voices. Lon was on the air during the 1989 World Series broadcast when the big earthquake hit. And, early in his career he also called 49ers radio play-by-play. Even though his play-by-play in later years was as boring as Pat Summerall, Simmons brought a lot of humor and experience to the broadcasts even then. He will be missed.

ST. LOUIS: KXFM 1380 has added to its "mostly sports" radio lineup, including returning Howard Balzer to the local airwaves starting on April 20th. Balzer will co-host middays with Charlie Edwards. This week the station began airing J.C. Corcoran during morning drive although that show will not be limited to sports. The station will air a ton of syndicated sports shows including NBC Sports Radio.

ALBUQUERQUE: KXKS 1190 and 107.5 have gone to an all-sports radio simulcast. However, the vast majority of its content will be from Fox Sports Radio.

MELBOURNE FL: WLZR-AM and WSJZ-FM have dropped their FM simulcast of "The Fan". WLZR remains as "Sports 1560 The Fan" and continues with ESPN Radio. WSJZ-FM has, as of last week, switched to a combination of rock music and talk.

CHRISTOPHER IL: WXLT 103.5 ESPN has named Derek Fogel as Program Director as well as morning sports anchor on sister station News Radio 1340 WJPF which serve a small part of Southern Illinois. Fogel's father, Dave Fogel, is morning man on music station WJMK Chicago.

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