Friday, June 26, 2015

Will Rose Be A Thorn For Fox?

A few sports media reporting issues this week and in the days to come. First, there was the official Fox Sports "no comment" with regard to (its baseball analyst) Pete Rose facing new allegations that he bet on baseball during his playing days. Rose began his role with Fox Sports earlier this season. Hours after the allegations surfaced, Fox, understandably would not comment on these with regard to its employee. Nor should it have.

Rose is, as of press time, still scheduled to (next) appear on MLB Whiparound next Wednesday (7/1) on Fox Sports 1. I'm sure some will tune in specifically to watch Rose to see whether or not he comments about the current situation.  My feeling is that he absolutely should not within that show.

MLB Whiparound, which continues to air at staggered times during the week and lack any ratings momentum because of it, exists to feature the night's baseball action, and for Rose and the other reporters and analysts to comment on them. Sorry, but this is not The Pete Rose Show which happens to air highlights and look-ins.

If Pete wishes to publicly comment and use Fox Sports exclusively to do so, Fox could honor his request by using time during another of its shows or even schedule a special program to address this. It will be interesting to see whether or not this matter comes up during Rose's upcoming appearances with Fox Sports, especially with his added involvement with the MLB All-Star Game (in Cincinnati) in just over two weeks.

Still more sports "reporting" issues via the Chicago media in recent days.

This time WMAQ-TV 5 had a blunder while reporting the recent story about the hacking of the Houston Astros computer system, allegedly by one or more people within the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While reporting the story, the station put a Cardinals logo on the screen, which seems the thing to do. However, the Cardinals logo was that of the NFL Arizona Cardinals, and not the MLB St. Louis Cardinals, which was the focus of the story. Granted, the facts on the story were correct and the mistake is attributed to some graphics person. However, it makes us wonder if the carelessness is truly limited to the Graphics Dept. or not.

Another instance, which I consider to be careless, took place on Wednesday (6/24) during the WSCR Radio broadcast of the Chicago White Sox vs. the Minnesota Twins. In this case, it is what was NOT told instead of what was. It is safe to say that a large percentage (if not the vast majority) of listeners to an MLB broadcast, in any big league market, are baseball fans.

It so happened that, at the same time, Marco Estrada of the Toronto Blue Jays had a perfect game going into the 8th inning of their game vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. Over the years, many a baseball broadcaster has kept the listening audience updated about such a feat. After all, this could be a big reason to keep a baseball fan tuned in longer to a broadcast awaiting the news of whether or not the pitcher gets his no-hitter (or in this case perfect game). Yet, play-by-play voice Ed Farmer gave only the score of the game, with zero mention of Estrada's potential feat.

WSCR is a CBS Radio station, is all-sports, and yet failed to mention a potential big story. (Estrada lost the perfect game in the 8th.) It is possible that Farmer had no idea this was even going on. However, these broadcasts mostly limit the "out of town scoreboard" to only the scores and rarely any details of the other games.

My point is that years ago an MLB radio broadcast regularly updated the other games with fresh scores, home runs, and even pitching changes. These days, when radio broadcasts have to compete with our (fans) attention along with phone applications, online scoreboards, and TV networks with live look-ins, the radio broadcasts have only responded with providing even less information than they used to. That is not good. Radio management sits around wondering where its audience is going, while some broadcasts provide much less than they did when there was not any true competition.

Perhaps WSCR doesn't care anymore, since the station is reportedly literally hours away (at press time) of losing the White Sox radio rights to WLS 890 starting next season. However, if this happens, CBS Radio is very likely to do what they did in New York City (when they let the Mets radio go to WOR and brought the Yankees over to WFAN to replace), and move the Chicago Cubs games over to WSCR for next season and beyond. If and when that happens, things probably will not get any better. WSCR The Scorer continues to not always provide out-of-town MLB scores on its "scoreboard updates" as it is.

Also from Chicago is the news that Jen Lada will be joining ESPN in August, departing from Comcast SportsNet Chicago by July 1st in the process.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech football may not seem the same starting this season, as Bill Roth is relocating after more than 25 seasons as the team's voice. You could say that Roth is going Hollywood. Roth has been hired to be the radio play-by-play voice for the UCLA Bruins starting this coming season. The task of replacing Roth in Blacksburg and on the nearly 40 VT radio affiliates goes to Jon Laaser. Laaser has been the basketball voice of Virginia Commonwealth, and has also been doing baseball play-by-play for the Richmond AA team. Laaser's first regular season call, along with returning analyst Mike Burnop, will be teams opener against the defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

SAN DIEGO: Speaking of "reporting", there is the story of Hank Bauer over the past few days. Bauer, who was suspended for one exhibition game last season over some comments on an earlier broadcast as the Chargers analyst on KLSD 1360, was reported as "not returning" to the Charger booth for the coming NFL season by management.  A couple of days later, Bauer became an NFL analyst for Sports USA, which is a separate company with completely different management.

Interesting timing!

JEFFERSON CITY MO: KZJF 104.1 has dropped "The Fan" sports format and has become a music station as of this week. The station will, however, continue to air all Royals baseball games with the new format. It had been sports since October 2013.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Viewer Competition Heats Up As Well

It is certainly a rare week when ESPN has any true competition for national ratings among the sports channels, but the past week was one of those rare times. With a lot of help from the large Chicago market, NBCSN having a pair of Stanley Cup Final telecasts involving the Blackhawks helped to put NBCSN ahead of ESPN in total prime time viewers for the week.

Of course, that will come to an end for this week, since the last two Stanley Cup games, which did well in the ratings (more later), were on NBC. As a result, NBCSN goes back to minimal ratings until 4th quarter when its NHL telecasts return.

Even more amazing is that Fox Sports 1 actually scored solid ratings for last week with its telecasts of the Women's World Cup. With some of those telecasts taking place during daytime hours, FS1 finished a strong second (to ESPN) in total viewers overall for the week among the sports networks. 

What this demonstrates is that content is king. ESPN officials probably didn't even bat an eye, knowing that NBCSN has no more NHL games for three months, and that the World Cup is even less frequent.

This also demonstrates that fans know these other sports networks exist. If and when the nightly live sportscasts and the filler programming that NBCSN, FS1, and CBS Sports Network pound away with return to having comparably miniscule audiences, it will show what a long way these networks have to go in order to retain viewers.

This could also cost consumers even more money for cable/satellite costs in the long run. Since the "right" live events are necessary for these challengers to draw ratings, it means the rights fees will continue to escalate beyond reason. And that means our monthly costs will keep going up in order to support this.

ESPN/ABC are certainly pleased with the just concluded NBA Finals, as the Golden State vs. Cleveland series has produced the highest overall ratings for the Finals on ABC. The Warriors' Game 6 win, for the championship, winds up as the highest rated Game 6 ever on ABC, and was up about 8% over its previous (San Antonio vs. Miami) Game 6 airing. The local team audiences contributed, with the San Francisco market producing an NBA telecast ratings record, while the Cleveland market had an amazing 42 rating.

For the Stanley Cup Final, one local market pushed the ratings for NBC and NBCSN. The Game 6 clincher for Chicago over Tampa Bay on Monday (6/15) scored the highest rating ever for a Blackhawks game in the Chicago market with a 41 rating. That is in the range of the Chicago audience for recent Super Bowl games (none of which involved the Bears). The number of households viewing in Chicago appears to account for about 30% of the national rating, which was a solid 4.4 for NBC.

Meanwhile, significant announcements have just come from the TV networks of two of the pro leagues.

NBA-TV has unveiled an additional concept to market its "out of market" telecasts which have been and will continue to be marketed via the various cable/satellite providers. Starting next season, NBA League Pass will also include the ability to purchase individual out-of-market games on a pay-per-view basis via online and mobile.

While this appears to be a way to generate additional revenue for the fan "too busy" to watch a multitude of games, this move would seem to actually be in response to the recent popularity of daily fantasy sports web sites. With revenue on the line for many on a daily basis (as opposed to weekly, monthly, or for the season), the NBA is banking (literally) on more fans being interested in specific games only on certain nights.

Over at MLB Network, the announcement was made that the Network is in the process of being made
available for streaming online and via smartphones and tablets. This will include all programming including the many live game telecasts it provides, although observing local market blackout policies.

In addition, MLB Network will soon be available for those who subscribe to the AtBat application.

Derek Jeter has chosen his next career, and it involves sports media. Jeter is now running "The Players Tribune", which will involve working with pro athletes to create their brand of online and social media content. Still in development, Jeter says that his hope is to be able to better connect top athletes with fans. One element which we don't know yet is an important one. No word on whether or not the site(s) and content will be advertiser supported, or if the fans will be asked for fork out the dollars to "communicate" with the athletes.

DALLAS: Dave Strader, perhaps second only to Mike Emrick in the line of top quality NHL play-by-play TV voices, has been, understandably, chosen as the new TV voice for the Dallas Stars. Strader had been with NBC/NBCSN since 2011, after play-by-play stints with the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers.

Strader will have Daryl 'Razor' Reaugh as his analyst. The two have paired up on national telecasts in recent years. As talented as Strader is, he has a tough act to follow, replacing Ralph Strangis, who resigned after 22 seasons as the play-by-play voice. In fact, Strangis had been the voice of the team every season since the team moved to Dallas.

CHICAGO: Sportscaster Dave Juday, who had been doing weekend updates on WBBM 780 this year and spent 18 years with WMVP ESPN 1000 before that, is leaving this month to relocate to the Phoenix area. No official word yet on where Juday will be working when he gets there. Juday also hosted "The Jack Swarbrick Show" on the Notre Dame Network.

WGN Radio, while riding the crest from being the flagship for the Blackhawks radio broadcasts, now plans to expand its Chicago Bears postgame programming for the coming season. The station announced the hiring of three former Bears players, Dan Hampton, Ed O'Bradovich, and Glen Kozlowski, to co-host its three hour broadcast following each Bears regular season game. The station is no longer using the name of "The Three Bears", instead going with the weaker "Hamp & O.B. Show with Glen Kozlowski" title.

There is one element to this that makes it even more interesting. WGN Radio does not air the Bears games and has not been the flagship station for the team for several years. Rival WBBM Radio is the flagship station, and airs its own two hour post-game show following each broadcast.

AUSTIN: University of Texas sports broadcasts now have a new flagship station, as 104.9 The Horn has a new seven year contract via IMG Sports which takes effect for the upcoming seasons. Longhorns football and basketball games will be heard, along with select baseball and softball broadcasts. Craig Way is expected to continue with football play-by-play, as he has done for more than 20 years.

DENVER: It appears that KVOQ 1340 will be the new home for Mile High Sports programming starting on or before July 1st. The group plans to add an FM signal by the end of the year.

SEATTLE: KFNQ 1090 The Fan, already with only 3 to 7 PM as its only local sports show, has cut back a bit more, if that's possible. Bill Swartz is no longer with the afternoon drive show after nearly three years as a co-host. As of this week, it is now down to Steve Sandmeyer and Jason Churchill.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nickson's The One

Some long time sports broadcasters have good news this week, while the latest radio ratings are turbulent among the major markets.

First, congratulations to Nick Nickson, who has been a radio voice of the L.A. Kings for the past 34 years. Nickson has been selected for he NHL Hall of Fame's Foster Hewitt Award, as voted by the NHL Broadcasters Association as well as reporters. What makes this even more special is that Nickson will join another long time voice of the Kings, Bob Miller, with that honor. Nickson and Miller worked on the air together back in the 80's when the Kings were a blip on the local sports radar until the arrival of Wayne Gretzky changed that.

Basketball Hall of Fame member Dick Vitale will continue as the lead analyst for ESPN College Basketball through at least the 2017-18 season, as a result of his latest contract extension. This assures him of at least 39 seasons with ESPN. Got to think he will get at least one more season to make it an even 40.

In Washington D.C., the expected announcement was made that the legendary Sonny Jurgensen will indeed return to Redskins Radio for the upcoming season. This will be his 35th season in the booth for the team, with no sign of him slowing down.

The Nielsen Radio Ratings for May have been released for the nation's largest markets, this month without any trends one way or the other. Moreso than past months, several of the key markets are showing varied trends.

Sports stations continue to be strong in Boston, where the two stations finished in an overall tie for #7 in the market. Even though both WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM Sports Hub show an audience decrease, they now have roughly the same number of listeners each week.

NYC listeners have boosted the combined sports talk radio audience by .7 of ratings point (combined) for the month, no doubt boosted by good starts from both the Mets and Yankees. WFAN came in #10 overall, and while WEPN-FM failed to make the top 20, it did show its highest rating in several months.

The playoff run of the NBA Chicago Bulls and the expected coaching change helped WMVP ESPN 1000 to an overall 33% audience increase over the past three months. While still not finishing in the market's top 20 stations, WMVP overtook rival WSCR The Score 670 for the first time in many months. WBBM 780 saw an audience boost as it now carries the Chicago Cubs radio broadcasts.

Detroit listeners, and a solid start by the Tigers (flagship station) boosted WXYT-FM The Ticket to a lofty #1 overall position, maintaining seven times the audience size of WMGC-FM in the process.

Baseball helped in San Diego as well, where XEPRS Mighty 1090 showed a solid increase to #5 overall in the market from struggles as recent as last summer. A similar story in Seattle, where KIRO-AM, with its all sports format and the Mariners games, has grown its audience by 25% over the past three months and came in at #9 overall. In Tampa, WDAE, helped by the Rays broadcasts, rose one-half of a ratings point from April through May and shows its best ratings since 2009.

No surprise here from St. Louis, where the Cardinals' hot start propelled KMOX to a huge increase from April to a solid #1 and its best numbers since late 2013.

However, the baseball gain is not a trend across the board. In Minneapolis, KTWN, still a mix of music and Twins baseball, again held steady (despite the best start for the Twins in years) and is only #18 overall, while KXFN The Fan is at #7 overall.

In Dallas, an upward trend in sports radio listening still failed to put either KTCK-AM The Ticket or KRLD-FM into the top 20 overall. KTCK showed a one-half point increase, while KRLD increased its rating by .2. Similar story in Los Angeles, where both the Dodgers and Angels stations (which are also all sports) both increased, but not enough for either to crack the top 20. This ratings period marked the first time both KSPN-AM 710 and KLAC-AM 570 each finished with a 1.0 or higher rating.

WJZ-FM Baltimore continued its strong showing with a #4 overall finish, up 20% from the March 2015 survey.

For those who disagree with me about local sports talk and don't believe that team performances impact the ratings far more than the personalities and station promotions, take a look at Philadelphia.

With the term "post season" being unheard of in Philadelphia sports these days, the lack of the Sixers and Flyers in May, combined with the poor start from the Phillies is having a big impact.

WIP-FM 94.1, often one of the top seven stations in the ratings, has slipped to #11 overall and has lost .7 from its ratings from March through May. WPEN-FM has lost one-half of a point during the same time frame. When there is nothing fun to discuss, it doesn't matter how entertaining the personalities are.

LOS ANGELES: KSPN 710 will remain the flagship station of the Lakers through at least the 2021-22 season thanks to a two year contract extension. The Lakers have aired on KSPN since 2009. John Ireland and Mychal Thompson will continue as the broadcast team, while both continue their respective midday co-hosting duties during the week. Ireland co-hosts "Mason & Ireland" from Noon to 3 most weekdays, while Thompson co-hosts "Thompson & Trudell" from 10 AM to Noon.

BUFFALO: WGR will be ready for the upcoming NHL Draft on June 26th. The station plans to broadcast live from an NHL Draft Party at the First Niagara Center, complete with having Sabres play-by-play voice Rick Jeanneret on hand with analyst Rob Ray. This is a great idea for both the team and the station to promote the team and direct fan interaction.

PANAMA CITY: We're wondering if anyone noticed, but Fox Sports 590 is no longer, having quietly switched to a classic hits music format. Then again, they were quietly airing Fox Sports Radio.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Indy Station In No "Rush" For Sports Talk

It's another of those "radio vs. business" decisions that impacts sports radio for Indianapolis. WNDE 1260 (and soon to be 97.5) will soon be sports for 21 hours a day on weekdays, down from 24. The reason? Management is adding the syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show next month, so never mind the current format.

Limbaugh is being dropped by WIBC 93.1 upon the conclusion of the current contract. WNDE's ownership decided to pick it up, starting July 6th, resulting in a daily interruption of the sports format.

For area sports fans, the radio wars might offer better competition than the Colts and Pacers will for their upcoming seasons. Limbaugh has been a popular show over the years, but WIBC obviously had their reasons for dropping the contract, most likely its bottom line. WNDE is counting on thousands of Limbaugh fans staying with him on his new radio home.

WIBC 93.1 has every reason to come up with a solid replacement for Limbaugh on its airwaves. Retaining and hopefully (for them) growing the audience is the most obvious reason. One more important reason is that WIBC's sister station at 1060 AM is all sports radio Then Fan.

Thus, if WIBC can keep a good percentage of its audience without Limbaugh, and refer its large audience over to The Fan for its sports programming, both of those stations would then provide solid reasons for listeners to not go over to WNDE 1260. On the other hand, if WNDE can grow its audience because of Limbaugh, one would think that its days as a sports talk station would begin to wind down.

Other than the local Query & Schultz Show, the station offers little else and only Fox Radio Sports for hours and hours of its programming. At least we know the listeners will decide.
But, oh, for the days when media management cared about maintaining a format and having a consistent sound. WNDE going to "mostly sports most of the time", as I call it, does not appear to be a good mix.

While the NBC Sports Group is maximizing its coverage of the Belmont Stakes this coming Saturday (6/6), and understandably so, even MSG Network is getting into the act. The regional sports network has announced additional supplemental programming leading into and following the actual race. MSG+ will air a special "Belmont Stakes Preview" premiering Friday (6/5) at 7 PM ET, along with being able to show the replay of the telecast at 9:30 PM ET on the 6th.

NBC, meanwhile, has moved up the start time of the Stanley Cup Finals Game 2 one hour on Saturday in order to use the Belmont Stakes as a lead-in. The Blackhawks at Lightning telecast will begin at 7 PM ET on NBC, while all other games (whether on NBC or NBCSN) begin at 8 PM ET.

If it wasn't for the Chicago audience, NBC would likely get buried in the ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals. This past weekend saw both Conference finals have a Game 7, including New York and Chicago teams. Yet, local and regional telecasts of Major League Baseball regular season action scored generally higher ratings.

Last Friday (5/29), the N.Y. Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Game 7 telecast lost to local baseball telecasts in 18 of the 24 markets which televised the home team. Of course, many of the markets do not have local NHL teams. Both St. Louis and Kansas City baseball telecasts finished with at least five times the audience ratings of the Game 7 telecast.

On Saturday (5/30) the Chicago vs. Anaheim Game 7 finished second to local MLB telecasts in 12 of the 19 markets which aired games. Even in hockey crazed Pittsburgh, the Pirates vs. Padres telecast drew more than 2 1/2 times the total audience as the NHL game.

When you consider that this was the first time in 15 years that both NHL Conference Finals series went the full seven games, it shows how much more work the NHL needs to do to promote its product. Those series included teams from the three top markets, including compelling games over the previous two weeks.

This is also good news for MLB, which continues to show solid regular season ratings for the local teams, even if the post-season ratings have not been as hoped.

The NFL continues to take in the big bucks for its telecasts. Yahoo is paying an estimated $20 million to the NFL for the rights to stream the October 25 regular season matchup between Buffalo and Jacksonville in London. The telecast, produced by CBS and seen over the air in both markets only, will be available at no cost online, including phones and tablets.

With a 9:30 AM ET start time and no other major live sports competition, it would appear that Yahoo will do well with that investment between selling advertising and promoting its various services to millions. Of course, the service needs to be certain it can handle the load, as millions will try this out if for no other reason but the novelty of this.

Of course, the NFL stands to benefit tremendously, with anticipated huge viewing numbers for what appears to be a poor matchup of sub-.500 teams. It is no accident that game was scheduled for October 25th. By having three live games available prior to Sunday Night Football, the League wants to "burn out" fans watching games all day long. Why? Because there will be a World Series telecast that night, going up against Sunday Night Football. Even if fewer fans than usual are watching, having 10 hours of live football before the World Series telecast is likely to curtail viewership that evening.

DALLAS: The improved ratings for local MLB telecasts is very evident in the Dallas area. After a poor start by the Rangers, the debut game of top prospect Joey Gallo on Tuesday (6/2) brought Fox Sports Southwest its highest ratings of the current season. Even more impressive is the fact that the game was a blowout, ending with a 15-2 Rangers win over the Chicago White Sox. The previous high for Rangers ratings was Memorial Day for Josh Hamilton's first game back as a member of the Rangers.

PITTSBURGH: 93.7 The Fan will again have Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for his weekly appearance during the 2015 season. Roethlisberger will again appear on The Cook and Ponio Show each week. This season's appearance will be on Tuesday mornings at 11 AM.

PHOENIX: Nick Boynton has been reinstated as analyst for the AZ Coyotes for next season following his recent arrest and promise to do community service.

TUCSON: Sorry to learn of the passing of Dan Ryan, who spent 20 years as KVOA-TV Sports Director until 2006. Ryan spent more than 33 years in broadcasting, as passed away last week.