Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Week In Sports Media

How convenient that ESPN just happened to find comments made by host Colin Cowherd offensive last Friday (7/24) and pulled his radio and ESPNU show off the air one week before it was expected to happen. This, of course, may put a damper on the anticipated announcement that Cowherd will be joining Fox Sports, by making him look less favorable to the masses.

This move also further distracts some fans and media from noticing that losing Cowherd, along with Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons recently, was about ESPN reducing its expenses by cutting millions off the payroll.

The network also 'just happened' to have its ESPN Los Angeles radio team of Steve Mason and John Ireland all set to begin filling in as of this Monday (7/27), whether on an interim basis or as an audition for taking over the national slot as well.

NBC, fresh off a much improved showing from its NHL telecasts, has already announced their tentative national TV schedule for the upcoming 2015-16 season for NBC and NBCSN with more than 100 regular season telecasts. The network is beefing up its "Wednesday Night Rivalry" 24 week series and including six double header Wednesday nights.
NBCSN will be showing at least 12 Sunday night matchups after the first of the year. Opening night, Oct. 7th, will start with an impressive doubleheader with the NY Rangers vs. Chicago followed by San Jose at Los Angeles.

The network is counting on the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to have another solid season and continue to deliver major numbers from the Chicago area. Already, the Blackhawks could have up to 21 of their regular season games shown on either NBC or NBCSN.

However, NBCSN continues to struggle for an audience beyond its NHL and some of its auto racing schedule. Case in point is their just announced schedule of Ivy League football on Friday nights during October and November, starting with Columbia at Princeton at 7 PM ET on October 2nd.

Fox Sports has added former Colorado QB Joel Klatt as its lead analyst on its college football telecasts, with Klatt being teamed with play-by-play voice Gus Johnson. Its other play-by-play crews will include Tim Brando and Joe Davis on play-by-play. Brady Quinn will serve as an analyst, although not yet regularly paired with a play-by-play voice. Former NFL Referee Mike Pereira, who is a part of Fox's NFL coverage, will also be used on most of the NCAA telecasts during the coming season.

CHICAGO: The Bears will again have their games broadcast in Spanish, although they will have a new radio affiliate starting in a couple of weeks with the first pre-season game. The AM-FM combo of WRTO 1200, WVIV 93.5 and WVIX 103.1 will take over the broadcasts after three seasons on WLEY-FM. Hector Lozano, the Sports Director for Univision Chicago, and Omar Ramos, will handle the play-by-play and analyst duties.

MIAMI: WQAM 560 will continue as the flagship station for the Florida Panthers, with Randy "Red Deer" Moller remaining on play-by-play. The station will also air "Panthers Insider" for one hour on Saturday mornings along with other team related programming.

BALTIMORE: WBAL 1090 wanted football on both weekend days so much that it will continue to air Navy Football on Saturdays, renewing its contract. This will be its 11th season airing the games, with the contract reported to be a multi-year deal. The station is, of course, the flagship station of the Ravens.

NASHVILLE: The "Greg Pogue & Big Joe Show" is back as of this week, even with a 9 to 11 AM air time, on WNSR 560 and 95.9. The station already has "The Bill King Show" from 7 to 9 AM. Dubin, who is expected to continue his sports reporter duties for WSMV-TV 4, was paired with Pogue previously on The Game 94.9 FM.

SYRACUSE: Music fans are crying "WOLF" since WOLF 1490 dropped its music simulcast to pick up Fox Sports Radio this week. However, as of press time, there is no local sports programming on the station.

RALEIGH-DURHAM:  Mike Maniscalco is now the solo host of the morning show on The Buzz 99.3 as of this week. Former NC State football standout Mark Thomas has left the station, and his co-hosting duties, in order to join a local advertising/marketing agency. Thomas is, however, expected to continue to be involved with NC State sports.

ALBANY: WCWN-TV 45 plans to begin a 30 minute live and local sports report, starting on August 31st, at 10:30 PM Monday through Friday, and hosted by Kelly O'Donnell. Known as "Upstate Sports Edge", the station has also hired Brittany Devane as an anchor and reporter for the show, which promises to focus heavily on the local college and high school sports scene.

FARGO: KQWB 1660 has also dropped its music format and has gone sports. However, the station is also airing Fox Sports Radio with no local sports programming as of yet. The station was the local ESPN station for five years until changing to music in 2012.

FREEPORT IL: Sorry to learn of the passing of Rick Edwards, who did play-by-play and hosted shows going back to the 1950's on Rockford stations WRRR and later WROK. He was "the radio voice of Freeport sports" in the 1960's and 70's on WELL-FM and WFRL-AM. He passed away last week (real name Ed Richter) at the age of 94.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Local Team Baseball A Big Hit

The difference in how MLB and the NFL market themselves is becoming even more evident with the recent Forbes Magazine article about the increase in ratings for local team MLB telecasts for the first half of the 2015 season. The NFL takes pride in marketing the league as a whole, such as promoting its "doubleheader" game telecasts extensively via its network partners. Doing this makes a matchup of teams in a different time zone and different division appealing to a large number of fans.

At the same time MLB stays with the "favorite team" theme, especially with its popular At Bat application which brings broadcasts to millions of fans via phones and other devices. The Forbes report showed ten MLB teams as the highest rated and most viewed prime time cable TV programming during this season. Those markets are Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore, San Diego, San Francisco, and Phoenix. This is even more significant when you realize that Seattle, Boston, and San Diego have teams which are having disappointing seasons based on earlier expectations.

At the same time, the L.A. Dodgers ratings continue to suffer from their telecasts being available to less than 30% of the Los Angeles market, and the Chicago White Sox ratings suffering from a disappointing season in the nation's #3 market.

This trend also reflects on the lesser ratings for the All-Star Game and the national packages such as Fox and TBS. It could be that fans are not as 'in tune' with national games. Of course, MLB telecasts are usually six days per week, vs. one game per week for the NFL teams. There is, however, the promotional factor. Fox Sports continues to hide most of its telecasts, and put them on at staggered times, on Fox Sports 1, while TBS just this month began its Sunday series of telecasts after fans got used to not finding any Sunday games on that network.

At Fox Sports, they are already preparing their promotional forces for the upcoming NFL season, now expanding their Sunday NFL pre-game programming from one hour to two hours. The Network plans to put "Fox NFL Kickoff" on Fox Network from 11 AM to 12 Noon ET each Sunday, followed by the regular "Fox NFL Kickoff" show airing as it has for years at Noon ET. This puts Fox up against ESPN's NFL pre-game programming for a longer time on Sundays, while it hopes the lead-in will help with also beating out CBS during the one-hour lead-in to the regional telecasts. "Fox NFL Kickoff" quietly aired on Fox Sports 1 during that same time slot last season.

Speaking of expanding coverage, ESPN/ABC will be adding a Saturday night prime-time package on ABC for the later part of the NBA regular season as part of its new deal, starting in January. This eight game package will air at 8:30 PM ET, starting Jan. 23, with games to be determined during the season. One down side to this, however, is that ABC will no longer air doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons, sticking with the 3:30 PM ET airtime for its Sunday telecasts. At least ABC has wised up and plans to schedule a Super Bowl Sunday NBA telecast, with that one (only) starting at 1 PM ET.

A good matchup stands a chance vs. the endless Super Bowl pre-game hype that starts airing during that time block.

Some interesting viewership notes from The British Open telecasts. The Sunday telecast did best in markets without a local MLB team, which is more of a positive for baseball viewing. Of the top ten local market ratings, nine of them (West Palm Beach, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Raleigh-Durham, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Richmond, Charlotte, and Jacksonville) are in that category. Yet, the one market in the top ten golf ratings with an MLB franchise was Kansas City, with the Royals winning their third game in four tries out of the All Star break overlapping much of the Open telecast.

TBS continues to go "big market" with its few Sunday afternoon MLB telecasts. This coming Sunday (7/26) TBS will air the L.A. Dodgers at N.Y. Mets, with the game shown in the Los Angeles market, an important consideration. The following Sunday, Aug. 2, it will air the N.Y. Yankees at Chicago White Sox game.

What a sad week, with four sports media deaths to report. Buffalo and NFL fans mourn the loss of long time play-by-play voice Van Miller, who called more than 600 of the Bills games from 1960 until 2003, and passed away at the age of 87.

Former University of Alabama analyst and pre-game host Doug Layton passed away at the age of 81. Layton spent 32 seasons in the Bama booth, capped with Coach Bear Bryant's 315th career victory in 1981.

Milwaukee sports talk host Steve Haywood, most recently heard on WAUK ESPN 540, passed away this past weekend from heart failure at the age of 49.

Traverse City MI sports fans mourn the passing of Jon Patrick, known as JP, who broadcast local high school games for 21 years and was also the WTCM morning man for six years. Patrick, whose real name was Jon Carl Reckeweg, was 67.

NEW YORK CITY: WEPN ESPN 98.7 has extended the contract of afternoon drive host Michael Kay (along co-host Don LaGreca) through 2018.

DALLAS: When the Cowboys open the 2015 regular season against the N.Y. Giants on Sunday night September 13th, the radio broadcast will be handled by none other than Verne Lundquist. This will be the first game that regular play-by-play voice Brad Sham will miss since the mid-90's when he "missed" three seasons after shifting over to broadcast Rangers baseball.

Sham will be celebrating the Jewish New Year that night, and would have been able to call this game had it been a Noon CT start and not moved for Sunday Night Football. Sham will begin is 37th season of calling Cowboys football the following week. Lundquist will have Babe Laufenberg as his analyst.

KNOXVILLE: WKGN 1340 is becoming Fox Sports Radio Knoxville but does plan to air local programming during key weekday time slots. The Nate Hodges Show will air from 7 to 10 AM, with Brad Matthews and Ryan Callahan also contributing. The Tom Poisal Show will air from 5 to 7 PM.

The station also plans local college sports programming on weekends.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why ESPN Is Really Losing Big Name Hosts

Consumers tired of being gouged to watch sports on TV are beginning to make an impact on the TV networks. In a curious development, ESPN continues its new found cost-cutting measures as both Collin Cowherd and Keith Olbermann are vanishing from the network only weeks after Bill Simmons also departed for what are supposedly a variety of reasons.

The network can quietly sit while speculation points to controversial content, which seemingly rarely bothered ESPN before, such as Olbermann's harsh remarks about NFL leadership. As of press time, even Monday Night Football and NBA play-by-play voice Mike Torico has not yet been renewed. Nor has ESPN moved to bring in high profile replacements yet for these shows, while they will soon be saving millions of salary dollars.

Why now? This is really because ESPN has reportedly lost more than three million subscribers over the past two years, with that figure covering only the first part of 2015. With per subscriber revenue of upwards of $5.00 or more each month, it means network revenue is down in the $15 to $20 million PER MONTH range. With contracts in place for the NFL, NBA, and MLB, along with major golf, tennis, and soccer tournaments.

ESPN execs are probably thinking to "Let Fox Sports grab Cowherd, Olbermann, and the rest, and add millions of dollars to its payroll".

Over at Comcast, they are about to test the waters on an online HBO package, which would also include local market over-the-air stations, for about $15 per month. The Boston, Chicago, and Seattle markets will reportedly be offered this "Stream Package" by the end of 2015. Speculation is that Comcast is doing this in hopes of maintaining or bringing back some of its customers struggling with its high cost of monthly service. The most interesting aspect of this is that, obviously, none of the sports networks are included, even the regional Comcast SportsNet service it offers in the Chicago and Boston markets, as well as NBCSN.

Thus, Comcast will be able to test the waters on a "non-sports" offering to consumers. This all tells me that the "big boys" are starting to take notice that consumers are not going to continue to pay whatever it takes to enjoy sports on TV.

Even with the MLB All-Star Game over the air on Fox earlier this week (7/14), the national ratings were the lowest that Fox has experienced thus far, and down almost a half million viewers from last season. I'll say it again. A big reason for the decrease is because of Fox Sports hiding the majority of its MLB national telecasts on Fox Sports 1 on Saturdays, aside from a few prime-time regional telecasts. The casual fan does not spend his or her Saturday afternoons desperate to find the Fox telecast, and it is that same "casual" fan who used to easily find a game every Saturday and therefore know when and where to find the All-Star Game.

In most markets, the Fox prime time telecasts feature the local or regional team that the fans can see all week on the local or regional sports network or station, thus making the Fox telecast less special.

PHILADELPHIA: The Fanatic 97.5 will remain the winter sports king, announcing a multi-year deal to air the Flyers broadcasts while also airing the Sixers. Sister station WMMR 93.3 will air the Flyers games, with Tim Saunders and Steve Coates on the call, when there is a Sixers conflict on 97.5.

CHICAGO: WLS 890 has officially entered the year-round sports game with the announcement that the station will become the flagship station for both White Sox baseball and Bulls basketball starting in 2016. The White Sox come over after 10 seasons on WSCR The Score 670, while the Bulls have aired (for 19 of the past 20 seasons) on WMVP ESPN 1000. Thus, this acquisition takes one team away from each of Chicago's two rival all-sports stations.

Although nothing has been announced yet, and probably won't be until after the 2015 season, the current broadcasters are not necessarily going to be coming over to WLS.

From here, this move was a perfect fit for both parties. WLS-AM, struggling with endless recycled local and national talk shows, can now draw from year round local sports audiences. Since Jerry Reinsdorf (who reportedly once tried to buy WVMP) owns both teams, he succeeds in getting his teams away from the often critical local sports talk stations and on to a station which will not be airing potentially critical programming surrounding the broadcasts.

While WMVP, which just declined in the latest local ratings, loses its one major local play-by-play option (although it will air the Bulls for the coming 2015-16 season), WSCR 670 will not have that problem. The Score is contractually able to begin airing Chicago Cubs games starting in 2016, moving the team over from sister station WBBM 780.

As part of its new deal, WLS will be able to use sister station WLUP 97.9 on nights of conflicts between the White Sox and Bulls.

Also in Chicago, our best wishes to WCIU/WMME-TV Sports Director Kenny McReynolds, who "expects" to be on the air this coming weekend (7/18) following two separate heart surgeries within the past month. I first met Kenny back in the late 70's, and his involvement with local basketball (to the point of having been hired as an assistant coach a couple of times) is also very much a part of the scene.

BOSTON: How about WEEI-FM? The June ratings show the station holding steady at #6 in overall listeners in the market, while rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub dipped to #12 overall and has lost more than 20% of its audience since the baseball season started.

HOUSTON: You know it is the content and not the hosts for KBME 790. When management dumped the Astros broadcasts onto KBME prior to the start of the 2014 season, they didn't really think the Astros would be contenders anytime soon. But the miracle 2015 season for the team has resulted in a significant increase in their radio audience. The June ratings show that KBME's night (7 PM to Midnight) ratings have tripled from June 2014 to June 2015, and rose another 35% from this May to June.

St. LOUIS: Learfield Sports, which has been adding special deals for several universities over the past couple years, has added the St. Louis University Billikens to the fold. Just as it does for the University of Missouri, Learfield has the rights to make deals with local TV stations in St. Louis (and other stations in the region) to air telecasts of basketball games not carried by Fox Sports Midwest or ESPN.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

June Swoon For Teams Impacts Radio Ratings

With the June radio ratings are being released this week, sports radio trends more a reflection of the local sports scene than the format, as usual.

The Blackhawks run to the Stanley Cup dominated the Chicago ratings where sports is concerned. Flagship station WGN 720, which is a news/talk station otherwise with some sports programming, showed an overall audience increase of nearly 25% for the month of June and finished #4 overall in the market. This is its highest finish in a long time. WBBM 780 NewsRadio, in its first season as the Cubs flagship station, came in #3 (ahead of WGN) yet dropped .7 overall, while its all news FM counterpart WCFS 105.9 (which simulcasts the AM but continues all news during Cubs games) dropped .3 during the same period.

Both of the market's two all-sports stations, WSCR The Score 670 and WMVP ESPN 1000, dropped overall. WSCR dropped .6 over the past one month, the same ratings amount that WMVP has dropped over the past two months. Yet, both stations aired local play-by-play during June (WMVP with Bulls playoff games and WSCR with White Sox baseball). Thus, the stations airing the 3 other Chicago pro teams in action all lost during June, while WGN with the Blackhawks showed significant gains.

In Dallas, after the Mavericks and the Stars were eliminated from the post-season and the Rangers got off to a slow start, all three sports stations showed a dip in total audience.
The hot start by the Giants bolstered KNBR to a nearly 20% total audience increase over May and to a solid #1 ranking in the market.

Philadelphia's sports stations, WIP and WPEN, both dropped overall, especially with no post-season broadcasts and a horrible start by the Phillies.

HOUSTON: Nice to see the Texas Radio Hall of Fame honor as many as four sports personalities this year, especially with two of them about to be inducted posthumously.

The late Mike Edmonds, the long time voice of the University of Houston (and former news anchor at KPRC 950) who passed away in 2006, is being honored along with Anita Martini, the former KPRC host who left us back in the 90's.

Also selected are Tom Franklin, who over the years has done play-by-play for Rice and U. Houston, along with calling Houston Oilers games years ago, and Barry Warner, who has been heard on several Houston area station and is now with KFNC 97.1.

TAMPA: WWBA-AM 820 will now air University of South Florida football and basketball games, plus any playoff baseball games to begin a new broadcast contract. Jim Louk and Mark Robinson will continue to call the football games with Jim Lighthall handling the basketball assignments.

DENVER: The Rockies broadcast team on KOA had another member this past Thursday (7/2) for the game between Colorado and Arizona when Jenny Cavnar of Root Sports Rocky Mountains handled some of the play-by-play. Cavnar filled in for Jerry Schemmel for the one night, which allowed her to supposedly be the first female to call play-by-play for a National League team.

If that is actually the case, it's hard to believe it took place nearly 40 years after the first female broadcaster called some American League action. Mary Shane called some Chicago White Sox games on the former WMAQ Radio during the mid-70's, although she was not well received. Of course, Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman remains the only female to be a regular part of a major league broadcast team.

ALBANY: For not having a local big league team in any of the "big 4" sports, local sports radio is well represented by nationally known sports personalities, and that is to management's credit. The "Armen & Levack" show, which airs on WTMM 104.5 ESPN from 3 to 7 PM on weekdays, has just added Adam Schefter to its roster of regular guests with Monday afternoon appearances. ESPN's Buster Olney and Dick Vitale also have in-season regular appearances on the station.

OMAHA: My note last week about KFAB radio having been the long-time flagship for the University of Nebraska game may not have been completely accurate. I read both that the station was and was not the flagship for 75 years. Looks like myself and you (the readers) were the victims of the shoddy reporting, one way or the other, that I complain about.  Let's leave it that the football and basketball games will now air on KXSP 590.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

NFL Adds To Its Own Media Coverage

The pro leagues and their attempts to take more control of media reporting continues to fly under the radar. Now, just before NFL training camps open and the constant flow of League news will begin, the NFL is adding more league hired "reporters" around the country.

The "NFL Media Group" has added James Palmer to its reporting staff, according to SportsBusiness Daily, with the former Comcast SportsNet Houston reporter to be based out of Denver for the NFL. The Media Group has already hired its own reporters elsewhere, including Stacey Dales out of Chicago, Desmond Purnell out of Dallas, Steve Wyche out of Los Angeles, Albert Breer in Boston, and Jeff Darlington in Miami, among others.

While we understand the need for content for NFL Network and its web site, it raises the question of why the NFL doesn't rely more on media reporters in its various markets. If and when the next controversy arises (arrest, scandal, etc.), it will be interesting to monitor the reporting angle taken by the NFL Media Group reports compared with those for the local market media.

Meanwhile, the NHL has been dealing with revising its TV offering for the upcoming regular season in order to offer individual games in addition to the regular season package deals. Much of this results from a recent lawsuit, which is explained in detail here:

LOS ANGELES: After 36 seasons of calling the Clippers games, Ralph Lawler continues to (finally!) get the recognition he deserves. Lawler will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during the upcoming season, sharing the bill with the likes of Chick Hearn, Bob Miller, and Vin Scully. Lawler is expected to continue his Clippers duties again, now at the age of 77.

CHICAGO: For fans of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks who still can't get enough, WGN 720 plans to re-air the broadcast of the Cup clinching game from June on the night of July 4th, at 6 PM CT.

CLEVELAND: During this week when a lot of listeners and air personalities are on vacation, WKRK 92.3 happens to have WEWS-TV 5 sportscaster Mike Cairns filling in on its morning show. Normally, not a big deal. When you consider that no replacement has been named yet for the recently departed Chuck Booms, chances are this week is really an audition.

TAMPA: University of South Florida football and basketball has a new home in time for the upcoming seasons. WWBA 820 has a new multi-year deal as flagship station, along with airing the coaches shows and even some women's basketball games.

OMAHA: University of Nebraska football and basketball moves to KXSP 590 in time for the upcoming seasons, with the sports station also airing the coaches shows as scheduled and "Sports Nightly" each available weeknight. This is a significant change in habits after more than 75 years of the games airing on KFAB 1110.

COLUMBUS GA: WZCG 1270 has dropped its sports format, which only consisted of Fox Sports Radio, and has gone to Spanish language programming.
Have a great Independence Day weekend!!