Wednesday, August 5, 2015

NHL To Play Ball With Streaming

The fact that the NHL has sold its digital and streaming rights in a half billion dollar deal is not the shock. The fact that the NHL has a new six year partnership for that purpose, and it is with MLB Advanced Media, is the shock. This is in contrast with the NBA, which has its primary TV network partner, TNT, handling its content along with its TV network, NBA TV.

It is somewhat surprising that MLB Advanced Media would choose to devote a percentage of its time and resources to another professional sports league, and spend hundreds of millions over the next six years to do so. While MLB's At Bat application is extremely popular, and lucrative, it's hard to believe that a similar application, even including live streaming of the games, would be anywhere near that popular for the NHL on a national basis.

MLB Advanced Media is growing even more as a result of this deal. The company also has a deal with the PGA already in place, although there has yet to be much coming from it as of yet.
Another curious part of the NHL deal is the absence of NBC Universal, the major U.S. TV partner of the NHL, from this announcement. Once most or all of the NHL games are available via live stream and on phones (such as At Bat provides), you have to think this could potentially hurt NBCSN's national audience for its games when fans of the local teams can watch other games of more interest at the same time.

We'll see how this plays out, and how much or how little the NHL respects NBC and NBCSN game nights. However, from a media standpoint, this increases the amount of content for fans which will be controlled by the leagues and the teams, which, obviously, does not figure to include much negative or investigative coverage.

Actually, the NFL provided a hint of what could soon be happening in this regard late last week. The Chicago Bears, with a new GM and Head Coach heading into training camp, actually went to the point of announcing revised media coverage policies for coverage of its training camp.

This policy, for the first two weeks of camp prior to the first exhibition game, goes as far as limiting the amount of time that local TV stations can record actual practice, and that reporters are not allowed to report on which players are practicing with individual units. The Bears are also implementing limits on player availability (for interviews) after practice.

However, as we reported last year, the team has its own video production facility at its team offices, which are located where the team practices throughout the regular season, as well as producing multiple team focused TV shows which air on local TV and cable stations and networks at scheduled times.

Combine all of this with the increasing number of reporters who are dismissed, suspended, or face a change of responsibilities following negative reporting, and you see the fear of how sports fans will receive their "news" with increasing team and league controlled content taking over.

Just as replay reviews are welcome in sports so that the officials "get it right", the sports media should be concerned to the same level about getting its reports "right".

Last Thursday (7/30), the media reports involving the possible trade of Wilmer Flores from the Mets as fact before it happened (which it didn't) showed how some "reporters" would rather be first than make sure they are right. For whatever reason(s), the trade was halted before a "real" official announcement was made. Had certain "reporters" waited a few minutes and instead been ready with the story the second it was confirmed, the embarrassing incident never would have happened.

At least Fox's Ken Rosenthal addressed the issue very clearly in his column about the incident, explaining what happened behind the scenes and admitting that it was not a good thing to jump the gun. Hopefully the "reporters" learned a lesson from that.

It appears that the St. Louis Cardinals may have gotten in under the wire with their amazing $1 billion TV deal, over the next 15 years, announced with Fox Sports Midwest. Adding to the revenue, according to Forbes Magazine, is that the Cardinals will reportedly also acquire a 30% stake in FSMW.

We say "under the wire" because of the possibility that the media bubble could be closer to bursting. This contract comes within a few weeks of ESPN beginning major cost cutting measures after spending so much on retaining rights to televise games and events.

In keeping with its recent cost reduction theme, ESPN Radio appears to be in no hurry to replace its late morning slot since the departure of Colin Cowherd. Rather than come right back with another high profile national personality, the network will continue to use programming from some of its big market stations.

This week, ESPN Radio is airing Max & Marcellus from its Los Angeles station KSPN 710, although the two hosts are adding this shift to their local afternoon drive show. For the following two weeks, ESPN2's Michelle Beadle (of Sports Nation) and ESPNLA's Ben Lyons will co-host the 10 AM to 1 PM ET show. For the week of August 24 to 28, the ESPN 1000 Chicago team of "Waddle & Silvy" will do double duty and also host a separate national show.

As a result, Tom Waddle and Mark Silverman (Silvy) will be live on the air for seven hours each day, with the three hours on ESPN Radio and then their regular 2 to 6 PM CT shift for Chicago. ESPN 1000 will air all three of the national hours, thus airing the pair for their entire seven hours total each day, while reducing its midday show to Noon to 2 PM during that time.

We don't know yet whether these hosts will return for a week or more in September, if other ESPN stations or hosts will rotate, or if a new host will be brought in.

BOSTON: The latest radio ratings (for the June into July period) show that sports radio continues to attract a huge audience, even as the two stations continue to battle it out. This time around, the two are together at #6 and #7 in the market for overall listeners (all days, all age groups). WBZ Sports Hub has regained the lead (among the two) with an impressive gain of one full ratings point (more than a 20% audience increase) from the previous month. While WEEI-FM has been within .3 of a ratings point over the past three months, it fell to .2 behind WBZ this time around. With the Patriots camp opening and the question about how the team will start out the season without Tom Brady, the next month could easily see both stations on the rise again.

St. LOUIS: Even with the Cardinals playing extremely well and easily in first place, sports did not make a difference during this most recent ratings period. KMOX 1120 is a solid #2 overall in the market, but dropped in overall rating from 8.8 to 7.9 in just the one month. At the same time, WXOS-FM sports radio dropped again, and has lost more than 33% of its overall audience within the past three months.

RALEIGH: Michelle McMahon has been named as a host for Fox Sports Carolinas of their Hurricanes Live pre-game and studio shows within and surrounding game coverage, starting with the upcoming season. McMahon comes from The Big Ten Network where she spent the past three years as a host and reporter. She had also done some freelance reporting for Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

DALLAS: If there is anyone left who doesn't realize how important the Cowboys are on the local scene, check those Dallas TV listings for this coming Sunday (8/9). You will see that KTXA-TV Channel 21 plans to televise the "Blue-White Scrimmage", which is nothing more than an intra-squad game among team members shown from the team's training camp.
KTVT-TV Channel 11 will air the exhibition games (not shown nationally) again this year, with Bill Jones and Babe Laufenberg on the call.

On the basketball side, Mavericks telecasts won't be the same during the upcoming season as Bob Ortegel announced that he is taking this coming season off. Ortegel has been a part of Mavs telecasts since November 1988 when he took over as analyst when Bob Weiss was hired away for an assistant coach position with Orlando. Four years ago, he was moved to Fox Sports Southwest's studio coverage. He holds the distinction of calling Mavericks games with all nine of the teams head coaches.

PITTSBURGH: The Penguins are looking (as of press time) for a full-time host for their pre-game and post-game shows, as well as for the Penguins Radio channel on HD.

WILLIAMSPORT PA: Here is one radio market where we can say that something stays the same no matter what. WRAK 1400 has announced, as usual, that it will broadcast the Little League World Series locally, as it has every year since the tournament started in 1947. The station will have a rotating broadcast team, with Gary Chrisman and Ken Sawyer on play-by-play, and Scott Lowery and Mike Fogarty on color. Chrisman is in his 42nd year with the station, hosting mornings on sister station WKSB 102.7 for the past 28 years.

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