Tuesday, September 15, 2015

NFL Ratings Surge Opening Weekend

No doubt about it. The NFL is back and the audience is ready based on the TV ratings from the regular season opening weekend. The first doubleheader game on CBS, between Denver and Baltimore, came in with the highest rating and audience share for a CBS doubleheader game since Sept. 15, 2013, when Denver played the NY Giants.

Sunday night, NBC scored its 2nd highest viewership for a prime-time game between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys since 1987, scoring more than three times the total audience of the Miss America pageant on ABC. To no one's surprise, three of NBC's top five local markets for the telecast were Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. To the surprise of some, the Philadelphia market actually scored a slightly higher rating than the NYC market. (Must be a lot of Jets fans with little to no interest in the Giants these days.)

Fox did well by having a closer than expected early primary game between Green Bay and Chicago. However, Fox Sports seems to be having a struggle to gain any traction for its expanded pre-game programming. Its attempt to get "NFL Kickoff", which airs from 11 AM to Noon ET and last year was hidden on Fox Sports 1, found that even some of the network's owned station didn't bother to air it.

Over the air Fox stations in NFL markets which did not air the show during Week 1 included Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and San Francisco, and Seattle, which all have local NFC teams airing primarily on Fox. In addition, AFC team markets not airing the show included Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego. A couple of those markets did air the show on either another local TV station or a lesser known subchannel.

Fox Sports 1 also needs to quickly examine its MLB contract and gain flexibility for the 2016 season, if not sooner. Back in April, it was easy to understand how a mid-September (9/12) matchup between Detroit and Cleveland could have some appeal based on pre-season expectations for both teams.

However, with neither team being anywhere near contending status in September, FS1 still planned to air this matchup in prime time on Saturday night. This was hardly a way for the Network to promote its post-season coverage, nor to make even the smallest dent going up against major college football coverage on ABC, ESPN, and most regional sports networks.

The Detroit-Cleveland game was delayed more than two hours before being postponed, leaving FS1 with three hours to fill with studio updates on both the baseball and football. Of course, that could have happened even with an attractive MLB matchup, but the fact that it was a rain delay for a game few cared about was a blow to the network. As it was the Fox Sports telecast of the Yankees vs. Blue Jays game that same afternoon ran over into the Iowa vs. Iowa State football telecast as it was.
FS1 needs to have flexibility for its MLB games, at least for September.

After all, live sports is huge for the TV networks. Advertising Age just broke down a Kantar Media survey showing that, for the 2014-15 sports seasons, approximately 37% of the overall advertising sales for CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox came from live sports programming. That comes to a 35% increase from five years ago.

The NFL also benefits from regular Spanish radio broadcasts of its Sunday Night Football games, as Entravision Radio has started its three-year deal to air the games, along with two of the Thanksgiving games and the AFC playoffs. Tony Nunez and Erwin Higueros handle the call. Entravision also provides a one hour Sunday recap and pre-game show immediately prior to the game broadcasts.

On the Canadian side, the top four TV programs (sports or otherwise) this past weekend were the four games between the Blue Jays and Yankees. Amazingly, the Saturday post-game show, which followed more than nine hours of game action, also finished in the top 10 in the most watched programs for the week list. It probably helped that the Blue Jays won the doubleheader.

ESPN has officially added Molly Querim as a full-time host of First Take late mornings on ESPN2. In addition, Querim will regularly contribute to the last couple hours of the Mike & Mike Show.

BUFFALO: Local fans were ready for the Bills to open. The Bills telecast vs. Indianapolis on Sunday scored an amazing 43.8 rating, which was higher than the ratings for any of its games last season, and 40% higher than last season's opening day.

DALLAS: Even with the Cowboys' season underway, the Rangers have the attention of local viewers. The Monday (9/14) night game against division rival Houston, as the teams battle for first place, scored a local 4.4 rating, compared with a season average rating of just below 3.0.

KANSAS CITY: KWOD 1660 has dropped its business programming and added sports, even though it is Fox Sports Radio.

BALTIMORE: Comcast SportsNet has switched a co-host for its "Sports Talk Live" show. Rob Carlin, one of the network's local anchors, will replace Chick Hernandez, who returns to covering the Redskins.

MILWAUKEE: Not sure that the demand is there, but Gus Johnson will be calling play-by-play for 20 of the Bucks telecasts (on Fox Sports Wisconsin) during the upcoming season as his Fox Sports and Big Ten Network schedule allows.

DES MOINES: KRNT 1350 has become ESPN Des Moines, bringing ESPN Radio back to the market after a more than two year absence. The station will also air Green Bay Packers football, Chicago Cubs baseball, and Drake University football and basketball. Chicago Bears football will now air on KPSZ 940.

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