Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Toronto Broadcasts Can Take A Flying "Leaf"

While pro sports teams continue to expect millions of dollars for their radio broadcast rights, it seems that not all of the stations which air the games are willing to go all out. Incredibly, it took the expected fan and social media "pressure" to get the Toronto Maple Leafs    radio broadcasts for the coming season to originate from the actual arena where the games will be played.

Even though the Leafs are a flagship NHL franchise, the team had told Sportsnet 590 The Fan and TSN 1050, the Toronto stations which share the broadcasts, that radio broadcasters Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph would no longer be allowed to travel on team charter flights. As recently as last week, Bowen was reportedly told that he would instead call play-by-play of road games from the TV feed at a Toronto studio.

As you would expect, the public outcry even got the attention of the stations, prompting the change back to sending Bowen and Ralph on the road. How was this first announced? As far as people in Toronto know, the first indication came from Bowen's Twitter feed. The Maple Leafs are quite possibly the richest team in the NHL, yet they actually tried to get away with such a shabby radio presentation. Here's hoping that Bowen and Ralph get full reimbursement for their flight expenses.

Let's give credit to ESPN for scooping the local and national media on Tuesday (9/29) with the story about Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose needing surgery the following day after an injury suffered in practice. ESPN broke the news first, and continued on ESPNNews with "Breaking News" coverage with details and reaction from their Chicago correspondent. At the same time, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, which at the time was airing a live sports discussion, did not include the story until more than 30 minutes later.

To its credit, ESPN ran the "Breaking News" story across the Bottom Line during the first inning of the Yankees vs. Red Sox telecast, alerting viewers to the live "coverage" over on ESPNNews. Glad to see such positive use of having more than one channel available and knowing to promote this option. That's how it is supposed to work.

MLB Network also deserves a ton of credit for its fast reaction to the rainouts involving playoff teams and contenders on Tuesday (9/29) night. Within an hour of the important St. Louis at Pittsburgh game being rained out, MLB Network had already announced and posted on its web site that it would air the make up game the following afternoon (9/30) live. In addition, MLB Network followed that telecast by joining the Minnesota at Cleveland make-up game in the late afternoon.

Although those games were not likely to draw the audiences they would normally get, the fact that the Network did what it could to make these games available to the fans so quickly is a step above and beyond.

Leave it to the NFL to take up government time, but that's what happened last week. The League got the Federal Aviation Administration to grant permission for the use of drones to fly during team practices. It seems that back in June, the FAA investigated the Patriots, Giants, and Cowboys for using drones without proper permission. (Yes, imagine the Patriots under government investigation for doing something without permission!)

As a result, the NFL becomes the first pro sports league to be able to use drones, although the permission is only for practice and not for any game action or any other purpose. There are size and weight limits involved, while prior written plans for specific usage must be provided.

For now, the focus is on the four live games that over-the-air viewers will have available this coming Sunday (10/4), thanks to the CBS telecast from London starting at 9:30 AM ET.

The radio ratings are out for the largest markets for the August to Sept. 9th time frame, and it is a mixed bag for sports radio once again. Let's take a look at a few of the key markets.

As always, we start with the biggest sports radio market, Boston. The latest controversy with the Patriots (the removed suspension of Tom Brady) made a huge impact on the rival stations. WBZ-FM Sports Hub rose to #3 in overall listeners, going from a 4.9 in the July-August ratings to an even more impressive 6.0 this time around. Significantly, the audience did not leave WEEI-FM, which increased from a 4.6 to a 5.4 rating.

In New York, WFAN 660 has risen to #9 overall, likely taking away from WPEN-FM. The ESPN station now has under one-third of The Fan's audience size, while dropping out of the market's Top 20. The amazing season by the Mets has propelled flagship WOR 710 to another increase, putting its overall audience at its best mark in three years.

Philadelphia has its pro teams all struggling at the moment, but that helps keep the phones ringing at both major sports stations. WIP-FM has risen one-half of a ratings point within the past three months and is back in the top 10, while WPEN-FM has also shown the same increase over the same time frame.

Sports fans in the Twin Cities are excited about the unexpected improved season by the Twins and some hope for the Vikings, with KFXN The Fan showing a full ratings point increase over the past three months to finish #8 overall. The current rating is more than triple the total audience of the two other local sports outlets.

The trend in Detroit is likely to continue, but for now WXYT-FM The Ticket enjoys its third consecutive #1 ranking, even though it is tied for the position in this just released ratings book.
However, the station dropped .8 from just the previous month. With the Lions off to a poor start, the Tigers dismal season winding down, and little hope for the Pistons, it is doubtful that only the Red Wings will keep the audience in focus.

Similar situation in Baltimore, as WJZ-FM is at #8 in the market, but has fallen nearly a full ratings point over the past three months as well.

In Los Angeles, even the Dodgers being well into first place with barely visible TV games has not made a big impact for flagship station KLAC. The station's new ratings stayed the same, while KLAC failed to even crack the market's Top 25. KSPN 710, even with some of the Angels broadcasts and a hot team, has dropped .7 over the past two ratings books.

Houston listeners are excited about the Astros' bid for the post-season as well as the Texans season. At least that's the case for KILT listeners. The station rose another half point over the previous month. Over the past couple of years, the other sports stations in Houston would be reasonably close behind. No more. As of this ratings book, none of the others has even one-third of the total audience of KILT.

The power of the NFL was as evident as ever on Monday night (9/28). Even with two of its smallest markets on Monday Night Football (Green Bay vs. Kansas City), the cable ratings for the ESPN telecast wound up more than three times higher than the audience ratings for the highest rated "non sports" program on cable for the night.

This past Thursday's game between Washington and New York had an audience rating which was 20% higher than its second game telecast in 2014 on CBS and NFL Network. Viewers were also "treated" to a clear f-word following a punt return with no on-air apology or acknowledgement.

And now the latest from Fox Sports regarding Fox Sports 1. The network realized that nobody noticed the "America's Pregame" live show which had been airing during the 5:00 to 6:00 PM ET weekday slot as a preview of the night's games. Perhaps a few fans noticed it was canceled after last week (9/25). The replacement? Well, nothing live, at least for the moment. Sure, that will make a difference.

For however long it takes to find a replacement, FS1 is airing "The Best Thing I Herd" which is a "best of" the Colin Cowherd show. Even though it is a supposedly temporary move, there is nothing like airing recorded programming as a replacement for a live show in an effort to grow a sports audience.

ESPN Radio has completed its weekday lineup revision, and, as seems normal, it includes still another Miami radio connection at the national level. The Jorge & Jen Show now airs from 9 to 11 PM ET on nights with no game broadcasts. Jorge is Jorge Sedano, who was Program Director and host on Miami's WQAM 560 along with other Miami stations WAXY The Ticket and WINZ 940. Bomani Jones and Dan LeBatard also came to ESPN Radio via Miami radio.

Jen is Jen Lada, who was recently signed by ESPN Radio to work with Colin Cowherd just before Cowherd was cut from the Network. Lada came by way of Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

CBS has announced that its SEC football telecast on October 10th will be Georgia at Tennessee at 3:30 PM ET.

BUFFALO: Sabres fans are pleased to hear that Rick Jeanneret, their play-by-play voice of the past 43 years, is now leaning toward staying on beyond the coming season, already agreeing to return for the 2016-17 season. Jeanneret again call 41 games this season, although no specific number of games have been determined for next year, which is understandable.

CHICAGO: This coming weekend marks the final White Sox broadcasts on WSCR The Score 670 after a pair of 5-year contracts expire. The team will be heard on WLS 890 starting with the 2016 season. As of press time, none of the team's radio or TV broadcasters have been signed for next season, opening a ton of speculation. The status of radio broadcasters Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson is uncertain, while TV voices Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone also have not been signed. Both Stone and Jackson are solid as analysts, but a change of play-by-play voices would be welcome by a lot of fans.

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