Monday, November 23, 2015

College Football Ratings On The Rise As Well

It appears that it's not only the NFL enjoying strong ratings this football season. Even college football is making a bigger impact on the TV ratings this season.

The Ohio State vs. Michigan State showdown this past Saturday (11/21) serves as another solid example even though it was played in the late afternoon time slot and not in prime time. ABC/ESPN came away with its highest rated late afternoon game since November 2006 (Ohio State vs. Michigan) and its highest rated college football game of this season to date.

Four of the top five best local ratings markets were, as you would expect, in Ohio, with the 42 rating for Columbus finishing ahead of Dayton, Cleveland, with Cincinnati finishing at #5 among local markets. The #4 ratings market was Detroit, the largest Michigan State market. Clearly the network benefitted from the game being tight all the way to the end. That this game had higher ratings than the Alabama - LSU game the previous week also speaks well for the Big Ten.

Meanwhile, the rumblings have started about the NFL's Thursday Night Football package, since the CBS contract for the first half of the season is now completed. The two contracts for one year each which CBS had were both announced in January. The Hollywood Reporter says that Fox, NBC, and Turner Sports have already expressed interest in bidding, along with CBS.

No indication at all from the NFL yet as to whether they will seek still another one-year deal or go for the long term. More importantly, there is no indication yet as to whether or not CBS will have an exclusive bidding window and/or the right to match another offer based on having had the package for these past two seasons. We also don't know whether or not NFL Network will continue to simulcast these games.

On the regional level, the fighting continues between Comcast (cable provider) and YES Network and it appears this could go on for a while. Nearly 1,000,000 subscribers in New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and parts of Delaware have been without YES Network for about one month in a dispute over costs.

There is the possibility that Comcast is saving money by not paying YES Network to air the channel until March when spring training telecasts begin, even though YES also shows the New York Nets NBA games. At least this is not like the L.A. Dodgers situation, because subscribers have the option of switching carriers to continue to watch the YES Network at any time.

ESPN has worked with MLB to make the opening of the regular season into a special event more than ever starting with the 2016 season. The network revealed that it has moved two more opening games up to Sunday April 3rd and will, weather permitting, air a live triple header of opening games that day. In addition, ESPN continues its plan to air four live opening games on Monday April 4th.
The Sunday 4/3 games will be St. Louis at Pittsburgh at 1 PM ET, Toronto at Tampa at 4 PM ET (which will be played since it's from an indoor stadium), and then the Mets at Kansas City at 8:30 PM ET in the first-ever Opening Day rematch of World Series participants.

On the radio side, the ratings for the October-November 2015 period are being released this week. Although the Boston ratings were not released as of press time, there are a couple of interesting developments from the larger markets.

In Chicago, WMVP ESPN 1000 jumped to #18 overall, having risen .9 in just the past two months. As a result, it has clearly passed WSCR 670 The Score, which has held steady during that same period, finishing this ratings book at #22 overall. This jump comes during the first full ratings period with David Kaplan as an early afternoon host and with the Bulls NBA season underway in WMVP's final season as flagship station.

San Francisco's KNBR dropped by .9 since the previous ratings period, although it still finished in the top five stations. KGMZ-FM The Game increased by .6 during the same time to its best ever showing as a sports station.

In Dallas, KRLD-FM dropped in its rating from the previous month, but finished #9 overall in the market, well ahead of WTCK The Ticket (which dropped) and KESN-FM which held steady.

DETROIT: The Lions will be making a major off-season move, but this time it will be on the radio dial. WJR 760 has a new five year contract to become the flagship station once again beginning with the 2016 season. The Lions were heard on WJR from 1948 through 1988.

What makes this significant is that the Lions become the 2nd major Detroit franchise to break away from WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket within the past few months, as the Pistons have just moved over to WMGC-FM 105.1 The Game as well.

The Ticket continues to air the Tigers and Red Wings, but has also released Mike Valenti from his afternoon hosting duties. What makes the Valenti dumping interesting is that co-host Terry Foster announced his intention to remain with the 2 to 6 PM show at the same time. In fact, Foster is giving up his reporter position with the Detroit Free Press after nearly 27 years with the publication in order to remain with The Ticket.

There are some expressing the thought that the Lions left The Ticket (often the #1 station in the market) because of the increased amount of on air criticism of the team (which, as of this week is 3 - 7 for the season), and that it also led to the dumping of Valenti. Yet, if that was the case, the move would have been to let Valenti have his say about the team and give his audience even more reasons to tune in after Lions losses.

PITTSBURGH: No change in radio station status for the Steelers, as WDVE 102.5 and WBGG ESPN 970 have a new three-year extension to continue as the flagship station. As part of the new deal, the "Steelers Nation" HD Radio channel on WDVE HD2 will expand to eight hours per day of "original" content. WDVE has served as the flagship station since 1999.

PORTLAND: A four year contract is a rarity, especially in the world of sports talk radio, but The Game 750 and 102.9 has signed John Canzano to an extension to retain his Noon to 3 PM show, which is the longest running show on the station (since 2008). Canzano is expected to continue his reporting duties for KGW-TV, which is a separate deal.

Happy Turkey to all!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Teams Far From Technically Challenged

It's an interesting trend that while the technology that fans enjoy and the media utilizes in its sports coverage is also becoming more significant among leagues and teams at the same time.
Looks as though the leagues and teams are becoming concerned about even more than trying to control the content which the fans get to see well beyond the increased number of "team produced" features.
Within the past week, both Bloomberg and ESPN have reported about a new partnership between MLB and a company called Sport Integrity Monitor. The London based company now has its first U.S. based league as a partner. In this instance, the public is not a part of the partnership, as the purpose is to provide real time monitoring of betting lines to league officials.
Basically, this service will allow MLB officials, starting with the 2016 season, to have up-to-the-minute data from sportsbooks and what it terms "wagering outlets" from around the world. The reasoning behind that is that MLB officials could detect if there is a major discrepancy in the betting lines among sources within the betting lines, and be able to track when such changes were made.
This is designed to be an investigative tool to allow MLB to monitor in the event of leaks of inside information which could suddenly change one or very few of the betting lines but not all. This is done with the integrity of the game in mind.
Although nothing yet has been announced of a similar nature from any of the other U.S. pro leagues, this does bring to mind the N.Y. Times column from a few months back written personally by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. The column included Silver making a reference to the need to have "mandatory monitoring" of unusual betting line movement.
With this action, and the recent news regarding the future of the major daily fantasy sites, it shows that technology is serving multiple purposes for the teams as well as the fans.
Along these lines, leagues and teams continue to announce technology advances in order to increase and enhance their presentations to the fans, occasionally overstepping media boundaries even though major media sources are paying them a combined billions of dollars.
Fans could also benefit from some of this, although media rights fees and restrictions are likely to add a middle level and probably additional challenges in order to do so. One of the most interesting of these is from a company called Thuuz, which is a take on the word "enthusiastic". The company is in the process of forming partnerships with TV providers and wireless carriers to distribute an app to sports fans.
For example, as a subscriber to a partnered cable/satellite service, your phone could receive instant alerts about scoring plays and key developments from games which are being shown on networks and local stations currently airing on that service. The app they have developed allows users to set up custom alerts for favorite teams and/or games. The "catch" for fans is that they will not be able to acquire the mobile app directly, as it will need to come through a marketing partner.
Several pro teams have already started or are in the final planning stages of enhanced technology within stadiums and arenas as a boost to the fans actually attending the games. Things have come a long way since the days of baseball and football fans bringing a portable radio to the games to listen to the radio call while they watch.
During the World Series, Snapchat, with assistance from STATS, began a feature allowing Geofilters users attending the games to add real-time scores to their photos and some video snaps. This is also available now in a couple of NBA arenas.

The NBA has a new media rights partnership which enables some live telecasts to be available on several international airlines, along with NBA news and related content. This service also includes the English Premiere League and Rugby World Cup. Along these lines, the Sacramento Kings have partnered with a company which allows virtual reality streaming of home games to various parts of the world, targeting fans who could not possibly come to the games.
The Brooklyn Nets are among NBA teams promoting free Wi-Fi in the Barclays Center, basing that on the theory that fans commenting about the game and the arena experience immediately on social media is helpful for ticket and merchandise sales.
At the Verizon Center in D.C., the Wizards and Capitals offer a virtual reality station for fans can put on a special headset during intermissions or before a game and access game and player related content, which the teams also promote via mobile and social media they originate.
Some NFL fans are enjoying in-stadium mobile technology at Levi's Stadium (49ers), with an app showing fans the waiting time at concession stands and restrooms.
This all should raise the question about team and league controlled content and the control about what is being reported to the fans.

LOS ANGELES: Joe Davis, handling play-by-play of baseball, football, and basketball in the relative obscurity of Fox Sports 1 has landed a plum assignment for the 2016 baseball season. Davis has been named to handle TV play-by-play for 50 of the Dodgers road games next season as fans begin to brace for having Dodgers baseball without Vin Scully after next year. The 27 year old Davis is expected to continue with Fox Sports next fall, but chances are a good performance could change all that if the Dodgers wish to retain him. Charlie Steiner will handle the lead TV play-by-play role for the remaining road games, except for those within California which Scully will probably travel to.
It remains to be seen (literally) whether or not more than 30% of the L.A. market will even have access to the team's TV games by next season.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Same Time Same Network in Baltimore/D.C.

As we suspected, the local fallout in the Baltimore/D.C. market from last week's court decision regarding rights fees for the Nationals from MASN is having an impact on two other pro sports teams which serve that area.

Prior to last week, the speculation was that The NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals could become a part of the Monumental Network, which is owned by Ted Leonsis, who happens to own both teams. Talk was that these teams would be headed for a controlled package for their games including streaming, which would abandon CSN Washington as soon as each team's current contract allowed.

Since the court ruling (which we covered last week - see below), the word is (as also reported in Sports Business Daily) that Leonsis is now planning to partner with CSN Washington instead of forming his own network. The SBD report claims that Leonsis would gain 33% ownership in the network and will enter in to a lon term agreement through the 2031-32 seasons. The Wizards would generate more than double their current TV rights fees in the process.

Such an arrangement would be nothing new for Comcast SportsNet, which has partnered with teams in other markets, usually with success. Chicago is a positive example, with the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox each holding what is are believed to be 20% equity each. Houston was not a good example, with CSN Houston folding and ROOT Sports taking over the telecasts for the Rockets and Astros last year.

It would seem that MASN, which struggles for quality programming during the baseball off-season while being overloaded with both Orioles and Nationals telecasts in season, was either not in consideration by Leonsis or did not make a worthwhile bid for the rights to one or both teams.

As a result, Baltimore/D.C. area fans will be asked to pay for these two networks, likely whether they want to or not, even though both will have a string of months with little to no quality live telecasts every year. The ideal result, which most likely would never happen, would be for MASN and CSN Washington to do a swap of one team each. If one network had, say, the Orioles and Capitals while the other had the Nationals and Wizards, each would have year-round live pro sports. Instead, they'll both be regional networks with what we could term "regional calendars" for years to come.

CBS-TV hit the jackpot with its LSU vs. Alabama prime-time telecast last weekend (11/7). It finished as the most watched college football game of the season to this point, with a ratings and viewer increase of more than 20% over last year's matchup of these two powerhouse teams.

SAN FRANCISCO: As the Warriors begin defense of their NBA Championship, the local fans have taken notice. It's only a couple of weeks into the new regular season, and the TV ratings for the Warriors telecasts are already up an average of 47% compared with the same time frame of last season.

CHICAGO: DePaul University basketball will return to WSCR 670 The Score for its 19th season, although the announcement was only made within the past week. Actually, WSCR will air 22 of the games, farming out the rest due to conflicts. Zach Zaidman returns for his 11th season on play-by-play, while local sportscaster Jeff Blanzy returns for his 5th season as analyst.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Two MLB Teams Still Fighting Over $20 Million In Media Rights

The media war between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals reached the New York Supreme Court this week until Justice Lawrence Marks vacated an earlier arbitration decision regarding the TV rights dispute between the two teams. At issue is what would amount to $20 million in additional annual revenue for the Nationals from MASN, the regional TV network which televises both the Orioles and Nationals games within that combined market.

MASN has been paying about $40 million per season for the Nationals TV rights, with the arbitration decision to have been made as to whether or not this amount should increase to $60 million. The court ruling, however, does not mean that the Nationals cannot or will not receive the additional amount, instead meaning that the Supreme Court will not issue the ruling.

Sports team owners are, of course, expected to be disappointed with this decision, while MASN and other TV networks will react positively from this decision, which potentially saves them millions of dollars.

This is, at this stage, more of a positive for fans and for consumers. If the TV network needs to pay out an additional $20 million for one year, it sets up still another fee increase for carriers, which, of course, results in even higher monthly costs for consumers for their cable/satellite, whether they watch either team's games or not.

Ever since Washington got the Nationals prior to the 2005 season, the Nats and Orioles have had their share of disputes as the O's have fought to maintain their territorial rights. The Orioles own the majority of MASN, with the Nationals under an arrangement to eventually own 33%, but no more of the network. Even under those ownership circumstances, both teams were paid $40 million per season under the current arrangement.

From here, both teams generating the same revenue from the network seems justified, especially given the majority ownership of one of the teams.

While the World Series brought Fox Sports a nice ratings return, it's already back to "normal" this week. Now Fox Sports 1 brings us still another new show, starting next week (Mon. Nov. 9th). Technically Tuesday Nov. 10th, since the new show will air at Midnight ET. For some reason, FS1 will debut "TMZ Sports", a nightly half hour show spotlighting the "celebrity and lifestyles" of current and former sports personalities.

Oh well. At least Fox blessed us by putting all five World Series games on the main network and not on Fox Sports 1, allowing more fans be able to find the telecasts.

Even with Game 5 of the World Series on this past Sunday (11/1), NBC lucked out by having one of the NFL season's marquis games on against it when then unbeaten Green Bay took on unbeaten Denver. The 23,000,000 viewers of Sunday Night Football made this the highest ratings ever for a SNF game up against a World Series telecast.

Fox Sports acknowledged such on the air, as those already watching the finale between the Royals and Mets were given a sudden on-screen game recap, while Joe Buck said, "For those who watched the football game.......".

Yet, there is one curious part about that. I happened to have been watching the World Series telecast at that point, since the outcome of the football game had been established well before that. Most fans know that Joe Buck calls the lead NFL game for Fox (except during World Series time). However, Buck never mentioned which football game, or, more importantly, the final score. I'm certain I wasn't the only sports fan who, upon not being told the final score, was curious as to how the football game ended, and switched over to NBC to find out that score.

All Joe Buck had to do was say something like, "as Denver handed Green Bay its first loss of the season by a score of....." and he would have held more viewers. Granted, Buck could well have been under orders from the network not to do that, but this was the perfect time to promote upcoming NFL telecasts on Fox. Keep in mind that this coming Sunday (11/8), Buck and Troy Aikman will call the Green Bay at Carolina game (with Carolina coming in unbeaten) to the majority of the country, including Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, and Seattle, with are leading baseball and football markets. Still another missed opportunity by Fox Sports.

NBC also chose to flex schedule for its Nov. 22nd (Week 11) SNF telecast, understandably picking up the Cincinnati at Arizona game. As a result, CBS picked up the Chicago at St. Louis telecast as an early regional game on Nov. 15th, taking that one away from Fox. That will be a big ratings win for WBBM-TV Chicago for November, as the station will now have the Bears games on consecutive Sundays, as the Bears host Denver in a CBS early regional game the following week.

WASHINGTON D.C.: No more "Man Cave" for The Team, as WTEM ESPN 980 dropped its local morning show right in the middle of the Redskins' season, admitting the ratings were not strong enough. Although the station plans to include some specific local content during morning drive, it is back to airing Mike & Mike. The "Man Cave" just started early in 2015, with a quick check of the ratings showing some growth within the past three months in 25-54 males. It will be interesting to see if anyone else in the market picks up on (former) co-hosts Chris Paul and Jason Reid. This is a clear victory for WJFK-FM 106.7 The Fan and it's "Sports Junkies" show, which is local.

DETROIT: WMGC 105.1 The Game, while getting crushed in the ratings by WXYT 97.1 The Ticket, is adjusting its weekday lineup in an effort to grow its audience. Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press has joined Matt Dery to co-host the 3 to 7 PM spot. The Noon to 3 PM spot now has three co-hosts, Sean Baligian, Tom Mazawey, and Marc Fellhauer.

CHICAGO: Sorry to learn of the passing of long time Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Markus at the age of 81. Markus wrote for the Tribune from 1959 into 1996, and definitely fit into the "nice guy" category. My favorite memory of him was the time during the late 70's when he was asked to fill in as an analyst for a local college basketball telecast. Always one to thoroughly prepare for an assignment, he came up with some amazing insights during the first few minutes of the game, and then stated the obvious the rest of the way. After the game, he admitted that "I used up all of my notes in the first two minutes!".

KNOXVILLE: Russell Smith and Rich Daugherty quickly found a new radio home, taking over 3 to 6 PM on Fox Sports Knoxville 1340. Their show had been airing on 94.3 FM which changed format a couple weeks back.

JACKSONVILLE: WJSJ 105.3, which had been completely silent since April, has returned to the airwaves, becoming CBS Sports 105.3. However, this becomes the third sports station in the market, and it's not as if the Jaguars are the talk of the town this season. The market already has WFXJ SportsRadio 930 and WJXL 1010 and 92.5.

BEMIDJI MN: From this small market comes another classic radio management story. WBUN-FM 104.5 is new call letters and a new format as its music format has moved and the station is now all sports. At this point, the station is picking up KXFN The Fan from Minneapolis for the majority of its weekday programming. Why is this a "classic" story? Because Hubbard Broadcasting, which now owns the Bemidji station and made this decision, does not own KXFN Minneapolis. It does own Minneapolis station KSTP 1500, which airs (Are you ready for this?) all sports programming.

Adding to the fun is that Bemidji already has a local ESPN Radio outlet which airs on 1450 AM and 94.9 FM.

BENTON HARBOR MI: What a nice idea! WSJM 1400 Sports Radio aired its morning show this past Friday (10/30) live from Benton Harbor High School. The reason? To salute the school's football team prior to its playoff game.