Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let's "Kick Off" The New Year !

While we wait to see how the viewership will be for the college football playoff games on New Year's Eve and whether or not those will impact the ratings for the New Year's Day bowl games, it has been quite the media week for the active pro sports.

NHL fans in the U.S. got a holiday gift that will last for a long time with the surprising announcement that the TuneIn app is making NHL games available at no cost. TuneIn will offer both the home and away feeds, including multiple languages when available. The app will soon have a TuneIn player on NHL.com as well, and promises to have "Hockey Channel 30" up and running shortly, which will be available 24 hours a day.

This is a wonderful change from the app's NFL offerings, which are only available on a "premium tier" for which users pay $7.99 per month. It will be interesting to see how much this impacts the future participation of SiriusXM satellite radio, which, until now, had been the exclusive home of audio feeds of every NHL game.

It was a good Christmas holiday for NBA games, as ABC/ESPN showed a 6% increase in viewers of all five games aired consecutively on those networks on Christmas Day. The marquis matchup of Cleveland vs. Golden State was the most watched Dec. 25th telecast since 2011, which was part of the delayed season opening day. Keep in mind that ABC will not be airing Sunday doubleheaders during the second half of the season and will have options for which Sunday game to showcase unlike past seasons. Instead, ABC will begin its Saturday prime time series next week.

NFL fans having a day (Saturday 1/2) to recover from all of the college football telecasts on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, along with several games with playoff implications, should make for a strong Sunday (1/3) viewership. NBC has flexed the Green Bay vs. Minnesota game to Sunday Night Football in a battle for the NFC North title. Fox will be able to cover the race for best record by having both the Carolina and Arizona games as doubleheader games.

New York fans will again have the Jets and Giants playing at the same time on competing networks, although the Jets telecast figures to crush the ratings for the Giants game. As it was, this past Sunday (12/27) Night Football telecast of the Giants against the Vikings had the New York City market finish 21st in audience ratings among the major markets despite the Giants being the local team. The Minneapolis/St. Paul area, with a huge following for the surprising Vikings, finished first among all markets, with an impressive 42.5% of homes tuned in at some point.

Let's give a ton of credit to the NFL Network for staying at the stadium after the end of the overtime game between San Diego and Oakland on Christmas Eve. Despite the limited national interest in the game, it being played on Christmas Eve, and running well past midnight in the Eastern time zone, the crew knew to stay with it and capture the moment for Charles Woodson's final home game of his amazing career. The crew was ready and picked up Woodson's brief talk to the crowd at the stadium with no hesitation and no technical problems at all in a class move.

For baseball fans, as wonderful as it is that ESPN is giving us three live games on Opening Day Sunday in April, one of the network's "traditions" just won't go away. Granted, the Yankees and Red Sox could both be back in the A.L. East race at the same time in 2016. But ESPN continues to appear obligated to show the teams head-to-head no matter what the circumstances.

Two of the first six weeks of Sunday Night Baseball will feature, you guessed it, Yankees vs. Red Sox, which will be back-to-back weeks on May 1 and May 8. It doesn't stop there, as the same two teams have already been scheduled for July 17th, even though six Sundays before that have not yet had games scheduled.

By the way, the World Champion K.C. Royals have been scheduled a grand total of ONE time during that stretch, and that will be Opening Night, Sunday April 3rd vs. the Mets.

ESPN has scheduled its first ever Sunday Night Baseball doubleheader. On June 12th, the Pirates and Cardinals will be shown starting at 5 PM ET followed by the Giants vs. Dodgers at 8:30 PM ET.

SAN FRANCISCO/SAN JOSE: While KGMZ 95.7 The Game struggles to make a dent against the ratings of KNBR 680, The Game has decided to drop its ESPN Radio affiliation as of the first of the year. It's not because of local programming. The station is replacing with Fox Sports Radio during the 11 AM to 3 PM weekday spot, as well as during the 3 to 6 AM period and most of its weekend programming. No word yet on where ESPN Radio will be heard in the Bay Area.

KANSAS CITY: It's the same people hosting the same shows on the market's sports talkers, but clearly it is the sports scene that shapes the ratings. As much as the locals love their Royals, the off season clearly shows. The latest Nov.-Dec. ratings showed KCSP-AM losing literally more than two-thirds of the total audience it had from the Oct. - Nov. ratings during the Royals' championship run, going from a 10.6 to a 3.0 in the Nielsens. WHB-AM dipped from a 5.3 to a 2.9 during the same time frame, with the stations finishing #18 and #19 in overall market rank.

St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 continues its efforts to return to sports talk radio, adding Bob Ramsey and Jeff Vernetti to its lineup starting next week (1/4). They won't have much air time, at least not yet, as they will air from 11 AM to 1 PM with Howard Balzer now airing from 1 to 3 PM.

Ramsey and Vernetti move up the dial from WGNU 920, which will begin a Noon to 2 PM show with Chris Gardner and a blend of local writers including Benjamin Hochman and Ben Frederickson.

WGNU listeners will have to know what day of the week it is from 2 to 3 PM on weekdays. The station has chosen to go with "highlights" of its morning show in that time slot on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. On Mondays and Fridays, Kelly Chase, the voice of the Blues, will host his own show.

CHICAGO: WBBM-TV got some well deserved flack this past Sunday (12/27) for its NFL telecast decision. Most Sundays, no one would question the station's decision not to even try to compete against the popular Bears telecasts on Fox. But this was clearly not "most" Sunday.

Even though the Bears vs. Tampa telecast on Fox featured two teams already eliminated from playoff contention, WBBM-TV decided not to carry an early game, such as New England vs. the N.Y. Jets.

Instead, WBBM-TV aired the only game it could during the late afternoon slot, which was Jacksonville vs. New Orleans. This while WFLD-TV (Fox) aired the Green Bay vs. Arizona doubleheader game against it.


Ft. LAUDERDALE: The latest chapter is over for long time New York and Florida sportscaster Sid Rosenberg, who is suddenly no longer with WMEN 640. No reason was given, although the station was extremely fast in removing Rosenberg from its web site.

ATLANTA: 92.9 The Game has reportedly dismissed long time host (and former NFL analyst for CBS and NBC) Randy Cross from its midday show, according to Rodney Ho of the Atlanta Journal Constitution just before press time. Cross, a part of the morning show for about three years since 92.9 went to sports in 2012, had been shoved to middays earlier this year.

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When Will The Warrior Watch Begin?

As the NBA and its biggest fans prepare for the 5 live games on Christmas Day, it is interesting to note how the Association and its TV partners are not pumping up the incredible start by the Golden State Warriors as much as they should be. It would appear that the Warriors could become only the 2nd team in league history to win 70 games, and the possibility exists, as of now, of challenging the all-time season victory mark of 72 wins.

Because the NBA, as do the other pro leagues, limit the number of times each team can appear on national telecasts over the course of the season, you would think that exceptions could be made with the possibility of huge ratings and revenue for all concerned. Already, the NBA League Pass package has a record number of digital subscriptions, and the season is less than half finished. The latest single game choice list for this season is, of course, led by Warriors games.

Yet, as of press time, there are only five of their January games scheduled for the national platform, with three of those five being late night (10:30 PM ET) on weeknights. Two of those telecasts are on NBA-TV, those being Jan. 5 (vs. Lakers) and Jan. 25 (vs. San Antonio). The others are TNT telecasts on Jan. 14th (also vs. Lakers in a late game) and a major matchup vs. Cleveland at 8 PM ET on Jan. 18th. ESPN will air the Warriors at Chicago on Jan. 20th at 8 PM ET.

There is the valid argument that the networks would rather not risk flexing and using up their Warriors telecasts in order to save them for a possible 70th win and season record run in March and April. Here's hoping the Association and its TV partners will make some exceptions and jump aboard the "must see" bandwagon sooner than that, if the Warriors maintain their tremendous pace.

On the baseball side, Fox Sports is already planning a change in their MLB booth for the 2016 season, moving John Smoltz into the lead analyst role to work with Jack Buck for its lead games. Smoltz will replace Harold Reynolds, who is expected to continue with Fox's MLB coverage, whether as a studio analyst or moved to a regional broadcast team. Gone from the booth is writer/reporter Tom Verducci. It is great to see a network go from three back to two men in the booth.

If only these networks would start to reduce from seemingly hundreds of studio analysts, and give the best one a chance to talk for more than a few seconds at a time.

For all of its problems, Fox Sports did make a success out of their college football package this season, showing a roughly 15% increase in viewership over 2014. Helping the most were the Stanford vs. Notre Dame telecast on Nov. 28th and the Big Ten Championship game between Michigan State and Iowa.

Although the November into December radio ratings are, once again, swayed by listeners switching over to holiday music, it was not good for sports radio. One major exception is Boston, the leader in sports radio. Incredibly, both WBZ Sports Hub and WEEI-FM came in with their same ratings as last month, with WBZ-FM again finishing #2 in the market and WEEI-FM again at #6 in overall audience.

In New York City, WFAN has fallen from a 4.2 to a 3.2 Nielsen rating since October, while WEPN dipped .4 from the previous month. In Chicago, WSCR The Score 670 held steady, but passed up WMVP ESPN 1000 which dipped .5 from the previous month.

San Francisco's KNBR is still a solid #6 overall in the market, but is down 1.1 since October, while KGMZ The Game is down .3 from November. Dallas' sports stations were hit hard, even with the Cowboys' disappointing season. KRLD-FM remains the leader of the three sports stations, but has dropped from a 4.0 October rating to a December 2.6. The little bit of momentum starting to show in Los Angeles has stopped, with all four sports stations dropping over the past month.

CHICAGO: It took just over two years, but Kendall Gill has returned to Comcast SportsNet Chicago as a studio analyst for its Chicago Bulls telecasts. Gill had been involved in a physical altercation in late 2013 with a reporter who disagreed with his analysis. Now, all is forgiven, and Gill is back, now sharing the role with Will Perdue.

DENVER: It gets confusing, but KKZN 760 will soon become KDSP Denver Sports 760 and will air mostly Fox Sports Radio programming during the key weekday times. It appears that only the 10 AM to Noon slot with Dan Logan and Susan Wargin will be the only local programming during the week. ESPN Radio will move over to The Fan 104.3 and/or KEPN The Zone 1600.

LUBBOCK: Actually, this is even more confusing than the affiliation switch in Denver. What was KTTU Sports 104.3 has been moved over to 97.3 KLZK as of last Friday (12/18). A swap of stations between two owners resulted in a total of five stations in the market moving to new frequencies on the same day. If you think the listeners have it bad, consider the advertising agencies that have to deal with different stations handling the various formats.

And on that note, have a Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The NFL Revenue "Stream" To Rise

As we suspected it would, the NFL is already taking steps toward additional free online streaming of selected games as quickly as next season. The success of the Yahoo stream of the unattractive matchup of Buffalo vs. Jacksonville from London back on October 25th in generating a significant audience in the 9:30 AM ET time slot has the NFL salivating.

According to Sports Business Daily, the NFL, while preparing to accept bids from the major networks for the Thursday Night Football package for 2016, has sent specifications for streaming rights to the likes of Yahoo, Google, and Apple for the entire package. The speculation is that a streaming package would include the same advertising as will appear on the "winning" network telecasts as well as on NFL Network.

What that method would do is protect the "winning" TV network by providing the additional exposure for advertising it secures, instead of taking away from it, and provides an added incentive for the networks to perhaps bid even higher.

The "winning" streaming service would be able to sell advertising minutes within the positions which are allotted for local TV stations (and local cable/satellite systems when only on NFL Network), and thus be able to generate significant revenue, along with visitors, from their rights fees. Of course, the NFL sits in the position of not having to accept a streaming bid, although that is highly unlikely. Yahoo reportedly paid $15 million for the streaming rights to the one telecast this season, which was, in reality, not an attractive game. That would be huge dollars over a 16 week package (not including
Thanksgiving night on NBC as part of its Sunday package).

It appears that the NFL would like to have its decision on its Thursday Night Football network in place prior to the upcoming Super Bowl. The package would be the same as this season and in 2014, with the over the air network airing eight of the 16 weeks in simulcast with NFL Network, and NFL Network airing the remainder nationally along with stations in the local markets each week.

This week (Dec. 19/20), NFL Network airs two games, adding Saturday's N.Y. Jets at Dallas game in addition to the Thursday (12/17) game. As a result, it's double duty for the lead announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. The pair will call the game in Dallas on Saturday night and then be in Pittsburgh on Sunday for the CBS doubleheader game against Denver at 4:25 PM ET.

Next week, Nantz and Simms are expected to call the Thursday Night (Christmas Eve) game between K.C. and Oakland, although CBS has yet to reveal their destination for Sunday Dec. 27th as of press time.

Some bad news this week about a couple of significant sports media personalities. We wish a speedy and full recovery to John Madden following open heart surgery. San Francisco Bay Area fans noticed that Madden was not making his usual weekday appearances on KCBS 740 over the past month, which turned out to be because news of the surgery was kept under wraps.

Sorry to learn of the passing of long time baseball reporter Phil Pepe, who died at the age of 80 from a heart attack last weekend. Pepe covered the Yankees for two major NYC papers from 1961 (the Roger Maris year) through 1989, when he handled morning sports reports for WCBS Radio for another 15 years.

Long time baseball fans who enjoy biographies also remember Pepe as author and/or editor of books about Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Gary Carter, and Tim McCarver among others.

CHICAGO: It went from "no word" to "no doubt" on the announcement that Ron Coomer is returning to the Cubs' radio booth as analyst for his 3rd season in that role. Speculation had been that the Cubs were considering a replacement to work along with Pat Hughes with the games moving to WSCR 670 The Score starting in 2016.

SAN DIEGO: Fox Sports San Diego has added Julie Alexandria to its coverage of the Padres games starting with the coming season. Alexandria previously hosted Mets Weekly for SNY and been a part of MASN's coverage of the Nationals.

ATLANTA: Aiyana Cristal is joining WGCL-TV as a reporter, starting early January. Cristal was most recently with Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

HATTIESBURG MS: A sad story for WFOR 1400, as the sports station remained off the air (at press time) for more than 36 hours with no timetable for returning to the airwaves. The building including all of the studios was destroyed in a fire earlier this week (12/15), while a local firefighter was injured during the battle. The station is streaming Fox Sports Radio until the situation can be remedied.

TOLEDO: Another of those "only in radio" stories for WLQR 106.5 The Ticket. The station is owned by Cumulus which has a partnership with CBS Sports Radio. Yet, and actually to its credit, WLQR dumped CBS Sports Radio because it was able to pick up ESPN Radio. Then again, this station dumped ESPN about three years ago to pick up CBS Sports. Also to its credit, the station continues with Bob Frantz and Mike Miller (local) for afternoon drive.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Leagues Bringing The Content

Even with the concern about leagues and teams taking control of more and more content aimed toward fans, some of it appears to be a positive instead of reducing the negative.

MLB Network, which is delivering on more than 30 hours of live coverage from the Winter Meetings in Nashville, is also set to debut some of the specials it has been producing over the past few months. Later this week (Thursday 12/10) brings the initial showing in prime time of "Royal In Kansas City - 30 Years Later". The documentary includes recalling the team's 1985 World Championship run and then goes current day to feature the team's run to the current World Series championship.

On Friday (12/11) it will be the debut of a documentary about Lenny Randle, one of baseball's biggest characters in the 70's and 80's.

Perhaps even more interesting will be the special about the Astrodome in Houston, which opened 50 years ago, and will also include special events held there in addition to baseball. This show will debut on Tuesday (12/15).

The NBA has partnered with an international digital technology company to develop what it terms an "instant" and custom highlights opportunity. Among the eventual capabilities will be the ability to quickly provide custom highlights during and after games tailored to include specific players. One application reportedly being planned would allow players from foreign countries to be highlighted during and after their games specific to viewers in their home countries.

The "Avgen" platform will also be used to provide alerts and highlights for special accomplishments, such as when a player scores 40 or more points or sets a team or league record.

NBC Sports took the "How quickly they forget!" approach by flexing its Sunday Dec. 20th game, dropping the originally scheduled Cincinnati at San Francisco telecast. It wasn't that long ago when the Bengals were among the league's unbeaten teams, but are now looking to stay ahead of Pittsburgh to win their division. 

This move leaves CBS with the Bengals at 49ers game AND Denver at Pittsburgh among its late game choices. It will be interesting to find out early next week which game will get the bigger priority. NBC picked up the Arizona at Philadelphia telecast to make for a rare national showcase of the Cardinals.

NEW YORK: It has been so long that it doesn't seem like that big of a deal anymore, but Mike & The Mad Dog have agreed to reunite on the air - for one night only. At least as of now. Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo will co-host a charity event at Radio City on March 30th. The pair were, of course, long time co-hosts on WFAN for many years. Francesa is reportedly under contract at WFAN through 2017.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Sorry to learn of the passing of long time sports talker Ken Beatrice, who passed away on Sunday (12/6) at the age of 72. Beatrice is best remembered for his 18 years on WMAL's Sports Call, especially when it came to the NFL.

PHOENIX: Mike Ferrin has been added to the Diamondbacks radio team for the coming season. Ferrin will call some innings to spell Greg Schulte, as well as host the pre and post-game shows on the Diamondbacks Network. He is expected to give up his hosting role on MLB Radio Network, although nothing official has been announced yet.

DENVER: KKFN 104.3 The Fan has chosen its new Program Director. Armen Williams will begin in that role after the first of the year, but is not expected to host a regular air shift. Williams is leaving San Antonio's WTMM 104.5 where he co-hosted afternoons for the past three years.

COEUR D'ALENE: KVNI-AM has dropped its sports talk programming in what is reportedly not a temporary move. The station's transition to all Christmas music is expected to switch to an 80's music format late this month. The station is, as of now, expected to continue to air Seattle Mariners baseball, but no word yet about continuing its University of Idaho football broadcasts next season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What You See Beats What You Get

It's wonderful to see even more of the technology available being used to help us as sports fans, especially in terms of game coverage. We have seen two more instances within the past few days.

Let's start with NBC and how it helped viewers to watch the all-important New England vs. Denver game this past Sunday night (11/29).

Perhaps as important as the result (with New England losing its first game of the entire season) was how NBC used its virtual "field technology" to show viewers the yard line numbers over a snow covered field. Fans in attendance could not see any of the yard line numbers as they watched, while millions of viewers could. While we certainly understand that the networks use virtual technology a lot more often to be able to change advertisements only visible on the telecasts, using it to enhance the actual game telecast made a big difference.

Another use of game related technology is being implemented by Rogers Communications for NHL fans, targeting its NHL GameCenter Live feature. Granted, this is a subscription service (at this time) enabling fans who stream out of market NHL games not available via TV at the time.

Some will say that this adaptation of the technology is intrusive, and that is a valid argument. Some fans will love this. Rogers Communications has a deal in place enabling the targeting of users who are online but not currently watching an NHL game by "targeting" ads which say "See the goal you just missed!" within seconds after a goal has been scored.

The company is experimenting with this feature at pre-determined times each week through December and plans to re-evaluate. From here, this is a great idea but needs to be used differently.

This could be better used as a separate feature, either subscription or advertiser based, for which fans could sign up for and be able to track favorite teams and/or fantasy players.

Either way, this is another positive use of available technology by the sports media.

Although advertising a movie is hardly sports media, it is most interesting to note how the major networks which spend billions for NFL telecast rights are generating income from taking ads for a movie which the NFL will not like. The movie, "Concussion", which opens on Christmas, focuses on a doctor who fought against the NFL with his research on the effects of long term injuries and medical issues on former NFL players.

Yet, research by iSpot.tv agency shows that the movie has already spent more than $1 million for ads on CBS, and more than $900,000 for ads specifically on ESPN, including inside of NFL game programming. Commercials are also appearing during NFL games on NBC and Fox, as well as during select college football telecasts and some NBA games.

Thanksgiving NFL proved to be red hot for NBC and CBS last week. The Carolina vs. Dallas game on CBS came in as the most watched NFL game of the season thus far, including prime time. (Fox certainly isn't happy about that, considering that they would normally have had this NFC matchup, but it was moved to CBS because of the "all NFC Thanksgiving".)

The prime time matchup between Chicago and Green Bay then finished with the largest Thanksgiving prime time audience ever (with this being the 10th year of the prime time turkey matchup). It now stands as NBC's 2nd most viewed prime time game, being only the memorable 2012 battle between Dallas and Washington for a playoff spot.

BOSTON: Going back to last week, it's interesting to note that sports radio continues strong like no other market, with the two sports stations again holding down two of the top five stations in the market for the October-November radio ratings. WBZ-FM Sports Hub is now #3 overall even with a slight drop from the previous ratings period. WEEI-FM also dropped from the previous month, but holds at #5 in the market.

Word is, via the Boston Herald, that WEEI-FM is in the process of re-working its deal for the Red Sox games, which reportedly has been costing the station upwards of $17 million per year. Nothing official yet, but this story came out just days before the Red Sox signing of free agent David Price at a price of well over $200 million dollars over the long term.

Given the fierce competition between WEEI and WBZ for the sports audience, and this major expense for the Red Sox, it will be interesting to see how far the current negotiations go, and how much WEEI can spend to retain the broadcast rights. One more factor is the replacing of Don Orsillo in the TV booth with Dave O'Brien from the radio booth. Looks like WEEI may be facing its biggest challenge in quite some time.

MIAMI: Whatever the reason, Marlins fans are disappointed at the team's (reported) decision to drop Tommy Hutton as an analyst for its telecasts on Fox Sports Florida after 19 seasons. Fox Sports Florida issued a statement claiming the decision was a "joint decision" between the network and the team, while Hutton immediately indicated he does not plan to retire, even with more than 50 years in baseball including his playing career.

MILWAUKEE: The Bucks are setting up for a local media battle with their new "official" participation with The Fan 105.7/1250 along with sister (music) stations WMYX 99.1 and WXSS 103.7. The Fan will air all Bucks games which conflict with other local play-by-play airing on current and long time flagship WTMJ 620. With the new agreement, The Fan will also air extended Bucks post-game shows and will be adding regular Bucks related programming, including scheduled coach and player appearances.

The team reportedly buys its air time to appear on WTMJ again this season, but also sees the promotional benefits of partnering with the group of stations.

However, WTMJ continues its strong ratings over the years, and is dominant in the team's target audience. Our thinking is that if (or when) the team moves over to The Fan and the other group, that WTMJ would be likely to minimize its coverage of the Bucks and cost the team the significant local exposure it currently receives. WTMJ would be able to cover a lot more of the Brewers and Packers, and barely mention the Bucks, giving the appearance that interest in the team has faded.

We will find out within the next year is WTMJ goes along with a more beneficial deal for the team in order to maintain the Bucks flagship status, or lets them go and dumps the coverage.