Thursday, January 14, 2016

Will NFL Talk Get "Rammed" Totally Out of St. Louis?

An important week for the NFL has become an important week for the media in three major markets, above and beyond the action on the field.

Perhaps no media outlet will be impacted by franchise moves as much as WXOS "101 Sports" in St. Louis. The station had finally begun to make a ratings impact in 2015, had was the flagship station for the St. Louis Rams since 2009, which was the year the station went to the sports format.

Now that the Rams are bolting for Los Angeles, it will be interesting to see what happens to WXOS over the next few months. The sports fans in St. Louis are, quite understandably, upset about losing the team. From what my sources in the St. Louis area tell me, the attitude on the sports talk shows and in general is to move on and let go of the NFL.

Since sports radio station ratings are driven by the local teams and what is going on in the sports world, a reduced level of interest in the NFL will show a big impact (or lack of impact) in St. Louis, especially during the Cardinals' off season and before the Blues begin their NHL playoff run.

The Cardinals and the Blues appear to be firmly in place on KMOX, which now has a monopoly on the two remaining local pro teams, and the huge ratings to go along with it. Frankly, losing the Rams, and the anticipated reduction in local interest in the NFL moving forward, could spell doom for WXOS, as well as KFNS 590, which recently returned to a sports format.

Although the Raiders are also moving to L.A., and the Chargers remain a possibility, the San Francisco/Oakland and San Diego sports radio landscapes are much different, and will not suffer nearly as much as St. Louis.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the struggling Los Angeles sports talk stations, KSPN and KLAC, show any noticeable ratings increases over the next couple of months. It remains to be seen how many fans will be excited enough about gaining local NFL teams will increase their sports radio listening. There is also the upcoming demise of KFWB 980 The Beast as a sports talker (due to its pending sale), although the audience that would need to tune elsewhere is not significant.

In Cincinnati, it will be interesting to see how its sports talkers do (or don't) in the next ratings following the Bengals' debacle in the playoff game against Pittsburgh on Jan. 9th. Of course, the ugly ending to the game and the six (at last reports) arrests made by authorities on stadium grounds have nothing to do with sports radio.

Whether or not the fans take to the airwaves to discuss the Bengals, and, shall we say, "follow" the Steelers the rest of the way in the playoffs, remains to be heard. And then there was WLW 700, which was airing a "Big Ben rape warning" during the couple of days leading into the game against the Steelers. (This was making fun of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was accused of rape in 2009 and in 2010, although neither case went to trial.)

We'll leave others to debate the issue as to whether or not this was in good taste, especially since a TMZ poll with nearly 50,000 respondents was close to an even split. If the locals continue to think that NFL playoffs are "more than a game" to this level, we'll find out whether or not it translates to a sports talk audience increase or not.

The NFL moves right along with its incredible TV viewership for the just concluded regular season. The national TV ratings for the Fall 2015 "season" (as in TV season - not NFL season) show that the top two overall most viewed shows were Sunday Night Football followed by Thursday Night Football. NCIS was a distant #3.

But there is an even more amazing viewership statistic. The average 22.5 million viewers that SNF received (in the top spot) was actually less than the 26.8 million viewers averaged by both CBS and Fox for the Sunday doubleheader telecasts during the Fall.

As the NBA continues its path to expand globally, the feeling here is that there was a partially missed opportunity this week. The Association had its scheduled regular season matchup in London today (1/14) between Toronto and Orlando. In a nice move, it was aired live on NBA-TV starting at 3:10 PM ET. The pre-game show also included the entire press conference in London with Commissioner Adam Silver, who addressed the plans for more international games.

While we can understand not putting the game on this weekend and trying to compete with NFL Playoffs, the publicity for the national telecast was very limited. The NFL pumped up its three London games in 2015, starting them at 9:30 AM ET and having its live stream of the third of the games, turning a less attractive matchup in to a big audience event.

Yet, the NBA did not publicize this live weekday game, other than on a couple of its other national telecasts. Got to think that east coast sports bars could have had an "early bird special" with the game airing into the 5:00 to 6:00 PM hour.

Reminded me of the MLB opener in 2014 when the games started at 5 AM ET, yet it took a fan reaction to get the subsequent international regular season games shown live on national TV. Also interesting, in this case, that the London matchup featured a Canadian team and a U.S. based team.
MLB is again expanding its international reach, announcing a three year agreement for MLB games to be streamed live to China for the first time, starting this coming season.

Fans in China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be able to view approximately 96 regular season games (roughly four per week) online, including mobile devices. In addition the All-Star Game and World Series will also be included. While announcing this agreement at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Commissioner Rob Manfred and other officials revealed that even more games could be added as soon as this year if and as the demand warrants.

Even with a ton of former MLB players acting as and seeking analyst work, ESPN has decided to keep Jessica Mendoza on its Sunday Night Baseball broadcast crew for the coming 2016 season. In still another SNB change to the booth, Aaron Boone is being moved to the lead analyst role along side play-by-play voice Dan Shulman.

Curt Schilling is back with ESPN, but is being moved to its Monday night games, while John Kruk will most likely be a studio analyst and work at scattered game telecasts.

CHICAGO: Speaking of updating broadcast teams, the White Sox have added 32 year-old play-by-play voice Jason Benetti to their TV booth for the coming season. Benetti, a native of the Chicago area, will handle roughly 81 telecasts, mostly home games, as Ken Harrelson finally reduces his workload. Many White Sox fans see this as a huge blessing, since the telecasts will finally have a professional play-by-play voice, instead of incessant babbling and opinions instead of what is happening in the game. Steve Stone will continue as analyst, getting to do his true calling with Benetti, although he will still be stymied by Harrelson for half of the games.

Across town, longtime Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes has, once again, been named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year for 2015. He has already earned is Award in 1996, 1999, 2006, 2007, and 2009. Hughes will begin his 21st season in the Cubs booth in March, with the games now airing on WSCR 670 for the first time.

TRENTON: WNJE 920 continues to move toward all sports, taking out political and syndicated news talk shows out of its daytime lineup. For now, the station has added Fox Sports Radio programming. Some of the brokered programming continues to air during the evening, at least for now. No announcement yet about adding any local sports programming.

LEHIGH VALLEY: ESPN Lehigh Valley now has a third signal in the area, as WBYN 1160, licensed to Lehighton joins WEEX 1230 Easton and WTKZ Allentown 1320. WBYN dumped a Christian format to make the switch last week.

BOISE: The success of Boise State University sports in recent years does not translate well at all to the local sports radio scene, unfortunately. The latest radio ratings for the market again have both KTIK-FM The Ticket and KNFL as the two lowest rated stations in the market. Of those stations with ratings. Technically, they both beat out another local station. KTIK-AM, also a sports station, again failed to show up in this ratings book. Ouch.

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