Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Einhorn Impact On Sports Media

It could be argued that no one made as much of an impact on sports media as we know it today than Eddie Einhorn, who just passed away at the age of 80. I have often referred to Einhorn as the "inventor" of college basketball.

It was back in 1968 when his TVS television network began airing college hoops on a regional and national basis. The prime-time telecast in 1968 in which the University of Houston defeated UCLA to end the Bruins' 47 game winning streak established college basketball as a TV attraction that has grown ever since.

Although Einhorn was not involved with the early years of ESPN, one has to wonder if ESPN would have gained any traction in the early 80's without the interest in seeing a ton of college hoops.

Einhorn moved into MLB when he became a co-owner of the Chicago White Sox following the 1980 season, initially taking the lead ahead of co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Eddie infuriated many White Sox and baseball fans by introducing "SportsVision" which charged fans a monthly fee in order to be able to see at least of the games on TV, talking about "wanting to the first since this is how it is going to be".

Following the 1989 season, Einhorn helped MLB to its first billion dollar TV deal, including ESPN televising at least three nights of national games beginning with the 1990 season.
Thus, his imprint on the TV success of college hoops, and to some extent, MLB, is impossible to dispute. Although I personally did not care for him as a White Sox owner, his accomplishments will be forever remembered for all of the televised games he brought our way as sports fans.

Coincidentally, new research from Nielsen about sports on TV and radio for 2015 reflects just how much sports programming impacts us all. The report shows that of the top 100 live programs on TV during 2015, a total of 93 of those were sports, led by NFL telecasts. Go back ten years and of the top 100 live TV events during 2005, sports telecasts consisted of only 14.
More than 31 billion (that is with a 'B') hours were spent watching live sports last year, an increase of 160% from the 2005 report.

Sports radio average quarter hour listening share showed a 12% overall increase from the 2011 report.

Meanwhile, even with the Golden State Warriors dominating the NBA this season, viewers are taking in this season across the board. ESPN's ratings are up roughly 7% through the first 50 games of the regular season. Of course, the battle for playoff spots is still a month away. ABC's ratings, including its first couple of Saturday prime-time telecasts, are also up about 7% over last season, while ESPN's streaming app is reportedly up more than 65% over the previous season.

However, ESPN needs to re-examine its attempt at Virtual Reality telecasts of a few of its college games. Last week's Ohio State vs. Michigan telecast was done entirely with its "floor seats" angle, as if to provide viewers with the feeling of sitting courtside for the entire game.
Plays in the "far" corner on both sides were tough to distinguish because of the distance from the camera and players getting in the way. While we understand the desire to enhance the telecast experience for the future, hopefully ESPN will realize that they have multiple platforms that could be used.

Here's hoping that the next time they will show the "regular" telecast on one network, and put their Virtual Reality game on another channel, and give the fans their choice of how they want to watch.

While we welcome baseball back with a solid month of spring training games starting this coming Tuesday (3/1) on MLB Network, some of the teams are taking an interesting course for their local telecasts.

Word is that the lead voice of the NHL on NBC and NBCSN, Mike Emrick, will be calling some play-by-play for the Pittsburgh Pirates on a couple of their local telecasts from Florida. Emrick has reportedly been in the Pirates' camp between hockey assignments and will work some games with long time play-by-play voice Bill Brown.

Once again this March, the Angels are going all out to capture baseball viewers who are fed up at still not being able to watch the Dodgers on TV. The Angels will televise 31 exhibition games on Fox Sports West, which is all of them except for a couple of split squad contests.

The Dodgers, for those few who can even get their TV games, the team will air 16 of their exhibition games on their SportsNet L.A., which is the third season in a row they are reducing the number of telecasts.

They are using the excuse of 'low viewership' for the weekday afternoon games as the reason. Of course, if low viewership was a true concern for the network, they would reduce their costs to other providers and get the games in front of as many fans as possible.

What makes this all even more infuriating for the fans is that this will be Vin Scully's final season calling the games. Scully, by the way, will reportedly call one spring game from Arizona, the Freeway Series games vs. the Angels, and be in San Diego to call the April 4th season opener.

RALEIGH/DURHAM: WCLY 1550 The Ticket and its extremely limited nighttime signal will drop ESPN Deportes this weekend and run a mish-mosh of syndicated programming starting on Monday (2/29). The station will pick and choose between ESPN, Fox Sports Radio, and CBS Sports Radio programming.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Hottest Sports Talk Markets

The release of the Nielsen ratings for radio from the January into early February period showed a lot of activity for the major market sports stations to begin 2016, much of it positive.

In Boston, the Patriots' post-season kept the surge of sports radio listeners going in the nation's most popular market for sports radio. WBZ-FM Sports Hub rose to #3 overall, up from both November and December. At the same time WEEI-FM also rose from its November and December status to finish at #6 in the market.

New York listeners helped WFAN 660 increase .6 in the overall ratings to #9 in the market, while the Long Island market ratings (which is considered a separate radio market) showed an increase of 1.6. WEPN-FM held steady and is now #22 in the market.

San Francisco listeners brought KNBR 680 back up to #3 overall with a .7 increase, while the station rose .9 and to the #1 ranking in the (separately rated) San Jose market. KGMZ-FM The Game rose slightly at the same time, but is only #18 in the market.

Chicago's two sports stations both increased, with WSCR 670 The Score increasing .6 and finishing #15 overall, now .3 ahead of WMPV ESPN 1000 which ranks #19.

The Dallas race for sports radio has become a two station race (out of three), with KRLD-FM at #13 showing its best rating since last fall, and KTCK-AM The Ticket increasing one-half point to #18 overall.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM, which had another announcement this week (see below) increased by .7 from the previous month and is #7 overall. Yet, WPEN-FM, during the same time period, increased by .9, now ranking at #14.

Baltimore's WJZ-FM showed a significant 1.4 increase and finished at #6 in the market, while Pittsburgh's KDKA-FM increased by 1.1 and also finished #6 for that market. Also a nice showing for Cleveland's WKRK-FM, increasing by .8 to #8 in the market.

On the other side of the coin, while Los Angeles is getting at least one NFL team for the coming season, that news hasn't exactly been a bonanza for sports talk radio. Not one of its four sports talk stations (soon to be three with the sale of KFWB 980) could even garner a 1.0 rating or make the top 25. The top finisher, KSPN 710 came in at #30 overall with a 20% audience drop from November. KLAC 570 is next at #31 overall, while KLAA-AM finished with a .2 for its overall rating. And that still beat out KFWB. Keep in mind this rating period was during the NFL playoffs for a big city getting its NFL team back.

In Houston, both KILT-AM and KBME-AM showed increases of .3 over the holiday period ratings, but finished only at #19 and #23 respectively in the market.

And then there is Miami. Not one of the three sports stations, WAXY-AM, WQAM-AM, or WINZ-AM could muster so much as a 1.0 rating, and none of them went up at all from the previous month's ratings.

Congrats to Verne Lundquist on being named to receive a "Lifetime Achievement Award" in May at the Sports Emmy Awards. It's a long list of accomplishments including the NFL and NCAA football and basketball, along with The Masters and other PGA events.

NEW YORK CITY: While it is not getting as much attention as the limited audience able to watch the Dodgers on TV is in Los Angeles, there is still no movement between Comcast Cable and the YES Network. This means that it is not likely that nearly 1 million subscribers will not be able to see the Yankees spring training telecasts which begin in two weeks. Comcast subscribers in parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania are also without YES Network. At least viewers in those areas have the option of changing providers to see the Yankees, which those in the L.A. area do not for Dodgers games.

PHILADELPHIA: It's the end of an era for long time baseball fans, as the Phillies radio broadcasts will no longer be heard on the AM dial effective immediately. WIP-FM, which had simulcast the broadcasts from WPHT 1210 since 2012, will now air the games exclusively in Philly. The games had aired on 1210 AM for all but three seasons (2002-04) going back to 1982, and before that when the station was WCAU.

NASCAR is still pursuing a Chicago area radio audience but it continues to be only small suburban stations airing the races. The local Chicagoland Speedway has partnered with WCGO 1590 to air NASCAR events, beginning with Sunday's Daytona 500 broadcast. In addition, Daytona and various NASCAR races will continue to air on WCCQ-FM, a south suburban station whose signal generally does not overlap with WCGO.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Let The Players Tell The Story

All of the wasted time on sports radio and TV shows and all of the wasted space in the print and online media about how post-game interviews are handled is nothing short of an embarrassment for the majority of sports media. So what if Cam Newton was upset after losing his first Super Bowl?

Suppose he had been cordial and cracked jokes after the game and at his 'day after' press conference. Would he have not been criticized?

Come on, reporters. Just say that Newton was too upset to talk, and move on to other players and team personnel for your quotes. That is your job. Cam Newton has generally been cooperative with the magnitude of press conferences and media requests he receives. It's not as though that is going to go away for him, either. Fans should not have to suffer through reporters complaining because they didn't get their juicy quotes.

If you must, quote Newton's one word answers and get the message across that he wasn't talking. Let the audience figure it out for themselves.

This represents a big change of media attitude over the years, and it is not necessary. For example, during the 70's and 80's the media had to put up with Bobby Knight when he was coaching at Indiana.

Knight treated the media horribly, resorting to handing out printed statements after games and not even facing the reporters live. This left many radio and TV stations without any quotes from him.

Yet, years later, after Indiana dumped him and little known Texas Tech was the only school that was willing to put up his antics and hired him as Head Coach, the media covered him like it was a big deal when they should have ignored him and the school.

Years ago, the media understood that it is their job to report on the games, players, coaches, and team officials that make news. Whether they get full cooperation or not. In the old days, when Knight would shun the media, reporters would go to the players and the opponents and give them the media time and space instead. Again, their job was (and is) to get the story.

This week, when Cam Newton wasn't talking, the reporters should have been asking his teammates whether or not he was acting different with them in the locker room at halftime and following the game. THAT would have been an interesting story. Instead, all we got was countless hours of on-air and printed reporter complaints about Newton not talking, as if he has a moral obligation to do so.
Tell the story. Don't try to be the story.

Marv Albert said "YES!!" to a multi-year contract extension with Turner Sports to continue as its lead voice for its NBA telecasts. While many fans still think of Albert from his days calling the NBA on NBC during the Michael Jordan era, this new contract assures that, health permitting, Albert will go well beyond his (current) 18th season with TNT.

In 2017, Albert will mark his 50th anniversary of calling pro sports, having started with the Knicks broadcasts in 1967. It appears that Marv is not slowing down. He is expected to continue calling regional NFL games with CBS, as well as helping Turner Sports with its NCAA Tournament coverage next month.

While the national ratings have been good for the NBA this season, and the ABC Saturday night package appears to be a strong addition, we still are not sure how the NBA will handle its network partners as the Golden State Warriors approach 70 wins later this season and then the possibility of becoming the all-time single season victory leader. The possibility for significant ratings could play a factor in lifting the restriction for the number of national telecasts per team. Or, the Association could keep it in house and put additional games on NBA-TV instead. No word yet.

A Nielsen report shows that 11 NBA teams are showing increased ratings for the first half of this regular season, with local telecast ratings up by approximately 6% over last season. Yet, the domination by the Warriors may be showing an impact the other way, as 15 teams are actually showing a decrease from last season. One of those teams is the Chicago Bulls, showing a 28% ratings decrease compared with last season as the team struggles.

CBS is getting ready to hype having a Notre Dame football telecast during the coming season. The Saturday November 5th road game in Jacksonville has been moved to an 11:30 AM ET kickoff, one-half hour earlier than the start for the remainder of the "early" college football games. Clearly it is an effort to capture the audience by being the first live game of the day. The opponent will be Navy.

CHICAGO: WSCR 670 The Score has extended the contract of midday co-host Jason Goff for another year. The station, which begins as the flagship station for the Cubs broadcasts, also announced that it has added Cubs TV voice Len Kasper for a segment on their Cubs radio pre-game shows.

Ft. MYERS: WFWN 1240 The Fan will be adding an FM signal to the mix during 2016 when it adds a simulcast on 94.1. A specific launch date for the FM had not been announced as of press time.

CHARLOTTE: A nice job of ad-libbing by WZGV ESPN 730 a few days ago when the midday co-host had the presence of mind to send the audience to a commercial break while keeping her composure. While on the air with co-hosts Marty Hurney and Tom Sorensen, an out of control vehicle came crashing into the studio building.

OKLAHOMA CITY: Congrats to Brian Brinkley who was officially named as Sports Director of KFOR-TV 4 after more than 25 years with the station. He began as a Production Assistant in 1990 and has been reporting and anchoring sportscasts since 1992. However, we all wish the circumstances were different. Brinkley replaces Bob Barry Jr. in the role due to Barry's untimely death (traffic accident) in June of 2015.

DESTIN FL: "The Game" sports radio has changed owners and its frequency, becoming "1140 The Game" and being able to air at night, even though it has a limited signal after dark. It had been operating as a daytime only station at 1120 AM.

WHITE PLAINS NY: WFAS 1230 has dumped its music format and picked up CBS Radio Sports full time. This distant NYC suburban station currently has no plans for any local programming or play-by-play.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Still More Millions for the NFL

If the NFL builds it, they will come. This may never have been more evident than the moment that last week's (Jan. 25 - 31) TV ratings came out showing the most watched cable TV shows for the week.

While the majority of football fans will say they don't care about the Pro Bowl year after year, some of them obviously do, even if in secret. Incredibly, the 2016 Pro Bowl telecast on ESPN on Sunday (1/31) finished as the most-watched cable sports program for the week, with more than 5,000,000 more viewers than the second most watched show. That's nothing short of embarrassing for the NBA, NHL, and NCAA people.

At the same time came word of the NFL allowing for an expanded "over the air" presentation of Thursday Night Football for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The League reduced the CBS package to five Thursday night games (from eight the past two seasons), and gave NBC a separate five game package, generating an additional $150 million for the NFL in rights fees. Again, that is "additional" rights fees, since the two networks combine to pay $450 million per season, compared with the $300 million CBS paid for its eight games over the past two seasons.

The NBC package actually gives them four additional Thursday telecasts, since Thanksgiving will continue to be included. Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth will also handle their Thursday telecasts. The two networks will arrange to split the production for the eight games which will be exclusive to the NFL Network, which will also simulcast the ten Thursday games with the networks.

NFL Network will retain an exclusive national package of eight games, which will be the remaining Thursday night games, along with a pair of December Saturday night telecasts. Therefore, NFL Network can continue to charge cable/satellite carriers a higher fee because of its exclusive national games.

Incredibly, even with the additional $150 million, the NFL still isn't done with generating revenue for these Thursday night games. Word is that the League continues to negotiate the streaming rights for the all of the Thursday night games. When you consider that Yahoo paid a reported $15 million for the streaming rights for a lesser game from London this past season, and now a package of 15 or 16 games is available, the added revenue could well exceed still another $100 million for the League - per season.

Bob Uecker continues to turn out lead play-by-play voices from his Brewers broadcast partners. Now Joe Block is leaving the WTMJ Radio booth after four seasons to join the Pirates' crew as their lead play-by-play voice.

Longtime Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes is among those who worked with Uecker before leaving, as did Cory Provus of the Twins and Jim Powell of the Braves.

The Brewers have already announced that Jeff Levering will move up to the number two role on Brewers radio. He is no stranger to the broadcasts, having done play-by-play on road games (which Uecker no longer does) last season. The team says it expects to have a new play-by-play voice on the crew announced prior to the first exhibition game broadcast next month.

Sorry to learn of the passing of Barney Hall, known for many years as "The Voice of NASCAR", at the age of 83. Hall did the call of the Daytona 500 as far back as 1960, and goes back to 1970 on the Motor Racing Network. He was the first ever Public Address announcer at Bristol Motor Speedway.

As we mentioned last week, ESPN is showing an audience decline for its SportsCenter shows, especially during the day. Finally, ESPN has noticed as well and is starting to make some changes. Finally, they will make the 7 to 10 AM ET editions live instead of replaying the late night "final" edition.

More importantly, the plan is for SportsCenter to return to emphasizing more game highlights and information instead of the endless replaying of often lengthy feature stories.

There are still aspects of the show that need fixing. The constant jumping from one sport to another hurts the flow. In addition, the Bottom Line scroll should have more rotations with only the final scores from the different leagues and sports. By the next morning, the majority of fantasy players know how their players did the night before.

Maybe this is because ESPN sees the technology evolving even further which could eventually take away from its SportsCenter audience. The NHL Premium service, which is now being rolled out, is one example. Fans pay $2.99 per month for this streaming service which delivers the last five minutes of all (out of market) games and stays with it when there is overtime, and/or to receive alerts whenever a game enters the final five minutes.

Clearly, other pro leagues will be keeping an eye on this service. ESPN should as well. If an NHL fan doesn't have to sit through 2 basketball game highlights to get to a single NHL game highlight (as is often the case on SportsCenter) because they can get it on their phone or device, it makes life a lot easier.

NEW YORK: Sid Rosenberg is back on the air in New York a few weeks after his south Florida sports radio stint came to an end, joining WABC 770 for a 10 AM to Noon weekday show. Believe it or not, his show, co-hosted with Bernard McGuirk, is primarily focusing on political talk, as this duo replaces Geraldo Rivera's local show. At least for now. Have to wonder what will happen to this show starting the second week of November, after the election.

CHICAGO: It is rare to see a radio play-by-play deal extended more than three years before the current contract runs out, but WGN 720 made that happen with its Blackhawks contract. The station is now under contract to air the Blackhawks games through the 2023-24 NHL season, hoping to continue its successful run which has included three Stanley Cup champion seasons to date.

John Wiedeman and Troy Murray will continue their excellent job as the broadcast team.

MAYSVILLE KY: WFTM 1240 has dropped its music format and gone 24 hour sports which includes daily local programming such as high school coverage. Local sports historian Ron Bailey will host "The Daily Bailey", while Kentucky Sports Radio will continue to air from 10 AM to Noon.