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.

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