Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A 'Stream' Of Revenue For Pro Sports Leagues

The pro sports leagues are well aware that the billions of dollars paid for TV rights may not be there next time around, and continue to turn to revenue from online streaming.

Two more streaming deals have come to fruition within the past 10 days. Twitter now has a deal in place to be able to stream out of market games for both MLB and the NHL, likely to start with the coming NHL regular season in October.

Part of their arrangements allow them to include additional content along with the actual game telecasts. This of course, will allow for additional advertising revenue and for additional posting and interaction by users of Twitter, whether or not they are even signed in.

Fox Sports has secured the rights for local streaming of 12 NHL teams for which Fox and its regional networks hold the team rights. This makes Fox Sports the only provider to already have local team streaming deals with MLB, the NBA, and the NHL. The supposed multi-year deal will include the Fox Sports apps along with some distributor apps and web sites to be announced soon.

One likely difference between these two deals, as well as the Yahoo Sports deal to stream some NFL telecasts, is that the Yahoo and Twitter deals are separate from the user/viewer having to be a subscriber to a provider which carries Fox Sports.

The feeling here is that the sports leagues are seeing the Dodgers TV deal being priced out for the majority of Los Angeles viewers, the problems that teams such as the Yankees are having with fees for distribution, and realizing that the TV cash cow might not be as fat in the coming years.

By making streaming deals at this early stage, they can still have hundreds of millions of dollars coming in, regardless of how much cord-cutting consumers are doing.

Nice move by MLB Network to quickly schedule and air Game 1 of the Mets vs. Cardinals doubleheader on Tuesday (7/26) in the late afternoon period. The Monday night game was rained out, forcing the doubleheader on Tuesday, but MLB Network jumped on it. This gave fans a live triple header on a Tuesday, with ESPN's national game following and then MLB Network's previously scheduled west coast telecast airing live after that. Great move to add live games at every opportunity.

CHICAGO: WMAQ-TV Channel 5 has added Mike Berman as a sports reporter and anchor. Berman will join the station in time for football coverage, coming from WTTV-TV Indianapolis. The Chicago native did a sports intern with WLS-TV back in 2005.

Quite the telecast mess for White Sox fans this past Sunday (7/24). The team's Saturday night game vs. Detroit was suspended after eight innings late Saturday night with the score tied going to the 9th inning, and scheduled to resume at 1:10 PM on Sunday, with the scheduled game to follow.

However, Comcast SportsNet Chicago was televising Saturday's game, while WGN-TV had the Sunday "regular" game telecast.

WGN-TV aired their 'White Sox Warmup" pre-game show as scheduled at 12:30 PM, announcing throughout that the suspended game telecast will be on CSN starting at 1:00 and that WGN-TV would "return" for the scheduled game telecast 30 minutes after.

At 1:00, WGN-TV aired game shows, while CSN signed back on to show the finish of the suspended game. When the game ended (in the bottom of the 9th less than 20 minutes later), CSN stayed on for its postgame show. Host Chuck Garfein handled the show solo as studio analyst Bill Melton was not scheduled to work on Sunday.

Before the postgame show ended on CSN, WGN-TV came back on from the ballpark and then did the telecast, as usual, of the scheduled game, which ran more than one hour over their scheduled time due to the delayed start.

SAN FRANCISCO: KKSF 910 switched formats to sports, although it is now a Spanish sports station.

DENVER: Fans of The Fan 104.3 finally have their Sandy Clough back on the air, even if only from 10 AM to Noon as of this week. Still no explanation (as of press time) about his absence which went on for months, but both parties appeared to be happy to have his show back on the air. Clough has been part of the radio scene since 1980.

ROCKFORD: WNTA 1330 is dumping its Spanish programming and going to all sports starting on August 1st, in time for football season.

The station plans to air high school football each Friday and then high school hoops two nights per week, along with airing Chicago Bears pre-season and regular season games. Despite its Illinois location, it will also air University of Wisconsin football.

Just as curious, with the station airing Chicago Bears games, is the announcement that they will air "The Bill Michaels Show" each weekday, which has the Green Bay Packers (the Bears' biggest rival, of course) as its primary focus. As of now, much of their programming will be from Fox Sports Radio.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Another College Sports Network Coming Soon

Sometimes the strategy of showing the games is even greater than the strategy used by the coaches to try and win those same games. The Atlantic Coast Conference is unveiling plans for its own TV network to showcase its games and events, along the lines of what the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 have been doing.

It appears that starting this network within the next year in a streaming platform is the first move. While it will be presented as introducing the network and enticing viewer interest, the reasoning behind it is to allow for some current rights deals, such as the one with Raycom to syndicate selected telecasts, to run their course. However, Raycom has some ACC game rights for the next 10 seasons.

It looks as though ESPN will handle the digital portion and make selected telecasts available via its streaming and app over the next year or two. The thinking is that this gives ESPN more ammunition, especially on the east coast, for negotiations with carriers and providers over the next year.

MLB local team telecast ratings are going strong this year, as the team by team reports for the first half of the 2016 season indicate. The K.C. Royals are the local leaders, yet are one of ten teams which are #1 rated during prime time in their markets including both broadcast and cable offerings. Other cities with top evening telecast ratings include St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, Boston, Cleveland, and Dallas.

The report also shows the Chicago White Sox with a 30% increase in TV ratings over last year. In this case, it could be because of the addition of Jason Benetti, who handled play-by-play for the home game telecasts (plus one road series in April). This is the first break that White Sox fans have had from Ken Harrelson, who this season is only doing road telecasts. Although there is no breakout of home vs. road telecasts, the team is also around .500 this season, leading one to indicate that fans prefer announcers who actually describe the game and discuss the team ahead of rants about the umpires, excuses for every run the opponents score, and the other incessant babblings from Harrelson.

Houston Astros telecast ratings are more than six times higher now than they were just two seasons ago. In this case, it is the combination of the team's rise to contention along with the change from now defunct CSN Houston and the start of ROOT Sports.

And after the understandable protests in Boston when Don Orsillo was not rehired, Red Sox telecast ratings were up 11% over the first half, coming in 6th among local telecast ratings. It helps to be a contender this season, as opposed to last season's horrendous start.

It is worthy of note that while the local team telecasts are up, the ESPN game ratings are down this season. It may not only be because fans are more interested in the local teams. ESPN has reduced its Baseball Tonight load, often skipping entire nights from either ESPN or ESPN2. It is less consistent with when it airs games, now showing some Tuesday games instead of its traditional Monday and Wednesday nights. Reduced coverage means reduced interest in watching.

For those keeping score on the name of the network, the former One On One Sports, Sporting News Radio, and now Yahoo! Sports Network is changing names still again during the week of August 1st. It will soon be called SB Nation Radio.

BALTIMORE: The Ravens have extended their radio and pre-season TV agreements through 2022 as both will remain in place. The radio play-by-play team of Gerry Sandusky (the one with the same name, but not "that" Gerry) and Stan White will continue on WBAL 1090 and WIYY 98 Rock for regular season (and any post season) games. They will again move over to the TV booth to call all available pre-season games (not shown on a national network) on WBAL-TV Channel 11.

MILWAUKEE: Although the Brewers are again struggling through a poor season, WTMJ 620 has decided to continue to long standing relationship and extend its contract beyond this season. The team has aired on WTMJ for all but two seasons on WISN since its inception in 1970.

Making this season tolerable for the audience is the 46th year of Bob Uecker calling the games, although understandably on a reduced schedule these days. Jeff Levering and Lane Grindle are also in the radio booth and are expected to continue.

MIAMI: The NHL Panthers have extended their radio contract with WQAM 560 for what is termed a "multi-year" deal to continue.

SAN FRANCISCO: KTCT 1050, the sister sports station to KNBR, is now the focus of the parent company's attention while KNBR 680 maintains its lofty ratings status. The Ticket is adding a local morning show starting the week of August 8th. Their morning show will include former pitcher Kevin Frandsen, as well as Drew Hoffar and Rudy Ortiz. Ortiz had been hosting a weekend show on KGMZ 95.7 The Game.

At this time, the station will fill the remainder with syndicated programming, dropping CBS Sports Radio and adding ESPN Radio. This does mean that Mike & Mike will air live in the market from 3 to 6 AM.

CHICAGO: WMVP ESPN 1000 will air a special live broadcast with University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh next Wednesday (7/27) from 2:00 to 3:00 PM CT, which will also stream. It will come from a Chicago restaurant, where Tom Waddle, who was a teammate of Harbaugh's with the Chicago Bears, will co-host the broadcast.

The station, now without any play-by-play of the five major pro teams in town, has also expanded its Cubs coverage. Ace pitcher Jake Arrieta will make a weekly appearance with Waddle and Mark Silverman on their afternoon show, while Anthony Rizzo will appear on Tuesday afternoons (when the team's schedule permits) with host David Kaplan.

BIRMINGHAM: Still no replacement for the "Matt and Scot Show" for WJOX 94.5 as of press time. The station ended the show by releasing Matt McClearin and Scot Harrison from their 6:00 to 9:00 PM show. For now, the station is doing an instant replay of Paul Finebaum's show, which airs live from 3:00 until 6:00 PM.

Have to wonder if they are in a hurry to replace, thinking that Finebaum a second time might be a nice fit during the college football season.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Player Beats The Reporters To The Story

You wouldn't think that Richard Jefferson signing a two-year contract to return to the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers would be the leading sports media story of the past week, but there is good reason.

Those fans that actually care about the "who reported it first" derby have a one-time "winner" for this story and no other. Why?

Because the first to report it was none other than Richard Jefferson. The speculation had been that the veteran forward would likely retire after the just concluded season, but it appears that coming back as defending champion changed his mind.

Since this was not expected, Jefferson "beat" the sports media to the story, being the first to report it by way of his Snapchat account.

Here we have all of these "reporters" with their trade and signing rumors and speculation stories, along with what they consider "newsworthy" stories such as mock draft picks, looking at being the first to report on something. And now we have the subject of the story scooping all of them to "report" it.

There is reason to be concerned about this becoming a trend. Consider that several pro sports teams produce their own TV and radio content along with "exclusive" team news and features via their web sites.

It is not a good thing that sports fans wanting actual hard news may someday have to turn to a variety of team web sites and social media feeds from players to get actual news and information other than game results.

Still another tough week for Fox Sports since early ratings returns show that Tuesday's (7/12) MLB All-Star Game had an all-time ratings low among those games which Fox has televised.

Even the two hours of "America's Got Talent" on NBC outrated the telecast although it was a close and competitive game throughout. Of course, Fox doing all of its promotional spots for other shows and its heavy load of commercials made it a challenge for Joe Buck and John Smoltz to focus on the game itself.

Fox didn't even show the umpiring crew until the bottom of the first inning, and often didn't get to a new pitcher's season statistics until the first batter of the inning was finished. Although the replays and technical production of the game were solid, the busy and cluttered telecast took away from the enjoyment of the game.

The departure of Mike Torico from ESPN also left an opening for their play-by-play voice for ESPN Radio NBA broadcasts. No surprise that the network has named Marc Kestecher to the position starting with the upcoming season.

Kestecher already calls NFL and college hoops and football for ESPN Radio along with some broadcasts for ESPN on the TV side. Hubie Brown will continue as NBA analyst on radio for the more important games including playoffs.

Didn't think we would see this actually happen, but Fox Sports 1 is actually showing signs of progress in terms of increasing viewership. Nielsen research shows that for the first half of 2016 FS1 has grown more than ESPN and NBC Sports Network in both total and prime time viewership.

It appears that a lot of viewers have noticed how ESPN has severely reduced its overall MLB coverage, especially on days/nights when it does not air a live game. The lack of priority on SportsCenter and the burying of Baseball Tonight have many viewers,  used to significant coverage of baseball, looking for alternatives.

To that point, the biggest gain for FS1 is none other than its MLB Whiparound, which through the season's first half, showed a 54% increase in viewers over last season. Next in line is NASCAR Race Hub, which grew 7% over last year. While the NASCAR show growth is respectable, you can see how it pales in comparison with the MLB show numbers.

It will be interesting to see whether or not ESPN, which will likely make another exception this weekend and bring its total focus to the Yankees vs. Red Sox series as usual, realizes where it is losing viewers and starts to beef its MLB coverage back up.

Pac-12 Networks became the latest source to partner with Twitter for live streaming of selected sports events involving the member schools. Although there has been nothing yet about the mass appeal sports such as football and basketball, there will be some of the minor sports events and perhaps other school events available by streaming.  Many of these events, however, are already streamed via Pac-12.com and/or the various university Athletic Department web sites.

DETROIT: University of Michigan sports will soon have an expanded presence in the market. While WWJ 950 remains the school's flagship station for football, top rated (and sister station) WYXT-FM The Ticket 97.1 will now air the Michigan football games it can air live without conflict. These will be games which do not conflict with Tigers and Red Wings broadcasts.  In addition, Coach Jim Harbaugh will participate in a weekly coaches show on The Ticket starting this season.

LOS ANGELES: KSPN ESPN 710 will soon need a new co-host for its local morning show to replace Max Kellerman on what is now the "Max & Marcellus Show". Kellerman is not being sent packing due to low ratings, however.

The move is because ESPN has decided that Kellerman will be more valuable on ESPN2's "First Take", which he will begin co-hosting the week of July 25th, along with Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim.

BALTIMORE: Sorry to learn of the passing last week of veteran sportscaster Tom Marr at the age of 73. Known more around the country for his occasional work on Orioles broadcasts, his time in Baltimore began with WFBR in 1967 and then with WMAR-TV. In 1988 he joined WCBM Radio and expanded his duties to much more than sports. He will be missed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Sports Radio Ratings? Depends on the Market

No major surprises from the newly released radio ratings for the late May to late June period. In Boston, WEEI-FM has increased its lead over rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub. The Red Sox flagship station came in at #4 overall in the market even though it dropped .2 from the previous month. WBZ-FM lost .6 of a ratings point during the same period but still ranks a strong #7 overall.

New York's WFAN dropped .6 overall but remains the market's sports radio leader even after slipping out of the top 10 (to #12). Local baseball broadcasts did not have the desired impact on the night ratings. The Fan, as Yankees flagship, is the #11 ranked station from 7 PM to Midnight (when most of the baseball broadcasts air). Granted, the Yankees are not contenders as of yet. However, WFAN still ranks ahead of the WOR 710 which airs the Mets games and came in at #14 during those same night hours.

San Francisco listeners kept KNBR 680 on top of the market again, understandable given the run by the Warriors along with having the first place Giants games. KNBR continues to have more than triple the total audience of KGMZ-FM, which airs the A's games.

In Chicago, WSCR 670 The Score was strong again, bolstered by the Cubs broadcasts, finishing #5 overall in the market. WMVP ESPN 1000 lost .5 of a ratings point over the one month period, now with just over one-third of the audience size of The Score, and now without any major local team play-by-play.

Other strong markets include Detroit, where WXYT-FM The Ticket stays at #1 in the market, and Seattle, where KIRO-AM came in at #11 overall with an overall audience growth of one full ratings point over the past two months.

Several major markets did not have good news from this month's Nielsen ratings, however. In Dallas it is becoming a two station race once again. KTCK-AM The Ticket dropped to #12 overall at a 3.3 rating, while KRLD-FM increased to a 2.9. KESN now lags well behind with a 1.2.

The disaster of a season for the Twins while the other pro teams are quiet has hurt KFXN The Fan, which dropped a full ratings point from the previous month. KTWN-FM, the alternative music station which carries the Twins, dipped again (as it has each month during this season) and now is at a 1.3 overall.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM, hurt by the Phillies dropping from contention during May after a solid start, dropped .6 of a rating point over the month and is now #11 overall in the market. At the same time, WPEN The Fanatic dropped .4 and is now ranked #17. Yet, WPEN The Fanatic continues strong during afternoon drive, as afternoon host Mike Missanelli comes away with his eight consecutive "win" over WIP-FM and Josh Innes. Our understanding is that Innes is only under contract there until December.

In Los Angeles, KLAC 570 continues to move up gradually, but still is not in the top 25 stations overall in the market despite airing the Dodgers while almost 70% of the market does not receive the local telecasts. The station has increased by .8 of a ratings point since last season. KSPN ESPN 710 went up to a 1.1 rating, marking the first time (in recent memory if not ever) that both of these sports stations have had ratings above a 1.0.

Even with the Astros heating up the American League West, the growth of Houston sports radio seems to have come back down again. KILT dropped to a 1.0, with the other stations, as usual, finishing below that.

JACKSONVILLE: WJSJ 105.3 has dropped its sports format, having been a CBS Sports Radio affiliate until dropping it last week (7/1) for a music format.

CHAMPAIGN: University of Illinois radio broadcasts will have a new analyst for the upcoming season. Former Illini star Jerry Hester, who had served as the lead analyst since 2005 (when the Illini went as far as the national championship game), announced he is stepping aside in order to spend more time with his family in the Chicago area. Since this announcement was not expected, it may be a while before a replacement is named.

CHATTANOOGA: Sorry to learn of the passing of WGOW sports talk host Gary Haskew, known as "Doctor Basketball" at the age of 74. Haskew was fortunate enough to have his brother Jerre on the show with him, was a big part of the Quake (Scott McMahen) and Cowboy Joe (Joe Varner) show during afternoon drive.