Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Sunday When Off The Field Dominated On The Field

This past Sunday (9/25) was one of the most significant sports media days in history. While there is the occasional day when sports becomes "news", this was a day with three such instances within the 24 hour period.

The morning began with the unfortunate death of Miami's Jose Fernandez. MLB Network went live with hours of coverage and reaction, as you would expect. ESPN dominated with that story until 10 AM ET when it went to its NFL programming.

At that time, its NFL programming had the lead news story of the pending protest outside of the Carolina Panthers home game (in Charlotte) vs. Minnesota. ESPN covered that possibility, as well it should have, for the first few minutes before moving on to that game and the others of the day.

Late afternoon, we had MLB Network airing the Dodgers telecast of Vin Scully's final home game broadcast after 67 seasons, including staying on after the game ended to show the tribute which followed. They stayed on with it until 7 PM ET, as late as they could due to the ESPN window for Sunday Night Baseball.

(On a very important separate note, Vin Scully's final Dodgers broadcast is this Sunday at 3 PM ET from San Francisco. While the TV version cannot be shown nationally, KLAC Los Angeles will be simulcasting Scully's call on radio for the entire game, rather than the usual first three innings. This means that the millions of fans with AtBat will be able to listen to his final broadcast. Those with the MLB-TV package will be able to watch.)

As it turned out, both Sunday Night Baseball and Sunday Night Football on NBC were overshadowed by the (then) breaking news that golf legend Arnold Palmer had passed away. NBC, understandably, devoted much of its half-time segment to that story instead of the usual NFL highlights.

On days like that, it is a difficult challenge for broadcasters to maintain a balance between the news stories and the games which we as fans enjoy. Let's give credit to the major networks for doing a solid job in that regard.

Also on Sunday, it was nice to again see both Fox and CBS able to better serve the "over the air" fans viewing early regional games by providing bonus coverage without the restrictions they have faced in the past.

For its early games, Fox was able to send its viewers from earlier ending games, such as the Green Bay vs. Detroit game, to the Washington vs. New York Giants telecast and stay with it until the end. Fans watching the GB - Det. game got to see the entire final 8 minutes of the game.

At the same time, when CBS' early primary regional game between Denver and Cincinnati ended, fans were switched to the Cleveland vs. Miami game at the end of regulation. Even with its scheduled doubleheader game, markets other than those which are primary or secondary markets for the teams playing in its doubleheader game were able to watch the Cleve.-Miami game through the overtime to its conclusion.

In the past, NFL restrictions prevented fans from seeing any more than limited live cut-ins. The fact that this happened for both networks simultaneously in neutral markets added to the drama of the opening games. Nice to see!

The Sunday Night Football game between Chicago and Dallas finished as the lowest rated Sunday Night game which featured the Cowboys since 2010. NBC had two factors going against it. One was the early blowout lead by the Cowboys, while the other was ESPN adding the Cubs against the Cardinals for Sunday Night Baseball. This did serve to cut into the Chicago audience which usually dominates with the Bears. In fact, Norfolk VA had a higher local rating (with way fewer households) than Chicago. The Chicago rating was only 60% of what it was in Dallas.

On Monday night (9/26), Monday Night Football on ESPN continued its dismal start to the 2016 season, finishing as the lowest rated NFL telecast of the entire first three weeks of the season. Sure, there was the debate which attracted a huge audience.

However, the fact is that the previous time that a presidential debate opposed Monday Night Football, back in 2012, there was also a Game 7 in the MLB NL Championship Series. And, on that night in 2012, the NFL telecast that night (Detroit vs. Chicago) finished with a higher rating than this week's game - even without post-season MLB against it.

Well, somebody at Fox Sports must have a wicked sense of humor. NFL fans in the St. Louis area are upset enough that this Sunday's matchup includes the Rams vs. the Cardinals, the two former St. Louis teams.

So which game do St. Louis area fans get for the Fox doubleheader game? The Rams vs. the Cardinals, instead of Dallas vs. San Francisco. Ouch.

The newest Nielsen radio ratings are out for the August-September period with a few very interesting developments for sports radio.

In Boston, WEEI-FM, which has the Red Sox as they go into the post-season, actually dropped .3 from the previous month but came in a solid #6 overall in total audience. WEEI-FM is .4 ahead of rival WBZ-FM Sports Hub, which held steady from the previous month and finished #8.

The successful regular season by the Cubs propelled flagship and sports station WSCR The Score 670 to #5 overall in the market, its highest rating ever. WMVP ESPN 1000 went up slightly from the previous month but now has less than one-half of the total audience that WSCR does.

With the Rangers headed back to the post-season KRLD-FM Dallas (flagship station) is a solid #1 at night and helped the station rise to #8 in the market. KTCK-AM The Ticket is down since July and trails KRLD by .7 of a ratings point, although it now has more than double the total audience of KESN-FM ESPN.

Philly's WIP-FM, despite a poor season by the Phillies, rose to #10 in the market, while WPEN ESPN held steady with under half of "the Whip" audience size.

Twin Cities listeners are clearly excited about the Vikings, as The Fan rose to #4 overall in that market, while in San Francisco, KNBR slipped down to #3 (from the top spot), losing .8 from the previous month.

In Los Angeles, KLAC 570, the Dodgers flagship, went up to a 1.4 rating, but remains well out of the top 20 in overall audience size. Yet, it has more than double the audience of KSPN ESPN 710.

INDIANAPOLIS: And this was for the winning team! It was a big relief to Colts fans this past Sunday when the team recovered a fumble to clinch victory in a tight game vs. San Diego. It seems that Colts radio broadcaster Bob Lamey was a bit relieved. He announced to his listeners that the "F-ing game is over!!", actually using the F-word on the broadcast. As of press time, no disciplinary action has been taken. Have to wonder if he had done that on social media if this would have been the case.

CHICAGO: To the disappointment of many baseball fans, long time White Sox TV voice Ken Harrelson plans to return to call the teams road game telecasts again for the 2017 season. He made the announcement at the conclusion of the team's final road telecast from Cleveland this past Sunday. Many baseball fans probably had the same reaction as Bob Lamey did on the air later that day. Harrelson (and analyst Steve Stone, when he can a word in edgewise) recently finished 32nd in a national poll of TV baseball play-by-play teams, which was fitting considering there are 30 teams.

The NHL Blackhawks will have 14 of their games this coming season broadcast in Spanish for the first time ever. WRTO 1200 will air the first of these 14 games on October 12th, naming Univision Radio's Hector Lozano for play-by-play and Omar Ramos as analyst.

COLUMBUS: WBNS-FM 97.1 The Fan has renewed the broadcast of the Blue Jackets, starting with what will be its 7th season as flagship station. Ohio State football and basketball will continue to have priority on The Fan. Sister station WWCD 102.5 will air the Blue Jackets games when there are conflicts.

CHAMPAIGN: The University of Illinois has named Deon Thomas, who played for U of I in the early 90's, as its new analyst for its basketball radio broadcasts. He replaces Jerry Hester, who gave up the role earlier this off-season. When their broadcast schedule allows, Illini basketball is heard in Chicago on WSCR 670.

JOHNSON CITY TN: The increased sports presence continues for area radio listeners. WXIS 103.9 has gone to an all news format during drive times, including sportscasts at :15 and :45. Earlier this month, WEMB 1240 switched from music to sports, including adding local host Marky Billson weekdays from Noon to 2 PM.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Scully Final Home Game Broadcast To Air Nationally

It's not often that fans would choose a regular season baseball telecast over the NFL doubleheader game, but this Sunday (9/25) could be an exception for many. It will be the Dodgers final home game of the regular season, which makes it Vin Scully's final telecast from Dodger Stadium.

Since TBS is showing the Yankees vs. Blue Jays game as its national tilt, starting at 1 PM ET, it clears the 4 PM ET time slot, which is when the Dodgers vs. Rockies game begins. As a result, MLB Network is able to air that game nationally (except in the Denver and Los Angeles markets) and bring baseball fans almost everywhere this special telecast.

As expected, Scully will not call any post-season action, home or road, making the following Sunday (10/2) his final telecast ever, from San Francisco. Because of the uniform 3 PM ET start time for all MLB games that day, TBS (or MLB Network) will be unable to carry the Dodgers telecast. Our only hope is that the Dodgers - Giants game would have some meaning (which is possible based on the wild card race), and that TBS would select that game and perhaps carry Vin's call of the final inning.

On the NFL side, while it's only two full weeks into the season, there is already concern about the reduction in the ratings for prime time telecasts, especially Monday Night Football. This past Monday night (9/19), even with strong ratings from both Chicago and Philadelphia, was about 11 ratings points lower than week two (Jets vs. Colts) last season.

While it is true that the second half of the game was not competitive, this followed a week one doubleheader for which both games had a drop compared with last season's ratings. In fact, the late game between the 49ers and Rams (with the added significance of being the Rams first game as the L.A. Rams in many years) wound up with a 25% audience reduction from last season.
Having Atlanta vs. New Orleans this coming Monday might not be a ratings winner either.

Doug Sherman, who has called play-by-play of more than 50 college games for ESPN over the past year, has officially joined ESPN full-time. While he will also continue as the voice of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Sherman is giving up his gig as Sports Director of WRGB Channel 6 in San Antonio.

Sherman, who was with WRGB-TV since 1995, will continue as sports anchor on the 6 PM and 11 PM newscasts through October, when his contract runs out.

ESPN is moving some of its program hosts around over the next couple of weeks. Jorge Sedano will join ESPN2 as co-host of what it calls a bi-lingual sports show, "Nacion ESPN", which will end the Jorge & Izzy Show on ESPN Radio on weeknights. Sarah Spain will join Izzy Gutierrez as co-host for "Izzy & Spain" starting next week.

Los Angeles over-the-air NFL viewers probably feel that they are getting screwed with this coming Sunday's local telecast schedule. The market does not get prime matchups such as Denver vs. Cincinnati or Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia.

Instead, its only Fox game will be a late game with the Rams playing at Tampa Bay. The local CBS doubleheader only gets those viewers Oakland at Tennessee followed by San Diego at Indianapolis. Back to the 'secondary market' bit for the Raiders and Chargers.

PHILADELPHIA: Let the speculation intensify about who will take over afternoons on WIP-FM 94.1 to officially replace Josh Innes. Afternoons had been the one shaky time slot for WIP-FM over the past year or so, yet the station has been in no hurry to announce a definite replacement.

This week brings the reports that Jon Marks plans to leave his morning co-host role on WPEN 97.5 The Fanatic when his contract is up in late October. Marks has been with WPEN (both the FM and the AM) in some capacity since it first went to all sports back in 2005.

Since the rumor is that Marks is "leaving" at the end of his contract (as opposed to being let go, which he is not), and WIP-FM has yet to name a replacement for Innes, it will be most interesting to see what Marks has to say on the first day after his contract expires. It is quite possible that, since he is still under contact, he can't say anything publicly about where he will wind up.

CHICAGO: As mentioned above, even with lower national ratings for this past Monday's Bears vs. Eagles game, the telecast was the most watched television program in the Chicago market, combining for a 22.1 rating between ESPN and its telecast airing locally on WCIU-TV.

Speaking of WCIU-TV, our best wishes to Sports Director (for the past 15 years) Kenny McReynolds. Kenny Mac, who has had some major health issues in the past couple of years, will soon need more surgery. He continues to call play-by-play of high school telecasts which air on sub-stations and sister station WWME-TV each weekend.

SAN DIEGO: Fox Sports San Diego has extended its partnership with Prime Ticket Los Angeles and will once again air all available (not national telecasts) L.A. Clippers games this season. This deal includes the ability for San Diego viewers to receive streams of the telecasts where applicable

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

L.A. & St. Louis Viewers Stuck With The Rams

Makes us wonder how many sales of Sunday Ticket there have been and will be this week in the Los Angeles area. With the Rams having played late on Monday Night Football to open their season, the impact of their Sunday schedule isn't being felt until this coming weekend.

On Sunday (9/18) the Rams are home against Seattle, and the game is sold out. As a result, viewers in L.A. will get that telecast as the only Fox telecast of the day. Thus, fans do not get an early game on Fox. The folks at Fox Sports are taking this telecast seriously, assigning Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to this game even though it will go to less than 25% of the country.

As a result, however, L.A. (over the air) viewers cannot get the CBS doubleheader game of Indianapolis at Denver because of home team restrictions, which L.A. hasn't had in all of the years since the Rams left. They do get the early primary regional game on CBS, which is the highly anticipated first meeting of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati since last season's memorable post-season battle between those two teams. All of this also prevents both the Raiders and Chargers games from being shown in that market.

However, it is possible that (over the air) viewers in the St. Louis area will feel even more screwed on Sunday. The local Fox station will also air the Rams vs. Seattle game as its only Fox telecast that day. Those fans do have another option, as the St. Louis market gets both ends of the CBS doubleheader. Have to believe that Indy at Denver will draw a bigger audience than the departed Rams vs. Seattle.
Denver's opening night win over Carolina last Thursday (9/8) was the lowest rated (nationally) since 2013. The Denver ratings rocked with a 74% share of the local audience, while the Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham, and Greenville markets were each among the top seven highest local markets.

For the Sunday (9/11) season openers, the Fox telecast of the NYG vs. Dallas game was up about 15% from last year's doubleheader telecast opener. It also had a larger audience than NBC's Sunday Night Football season opener with New England and Arizona, which was down 11% from last year's.
For this Thursday (9/15) the Buffalo vs. NY Jets telecast will also be the first to be streamed live via Twitter. The service has added Chris Carter as an analyst only for its feed. Carter, who is no longer with ESPN, will host a Twitter-only pre-game show about 90 minutes prior to kickoff, along with a half time and post-game presentation. He will also reportedly be Tweeting comments and possibly taking viewer questions during the games.

On the college side, Fox Sports is adding a "virtual reality" broadcast feed via its Fox Sports app for mobile devices for its Ohio State vs. Oklahoma telecast this Saturday (9/17). This feature will allow users to choose among multiple camera views as well as having access to stats and rosters.

ESPN/ABC continues to try and find a better studio presentation surrounding its NBA telecasts for the upcoming season. The struggle to find the right studio host for the pre-game, half time, and post-game show continues as Michelle Beadle is being brought in to be the main host on Wednesday and Friday nights. Sage Steele will continue as the main host on Saturdays (prime time) and on Sundays.

This takes Doris Burke out of her occasional hosting role (which she did on some Wednesdays last season), although Burke remains with the show as an analyst.

Back at Fox Sports, struggling Fox Sports 1 continues its push to grow an audience. It is getting to the point where more and more fans know it exists, but is finding out the hard way that content rules.

After spending a lot of money to bring Skip Bayless over for its daily show, which began last week, the ratings dipped by 45% from the day one premiere to day two. Even with stronger first day ratings, the total audience was well under half of what ESPN2 drew at the same time (not even counting ESPN).

At CBS Sports, the network, along with Westwood One, has expanded The Jim Rome Show to a daily podcast, which is a condensed version of his radio show. The Network is actually promoting this feature in an effort to create additional advertiser opportunities.

As an old school radio person, I will once again raise the point that promoting this also promotes time spent NOT listening to the radio (especially CBS) since they could instead hear the podcast and save time in the process. Of course, this points fans in the direction of getting used to podcasts, where they can EASILY find other sports podcasts which have nothing to do with CBS or any other radio outlet.

I'll bet many of the same executives that signed off on this are also wondering why CBS Radio is close to being sold and downgraded from its once lofty status.

LOS ANGELES: KSPN ESPN 710 is finally expanding its local programming starting next Wednesday (9/21). The new local morning show, from 6 to 9 AM, will be hosted by Israel Gutierrez along with (former NFL receiver) Keyshawn Johnson. LZ Granderson will also participate in the show. (Johnson will remain as an ESPN NFL analyst from L.A.)

The Mychal Thompson and Mike Trudell show will expand by one hour and air from 9 AM to Noon. Local programming continues each weekday until 9 PM, now including Kelvin Washington moving to afternoons to co-host with Marcellus Wiley from 3 to 7 PM.

KSPN will, of course, continue to air the Angels, USC and Rams football, and the Lakers, along with ESPN Radio play-by-play when there are no conflicts.

Sister station KLAA 830 will air ESPN Radio national programming including Mike & Mike airing live at 3 AM.

DALLAS: Although local interest is solid in the Rangers as they close in on the MLB post-season, the Metroplex is still a football town when it comes to TV viewing. This past Sunday (9/11), as expected, the Cowboys opener vs. the Giants had a local Nielsen rating of 32.7. No one will question that, although the Rangers vs. Angels telecast that afternoon had a rating of 1.4. Yet, the other three NFL telecasts on Sunday (including Sunday Night Football) all had at least five times larger than the Rangers audience.

AUSTIN: KLGO 1260 and KTXX 104.9 will remain as the flagship stations for Texas Longhorn broadcasts, despite the pending sale of those stations.

CHICAGO: And finally, this week, it's "ooops" time. On Monday late afternoon (9/12), Comcast SportsNet Chicago was, as usual showing the scroll of the upcoming night's sports schedule. Several times, when it was time for the NFL scoreboard, their scroll showed the late NFL game as "St. Louis at San Francisco". You would think that, for all of the time and effort they spend on Chicago Bears and NFL related programming, they would notice that the Rams no longer play in St. Louis. Even more amazing that no one caught it after multiple airings.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Let The Pro Football Season Begin!

Always an exciting weekend as the NFL season kicks off, especially with a Super Bowl rematch on Thursday (9/8).

With the return of a home team to the Los Angeles area, it will be interesting to see if there is an impact on the TV ratings for that market. The L.A. Rams open their regular season on Monday night, which, for Week 1, opens up the L.A. market for outside NFL telecasts.

The concern is that, if the Rams do not do well this season, that fans without Sunday Ticket will be stuck with Rams telecasts instead of more important regional or national telecasts they are used to seeing.

For this Sunday (Sept. 11), the L.A. market gets the San Diego at Kansas City game as the early game telecast on CBS. This appears to be the most appealing west game of those available, while it remains to be seen (pun intended) whether or not CBS will continue to air every Chargers game it can in L.A. as if it is still considered a secondary market for that team.

The Fox games in L.A. will be Oakland at New Orleans for the early start and then the same doubleheader game that the majority of the country gets, which is the Giants vs. the Cowboys with Joe Buck on the call. It's also curious that L.A. gets the Raiders game early, since rumors persist that the Raiders could also move to L.A. in the next few years.

Thus, Week 1 Sunday is just like it has been for L.A., with the Raiders, Chargers, and regular doubleheader game telecasts being shown.

On the radio side, Westwood One continues to provide the most important national broadcasts, starting with Thursday's opener with Denver and Carolina. Ian Eagle will handle the call. For its Monday Night Football broadcasts, it will again be Kevin Harlan and Boomer Esiason, although Kurt Warner will handle several of the broadcasts instead of Esiason this season.

What is interesting is the desire for the Westwood One broadcasts of the prime time games to air in Chicago no matter what. Those broadcasts air on WSCR 670 The Score. However, WSCR also airs Cubs baseball, which looks to also include post-season games.

When there are conflicts with Westwood One prime time NFL broadcasts, they will actually air on another Chicago station through a time purchase arrangement. It is highly unusual for a station to broker time on another station when not for a local team's game. No word as to whether WSCR or Westwood One is actually purchasing the time to keep those broadcasts on in Chicago for every prime time game.

For the Monday Night Football openers, the season, as always, begins with a Monday Night Football doubleheader. While the first game, between Pittsburgh and Washington, is an anticipated matchup between two teams with significant national fan bases, from a broadcast point of view, the second game will be the bigger story.

This will be the Rams' first regular season game as the Los Angeles Rams since the team moved to St. Louis years ago. ESPN will have Chris Berman on play-by-play for the game, which is an even less popular move (based on fan reaction I've read) this season.

Besides that, this will be the first regular season game for 49ers backup QB (as of press time) Colin Kaepernick. However, with an earlier game having priority, and based on ESPN's policy, the national anthem will not be shown prior to the Rams vs. 49ers game.
In the unlikely event that the Steelers vs. Redskins game ends early, it will be interesting to see if ESPN breaks format and shows the anthem and what Kaepernick does or doesn't do during it.

On the baseball side, it is easy to understand why so many fans are clamoring for Vin Scully's final regular season game to be shown nationally on the final day of the regular season, Oct. 2nd.

However, with all games starting at 3:05 ET that day, and with TBS holding exclusive national rights, it can't happen. TBS has the exclusive national contract because they paid for it. Since it will be the Dodgers hosting the Giants that afternoon, there is a possibility that could be the national game for TBS. It would be, however, the regular TBS announcing team.

In that event, the best we can hope for is that TBS would be able to carry Scully's call of the final inning nationally and use its own graphics. However, if TBS goes with, say, an American League East battle that afternoon, the final Scully inning (or game) would not be shown live beyond the Los Angeles market, where it will be available via KTLA-TV Channel 5.

There have been reports that the Dodgers will have Scully work Dodgers post-season games, which would be radio only. The hope here is that it would not happen.

Chances are that the regular season finale will not have an impact on the post-season. That scenario would allow for Scully to have the spotlight he so richly deserves. If he calls the post-season, fans won't know which game would be his last, and the final out means that one team advances while the other goes home. The team advancing is the story, and not Scully. Vin should get the chance to wrap up as scheduled, in a more likely situation where he can be the dominant story.

Fans should also keep in mind that Scully is not the only long-time baseball broadcast legend calling it a career at the end of the regular season. This will also be Dick Enberg's last telecast.

While Scully's final regular season telecast can't be seen beyond L.A., we have hope that Enberg's final home game telecast calling the Padres, which is on Thursday Sept. 29th in San Diego, can and will be picked up nationally by MLB Network. Oh my!!

The Padres' regular season finale is in Phoenix at the Diamondbacks on October 2nd. Clearly, there is zero chance that game would have any national interest.

ESPN did the Chicago audience a favor by moving the Cubs vs. Astros game to Sunday Night Baseball this week (9/11). This allows fans to see both ends of the "Chicago at Houston" doubleheader on Sunday. Fox has regional coverage of the Bears at Texans in their season opening early game.

The following Sunday (9/18), ESPN has scheduled, of course, the Yankees at Red Sox game. While this seems to be a MLB mandate that all of their games be nationally televised, that matchup actually could be the most appealing game available that night. It might still be tough for fans around the country to adjust to having a Red Sox vs. Yankees telecast on because there is a good reason for it.

Fox Sports Radio has dumped Mike North and Andy Furman from their morning show (for the Eastern and Central time zones), doing so in time for football season.

CHICAGO: WSCR 670 The Score has a new multi-year agreement to continue to air DePaul University basketball. The coming season will be the 20th season for WSCR to air those games.

CSN Chicago received its highest ratings for a Cubs telecast since 2009 last week, when its August 31st telecast vs. Pittsburgh was the highest rated show for the entire market during prime time.

OMAHA: KXSP ESPN 590 has added the locally based "TBL - The Bottom Line" sports show from Noon to 2 PM on weekdays. The show, produced by the New Channel Nebraska Television and streamed via the local newspaper's web site, actually runs from 10 AM to 2 PM.

ASHLAND KY: WCMI 93.3 has increased its involvement with University of Kentucky sports, re-branding as Cat Sports 93.3 (for Kentucky Wildcats). The station now airs the regional Kentucky Sports Radio show from 10 AM to Noon on weekdays, along with carrying the weekly shows such as coaches shows specific to the University sports. It will also continue to air the Cincinnati Bengals games. The remaining time will continue to be filled by ESPN Radio.