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.

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