Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Again, Teams Drive Sports Radio Ratings

The proof is in the ratings. When it comes to sports radio, it's what is going on with the local teams that makes the difference. The Chicago Cubs run to a World Series win is a prime example. Neither Chicago all sports station made any program lineup changes in the past couple of months.

Due to WSCR 670 The Score being the flagship station for the Cubs, and WMVP ESPN 1000 airing the national broadcasts, both stations posted significant ratings gains for the ratings period of early October to early November, which timed out to include the entire Cubs post-season run. During this time, The Score's afternoon co-host, Terry Boers, continued to be away for most of the month due to medical problems, which means its on-air staff was not at full strength.

The Score increased its total audience by roughly one-third from just the previous month, finishing a record high #2 overall in the market. At the same time, WMVP increased by .8 of a ratings point, finishing a respectable #11 overall in the market. As you would expect, both stations provided expanded pre-game and post-game programming along with local discussion about the Cubs throughout the broadcast day.

At the same time, Boston, which continues as the strongest market in the country for sports talk radio, had the Red Sox eliminated in the first round and had both stations combine to lose one full ratings point for the month. Even with that, however, WBZ-FM Sports Hub came in at #3 overall in the market, now .7 of a ratings point ahead of WEEI-FM (Red Sox flagship), which already lost .8 of a ratings point for the month which included that Red Sox playoff series and finished a strong #6.

New York City listeners appeared to be interested in the ESPN national post-season baseball broadcasts, as WEPN-FM ESPN gained .3 of a ratings point for the month. At the same time, WFAN 660, while still finishing well ahead of WEPN, lost exactly .3 of a ratings point during the same period.

We saw a similar move in Dallas, where KTCK-AM The Ticket gained .5 for the month and finished #10 overall in the market. By doing so, it leaped past KRLD-FM which dropped .5 and to #12 in the market. KESN-FM ESPN held steady.

Both Philadelphia sports stations held steady (each down .1), with WIP-FM coming in at #7 with more than double the total audienc eof WPEN-FM ESPN. In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket dipped to #3 in the market, losing 20% of its overall audience from the month before.

In Minneapolis, KFXN-FM The Fan held at #1 overall in the market despite a .4 drop, while maintaining more than four times the total audience of KSTP-AM, even though it went up .2.

The Dodgers post-season run deep into the NLCS helped KLAC 570 to one of its best ratings periods ever (as a sports station), although the station still did not crack the market's top 25. Similar to what happened in Chicago, KSPN ESPN 710 gained .4 during the same period.

On the NFL side, this past Sunday's (11/20) NBC game between Green Bay and Washington was up roughly 2% from last season's Week 11 telecast, and this was likely from a big push in the Milwaukee/Green Bay market. The Milwaukee market scored an amazing 42.3 Nielsen rating and a 59 share of the local audience. The next three biggest markets, understandably, were Richmond, Washington D.C., and Norfolk, with ratings all in the 20's.

On the college football side, while we can understand the hype this year for the Ohio State vs. Michigan game coming up on Saturday (11/26), ESPN is expanding its GameDay show to five hours in length. As you might expect, the show will originate from Columbus.

This past Saturday (11/19) was a disappointing one for CBS, ad its Missouri vs. Tennessee telecast came in with a lower audience than NBC's telecast of Notre Dame vs. Virginia Tech, even with the disappointing season for Notre Dame.

CHICAGO: It appears that the Comcast SportsNet regional networks are looking at blowing up their SportsNet Central sportscasts and go with a revised format. The Comcast SportsNet Chicago has announced that 'Central' will be replaced starting on December 5th. They plan to have a 15-minute "In The Loop" show with what it claims will have an emphasis on social media and interactive content.

Sure. Fans would rather see opinions from local fans just like them instead of more highlights and analysis from experts. What an awful decision.

COLUMBUS: It won't be easy to compete against 97.1 WBNS The Fan, but WXZX 105.7 is going to give it a try. The station is dropping its alternative music format for a sports format surrounding its airing of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cincinnati Bengals broadcasts. Its new morning show will be local, co-hosted by Bruce Hooley and Maddie Spielman.

Happy Turkey!!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Better Matchups Attracting More Viewers

Those of us who believe that the TV live sports ratings variations have more to do with matchups than other circumstances have even more to go by from the past week as proof. It appears that with all of the live sports tugging for fans' attention that fans have flat out become more selective.

Even the most hardcore sports fans admit that there is a lot going on these days, even with the historic World Series now behind us.

College hoops have begun. ESPN brought us a big time doubleheader on Tuesday (11/15) night to help get the weeks of seemingly non-stop live telecasts underway. The opening game with Kentucky vs. Michigan State, two teams with strong national traditions, actually produced ratings roughly one-third less than last season (which paired Kentucky vs. Duke). The 2014 ratings for the similar first game (Michigan State vs. Duke) drew a roughly 19% better rating. Safe to say that this season's matchup was down in viewers from what was expected.

Before you draw a conclusion, move on to the second game which followed between Kansas and Duke. This game, also on ESPN, drew 2.4 million viewers, which was a roughly 27% increase over last season (Michigan State vs. Kansas). While we rarely include streaming via ESPN in ratings information, it is noteworthy that the reported 83,000 streaming viewers for this game is the most ever for a college basketball regular season game via the ESPN app.

Two games, same night, each with 'major' schools which have a national following. The more appealing matchup drew the most viewers. That's called fans being more selective.
The same can now be said for the NFL. Having games every Thursday night, three early Sunday games from London (making four live Sunday games those weeks), plus Monday night, appear to be making viewers more selective. Fans simply don't have 12 hours to watch games regardless of the quality of the matchup.

Last Thursday (11/10) the Cleveland vs. Baltimore game was down roughly 25% in viewers from last year's same week matchup, and that included Buffalo (vs. NY Jets), not exactly a huge draw.

Yet, on Sunday (11/13), the attractive Dallas vs. Pittsburgh doubleheader game on Fox which went down to the very end wound up as the most watched doubleheader game for either network (Fox or CBS) this season. Then, the Seattle vs. New England battle on NBC Sunday Night Football was NBC's best Sunday Night rating since the season opener (Week 1), which also featured the Patriots.
Monday night (11/14), which had Cincinnati vs. N.Y. Giants, not considered a compelling matchup, came up nearly 1.5 million viewers short of last season's equivalent game, which also featured the Bengals (vs. Houston).

Now you get the picture. Fans are becoming more selective.

The pre-game shows are feeling the same crunch. According to Sports Business Daily, NBC's Sunday "Football Night In America" pre-game show had a roughly 18% drop in viewers through Week 9 compared with last season.

ESPN's Monday Night Countdown pre-game show has a roughly 22% drop in viewers during the same weeks. It's "Sunday NFL Countdown" is down roughly 15% over its 2-hour show, although that includes the weeks it was up against a live game from London.

NFL Network's 4-hour Sunday pre-game show is down only about 1% over last season.

Having the three networks which have extended Sunday pre-game programming all down at the same time is an indication of this trend. It would be different if one of them rose in audience and took away from the others.

Although it is early in the season for both the NBA and NHL, we have also seen similar trends of "better" matchups shown nationally drawing better than the average weekly totals.

Whether it really was the NFL holding this up or not, it's nice to see that Mike Tirico will indeed be calling some NFL games for NBC, and starting sooner than we thought.

Al Michaels gets a "bye week" in an indication that the 72-year old play-by-play voice may indeed begin to reduce his workload. Tirico will call this week's Green Bay vs. Washington telecast.

Mike will take over for Thanksgiving week as well, calling the Thanksgiving night matchup with Pittsburgh vs. Indianapolis and then the Sunday (11/27) game between K.C. and Denver. He will also call the Dec. 22nd Thursday night game between N.Y. Giants and Philadelphia.

As a means to further cement its relationship with the NHL, NBC is adding streaming for its regional Comcast SportsNet groups which have rights to a local NHL team.
Cable/satellite subscribers using the NBC Sports App can stream local teams games, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and San Jose, as of this week.

Just this past Tuesday (11/15), CSN ranked first in males 25-54 during the time period of NHL telecasts in both Chicago and Philadelphia for its on-air telecasts.

DALLAS: Now that the paperwork is back in place, as they say diplomatically, ESPN Deportes is back on the air at KZMP 1540 after a two week "absence".

TORONTO: Best wishes to a full recovery for Blue Jays radio voice Jerry Howarth, who is about to undergo cancer surgery. Here's hoping that Howarth is back in the booth for his 37th season of calling the Jays games next spring.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why NFL Ratings Are Down While Others Are Up

It is most interesting to hear and read a variety of opinions as to why NFL viewership is down overall this season. The trend continues as this past Sunday's (11/6) CBS doubleheader and NBC Sunday Night Football were each down roughly 20% from the same week in 2015, while Fox regional telecasts were down roughly 9%. And that was the first Sunday in a month without competition from the baseball post-season.

There are the "after the elections", "the number of player arrests and legal challenges", and the "many less attractive prime time matchups" theories all over the place. Perhaps the decline is really a combination of these three to whatever extent.

What makes this especially intriguing at this point in the season is the fact that while NFL ratings are down overall, the other major pro sports TV ratings are going in the opposite direction.

We have already documented the strong World Series numbers, and the nice start for NBCSN with its early regular season NHL telecasts.

On the NBA side, this past Friday (11/4) brought ESPN a more than 40% ratings increase for its doubleheader over week 2 last season. That is impressive, although having four of the nation's top six TV markets involved certainly helped.

Opening up was the NY Knicks at Chicago, which marked the return of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to their previous home court for the first time. In Chicago, where the ESPN telecast was exclusive, it was the highest rated ESPN telecast of an NBA game in almost two years.

The second game, which had Golden State vs. the Lakers, was Lakers coach Luke Walton going against the team he left (as an assistant coach) to take the job prior to this season for the first time. That telecast was up 58% nationally from the late week 2 matchup last season (Houston vs. Sacramento).

While those were both strong and appealing early season matchups, the point is that the fans were paying attention. This happened leading into the same weekend as the NFL ratings dip on the three major networks airing games.

Let me add one more theory about the NFL ratings decline, even though I think the earlier ones contribute. This season, the NFL is losing viewers from some key markets because of the teams which are shown.

Los Angeles has a team once again, and the market is back to showing the struggling Rams games instead of some more appealing national matchups. In Chicago, the Bears are a miserable 2-6 for the first half of the season and with the Cubs post-season run and the Blackhawks on a winning streak (6 in a row at press time), the Bears no longer dominate the local sports media all week.

In San Francisco, the 49ers are struggling, just as the Jets are for the NYC audience. Then there is St. Louis, which lost the Rams to L.A. starting with this season. Fox and CBS started out with the thought that viewers in St. Louis would still give a crap about the Rams. Let's put it this way. For this Sunday (11/3), St. Louis gets the Philadelphia vs. Atlanta telecast from Fox and not the Rams vs. Jets telecast at the same time.

Maybe the local team performance does make a difference in the ratings, as it should.

Fox Sports Radio has a new NBA analyst, as Chris Broussard will co-host a couple of weekend shows on the little heard network, including Saturday 8 - 11 PM ET with Brian Noe. Broussard had been with ESPN.

ATLANTA: WCNN 680 and 93.7 The Fan have extended their contract to air the Braves games all the way through the 2016 season. In addition, the studio shows surrounding home game broadcasts will originate from studios located adjacent to the new stadium. WCNN began broadcasting the Braves games with the 2010 season.

NEW YORK: Will it be "Let's go to the videotape!" to hear Warner Wolf from now on? The 79 year-old Wolf (with that as his TV catch phrase for many years) gave a farewell speech during his spot on WABC this past Friday (11/4) morning during the Don Imus Show. Nothing about any future gigs as of yet. Sid Rosenberg, who co-hosts on WABC from 10 AM to Noon, expands to cover sports during the morning show.

CHICAGO: Sorry to report that WSCR The Score 670 host Terry Boers is back off the air after returning for only a few days due to continuing health problems. No return date is set, and rumors continue that he will retire early next year, which would be 25 years since starting with the station.

College basketball still doesn't do well in the Chicago market, even with some 50,000 watt AM stations giving it a try in recent years. The UIC (University of Illinois - Chicago) Flames basketball games, which have aired in part on WMVP ESPN 1000 since 2009, will not (as of press time) have any Chicago radio station airing their games. Yet, the ESPN family will televise some of their games instead.

ESPN3 will televise 19 of the team's games this season, with Sam Panayotovich on play-by-play. For the remaining 11 games, they will be broadcast (audio only) online only at UICFlames.com, with Jonathan Hood returning to call play-by-play.

The problem is that this system eliminates the casual fan who would have (in the past) stumbled upon the broadcasts, gives those who do follow the team one less reason to listen to a local radio station, and hurts the school's visibility for recruiting and potential ticket buyers. Sorry, but nobody wins with this type of arrangement.

ALBANY: Siena College hoops will now have A.J. Kanell as its new play-by-play voice while Andy Grazulis returns as analyst. Kanell replaces Robert Lee, who had called the games for the previous 14 seasons.

COLUMBUS MS: Good for KNMQ 103.1 The Team. Starting Nov.28th, the station will go local from 4 to 6 PM during the week. The station adds "Drive Time with Steve & The Professor", co-hosted by Glen Lautzenhiser and Steve Rogers. How local will it be? It seems that Lautzenhiser has lived in Columbus since 1974.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Big Week For TV Sports Ratings

With so much media attention, understandably, focused on the exciting conclusion of the World Series, there has not been enough coverage of a lawsuit filed on Wednesday (11/2) which could have an impact on the high cost of watching sports events on cable TV.

This lawsuit also has a couple of very ironic elements to it. It seems that U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles which accuses DirecTV of illegal conduct by working with other large cable/satellite providers in Southern California against carrying SportsNet LA which televises the Dodgers games. The suit alleges that DirecTV has worked with Charter Communications, Cox Communications, and AT&T to all not carry the channel and collectively limit the options of consumers frustrated by not being able to receive Dodgers telecasts.

One ironic element is that the Justice Department is actually suing AT&T, which now owns DirectTV, with this coming shortly after AT&T has a multi-billion dollar bid under federal review in its attempt to purchase Time Warner Cable. TWC owns the company which produces SportsNet LA, which is currently available to less than 30% of the Los Angeles area TV market.

Of course, the other ironic element is that this is happening after the retirement of Vin Scully, which potentially makes Dodgers telecasts less attractive for some consumers starting next season.
Although SportsNet LA is a local channel, this situation could potentially impact the Time Warner purchase deal, as well as the potential for federal intervention regarding sports and other pay TV services for consumers.

Speaking of the World Series, Fox Sports hit a ratings bonanza. Game 7 in Cleveland drew a bigger local audience than NBA Finals Game 7 in June in which the Cavaliers won their first ever championship completing a comeback from being down three games to one to defeat Golden State.
Game 5 on Sunday (10/30) outdrew Sunday Night Football on NBC after SNF was the bigger head to head draw during the prior two years.

While Fox has reason to be delighted over this, we can't help but wonder what their ratings would have been had they aired both the NLCS instead of hiding it from potentially millions more viewers on Fox Sports 1.

Sure, Fox promoted FS1 to a large audience. However, after rare ratings success for FS1 during those two weeks of post-season baseball, it is back to reality. For last week, which included regular Fox Sports having the World Series while ESPN and TNT had NBA doubleheaders to start the season, FS1 finished in 60th place during prime time among all cable networks. After having been in first place the very week before. If you don't think content is king, keep in mind that NFL Network had more viewers last week than FS1.

The new NBA season starts out with healthy ratings even with the highly rated World Series taking place. Even NBA-TV's total viewership for the month of October (which included pre-season telecasts) was up more than 20% over last year. ESPN should have solid ratings on Friday (11/4) when it has the Knicks and Bulls in its early telecast, featuring Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah returning to Chicago to play against the Bulls for the first time in the careers of both players.

Over at ESPN, there should be concern over the Monday Night Football ratings this week. The shocking Bears upset of the Vikings (on 10/31) earlier this week was actually down roughly 18% from the same week last year. Last season's game was Indianapolis vs. Carolina, which are smaller markets than both Chicago and the Twin Cities.

DALLAS: It looks as though the Rangers want Dave Raymond to become their primary TV play-by-play voice starting in 2017. Although nothing is official (as of press time), the Rangers have confirmed that Steve Busby's contract will not be renewed. Raymond, who has filled in on Rangers telecasts, will have Tom Grieve as his analyst.

CHICAGO: WFLD-TV had a ratings feast as the local station showing the World Series, but it seems not everyone at the station was ready. On Tuesday night during the game telecast, a local station break featured a promo for the station's local morning show. Included in that promo was "And you will get complete coverage from Game 5 of the World Series!". Of course, the station would be excited about making this announcement. However, this promo aired in prime time - during Game 6.

Then there was WGN-TV's new sportscaster Lauren Magiera on the air this past Sunday (10/3) morning on the station's newscast. Magiera, who earlier this season told of a Blackhawks (NHL) goal being scored "in the third quarter", was narrating a highlight segment from the previous night's Chicago Bulls game. While showing a basket scored early in the 2nd quarter, she described it as "one minute in to the half".

OKLAHOMA CITY: Oklahoma University basketball radio broadcasts will have a new analyst starting later this month when the season gets underway. Kevin Henry, who acts as the school's Director of Community Relations and has appeared on some Sooner Sports TV telecasts within the past year, will take over the role as full time radio analyst.