Friday, April 29, 2016

A Week ESPN Would Love To Forget

They won't admit it, but this week figures to go down as one of the worst weeks for ESPN over the past 37 years. Now it is even more than contributing to the number of consumers who are 'cutting the cord' over the high monthly fees which ESPN has forced on consumers by way of all of the cable and satellite providers.

Even the NFL Draft, which ESPN clearly pioneered for live national coverage years ago, produced Round 1 overnight ratings nearly one-half of a ratings point below last year's coverage. They can't simply claim there isn't as much interest, considering that large markets Los Angeles and Philadelphia had the first two picks of the entire draft. Add to it that the ratings on the NFL Network, which provides separate live coverage, showed a ratings increase of more than 20% over last season, although it still trails ESPN in total audience.

Ohio State fans were clearly the most interested, as the major market analysis (for Round 1 only) showed Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton as three of the top five markets for viewers.
Also this week, ESPN lost its voice of Monday Night Football and #2 voice for its NBA telecasts with the resignation of Mike Tirico after 25 years with the network. This move comes as a huge surprise.

At this point in time, there is no other network which can offer Torico a similar opportunity in terms of both NFL and NBA.

Daytime show host Skip Bayless is also leaving ESPN, although this move appears to be the Network's idea. ESPN has determined they will not renew his contract, which technically expires at the end of August. His final day on the air will be in late June on the day after the NBA Finals come to an end.

This past Sunday (4/24), ABC had a problem, although not the fault of ABC/ESPN, when its San Antonio at Memphis NBA Playoffs telecast was interrupted by the power surge which stopped the game for nearly 30 minutes. This forced studio analysts Jalen Rose and Doug Collins to fill the time with an extended analysis of the various playoff series.

Again, this is all from within the past week. However, I'm sure that everything there has come to a complete stop for this weekend. After all, the Yankees and Red Sox are playing, so everything stops until after Sunday Night Baseball.

The Golden State Warriors' regular season made history on the court, but also in terms of TV ratings. Their historic 73rd win on the last night of the regular season finished as the highest regular season rating for an NBA telecast on ANY regional sports network in the nation. The season produced the three highest telecasts ever for CSN Bay Area (any sport).

This season also made it six consecutive seasons during which the Warriors ratings have gone up overall. Sports Business Journal reported that it marks the first time this has happened for an NBA team, and has not happened for any MLB or NHL teams.

Cleveland Cavaliers telecasts finished with the highest regular season ratings in team history, while the San Antonio Spurs telecasts also finished strong in the top three for the Association.

At the same time, the NBA's three largest markets produced poor ratings for at least one of the two local teams. Brooklyn Nets telecasts on YES Network finished as the lowest rated team in the league for the 7th time in nine seasons.

Even Kobe Bryant's final season didn't help the Lakers' ratings on TWC SportsNet, as ratings dropped about 3% while setting an historic low for the team's telecasts.

In Chicago, where the only team there is the Bulls, their ratings on CSN Chicago dropped more than 35% from the prior season, although the team failed to make the post-season for the first time since 2008.

NEW YORK: Russ Salzberg is reducing his duties with Fox TV after this week, with Friday (4/29) being his last scheduled night as sports anchor on Channel 5.

After more than 28 years anchoring sports in NYC, Salzberg will continue his role hosting Giants pre and post game shows on the local Fox stations in the fall.

LOS ANGELES: The Dodgers will finally take a 49% equity of their flagship radio station KLAC 570 by year's end, as the arrangement has now been filed with the FCC. The irony in all of this is that even though roughly 70% of the market cannot get the Dodgers games on TV (due to the high monthly fees demanded by Time Warner Cable), KLAC continues to average less than one ratings point overall each month.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Now It Really Is A Mock Draft

While I understand that various sports media outlets are positioning to be the "go to" outlet for football fans on NFL Draft days, the use, or as I should say, overuse, of the 'mock draft' has been growing out of control over the past couple of years.

It used to be that a couple of days before Round 1, some of the football reporters would publish a mock draft, often pointing toward how they think the needs of one or two specific teams will go. No problem with that.

However, it has become numerous media outlets publishing a mock draft with WEEKS to go before the actual draft. That's fine, for those fans who want to invest the time on checking them out. What bothers me even more this year is how these 'expert' mock drafts are suddenly being treated as if they are "news" stories.

Within the past few weeks, it has gotten so bad that ESPN often uses its "Bottom Line" scroll during evening and weekend game times to show that day's "mock draft choices" as if there is some need to know this instantly and has some actual news value.

Sorry, but this is no reason to further delay the NHL scores (for example), which ESPN skips over much of the time because it is the only major sport they do not hold any telecast rights to. Even though ESPN televises the Draft and wants to steer fans away from the NFL Network's competing telecast, they should not be taking away from providing actual information and facts.

Even Fox Sports is among the other networks which seem to think that fans want to see mock drafts instead of current score updates.

I couldn't help but laugh after both of the Draft's top two overall picks were traded in surprise moves over the past couple of weeks. It means that the previous "news" of these mock drafts were rendered useless, as if they were useful before those trades.

In this age when too much of the sports media effort is used to report what some other source is reporting, we don't need any more pure speculation replacing time that should be devoted to factual information.

The Big Ten Conference is expected to be the next of the major conferences to announce its next big TV rights deal. With a package reportedly consisting of about 25 football and 50 basketball games available beginning with the 2017 football season, the word is that Fox Sports, Turner Sports, ESPN, and CBS Sports are all in the running for this "half package" of games.

Turner Sports may or may not win the bidding, but the feeling here is that Turner needs to increase its NCAA regular season coverage in order to set the table with viewers for its NCAA Basketball Tournament coverage each March.

NBC Sports is pleased with its NHL coverage ratings. The 94 games shown throughout the regular season on NBCSN produced the highest cable ratings over the course of a full NHL season, which goes back to 1994. Even with NBC only televising 11 regular season games nationally (with skipping Easter Sunday which had playoff positions on the line), they gained a 6% ratings increase over last season. Early playoff telecast ratings, which include NBC, NBCSN, along with CNBC and USA Network for the early rounds, are also strong. The remainder of the playoff ratings could well depend on how far Chicago, both New York teams, Philadelphia, and Detroit do or don't advance.

DENVER: Status quo for Rockies broadcasts, which have just been extended through the 2021 season with KOA 850 and 94.1. Jack Corrigan, now in his 14th season on play-by-play, continues in that role along with Jerry Schemmel.

SAN FRANCISCO: Status quo for the highly rated KNBR 680 morning show, "The Murph and Mac Show". The contracts of Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffery has been extended by the station as the show celebrates its tenth anniversary.

DALLAS: Mark Cuban should be pleased that his Mavericks are killing in the ratings ahead of the NHL Stars and early season Rangers games, even though the Stars would appear to have a much better chance of post-season success.

This past Monday (4/18) night, the Mavericks close victory over Oklahoma City nearly tripled in the TV ratings (if you combine the local Channel 21 and national TNT telecasts) over the Stars taking on Minnesota in that playoff game on Fox Sports Southwest.

Another very interesting aspect to this is that for Saturday's (4/17) Mavericks opening telecast the ratings for the competing national telecast on ESPN was nearly more than 30% higher than the Channel 21 local telecast.

DETROIT: This missed our column for last week. Sorry to learn of the passing, earlier this month, of longtime Tigers voice Paul Carey, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 88. Carey is best remembered for his 19 seasons in the booth along with Ernie Harwell, which included the 1968 World Series championship run.

Many have forgotten that Carey's long run on WJR also included stints as play-by-play voice of the Pistons as well as numerous high school football and basketball games.

MADISON: The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will have a new basketball play-by-play voice for next season to replace Bill Johnson after 16 seasons on the job.

Actually "replacement" is probably not the most fitting term. It seems that Johnson took to social media to announce his resignation from the position. Why? Because he slammed the school administration, calling them "incompetent" and referring to Athletic Director Amanda Braun as "horribly under qualified" in his comments.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Final Four Telecasts Staying Put

A sports coincidence this week has a pair of "last time" games in Los Angeles this week, although neither figures to be a big ratings winner.

On Wednesday (4/13) night ESPN had Kobe Bryant's final NBA game. However, little did ESPN know months ago that it was scheduled for the same time as the Warriors going for the NBA all-time season record for victories.

In another great decision for NBA fans, ESPN showed both the Warriors and Lakers games on its networks head-to-head. In fact, time allowed for both ESPN channels to simulcast a portion of the pre-game ceremony for Kobe. As odd as that was to see, it added to the significance of the event.

To its credit ESPN/ABC did a similar thing this past Saturday (4/9), when the Warriors went for their 71st win against the rival San Antonio Spurs in prime time. ESPN added that game, and started it 30 minutes before its previously scheduled Cleveland at Chicago telecast, which aired on ABC.

Also to its credit, ABC/ESPN kept the score and time remaining of the opposite game in the upper right hand corner during most of the telecasts. The network knew that fans of the Chicago Bulls were interested in the Warriors' attempt to break the Bulls' all-time season victory record and would want that score.

On the other side, fans of the Warriors and Spurs were interested, although to a lesser extent, in whether or not Cleveland would clinch the best record in the Eastern Conference.

As great as it is that ESPN is doing the pair of games both nights as a service to the fans, it comes after the previous weekend (Easter Sunday) on which ABC did not show any games despite it being 10 days before the end of the season and playoff positions up for grabs.

NBC, on the other hand, continued to play hide and seek with the NHL this past weekend, following up their skipping an Easter Sunday with a quiet Saturday afternoon telecast of the Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia game. Go figure.

Back in Los Angeles, Tuesday (4/12) was the Dodgers home opener and the (expected) 67th and final home opener which Vin Scully described.

The Dodgers telecast, still only available to less than one-third of L.A. area cable subscribers, was picked up, thankfully, by MLB Network nationally.

When it was time for the opening pitch, MLB Network joined in, only to have nothing but crowd sounds through the leadoff batter.

It seems that Dodgers officials overlooked that Scully, at age 88, needed more time to return from the amazing on field ceremony for him back up to the booth. Vin came on at the start of the second batter, explained the situation, and took over as usual from there.

Even after lower ratings for the Final Four games on Turner Sports, having CBS and Turner alternate years of televising them will continue for many years. Turner Sports claims their revenue was up, even if the ratings were not, and was glad to join forces with CBS and expand the current contract through the 2032 Tournament.

From a revenue standpoint, there actually is a method to the madness for Turner Sports. This expanded deal gives Turner Sports additional digital rights to the entire tournament. They are well aware that a large number of fans stream the early round games (on weekday afternoons) because they are at work and not able to view on TV. That number doesn't figure to drop anytime soon, given the recent contracts for streaming of pro sports telecasts, including the NFL.

Next year's Final Four will air on CBS-TV.

Kudos to MLB Network for a nice innovation during the MLB Showcase telecasts (which the network originates). The idea of a "Scoring Update" on their bottom scroll to recap the scoring in the game they are showing is a nice touch. MLB Network is also experimenting with an additional graphic when batters come up to show how the defense is positioned. With so much more shifting of players these days, this could very well become an added part of baseball telecasts sooner rather than later.

The Nielsen radio ratings for the period of late February into late March are being released this week, with this period not being significant for sports stations.

Of course, the ratings battle in Boston is always significant, with the March ratings showing WBZ-FM Sports Hub now in an overall audience tie (for #6 in the market) with rival WEEI-FM. It seems that WBZ-FM has dropped the most since January although both stations are down since then.

In San Francisco, KNBR came in at #3 overall in the market, and this is before the Giants' regular season began, while KGMZ-FM The Game has dropped roughly 20% since January.

Washington D.C. finds WTEM-AM and WJFK-FM now in a ratings tie, although this is for #19 overall. What makes it interesting is that WTEM rose one-half of a ratings point from February to reach that tie.

In Los Angeles, the sports radio struggle continues across the board. During one of the busiest sports times of the entire year, none of the three sports stations could even muster a "1" rating.

DENVER: It's the end of an era for Denver sports fans and Mile High Radio with the retirement of Irv Brown after 40 years of hosting local sports talk shows at the age of 81. In a wonderful move, the final show aired live from a local restaurant, which drew a big crowd to watch Brown sign-off one final time last week, along with long time co-host Joe Williams.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Here we go again. WTEM ESPN 980 is going back to having a local morning show. Actually, that's a good thing, although other attempts in recent years have failed. Now, the "Morning Blitz" airs with Al Galdi from 5 to 7 AM with the newly teamed Chris Cooley (moved from afternoons) and Kevin Sheehan (moved from Noon to 2 PM) co-hosting from 7 to 11 AM.

The station is moving its afternoon drive show, known as "The Sports Reporters" airs from 4 to 7 PM and is co-hosted by Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin. These shows will also air on WWXT 92.7 Prince Frederick and WWXX Buckland (VA) 94.3.

NEW ORLEANS: Sorry to learn of the passing on Monday of Hokie Gajan, who was the Saints' radio analyst since 2000. The former LSU and Saints running back died of cancer at the age of 56.

CLEVELAND: The Fan 92.3 has officially terminated the contract of J.G. Spooner following his arrest last week and subsequent court appearance resulting from theft of several thousand dollars from a fund raising campaign he had helped to start. The station hopes to have a replacement within the next three weeks.

KANSAS CITY: In a nice touch, the Royals TV on Fox Sports has begun its Sunday home games segment of "Sundays With Denny", during which long time team voice Denny Matthews visits the booth for part of the telecasts. This past Sunday (4/10), Matthews joined Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler during the 6th and 7th innings, including conversation and Royals trivia.

HOUSTON: In another nice touch to honor a long time broadcaster, the Astros held a ceremony to rename their Press Box in honor of the late Milo Hamilton, who, of course, broadcast the Astros on radio for 25 years and had passed away last fall.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Yahoo Sports Offers Free MLB Game of Day Stream

A big market and a big name school having what proved to be a thrilling championship game were not enough to help the ratings for the Final Four this year. Ironically, this was the lowest championship audience since 2009, when North Carolina took on Michigan State.

Last year, with the game televised on CBS, where people knew to find it, the Duke vs. Wisconsin rating was the highest since the 90's.

While having a pair of blowouts for the Saturday (4/2) Final Four games didn't make things any better, the audience total was a 37% drop from 2015.

No matter how much they deny it, the casual fan had no clue where to find these games. They didn't lose much of their audience when the games on Saturday became blowouts because the audience wasn't there. TBS does not televise any regular season games, meaning that the college hoops fans have no opportunity to get familiar with Turner Sports until the tourney starts, and even then CBS carries games as well.

Yahoo Sports continues to expand its sports presence, now adding the MLB Free Game of the Day as of this week via a free stream. Their agreement with the NHL had them streaming up to four NHL games each week since earlier this season.

Even though most of the games, according to the Yahoo stream schedule for April, are either the AtBat application free Game of the Day and/or shown on MLB Network, this is a wonderful service for fans who are able to stream the games.

Their scheduled telecasts from Saturday 4/9 through Thursday 4/14 will all be either early or late afternoon telecasts. Fans who also can watch MLB Network will have access to a national doubleheader on Wednesday (4/13) with MLB Network showing Miami vs. the Mets at 1 PM ET and Yahoo Sports streaming the Angels at Oakland at 3:30 PM ET.

Streaming will also be a part of Thursday Night Football this coming season with Twitter having won the rights to stream 10 of the games being shown via CBS and NBC (and NFL Network).

Word is that the service is planning a divided screen approach to enable viewers to see the telecast and comment screens simultaneously.

DENVER: KKSE 950, the flagship station for the Nuggets and Avalanche, officially becomes "Altitude Radio" this Friday (4/8) with a healthy supply of local programming as well.
The morning show will feature Josh Dover, Tom Helmer, Lauren Gardner, and (former Nugget) Scott Hastings, while Nate Kreckman and Tom Nalen (former Bronco) will handle the 4 to 7 PM slot.

Having the winter sports play-by-play could help eventually, although KKFN The Fan comes off a strong February ratings book with a 4.2 overall audience share.

SAN FRANCISCO/OAKLAND: Since the Raiders are, most likely, staying in Oakland for the time being, flagship station KGMZ 95.7 plans to expand their coverage for the coming season. In addition to a new 2-hour Raiders show on Monday nights, the game broadcasts will also be simulcast on sister stations KBLX 102.9 and KFOX 98.5, which provides much better Bay Area radio coverage for the games.

The reality is that The Game is doing this more for the station than the team, hoping that the additional exposure of its broadcasts on the other station will help it in its steep uphill battle against dominant KNBR 680 for the sports audience.

CHICAGO: WGN-TV has added Lauren Magiera as a sports anchor and reporter. She will be phased as a replacement for Rich King, who retires later this quarter after 25 years with the station and more than 45 years of sports reporting in Chicago. Magiera most recently worked for the Green Bay Packers web site as a reporter and content producer, as well as for WAOW-TV Wausau WI.

Over at WGN radio, the station has added former Cubs pitchers Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster as baseball analysts for its (general talk) morning and afternoon drive shows once per week each. Kevin Powell shifts from a morning show producer to afternoon sports anchor as well.

WLS-TV, which carries 25 Cubs telecasts over the air each season, scored its highest ratings thus far on Monday (4/4) night's opening game from Anaheim despite a 9:00 PM local time start. This is the second season for WLS-TV to air games.

GRAND RAPIDS: Sports WBBL 107.3 has made a change in its local morning show, bringing in local personality Eric Zane. The show, which will not be all sports, will be co-hosted by Kyle Paffhausen, with whom Zane worked before on a syndicated morning show based in Grand Rapids.