Wednesday, January 25, 2017

We Won't Be "Looking Live" At Brent

Wow. Next Tuesday night (1/31) will be the last time that "You are looking live!......." at a telecast with Brent Musburger. Brent announced on Wednesday (1/25) that the college basketball telecast of Georgia at Kentucky from Lexington will be his final game on ESPN, and that he is moving to Las Vegas and going into a family business.

Sports fans under 40 only know Brent from his often offbeat style of TV play-by-play. But that's nowhere near what he should be remembered for. Brent was a true pioneer of NFL studio coverage going back to the early 70's.

Once upon a time, the CBS and NBC Network pre-game and post-game shows were brief previews from the studio and post-game closely edited highlights of a couple of key games. That all changed when Musburger went from Chicago's WBBM-TV (CBS) lead sports anchor to hosting "The NFL Today" on CBS.

He introduced "You are looking live at Lambeau Field in Green Bay where........" and the pre-game show having cut-ins to every CBS telecast that afternoon. The game announcers would discuss each game, show us the weather and field conditions, and set the stage from the various stadiums. We even had Jimmy The Greek to handicap the games with his picks. Yes, more than 40 years ago and NFL pre-game show showed point spreads. Irv Cross provided studio analysis on each game, and we were stuck with Phyllis George while the crew had to act as though she knew what she was talking about.

But it was Brent that outshined everyone. His uncanny ability to jump from game to game as highlights warranted, west coast games ended on the post-game show, and news was happening is still unmatched. He kept the show moving, current, interesting, and compelling.

Not to slight his play-by-play ability (although some do), it's really too bad that he preferred that role. Even with today's technology and the additional time (the pre-game show was only 30 minutes and the post game went until the end of the current half hour only), Brent did more with less than the current hosts bring us today.

He has been a part of the national TV sports scene for around 45 years. His contributions to the broadcast standards of those telecasts will, hopefully, be around for many more years. Thanks, Brent.

Not only is ESPN losing Brent, but the network has also decided to put an end to The Sports Reporters, a series it started back in 1988. The best way to say it is that it is a victim of social media. Years ago, there was not an influx of opinions about everything that did or might happen in the sports world.

This was a national show with prominent sports reporters providing some solid input into the sports issues of the day. Some were fun, while other issues discussions were quite serious and intense. Mike Lupica from New York and Bob Ryan from Boston were among those who appeared regularly for many years and kept the show interesting.

As of press time, word is that the show will remain in place on Sunday mornings for at least three more months.

The Sports Reporters was actually taken from the Chicago based show "The Sportswriters on TV", which aired on (then) SportsChannel Chicago starting in the mid-80's. That was a TV adaptation of the WGN Radio show, "The Sportswriters", which began the concept of reporters discussing sports each week a few years earlier.

Now, of course, we have versions of this sort of show seemingly endlessly on ESPN, Fox Sports, and many of the regional sports networks.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM ESPN 980 has not renewed Andy Pollin's contract as afternoon co-host. Pollin is already off the air, even though his contract is scheduled to run through February, leaving Steve Czaban to host solo, at least for now. No word (as of press time) as to whether or not another co-host will be added. Pollin was a fixture with WTEM since 1992. It was Pollin who helped bring Czaban into sports talk back in 1994.

The NHL Capitals appear to have realized that they need more coverage for the team's local radio broadcasts than only WFED 1500 (when not in conflict with Wizards broadcasts) and online. The games will now air on 104.7 FM as well. It's about time.

PHILADELPHIA: WIP-FM begins its "Phillies Hot Stove" show next Wednesday (2/1) at 6:00 PM, which will air each Wednesday during February. Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen (the broadcast team) will be the hosts.

MIAMI: The Marlins will remain with WINZ 940 as an extension has been announced. WINZ will air 15 spring training games and will add additional Marlins related programming to be announced. Dave Van Horne, who will be calling major league games for his 49th season, returns in his 14th season of calling Marlins games.

PORTLAND: Mark Mason, who has served as the Blazers' P A announcer for the past 21 years, returns to local radio, although not in a sports capacity. Mason started this week on KEX News Radio 1190 as midday "news talk" host.

INDIANAPOLIS: WISH-TV has added Charlie Clifford as its new weekend sports anchor. Clifford comes from WKBT-VM La Crosse where he held a similar role since 2014.

DALLAS: Even with strong national ratings for the NFL's championship games this past Sunday (1/22), not having the Cowboys playing made a difference. The ratings for both games for the Dallas market were comparably low numbers vs. other markets. Yet, the Atlanta win over Green Bay actually scored better than the New England Pittsburgh game in prime time.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Baseball Season Floating Upstream

Streaming help is on the way for more baseball fans for the upcoming season. MLB has finally worked out a deal with Comcast SportsNet to allow streaming of local team telecasts it holds the rights to via the NBC Sports app. As of press time, the announcements were made in both Chicago and Philadelphia, with more regions (such as San Francisco Bay Area) expected over the next few days.

Of course, this allows streaming locally for those who already receive CSN via an active subscription with a local cable or satellite provider. CSN Chicago has already been streaming its Bulls (NBA) and Blackhawks (NHL) telecasts via this app. This deal includes both the Cubs and White Sox telecasts they carry.

In Philadelphia, the local streams replace a PlayStation package previously in place which enabled PlayStation streaming for a whopping (reported) $44.95 per month.

These moves are long overdue. Fans pay a lot of money for their TV service, especially sports fans, and are entitled to receive these games via whatever means they have.

This deal reportedly is for regular season games. We do not know yet whether or not spring training games will be included for this season.

TNT is looking to hype its upcoming stretch of five consecutive Monday night doubleheaders which begin on Feb. 27th. These will be in addition to the usual Thursday night package.

Whatever the reason, TNT is calling these telecasts "Players Only" and plans to have former players handle the play-by-play, analysis, and even the studio segments.

They obviously didn't consider the train wreck of the ESPN studio presentation last season of not having a true broadcast host, which they ESPN corrected for this season.
Brent Barry and Greg Anthony will each be thrust into play-by-play roles on these Monday night games. Barry will work with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill as game analysts, while Anthony will work with Kevin McHale and Rip Hamilton on his crew.

With the fast pace of an NBA game, having three men on the crew already limits the amount of time the analysts have to talk. Not having an experienced and professional play-by-play broadcaster will likely add to the confusion. Viewers may or may not hear a discussion about the play in progress, but it will be without the broadcast leadership needed to keep it all together.

There won't even be any relief for the Monday night studio segments. Instead of Ernie Johnson and what seems to be a cast of thousands talking over each other and cracking jokes (on Thursdays), TNT plans to have the studio group consist of Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas, and Baron Davis.

I have an idea. Let all of these former players become network executives for their next few meetings, and put them in charge of scheduling the professional broadcasters to do these games.

Over at ESPN, the network has announced its first "flex" of a scheduled NBA telecast, and it will come during January. To their credit (by flexing in mid-season), the network has quietly dropped the scheduled Chicago vs. Miami telecast scheduled for Friday Jan. 27th. In its place will be the surging Houston Rockets taking on Philadelphia. Nice to see the network taking notice that the 76ers are showing signs of life this season.

As we get ready to find out which teams will be in the Super Bowl, it appears that big audiences await the Conference Championship games coming up on Sunday (1/22).

The Pittsburgh win over K.C. this past Sunday night was the most watched prime time game (not a Super Bowl) in playoff history. The earlier Green Bay win over Dallas on Fox finished as the most watched NFC Divisional Playoff telecast, not only for Fox, but for any network.

Normally, we don't spend any time or concern about the commercials for the Super Bowl before or after the game. However, this year there is one exception. An auto manufacturer (Hyundai) will make media news with a 90 second spot to run immediately after the game ends. What makes this media news is that the commercial will be produced "during the game" and will include "off the field moments" surrounding the game. In this age where social media and instant updates are becoming a part of the sports media culture, this could be (emphasis on "could") be one spot actually worth caring about.

The TV work of Alex Rodriguez during the MLB post-season with Fox Sports had led to another TV gig, although this with CNBC. Rodriguez will host a TV show in the spring called "Back In The Game" on CNBC which pairs former athletes in need of money with financial experts there to help them.

One has to think that the potential for all around fan backlash may be at a pinnacle. Between the fans who dislike Rodriguez for his actions which led to a one year suspension, and the fans who have zero sympathy for sports figures who have and lose millions of dollars, it will be interesting to see if this show delivers any ratings.

INDIANAPOLIS: How about this? Starting on Feb. 6th, there will be an actual local and live sports radio show in the market. WNDE-AM will debut "Flagrant Foul" from 6 to 9 AM, hosted by (sister station) WFBQ personalities Dave Gunn and Don Stuck. The city's other sports talkers, WXNT and WFNI The Fan continue to air network shows in morning drive.

Ft. MYERS: WFCN 99.3 ESPN Program Director Chris Beasley is now co-hosting the midday show along with Gentry Thomas. Thomas' co-host, David Moulton, who had been with the station for 17 years, was dismissed last week.

No "official" reason for this dismissal, which was first announced by Moulton via social media. Interesting that it came just days after a Ft. Myers News Press story quoting Moulton about the station not renewing the contract of co-host Mark Miller last June. The two had been paired for roughly 10 years on the station. To recap, the Program Director took over for the "dismissed" co-host days after unfavorable quotes in the local newspaper. But no "official" reason given.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Just The Facts Please

Mistakes happen in sports media just as they do throughout the news and entertainment media and in all walks of life.

The one made by Mike Francesa on his Monday (1/9) WFAN 66 afternoon show might have even been the result of incorrect information he was given, but we will probably never know. We understand that Francesa has his detractors among fans and others in sports media.

First, here is what happened. Francesa's live guest was "coach" George Karl, discussing his recently released book about his lengthy NBA coaching career. When discussing Karl coaching in the NBA Finals in the 90's against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, Francesa referred to Jordan's game winning shot in clinching Game 6 of the 1998 Finals.

However, that game, which wound up being Jordan's final game with the Bulls, was against Utah, coached at the time by the legendary Jerry Sloan. Karl's Seattle Supersonics had played against Chicago during the previous year's Finals and lost to the Bulls. That meant Francesa referred to the wrong game on the air, and was gently corrected by Karl, who wanted to continue the interview and receive his "free" publicity for the book.

This is not to defend Francesa or to dismiss his mistake. What irks me is seeing comments about it in stories and on social media from other sports media members. In this day and age it seems that some "reporters" spend more time looking into who reported a story "first" than getting the facts right for an actual breaking story. Just give us correct facts.

Even though the NFL Wild Card week TV ratings combined to be down as a result of games which were not very competitive, CBS did well with its Pittsburgh vs. Miami telecast on Sunday (1/8). The game's ratings actually were comparable with last season's prime time grudge match between the Steelers and Cincinnati. With all actual division winners and no wild card teams in the mix, having better matchups should lead to strong ratings for this coming weekend's playoff matchups.

CHICAGO: WSCR 670 The Score begins 2017 with a major change to its daily lineup. This past week (1/5) marked the on-air retirement party for 25 year host Terry Boers, who was part of the station's first ever broadcast day on Jan. 2, 1992. The five hour show featured guests including former on-air personalities and station management, along with local team officials and media members from other stations in town.

The station has completed its rebuild, moving midday co-host Jason Goff into the 1 to 6 PM show to replace Boers and work with Dan Bernstein, who remains in that spot. Goff had been co-hosting middays since Feb. 2015.

Matt Spiegel will be joined on the 9 AM to 1 PM spot by Danny Parkins, who leaves his successful afternoon show on KCSP Kansas City this Friday (1/13) to begin on The Score on Tuesday (1/17). Parkins is a Chicago native who quietly auditioned a few months back when he filled in for a week on the station's overnight show.

On the TV side, the Cubs announcing team of Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies will stay in place for at least the next three seasons on CSN Chicago. Kasper is about to begin his 13th season as the TV play-by-play voice.

SAN DIEGO: This is a coincidence to the city losing the Chargers to Los Angeles, and, frankly, doesn't hurt anywhere near as much. XEPE ESPN 1700 is giving up a full seven hours of its weekday schedule to business related programming instead of sports. Three business shows will air between 9 AM and 4 PM on weekdays, while the station, for now, plans to continue ESPN Radio programming at all other times.

FLINT MI: Don't expect much change at WTRX Sports Xtra 1330. The station has named Tim Shickles as its new Program Director. To show the level of priority, Shickles continues both his on-air and Program Director duties at sister country music station WFBE 95.1.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It's Not The Polls, It's The Bowls

Not many college football fans liked the idea of having the championship semi-finals before the traditional New Year's Day (or Jan. 2 as the case may be) bowl games, but it seems that the viewers responded better than expected.

The meaningless but high scoring Rose Bowl game (all four plus hours) drew an audience big enough to make it the largest audience to view a "non semifinal" New Year's bowl game. Viewership was roughly 17% higher than last year's game (played on Jan. 1, 2016), including setting an audience record in the Philadelphia market, and being the second highest rated bowl game ever shown on ESPN in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

The Sugar Bowl telecast which followed (and started on ESPN2 due to the incredible length of the Rose Bowl) drew roughly 7% more viewers than last year's game. The six weekend major bowl telecasts on ESPN combined to be up roughly 16% over last year's games.

For NBC, showing outdoor NHL games on both Jan. 1 and 2 did not go as well as the network had hoped. This is easier to understand for the Sunday telecast of Detroit vs. Toronto, since it was up against Week 17 NFL early regional games on both Fox and CBS (in almost every market), and with only one U.S. market having its team featured.

The Monday Jan. 2 telecast between Chicago and St. Louis was slightly better than last year's New Year's Day telecast, but again below the viewer levels from the Winter Classic game in 2015 and 2014. That is even with strong local team market ratings, as the St. Louis market rating is its highest rating ever for an NBC regular season telecast.

NBC plans to air the NHL All-Star Game next month instead of NBCSN, the first time it will do so since acquiring the NHL package in 2005. It will be interesting to see if the senseless format of choosing up sides to form teams unfamiliar to all concerned will keep the viewers' attention.

Like him or not these days, you have to admit that Chris Berman reducing his role at ESPN is the end of an era in sports media. Starting in the days of Jimmy Myers and two minute SportsCenter updates during Austrailian Rules Football and nick names for many MLB players, he has been a part of every major event.

Most notable is his 31 seasons of hosting NFL related studio programming, especially NFL Primetime. With his new contract (signing announced on Jan. 5th), he will still be involved in NFL studio programming (including Monday Night Football moving forward), and call a MLB Division Series on radio. Even though it won't seem like an NFL Draft without him, Berman will no longer host that coverage, or the MLB Home Run Derby.

The network has just announced a one-hour tribute to Berman for Feb. 2nd at 10:30 PM ET.

Those that enjoy the (seemingly) constant yelling of Stephen A. Smith will be happy to know that he returns to ESPN Radio starting on Jan. 17th with a daily two hour show. Among the major stations airing it will be (owned and operated) WEPN ESPN 98.7 New York and KSPN 710 Los Angeles.
The 1:00 to 3:00 PM ET show will move WEPN New York's Hahn & Humpty Show to 10 AM to 1 PM and bumps the Dan LeBatard Show. Late word is that LeBatard will move to WEPN-AM from Noon to 2 PM, even though the AM station is otherwise ESPN Deportes. Nothing like a "We'll be back in this language in just two hours" break in the midday to hold an audience.

On the year-end trends, sports fans will enjoy knowing that Nielsen research data shows that the top ten most watched TV shows nationally for 2016, with the exception of the Academy Awards, were all sports events. As you would expect, the Super Bowl led the way, followed by Game 7 of the World Series.

BOSTON: WBZ-FM Sports Hub is adding host Nick Cattles to its lineup, although no time slot has been announced as of press time. Cattles joins the Hub from WVSP 94.1 in Newport - Virginia Beach, for which he is scheduled to do his final show on January 9th.

CHICAGO: With Todd Hollandsworth leaving Comcast SportsNet Chicago's as Cubs pre and post-game analyst, no replacement has been named as of press time. Hollandsworth, who held the Cubs analyst position since 2008, will join the Miami Marlins TV booth starting with the upcoming season.
Look for just retired catcher David Ross and former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, now with MLB Network, as strong possibilities to replace Hollandsworth on CSN Chicago.

HOUSTON: Like father, like son, as Todd Kalas gets the job as the Astros' new TV play-by-play voice starting immediately. For all that his Hall of Fame broadcaster father, Harry, did during his many years calling the Phillies games, many forget that Harry called Astros games from 1965 through 1970. That's back in the days when Gene Elston and Loel Passe were in the booth after Al Helfer stepped aside.

Kalas replaces long time play-by-play voice Bill Brown. He comes over after 19 seasons on the Tampa Bay Rays broadcast team in a variety of capacities. And after years of a crowd of analysts, Todd will work with Geoff Blum as the full-time analyst. Blum had done many of the road games over the past four seasons.

Speaking of Philadelphia tie-ins, the decision of KBME 790 to dismiss Charlie Pallido in October, when his ratings were the highest he had in months, is not looming large as of now. Josh Innes, the former controversial Philadelphia sports host, now has an audience which is less than 40% of what Pallido had, according to the most recent monthly ratings through November.

DENVER: KDSP Denver Sports 760 has bounced "Logan & Wargin" from middays, replacing them with (former Bronco) Ed McCaffrey and Andy Lindahl from 10 AM to 1 PM. Mike Rice will now air from 1 to 3 PM. However, the station will now air (syndicated) Colin Cowherd on delay from 3 to 6 PM. Yes, it's delayed syndicated programming during afternoon drive.

During that time period, Dave Logan, also the Broncos play-by-play voice, will co-host afternoons on market powerhouse KOA 850.