Friday, May 26, 2017

Feels Like The First Time In Nashville

The excitement in Nashville about the Predators making it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history also makes a positive story about the significance of a team's games airing on an all sports station.

The Game 102.5 has the time and ability to provide the extensive and expanded coverage that fits the circumstances. The station aired the Game 7 between Pittsburgh and Ottawa which set the finals between the Penguins and Predators (which begin on Monday May 29th). This is in addition to being able to focus on the Finals throughout its local talk shows. As an ESPN affiliate, the station will air NBA Finals games which, obviously, do not conflict with the NHL, along with Sunday Night Baseball and other ESPN Radio play-by-play.

On the national level, ESPN has extended the contract of Dick Vitale to continue as the lead college basketball analyst through the 2019-20 season, which will be his 41st season with the network.
Also, after cutting some of its NFL analysts, ESPN has added coach Chip Kelly as, according to the announcement, both a college and NFL analyst.

DETROIT: The Pistons have realized their mistake and are moving their radio broadcasts back to the highly rated WXYT-FM 97.1 The TIcket starting with the 2017-18 NBA season. They want to sell more tickets, since the team moves into its new arena as well. This comes after four seasons on WMGC-FM 105.1, which was "The Game" sports radio when the Pistons first moved there.

However, The Game never put a dent into The Ticket and eventually bagged the sports format in favor of hip-hop while continuing to air the Pistons. With the move back to 97.1 The Ticket, it puts the team back in the radio spotlight. However, the Pistons are now the low team on the pole, as they will lose out on the many conflicts The Ticket has with airing the Tigers and Red Wings as well.

On a positive note, the conflicting games will air on WWJ 950, which is a sister station with excellent ratings, and which has carried local play-by-play over the years. In fact, WWJ and WXYT-FM were the market's top two rated radio stations during the most recent Nielsen ratings for April 2017. It will be a much better situation than being stuck on WXYT-AM 1270 which barely shows up the ratings.

Also in Detroit, the sad news is that Wayne Walker, the former all-pro with the Lions and long time broadcaster, passed away this week at the age of 80. In addition to his analyst role for CBS, Walker also served as Sports Director of KPIX San Francisco from 1979 to 1994.

LAS VEGAS: The new Golden Knights have arranged for every game to be televised from the beginning of the franchise with a new agreement for ROOT Sports to air the games. A big part of the reason for going with ROOT Sports is the regional network opportunity which includes parts of Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and sections of Arizona and Colorado which are considered broadcast territory by the NHL.

However, ROOT is currently not available on Cox Cable or CenturyLink. The team says it is already in negotiations with those and other systems to get the games shown. ROOT Sports will be able to air every game it can, other than any on NBC or exclusively on NBCSN.

We expect the team's first home game to air on NBCSN, although the schedule won't be available for several weeks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Turning Off The Mike On Morning Radio

As we touched on last week, the many changes at ESPN are much more than the staff reductions and the impact that has on its coverage of the various major sports. This week we learn officially that management is going a step further, messing with their radio bread & butter.

Mike & Mike, the staple of the ESPN Radio Network, will see the long time team of Greenberg and Golic broken up sometime before the end of the year. After all these years together, this show has been the one that some of the stations around the country have often made a major effort to carry, often in place of a local morning show.

It will soon become "Mike & Trey" as Mike Golic will be joined by Trey Wingo for the three hour show. Mike Golic Jr., who hosts the 4 AM to 6 AM ET spot, will stay on to participate with his father (and Wingo) for the first hour each morning.

Incredibly, the "Mike & Trey Show" will also be coming off the long standing (Mike & Mike) simulcast on ESPN2, which takes away an anchor morning show from the TV side. The simulcast won't completely vanish, although moving it to the lesser viewed ESPNU is not likely to spark an audience increase, especially with new co-hosts.

Instead, ESPN will debut a so-called "new" show in early January which will air from 7 AM to 10 AM ET and be hosted by Mike Greenberg, with SportsCenter moving to ESPN2. If you consider ESPNU in the morning as an option, it means that from 8 AM to 10 AM ET on weekdays, TV viewers would now have choices "between" Mike & Mike instead of the staple program which successfully ran for years.

Combine this change with the significant reduction of Baseball Tonight (from seven nights to one) and this is what the paying subscribers (who have not cut the cord) get for their increasing monthly fees. And, we still don't know what ESPN might be thinking for its expanded NFL and NBA coverage shows yet.

Meanwhile, while ESPN reduces its TV baseball coverage, the radio ratings for the month of April show how much baseball means to the ratings.

In Boston, the two sports stations came in at #5 and #6 overall in the market. WEEI-FM jumped back up .6 to a 4.8, while WBZ-FM Sports Hub held steady right behind with a 4.7 Nielsen rating for the month.

The Yankees helped New York's WFAN-FM jump up to #9 overall (including #1 at night) with its Yankees broadcasts, while Mets flagship WOR jumped .5 overall for the month.

Chicago Cubs broadcasts helped WSCR The Score 670 to jump more than 40% from March to April into the top 10 after being just 21st overall for March. This while WMVP ESPN 1000, now without any major local play-by-play, dropped .4 to its lowest rating of 2017 despite strong midday numbers.

San Francisco's KNBR 680 rose more than one full ratings point and back into the top five in the market, while KGMZ-FM The Game dipped slightly from March.

Philadelphia's WIP-FM with the Phillies broadcasts rose another .7 to be at #7 overall in the market during April, while WPEN-FM dropped one-half point during the same period.

In Detroit, WXYT-FM The Ticket rose more than 30% from the previous month and is now at #2 in total listeners, while Baltimore's WJZ-FM rose another 1.4 ratings points in one month and is now at #5 in the market.

Pittsburgh's KDKA-FM showed a rise of 1.8 to the #6 overall position, while St. Louis saw KMOX with its Cardinals broadcasts finish #1 in the market for the first time since 2015 with a rise of more than two full ratings points.

However, the markets which always struggle with sports stations still did not show gains, even with baseball (in some instances). Both Los Angeles sports stations, even with airing Dodgers (KLAC 570)  and Angels (KSPN 710) games, failed to crack the top 30 in the market while showing overall ratings of under one rating point.

Houston's three sports stations each failed to crack the top 20, even though KBME-AM showed a nice increase of .6 of a ratings point to edge out KILT-AM, which doubled up on KFNC-FM. San Diego's XPRS-AM dropped while KLSD-AM showed a slight increase, but neither registered more than a 0.8 overall.

Fox Sports continues to increase the role for Alex Rodriguez as he makes his game analyst debut this week. He will be the analyst on Thursday (5/18) when Fox Sports 1 airs the Yankees vs. Royals game in prime time. The fact is that if Rodriguez wasn't going to be making his debut in the booth, we might not have even known that FS1 is airing this game nationally.

Then, on Saturday (5/20), Rodriguez will team with Joe Buck for the Fox Sports prime time regional telecast of the Mets vs. the Angels. Most of the Midwest as well as northern California and surrounding areas will get the Giants vs. Cardinals telecast which will have A.J. Pierzynski as the analyst while Joe Davis does the play-by-play.

Compass Media Networks has announced its radio broadcast schedule of 72 NFL and major college football games for the 2017 season. On the NFL side, they will provide national coverage of the Dallas Cowboys along with regional coverage of Oakland Raiders games.

ATLANTA: Recently retired outfielder Jeff Francoeur has joined the Braves TV crew as an analyst for some of the upcoming telecasts on Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast. Francoeur will make his debut on June 5th when the Braves host the Phillies.

PEORIA: It will play in Peoria. Sports radio, that is. WNGY 95.9 The Sports Nut is, at least for now, airing Fox Sports Radio programming.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Coverage Cutbacks Are "Off Base"

It's not just personnel changes that are resulting from the financial concerns at ESPN. Unfortunately, we are already seeing how their coverage is also being negatively impacted.

Baseball is the first of the major sports to feel the crunch. Letting several baseball analysts go was bad enough. Since that time, the staple Baseball Tonight show is now gone from the weeknight schedule during the show's 27th season. Granted, it had aired at inconsistent times and on ESPN or ESPN2, making it hard to find, but it was always there.

Now, the show only airs on Sunday nights as a lead in to Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, and already has become more of a pre-game show (along the lines of NFL Countdown) than the true highlights and updates show it had been.

The network and some fans will respond by saying that SportsCenter shows all of the highlights. It always has. However, many baseball (and fans of other sports) agree that the format of jumping around from one sport to another and adding more feature stories has made SportsCenter too tough to deal with in terms of wanting scores and highlights - it's original purpose.

We don't know yet whether or not ESPN will start similar reductions toward its NFL and NBA related programming.

However, the network fails to recognize that the fans (and even the non-fans) are still being charged the same high monthly fees to receive ESPN. This is not the way to serve a customer base. Not adding or improving is one thing, but cutting back on existing programming is another. More reasons for consumers to cut the cord.

Meanwhile, ESPN Cleveland has taken the network's money grab to another level. At least consumers have a choice with this one, but the trend is dangerous if people actually do sign up.
WKNR ESPN 850 has taken to offering podcast versions of station programming without commercials on a paid subscription basis at $85 per year or $8.50 per month starting this month.

If people actually do start paying out of pocket to hear "Steve from Akron" comment on how few games the Browns will win this coming season, and other such delights, this sends the wrong message to the industry.

By promoting these paid podcasts, the station is in effect telling its audience that advertisements are bad, along with taking away from the audience those very same advertisers are paying to reach. They seem to have forgotten that the hardcore fans who might actually pay for this content are the ones the advertisers want to reach the most!

Now we have a network wanting people to pay more to hear opinions without commercials instead of watching the reduced coverage on the TV network. There is one positive to this, at least to this point.
Our monthly phone bills aren't being raised to support the ESPN App we are forced to carry.

Speaking of the money grab, there is the NFL taking in $21 million for streaming rights to ONE regular season game. For whatever reason, Verizon thinks it is worth that much money to stream the Sept. 24th game in London between Baltimore and Jacksonville on its various platforms. One game. I have a hunch there will be more than a few commercials for one product during the streamed telecast.

They must have overlooked that the game will be over the air in both local markets and available as usual to those who have Sunday Ticket.

If only they had asked me. I would have pointed out how that $21 million could have sponsored Baseball Tonight on ESPN seven nights a week and maintained the coverage we have enjoyed all these years - at no extra cost to the consumer.

Over at CBS, the newest addition to the Sunday NFL Today show is Nate Burleson, who has been named to replace Bart Scott. Although there has been no announcement (as of press time), Scott could be moved to a lesser role on the CBS Sports Network Sunday NFL pre-game show.

In a surprisingly quiet development, Solomon Wilcots is out after 16 seasons as an NFL game analyst, with no explanation as of press time.

CHICAGO: It appears that WSCR 670 The Score's decision to add Ryne Sandberg to its roster for the Cubs post-season run last season proved a popular one. Sandberg has been brought back to be a part of the team's post-game coverage for all remaining home games this season, being teamed with host Mark Grote.

HOUSTON: Although many other MLB markets have streaming for cable/satellite subscribers for local telecasts, it's a slow road in Houston. Now, as of this week, Root Sports subscribers can stream their Astors telecasts, with a "coming soon" for AT&T subscribers. No word yet on any of the other cable services being able to offer this.

DALLAS: KRLD has decided to pick up The Joe Pags Show for nights, taking Joe Pagliarulo's show live from WOAI San Antonio. Pags now airs in the majority of Texas markets.

SAN DIEGO: San Diego State University has finally gotten a nice radio deal for both its football and basketball games starting in the fall. KSLD 1360 will air every game it can, while play-by-play conflicts will send some broadcasts over to classic rock KGB-FM. In addition, KTDD Fox Sports 1350 Riverside will also carry the broadcasts.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Some Callers Are Worthwhile On Sports Talk!

For as much as I comment about the constant overemphasis of fan opinions on sports talk stations, they got me with this one.

When the caller is actually a Major League Manager, I can accept that!

This past Monday night (5/1), that's what happened on the Blue Jays post-game call-in show on 590 AM in Toronto, which had just aired the Jays' 7 - 1 win over the Yankees. It was clear that Manager John Gibbons was happy with the rare win.

Gibbons actually called in to the radio post-game show and had the producer alert host Mike Wilner to take the call. The caller began talking about Jays pitcher Marco Estrada and poked fun at Wilner, who was reportedly critical of Gibbons' pre-game decision about which catcher had started the game.

During the call, Wilner did not tell the listeners that it was Gibbons, instead using "John in the Bronx" to identify this caller. Gibbons added to the goof by asking for free tickets in return for calling in.

A fun moment, and a bit of a lesson for sports talk hosts to keep in mind that you never know who might be listening in.

Stronger first round series helped viewership for the NBA Playoffs all around. Average viewership for the entire first round was up roughly 12% over last season and is the highest since 2014. And that was the year in which five of the opening series all went to 7th games.

ESPN/ABC announced that analyst Mark Jackson has been signed to a new multi-year deal to continue in that role. Ironic timing, coming just days after the same network let go of roughly 100 of its people across the country.

LOS ANGELES: We got our answer to last week's question about local media coverage of the Chargers now that they have moved in. Powerful KFI 640 AM rejoins the world of sports by becoming the new flagship station for the team.

Sister station KLAC will air several hours of Chargers programming throughout the week, but could not air the games due to Dodgers conflicts. (Keep in mind that the Dodgers own 49% of KLAC, so it's not as though the Chargers would have had any kind of priority for game broadcasts.) KLAC will also air some of the surrounding game day coverage when there are no Dodgers conflicts, airing part of what will be a 10-hour game day broadcast each week.

No word, as of press time, regarding the broadcast teams.

KFWB 980, now a Spanish station, will air the Chargers games in Spanish, also starting with the upcoming season. On the TV side, KABC-TV Channel 7 will air the team's pre-season games not shown on national TV.

KABC-TV will also air Saturday shows specific to the Chargers during the regular season.

HOUSTON: Recently retired Astros broadcaster Bill Brown has returned to the Astros booth for this week, but it's not exactly a happy homecoming. Brown is filling in for Todd Kalas due to the passing of his mother, the former wife of the late Harry Kalas (the former NFL films and Phillies play-by-play voice). Our thoughts and prayers to the Kalas family.

DETROIT: While WDFN 1130 continues to struggle to attract a sports talk audience against 97.1 The Ticket, they have dismissed long time morning host Matt Shepard as of this week. This is actually the second time Shepard has been let go from WDFN. He had joined them in 2001 and was let go in 2007, only to be rehired in 2009.

Shepard is expected to continue as the play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball along with Eastern Michigan football, as well as reporting duties for Fox Sports Detroit.

VANCOUVER: The purchase of CISL 650 by Rogers Media means significant changes for local sports fan. The station is being converted to Sportsnet 650 and will carry the Toronto Blue Jays. In addition, the station will become the flagship station for the Canucks, which have been airing on CKST Team 1040 through this past season.

PHOENIX: As you know, it is very rare that we post a link on The Broadcast Booth, but this story is a worthwhile read. It's the "final" column of Paola Boivin as it appeared in the (Phoenix) Arizona Republic this past Sunday, and details several challenges sent her way during her career: