Sunday, July 30, 2017

Local Baseball TV Ratings Struggle

The hot streaks of a couple of baseball teams and how their fans react will provide us with an indication as to which direction baseball ratings on TV are heading.

As the rules supposedly put in to speed up baseball games have backfired, increasing the average game time by more than eight minutes this season, Sports Business Journal reports that 18 MLB teams showed TV ratings declines through the first half of the 2017 regular season. (This is out of 29 U.S. based teams, not counting the Toronto Blue Jays.) Last season, 15 of the teams showed ratings increases from the year before.

As it so happens, two of the teams which showed the biggest ratings decline for the first half were the Royals (down roughly 37%)  and Cubs (down roughly 17%). Those teams have come out of the All-Star break as two of the three hottest teams since. To that point, Comcast SportsNet Chicago reported its highest rated Cubs telecasts of the season during this hot stretch.

Even with the Red Sox in first place (at the All-Star break, when the research was completed), their NESN ratings were down roughly 19% from last season.

We also had lower ratings for the actual All-Star Game while even the Home Run Derby showed an increase. Although the Yankees telecast ratings showed the biggest increase and the Indians ratings are up roughly 29% following their World Series appearance, it will be interesting to see if the combined ratings rise during the second half.

Although ESPN Sunday Night Baseball ratings are up for this season, we still have TBS having just started its Sunday afternoon telecasts but at inconsistent times and Fox Sports not regularly showing Saturday games while hiding them on FS1 instead.

ESPN and ABC have firmed up their studio roles for the upcoming college football season. ABC has named Kevin Negandhi to its host role replacing interim host Stan Verrett (who was a last minute fill in last season following the passing of John Saunders). Booger McFarland and Mack Brown will be the studio analysts.

ESPN brings back Adnan Virk as host for its Thursday, Friday, and Saturday telecasts along with Joey Galloway as one of its analysts. The other analyst will be Jesse Palmer, who comes to the studio role after working SEC Network games for the past three seasons as well as some Thursday games for ESPN.  ESPN2 will have Chris Cotter as its primary host, with Chip Kelly and Jon Vilma as analysts.

The Ivy League has managed to increase its football presence on the NBC "family" of networks for this season, with five telecasts on NBCSN and, mysteriously, its traditional Harvard vs. Yale telecast on Nov. 18 bumped to CNBC. The Comcast SportsNet group will also air at least three games, while NESN is scheduled to air four league telecasts. The November 10th game between Dartmouth and Brown, to be played at Fenway Park in Boston, will be among the NBCSN telecasts.

CHICAGO: White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson brought us still another embarrassing incident this past week. During the July 25th telecast of the White Sox vs. Cubs games, he went on a rant on the air because of Cubs pitcher John Lackey hitting four White Sox batters during the game. After the broadcast (although not on the air), Harrelson told reporters and was quoted in news stories that he feels that Lackey is "full of sh@#" for claiming it was an accident.

Although this quote was off the air, there have been a share of broadcasters who have been fired for inappropriate comments in interviews or on social media. In recent years, Harrelson was called by then Commissioner Bud Selig about another of his rants against specific umpires, and somehow got away with saying "Thanks honey" to female reporter Sarah Kustok a few years back live on the air when she finished a report.

Somehow, he keeps his job every time, although, thankfully, he cuts back to 20 telecasts next season before we are rid of him as a broadcaster.

DENVER: KDSP 760 goes all in on the upcoming Broncos season, going 24 hours with Broncos coverage and rebranding as "Orange & Blue 760". While there have not been any specifics on revenue being involved, indications are that the Broncos are involved with providing some of the content and assisting with coverage of the team.

If the Broncos get off to a great start and have a solid season, as is expected, this idea could work. If the Broncos are losing, it will be interesting to see what happens in the ratings. If the team has reasonable control over the content, fans will catch on and not want to bother if there is little to no criticism.

HOUSTON: It appears that Charlie Pallilo will return to sports talk mid-August. The Houston Chronicle reported that Pallilo will join the lower rated KGOW to host middays, along with appearing on KFNC-FM. Pallilo was a victim of circumstance last fall, losing his KBME afternoon show when that station brought in Josh Innes from Philadelphia. Innes has since been moved up to mornings.

KANSAS CITY: The Kansas Jayhawks will finally have priority for their football and basketball broadcasts starting this season, moving over to WHB 810. The school gets away from conflicts caused when previously on KCSP 610, which continues to air the Royals games that have, understandably, had top priority. WHB will also air some baseball, soccer, and women's basketball games along with all coaches shows.  However, the station has, as a result of this, dropped Kansas State University broadcasts after 18 years.

MIAMI: WQAM 560 has named Chris Wittyngham as pre-game host for its Dolphins game day programming, being paired with former Dolphin Channing Crowder. Wittyngham also calls soccer games for BeIN Sports.

TUCSON: KZTR 1450 has switched from a talk format to Fox Sports Radio, which results in Dan Patrick's radio show coming over from KCUB 1290. No word on any immediate local programming on KZTR or a midday replacement for Patrick on KTZN.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Why These Three Days for ESPN Radio?

It is most curious that ESPN Radio picked this week (three days of it) to "preview" its upcoming revised morning show with Trey Wingo replacing Mike Greenberg co-hosting its national morning show with Mike Golic. The Golic & Wingo Show is scheduled to launch on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend.

Since Golic's expertise is, understandably, more on the football side, and since there are still more than four months before the revised show begins, doing this prior to NFL camps opening is a surprise. Yet, there is one more element that makes this so interesting. It would have been simple had Greenberg been on vacation, but he clearly was not.

Mike Greenberg spent his three days away from Golic and the morning show on the air in New York City, hosting afternoons on WEPN, the ESPN owned station, filling in for Michael Kay. Is there more to this?

The Broadcast Booth happens to think there is a lot more to this, as in this being more than "filling in". Perhaps ESPN wants to gauge how Greenberg would come across to just the New York audience in addition to his upcoming ESPN national TV show.

This may not be a coincidence that Greenberg filled in during afternoon drive, since it would not conflict with his upcoming new morning show. What about Michael Kay?

If that question has you wondering, keep in mind that WFAN is supposedly searching for its next afternoon drive host in order to replace Mike Francesa after his contract runs out late this year. WFAN is now the flagship station for the Yankees, for which Kay is the lead TV play-by-play voice. Bringing Kay over to WFAN for afternoons would solidify their Yankees coverage and presence, and do so at a time when young players such as Judge, Sanchez, and Frazier are showing promise for the near future.

WEPN would then bring in Greenberg to handle its afternoon drive, perhaps shortening the show by an hour to help Greenberg's schedule and help him to maintain a strong radio presence. This makes sense for WEPN, and would help to explain why ESPN Radio (national) would do such an odd move in the middle of July.

On the TV side, having a Sunday Night Baseball game between the Yankees and Red Sox last week (7/16) which mattered did make a ratings difference. The ratings were up 13% from the same matchup at the same time last season. This past Saturday (7/15), it was not Fox Sports' fault that they only aired one MLB game instead of a doubleheader. The Yankees vs. Red Sox game that went 16 innings ran all the way through its scheduled Texas vs. K.C. game on FS1. Had Fox Sports aired the game over the air (like it should), the game would have run all the way through their prime time that night.

PHILADELPHIA: Still no replacement (as of press time) for WPEN-FM's co-host for its 10 AM to Noon show to work along with Harry Mayes. This could mean that, since this is only a two hour block, Mayes will continue to host it solo and that this is still another cost cutting measure by ESPN. Rob Ellis, who continues with CSN Philadelphia, had been co-hosting the show through last week when his contract ran out.

SAN FRANCISCO: KGMZ 95.7 The Game is changing its 10 AM to Noon show, although it remains to be seen (or heard, as we should say) whether or not it will continue to be a local show. As the station continues its struggle for ratings against the mighty KNBR, it is ending its local show with J.T. The Brick, which it has been airing since last September. This has no impact on Brick's nationally syndicated show.

BOSTON: The fierce ratings battle between WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM Sports Hub continues with the June ratings having been unveiled. For overall audience, WEEI-FM finished #6 in the market with its highest rating in three months, while WBZ-FM dropped one full ratings point from the previous month to #11 overall.

While many point to the Red Sox being in first place as the reason (WEEI is their flagship), it is significant that the Kirk & Callahan morning show finished ahead of WBZ-FM's Toucher & Rich for the first time in three years. This despite WBZ-FM's Felger & Massarotti finishing ahead of WEEI's Dale & Holley and what is often the Red Sox pre-game show during afternoon drive.

NASHVILLE: WSM 650 is, surprisingly, adding a sports show in time for NFL season. In an obvious effort to revise interest in the AM station, the station is going to give long time play-by-play voice and local sportscaster George Plaster a show. Plans are to make the announcement next week at a local restaurant event for what will likely be a weekly football preview show. Plaster will continue as Associate Athletics Director at Belmont.

DETROIT: WXYT-FM The Ticket has no reason to panic even though the latest ratings show the station dropping to #5 overall. Not that there is anything wrong with a sports station being in the top 5. It is clearly because the Tigers are having a bad season and the winter teams are in their off season. It certainly isn't because of WDFN, since that station literally came in with a 0.0 overall rating for the same period.

The Ticket will have a new host for its Pistons broadcasts which it resumes this fall. Although Jake Champman, who hosted when the team was on 105.1, is going to replaced, he will continue to work for

Neal Ruhl has been signed to continue for what will be a fifth season calling Oakland University basketball.

CHARLOTTE: Let's keep an ear on this one. It is interesting enough that the Carolina Panthers have brought back former General Manager Marty Hurney as their "interim General Manager" to replace Dave Gettleman. But it's what made him so easily available that is worth monitoring. Hurney is now owner and manager of WZGV ESPN Charlotte. It will be most interesting to compare that station's coverage of the Panthers against the local competition.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tough Ratings & Revenue For TV Networks

This is far from an All-Star week when it comes to ratings and revenue news for the major networks, especially Fox. You could say that the revenue part is a bitter pill to swallow for Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN.

Due to circumstances out of their control, those networks which televise the NFL, face the loss of a major advertiser for at least the coming season. In fact, (which publishes ad spending data) claims that the advertiser spent more than $30 million on NFL telecasts on those networks during the 2016 season alone. (The advertiser is Pfizer, which manufactures Viagra. Advertising has been stopped on that product because of a legal patent issue and the onset of at least one generic drug product.)

It is too early to gauge the impact, since we don't know if or when those millions in revenue would be replaced by other advertisers.

Baseball's All-Star Game made for a most interesting twist in the TV ratings, since the Home Run Derby came in with a more positive return than the actual game telecast.

For all of the complaining among fans that the All-Star Game determining the league home advantage for the World Series, which is no longer the case, the Fox telecast held steady with the 2016 record lows. This year's game was also down roughly 20% in total viewers from 2015, while NBC's "America's Got Talent" show held steady from the previous week's ratings but had millions more viewers than Fox did.

This is another reason for Fox to be very concerned. Many fans don't seem to be aware of the games every Saturday on FS1, while Fox Sports only shows a few Saturday prime time games during the weeks prior to the game. FS1 and FS2 continue to struggle for viewers. They can't say fans were not aware of the All-Star Game either.

Even the Home Run Derby, which aired the night before (7/10) on ESPN, showed a nice ratings increase, being up by more than 35% from last year. Even though the New York market ratings for the Derby were the highest ever (with Aaron Judge competing and winning), they can't use that as the argument, since the Kansas City market had even higher ratings on Monday.

When a batting practice event outshines the actual game telecast, it is cause for concern.

As the games resume on Friday, as it goes, the networks think that everything stops because the Red Sox and Yankees are matched up. However, this time, and perhaps for the remainder of the season, this series actually means something. What's even more amazing is that each of the four games of the series will be shown on a different national network.

The Friday game is on MLB Network, with Saturday's on FS1. (While Fox wonders what's wrong, but puts a showcase game on FS1 instead of Fox Sports on a Saturday.) The Sunday day-night doubleheader will have the afternoon game on TBS, while, of course, on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game.

Over at Fox Sports, they have added Mark Schlereth as an NFL analyst. No word, as of press time, as to if Schlereth will be used as a game analyst or only in the studio.

With college football only a few weeks away, the SEC Network has finally named its new lead broadcast team. As expected, Tom Hart moves up into the lead play-by-play role. He will now be joined by former QB Jordan Rodgers and lineman Cole Cubelic. This team replaces the retired Brent Musburger and moves analyst Jesse Palmer to another role, possibly with ESPN, for the coming season.

Looks like the boxing people are taking note as to the high monthly costs that millions of sports fans continue to pay just for their cable/satellite service, and overlooking the amount of cord cutting.

Those interested in the upcoming Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight are facing a live pay-per-view cost of at least $89.95. The HD version is reportedly set at $99.95.

Although this price will likely make the PPV telecast a financial success, these prices make it less likely for the sport to attract new fans.

SAN DIEGO: The Hacksaw is on the block, so to speak. XETV Channel 6 has eliminated its news operation completely, which put an end to Lee 'Hacksaw' Hamilton as the primary sports anchor there. Hamilton has been a fixture since the mid-80's when he seemingly built XTRA The Mighty 690 as one of the first major market all sports stations.

NEW ORLEANS: WODT 1280 is significantly expanding its "local" programming for weekdays, even though it will have a definite Houston and 'outsider' flavor. Josh Innes, recently moved up to mornings at Houston's KBME, will take over the Noon to 2 PM spot, while KBME's Assistant Program Director, Chris Gordy will take over from 8 to 10 AM. The station is also bringing in Jordy Hultberg (known from his days at LSU and his sideline reporting) for 2 to 4 PM, although Hultberg continues to be based at KLWB 103.7 Lafayette. Now you know why the "local programming" is in quotes. Six hours per weekday with hosts working from another market.

TUSCALOOSA: WFFN 95.3 has a new seven year extension to remain as flagship station for Alabama football and basketball games, as well as the Nick Saban Show and the "Hey Coach" Show.

BLOOMINGTON/NORMAL: WJBC 1230 and 93.7 have a new five year extension to remain the flagship for Illinois State University football and basketball.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Guest Does Not Equal Co-Host

Having a state Governor as a guest co-host on a sports talk show is a nice novelty idea, but going as far as to consider it as a possible audition is another.

WFAN 101.9 and 660 has been the big sports station in the biggest radio market for literally 30 years, setting the stage for sports talk as a format throughout the country.

By way of background, long time afternoon host (or co-host) Mike Francesa is leaving the station late this year, with a lot of attention being paid to who will take over that coveted spot. This coming Monday (7/10) and Tuesday (7/11), with Francesa off, the station plans to have midday co-host Evan Roberts paired with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to co-host the afternoon show.

This is an interesting idea, for a day or two. The problem is that WFAN Program Director Mark Chernoff was quoted (in the story) as saying this is being considered as an on-air audition for Christie for after his term as Governor is over.

Why is this a "problem"?

The problem is the message such a hiring would send to the listening consumers. There are (or should be) plenty of professional broadcasters out there with 10 years, 20 years, or even more of on air experience doing a successful sports talk show and knowing what it takes to build and engage a large audience day after day. They have learned their craft with an eye toward working their way up to one of the top three sports stations in the country, which WFAN clearly is.

To put it another way, WFAN should be looking to bring in its pick of any established sports talk host in the country to take over its second most important property (afternoon drive).

Bringing in someone who does not have a track record as a sportscaster (or even as a former pro athlete turned analyst) tells the audience that "anyone" can do this, and reduces the importance of the hosts and the program.

We have plenty of known sportscasters and prominent former athletes doing podcasts, many on a daily basis. A prominent New York station is not the place for a former Governor to learn his craft.

This is more than just the threat of WFAN's audience switching over to The Michael Kay Show on WEPN if they don't like who WFAN replaces Francesa with by New Year's. Listeners might just go with podcasts and/or the many TV sports talk and opinion shows available on a daily basis instead.

Those are reasons not to bother with radio, which is a lot more serious than merely not sticking with a particular station. This is not to say that we would expect Christie to not do a good job or be knowledgeable. But without a track record in that area, this would be a huge risk for WFAN to take.

It's bad enough that many sports stations around the country do not consistently give out of town scores and information, thinking that fans go to their phones "anyway" for such info. If the stations gave all of the information they should, and did the job they used to on keeping people informed, listeners wouldn't need alternative sources of information.

And now if that content may not be as effective as it has been in the past, management will be providing its listeners with still another reason not to bother.

DETROIT: Another sign of WDFN 1130 losing the sports talk battle to WXYT The Ticket. Gregg Henson, who began as an original staff member when WDFN became a sports station back in 1994, is now gone from the station as of late last week. Although the afternoon show is still co-hosted by Drew McCarthy and Jim Costa, this remains the only locally originated show on the station. 

While it would make logistical sense for Henson to go (of the three hosts), because Henson actually did the show from a studio in the Pittsburgh area, this is really more of a cost cutting move. This move happened at the same time that Henson also lost his gig as Program Director of ESPN Pittsburgh.

WEST PALM BEACH: WMEN 640 Sports has added Miami University Hurricanes broadcasts to its lineup, and in honor of that has taken on the nickname of "Hurricane 640". The station will continue to air Panthers hockey and New York Yankees baseball, along with mostly Fox Sports Radio programming.

HAWAII: The "big island" has lost its local sports station as a result of KHLO 850 and KKON 790 Kailua-Kona shutting down on July 1st. This move leaves University of Hawaii-Hilo without a broadcast outlet. In addition, it means that St. Louis Cardinals games are no longer broadcast on the island. (The Cards' Kolten Wong is from the area.) The stations also carried an NFL package.

Honolulu's ESPN 1420 remains in place as usual, but without much local programming. And select NFL games will air again this coming season on KPUA 670 in Hilo, which also airs San Francisco Giants games.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: One owner, two stations, and as of now, no more sports programming. Both WGHM 900 Nashua and WGAM Manchester 1250 have dropped "ESPN New Hampshire" and switched to a music format. The stations had simulcast sports programming going back to 2006, including having had local programming from Noon to 6 PM on weekdays.

PORTLAND ME: Finally, an added sports station. Big Jab sports adds a third smaller signal to its Portland area coverage, adding 92.3 to also carry WRED 1440 from Westbrook. They also air on WJJB 96.3 from Gray.

NEW CASTLE PA: Sorry to report the passing of sportscaster Mark Shaas of WKST 1200, who died in a multi-vehicle pile up last week.