Friday, October 6, 2017

All Week It's A Numbers Game

A lot of ratings and audience numbers to examine this week. Hard to tell if it was because of the Yankees being in it or if the Wild Card game ratings are rising in general, but it was no surprise to see the higher audience levels (58% increase) for Tuesday (10/3) night's telecast of the Yankees vs. Twins in the American League game on ESPN.

We do wonder, however, how much having the game shown on ESPN factored in. Too many casual fans still have no idea to check TBS, especially since they no longer show games every Sunday afternoon during the regular season. And, FS1 doesn't have enough of a "carry over" audience, like ESPN does, for its programming.

Having the Yankees in the ALDS with most of the games merely on FS1 will give us an indication. Hard to believe that, with the possibility of ESPN not retaining its MLB package moving forward, the Fox continues to keep MLB in the background until the World Series. The Yankees vs. Indians should be a huge draw, but may not be. At the same time, it is astounding that Fox does not, at the very least, allow the local Fox stations in the participating teams' markets to also air the games. That's a lot of New York and Cleveland households that won't know where to find the games.

On the NFL side, we checked the Los Angeles market ratings for this past Sunday (10/1) and, sure enough, the Oakland at Denver doubleheader game on CBS had nearly three times the audience rating and share that the Los Angeles Chargers game against Philadelphia did on Channel 13. In fact, of the 6 NFL games televised live in L.A. on Sunday, only the Miami vs. New Orleans telecast from London, which kicked off at 6:30 AM local time, had a lower audience than the "local" Chargers did.

It was the Rams game from Dallas on Fox Channel 11 which more than doubled the Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore game on CBS in the regular "early games" slot. NBC's Sunday Night Football telecast with Indianapolis vs. Seattle was actually the ratings winner for the entire day.

This coming Sunday (10/8), the L.A. market again gets a full doubleheader from both Fox and CBS and the NFL seems to be letting L.A. ignore the market rules it still enforces in New York City.

It so happens that the Rams game at home against Seattle has been flexed over to CBS, which means that CBS in L.A. gets a Chargers and then Rams doubleheader. The Chargers early game will actually air on sister station KCAL Channel 9 at 10 AM with the Rams game on KCBS Channel 2 at 1:25 PM.

Although some fans think that the Chargers are being demoted because this will be the second consecutive Sunday that they will appear on a "second" local channel, it is really due to contractual obligations.

With the Rams and the Chargers each home teams, Fox and CBS are contractually obligated to show both games in their entirety. Using another channel prevents a situation where a weather delay and/or overtime could have the first game run over past the start of the second game.

For this Sunday, while CBS in L.A. brings the Chargers and Rams doubleheader (although on separate channels), Fox will still get to air two games in the market, going with Carolina at Detroit (instead of Arizona vs. Philadelphia) first and then the national doubleheader game of Green Bay and Dallas. Joe Buck will call that game. While it's not a surprise he calls that NFL game in particular, it does not speak well for Fox Sports that Buck is not calling the Yankees vs. Indians game on FS1 on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the mid-August to mid-September Nielsen radio ratings have been released. Let's look at a few of the key bigger markets.

In New York, WFAN AM-FM The Fan went up .5 in the ratings, finishing at #7 overall in the market. Certainly an expected rise with being #1 at night with Yankees broadcasts and the curiosity surrounding the resignation of Craig Carton from the morning show. The two Boston sports stations remain strong, as expected, with both WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM Sports Hub showing half point increases in overall audience. WEEI-FM came in #4 in the market with WBZ-FM at #8. Both stations should stay strong as the Red Sox begin the post-season and the Patriots season is in full swing.

The Chicago Cubs are making winners out of WSCR The Score 670 again, with the station showing up at #4 in the market for its best ever showing and showing three times the overall audience of WMVP ESPN 1000. That figures to rise during the current ratings period as the Cubs (for which WSCR is the flagship station) begin their post-season run.

You can tell its Cowboys season by the sports radio ratings for Dallas, as all three stations went up during the month. KTCK-AM The Ticket leads the three, coming in at #14 in the market this time. In Atlanta, WZGC-FM The Game rose an impressive .7 of a ratings point to #16 overall. The Eagles season getting underway has impacted Philadelphia's stations, as WIP-FM rose 1.1 ratings points (and 1.9 ratings points from two months prior) to #5 overall in the market. At the same time, WPEN-FM ESPN rose .3 finishing at #18.

The Twins run to the post-season and the Vikings starting helped KFXN The Fan rise to #2 in the morning and placed the station in the top five in the Twin Cities with a .6 of a ratings point rise. Baltimore's WJZ-FM rose 1.3 ratings points and into the top five stations there.

Although not a full-time sports station, Cleveland's WTAM 1100 benefitted big time from the Indians broadcasts. The 1.3 ratings points rise includes them being the #1 station during both afternoons and evenings.

Perhaps the biggest shocker is the San Diego sports station ratings, considering that the Chargers are gone and the Padres were seemingly eliminated months ago. Yet, both XPRS-AM and KLSD-AM both rose .3 of a ratings point. Even though neither station so much as cracked the top 20 in the market, this is still a surprise.

In other ratings news, it's interesting that ESPN Sunday Night Baseball was up roughly 8% this season compared with the 2016 season.

Meanwhile, ESPN continues to get ready for the upcoming NBA season. With Doris Burke moving into a game analyst role, the network has added Paul Pierce to its roster of studio analysts as a result of his work on their NBA Finals coverage the past two years.

ESPN also regained the rights to Formula 1 racing with a new multi-year deal which begins in 2018. The family of networks will air all 21 races, with the majority slotted in for Sunday mornings on ESPN2. Two of the races will air on ABC. This deal is a blow to NBCSN, which retains NASCAR and Indy Car affiliations.

The hunch from here is that these networks will be locking horns again when both the NHL and MLB contracts are in negotiations. ESPN appears to be not overly interested in retaining MLB and could wind up indirectly trading places with NBC by giving up baseball and regaining hockey.

It is very interesting that ESPN sent out an e-mail blast on Thursday (10/5) promoting NHL.TV and the hockey package, given that it has been years since they lost the NHL rights to NBC and didn't seem to care.

The saddest sports media news is the passing of long time NHL voice Dave Strader this past weekend at the age of 62. The highly regarded Strader called games for NBC and NBCSN in addition to having been the voice of the Dallas Stars. He will be missed.

BOSTON: After a long interview process with more than 200 applicants, the Bruins waited until the last minute to select Judd Sirott from Chicago as their new radio play-by-play voice. Sirott replaces Dave Goucher who left the Bruins after 17 seasons to become the TV voice of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The 48 year-old Sirott comes from WGN Radio Chicago where he has handled studio coverage (and occasional filling in on play-by-play) for Blackhawks games as well as having been on the Cubs broadcast team several years ago when they had the broadcast rights.

The Bruins had auditioned four candidates during the exhibition season before making their choice. Ironically, Sirott's Bruins play-by-play debut for the team's opener on Thursday (10/5) was moved to WZLX 100.7 because of the Patriots game airing on The Sports Hub 98.5.

CHICAGO: The move of Judd Sirott from WGN Radio to the Bruins play-by-play role resulted in WGN bringing in Chris Boden to handle its studio coverage for its Blackhawks broadcasts. Boden had handled much of CSN Chicago's (now NBC Sports Chicago) Blackhawks studio hosting during his 10 years with the network which ended suddenly in August. Look for Boden to eventually get a more expanded role at WGN.

WASHINGTON D.C.: After struggling to get sufficient coverage for its broadcasts last season, the Capitals and WJFK-FM The Fan have made amends just in time for this season and have resumed airing the games. John Wlaaton returns for his 7th season on play-by-play with Ken Sabourin starting his 15th season as analyst. The games will continue to be broadcast on WFED 1500, which aired the games with little fanfare and a low signal all of last season.

LOS ANGELES: The Clippers have hired Bruce Bowen as their TV analyst to work along side Ralph Lawler this season, replacing Michael Smith who had been doing TV and radio for the previous 19 seasons. No word (as of press time) as to whether or not Bowen would be able to continue as a studio analyst with ESPN.

St. LOUIS: KFNS 590 and morning show co-host Jim The Cat Hayes have made amends days after Hayes was reported to have left the station. Hayes also continues his role with Fox Sports Midwest.

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