Thursday, January 20, 2022

Much Les of the Greats

It's a week of losses for the sports media, topped off by the passing of Chicago sportscasting legend Les Grobstein on Sunday (1/16). He was a walking encyclopedia of Chicago sports over the past 50 years, most recently the overnight host on WSCR The Score 670. He was 69 years of age and showed no signs of letting up.


After a few years of doing play-by-play for high school basketball, Chicago Sting soccer, the Chicago Hustle (women's pro basketball in the late 70's), and later UIC (University of Illinois Chicago) Flames basketball, his first big break came when he joined WLS 890 in 1979. 


It was my personal pleasure to have worked on the air with Les (high school games and some Chicago Sting broadcasts) and off the air during his early days. We both had the "work as hard as you can" work ethic, but Les took that to max, being at seemingly every game in town and taking whatever work he could get. Although he made no secret of being a fan of certain teams, he maintained his composure on air and always knew to respect callers and reporters supporting "other" teams. 


Working overnights brought him certain advantages, such as being able to keep a "good" caller on with him for upwards of 15 minutes or more if the discussion was going well. Yet, one of the many things I will remember about him is how he always kept the games in front of the mix.


Unfortunately, too many sports stations and hosts are far too concerned with opinions and not enough about the games in progress. In many cases, it's because of the station philosophy. Grobstein never let this get to him, as west coast games would still be going into the first hour or two of his shows on many nights. 


While some other hosts on WSCR don't give "out of town" scores on the updates any more, Les never stopped, going through the scoreboard throughout the overnight. He kept that "secret" that giving score updates could keep some fans involved with the show.


He would be between calls or thoughts at 1:15 AM, and mention that "Cleveland just scored 3 in the 8th at Anaheim....." and go back to the topic. Unfortunately, this is a long lost art on too many sports stations, as well as some play-by-play broadcasts. Les knew that his audience shouldn't have to "go to their phone" to get other scores and info, because they might wind up finding something else there which would take them away from listening to his show or the station. Exactly.


His amazing work ethic should inspire others, no matter what we do. He will be missed.


Meanwhile, the sports media world also lost Ron Franklin earlier this week (1/18) at the age of 79. Franlin was known nationally for his work on ESPN. He co-hosted "College Football Prime Time" from 1987 to 2005, and did a ton of football and basketball play-by-play. In Houston, Franklin was Sports Director with KHOU-TV and KPRC-TV over a 16 year period, as well as doing play-by-play for the Houston Oilers.


In addition we also lost Tim Rosaforte, the long time golf reporter at the age of 66. Rosaforte wrote for Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest, also appearing on The Golf Channel in his later years. He covered every Masters Tournament from 1983 through 2019. 


PITTSBURGH: This "loss" is a semi-retirement, as market staple Jim Colony announced that he has left his co-host role on the morning show of 93.7 The Fan. Colony had been with the station since it began in 2010, but his time goes back to WTAE and its sports programming going back more than 30 years. He promised his audience that he will be around and fill in "from time to time" while enjoying having free time.

 

 



Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Championship Game But Not Championship Numbers

Quite the mixed opinions on how the college football championship telecasts from Monday (1/10) night fared in the ratings. The overall ratings for the entire ESPN group telecasts were above those of 2021, but below those of the previous four years.


Those lower numbers for this year are not surprising for two reasons. First, this came right after a busy Saturday and Sunday which allowed for viewing five entire NFL games, with the primary national games involving teams battling for positions in the post-season. In addition, this year's Alabama vs. Georgia game marked the third time this season these teams met, including the SEC Championship Game in December. Many casual fans were disappointed that a team which did not win its conference still had the opportunity to play for a championship. Most likely, the lower numbers were a combination of those two factors.


Each network did a solid job of covering the NFL games this past weekend. CBS did standout work by switching a couple of their early game audiences to more competitive games which also had playoff indications. In addition, kudos for sticking with regional coverage of the Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore overtime game instead of going to the start of their doubleheader game in markets where there were not local teams involved. Nice to see after all of the times CBS or Fox had to switch away from bonus coverage no matter what was going on in the early game.

 

ESPN was able to boast that its two Saturday telecasts, obviously helped by being aired on ABC, finished among its top five Monday Night Football telecasts. 


It will be interesting to see how the ratings fare this coming week, which will be the first ever with six playoff games on the schedule, including one on Monday night. 


Meanwhile, it could very well be that NBA ratings are, pun intended, on the rebound. Indications are that national telecast ratings are on the rise, with the season approaching the halfway point. It probably helps that New York and Chicago teams are much improved. ESPN hopes to pick up on this with a Knicks and Nets doubleheader on Wednesday (1/12). Adding the Nets at Chicago Bulls telecast as its second game forces Chicago to start a home game at 9:10 PM on a weeknight.


To make the point, consider what happened on Sunday night (1/9). While NBC had the tight Raiders vs. Chargers game with playoff implications on, NBA TV aired the game between Golden State and Cleveland. This was an attractive game given the notable improvement of both teams thus far this season. That telecast wound up as NBA TV's most watched telecast since 2016, and that game was when the Warriors won their 72nd game of that season. Got to wonder what viewership would have been had it not been opposed by the NFL game, and if more fans were made aware of that game being on. Sorry, but it's not like NBA TV telecasts garner a lot of advance publicity.


ESPN has announced its new broadcaster lineup for Sunday Night Baseball for the scheduled coming season. (Still in lockout at press time.) Naming Karl Ravich as play-by-play voice is somewhat disappointing (considering the caliber they have had over the past 30 years). However, going with Eduardo Perez as analyst and bumping Alex Rodriguez helps to make up for that. Rodriguez will join Michael Kay on some sidecasts during the season. With both announcers all having strong ties to New York, they might as well call it the "New York Simulcast", but they won't.

 

BUFFALO: Sorry to learn of the passing of Brian Blessing, who was a big part of Bills and Sabres broadcasts. Many of Blessings' 25 years in Buffalo were with WIVB, with his work being a part of the Bills' Super Bowl seasons in the 90's. Blessing had most recently been working in Las Vegas with a betting firm as well as a talk show about the Golden Knights.



Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Comings & Goings

Although MLB fans won't feel the impact until the current lockout is resolved, MLB Network took a big step backwards with the reported termination of reporter Ken Rosenthal. While we will continue to be blessed with Rosenthal's in-depth reporting via Fox Sports and other sources, this move could ding the surrounding coverage which MLB Network provides.


It's not only the awful reason, which was reportedly because of Rosenthal's criticism of Commissioner Rob Manfred, although that adds to it. It is because Rosenthal will be tough to replace because of all of his sources and the number of important stories he has brought us over the past 12 years. His thorough coverage needs to be replaced. Obviously, this is far from a typical off-season, which now leaves us without any of their live shows during the weekdays. Let's hope that when MLB Network comes back with their studio coverage that it doesn't decline any further. Either way, it's hard to take getting rid of a significant contributor merely because of a properly expressed opinion.


This coming final weekend of the NFL season includes both Fox and CBS doing national doubleheaders. One oddity is that the primary doubleheader games on both networks are NFC matchups. With CBS losing out on the Raiders vs. Chargers game (selected by NBC for Sunday Night Football), CBS gets and features the Tampa Bay vs. Carolina game in the late slot. At the same time, Fox shows the 49ers vs. Rams game to most of the country. 


As the Cleveland Browns wrap up their disappointing season on Sunday against Cincinnati, radio analyst Doug Dieken will be doing his final broadcast. After 37 seasons in the role, the 72 year old Dieken is retiring. Dieken was drafted by the "original" Browns back in 1971 prior to playing in 203 consecutive games with the franchise.


NBA fans wanting to see the much anticipated matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets next week (Weds. Jan. 12) are going to have to stay up later than anticipated. It is understandable that ESPN is picking up this telecast of (as of press time) the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. However, since the Knicks are scheduled for the "early" spot (7:30 ET), ESPN is not going to give up a Knicks telecast. (This is even though the game is against the Dallas Mavericks.) As a result, the Chicago vs. Brooklyn telecast is scheduled for 10:05 PM ET. This means that the Bulls are forced to begin a weeknight home game at 9:05 PM. 


On the college side, James Laurinaitis is leaving his broadcasting roles with both WBLS 97.1 Columbus and the Big 10 Network. In this case, it is not a retirement. James is leaving to join Marcus Freeman's staff at Notre Dame. The two were teammates at Ohio State.

 

Fox Sports has entered in to horse racing. Starting in 2023 Fox will air The Belmont Stakes, giving it a share of the Triple Crown. This will be the first of a reported eight year deal.


PHOENIX: A bit of local history on Tuesday (Jan. 4) when Luis Arturo called play-by-play of the Coyotes game on a separate Spanish broadcast.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Instant Karma to Shine On For ESPN

The recent purchase of the largest ESPN Radio local stations by Good Karma Brands is reason to be curious as to where this fits with ESPN's strategy for the near future. Good Karma is now in the process of purchasing KSPN 710 Los Angeles, WEPN-AM 1050 New York, and WMVP 1000 in Chicago. The NYC purchase also includes continuing the existing LMA (local Marketing Agreement) for WEPN-FM 98.7.

 

What we don't know yet is if this is intended to bring millions of dollars in to ESPN at this point in time, or if it means that ESPN is no longer as bullish on its radio operation. Perhaps time will tell when the various pro league and collegiate broadcast rights come up for renewal. 


Although the preliminary word is that existing local contracts, such as KSPN having the Angels (among other local teams) and WMVP having the White Sox, will remain in place, it will be interesting to see how the funds received for these purchases will be used by ESPN.


Meanwhile, it is curious that Turner Sports appears to be taking the rest of 2021 off from national telecasts (after December 21st) as scheduled. (As of press time, NHL games were postponed through Christmas while the NBA games were still on.) This appears to be deliberate, considering that the typical five game NBA telecast schedule for Christmas Day this year is all to be shown by ESPN and ABC. In past years, TNT would usually have a doubleheader as their portion. Two of the games air on ESPN, two only on ABC, and the prime time Nets vs. Lakers tilt is scheduled to air simultaneously on both.


In its first year of its NHL contract, TNT had been scheduled to air Wednesday Night NHL in its bizarre time slot of 10 PM ET starts. (The scheduled Dec. 22 Edmonton vs. L.A. telecast was scratched, with the Dec. 29 Dallas vs. Colorado game still on as of press time.) Having a national telecast series in which the games run well past 10 PM in three time zones is strange enough. With so many fans home and/or available to watch during the holiday period, it's hard to believe that Turner Sports would be reducing its coverage of both sports.


Its NHL coverage, however, is scheduled to resume Wednesday night doubleheaders on Weds. Jan. 5th with the St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh telecast scheduled for 7:30 PM ET. TNT is also scheduled to air the New Year's Day "Winter Classic"between St. Louis and Minnesota. Amazingly, this year's event is scheduled for prime time, whereas NBC typically aired this game early afternoon on New Year's Day. You would think that TNT would want to be able to maximize the opportunity to promote the New Year's game, especially with the new time. Instead, they have fewer opportunities than ever.





 

 

 

 


Friday, December 10, 2021

Football Ratings Heading For A Big Score

Last weekend's SEC Championship Game telecast between Alabama and Georgia proved to be huge for CBS and its stations. With a peak of nearly 18 million viewers, this telecast became the highest rated conference championship telecast (any conference or network) since 2018. 


Overall college football season ratings were also good for CBS. The network finishes with the highest average viewers amount of any for college football. This becomes even more impressive when you factor in that ESPN and Fox share the highly rated Big 10 Conference package. For example, the impressive Alabama vs. Georgia numbers were slightly below last month's Michigan vs. Ohio State (regular season) showdown on Fox.


Adding to this is the consideration that the Michigan vs. Ohio State telecast was in the early window (Noon ET start), whereas the SEC Championship game was leading in to prime time in the Eastern Time zone. Because of this, the Big 10 Conference stands to do very well during 2022. Their deal with both Fox and ESPN expire at the end of the 2022 season. Could be quite the bidding war, especially if the Conference is willing to add a possible third TV partner.


On the NFL side, it appears that the surge by the New England Patriots is paying off in the TV ratings. The October Sunday Night Football game on NBC with the Patriots facing Tom Brady and the Bucs was among SNF's top three telecasts ever. Their recent Monday Night Football game vs. Buffalo wound up as the most watched MNF Week 13 telecast since 2013. This comes after Patriots ratings were reportedly down by more than 20% during the 2020 season. For this season, overall NFL telecast ratings are up more than 7% over last year.

 

Joe Davis and Kurt Warner will be calling the Saturday Dec. 18th  Las Vegas vs. Cleveland telecast and the Christmas Day Indianapolis vs. Arizona telecast, both of which will be only on NFL Network and in the local markets.


TNT should be getting concerned about disappointing ratings for its NHL telecasts over the first 1/3 of the regular season. The numbers are down significantly from what NBCSN had been doing for previous "comparable" telecasts. It's looking much better for ESPN's telecasts. 


PHOENIX: Baseball fans know the name Garigiola. Chris Garigiola, the grandson of NBC baseball voice Joe Garigiola and son of former Diamondbacks GM Joe Jr., has been named to host the pre-game and post-game shows on the Diamondbacks Radio Network. Chris had most recently been calling minor league games, such as Pensacola, the AA affiliate of the Marlins.



Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Cost of Cancelation

As much as the sports fans' collective appetite for watching live sports continues to be strong, the growth on what it takes out of our wallets is also on the increase. Now comes word that Comcast, which is the nation's largest cable provider, is preparing still another round of price hikes for subscribers to start in January 2022. The big reason, according to sources in the know, is due to the increase in the costs for Comcast to carry channels, especially the sports channels.


Of course, these rising costs for cable and satellite are leading to cord-cutting, which is on the increase. A recent report by Leichtman Research Group which covers all of the larger cable/satellite groups around the country, there was a loss of approximately 650,000 subscribers during the 3rd quarter of 2021 alone. For comparison, the 3rd quarter subscriber losses for Q3 of 2020 (same length of time) was around 90,000.


You would think that the loss of this many subscribers would be cause for concern among the networks increasing their fees as well as for the providers. Instead, they all seem content with increasing the costs for the millions of us that keep paying up. It means that they have those of us that continue to spend the bigger bucks to watch these games are paying back the difference those who want to send a message by canceling are trying to send.


The ratings don't lie, however. This past Saturday's (11/27) Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Michigan drew nearly 16 million viewers, making it the largest audience Fox Sports has ever had for a college football telecast. Keep in mind this game was at Noon ET and not in prime time. Adding to that was the more than 3,000,000 viewers reported for their morning pregame show. 


Even this past Monday Night Football game (11/29) drew nearly 11 million viewers for ESPN. What makes this viewing number significant is that the Seattle vs. Washington matchup was between two teams entering the game under .500. 

 

 If you are still wondering why so many of the TV sports networks are running so many more betting shows than ever before, the answer is in the opening paragraph above. It's more than the revenue generated for airing these shows. The more people are betting on these games, the higher the interest and the more than fans will want to watch them. At the rate things are going, some bettors may have the goal of trying to cover their cost for the next month of cable or satellite.


College football fans get a tough break for the coming Championship Saturday. Casual fans are not as familiar with the University of Cincinnati, which continues to contend for the final four and the championship games. This Saturday (12/4) has the Big 12 Championship at Noon ET (Baylor and OK State) on ABC, which leads in to the much anticipated Alabama vs. Georgia clash in the SEC Championship game on CBS at 4 PM ET. The Big 10 Championship battle between Michigan and Iowa follows at 8 PM ET on Fox.


Meanwhile, U. of Cincinnati's game vs. Houston for the American Conference Championship (also on ABC) also happens to get underway just after 4 PM ET. This puts it up against the Georgia vs. Alabama telecast. Put that together with the expected blowout by Cinci and it probably means that they could be the "least known" team to compete for a national championship.



Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Two Games Two Sports No Problem

It's fun for play-by-play announcers to handle more than one sport over the course of a year, but now we have a number of announcers doing so within the course of a couple of days. This includes one or more on a national level.


Joe Buck at Fox continues his busy stretch of crossing over from NFL games to the MLB Post-season, even with the World Series in progress. Adam Amin, a rising star at Fox, catches a break this coming weekend by not having to travel for multiple events. Amin is scheduled to call the NBA game between Chicago and Utah for NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday night (10/30) which is being played in Chicago. On Sunday, he calls the NFL game for Fox between the Bears and visiting San Francisco 49ers. He will then travel to Boston to call the Bulls vs. Celtics game on Monday night. 


Steve Levy had quite the experience this past weekend. Levy got the gem of an assignment for any hockey announcer by getting the Seattle Kraken home opener (Oct. 23) against Vancouver. Although he had not called an NHL game on national TV since 2004, you would have sworn that he calls them all the time. He needed to be in Seattle anyway, because, as coincidence had it, he was there to also call his usual Monday Night Football game (10/25) with the Seahawks hosting New Orleans.


CHICAGO: WSCR 670 The Score has a multi-year extension in place for Bulls broadcasts to continue. The Score has been airing the Bulls since 2018. Chuck Swirsky, now in his 14th season as radio voice of the team, will continue in his role. 


WASHINGTON D.C.: A familiar name for the locals, Steve Buckhantz, is returning to NBC Sports Washington. He will serve as analyst for this coming Saturday's (10/30) telecast of James Madison vs. Elon, working with Curt Dudley, who will call the game. Buckhantz is expected to be added to more games in the near future.