Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Big Game Lacks The Typical Big Audience

If they executives of the major pro sports are not concerned about their ability to generate billions of dollars of income without opening the gates, they should be now. It has been one thing to have had regular season and early post-season ratings down across each of the sports since last March. But now that the Super Bowl ratings dropped, the ramifications could be coming over the next couple of years.

The Tampa Bay win over Kansas City finished as the lowest rated Super Bowl telecast since 2007, becoming only the 2nd telecast since then to generate under 100 million viewers. The audience was down roughly six million from last year's game.

Going in to this game, all signs pointed to record high audiences, even without the added drama of Brady vs. Mahomes for the championship. The pandemic caused far more people than usual to be at home or in limited gatherings to watch the game. The ratings of past years do not reflect the number of people viewing from large gatherings such as restaurants and bars. With millions fewer patronizing such establishments, there should have been an increase.

In addition, there was one more important factor. This year, betting on and around the "big game" was legal in many states along with online betting services able to advertise prominently within sports related programming. Point spreads and prop bets were more commonly discussed via the various media outlets.

Estimates in past years were that billions of dollars changed hands, whether legal or otherwise, because of the game. This includes the ability to bet on topics such as the length of the national anthem, last player to score, the coin toss, and so on.

These lower audience numbers happened despite including a record number of streaming minutes of the CBS telecast. Reports show that this was the first sports event ever to generate more than one billion streaming minutes, finishing with a "per minute" average of more than 5.5 million "streamers".

Despite these factors which were expected to add significantly to the audience, viewership was down. It means that during the pandemic, all four major sports have now experienced declines in championship series ratings. The leagues and teams cannot point to fans being in the stands or large gatherings to view.

All of this will make it tough for the TV networks to bid the billions of dollars they typically do or did. They are already faced with economic cutbacks and reduced advertising budgets from many large companies.

For that very reason, this could be a significant development in the sports world. The first major test figures to be the NHL, which needs to put a new deal in place before the 2021-22 season. NBC's deal runs out after the current season, while NBCSN will be going away sometime after the current NHL season and playoffs end. Indications are that NBC will not be aggressive with renewal efforts. It will be interesting to see if or how much Fox Sports and ESPN compete for future NHL rights given the current viewership climate.

LOS ANGELES: It's rare to have the son retire before the dad, but Jorge Jarrin is doing just that. Jorge decided to retire from the Dodgers Spanish radio broadcast team following the team's World Series win. Although he was on the broadcast crew for only 6 seasons, he leaves behind a 35 year on-air career in L.A., including his long tenure as a traffic reporter for KABC 790. Jamie Jarrin, Jorge's father, continues as the primary Spanish play-by-play voice.

CHICAGO: WSCR 670 The Score has added long time host and producer Matt Spiegel back to its weekday lineup. Spiegel has been with the station for most of the past 28 years. He joins afternoon host Danny Parkins as co-host on the 2 to 6 PM shift after doing fill-in and weekends since 2018 when he was pulled from co-hosting middays.


MADISON: Bill Michaels, who left WSSP 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee last month, has jointed WOZN 96.7 and 1670 The Zone (Madison) for the 10 AM to 2 PM shift starting this week. His show is also airing on WAYY-AM Eau Claire and WKTY LaCrosse, with plans to add other regional markets.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

NBC Says NB See Ya To National Network

Some expected it and others were surprised, but the upcoming end of NBCSN will have an immediate impact on the sports media landscape. Despite some ratings success over the past couple of years, it appears that the pandemic caused the NBC brass to consolidate even more than they already have.

Staff cuts on its regional sports networks hit last summer, with another round since the first of the year. With NBCSN able to move any remaining sports programming to USA Network, they can reduce production staff and operation costs while not having to fill air time with wasted programming.

Back in the 80's, USA Network was a major sports presence on cable, more so than ESPN at the time. USA Network had Thursday Night Baseball with MLB doubleheaders, as well as NHL regular season and playoff telecasts. (This was where NHL fans first heard Doc Emrick calling games at the national level.)

This season is the final one of the NBC contract with the NHL. While NBC has done a superb job with its coverage, including showing every playoff game on one of its networks, the NHL remains the only one of the four major sports which has only one network controlling its telecasts. While it is possible that NBC retains its national game presence, it is also possible that Fox Sports would be a player, needing more content for FS1 and FS2.

Word is that NBCSN will go away during 2021. It is understandable that they do not have a date yet. Due to the pandemic, we are not sure if and when there will be Olympic Games in 2021. Nor are we certain that the NHL Playoffs would end in July as currently planned.

Events such as NASCAR and Premier League soccer would be assigned to USA Network. Speculation has its Peacock service also carrying some of the events via that platform. Peacock already carries roughly 175 matches currently.

It is not known, as of press time, how much (or how little) the impact of the pandemic was behind this decision. As we commented on last week, even with millions of people spending more time at home, viewership of the major sports is down from a year ago and beyond. This makes us wonder if we will see more cutbacks on all sports networks as a means of sending a message to the pro leagues that rights fees may start to decline during upcoming negotiations.

Over at ESPN, it's looking like the Monday Night Football broadcast crew might be staying in place for more than the one season. Word is that Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick have passed the audition and will be brought back for at least the 2021 season. Word is that ESPN is looking to add the just retired Philip Rivers to its roster of analysts. Hard to imagine Rivers being added and not made a part of the network's weekly telecast.

While CBS prepares for the Super Bowl telecast, there is more emphasis this time around on making its streaming of the game more readily available. Finally, it will be available without additional cost. Viewers will be able to stream the game on CBSSports.com, Yahoo Sports, along with Verizon Media for its customers. ESPN Deportes will air the Spanish version.

Meanwhile, VIZIO has now joined Samsung in having a variety of sports apps available to their Smart TV owners. VIZIO now has free channels available including NFL Channel (different from NFL Network), CBS Sports App, and the Pac 12 Insider. Samsung allows Smart TV owners to access paid apps such as MLB for its owners.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

To Be Frank, It's A Big Loss For Detroit Sports Radio

It's looking more like watching football on TV during the pandemic is not the golden goose for ratings and advertising revenue the major networks were expecting. This past weekend, the impact (actually the lack thereof) was felt on both the NFL and college football scene.

The NFL Wild Card Weekend (Jan. 9 & 10) featured six telecasts for the first time ever. Although the Chicago vs. New Orleans game on 1/10 was the most watched NFL game since last year's Super Bowl, the ratings were actually down roughly 15% over the same playoff  window last year. It did become CBS' most watched Wild Card game since San Diego vs. Cincinnati in 2014.

The ESPN/ABC telecast of the Baltimore vs. Tennessee game was down from last year in both ratings and viewership, although the ABC simulcast was up from last year's. Over at NBC, the Sunday night Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh telecast did well, but its Saturday prime time game with Tampa Bay vs. Washington was down more than 30% in both ratings and viewership from the same window last year.

The Fox telecast of L.A. vs. Seattle on Saturday wound up as its lowest rated Wild Card telecast since 1998.

However, the lower viewership is not a result of expanded playoffs and having consecutive days with triple headers. The NFL's combined regular season ratings were down roughly 7% from the previous season and about 2% from the 2018 regular season. While Fox led the overall ratings, they showed an overall decrease of more than 5% from 2019. The CBS telecasts were down roughly 4% from 2019, with its lowest average since 2017. NBC's Sunday Night Football had its "least watched" season since 2008, dropping around 18% overall. One positive for NBC is that SNF did finished as the night's highest rated prime time program, which could be due to the increased amount of reruns and one-time specials due to the pandemic.

It wasn't just the NFL suffering from lower viewership. The Alabama vs. Ohio State college championship game on Monday (1/11) is now the lowest rated and least watched of the national title games. The decline was roughly 28% in ratings compared with last year. In this case, there are other likely contributing factors. The game itself was a blowout, and came on the heels of the six NFL playoff telecasts over the previous two days. This point is bolstered by the fact that both the Alabama and Ohio State New Year's Day bowl game wins to reach the championship each had higher ratings than their championship match.

These viewership and ratings declines are not only happening with football. During the pandemic, the recent World Series ratings were  down roughly 30% from 2019, the NBA Finals down about 49%, and the Stanley Cup Finals were down by more than 60%. Both the NBA and NHL Finals were held more than three months later than traditionally scheduled.

Meanwhile, as the NHL season gets underway, NBC made it official that analyst Mike Milbury is gone after 14 seasons in his role with the network. This could be due to politically incorrect comments made during a telecast from the bubble. Jeremy Roenick is also gone from his NBC analyst role as a result of comments made on a podcast.

Although John Forslund called play-by-play of NBCSN's featured opening night game between Chicago and Tampa Bay with Eddie Olczyk, the network has yet to proclaim a #1 announcer to fully replace the partially retired Doc Emrick. Brendan Burke and Kenny Albert will share in the spotlight for the time being.

DETROIT: It's hard to imagine Detroit sports without Frank Beckmann, but after 48 years with WJR 760 fans are going to have to start getting used to it. Beckmann remains the only person to have broadcast games for the Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, and Pistons. In addition, he also called U. of Michigan football for 33 seasons upon succeeding Bob Ufer for the 1981 season.

Beckmann's last show is currently scheduled for March 26th. He has hosted the 9 AM to Noon spot on WJR for the past 18 years. Best wishes to Frank!

CHICAGO: White Sox TV play-by-play voice Jason Benetti has been named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year. Over on the radio side, with the broadcasts moving back to WMVP ESPN 1000 for the coming season, Connor McKnight has been named as the studio host. He will also fill in on play-by-play, which will be a first for him, for approximately 25 games. Those will be the games that new radio voice Len Kasper will shift to the TV booth and fill in for Benetti, who continues assignments for ESPN.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Trying Out The Extra NFL Playoff Games

The #7 seeds in the NFL Playoffs will really be playing for more than their own post-season survival this coming weekend (1/9 and 1/10). Considered to be a temporary addition of one more playoff team from each Conference because of the pandemic (even though teams all played the usual 16 games), this will be the first time we get six playoff games in one weekend. It has been four games over recent years.

If the ratings are strong enough, chances are expanded playoffs will become a regular occurrence. Yet, it's not as certain as we would all think. The Week 17 ratings, with playoff seedings still to be decided and so many people staying home, were not what the networks would have hoped.

The fact that most markets had both early and late games from both Fox and CBS may have saturated things. Yet, only one of the four time slots (two on each network) showed a ratings increase on Dec. 27th. This was the Fox telecast of the Bears vs. the Packers, with both teams needing a win. This telecast went to roughly 75% of the markets. NFL ratings have not been as strong as anticipated throughout the regular season.

Theories on why include the overlap of pro sports well into the NFL season and some fans not wanting to watch during the pandemic. What happens with ratings for the post-season, and, of course, the Super Bowl will be quite interesting.

Westwood One will be broadcasting all six NFL playoff games this weekend nationally to participating stations. Kevin Harlan will call the prime time games on both Saturday and Sunday for Westwood One, making him the only broadcaster to call more than one of those games. That includes analysts. Ron Jaworski joins Harlan on Saturday for the Tampa Bay vs. Washington game, while Tony Boselli will work with him on the Cleveland at Pittsburgh game on Sunday. Both prime time games will be on NBC, with Mike Torico calling the Saturday game and Al Michaels the Sunday one.

Sports talk radio lost one of its pioneers earlier this week with the passing of Tom Bigby at the age of 76. Bigby is most known for having developed WIP-FM Philadelphia into the sports talk giant it still is during his 15 years there. He also worked with leading sports stations such as WXYT 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit and KRLD 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. Whether in one of those markets to listen one of "his" stations or not, listeners of sports talk radio across the country will always have Bigby to thank for it.

The sports media also lost another major contributor last week . Those who go back to the days of Baseball Digest, Hockey Digest, and books about sports will likely remember George Vass. George passed away in the Chicago area at the age of 93. Vass was more well known in Chicago, having reported for the Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times from 1958 to 1994. He was a baseball beat writer (White Sox and Cubs) in the 60's and 70's.

CHICAGO: On a much happier note in Chicago, Leila Rahimi becomes the first woman to co-host a weekday show on WSCR The Score 670. She was named to co-host the 9 AM to Noon spot along with Dan Bernstein full-time after being well received in her weekly stint during that time started this past September. She had been with NBC Sports Chicago, being a victim of their cost-cutting layoffs last summer.

WISCONSIN: Milwaukee's WRNW 97.3 The Game is now being simulcast from 6 AM to 6 PM on Rhinelander 101.3 The Game. The station is airing Fox Sports Radio during the evenings and overnights.

PROVIDENCE: WPRO-AM and WEAN-FM have cut back on their sports programming, reducing from three hours on weeknights to only one hour. As a result, Andy Gresh does his final show for the stations on Jan. 8th. Kevin McNamara, sports reporter for the Providence Journal, will host the one hour of sports talk from 6 to 7 PM starting on Monday.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Flex Works For The Fans

The increase in switching NFL telecasts between CBS and Fox this season rewards fans that only have access to their locally televised games on this final weekend of the regular season. The best example is CBS having the Arizona vs. L.A. Rams telecast instead of Fox, and understandably making it the primary doubleheader game (Jan. 3). This allowed the NFL to shift the Green Bay vs. Chicago game to the 4:25 ET spot and enable Fox to make it the primary doubleheader game. Week 17 is highlighted by both networks getting a doubleheader game.

Because of the flexing, fans can follow both telecasts, which determine the final NFC playoff participants. Fox also has the New Orleans vs. Carolina game, along with the Seattle vs. San Francisco telecast going regional, and at the same time. These games will determine the top three seeds in the NFC in a season in which only the #1 seed gets a post-season bye week.

There is one irony to the Fox late game window. As of press time, the Phoenix market is scheduled to receive the Green Bay vs. Chicago telecast instead of the San Francisco vs. Seattle telecast. Because of the 49ers having to relocate their games due to Covid restrictions, that game is being played in Glendale AZ (the stadium which is home to the Cardinals).

MINNEAPOLIS: KYCR 1440 starts the new year by expanding the air time of Eric Nelson and Wally Langfellow. Instead of only a Friday night and weekend sports talk show, "Ten Thousands Takes" begins Monday (1/4), airing from 5 to 6 PM weekdays. There will also be a live show most Saturdays at Noon. The pair have co-hosted since 2002. Langfellow, known more for his studio hosting during North Stars broadcasts in the 80's on WCCO, continues to do high school play-by-play on KYCR.

TAMPA: WDAE has announced its new co-hosting team for afternoons, moving Jay Recher to team with former Buccaneer Ian Beckles. Recher has been with WDAE since 2014. He will continue with his role on USF football studio coverage.

Finally, thanks for all of the nice holiday greetings. The plan is to return to regular posts during 2021 as we all recover from the pandemic. 

Let's make this a great year!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Watch Half Of The NFL Games Live

This coming weekend offers the rare chance for NFL fans to watch half of the scheduled games entirely. We have the Christmas Day game, followed by a triple header on Saturday, although the middle game requires Amazon Prime in order to view outside of the local markets. Then, it's usual three games available in each market on Sunday, and the finale of Monday Night football to wrap it all up. That is a total of eight opportunities to view an entire game, with 16 games on the schedule.

The Amazon Prime stream on Saturday will be the first stream for Prime of a game not being shown nationally, which has been streaming Thursday Night Football since 2017. The game will also be available on the NFL and Yahoo Sports mobile apps. In addition, Amazon Prime will stream the Jan. 10th Wild Card playoff game which will be produced by CBS. This Saturday's game will be seen in San Francisco on KNTV and in Phoenix on KSAZ Fox 10.

Meanwhile, the drought is over and football is no longer the only major sport still going now that the NBA season is underway. Many cable/satellite subscribers enjoy a free preview of the NBA package through December 29th, although not every carrier promotes this. If you are an NBA fan, it is worth checking to see if you can get every game for the next few days at no additional cost.

DETROIT: A huge Christmas present for 97.1 The Ticket, as the station gets a brand new multi-year contract as flagship station for the Lions after a five year absence. It appears that the ownership change (from CBS to Entercom) made a huge difference to the Lions, which reportedly left The Ticket after the 2015 season over criticism of the team on its talk shows.

The significance for the station is that, once again, it is home to all four major Detroit sports teams. Of course, with the delayed start of the current NBA and NHL seasons, the station is facing continuing conflicts for game broadcasts during April and May when the Tigers, Pistons, and Red Wings are all scheduled to be in full gear.

NASHVILLE: A blow to WRPT 102.5 The Game with the announcement that Floyd Reese has left his afternoon drive co-hosting gig after more than five years. The former GM of the Titans (and Oilers before their move to Nashville) for 16 seasons stated that he "decided to take a step back" while thanking station management. Jared Stillman remains as afternoon co-host, with the show now airing as "Stillman and Company" instead of "Stillman and the GM". As of press time, there has been no announcement about a regular replacement for Reese.

NEW ORLEANS: WWL 870 has its 4 to 8 PM show back to full throttle with the return (last week) of Kristian Garic as co-host along with Bobby Herbert. Garic, co-hosting for nearly three years, continues to host the studio coverage surrounding Saints broadcasts, as he has done for the past nine seasons. It was Garic who revealed that treatment for alcoholism was the reason for his nearly one month absence

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Al Michaels Might Lose His Week Off, But He Might Not

 UPDATE: The Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore game would now be played on Wednesday afternoon Dec. 2nd on NBC.

This telecast would also impact NBC's announcer schedule. If the Steelers-Ravens game is played, it would be Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth on the call. The pair originally was to have been off for this entire week. Mike Torico and Tony Dungy were scheduled to call both the Thanksgiving telecast and then the Chicago at Green Bay game on Sunday Night Football.

Meanwhile, the NFL has announced its Week 15 (Dec. 19th) selections for the Saturday doubleheader. Again this season, both games will appear only on NFL Network other than the local markets. The AFC game will be Buffalo at Denver at 4:30 PM ET, with its NFC telecast in prime time (8:15 PM ET) between Carolina and Green Bay.

As much as fans would like to be there, let's take the hunch that they wont mind as much to not be able to attend at night game in Green Bay in mid-December.

While we await word on the likelihood of the NBA starting its season, the ever-thinning line between sports betting and the leagues and teams continues. The Memphis Grizzlies announced a "multi-year sports betting partnership" with betting service FanDuel. This Agreement reportedly includes sports betting content being integrated into local Grizzlies telecasts.

The added significance to this deal is that, as of now, Tennessee does not have any casinos.

On the MLB side, reports have ESPN working on renewing its telecast deal with MLB, which expires after the 2021 season. The word is that ESPN is looking to reduce its number of telecasts, and be able to hand pick more of the games it shows. One possible result is that Sunday Night Baseball would continue, but scheduled Monday and Wednesday night telecasts would not.

CHICAGO: The White Sox have changed radio stations again after having been heard on 3 different flagship stations over the past 8 seasons. The broadcasts will return to WMVP ESPN 1000, which previously hosted the games from 1999 through 2005. This comes after WGN Radio declined its option to renew. There has been no word, as of press time, as to whether or not Andy Mazur or Darrin Jackson will return as the broadcast team.

WLS-TV has extended the contract of sports reporter Dionne Miller for another four years.