Monday, March 2, 2015

What The Fox (Sports)?

Fox Sports 1 is struggling enough to gain an audience, and now appears to be adding to its woes by suddenly seeking to increase the cost to providers and, of course, ultimately to the consumers. How dare they?

AT&T U-verse, which has an estimated six million subscribers nationally, has taken a stance against Fox Sports which is designed to put the blame on Fox, and it is effective immediately.
FS1 is, most of the time, starved for quality content which would attract a decent sized audience.

What little quality "big league" content they do offer is buried with minimal publicity, as has been noted by The Broadcast Booth over the past couple of years. The network has been making a better effort of late, acquiring a series of NASCAR races, several USGA golf tournaments, MLS soccer, and has been televising some Big East Basketball games.

However, Fox Sports is reportedly asking "extra costs" from cable/satellite providers because of the NASCAR, USGA, and Big East events effective immediately. This is an outrage. Neither the fans, consumers forced to pay rising cable/satellite monthly costs, or the providers asked Fox Sports to spend the additional millions of dollars to secure these events. Fox Sports should have done so at its own risk.

In response to this, AT&T, which provides U-Verse (an estimated six million subscribers nationally), issued an official statement about this on Friday (2/27):

“Fox Sports 1 is asking AT&T to pay additional fees for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Big East Basketball Games, as well as U.S. Golf Association tournaments. While it’s important to us that we provide our customers with the content they want, we don’t believe that it is reasonable to pass on the added costs of carrying this programming to our customer. Our strategy has always been to carry the sports our customers want most, but only through fair deals for our customers and our business. We won’t agree to a deal that would cause our customers to pay unreasonable rates.”

Fox Sports did not have the full rights to these events at the time the current deal with AT&T U-Verse was agreed to. However, we would think that NASCAR, the USGA, and The Big East Conference took the multi-million dollar offer from Fox Sports based on expecting the coverage which Fox Sports had.

As much as I like AT&T taking this stance, it is still the consumer that loses out. This means that even though AT&T continues to charge its subscribers a certain amount for "24 hour service" of Fox Sports 1, its blacking out of these events means that consumers will actually be receiving incomplete service. We have yet to see AT&T reducing its monthly cost to consumers because of this.

Back to this issue. With losing millions of subscribers "lost" for these events, FS1 would stand to lose potential advertiser revenue, since those advertisers would not be reaching the intended audience. At the same time, Fox Sports loses some rare opportunities to grow to toward having a respectable audience. However, NASCAR, the USGA, and the Big East also lose out on the live TV exposure even though they take in the millions of dollars.

Reports indicate that the negotiations between Fox Sports and AT&T are continuing. Sorry, Fox Sports, but there should not be any negotiation whatsoever. It is not AT&T's fault, nor is it the consumers' fault, that they bid too much for these rights.

There is still another media story which is a cause for concern making news this week. The announcement of a "multi-year official marketing partnership" between INDYCAR and USA Today. The publication plans to develop "special sections" within selected editions specific to INDYCAR racing.

While this additional "coverage" will not cost racing fans anything extra, it raises the question about what might happen to the USA Today coverage in the event of a negative incident happening specific to an INDYCAR event or participant.

Elsewhere, on a positive note, the NBA allowing fans to vote for their pick of most Tuesday night NBA TV telecasts is paying dividends for the hardcore fans. For this Tuesday (3/3), the fans voted in the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks. Most fans realize this is clearly the headline game of the night. Yet, despite Atlanta leading the Eastern Conference for much of this season, the team has been practically invisible on the national telecasts, even recently when ESPN and TNT have been flexing their telecast schedules.

This also comes after ABC/ESPN ignored the NBA on the previous Sunday (2/22) with no telecasts (for no reason) going up against the NHL doubleheader which NBC showed that same afternoon. Some local markets benefitted that day, such as Cleveland. The FS Ohio telecast of the Cavaliers afternoon win finished as one of the three highest 'non prime-time' telecasts in the history of that network. This is even more significant considering that the win was over the lowly Knicks as opposed to being a prime matchup.

On this past Sunday (3/1), ABC/ESPN carried a live tripleheader, including the Cav's overtime loss to Houston, while NBC returned the favor by not airing even a single national NHL telecast. The "argument" that NBC aired the Rangers vs. Flyers game in prime time on Saturday (2/28) instead does not fly here. The prime time telecast would have been an ideal promotion for one or two more games the following afternoon.

In both instances, it hurts because there are many casual fans who think to tune in on a Sunday and do not always find a telecast, so they find something else to watch.

Meanwhile, sorry to report the loss of three members of the sports media over the past few days.

Former minor league baseball play-by-play voice Dale McConachie died last week following an auto accident in the Portland OR area at the age of 55. McConachie was the voice of the Portland Beavers in the 90's, after having called games for the AA Albany Patroons (managed by Buck Showalter in the late 80's).

The former sports editor of the Kent-Ravenna (OH) Record-Courier of 37 years, Pershing Rohrer, died at the age of 96. Rohrer had retired as the full-time Sports Editor in 1989 (after taking the job in 1952), but continued to work part-time in the sports department until the very end.

Earl Williams, the former voice of North Dakota State football and basketball from 1966 through 1981, passed away in Fargo at age 79. Williams was also co-host of WDAY-AM's "The Earl and Don Show" in morning drive, and had also worked at KVOX-AM.

LOS ANGELES: The local TV ratings for the NHL vary quite a bit in this market. Oddly, the Kings vs. Ottawa telecast on Fox Sports West last week (2/24) somehow wound up as the highest rated Kings telecast of this entire season to date. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues as playoff time nears.

Even though SportsNet LA is still not available to the majority of cable/satellite subscribers in Southern California as the Dodgers begin spring training games on Wednesday, the network is televising every exhibition game as planned. Ironically, MLB Network is picking up several of the Dodgers telecasts for its national audience (although most will be blacked out in the L.A. area anyway), including the first two games. The Dodgers opener will air on delay in prime time on Wednesday, while the second game will air live on Thursday (3/5) on MLB Network at 3 PM ET. It is too bad, but understandable, that Vin Scully will not be calling these games, as he will not join the broadcast team until the final week of spring training.

PORTLAND: In a market with only one pro sports team but four sports radio stations, KPOJ 620 is adding a local morning drive sports show beginning next Monday (3/9). "Rip City Mornings With Bunker & Danforth" will air from 6 to 9 AM, including Taylor Danforth, who was midday host on KFXX until one month ago (2/4).

Andy Bunker comes to Portland by way of KIRO Seattle. KFXX, meanwhile, has yet to replace Danforth on its Noon to 3 PM show, which now has two hosts (instead of three), Andy Johnson and Brandon Sprague. KPOJ is the flagship station of the Trailblazers.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Diamondback In The Rough?

Since when are the Arizona Diamondbacks telecasts in huge demand? Maybe I missed something along the way, but the recent agreement the Diamondbacks received for ongoing TV rights seems beyond comprehension. It seems that Fox Sports has extended its TV contract for Fox Sports Arizona to continue to show the Diamondbacks games regionally in what is reportedly a contract in the long term neighborhood of $1 billion total.

There was no indication about any other network (or local station) which would have driven up the bidding. I don't recall seeing the D-backs as being among the teams with the highest rated local telecasts over the course of a season. Where else were their games going to go?
I'm not sure there is enough interest specifically in the Diamondbacks to justify this. Sure, there are a ton of baseball fans, especially in the Phoenix area. Many of them are transplants from the east and Midwest who follow the game and/or their favorite team by watching the Diamondbacks games on a regular basis.

However, with another increase in rights fees, it would appear that, like with most teams or leagues, the fans will be asked (or more accurately, TOLD) to pay even more each month to their provider in order to receive Fox Sports Arizona. Just one year after the fiasco with Dodgers fans in Southern California not being able to see the majority of games, we have the potential for "negotiations" for the showing of these telecasts in Arizona.

Without a large enough audience to justify higher advertising costs, Fox Sports would "need to" charge still more and more to the providers for their network. In turn, those providers that accept will turn around and force the customers (fans or not) to pay even more each month. I'm not seeing enough "demand" or tradition that would create a huge impact if people couldn't watch the majority of Diamondbacks games. It is hard to believe that Fox Sports is this desperate to own the rights to this many MLB teams.

We move on to another announcer "suspension", with the Tuesday (2/24) announcement by ESPN that Keith Olbermann is "suspended" from hosting his TV show for the remainder of the current week. Not because of anything said on the air.

Instead, the suspension comes as a result of a Twitter barrage regarding some seemingly insensitive comments Olbermann made regarding a charity effort to some Penn State students. From here, it appears that this is another instance of the punishment not fitting the crime.

While I did not like Olbermann's Twitter comments either, the punishment should have been to "suspend" him from social media for the week following his apology. His remarks were not on the air, yet the network now, in effect, punishes the viewers by not having Olbermann on during four days he is scheduled to be. The viewers didn't do anything wrong - nor would they be aware of Keith's Twitter comments unless they also saw them via social media.

On the basketball court, ESPN's telecast of the North Carolina vs. Duke overtime game last week finished as the family of networks' most watched college basketball game of the season. The national ratings were significantly higher than the previous meeting between these same teams.

Back over at Fox Sports, struggling Fox Sports 1 has come up with a new weekend show to air on Sunday nights and to be hosted, starting on March 15, by Katie Nolan. Nolan, a former bartender who somehow wound up on their short-lived "Crowd Goes Wild" show working with Regis Philbin, will host "Garbage Time With Katie Nolan". Let's give Fox Sports 1 some credit on this one for incorporating the name "Garbage Time" into its fresh content.

CHARLOTTE: WEND 106.5 has stepped up for NASCAR coverage in a hub market, and will now air 38 NASCAR races, including the entire Sprint Cup Series starting this month. "End 106.5" is a music station during the rest of the week.

NEW YORK: Just in time for spring training broadcasts to begin (next week), WOR 710 has finally replaced Seth Everett as its studio host and occasional play-by-play voice for its Mets broadcasts. Wayne Randazzo comes over from Chicago's WSCR The Score to provide the studio pre and post-game shows, along with handling some play-by-play for games that Josh Lewin will miss due to network schedule conflicts. Howie Rose continues as the lead voice of the Mets, with the first broadcast for all scheduled for March 4th from Florida.

HOUSTON: No word, as of press time, about a new Program Director and/or midday co-host for sports stations KFNC 97.5 and KGOW 1560. Dave Tepper has bailed from those positions at the low rated stations in order to relocate to KOZN 1620 and KZOT 1180 in Omaha and become Operations Manager for those Nebraska based sports stations. Tepper most recently was paired with former NFL QB Sean Salisbury in Houston.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WTEM ESPN 980 has announced a new and local morning show which will begin on March 16th from 6 to 10 AM. "The Man Cave" will be co-hosted by Chris Paul (not the NBA star) and Jason Reid. Paul has been on in the D.C. market regularly over the years, while Reid had been, among his duties, the Redskins beat writer for the Washington Post and NFL writer for Word is that this new show will not be entirely focused on sports.

CLEVELAND: The TV ratings for the Cavaliers on Fox Sports Ohio are feeling the immediate impact of the return of LeBron James through mid-season. The Cavs have risen to have both the second highest local team telecast ratings in the NBA, while showing the second biggest percentage increase of overall audience compared with last season.
For the first half of the current season, only the defending champion San Antonio Spurs have a higher average local audience rating for their telecasts, while only the Milwaukee Bucks are showing a bigger percentage over last season's average.

CHAMPAIGN IL: WDWS-AM and WHMS-FM have expanded their University of Illinois sports commitment through the 2016-17 season. U of I football and basketball will continue to air as a simulcast on both stations. WDWS continues its participation to the point of also airing volleyball, baseball, and softball broadcasts.

COLUMBIA SC: WGCV 105.1 is bringing the pairing of Teddy Heffner and Rick Sanford back as a morning sports show this week from 7 to 9 AM, with the possibility of adding sister station WGCV-AM 620 as well. Once this happens, it would mean this market would have two local sports shows in the morning, going up against WKNT The Game 107.5

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sports Radio On The Rebound

The radio station ratings start to matter again as the holiday ratings period is officially behind us for the major markets. The month of January was good for news and sports stations (for the most part), including a noteworthy jump by WSCR The Score in Chicago. What adds to the significance is the fact that sports stations generally did not gain from competing stations.

In Boston, WBZ-FM Sports Hub rose significantly from a 5.1 to a 6.9 rating in just the one month, and is now tied for #2 overall in the competitive market.  (3.7 to 5.1) However, the Sports Hub did not cut into rival WEEI-FM's audience one bit. In fact, WEEI-FM rose from a 3.7 to a 5.1 rating during the same period, good for #7 overall. As a result, they combine for what appears to be the highest combined ratings for sports radio in Boston history.

In NYC, WFAN 66 The Fan rose to #7 overall in the market, while WEPN held steady and did not crack the top 20 stations list. In San Francisco, the hot season by the Warriors seems to have picked up for the lack of 49ers and Giants games as KNBR 680 went up from a 3.6 to a 4.3 rating in just the one month, putting back into the Bay Area's top 5 most listened to stations for the January 2015 ratings period.

Even Atlanta and Houston showed some growth from their leading sports stations, with WZGC-FM The Game in Atlanta jumping up to #16 overall from 2.3 to a respectable 3.0. Yet, WQXI 790 turned in a mere .3, barely 10% of The Game's audience. Houston's KILT hit the market's top 20 list with a 2.3 overall rating (#19 overall), which is at least one full ratings point better than any of the other three struggling sports outlets there.

As mentioned, WSCR 670 The Score in Chicago 'scored' with record high ratings in some demographics, moving up to #9 overall in the market with a 3.4 rating. WMVP ESPN 1000 also gained during January, edging up from 1.4 in December to 1.8 for January. (More about WSCR later.)

Detroit listeners returned to WXYT-FM The Ticket, even with the local sports scene being relatively calm, as it went from a 6.2 to a 7.0 rating, good for #2 in the market (behind news station WWJ). Baltimore's WJZ-FM rose to #4 overall as well. while Seattle's KIRO also rose significantly up to #6 overall, obviously helped by the Seahawks' Super Bowl run.

Even in San Diego, XPRS-AM rose to a 3.6 rating, putting it into that market's top 10 most listened to stations.

Well, not every major market did well with sports. In Los Angeles, KSPN failed to show up in the market's top 25 most listened to stations, yet still more than doubled Dodgers flagship (with no games, obviously, this time of year) KLAC 570. Even with the Clippers radio and having moved to full-time sports last fall, KFWB 980 came in with a miniscule .2 overall.

More nice work from the folks at Classic TV Sports, who actually take the time to investigate sports media stories, especially the facts. Earlier this week, several media outlets picked up on the "story" about the UNC vs. Duke basketball game being shown nationally via ESPN, and how Dick Vitale was not assigned to the game. Several stories, including one by the Tampa Bay Times, picked up by (as opposed to "reported" by) different sources, claimed that this would be the first time Vitale has not been assigned to this matchup going back to ESPN's beginnings back in 1979.

The Raleigh News & Observer went further, quoting Vitale about being a "team player" and "going where my bosses tell me to go" regarding going to help call Tuesday's (2/17) Kentucky vs. Tennessee telecast on ESPN instead.

Classic TV Sports later disputed this, pointing out that ESPN assigned Brent Musberger and Jim Valvano to this telecast back on March 7, 1993 (instead of Vitale), and then put a video clip of this telecast on its web site as proof.

While I give a ton of credit to Classic TV Sports, it needs to be pointed out that THIS is why I get so upset at media that merely "reports" what someone else is "reporting" and fails to confirm or deny based on their own resources. It makes me wonder how many other sports (or general news) stories we have all accepted as fact that really are not totally accurate. The writers in Tampa and Raleigh should be mighty thankful that I am not their boss this week.

Baseball fans begin counting down the days as spring training camps open this week, and MLB Network has announced an even bigger increase in its spring training coverage. In addition to its annual "30 Teams In 30 Days" feature, MLB Network has announced its schedule of, get this, 200 spring training telecasts including at least one live game every day for the entire month.

CHICAGO: While WSCR 670 The Score rides its high ratings, which figure to stay in place as the Blackhawks and Bulls race toward the playoffs and the White Sox and Cubs figure to have better seasons, will debut its new midday show on Monday (2/23). Jason Goff, earlier let go from his Atlanta gig, will return to The Score, this time as co-host with Matt Spiegel weekdays from 9 AM to 1 PM.

On the TV side, Comcast SportsNet Chicago is maintaining its high profile Chicago Bears coverage this week. Based on the increased local interest since the Bears changed General Manager and Head Coach, the network has not one, but TWO of its reporters assigned to Indianapolis to report on the NFL Draft Combine as it relates to the Bears. The network also has hired Vincent Goodwill as its new beat reporter for the Bulls, starting within the week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The High Cost of Watching Our Teams

The "How much more is it going to cost sports fans to watch the games?" question continues in much of the sports media news of the past week. The pro leagues and teams are already doing their best to stay one step ahead, as they see that more and more consumers are giving up their cable or satellite service due to rising costs.

It looks like new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred knows how important the TV revenue stream is, based on his interview with Forbes Magazine since taking over office. He somehow managed to place blame on distribution rights to the telecasts, acting as though MLB actually wants to help the fans in this regard.

Yet, at that very same time, MLB is "in negotiations" with Fox Sports regarding distribution rights for its own MLB packages within the Fox regional sports networks' territories. It is all about streaming rights for the "local" telecasts which Fox has the rights for. It is actually an issue because MLB Advanced Media wants to maintain control to stream these games via their MLB-TV pay package, which the Fox regional networks currently cannot do. This impacts an average of one-third of all regular season telecasts. If MLB winds up with streaming rights for Fox Sports telecasts, it would mean that consumers could possibly avoid paying Fox Sports or one of its providers for those games.

While it is understandable that Fox wants to protect its large investment, the point is that as of now consumers paying extra for the MLB package (whether the Extra Innings package via cable/satellite providers or the MLB-TV streaming capability) cannot access every game due to local blackout restrictions. This, in effect, forces consumers to pay for cable/satellite to view the local team telecasts (if they are interested in doing so), which means that fans are paying extra twice in order to have access to every live telecast.

At the same time, this week's story about the large number Comcast customer service issues is the latest factor in delaying review of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Not that anyone is in a hurry about that, but for Dodgers fans it adds to the stalling off of getting Dodgers telecasts on to any more cable/satellite systems with the new season now less than 60 days from starting.

The Dodgers situation has a lot more to do with MLB than MLB lets on. Reports are that MLB already received the bulk of its share of the funds for the 25 year huge contract, so it is not like they would want to renegotiate. If the merger happens, Comcast would likely expand the distribution, as they have done for their own (Comcast's) regional sports networks. TWC continues to hold the line or offer arbitration which means they would receive a pre-determined amount which may not be good for consumers either. Now with this merger possibility stalled again, it looks bleak for local TV again this season in the L.A. area.

All while MLB "negotiates" with Fox Sports and acts frustrated about the Dodgers TV situation.
The passing of Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, brings to mind how much he and his organization shaped sports media and the coverage of all things NFL. Fans over the age of 40, who go back to the days before cable TV came along, recall how NFL Films helped make football the "national" game that it is.

Innovations such as "The NFL Game of the Week" TV show made a huge impact. This was back before fans could see extensive highlights of out of market games. Giving fans in Ohio the ability to watch close up, slow motion, and ground level replays of a Dallas vs. San Francisco game (for example) was a huge factor in creating league wide interest. This type of film (video) helped to create interest in various teams around the league, instead of leaving fans with only highlights of the local team.

The NCAA Final Four telecasts will again be "Teamcast" on April 4th and 6th along with the regular national telecast. While Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill will call the main telecast, fans will also be able to watch the same telecast as described by each team's regular announcers and favoring their team. This remains a great idea, giving fans of the participating team the chance to hear their regular announcers while others have the regular national telecast. If any of the games turn into a blowout, it provides a chance for fans to sample the different announcing crew.

ESPN's College Game Day show for football season will have a new host, as Rece Davis will take over starting in August. Davis replaces Chris Fowler in the role, with Fowler having moved into a primary play-by-play role this past season. While it is understandable that ESPN likes the publicity and enthusiasm of bringing the show from different campuses, it would be nice if they reduced the number of panelists on location and had Davis be in their studio. Having a crowd screaming, cheering, and waving often becomes too much of a distraction from the information being presented.

ESPN again received the benefit of its publicity machine for no good reason on Feb. 3. Late that morning, the Chicago Sun-Times web site posted a "Breaking Sports" story that "an ESPN Blogger Predicts the Cubs to be better than the White Sox in 2015". How about the Sun-Times? Breaking this huge story more than two months before the regular season even starts. And before any of the baseball writer specialists it employs could make such a prediction.

This was not a "breaking sports" story anywhere, but ESPN also announced six MLB spring training telecasts for next month:

Thurs Mar 19 - NYY vs. Philly 7:00 ET
Tues Mar 24 - Atl vs. Philly 1 PM ET
Thurs Mar 26 - LAA vs. Cub 7 PM ET
Fri Mar 27 - Bost vs. Atl 1 PM ET
Thurs Apr - NYY vs. Det 1 PM ET

Moving from the front office into broadcasting took on a slightly different twist last week when former Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney, along with a partner, have leased WZGV 730 in Cramerton/Charlotte NC and WZGM 1350 in Ashville. In addition to running the stations, Hurney also co-hosts "Inside the Lines" from 1 to 3 PM weekdays on WZGV. I have a feeling there won't be very much disagreeing with him on the air moving forward.

Two major market sports stations are, coincidentally, losing their Program Directors during the first half of 2015. Jason Dixon has left Detroit's WMGC 105.1 and the struggle to come anywhere near The Ticket, which consistently ranks in the market's top three stations overall. Acquiring the rights to the Pistons broadcasts certainly didn't help, at least not this season as the team is struggling almost as much as the station.

Jason Barrett announced that he will be leaving his P.D. position at KGMZ 95.7 The Game no later than June when his contract expires. He was in a similar situation, with The Game miles behind the dominant KNBR 680.

NEW YORK: WEPN 98.7 has extended its contract to air both the Knicks and Rangers broadcasts, which they have done for the previous ten seasons. It remains to be seen whether or not WFAN will want to get in on winter sports local play-by-play or not, but it could well have that opportunity with the Islanders' planned move into Brooklyn for next season. Islanders NYC play-by-play rights have not been contracted for as of yet.

PHILADELPHIA: Tony Bruno has made a triumphant return to local radio, starting back as co-host of the WIP 94.1 afternoon show from 1 to 6 PM along with Josh Innes. Bruno, known nationally from his "Into The Night" syndicated show a few years back, was part of WIP's morning show (on 610 AM) with Angelo Cataldi in the early 90's. Cataldi, of course, is still on the station. Adding Bruno moves Rob Ellis back to the 6 to 10 PM shift on weeknights without play-by-play.

HARRISBURG: WHGB 96.5 (along with WGLD 1440 in York PA) have dropped Phillies baseball broadcasts effective immediately, although it has little to do with the team's horrible 2014 season. The stations became Washington Nationals affiliates, citing that the Nationals' AA team is based in Harrisburg. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Nationals are heavy favorites to win the Division and be well ahead of the Phillies in 2015. These stations become the only Nationals affiliates in Pennsylvania. The best the Phillies can do, so far, for their broadcasts in the region, is WLPA 92.7 in Starview PA.

SAN DIEGO: While Lee Hacksaw Hamilton awaits his next radio gig, Hamilton has joined XETV Channel 6 as a weekend sports anchor, following more than 25 years as a local sports talk host.

CHICAGO: With Cubs broadcasts about to begin on WBBM 780 (after thousands of years on WGN Radio), the station has named Mark Grote as host of its pre and postgame coverage along with providing scores and updates during the games. Grote, who comes back over to WBBM from sister station WSCR The Score, will also appear on WSCR reporting specifically on the Cubs.

Although the station is making its debut as the Cubs flagship, it only plans to broadcast the weekend spring training games, some of which go head-to-head against the NCAA Tournament games.

WSCR is about to begin its final season under the current contract to air the White Sox games. However, the station again plans what it calls "interactive broadcasts" for four of the few spring training games it plans to air. Once again, this is the only station to do such a thing, during which they stop the play-by-play after five innings to take phone calls on the air from fans while the game site. It's hard to believe they actually think that White Sox fans would rather hear what "Steve from the west side" thinks about the team than what their pitchers and hitters are actually doing at that moment. The games are either worth airing entirely or not at all, especially when there are 21 other hours in the day to merely take calls from listeners.

Comcast SportsNet is enjoying the success of the Chicago Bulls as much as the fans. The network's ratings for telecasts for the first three months of the current season are up more than 60% over the same period last season. In addition the network's pre and postgame shows are each up more than 35% over last season.

DETROIT: Fox Sports Detroit plans to rotate its game analysts this season, which means fewer games for long-timer Rod Allen. While Jack Morris will again handle a few games, FSD has added Kirk Gibson as an analyst for a still to be determined number of telecasts. It's too early to tell if Gibson's role will be determined by his on-air performance and fan reception or if he (Gibson) plans to pursue another job on the field.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Super Day of Comments, Too

Both the game and the NBC telecast were solid and worthy. For sports fans and the sports media, that should be enough, especially given the early indication of significant viewer ratings for this game. At the same time, social media was also more prominent than ever before when it comes to the "big game".

Reports indicate that Facebook had approximately 65 million users posting Super Bowl related comments on Sunday (2/1) only, mounting up to roughly 265 million posts. Twitter supposedly had 3.5 million more game related tweets vs. the 2014 game as well.

What is curious is that these totals include posts and comments made regarding the commercials shown during the telecast.

Of course the NBC ratings will be substantial. This year, compared with most others, the weather had a big impact on the number of viewers. Many major markets, including the Boston (and New England area) "home team" area, were getting and/or recovering from major snowstorms which kept millions of consumers at home to watch instead of going to parties and/or venues to watch.

Millions of people watching at sports bars go unmeasured compared with households, and the likes of NYC, Chicago, Detroit, and many other cities had an unusually higher number of "at home" viewers this time around. Obviously, this is also the reason for the increase in social media posts.

A large percentage of the social media posts focused on the commercials and the halftime show. Not to say these are not worthy of comment, but it makes me wonder how closely all of the viewers are paying attention to the game, and to NBC's telecast. Advertisers are paying millions of dollars for those commercials. If millions are commenting on them, how many are watching the "next" one in the break? How many actually saw the replays or analysis from NBC?

It's bad enough that NBC insists on having as many analysts on its studio segments as there are fans in the stands (or so it seems), but the huge social media impact does not bode well for the attention span of the millions of viewers.

ATLANTA: Even with the Falcon's sub .500 season, one year was enough for WZGC 92.9 The Game to extend its contract and remain the Falcons' flagship station for at least the next three seasons. WCNN 680 The Fan reportedly refused to raise its bid. Coincidentally, WZGC carried the Falcons from 2004 through 2011 when it was a rock music station.

LOS ANGELES: Like father like son, as the Dodgers Spanish radio broadcasts on KTNQ Radio will be handled by the father and son team of Jaime and Jorge Jarrin starting with the coming season. "Captain" Jorge, as he was known on traffic reports on KABC Radio for more than 20 years, joins his Hall of Fame broadcaster father Jaime, as Pepe Yniguez moves over to the TV side. Yniguez will call the Spanish telecasts on SportsNet L A (for those few who can actually receive them) along with Fernando Valenzuela and/or Manny Mota. The Spanish portion of the network plans to double the number of telecasts from 75 last season to about 150 this year.

CHICAGO: Now that football season is over, WSCR 670 The Score host Patrick Mannelly (a Bears player for 16 seasons) has given up his role as co-host of the stations 9 AM to 1 PM weekday show with Matt Spiegel. Mannelly will remain with and return to the station for the next NFL season. No word yet on a replacement, with speculation being that former host Dan McNeil, who did not re-sign with the station last summer and left that very time slot, would make a return to the show in the near future.

NEW YORK: The Mets telecasts on SNY will have a new pre and postgame analyst as former Met Bob Ojeda will not be returning as contract negotiations fell apart. Ojeda is expected to pursue other broadcasting opportunities.

OKLAHOMA CITY: OK City and the region will once again be able to see a steady diet of Texas Rangers baseball for the coming season. With the 25 game Friday night package of Rangers games about to vanish in most of Oklahoma, it turns out that Fox Sports Southwest will be airing 150 plus Rangers games. (This will be all games not exclusively nationally televised.) Steve Busby and Tom Grieve return as the Rangers TV broadcast team.

LANSING MI: From The Ticket to The Team for WQTX 92.1. The station is now known as "The Team", being forced to remove "The Ticket" from its name because WXYT-FM Detroit now has the Michigan trademark for that name. The programming and lineup remain the same, including airing University of Michigan basketball and football, local high school games, and minor league Lansing Lugnuts baseball.

ROME GA: Speaking of minor league baseball WGJK have signed a multi-season deal to air the Rome Braves starting on April 9th, with the broadcast team of Kevin Karel and Clarke Johnson.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Pro Leagues Generate Even More Sports Media Revenue....

Following your favorite sport is going from "You can't tell the players without a scorecard" to "You can't follow via the media without a scorecard". As we approach the Super Bowl, there seems to be this huge concern about multiple ways that fans can access highlights and updates, overlooking the fact that practically every TV anywhere will be tuned to the game as it happens.

NBC is promoting "Super Stream Sunday", allowing fans to watch the live stream of the game on desktop, laptop, and tablet computers with no "log in". This is also scheduled to include the pre-game and immediate post-game coverage. What NBC doesn't tell you is that it does not have the rights to streaming via mobile phone devices, and that is almost certain to cause some confusion and frustration among those fans who are away from a TV.

The NFL itself has also launched its own YouTube Channel which will include "in-game" highlights and eventually more features to it. What makes this curious is that the NFL has a revenue share with YouTube directly in this deal even though the highlights it will share come from its rights holders (TV networks) which have paid the NFL millions of dollars to have. The NFL gets by this because the 'in game' feature has to promote where local team viewers can watch the game, and make it appear this is a promotional vehicle for the network/stations airing the game. This deal also includes YouTube getting more prominent positioning for the NFL via Google, as if the league needs any more major visibility.

Along the media rights line, the NBA is also beefing up the attack, but in this instance it is international. The NBA has a new multi-season deal with BT Sport, which takes effect next season (2015-16). Up to seven live games every week will be shown in the UK and Ireland including every game of both conference finals and the championship series.

These are both instances where the leagues themselves are increasing direct revenue from additional vehicles to show their games to fans, ignoring the networks which pay them a collective billions of dollars. While consumers get asked to pay increased fees to the TV providers to watch the telecasts whether they are fans or not.

Speaking of the NBA, a great job by NBA-TV earlier this week of stepping in and changing its live game schedule at the last minute. Not long after the big blizzard caused postponement of Monday's (1/26) scheduled game in Brooklyn, which was scheduled to be picked up on NBA-TV, the league was able to substitute. The Minnesota vs. OK City game, while less compelling, was selected and scheduled, with the NBA web site showing the change several hours in advance, while other media was not able to update the information.

The NBA did get hurt, as it turned out, by not scheduling enough games on Super Sunday this year. ESPN/ABC had originally scheduled the Lakers vs. Knicks game for this coming Sunday (2/1). However, the awful seasons both teams are experiencing would indicate that just having L.A. and New York in the spotlight would not be enough to pull in viewers, and the national telecast has been canceled. Since there were no other worthwhile matchups on the NBA schedule for Sunday (clearing the path for the Super Bowl), the network will instead show a, get this, celebrity bowling event instead. Yikes.

And then, TNT followed suit and announced it has pulled the Knicks vs. Pacers matchup it had originally scheduled for this Thursday night (1/29) and replaced it with Denver vs. Memphis. The Denver vs. Memphis matchup is clearly a more appealing matchup for the fans, but it seems like a date worthy of historical significance since a Memphis game replaces a Knicks game on national TV and no one is complaining.

Elsewhere, a most interesting research report from SNL Kagan, a national research agency, regarding the increased cost of sports viewing. Although we are not able to provide the entire report, it bears out our expressed concerns over recent months about fans possibly becoming priced out of watching sports at home.

The report shows that the TV sports networks, including more than $6 per month per subscriber for the ESPN Networks, average collecting about $1.03 per month per subscriber. By comparison, movie channels average about 81 cents. The report also shows sports network costs rising at an annual clip of more than 5%.

Worse yet, these figures are from prior to Time Warner Cable's recent addition of a $2.75 per month "sports surcharge". In the Los Angeles market, where TWC runs the Dodgers Network and is part owner of SportsNet LA (with the Lakers games), the combined cost per subscriber (again, that is per individual subscriber) is now at $12.50 per month.

NEW YORK CITY: The Yankees and Mets will share the "over-the-air" local TV station this season, as WPIX Channel 11 has signed on to air about 20 Yankees games this season, as produced by YES Network. This marks a return to the station, which aired the Yankees from 1951 through the 1998 season. WPIX continues its deal to air 25 Mets games this year, as well as through the 2017 season (as of now). A similar situation exists in Chicago, where WGN-TV will again show a share of Cubs and White Sox telecasts during the upcoming season.

Len Berman has returned to the local airwaves, but now it is morning radio. Berman has been named, as of this week, co-host of WOR 710's morning show, along with Todd Schnitt.

CHICAGO: It's another adventure in the "nobody cares what's on the air" side of radio, but this one comes from a CBS station in Chicago. WSCR 670 The Score went off the air for nine minutes this past Saturday (1/24) morning while airing a live interview via a remote from the White Sox "Sox Fest" festival at a downtown Chicago hotel. During the early part of a live interview, the station went dead. There was nothing but dead air for just over nine full minutes.

However, when the station suddenly came back on the air, the interview was still in progress, and, in fact, was just wrapping up. I can certainly understand that technical difficulties happen. But it came off to listeners (those who stuck around) as if no one cared.

There was ZERO mention of having been off the air or any sort of technical difficulties. We still don't know if the remote feed was lost (in which case someone from the studio should have come on the air and said that) or if the entire station went down. But then they just went on with the remote as if nothing ever happened. Nothing about a recap or replay of the segment which was missed. I listened for another 20 minutes and heard nothing about any problems. Again, this is a 50,000 watt Chicago AM station owned by CBS. I'd like to think that someone would have a clue of how to handle the loss of air time.

ATLANTA: The amazing start by the NBA Hawks is making a difference on the TV side. The ratings for the team's local telecasts for the first half of the current season show a more than 60% increase in total viewers.

SAN DIEGO: The Padres radio broadcasts will remain on XEPRS 1090 through at least the 2016 season, keeping the team on the same station it has been with since 2004 season.

MILWAUKEE: It is both unfortunate and understandable that Bob Uecker is cutting back even more on his broadcast schedule of Brewers games for the coming season on WTMJ and the Brewers Network. The team has hired Jeff Levering to handle play-by-play for the road games Uecker will not travel to this season. Levering comes to Milwaukee from having been the voice of the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox.

INDIANAPOLIS: As much as The Broadcast Booth doesn't pay attention to the December (holiday period) radio ratings, skewed by holiday music stations and vacations by major personalities, the Indy situation is hard to overlook for sports radio. The December ratings showed WFNI The Fan 1070 dropping again (now 1/2 ratings point lower than October), with a bigger drop showing for the HD Radio feed on WIBC-FM's signal. At the same time, the already dismal ratings of WNDE fell to a lowly 0.2 overall, but still beat out WXNT 1430 which came in, believe it or not, even lower. Yet, December was during the Indianapolis Colts' run to the playoffs and early enough in the Pacers' season to have some meaningful games.

LOUISVILLE: Even with no pro teams, the market now has WLCL 93.9 starting this week as "93.9 The Ville" added as a sports station, including some of the ESPN Radio day time lineup. As if WHBE 680 and 105.7 isn't already enough. The Ville will air play-by-play of (Are you ready for this/) University of Louisville women's basketball and baseball. I checked to make sure this is a true story.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Does One Sports Network Have Too Much Power?

Like them or not, ESPN seems to have been creating or be involved with as much "news" so far in 2015 as it reports on every day, and not just for one or two sports.

Its ownership of, or, ooops, agreements with, NCAA college football might seem like background music at the moment since the season just concluded. But come the 2015 post-season it won't be for the fans. It seems that the playoff semi-finals "must" be played on New Year's Eve this year, Thursday Dec. 31st, according to ESPN.

Never mind that the 31st will be at least a partial work day for millions of fans or that millions more traditionally have plans to be away from home that evening to celebrate the coming new year. Never mind that the New Years Day Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl telecasts (which, of course, are owned by ESPN and contracted for Jan. 1 through 2026) will be even more meaningless (other than to the fans of the participating teams and their immediate rivals) but will take place after the national semi-finals.

It seems that ESPN pays approximately $80 million per year to televise the pair of Jan. 1st games, yet is not able to move them despite paying an estimated $470 million per year for the semi-finals and championship game telecasts.

Saturday Jan. 2 and Sunday Jan. 3, 2016 are reserved for the NFL, which will have its Wild Card Playoff doubleheaders on both of those days. Of course, ESPN now televises one Wild Card game, in addition to the multi-millions it pays for the rights to Monday Night Football and the Pro Bowl, so it couldn't possibly ask the NFL to adjust its schedule.

If ESPN, or, ooops, the NCAA were to wait until Monday Jan. 4th, the semi-final games would also not only fall on a work day for most people, but would then be days closer to the scheduled Championship Game, leaving much less time for the logistics of the teams and their fans wishing to travel for the game.

Thus, as ESPN sees it, it has no choice but to impact the plans of millions of sports fans on New Year's Eve who hope or had hoped to enjoy the semi-finals. These will be at 5:00 and 8:30 PM ET, which means that the later semi-final game could very well be in progress while sister network ABC is showing the ball dropping in Times Square. Across the country, west coast fans will have a 2:00 PM kickoff time to contend with if they want to watch the start of the first of the games.

On another matter, an advertising experiment by ESPN is cause for another concern. On a late night edition of SportsCenter on January 10th, viewers were told that "SportsCenter will be right back in 30 seconds". The cameras stayed on the air from the ESPN studio, panning over to a giant video screen which was running an advertisement for a tax product while viewers continued to see part of the SportsCenter setting along with a countdown clock for the 30 second period before the "regular" SportsCenter content resumed.

Of course, ESPN (like any other station or network) is going to air commercials. But the idea of having them mixed in directly with the program could blur the line between "news" content and advertising even further. This could be an indication of things to come. The Wall Street Journal claims that this "Programmatic ad" was won when the specific advertiser finished with the highest bid amount for the time, and that ESPN has the technology in place for advertisers to do this moving forward.

Thus, it appears that while ESPN is reporting on the wins and losses on the fields, courts, and ice rinks each night, fans will also find out which advertisers finished in first place on a given night.

But it doesn't stop there as far as advertisers going to new measures to reach the strong sports viewing audience. Still another concept was rolled out during ESPN's telecast of the College Football Bowl Championship Game, when the product "Duck Tape" tied in with the Oregon team name. A production crew was able to "re-create" key moments of the game via the Duck Tape product, and distribute them within minutes on social media. While this advertiser was able to do so because of its licensing agreement with the NCAA, one of the primary means for distribution via social media was (in case you haven't guessed it) ESPN.

Then, there is the seemingly powerful PR machine from which ESPN pumps out its own "news" stories which continue to be picked up by other conventional media. The Broadcast Booth most certainly understands doing this as a self-promotion, and credit should be given for the extra publicity generated, often due to the carelessness and/or laziness of other media.

Here is one example from just last Thursday (1/15). The Chicago Sun-Times web site,, appears to often take "headlines" and stories from an outside source and automatically run them without editor review. That afternoon, one of the Sun-Times' "headlines" read, "ESPN's Mel Kiper has Bears taking Alabama safety in first round". As a headline for a story?

Let's look at the facts. First of all, the Sun-Times employs full-time reporters and columnists to cover the Chicago Bears. Yet, here is the publication crediting a competitor with a "story" as if this is important news. Not to mention that at the time of this "story", the Bears did not even have a head coach hired, and that the NFL Draft is more than three months away. However, since ESPN "reported" this speculation, at least one media competitor automatically went with it.

Around that same time, ESPN announced its selection for the first five Sunday Night Baseball telecasts which begin in April. Since ESPN still thinks that every baseball fan must see every Yankees vs. Red Sox game it can televise, it seems that two of the first five Sunday nights will feature that very matchup, while one of the other Sundays has the Yankees vs. Mets on its schedule.

Maybe this is done on purpose. It seems that because ESPN announced it, other media will pick up on it, and hence the media and baseball columnists have already started complaining about the scheduling, which gets the fans talking about it as well. As a result, again, ESPN creates additional publicity from its competition for the sports fans' attention. And the New York concentration also impacts MLB Opening Day on April 6th, as its four scheduled telecasts include both the Yankees vs. Toronto and Mets vs. Nationals games.

If you don't think all of this makes a difference in their favor, consider this fact. ESPN Audio announced last week that "Audience listening to its content via streaming audio increased 8% to over 7.8 billion total listening minutes in 2014.  The numbers include listening to both talk shows and event coverage.  In fourth quarter, 1.9 billion minutes were streamed."

They have the fans watching and listening, the advertisers bidding and spending, the competition helping to promote them, and are commanding higher fees than others to be carried on cable and satellite distributors. They have working and significant financial relationships with NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NCAA, among others. And it is actually costing us as consumers more money than we each realize as our monthly fees increase.

Meanwhile, the announcement was no surprise that CBS will again handle Thursday Night Football in 2015 including airing in prime time again during the first half of the season while NFL Network shows them all, except for opening night and Thanksgiving. This year's deal is estimated to bring in another $300 million to the NFL.

Even as fans continue strong viewing numbers for both pro and college telecasts, the at the game experience is also showing major growth among fans. Even those of us that are "old school" when it comes to sports media have to take notice of just how much the phone and other mobile devices has become a part of live sports. Having sufficient wireless network availability in the stadiums and arenas makes a big difference these days.

Here are some of the statistics just released by AT&T:

Top 10 Collegiate Venues of the 2014 Season by Average Mobile Data per Game

1. Stillwater, OK – 769GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 2.1 million social media post with photos
2. Miami, FL – 745GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 2.1 million social media post with photos
3. College Station, TX – 668GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.9 million social media post with photos
4. Waco, TX – 661GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.8 million social media post with photos
5. Tuscaloosa, AL – 660GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.8 million social media post with photos
6. Norman, OK – 626GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.7 million social media post with photos
7. Fayetteville, AR – 590GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.6 million social media post with photos
8. Athens, GA – 541GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.5 million social media post with photos
9. Baton Rouge, LA – 522GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.4 million social media post with photos
10. Pasadena, CA – 520GB avg./home game
    a. Equivalent to more than 1.4 million social media post with photos

College Final Scoreboard at a Glance
•There were 333 college football regular season games played across more than 50 different venues where we provide in-venue coverage via Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS).
•In total, across these 333 games our customers have used more than 100.6 Terabytes of mobile data on our in-venue cellular networks. To narrow that down, it’s the same as 100,631 Gigabytes. Or more simply put, it is equivalent to more than 287M social media posts with photos.
•The top ten data-heavy college venues in our end-of-year data usage rankings play home to many teams that have had success on the field this season.
•Five of the top ten data-heavy college venues play host to a team ranked in the final top 25 poll of the regular season, including the top-ranked team in the country
•In fact, forty-percent of the top ten venues hosted teams ranked in the top 15 of the polls
•Geography also played a key factor in the final regular season college rankings
•Fifty-percent of the top ten data-heavy venues were part of the same southern athletic conference.
•In addition, the South region as a whole dominated in data usage with a season average of 381GB/venue compared to 236GB/venue for the West region, 227GB/venue for the Midwest region and 84GB/venue for the Northeast region.

Top 5 Professional Venues for Week 14 (12/4-12/8)
•Miami – 1,001GB
•Equivalent to more than 2.8 million social media post with photos

•San Diego – 765GB
•Equivalent to more than 2.1 million social media post with photos

•New Orleans – 590GB
•Equivalent to more than 1.6 million social media post with photos

•Green Bay – 424GB
•Equivalent to more than 1.2 million social media post with photos

•Denver – 348GB
•Equivalent to more than 995K social media post with photos

•All figures include only data traffic seen on AT&T’s venue-specific mobile network.
•All data metrics come from only venues with a DAS where AT&T’s mobile network is on-air and under contract. These metrics are not comprehensive of every game played during the pro or college football season.

•This data is compiled from only football stadiums that had home games during this selected timeframe where AT&T is on-air on a DAS.

Finally, sorry to have 2015 start off with two huge sports media losses.

Long time Boston Bruins announcer Bob Wilson died at age 85 from lung cancer. Wilson spent more than 20 years calling Bruins games, including their 1972 Stanley Cup win. Wilson was inducted into the broadcasting wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 and was last a part of the Bruins broadcasts in 1994. He served as both play-by-play voice and analyst during his stints.

Maury Magill, who was part of WWL New Orleans from 1961 into 2005, passed away at the age of 89. Although one of the nation's original sports talk hosts, Magill is also remembered for having been the radio analyst during the initial season of New Orleans Saints football, and was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame back in 2000.