Thursday, February 1, 2018

Don't Be First - Just Get It Right

As busy and significant of a week as this is for sports media, we should not overlook still another media speculation story going bad and the impact it has on sports fans trying to keep up with their favorite teams and leagues.

Earlier this week, we had another of those "It looks like a done deal" stories about the Chicago Bulls trading Niko Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans. A couple of usually trustworthy team reporters had enough details to put out the story that the deal was imminent, even naming the player and draft pick expected in return.

However, the deal did not take place until more than two days later, and with more players involved than originally speculated upon. What happened during those times was that some local sports reports gave the story that "The Bulls still have not traded Mirotic" as if this was still a news story instead of spinning the rumor mill.

The fact that the trade actually took place, eventually, should not have any bearing on how sorry this type of reporting has become and what a poor reflection it is on the sports media. By now, fans know the feeling of waiting on the decision of a replay of a call during a key spot in the game. As impatient as we may get, we have that feeling of how important it is to "get the call right".

We need to have the same feeling when it comes to reporting facts. It doesn't matter which reporter "was the first" to break a story, which now seems to happen on social media after a trade becomes official or an injury status is revealed. If it isn't official, don't make it appear to be imminent. Be ready to report it when it happens instead of potentially having to retract it.

It so happens that the Chicago Bulls also were part of a big media story this week as well. The possible bankruptcy of the parent company of WLS 890 has the station dropping its contract to air the Bulls games immediately. Within a matter of days, WSCR The Score 670 picked up the broadcast rights and starts this weekend (Saturday 2/3). WLS did their final Bulls broadcast on Weds. January 31st, with the next game on WSCR. Their broadcast team of Chuck Swirsky and Bill Wennington remains in place.

Although WSCR will air most of the Bulls games, it appears the broadcasts will be farmed out to WIND 560 in the spring since the Cubs broadcasts will have priority. No word, as of press time, on what will happen when the Bulls games conflict with DePaul and University of Illinois basketball broadcasts it also carries.

WLS is also dropping their White Sox broadcasts for the same reason. At press time, no word on a station. With the team expected to have another losing season in 2018, this could prove to be a challenge for the team.

As we enter the final days of the super hype for the Super Bowl, the bigger story in the media is Fox Sports getting a five year deal for Thursday Night Football. This contract struck a blow against NBC and CBS, while also including streaming rights to cable/satellite subscribers.

This also has to be a huge disappointment for Mike Torico. Now that NBC will only have Sunday Night Football, and with Al Michaels showing no signs of retirement, Torico's NFL opportunities are now more limited.

Even with NFL ratings down for the regular season, the Pro Bowl last Sunday (1/28) somehow had ratings which were roughly 15% higher than last year's game.

Only days after WEEI-FM Boston extended its Patriots related programming for five more years (as we commented on last week) came the suspension by WEEI-FM of host Alex Reimer for his remarks about Tom Brady's 5-year old daughter which caused Brady to cut short is "Kirk & Callahan Show" segment.

Brady did go on to say that he does not want to see Reimer lose his job with the station over the incident, even though the station suspended him from the airwaves. Reimer's remarks, as inappropriate as they were, were actually not made over the air, coming on a Facebook only segment.

WEEI-FM's Kirk & Callahan Show was voted the top major market sports talk show in a vote of 47 radio executives for the Barrett Sports Media Survey for 2017. WXOS St. Louis' Bernie Miklasz was the winner, actually a repeat winner, in the mid-market category.

NBA ratings continue to do well this season, with TNT showing that its viewership overall has increased roughly 21% over last season through last week.

NEW YORK: It's a mystery, as of press time, as to why three scheduled (remaining) telecasts of Fairfield University basketball games have vanished from the SNY schedule. The network will apparently not be airing the Feb. 5, 15, and 17 games against Siena, Marist, and Quinnipiac.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Not sure if it has anything to do with ESPN's morning show screw up of ending Mike & Mike or not, but WTEM 980 has stopped using its affiliation with ESPN on its station ID's and transitions. The station is now branding itself as "The Team". Thus far, every ESPN program it has carried continues to air as scheduled.

KNOXVILLE: WVLZ has just been sold, with no word yet if the new ownership will continue the sports talk format or not.

COLUMBIA MO: KTGR has begun airing The Will Cain Show from 2 to 4 PM on weekdays, replacing The Paul Finebaum Show, which it had aired for nearly five years.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Boston Sports Radio Stations Won't Stand Pat(s)

While the Patriots are preparing to defend their Super Bowl championship next week, the media battle continues among Boston's two big time sports radio stations. WBZ-FM Sports Hub is sure to benefit in the ratings from having the Patriots broadcasts, along with airing the Celtics and Bruins throughout the week.

With WEEI-FM and its Red Sox coverage in the off-season, WEEI Sports made it a point to make a bigger than usual splash about extending its Patriots related programming even though it does not air the games.

The station announced a multi-year extension of its "Patriots Monday" and "Patriots Friday" programs. QB Tom Brady will continue on the Monday show (presumably whether he retires or not after the big game), which airs during the Kirk & Callahan morning show. Coach Bill Belichick will appear on the Monday afternoon Dale & Holley Show. The Friday show will continue to feature a variety of Patriots players.

Even without the play-by-play, WEEI-FM has done well with their Patriots programming, especially since it was expanded back in 2008. The station and team have partnered on team programming since 1995. As the flagship station, WBZ-FM also has special access to Patriots personnel for its coverage.

Both stations continue to be strong in the overall market ratings as our regular readers know.

Coincidentally, the mid-December to mid-January ratings will be announced shortly after the Super Bowl.

BOSTON: Congratulations to WBZ-TV sports anchor Dan Roche on being named Massachusetts Sportscaster of the Year. Roche, who has been with WBZ-TV since 1999, also won this Award in 2014.

BANGOR: WEZQ 92.9 The Ticket has just taken over Red Sox broadcasts with a new three year deal starting next month with spring training broadcasts. As a result, The Ticket now airs play-by-play for all four major Boston teams, already airing the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins. This takes the baseball broadcasts away from WZON 620, which had been airing the games in Bangor since 1994. WZON happens to be owned by author Stephen King.

CHICAGO: It's now one month from start of exhibition baseball, and it is now uncertain (as of press time) whether or not the White Sox have a radio station to broadcast their games this season. WLS 890 is owned by Cumulus, which is financially strapped and reportedly doing everything it can to cancel its contract to air both the White Sox and Bulls (NBA) broadcasts.

For this weekend (1/27 and 1/28), WLS has coverage of the White Sox fan fest (SoxFest) on its broadcast schedule. With the team looking at another 90+ loss season, if WLS gets out of the contract it could lead to the team buying time and producing its own broadcasts at least for this season.

There are examples of large market teams being on school or community stations over the years, including the Oakland A's and N.Y. Islanders.

DETROIT: It's nice to see some media attention to this week being what would have been the 100th birthday of Tigers broadcast legend Ernie Harwell.

DAYTON: It's not official yet (as of press time) but it looks like Justin Kinner will officially become host of WING 1410's "Dayton Sports Scene" from 4 to 6 PM on weekdays. Kinner has the difficult task of replacing Mark Neal, who left the station after having hosted the show since 2003.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Why NFL Ratings Were Down This Season

Although the seriousness of the impact of football players winding up with CTE and other physical and mental problems in later years is not to be overlooked, the media needs to make this an issue in places other than TV ratings discussions.

There are other reasons why NFL regular season ratings dropped for the year, while NBA and MLB ratings are on the upswing.

It was interesting to see the ratings concerns being reflected by the networks during the final month of the regular season, especially by NBC. Despite being a consistent winner of the overall ratings on Sunday nights with Sunday Night Football, NBC was clearly well aware of the importance.

Their decision to keep Dallas vs. Oakland instead of flexing for a more important (and available) game because of the national strength of those two teams regardless of their record was one example.

Even more significant was the decision not to bother with a Sunday night game during the final week of the season.

The excuse of the possibility of the game they select being meaningless by the time it happens would have carried some weight if this was the first year of Sunday Night Football. It's not like that situation only existed for this season. This time around it was a convenient excuse. It was New Year's Eve, and TV ratings traditionally are low on that night, even for sports telecasts. The real reason to blow off a telecast that night was so that lower ratings would not pull down the season average and potentially lower advertising revenue for the 2018 season telecasts.

As for the regular season ratings being down across all networks, the real reason appears to be the bigger TV markets and their level of interest specific to this season.

Both New York City teams had poor seasons, which takes away many "casual" fans who watch more when their team is in contention. Usually at least one of their teams does better. Same story in Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit, where it was a long season in those three large markets as well.

Speaking of large markets, there is Los Angeles, in its first year (in more than 25 years) with two teams which couldn't fill their seats for home games. There were instances where "out of town" NFL telecasts had higher ratings in Los Angeles than a telecast of the local team at the same time. There were a couple of Sunday where because of Rams or Chargers telecasts the market was deprived of a much better regional or national telecast.

We have Houston and several Texas TV markets that had the disaster of Harvey hit at the start of the season, combined with a less than expected season for the Texans.

Keep in mind that we just named six of the top ten TV markets in the country, all with understandable reasons to bring fewer eyeballs to the TV ratings.

Same story in Florida markets, where Irma forced postponement of the Dolphins and Buccaneers openers before the Dolphins had another poor season. Add in St. Louis, where fans are fed up with the NFL following the loss of the Rams, even to the point where some of the Rams games, during a successful season, were not aired.

Neither Washington, Baltimore, or the national draw Green Bay made the playoffs. Cleveland's team failed to win a game. Those are all large TV markets, with fewer fans interested in watching meaningless games for their teams.

There is one more factor which is overlooked. Consider the increase in live streaming, now that Verizon and Amazon showed large audiences watching the telecasts without using their TV's. And, of course, the millions of cord-cutters who either no longer watch or watch "out of home" every week.

Too early to tell, but if the 2018 season brings improvement from at least some of the big market teams, a stronger prime time schedule of games, and, hopefully, no major disasters, we'll see a nice rebound in the NFL ratings.

One thing will see is a new analyst for Monday Night Football to replace Jon Gruden. The first opportunity is being given to Matt Hasselbeck, who will do so for ESPN's telecast of the Pro Bowl in two weeks. At the very least, it gives some fans a reason to actually watch the Pro Bowl telecast.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dick Enberg Will Be Missed

It's a sad day in sports media with the passing of Dick Enberg at the age of 82. The younger sports fans only knew him from his 10 years of calling Padres baseball which ended with his official retirement following the 2016 season.

For those of us that have been sports fans for many years, this marks the end of an era. Enberg was among the first of the network sportscasters to regularly call multiple sports at the highest level, paving the way for the likes of Joe Buck and Al Michaels.

Enberg called 10 Super Bowls, 8 of the NCAA Tournament Final Four and championship games, many Rose Bowl telecasts, and 28 Wimbledon tournaments at the network level. When UCLA's incredible 88 game winning streak ended, it was Enberg calling it on national TV.

He was the primary voice of the NFL in the days when NBC had the AFC telecasts, including calling games with ageless George Blanda leading the Oakland Raiders week after week and with Merlin Olsen as his analyst.

And that wasn't all. Los Angeles fans also had the benefit of him calling Angels baseball on radio for many years, as well as UCLA basketball during some of the Johnny Wooden years.

Personally, I was fortunate enough to be working in Los Angeles during the mid-80's when Enberg returned to the Angels radio booth for about half of the home broadcasts. He called every home game his schedule would allow. It was then that I got to experience how good he was at calling baseball on radio.

Maybe his best contribution on the air is how he would sound amazed at what was taking place on the field or court, doing so in such a way as to not dominate what was happening. Somehow he made sure that you remembered the play or the result but not his call.

Sorry to lose him.

After ending Mike & Mike, the personnel changes, and losing so many subscribers over the past year, it turns out that ESPN will have a new president by the end of the first quarter of 2018. John Skipper resigned earlier this week, although not for the reasons you would think.
Skipper's immediate resignation was due to "substance addiction". Former ESPN President George Bodenheimer has returned in an interim role until the replacement is named.

In a separate move that may wind up in the "missed opportunity" file, CBS Sports Radio (as it continues to be known with Entercom running the network) has announced its new morning show to begin on January 2nd. They are not missing a morning show, but with many listeners searching for a "new" sports morning show after the end of Mike & Mike on ESPN, all they came up with having a former wrestler as a co-host.

Their 6 AM to 9 AM weekday spot will be "Taz & The Moose". Taz is Pete Senerchia, former world heavyweight wrestling champion and Moose is Marc "The Moose" Malusis.

It's a show which debuts at the start of the NFL post-season, while the first quarter includes the NCAA Tournament which CBS televises in March. The NBA and NHL are in full swing, as well as college hoops. Yet, CBS Sports Radio puts two hosts together who do not clearly represent any of those sports.

NBC Sports will grow its app even further next fall, as the network has secured streaming rights for its Sunday Night Football telecasts starting next season. This is a separate deal from the phone carrier which has and retains and exclusive NFL streaming deal.

Those of us that thought that bringing two NFL teams to Los Angeles would do more harm than good as a TV market are seeing the proof. The fans prefer to see the best matchups over the air and not necessarily the local teams.

This past weekend, the Rams had a huge game against Seattle (which they won big), but the Los Angeles marketing rating was a 7.2. The night before, the Chargers telecast vs. Kansas City with AFC West implications drew a Los Angeles rating of (get this) 3.0. Again, those were the local team ratings.

By comparison, St. Louis fans remain (understandably) furious about losing the Rams and don't watch. This coming Sunday (12/14) will be the second consecutive Sunday that the Rams will again not even be shown in St. Louis. Consider this. The Dec. 10th game between the Rams and Eagles was the most recent one shown in St. Louis. The local telecast rating for that game was 11.3. Yet, as local teams, the L.A. combined rating last weekend was 10.2.

This Sunday, L.A. has the Rams on Fox and Chargers on CBS up against each other as early telecasts. The fans are probably glad about that since the market will receive the Fox doubleheader game with Seattle against Dallas.

PHILADELPHIA: With WIP-FM being the most recent top rated radio station overall, 97.5 The Fanatic will gain more visibility, literally, prior to the start of the next baseball season. NBC Sports Philly (formerly CSN Philadelphia) has agreed to simulcast the first three hours (2 PM to 5 PM) of Mike Missanelli's afternoon show. NBC Sports Philly will continue with "Philly Sports Talk" at 5 PM.

Although this continues the trend of regional sports networks picking up local radio shows, this does provide live and local content, making more sense than same day replays of (in this instance) The Dan Patrick Show, often with already outdated segments.

WASHINGTON D. C.:  Saying it is her decision only, Carol Maloney is leaving her role as sports anchor and host of Redskins programming on WRC-TV after six years. This Sunday (12/24) is expected to be her final time hosting "Redskins Showtime" even though the team plays the following weekend. Maloney's contract expires, and reports are that the two sides could not agree on an extension. No replacement named as of press time.

RICHMOND: WXGI ESPN 950/102.7 has added 99.5 FM to it simulcast for additional regional coverage. The stations will continue to air Washington Redskins football, University of Richmond football and basketball, and non-conflicting Westwood one play-by-play including its NFL package.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Spelling FAN Without Francesa

This past Friday (12/15) marked the end of an era with Mike Francesa doing his final show on WFAN.

Obviously, there are those that enjoyed him and those that criticized, which is typical of any media personality beyond the sports hosts.

Like him or not, you have to give him a ton of credit for his farewell speech which was the entire final segment of 22 minutes.

Francesa went out with 110% class. Nothing negative about anyone.

We know he had his ups and downs with Chris Mad Dog Russo over the years, as those who listened and/or watched the recent documentary shown on ESPN about them know. He spoke highly about his years with Russo.

In addition, he touched on the history of the station, many of the people he worked with over the years, and on how well the "old" and the new management have worked with him during these past couple of years leading in to his retirement.

He also gave an amazingly honest answer to the question of whether or not he will miss being on the show every day. Saying that he usually took time off around these holidays and admitting he probably won't feel it until January is as honest as it comes.

WFAN has been enjoying very strong ratings in recent months, likely strengthened by being the Yankees flagship. Whatever the reason, its impact on the sports community continues.

It may or may not change in 2018 as WFAN brings us both new morning and new afternoon shows. We shall see.

For now, if you haven't heard this farewell, it was posted on Saturday morning. Do give it a listen.....

Friday, December 8, 2017

To Flex Or Not To Flex

It's time to re-examine the NFL game flex method in place for Sunday Night Football before next season. It has been the case that NBC has had the option of switching out its originally scheduled game during the last few weeks of the regular season, and until this year has done a reasonable job of getting the game which brings it the best possible audience.

There have also been restrictions added over the past few seasons allowing Fox and CBS to protect certain telecasts, and we certainly respect that.

However, for next Sunday (12/17), NBC has "chosen" to retain its scheduled Dallas vs. Oakland telecast. Going into this weekend's action, both teams are .500, but, of course, are national draws. The Cowboys in particular wind up on national games no matter what their record is.

NBC could very well generate its usual strong audience for the Cowboys and Raiders. However, there were certainly what appear to be better choices available to flex. Instead, Fox retains the L.A. Rams vs. Seattle and CBS retains New England vs. Pittsburgh earlier that day. Because of regional telecasts, many fans will not be able to see one or both of those games over the air that day. 

It is ironic that we have NFL owners going to incredible lengths to move their teams to L.A. The Rams are having an awesome season, but have been hidden from significant national exposure all season. For that matter, Seattle's win over Philadelphia this past Sunday (12/3) on NBC had a 12.7 rating for just the Los Angeles market.

Keep in mind that NBC is taking a similar course for this Sunday (12/10) by keeping the Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh game on its schedule. It could have flexed and put on the Rams vs. Philadelphia in a battle of two of the top three records in the NFC. That decision leaves the L.A. market with the Rams game on Fox at the same time the Chargers will be local on CBS with both teams at home.

When you consider that last Sunday's Chargers game (although it was only against Cleveland) on CBS in Los Angeles was crushed in the ratings by the Fox regional game between Minnesota and Atlanta.

Fox Sports had a significant ratings day last Saturday (12/9) with its Big 12 Championship telecast in the afternoon and the Big Ten Championship game telecast (all four hours) in prime time.

NFL Network has tapped former QB Kurt Warner as analyst for its upcoming Saturday (12/16) telecast of Chicago vs. Detroit, which will have Mike Torico on play-by-play. Al Michaels has already given way on to Torico on a few telecasts going back to last season, but Warner's appearance on this telecast, along with the Pittsburgh vs. Houston telecast on Christmas night, will give the nights off to Chris Collinsworth.

PHILADELPHIA: Just days after WIP-FM finished as the market's #1 station, long time morning man Angelo Cataldi has been extended with the station. The morning man since 1990, Cataldi will continue to be joined by Al Morganti and Keith Jones, who have also been extended.

SEATTLE: Dave Wyman is in as radio analyst for the Seahawks broadcasts starting this Sunday with their game against Jacksonville. Wyman is a sudden replacement for Warren Moon, who has taken a leave of absence following an accusation of sexual harassment.

DES MOINES: It seems that KIOW 107.3 has terminated announcer Orin Harris and board operator Holly Kusserow-Smidt after racially insensitive comments during a time out during a high school game last week, even though the remarks did not air on the station. It seems that the radio play-by-play was also shared via a video feed. Although the remarks were not on a radio broadcast, they were heard during the video feed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Radio Extension For Soaring Eagles

Thanksgiving weekend is always a great one for sports fans since we get everything except for baseball. NFL, NBA, NHL and both college football and basketball throughout the weekend. There is certainly a lot to talk about.

In addition, many sports fans are off from work, traveling, and/or not on their "regular" schedule throughout the weekend. It should be a great chance for listeners to be able to hear more of their favorite sports talk station than usual. However, the sports talk stations don't see it that way.

As much as I respect that the hosts have families and deserve time off, it is their business to build their audience. However, you can bet the ranch that over the entire four day weekend what you will hear will be the fill-in hosts instead of the prime time talent.

Sorry, but this is the sports radio stations telling us that the listeners matter more during working weekdays. This Friday and Saturday morning there will be a lot of sports fans in their cars or around the house with a chance they don't usually have to tune to their sports station, perhaps for an extended time, before the various football, basketball, and hockey telecasts start.

Even NBC-TV is giving us a Boston vs. Pittsburgh NHL telecast at 1 PM this Friday (11/24). Yes, a live national hockey game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Obviously, this would not happen on any other Friday afternoon this year, but the network knows the sports audience is available.

This while sports radio stations won't have their primary hosts anywhere to be found all weekend. The stars of the station, whether morning or afternoon hosts, should be hosting one or both mornings and perhaps promoting special guests. It could be a great way to introduce themselves to many "new" listeners to start tuning them in on Monday.

Instead, we'll get the weekend guy who does nothing but take phone calls and talk endlessly about the upcoming local NFL team and Sunday's game. It's another missed opportunity for radio.

Meanwhile, ESPN Radio is gearing up for the lower cost and programming shakeup which will start on January 2nd. It's bad enough that the network has broken up Mike & Mike after 17 years. This latest move gives Stephen A Smith the 1 PM to 3 PM ET spot, giving him two hours to shout and shout about whatever topic. Their 3 PM to 6 PM slot has Will Cain joining Ryen Russillo who continues.

Evenings will have Jason Fitz coming in full-time after a weekend stint, joined by Sarah Spain, and then late night adds one more hour to Freddie & Fitzsimmons. Other than breaking up their long time morning show and not bringing in anyone "new" to the radio network lineup, they are ready to bring in the new year.

Looks like CBS got stuck with their New England vs. Oakland telecast last Sunday (11/19) from Mexico City. Obviously, it's not their fault the game was a blowout which was hard to watch. Nor was it their fault that the production crew literally had to fill in the background with crowd noise to cover up the Mexico City crowd shouting gay slurs during kickoffs and punts made by the Patriots.

From what we saw (and heard about from others watching), only one or two of the slurs was audible during the telecast.

PHILADELPHIA: The Eagles picked an ideal year to have a great season, resulting in a fresh seven year extension of their radio rights contract with WIP-FM 94.1 which starts next season and goes through 2024. This not only extends a 25 year partnership between the two, but also keeps Merrill Reese and Mike Quick as the broadcast team. Word is that Howard Eskin will continue as sideline reporter as well.

MIAMI: Fans upset that the new ownership of the Marlins is possibly considering trading its star player now have more to be upset about. Word is that ownership does not want TV popular voice Rich Waltz to return for what would have been his 14th season, which will make the third consecutive season of a change in their TV booth.

This past season brought in Todd Hollandsworth as anyalyst, who, as of press time, is expected to remain. Early word is that Craig Minervini will be brought back as studio host.

HOUSTON: Low rated KFNC 97.5 is bringing in Lance Zierlein to (once again) pair with John Granato, this time on the station's brief morning show from 7 AM to 9 AM starting on Monday (11/27). The pair have previously worked together over the past 20 years on both KILT and KGOW.

Happy Thanksgiving !!