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, SunTimes.com, 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

Caveats:
•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.

Monday, January 12, 2015

NFL Moving Toward Four Telecast Sundays

As we suspected, the NFL is on the way to giving us more Sundays with four live games available to viewers around the country, based largely on the success of this season's Detroit vs. Atlanta game from London which began at 9:30 AM ET. While the league again has three regular season games scheduled for London in 2015, the word is that at least TWO of those games will be shown live in that early time slot. These telecasts will precede the regular doubleheader of games (Fox and CBS) and then the scheduled Sunday Night Football game on NBC.

Although the complete NFL schedule won't be announced for several weeks, the league plans to have the Oct. 4, 2015 game from London between the Jets and Dolphins televised at 9:30 AM ET, along with the Buffalo vs. Jacksonville matchup on October 25th. The November 1st game in London between Detroit and Kansas City has not yet been given a start time. Even though it was far too early for this, it would appear that one of those games would be moved from CBS to Fox to allow each network to have one early national telecast start.

It is also interesting that it is the two least attractive matchups (based on this season) which will be in the early national slot. Let's face it. Based on the current season, a Buffalo vs. Jacksonville matchup (especially) would not exactly set a ratings record for a national audience. But as a morning game, the NFL knows that most fans will go with a live game over the endless selection of pre-game shows on several of the networks.

The other London game, Detroit vs. K.C., could be an appealing matchup of contending teams. My personal hunch is that this telecast could very well go to CBS only (for a 9:30 AM start) if it again wins the bidding for the Thursday night package. If not, I would then expect this game to be started at 4:25 ET as a "regular" doubleheader game for whichever network, or perhaps three hours later and given to NBC as a Sunday Night Game.

And if the ratings for those two already scheduled early telecasts continue to be solid, look for the NFL to add more "lesser" matchups from international venues and look to grow to four live games on most Sundays.


The Baltimore Orioles are going to a new radio home for the upcoming 2015 season after all. The team has just announced a brand new multi-year deal to move the broadcasts back over to WJZ-FM 105.7 The Fan, which had the games from 2007 to 2010. The team adds that the broadcast team of Joe Angel and Fred Manfra will continue in tact, with 2015 being their 12th season together in the booth.


Congratulations to Mike "Doc" Emrick for being named Sportscaster of the Year for 2014 by The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association for the second consecutive year. The voice of the NHL on national TV has called the Stanley Cup Finals for the past 25 years, and continues as the lead play-by-play voice for NBC and NBCSN's hockey telecasts.

The Association will also induct Dick Schaap, Bill Raftery, Lesley Visser, and Hal McCoy into its Hall of Fame at its ceremony scheduled for June 8th. This honor comes far too late for Schaap, who passed away in 2002, but is certainly deserved for the other inductees. Raftery will serve as analyst for CBS on what will be his 33rd NCAA tournament this March.

In addition, the Sportscaster and Sportswriter of the Year, as voted by members in every state, will also be honored. It was nice to see that Bill Schoening received the honor in Texas. Schoening is now calling the San Antonio Spurs radio broadcasts for his 14th season, and continues the extra effort of calling the vast majority of the games without having an analyst by his side.

Since several of you have asked in previous years, this year the complete list is included below.


Meanwhile, speaking of award winners, let's all with Dick Enberg a Happy 80th Birthday, which he celebrated on Friday (1/9).


It is nowhere the big deal that the NFL makes out of switching game telecasts during the season, but it is great to see the NBA allow its TV partners to flex some telecasts, even when we have months to go before the post-season starts.

ESPN has already been able to switch games it will televise on seven separate dates between this coming Wednesday (1/14) and April 3rd. Of course, there is a New York influence in this decision, but not in the way you would think. The horrible start by the Knicks has resulted in the team being removed for three of its previously scheduled national appearances on ESPN (of the seven games being replaced). Let's also give ESPN credit for adding games which are based on the standings and not on specific markets. Two of the added games include the Toronto Raptors, which were not a draw in previous years, while another of the added games (Apr. 3) will have Oklahoma City at Memphis.

Here is the schedule of the changes, with start times ET:

Wed, Jan. 14 8 p.m. Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls (instead of Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics )
Wed, Jan. 28 8 p.m. Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks (instead of Oklahoma City Thunder at New York Knicks)
Fri, Feb. 6 7 p.m. Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors (instead of New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets)
Fri, Mar. 6 8 p.m. Phoenix Suns at Brooklyn Nets (instead of Miami Heat at Washington Wizards)
Wed, Mar. 18 8 p.m. Orlando Magic at Dallas Mavericks (instead of Indiana Pacers at Chicago Bulls)
Wed, Mar. 25 7 p.m. Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors (instead of Los Angeles Clippers at New York Knicks
Fri., Apr. 3 8 p.m. Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies (instead of Detroit Pistons at Chicago Bulls)



Many fans wonder why I question the "need" for all of the TV sports networks that are in operation, as if there is enough quality programming to go around, which there is not. Yet, having so many networks bidding for live telecasts is what keeps driving up the monthly cost of cable/satellite for consumers.

Take CBS Sports Network as an example, again. Did you see their college hoops tripleheader lineup last Wednesday (Jan. 7)? The first game was between to "known" schools. However, the second game, which ran in prime time in the east and central time zones, was SIU-Edwardsville at Belmont. National TV in prime time? That was the lead-in to Nevada at UNLV as the third game. Yikes.


MINNEAPOLIS: KTWN 96.3 has changed its music again for the new year, now trying a modern rock format. The station is co-owned by the Pohlad family which owns the Twins and continues to serve as the team's flagship station. We'll see what happens with a new music format for the station and a new manager for the Twins. There will be some indication since there will be two months of ratings before baseball broadcasts return.


SPOKANE: KGA 1510 has begun to carry a simulcast of Seattle's KIRO 710's local programming on weekdays from 7 AM to 4 PM, including the Brock & Salk Show in morning drive.


GAINESVILLE: WGGG ESPN 1320 has been experiencing some problems with its signal (including some brief stretches off the air), but management feels it is actually for good reason. The station is doing modifications of its transmitter tower in order to complete the addition of 106.5 FM to simulcast the station, hoping to have it on the air no later than March 1st.


HALL OF FAME SPORTSCASTERS:
Bill Raftery, Big East Network, ESPN, CBS, FOX Sports
*Dick Schaap, The Sports Reporters, ESPN

HALL OF FAME SPORTSWRITERS
Hal McCoy, Dayton Daily News, Fox Sports Ohio
Lesley Visser, Boston Globe, HBO, ABC, ESPN, CBS, CBSSports.com

NATIONAL SPORTSCASTER
Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, NBC

NATIONAL SPORTSWRITER
Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated


STATE BY STATE:
ALABAMA SPORTSCASTER
Eli Gold, Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Network/Learfield, Tuscaloosa
ALABAMA SPORTSWRITER
Brandon Marcello, AL.com, Auburn
ARIZONA SPORTSCASTER
Dave Pasch, Cardinals Radio Network/98.7 FM, Phoenix
ARIZONA SPORTSWRITER
Kent Somers, Arizona Republic, Phoenix
ARKANSAS SPORTSCASTER
Steve Sullivan, KATV-TV, Little Rock
ARKANSAS SPORTSWRITER
Harry King, Stephens Media, Little Rock
CALIFORNIA SPORTSCASTER
Vin Scully, Dodgers TV Network/Sportsnet LA, Los Angeles
CALIFORNIA SPORTSWRITER
Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco
COLORADO SPORTSCASTER
Drew Goodman, 104.3 The Fan, ROOT Sports/Rockies, Denver
COLORADO SPORTSWRITER
Mark Kizsla, Denver Post, Denver
CONNECTICUT SPORTSCASTER
Joe D’Ambrosio, WTIC /UConn Radio Network, Hartford
CONNECTICUT SPORTSWRITER
Jeff Jacobs, Hartford Courant, Hartford
DELAWARE SPORTSCASTER
Matt Janus, WDSD/Blue Rocks Radio, Wilmington
DELAWARE SPORTSWRITER
Brad Myers, News Journal, Wilmington
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SPORTSCASTER
Joe Beninati, Capitals/CSN Washington, Washington
Bob Carpenter, Nationals/MASN, Washington
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA SPORTSWRITER
Thom Loverro, Washington Times, Washington
FLORIDA SPORTSCASTER
Gene Deckerhoff, FSU/IMG & Bucs Radio Networks, Tallahassee/Tampa
FLORIDA SPORTSWRITER
Gary Shelton, Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg
GEORGIA SPORTSCASTER
Steve Holman, Hawks Radio Network/92.9 The Game, Atlanta
GEORGIA SPORTSWRITER
Steve Hummer, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Atlanta
IDAHO SPORTSCASTER
Tom Morris, Idaho Vandals Sports Properties/Learfield, Moscow
IDAHO SPORTSWRITER
Brian Murphy, Idaho Statesman, Boise
ILLINOIS SPORTSCASTER
Pat Hughes, Cubs Radio Network/WGN, Chicago
ILLINOIS SPORTSWRITER
Marcus Jackson, News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana
Rick Telander, Sun-Times, Chicago
INDIANA SPORTSCASTER
Mark Boyle, Pacers Radio Network/107.5/1070 The Fan, Indianapolis
INDIANA SPORTSWRITER
Mike Chappell, Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis
IOWA SPORTSCASTER
Andy Garman, KCCI-TV, Des Moines
IOWA SPORTSWRITER
Mike Hlas, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Cedar Rapids
KANSAS SPORTSCASTER
Mike Kennedy, Shocker Sports Properties/KEYN, Wichita
KANSAS SPORTSWRITER
Gary Bedore, Journal World, Lawrence
KENTUCKY SPORTSCASTER
Kent Spencer, WHAS-TV, Louisville
KENTUCKY SPORTSCASTER
Eric Crawford, WDRB.com, Louisville
LOUISIANA SPORTSCASTER
Ed Daniels, WGNO-TV, New Orleans
LOUISIANA SPORTSWRITER
Glenn Guilbeau, Gannett, Baton Rouge
MAINE SPORTSCASTER
Don Shields, Black Bear Sports Network/Learfield, Orono
MAINE SPORTSWRITER
Mark Emmert, Press-Herald, Portland
MARYLAND SPORTSCASTER
Johnny Holliday, Terrapin Sports Network,MASN, College Park
MARYLAND SPORTSWRITER
Jeff Zrebiec, Baltimore Sun, Baltimore
MASSACHUSETTS SPORTSCASTER
Dave Goucher, WBZ-FM/Bruins Network, Boston
Dan Roche, WBZ-TV, Boston
MASSACHUSETTS SPORTSWRITER
Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe, Boston
Kevin Paul Dupont, Boston Globe, Boston
MICHIGAN SPORTSCASTER
Dan Dickerson, Tigers Radio Network, Detroit
MICHIGAN SPORTSWRITER
Jeff Seidel, Free Press, Detroit
MINNESOTA SPORTSCASTER
Dawn Mitchell, KMSP-TV, Minneapolis
MINNESOTA SPORTSWRITER
Joe Christensen, Star Tribune, Minneapolis
MISSISSIPPI SPORTSCASTER
Jim Ellis, Mississippi State Bulldog Sports Network/Learfield, Starkville
MISSISSIPPI SPORTSWRITER
Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Jackson
MISSOURI SPORTSCASTER
Mike Shannon, KMOX Radio/Cardinals, St. Louis
MISSOURI SPORTSWRITER
Andy McCullough, Kansas City Star, Kansas City
MONTANA SPORTSCASTER
Ron Bruschi, KOJM Radio, Havre
MONTANA SPORTSWRITER
Greg Rachac, Billings Gazette, Billings
NEBRASKA SPORTSCASTER
Andy Kendeigh, KETV, Omaha
NEBRASKA SPORTSWRITER
Sam McKewon, World-Herald, Omaha
NEVADA SPORTSCASTER
Chris Maathuis, KLAS-TV, Las Vegas
NEVADA SPORTSWRITER
Ed Graney, Review-Journal, Las Vegas
NEW HAMPSHIRE SPORTSCASTER
Bob Lipman, UNH Sports Network/Learfield, Manchester
NEW HAMPSHIRE SPORTSWRITER
Tim O’Sullivan, Concord Monitor, Concord
NEW JERSEY SPORTSCASTER
Matt Loughlin, Devils Radio Network/WFAN, Newark
NEW JERSEY SPORTSWRITER
Greg Tufaro, Gannett New Jersey, East Brunswick
NEW MEXICO SPORTSCASTER
Bob Brown, 101.7 The Team, Albuquerque
NEW MEXICO SPORTSWRITER
Mark Smith, Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque
NEW YORK SPORTSCASTER
Bruce Beck, WNBC-TV, New York
Ian Eagle, YES Network, New York
NEW YORK SPORTSWRITER
Frank Isola, New York Daily News, New York
NORTH CAROLINA SPORTSCASTER
Stan Cotten, Wake Forest/IMG Sports Network, Winston-Salem
Jeff Gravley, WRAL-TV, Raleigh
NORTH CAROLINA SPORTSWRITER
Ed Hardin, News & Record, Greensboro
NORTH DAKOTA SPORTSCASTER
Rod Kleinjan, KDIX Radio, Dickinson
NORTH DAKOTA SPORTSWRITER
Chris Aarhus, Jamestown Sun, Jamestown
OHIO SPORTSCASTER
Dan Hoard, Bengals Radio Network, Bearcats/IMG Sports Network, Cincinnati
OHIO SPORTSWRITER
Hal McCoy, Dayton Daily News, Dayton
OKLAHOMA SPORTSCASTER
Bruce Howard, Golden Hurricane Sports Network/Learfield, Tulsa
OKLAHOMA SPORTSWRITER
Berry Tramel, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
OREGON SPORTSCASTER
Joe Becker, KGW-TV, Portland
OREGON SPORTSWRITER
John Canzano, The Oregonian, Portland
PENNSYLVANIA SPORTSCASTER
Tom McGinnis, Sixers Radio Network/97.5 The Fanatic, Philadelphia
PENNSYLVANIA SPORTSWRITER
Bob Ford, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia
RHODE ISLAND SPORTSCASTER
Ken Bell, WLNE-TV, Providence
RHODE ISLAND SPORTSWRITER
Brendan McGair, Pawtucket Times, Pawtucket
SOUTH CAROLINA SPORTSCASTER
Kevin McCrarey, South Carolina Radio Network, Columbia
SOUTH CAROLINA SPORTSWRITER
Lou Bezjak, Florence Morning News, Florence
SOUTH DAKOTA SPORTSCASTER
Jeff Duffy, KOKK Radio, Huron
SOUTH DAKOTA SPORTSWRITER
John Papendick, American News, Aberdeen
TENNESSEE SPORTSCASTER
Pete Weber, Nashville Predators TV/Fox Sports Tennessee, Nashville
TENNESSEE SPORTSWRITER
David Climer, The Tennessean, Nashville
Geoff Calkins, Commercial Appeal, Memphis
TEXAS SPORTSCASTER
Bill Schoening, Spurs Radio Network/WOAI, San Antonio
TEXAS SPORTSWRITER
Kirk Bohls, American Statesman, Austin
UTAH SPORTSCASTER
Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees/1280 KZNS, Salt Lake City
UTAH SPORTSWRITER
Kurt Kragthorpe, Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City
VERMONT SPORTSCASTER
Rich Haskell, WCPV-FM 101.3, Colchester
VERMONT SPORTSWRITER
Alex Abrami, Burlington Free Press, Burlington
Anna Grearson, Times Argus, Barre
VIRGINIA SPORTSCASTER
Wes McElroy, WRNL-AM, Richmond
VIRGINIA SPORTSWRITER
David Teel, Daily Press, Newport News
WASHINGTON SPORTSCASTER
Larry Weir, EWU Eagle Radio Network/700 ESPN, Cheney
WASHINGTON SPORTSCASTER
Dave Boling, Tacoma News Tribune, Tacoma
WEST VIRGINIA SPORTSCASTER
Steve Cotton, Thundering Herd IMG Sports Network, Huntington
WEST VIRGINIA SPORTSWRITER
Chuck McGill, Daily Mail, Charleston
WISCONSIN SPORTSCASTER
Brian Anderson, Brewers/Fox Sports Wisconsin, Milwaukee
WISCONSIN SPORTSWRITER
*Tom Mulhern, Wisconsin State Journal, Madison
WYOMING SPORTSCASTER
Trevor Jackson, Sheridan Media, Sheridan
Reece Monaco, KFBC Radio, Cheyenne
WYOMING SPORTSWRITER
Mike Vorel, Casper Star Tribune, Casper

Monday, January 5, 2015

NBC Wins At Football - Loses Out On Hockey

While sports is all about competition, the same should be said about sportscasts, sports stations, and sports networks. They compete against each other for the audience and advertising dollars, as well as for the scoop on breaking sports stories. However, it doesn't always appear that the decision makers always have this in mind.


There are times when a "news" story can help to impact the size of the listening and/or viewing audience for an upcoming sports event. It could be all in the game to air a story which indirectly keeps your audience from watching or listening to the competition.


The Broadcast Booth believes that NBC helped to slightly reduce its own audience for the NHL Winter Classic it aired on New Year's Day when the Chicago Blackhawks played at the Washington Capitals.


Since this was the first hockey game ever played at Nationals Stadium, it seems that league officials had not researched enough to address concerns over possible sun glare from the surface during the early portion of the game, scheduled to begin about 1:15 PM ET on Thursday (1/1). It wasn't until the day before that this factor became a possible issue, when the NHL let it be known that the start of the nationally televised contest could have been delayed for this reason.


It was certainly easy to understand why sources such as ESPN, Fox, and local stations in NHL markets (not affiliated with NBC-TV or NBC Radio Sports) would jump all over this story. After all, ESPN/ABC (especially) and ESPN Radio had the major bowl games airing on New Year's Day.


Thus, reporting that there might be a delay in the start of a much hyped national telecast going up against a couple of football bowl games gave fans a solid reason not to bother with the early stages of the NHL telecast on NBC. With no other NHL games scheduled during the 3+ hour time slot NBC had, it was not as if NBC had another game to cut away to or report on.


To put it mildly, the possibility of an expanded pre-game show for an NHL games, when the Capitals are not considered to be a nationally marketed team, is a turn off for many casual hockey fans.


Despite this, NBC stations as well as the Comcast SportsNet local reports, went ahead and aired this report that the glare from the ice could very well have delayed the start of the Winter Classic. While I will grant you that I am not and have never been a network level Sports Director or decision maker so I shouldn't criticize, if I were in that position and this happened, heads would have been rolling.


What NBC and its family of stations and regional networks did was provide thousands (if not millions) of viewers with a valid reason not to tune in for the start of the game. The rebuttal that "fans would be even more curious and tune in to see if it started on time" doesn't make sense. I have to believe that NBC turned away far more "early" viewers than it thought it could gain by making fans curious as to whether or not the game would start on time.


As a result, the 2015 Winter Classic scored the lower ratings than previous years for NBC, and that is with more than 20% of the national audience coming from the avid Chicago market. As it was, NBC was saddled with the Capitals (which is not as marketable of a team as the Bruins, Rangers, Red Wings, etc.) and a stadium with zero tradition. But to allow a story to air which gave potential viewers a reason not to tune in for the scheduled start on its own network is highly questionable.


On the football side, Sunday Night Football on NBC-TV again finished its season as the "most watched" network series in prime time in 2014. The local market which had the biggest ratings for the season on SNF wound up being Denver. Next, in order, are New Orleans, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Milwaukee. Only New Orleans is a surprise, given the losing record and disappointing season which the Saints just finished.





Another story which has been overlooked by the sports media could have an impact on viewer ratings as soon as October 2015. NBA teams have been surveyed by the league regarding reducing the number of preseason games in order to add another week to the regular season and start it about one week earlier in October. The purpose of doing so is to reduce the number of back-to-back game dates for each team (which could reduce injuries and fatigue) by adding more days off during the season.


From a TV standpoint, doing this would mean having at least the entire first week of the regular season in competition against the World Series on weeknights for the national telecasts. For the past few seasons, the NBA season openers have been on dates of a possible Game 6 and Game 7 of the World Series for a maximum of two nights of conflicts.


Considering how well the NBA early season ratings did against the World Series in 2014, it is possible that TNT and ESPN would embrace this change. It remains to be seen (or not seen) whether or not Fox Sports will continue to dump as much of its post-season coverage from Fox Sports (over the air) to the lesser Fox Sports 1, which was a ratings disaster for MLB.




It was a much improved start to the new year on The Dan Patrick Show on Friday (1/2) when the show was actually live with guest co-hosts while Patrick was off. This is worthy of mention because it (hopefully) signals the end of "Best Of" shows which have been airing for years on and around holidays. I never did understand how NBCSN, which airs the telecast, was putting up with outdated segments during busy sports periods when it is trying to compete with ESPN and other sports networks and stations for ratings and advertisers. Having a live show on the morning after the major bowl games and the day before the NFL playoffs start was critical. Hopefully this signals that NBCSN has turned a corner.



Meanwhile, sports fans and the sports media are saddened by the passing of Stuart Scott at the age of 49. Since Stuart, who most deservedly was the past recipient of the "Spirit of Jimmy V Award" by the V Foundation, ESPN has requested that those wishing to make a donation in his name do so to the V Foundation.




Interesting announcement by DISH Network to start off the year. Details are still to come, but DISH is planning to offer an internet only monthly service with several cable channels in packages starting at $20 per month. These packages reportedly will include ESPN and ESPN2. However, these will not include any local "over-the-air" channels, although viewers could view them via digital antenna with no monthly cost and supplement with a DISH package. It remains to be determined how much or how little sports programming, other than ESPN, will be made available by this method.


This is a story which bears monitoring over the next few weeks. One would think that many people who are not sports fans would jump at the chance to save big bucks by cutting the cord. However, for those of us sports fans that continue to fork out the big bucks (to cable/satellite providers) to watch our sports each month, fewer customers for the bigger carriers could jack up the sports package costs even more.





CHICAGO: WGN Radio (a news/talk format) is making significant changes to its sports presence for 2015, as the station prepares for its first summer in more than 50 years without Cubs baseball broadcasts. The station is bringing in Jarrett Payton (the son of Bears legend Walter Payton), as well as local sports talkers Connor McKnight and Adam Hoge, to handle a newer (yet to be named as of press time) weekend sports show. The previous "WGN Sports Central", which aired on WGN since 1982, has gone away with the new year, and it appears that previous co-hosts Jim Memelo and Glen Kozlowski may or may not be a part of WGN sports as of now.


The station continues to air Blackhawks hockey as well as Northwestern University football and basketball.




DES MOINES: KBGG 1700 The Champ appears to be carrying out its plan to drop the majority of its local sports programming with the arrival of the new year. Now Larry Cotlar is gone after more than five years with the station. For some reason, The Champ has increased its CBS Sports Radio Network programming. Cotlar, meanwhile, continues as the play-by-play voice for Drake University basketball.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Free Press Couldn't Help A Brother Out

The Broadcast Booth would love to be in the holiday spirit and have a very positive update for our last one in 2014, but this week's sports media related events are not making that possible.


First, mistakes happen. Sports media and otherwise. The Detroit Free Press made one on Monday, and as you might expect, competitors and much of the sports media well beyond Detroit had a field day with it. Its news of Coach Jim Harbaugh going from the San Francisco 49ers to the University of Michigan was huge, especially in the Free Press' home market, which includes Ann Arbor.


However, a careless photo editor ran a photo of Jim's brother John Harbaugh instead, meaning that the print edition went out with a wrong photo on its front page. Whereas those who publish a fact or photo incorrectly online (including social media) have the ability to change or delete something and make amends, there is nothing which can be done immediately when it is in print.


As much as I am against mentioning a competitor within a sportscast or report, in an instance such as this, I can't blame other media members for pointing out that a publication with one of the nation's best reputations has made a prominent goof. This is a way to indirectly make a competitor seem less trustworthy and point out that "we" had it right.


However, I see some long term effects which are not good for sports fans and some in sports media. This incident further discredits newspapers as being a valuable source of information. In the long run, that is not good.


The Free Press has always had a solid reputation for its reporting and coverage. After all, this was a photo and not a factual error. Because thousands of newspapers were printed and distributed with the wrong photo, the Free Press was not able to "delete" its error and update it like it was no big deal.


Yet, so many of the sources which jumped on touting the Free Press error have the ability to instantly "update" or delete an error they put out there.


In this era when far too many "reporters" do nothing but relay something someone else reported so that they can be "first" and "safe" with their information, most newspapers still go in-depth with their information, investigation, and actual reporting on stories of local importance. We should all hope this is never lost.


Next, more disturbing news for sports fans this week. Multichannel News says that Time Warner Cable is implementing a $2.75 per month "sports surcharge" in early 2015 for its customers not currently under a promotional rate. In addition, it says that Cablevision, DirecTV, and Mediacom Communications are also planning to implement or increase a "sports surcharge" as well.


This is the same TWC which continues to hold L.A. Dodgers fans hostage by now lowering its price for other carriers to distribute its Dodgers Network around Southern California. As recently as Monday (12/29), TWC again issued a statement saying they are willing to go to "binding arbitration" in the matter. As if our court system needs to take valuable time to decide how much fans should pay to watch Dodgers games on TV?


DirecTV has announced a price increase for its programming packages from 3.5% to 6% as of Feb. 5, 2015, along with an increase in its fees for each additional connected TV. This, of course, comes just after DirecTV bid hundreds of millions of dollars to retain its NFL Sunday Ticket package, which it claims is "part of" selected regular packages and is without an extra charge.


Something has to give before sports become games not only played by millionaires, but only watched by them as well.



Meanwhile, the recent tradition of Christmas and basketball is starting to take control. ABC's doubleheader on the afternoon of Dec. 25th was up about 14% over 2013, while the TNT night doubleheader finished as the highest rated Christmas prime-time doubleheader ever for TNT.




CHICAGO: Not the typical feud between broadcasters at WMVP ESPN 1000 when a current player is involved. Bears receiver Brandon Marshall (who also appears nationally on Inside The NFL each week) used his regular radio appearance to call station host Carmen DeFalco "a clown" who "shouldn't be on the radio". The reason? (Or so it appears) DeFalco has been critical of Marshall's play this season as the Bears finished at a disappointing 5-11. Wonder what Marshall would have said if DeFalco wasn't on the same station. It will be interesting to see whether or not Marshall is retained by WMVP (or another Chicago station) for next season (if still with the Bears). A professional broadcaster is not supposed to criticize a co-worker, especially without explaining his or her reason for doing so, without justification.




ALBANY: Not sure this was by popular demand, but the market is about to get its fourth sports radio station by mid-January. WZMR 104.9 is about to become WINU and be known as "Win 104.9", adding CBS Sports Radio. For those keeping score, WPTR 1240 will switch from CBS to NBC Sports Network, as both go against WTMM ESPN 104.5 The Team and WOFX Fox Sports 980. That seems like a lot of national coverage for a market which doesn't even have a pro sports team.




KNOXVILLE: WVLZ 1180 is dropping its oldies format next week (Jan. 5) to become a sports station, with the call letters to stand for "Vols" as in the Tennessee Volunteers. However, at least to start, the daytime only station will carry Yahoo Sports.




TALLAHASSEE: WNLS 1270 The Team has not survived into the new year, dropping its sports format, after more than 15 years, to simulcast a music format from a local FM station.



Happy New Year to you all! We'll be back next week and throughout the year ahead. As always, we appreciate your feedback and comments.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wait 12 Minutes - Or Promote Your Competitor?

Maybe it's because I began the broadcasting portion of my career during an era when you did anything and everything you could to NEVER so much as mention a competitor over the air. These days, we have some media outlets not only mentioning, but in effect promoting their competition.



The benching of Jay Cutler from his starting QB position for the Chicago Bears last week was a huge story in Chicago, as well as to NFL fans around the nation, as well as being unexpected (since it was not due to injury).



As it happened that afternoon, I was watching CSN Chicago's "Sports Talk Live" show hosted by the hard working David Kaplan with a live panel of media members. In the midst of a live segment, Kaplan interrupted to say something to the effect of "Adam Schefer of ESPN just reported that Jay Cutler is being benched and Jimmy Clausen will start at QB for the Bears on Sunday!".



The panel then began to discuss "if it's true.....". This is not to specifically pick on Kaplan, who does an excellent job of reporting. Unfortunately, "reporting" what someone else is "reporting" has become far too common these days, especially in the sports media.


Reporters still don't understand how damaging this can be.



Of course, I understand the wanting to credit the source of a breaking story in case it needs to be retracted. However, in this instance (like many other situations in which this happens), a few minutes internally can make a huge difference.



Upon hearing this "report", I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer (who CHOSE Kaplan's show) to immediately switch over to ESPN, whether the TV network or the local ESPN 1000 Radio station, which, needless to say, were already all over this major sports story.



It wasn't until about 12 minutes later when Kaplan commented, to the effect of, "It is true. CSN is now reporting that Jay Cutler will not start on Sunday.....", and the discussion continued. We can speculate all we want about how much of the CSN audience may have been lost to ESPN by then.



How should this have been handled?



The fact is that CSN Chicago produced several hours of Bears specific programming as well as originating live pre-game and post-game shows before every Bears game. In addition, CSN is part of the NBC Sports group, which pays the NFL millions of dollars for Sunday Night Football and offers NFL programming on its NBCSN channel as well. CSN has both current and prominent former Bears players on its payroll.



Upon hearing this "report", the "story" could and should have been checked internally for verification. It obviously was, since CSN began "reporting" the story about 12 minutes after the ESPN "report" aired.



My point is that the vast majority (if not the entire) audience watching CSN at that time would not have known what rival ESPN was "reporting" during those few minutes until CSN sources were able to confirm the story. "Sports Talk Live" spends perhaps more of its time each week during football season about the Bears than any other local team or sports story.


They, in effect, told their audience that the biggest story about the Bears in months was first reported by a competitor.



Kaplan and the crew should have waited the 12 minutes, not said a word about the Cutler story, and THEN interrupted and started with "CSN has learned that.......". The viewers would not have known if or that any other media source was first with the story, nor would they have been given a reason to tune to a different channel or station.



Again, this sort of thing happens way too often. These programs, stations, and networks, depend on audience ratings in order to survive. A few minutes spent confirming a story makes a lot more sense than promoting a direct competitor. You read that here first.






SEATTLE: A ton of credit to KRJ Sportsradio and host Dave Mahler, who last week had Kevin Mather, the President of the Mariners, as an in-studio live guest on his show. In addition to taking calls from fans, Mather answered direct questions about the team payroll, the current ownership structure, and free agents not signed by the team.



It also made for an interesting part when host Mahler, who does not have many guests on his show, revealed that he went to school with Mahler's daughter and talked about the connection with the family. This is one area where sports radio stations could thrive, by giving listeners more direct access with team management. A ton more interesting than hearing from "Steve from the west side.....".












HOUSTON: Even though the Astros are finally showing some promise to compete in the American League West in the near future, the game broadcasts will remain on sports radio KBME 790, which now has a 4-year extension of its contract to air the games. KBME also airs the Rockets games, along with (non-conflicting) Texas A & M football and basketball. This announcement even though sister station KTRH 740, which aired the games for years prior, continues to have much higher overall audience ratings.






MIAMI: Down to two jobs now for Joe Rose, who has done his final sportscast, after 22 years, at WTVJ Channel 6. Rose anchored his last "Sports Final" on Sunday (12/21) night. Of course, Rose's other duties will keep him plenty busy, especially his continuing morning gig at WQAM 560. Rose also remains with the Dolphins radio crew.






BANGOR: WEZQ The Ticket 92.9 is changing its afternoon drive show to an even heavier sports focus. Teaming up with SportsNet Maine, Jim Churchill, Jeff Solari, and Wes Hart, will co-host "The Drive", which targets area pro teams, the University of Maine, and local high school sports starting Jan. 5th.



Rich Kimball, the voice of University of Maine football for the past 18 seasons, will have his show, which partially focused on sports, move over to WZON 620 (where Kimball was on the air for years prior) and will run head-to-head against the new show on The Ticket.






Finally, a Merry Christmas to you, yours, and theirs!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Not A 'Bunch' of Complaints For Brady

It's a story of a man named Brady, who was busy reacting with profanity when things went wrong during his team's battle against the Green Bay Packers. Something his three lovely children of his own shouldn't be seeing, either.

The SmokingGun web site revealed the actual complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission resulting from CBS showing the reactions of Tom Brady of the Patriots during a frustrating loss. One can debate how times have changed and how important it is, or isn't, to keep profanity off the public airwaves. For however long, current FCC regulations prevent the networks and local stations from airing profanity, subject to heavy fines and risk of license renewal.

Many will question CBS for showing an immediate player reaction when there is a likelihood that it won't be a family friendly one. But knowing that, as the saying goes, "stuff happens", this has become more of a common occurrence on sports telecasts over the past couple of years. It is also a sign of the times that SmokingGun went ahead and printed the "f word" (which is what lip readers could clearly see Brady saying several times on TV) within its factual article.

Rather than agree or disagree, let's take a look at a very important fact based on the SmokingGun article about this (including the actual complaint documents) from December 16th, more than two weeks after the New England at Green Bay telecast on CBS (Nov. 30).

There have been a grand total of THREE complaints filed to the FCC. While I will grant you that each complaint on the grand scale supposedly represents multiple viewers, let's not forget that this telecast could very well be the most watched NFL game of the entire regular season. Three complaints is one thing if it is a local telecast on a low rated station. But three complaints from literally millions of viewers is another matter.

You don't have to review the viewer demographics from Nielsen to find out that there were a lot of children watching this game, as well as the parents. With this in mind, this really means a decided lack of opposition to the profane outburst. You can't (or shouldn't) blame Tom Brady for anything he said. He is on the football field, in the moment, and trying to win a game he is being paid a ton of money to do. He shouldn't have to worry about what he says in what he considers to be a human reaction with some degree of privacy.

As tempting as it is to blame CBS for showing this, especially on multiple occasions within the same telecast, the network is spending millions and millions of dollars to televise these games, and wants to provide millions of fans with as much of the flavor as it possibly can.

But to see only three formal complaints when millions of people were viewing? Makes The Broadcast Booth think that CBS, and other networks which televise the NFL, may not be, ummmm, screwed by any of this.


Meanwhile, this may have come as a surprise to many, but Jon Gruden will remain as the Monday Night Football analyst for ESPN based on his just announced contract extension which now runs through 2021. Gruden even discussed the extension during the halftime segment of Monday's (12/15) telecast of the New Orleans at Chicago game. Many observers noticed how outspoken Gruden was about the problems the Chicago Bears have been having in the past few games and his criticism of QB Jay Cutler among others. Even in today's market, those were some strong team oriented opinions coming from a "national" analyst.

Gruden has become a "love him or hate him" analyst and has his detractors, while others anticipated him returning to coaching at either the NFL or NCAA level within the next two seasons.


CHICAGO: Dave Juday, who has been on the air as an anchor/reporter at WMVP ESPN 1000 since 1996, is no longer with the station on a full-time basis. However, he will be heard on the station a few more times, as his play-by-play for the University of Illinois Chicago basketball will continue to air on WMVP through this current season. In addition, Juday continues to host the "Jack Swarbrick Radio Show" with the Notre Dame Athletic Director (until late March, as previously scheduled), which airs in Chicago on WLS-AM.


SCRANTON: Now we'll get the chance to compare ratings of off-the-air vs. CBS Sports Radio to see which would be more successful. WARM 590, which was literally off the air for a short time after having been an oldies station for years, has received FCC permission to broadcast with a reduced signal. Their decision is to air CBS Sports Radio, even though the market already has three other sports stations already on the air.


Finally, for those who asked since the initial posting, here is the link to the Tom Brady complaints:

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/tom-brady-f-word

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Johnny Football On The Spot For Fox

A big break for Fox Sports became even bigger this week. Another schedule flexing brought them this Sunday's (12/14) Cleveland vs. Cincinnati telecast, originally scheduled for CBS. Now, the Browns going with Johnny Manziel as the starting QB brings even more interest to the telecast. Fox has already expanded the number of markets around the country that will not air this telecast ahead of their orginally scheduled Green Bay at Buffalo early regional telecast.

Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the call on many more Fox stations, which includes Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Dallas added to the list. Fox figures to generate significant ratings, especially on the west coast, all day with this telecast leading into its primary doubleheader game of San Francisco vs. Seattle.

A schedule coincidence keeps major midwest markets Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis from each of the games, however. These and surrounding markets remain focused on the "local" Central Division, with Green Bay at Buffalo shown early and the Minnesota vs. Detroit game being shown late.

This is an ironic twist for CBS, which lost the Browns telecast due to a flex. As of now it appears that NBC will finish the entire season without flexing any of its Sunday Night Football telecasts, which in recent years has cost CBS a couple of key game telecasts.


Over on the baseball side of things, there is still nothing further or imminent regarding having L.A. Dodgers telecasts on any more stations or providers by the start of the 2015 season. Team President Stan Kasten appeared on MLB Network on Wednesday (12/10), acting as if the team is "concerned" about the situation when asked by host Chris Russo. Kasten basically confirmed my theory within that interview, with comments to the effect of how the team is awaiting the proposed merger of Time Warner with Comcast as a means to increase the distribution. What Kasten neglected to mention is that this proposed merger is likely a long way off if it makes it past the approval process.


Major congratulations to Dick Enberg on being selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a result of his many years of broadcasting baseball games. Enberg, in addition to calling games for NBC Game of the Week and post-season coverage during the 70's and 80's, has also had a couple of stints as radio voice of the Angels. He continues as TV voice of the Padres. Oh my!

ESPN officials are most likely jumping for joy about having scheduled their Sunday Night Baseball opener on April 5th as the Cubs hosting the Cardinals. In addition to the managerial debut of Joe Maddon with the Cubs and this history of this rivalry, this game figures to be the debut of Jon Lester in a Cubs uniform as well. Yet, as of press time, the Cubs still do not have a TV arrangement in place for as many as 70 of their regular season telecasts in place yet.


TAMPA: WHFS-FM 98.7 The Fan has given up the struggle to attract an audience, stopping abruptly on December 4th when it went to holiday music during the afternoon. Always a sad thing to have staffers lose jobs, but The Fan never had enough wind from day one.


MINNEAPOLIS: Just as the Twins are strugging to get out of last place for 2015, so is KTWN-FM, which is owned by the Twins. The flagship station has reportedly ordered new web domains after eliminating Eric Perkins as a morning show co-host last week. The station's ratings have barely been better than a 1.0 rating most of the year, failing to gain after the miserable Twins season ended. This would indicate another format change could be in the works prior to the upcoming Twins season.