Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Local Team Telecasts Taking Over

Looks like we are into a trend of fans watching their local (or regional) team in action even more, and less of national telecasts of the major sports which are not football.

Forbes Magazine did an interesting report about last Wednesday (5/13) night which had a ton of major sports events on TV around the country. An exciting Game 5 of the NBA series between Atlanta and Washington (a one point Atlanta win) and Game 7 of the N.Y. Rangers against Washington, which went into overtime, actually finished behind the local MLB telecasts in 14 of 24 monitored markets. Those local telecasts also, understandably, had a bigger audience than ESPN's national telecast of the N.Y. Mets and Chicago Cubs.

Kansas City led the way that night, even though the Royals were only playing the Texas Rangers, off to a poor start this season. The Fox Sports Kansas City telecast literally had eight times more viewers than the NBA playoff games, which happened to have more than ten times audience of the NHL Game 7 telecast. (Granted, K.C. has never had the NHL, so that is understandable.)
That same night, the Pittsburgh market showed an audience for the Pirates vs. the Phillies which more than doubled the combined audience of the NHL, NBA, and national MLB telecasts also airing. (And Pittsburgh is very much an NHL town!)

Cleveland is obviously into the NBA (since the Cavs are now playing Atlanta for the Eastern Conference Championship). Yet, that same night, the last place Indians' telecast drew one-half rating point more than the NBA games, and had more than 20 times the audience size of the ESPN MLB telecast.

Other cities showing this trend had fewer reasons to be interested in the NBA and NHL telecasts, such as Cincinnati, Seattle, Boston, Tampa, and St. Louis. Although it is understandable that those local baseball telecasts would draw well, it is still noteworthy since these were early regular season games compared with the other sports' post-season telecasts.

This tells me that you can't always judge by national ratings. Unless it's the NFL.

Meanwhile, it can be said that the MLB replay reviews are directly helping some of the fans. Since all MLB games are televised, in order to have multiple replay angles available for challenged and reviewed plays, video production costs are now factored in. As a result, fans of the Oakland A's will now be able to see every game the A's play this season. Yet, all CSN California did was actually add two more telecasts using the A's TV crew of Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse. "Official" A's telecasts have been added for Weds. June 3 and Weds. July 1.

The 13 other regular season games, which are day games during the week, originally not scheduled, will now air on CSN California, will be aired live, simply by taking the video feed. In a unique plan, the A's will show the video and use the audio of the team's radio broadcasts from KGMZ-FM 95.7 The Game instead. This makes 2015 the first time ever that local fans can watch every pitch of the A's season. CSN has already sold a separate sponsorship for these games. It will be interesting to see if any other teams start doing this and have every MLB game available to the local fans. Especially since we know they are watching!

Look for more minor league baseball telecasts in certain markets. American Sports Network (ASN), a part of Sinclair Networks Group of TV stations, has secured a weekly minor league package including games from AAA to A involving eleven minor leagues. Former Royals and Rockies TV voice Dave Armstrong will be joined by Keith Moreland and Brian McRae.

As of press time, no word about which stations around the country will air some or all of the games. The first telecast is coming up on May 31st at 7 PM ET with the Iowa Cubs against the El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres).

It is not just local baseball teams making big ratings news. On Tuesday (May 19th) of this week, the NHL Western Conference Finals game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks went nearly three full overtimes and ended at 2:07 AM ET on NBCSN.

The overnight ratings estimated that between 1:00 and 1:15 AM Chicago time (when the game ended) there were 361,000 Chicago area households still tuned to the game, on a weeknight. One can only imagine what will happen if the series goes to a 7th game next week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baseball Helping The Radio Ratings Again

The most recent radio ratings are out this week, worth paying close attention to for sports stations since this reflects the busiest time of the sports year. As always, a few key markets worth focusing on.

The Boston sports radio battle is as tight as ever as of the April ratings, which were measured from March 26 to April 22. WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM Sports Hub are now right next to each other, with WEEI-FM at #6 overall and WBZ-FM at #7. The hot start by the Detroit Tigers is heating up The Ticket, as WXYT-FM The Ticket shows a 25% overall audience increase from March to April and is a solid #1 in the entire market. WXYT-FM airs the Tigers games and is a sports station the remainder of the time.

Both sports stations in New York City stayed pretty much the same from the previous ratings period, with both WFAN 660 The Fan and WEPN-FM ESPN showing very slight overall dips, even though WFAN began its second season as Yankees flagship. Ironically, WOR 710 scored its biggest overall audience since last fall, likely based on the hot start by the Mets.

Baseball has an impact on the Los Angeles ratings, as Dodgers flagship KLAC showed a 50% overall audience increase from March into April. Although still nothing to brag about, the station's ratings benefit from the majority of the L.A. market still unable to receive the Dodgers telecasts. Angels primary station KLAA showed a 33% overall audience increase during the same time, although its audience is still roughly only 1/3 of KLAC's. KSPN 710 showed a 10% drop.

San Francisco Giants fans have outdone their rival Dodgers fans on the radio side, as KNBR 680 showed a more than 20% audience increase for April from the previous ratings period. The sports station, which is the Giants' flagship, finished #2 overall in the market. At the same time, KGMZ 95.7 The Game, which is also the Oakland A's flagship station, held steady and has less than 1/3 of the audience size of KNBR.

Dallas' 3 sports stations are closer together than ever. KRLD-FM is now at a 1.8 rating, with KTCK -AM The Ticket at 1.6 and KESN ESPN now with a 1.4. San Diego also showing an increase for sports radio, with XPRS-AM now at #6 overall in the market up to a 4.2. In Baltimore, WJZ-FM showed a nearly 25% overall audience increase over the month and came in at #4 overall in that market.

Sports radio continues to struggle in Atlanta, even with the Hawks going deep into the NBA Playoffs. WZGC-FM lost 1/2 of a rating point over the month, yet still has seven times more listeners than WQXI 790.

Turner Sports is holding on to its NBA studio show for years to come. The network has extended the contracts of Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley for what appears to be in the eight to ten year range.

Over at ESPN, the past week seemingly brought more announcements from the network itself than sports stories it reported on.

The Mike & Mike morning show is moving to Times Square in NYC to enhance its look for ESPN2, and reportedly to be able to have more of their guests on camera rather than just on the phone. This relocation from the Bristol studio could also benefit NYC's WEPN in its hope to be more competitive against rival WFAN.

The Fusion Network will begin airing Dan LeBatard's afternoon ESPN Radio show in the 4-7 PM ET weekday time slot, bringing sports to the little known TV network.

Bill Simmons, who was suspended by ESPN for three weeks last year after his negative comments about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, is not receiving a contract renewal from the Network.
ESPN will again show an NFL Wild Card Playoff game next January, but plans to either move the telecast to ABC or simulcast it with ESPN. This appears to be the result of a little known clause in its contract with the NFL. Clearly NBC, CBS, and Fox can't be pleased that suddenly ABC will suddenly share in the "over the air" NFL post-season ratings bonanza. The most recent NFL telecast on ABC was the Super Bowl game in February of 2006, which will be just a few weeks shy of 10 years earlier.

Long time host Scott Van Pelt has been signed to a multi-year contract extension, which also includes Van Pelt anchoring a late night weeknight edition of SportsCenter.

And, ESPN has finally realized the opportunities it could have to put Dodgers games on so that even fans in the Los Angeles area can see them. After not featuring them once on Sunday Night Baseball during April or May, the Dodgers' June 7th game against St. Louis will be shown nationally, including the L.A. market.

CLEVELAND: It can now be said that 92.3 The Fan has "lowered the Booms". This is certainly not a joke for Chuck Booms, who also appears locally as a stand-up comedian. Booms has been relieved of his morning show co-host duties by the station. At this time, Kevin Kiley remains on the morning show, with no co-host replacement yet named.

CHICAGO: WGN 720 weekend sports host Jarrett Payton will also host a sports talk show on CLTV, the local news cable channel, as well as doing some sports reporting for WGN-TV. If you are wondering about the name, the answer is yet. Jarrett is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton. Sister Brittany Payton also works on CLTV hosting a restaurant review program.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

NFL Dominates The Media In More Ways Than One

The NFL having both the money and the power it does has been extremely evident in the media over the past week. We may not like it, but we as fans seem to have to accept it. Here we have all of the big four major network spending a combined billions of dollars for the rights to the games and the coverage, yet they don't question the League taking control over how certain content is handled.

They have put the fear into the media companies that if any of them question the NFL they might not have the opportunity to pay up millions more dollars and get in on the advertising and subscription dollars it generates in return several years from now.

Timing is everything. The League office decides to start paying taxes on its earnings for the first time, rather than have to reveal even more information about its billions of income. They "just happen" to reveal this just before the NFL Draft, which dominated the sports publicity machine for days during late April.

These days all of the national and regional sports networks place an added emphasis on their draft previews even though they do not actually televise the choices. ESPN benefits because Fox, NBCSN, CBS Sports Network, and the regional CSN's and Root Sports add to the hype for the local team choices.

This year, the word was put our there even more heavily that the NFL "requested" that reporters not use social media to report the first and second round draft picks until they were announced on the ESPN and NFL Network telecasts. As The Broadcast Booth sees it, this should be cause for media outrage.

Just because ESPN and NFL Network want a delay so that they can be ready "immediately" with the highlights and profiles of the choices, it should not mean that other reporters should have to wait before reporting the news of these draft picks. This is done by the League for the sole purpose of hyping the telecasts on its own network (NFL Network) and ESPN. This point is further illustrated by the League including ESPN reporters in their request to delay these announcements.

Members of the media should be offended and outraged at this request, pointing out that it's up to NFL Network and ESPN to have their facts and profiles ready and have every pick announced immediately to everyone at the same time.

On Wednesday (5/6) we had still another example of the total control. The NFL announced that they have determined that the Patriots were involved with deflating footballs for the AFC Championship game played in January. Let's get this straight. It took league officials more than THREE MONTHS to come to this conclusion?

Granted, I can't prove this, but my hunch is they were ready with these findings at least two months earlier. However, having done so would have possibly tainted the Patriots and their Super Bowl victory. By delaying this until the middle of the off-season and just after all of the positive coverage of the NFL Draft, the League was able to push this cheating under the turf.

The on-air controversy about this was limited to how the team should or will be penalized in the future, and not about whether or not the Super Bowl participants were achieved fairly and with integrity.

However, if the NFL can get network reporters to wait a few minutes to "report" on the draft and not question a story about the League's multi-million dollar tax situation, they can certainly ask them to bury a story which should have had impact on its integrity. And, obviously, they have, and are getting away with it.

CINCINNATI: WLW Radio's Lance McAlister made news in a different way this past weekend when he took the time to acknowledge the passing of a long time listener on the station's web site. On Sunday (5/3), McAlister posted:

"I was stunned to learn that Roger C. Hamilton passed away unexpectedly on Friday at the age of 51. Roger, known as "Hammy", was a long-time listener and caller to Cincinnati Sports Talk and my shows. Hammy once joined me for an edition of the "Roundtable of Regulars" in December of 2006 (picture below).

Then in June of 2006, I hosted the "Ultimate Trivia Showdown"at Dickmann's Sports Cafe. The contested featured Hammy vs Mike from Fairfield. Steven Sharp (pictured) wrote several of the questions that day and Richard Skinner served as judge and referee. Hammy defeated Mike.
Roger was a friend, loyal listener and a fantastic caller that always added to the show.

My thoughts and prayers to Roger's family. "

MINNEAPOLIS: KFAN 1003 and KTLK 1130 have a new five year extension to continue airing the Vikings games through the 2020 season. This also includes keeping Paul Allen as the play-by-play voice. Terms of the new deal were not disclosed.

SACRAMENTO: KHTK, which has broadcast the Kings games since 1994, has signed a five year extension to run through the 20-21 season on the sports station. What we don't know is whether or not there is an out clause in the event the team does not remain in the Sacramento area during that time.

ATLANTA: This announcement is like making a molehill out of a molecule. WCNN 680 and The Fan 93.7 actually went as far as to make an official announcement about a multi-year partnership with the Atlanta Track Club. The plan is for the sports stations to broadcast from live events such as marathons and other such races. Looks as though the "running" part of this is that the station must be "running" out of content ideas.

COLLEGE STATION TX: The Zone KZNE 1150 has added an FM simulcast on 102.7 as of this week. The flagship station for Texas A&M University play-by-play adds the FM signal in order to compete against KJXJ 103.9 (licensed to Franklin), the ESPN affiliate which began just two months ago.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

From Rough Draft To Completion

Nice going last week on WFAN 660 New York's Boomer & Carton morning show when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was a live guest. They managed to get Silver to talk about the possibility of eventually legalizing sports gambling. This is a topic very rarely discussed on live airwaves with an executive who is directly involved.

Silver, of course, has been public about the subject in recent months, including his op-ed piece published in the New York Times last November. With pro sports commissioners under so much heat these days, it was refreshing to actually hear one address a matter which others have all but avoided over the years.

As we wind down the hours before the NFL Draft, Fox Sports plans to go ahead with its "Fox Sports Live 2015 NFL Draftcast". Their first round coverage for Fox Sports Radio (on Thursday 4/30) will also be streamed on and available via their live app. What makes this interesting is that Fox Sports does not have official rights to broadcast the Draft, with ESPN and NFL Network both providing that.

Supposedly the Fox Radio crew will be stationed nearby at a Chicago restaurant getting the choices and with the analysts. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see whether the NFL decides to charge an additional rights fee for this in coming years, or if they restrict this in some way, even though Fox Sports is a media partner of the NFL. Not that ESPN or NFL Network have anything to worry about, given how much of Fox Sports activities are aired in relative secrecy.

My thinking is that ESPN won't complain because it makes for still another network adding to the endless hype about the Draft, which ESPN has been covering live for more than 30 years.

A proud moment for the Albert family this past Saturday (4/25) when father and son were each calling play-by-play on a national network of a game in New York City at the same time. Marv was on TNT calling the late afternoon Atlanta at Brooklyn playoff game, while son Kenny was on Fox Sports 1 calling the Yankees vs. the Mets.

Kenny Albert will also continue to call selected NHL playoff games for the NBC Sports Group, giving him the unique opportunity to call play-by-play of national telecasts for two separate networks within the same week.

NBC Sports will be doing an analyst crossover this Saturday (5/2)  when primary NHL analyst Ed Olczyk joins the NBC telecast of the Kentucky Derby as its Stanley Cup coverage begins Round 2. Olczyk has done analysis during Breeders Cup Series last year, during which he picked a couple of winners ahead of time. Then, on Sunday evening, he is expected to be back in Chicago for NBCSN's coverage of the Minnesota vs. Chicago Game 2 telecast.

Speaking of the Mets vs. Yankees series this past weekend, ESPN generated strong ratings for its Sunday Night Baseball exclusive telecast of the series finale (4/26). The local New York City ratings were the best for an ESPN telecast of an MLB regular season game since the 2011 season.

CBS Sports Network has announced it will again televise a series of ten minor league baseball telecasts this season, running from May 28th through August 6th. This season there will be AAA, AA, and A games included. Interesting idea, but it is tough to overlook associating CBS Sports Network with the minor leagues.

NEW YORK: This one was not the fault of the NBC Sports Group, which is airing every Stanley Cup playoff game again this season, but it sure didn't help matters any. WNBC-TV Channel 4, the nation's largest NBC station, embarrassed themselves big time on Sunday (4/26) on one of its morning updates. The station showed a graphic about the Islanders (then) playoff game, saying that "Nassau Coliseum could stay open for Game 8". Yikes.

HARTFORD: WTIC 1080 has decided to go with a sports talk show in afternoon drive as of this week to instead of its usual news and political talk. The Joe D. and Gresh Show features  Joe A'Ambrosio and Andy Gresh. D'Ambrosio, the voice of University of Connecticut basketball, has been with WTIC for more than 23 years. Gresh most recently was a host on WBZ Sports Hub in Boston, as well as a college football analyst for Comcast SportsNet New England.

The pair will now compete against 97.9 ESPN and the Rob Dibble Show, now in its second year. Yes, that is the former pitcher.

HOUSTON: Now that the Astros are back to being a major league team again, the TV audience is returning. Through the first 20 games of the 2015 season, Root Sports is showing ratings almost three times higher for Astros telecasts compared with the "late" CSN Houston ratings of 2014. When Root needed to bump the Astros game (for Tues. 4/28) to its "plus" channel due to the Rockets playoff telecast, it was actually a news item this time around. Last season there were several reports of 0.0 ratings for some Astros games.

LAS VEGAS: Makes me wonder if there will soon be a line on how many sports radio stations there will be in Vegas. Now KRLV 1340 is changing from a Spanish format to Fox Sports Radio, taking the affiliation away from KMZQ 670. The market already has ESPN 100.9 and 1100, KBAD 920 The Game, and KXST 1140 Sports Radio. And that doesn't count ESPN Deportes KENO 1460.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reds Reporter "Catches On" With His Story

Kudos to C. Trent Rosecrans, the beat writer covering the Reds for the Cincinnati Enquirer. It was his report, and an accurate one at that, about Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco not being available to the Reds during their Sunday game against the Cardinals, which opened up a media controversy.

As you probably know, Reds Manager Bryan Price had a tantrum about Rosecrans' story by way of a more than five minute tirade laced with profanity. Rosecrans, and rightfully so, pointed out in his follow up column for the newspaper that not even Price questioned the accuracy of his story. That is the most important element of all of this.

Price, for some bizarre reason, feels that the media "covering" the Reds should not be doing anything which could impact the Reds in any way. Those fans who don't seem to mind when pro sports teams produce their "own" content for TV and radio shows should take notice of how many pro teams would prefer to handle "news" about their teams. The fans are paying enough money in ticket prices and for telecasts of the games to know the truth, and nothing but the truth.

I could see Price throwing a tantrum if the story was not accurate, but most definitely not for reporting the news. For all of the rumors and speculation which too many of today's media members confuse with "news", the last thing sports fans need is for a reporter to be chastised for simply reporting a news story accurately. The Reds were swept by the Cardinals in the weekend series. At least Price didn't get mad at every publication, TV and radio station, and web site which reported about all of the losses he managed.

Although Rosecrans was simply "doing his job" by being the first to report this information, it is what followed which should earn him kudos. His follow up column tells of how he turned down numerous interview requests, including CNN and ESPN, with the reason being a very simple "not wanting to be part of the story". This is how it should be, but not every "reporter" these days would have taken that perfect approach and gone for the air time and the glory.

ESPN, CNN, and other media were so very wrong in approaching Rosecrans for an interview. This is part of the problem with many of today's journalists. They wait until a "story" comes to them and then aim for the easy and sensational reaction. Instead of looking to make Rosecrans part of the "story", their producers and reporters should have been following up on the injury to Devin Mesoraco of the Reds. ESPN pays millions of dollars to televise and cover MLB, but a local reporter scooped them on a story.

Fans have the advantage of various forms of technology to receive their sports information. The "reporting" media needs to go back to actually reporting on stories and not be focused on someone who actually reported on one.

Speaking of the Reds, their all-time great Pete Rose has been hired by Fox Sports to be a studio analyst for Fox and Fox Sports 1 baseball telecasts, as well as appear on some of the rarely watched FS1 baseball coverage. It will be interesting to see if this association has any impact on Commissioner Manfred's possible decision to reinstate Rose to MLB in some form within the near future. Like him or not, Rose is extremely knowledgeable about today's players as well as the history of the game, and figures to add some pertinent commentary. Not sure even his presence will be enough to draw an audience to FS1.

As we continue with the first round of the NBA Playoffs, chances are the televising networks are rooting hard for LeBron James and the Cavaliers to keep advancing. The Cavs were involved in five of the six highest rated regular season telecasts on ESPN during the regular season. The first game between Cleveland and Boston on Sunday (4/19) on ABC was the third highest overnight rating ever for a Round 1 Game 1 matchup.

In the Cleveland area, the Cavs finished with the second highest local telecast ratings for the regular season (behind perennial winner San Antonio) with an impressive 137% ratings increase over the previous regular season (without LeBron).

While ESPN and NFL Network are putting the final touches on their in depth NFL Draft coverage for next week, Fox Sports is also planning its "NFL Draftcast" from Chicago. The network plans to simulcast its coverage online and on Fox Sports Radio Network, in what seems like another well kept secret.

NEW YORK: Rangers fever is strong even during the first round. MSG Network's Rangers vs. Penguins Game 2 telecast (on 4/16) finished as the highest rated first round telecast of the 25 years for which Nielsen ratings has been tracking this.

KANSAS CITY: The hot start by the Royals, combined with the intense series vs. Oakland this past weekend has been welcome news for Fox Sports Kansas City. FSKC's Sunday (4/19) telecast of that series' final game is now the highest rated telecast of any event in network history. The previous high was the 2008 Kansas vs. Missouri football game.

CLEVELAND: Word is that Chris Rose will become the new voice of Browns pre-season football on WEWS-TV Channel 5 in August. He would be working with Solomon Wilcots as his analyst.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Varied Verdict Coverage

To put it mildly, it was interesting to see how some of the key sports media outlets handled the announcement of the verdict in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial on Wednesday (4/15).

We start with ESPN, which led the way and went live with coverage, and did a thorough job. However, the part of things did not go so well. Their "flash" release of the verdict had a headline of "Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty......". Yet, the very first paragraph of content under that headline, for the first few minutes it was online, said "found not guilty in the murder of......".

You read that right. Their headline and first sentence of the story contradicted each other as the story was breaking. This from a news organization which has been quick to suspend employees over social media (and not on the air) comments in the past.

On the air, ESPN, along with CNN, stayed with the story following the guilty verdict for live reaction, with ESPN continuing its coverage (along with other sports news) during the hours which followed.

A different story, however, over at NFL Network, where they joined the coverage just prior to the verdict announcement, and then seemingly hurried back to regular programming, which was their scheduled pre-recorded fare. This raises an interesting question as to how an official league network should handle what is really a negative situation.

If NFL Network had stayed with the coverage and attempted to minimize the public relations impact on the League, there would have been criticism, just as there is for running away from extended live coverage as if they are not facing it head on.

From my point of view, the NFL Network blew it. Providing their own reaction coverage could have been a form of damage control. This is not to say that a guilty verdict on murder charges is minimal, but avoiding it was not the right call.

NFL Network had time to prepare for the verdict announcement and should have been ready to react. They could have had at least one Patriots official ready to comment about how upsetting this is, while reminding fans and viewers that Hernandez had no longer been a part of the team. They could have taken some reaction from fans of the Patriots and around the league. If the reaction was supportive of the team and the league, it would have reflected. If it was negative reaction, it would show the fans that NFL Network is not above criticism, while letting league officials know that they would need to do some crisis management as soon as possible.

Instead, fans who heard the news and wanted to see some reaction and turned to NFL Network had no choice but to tune over to ESPN, CNN, or in some instances to one of the regional sports networks where they could see immediate reaction and analysis of the verdict. Keep in mind that in two weeks the NFL Network will be directly competing with ESPN for viewers during the NFL Draft. Although fans would not put a murder verdict in the same category as draft news, the point is that other networks outshined in coverage of a league related story.

Of course, the verdict was bigger news in New England because of Hernandez having played for the Patriots. While both sports radio stations were among those on top of the developments, it was a split decision for the regional TV sports networks. Comcast SportsNet New England interrupted their programming to provide live coverage and reaction. However, NESN did not, continuing to air paid infomercials during the time its biggest competitor was airing the live reaction.

The radio station ratings for the March ratings period are coming out this week, with the general trend of major market sports stations being that they are at lower listener levels for March than they were for January. As always, the Boston sports station race bears a closer look. From January through the March ratings period, WBZ-FM Sports Hub has dropped in overall audience from a 5.5 to a 4.7.

As happens in most other markets, an audience dip of the leading sports station is not as a result of the "lower" rated station taking away listeners. Rival WEEI-FM, during the very same time frame, dropped from a 5.0 to their current 4.1.

These drops are not a disaster for either station, as those totals continue to put both sports stations in the nine highest rated stations in the Boston area, still by far the strongest showing for a combination of two sports radio stations.

It remains to be seen whether the next ratings period will show an impact from WEEI morning co-host John Dennis being off the air for what could be six weeks. Dennis has voluntarily checked himself into a local rehab facility. The "Dennis & Callahan Show" continues with co-host Gerry Callahan and Kirk Minihane during his absence.

On one hand, the NBA may not care when games air via their big spending TV partners, but on the other hand they should. Granted, the final round of the Masters was this past Sunday (4/12) and ESPN aired early round coverage, but that should not be a reason to concede viewers to CBS.
ESPN/ABC should be promoting its upcoming extensive NBA playoff coverage which begins this coming weekend with more than the usual number of appealing first round series. Yet, neither ESPN or ABC aired any NBA games during the usual Sunday afternoon window. That window included the 1 PM ET "first game" possibility, which would likely have ended during the first hour of CBS-TV's final round of the Masters coverage. There were four afternoon games on the NBA schedule on Sunday, and three of those had playoff implications.

This means that fans checking ESPN and ABC on the weekend days before the playoffs had no games to watch, and the NBA had significantly less promotional time for what is to come.

Although this blunder was via social media and not national TV (or lack thereof), an "ooops" moment on Twitter on Tuesday (4/14) was certainly embarrassing for the 26 minutes it was posted.

TurnerSportsPR put out on Twitter, "NBA on TNT Action Continues TONIGHT with Doubleheader Featuring Bulls vs. Heat & Trail Blazers vs. Warriors". However, that doubleheader was what TNT showed the previous week!

It wasn't until 22 minutes later (making it nice that Twitter feeds have a time stamp), then posted "Tonight’s #NBA lineup: 7pm/E @NBATV GameTime 8p @NBAonTNT @WashWizards vs. @pacers, 10:30p @LAClippers vs. @suns". There was no apology, nor was there any mention of this being a correction or of any earlier error. Yikes.

On the other side, NBC is taking a more aggressive approach to promoting its NHL Stanley Cup Playoff coverage. In addition to adding USA Network to the fold for a group of first and second round games, NBC has decided to televise the NHL Draft Lottery for the first time, and it will air in prime time. NBC has a first round game to air in prime time this Saturday (4/18) at 8 PM ET, which will be Game 2 of the N.Y. Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series. The Draft Lottery will air just prior to the opening face off.

According to Sports Business Journal, NBCSN scored its third best audience since acquiring the NHL telecast rights prior to the 2005-06 season, although viewership was actually down slightly from the previous season. The "Wednesday Night Rivalry" series did gain steam this season with increased viewership over the previous year, and finishing up with seven of the most watched NBCSN telecasts for its entire season of games. The report shows that Buffalo, Boston, and Pittsburgh were the top local markets for viewers. Looks like the majority of the snow-ins in the Buffalo area this past winter got interested in the NHL.

ESPN has announced that 78 year old Lou Holtz really has retired from his college football analyst role. The former Notre Dame coach held that role since the 2004 season.

PHILADELPHIA: After being so strongly rumored the actual announcement seemed liked no big deal, but it is official that Anthony Gargano will join WPEN 97.5 to co-host a new local morning show to start within a month. Gargano, formerly at soon-to-be rival WIP 94.1, will co-host with Jon Marks, who would reportedly move up from his current early afternoon slot. The ESPN station has been airing Mike & Mike in the morning since 2009.

CHICAGO: New Cubs manager Joe Maddon has been signed by WSCR 670 The Score for a regular Tuesday midday segment on The Spiegel and Goff Show. The move comes as sister station WBBM 780 has begun as the Cubs flagship station. Ironically, WSCR is currently the flagship station for the White Sox broadcasts, although in its final year of the current contract which has yet to be extended.

The Cubs newest TV station, WLS-TV Channel 7, experienced a horrendous start to the start of a very special season for them. For the first time in station history, they are televising 25 Cubs games this season. Last Wednesday (4/8) during the station's first ever local baseball telecast, the station aired a series of graphics featuring every National League team. However, it appears nobody thought to proof read them first. Viewers saw the "San Francisco Mariners" on the screen. Incredibly, that wasn't the entire blunder. San Francisco was misspelled, as were Milwaukee and Cincinnati. It is probably a good thing they didn't feature the American League that day.

Then, on Friday (4/10), the station was airing its usual 6:00 PM newscast, when long time sportscaster Mark Giangreco's segment came on just minutes after the White Sox home opener vs. Minnesota had just ended. Giangreco called for the White Sox highlights but no video came up. A few seconds later, highlights from the earlier Cubs game at Colorado came up, and he narrated them with no problem.

When the video ended, he said something like "But we are sorry, we do not have the White Sox highlights", and then went on with the other sports news. Say what?

I understand that technical problems can happen at any time. However, there is no excuse for not having any copy ready to, at the very least, give details about the game. Viewers got nothing. Not even information about the losing pitcher, who hit home runs, or anything else except for the score of the game. Not even an Opening Day feature. And then a shortened sportscast as if nothing went wrong?

It's only a week into the new season, but WLS-TV has a lot of work to do in order to salvage their baseball season.

NEW YORK: MSG Networks have found an easy way to keep the local teams in check for the first round of the NHL playoffs, since they show both the Rangers and Islanders games. MSG Network will show all of the Rangers games it can while the Islanders telecasts, even when on separate nights from the Rangers' series, will air on MSG+.  Any games airing nationally on NBC-TV will not be televised by MSG for either team.

HOUSTON: KILT 610 has added Sara Eckert to its reporting and update anchor staff. Eckert is known locally for her previous work with CSN Houston.

COLORADO SPRINGS: KREL 1580 has dropped its sports format, but not for the usual reasons. The station has changed to become the first radio station with a format of talking about and covering the marijuana industry, which is legal in Colorado. Seriously.

SPOKANE: KZFS 1280 and 99.3 has dropped its sports format. These stations have replaced it with Christian programming.

SCRANTON/WILKS-BARRE: WHBS 102.3 The Sports Hub is no longer, having changed over to a rock music format and its call letters to WMQX.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tournament 'Dukes' It Out For Strong Ratings

It turned out to be "ratings madness" for the NCAA tournament this year even though Kentucky fell short in its attempt to carry out an undefeated season. CBS, TBS and family drew huge audiences, gaining the tournament's highest average ratings in 22 years. The Monday night (4/6) championship game between Duke and Wisconsin drew the highest overnight rating for a championship game since (ironically) the Kentucky vs. Arizona battle in 1997. The Final Four telecast on Saturday (4/4) was up more than 38% over last year's Saturday games, and was the highest since 1996.

In addition to the TV side, word is that just the Monday night championship game generated approximately 3.4 million live video streams, which is also a record. Even with all of this, we'll never know what would have happened on Monday had the University of Kentucky been going for the unbeaten season.

The past couple of days also brought the start of the 2015 MLB season. From having watched at least one inning of several of the local and network telecasts of opening games, it seems as if the head honchos have put an unofficial gag order on the "speeding up the game" discussion.

Early in spring training, many of the local team telecasts made mention of the clock to time the between innings and pitching change breaks, along with batters needing to stay within range of the batter's box. Yet, now that the regular season is upon us, you would think there was no such rule. I didn't hear or see one mention of this, and that includes Sunday night's (4/5) ESPN opener.

For the St. Louis at Chicago Cubs telecast, ESPN generated its highest opening night ratings in five years, up nearly 40% from last season. In St. Louis, the single market overnight rating of 17.7 is reportedly the highest regular season MLB game in history on any ESPN network. The Chicago market ratings were strong, but likely hindered a bit by the more meaningful Blackhawks vs. St. Louis NHL game on NBCSN. (Coincidentally, national viewers were able to choose among two separate St. Louis at Chicago telecasts mostly head-to-head.)

Frankly, ESPN got lucky that enough people knew to check ESPN2. It could be due to contractual obligations, but ESPN stuck with the Women's NCAA tournament telecasts while Sunday Night Baseball was moved to ESPN2. An hour earlier, the start of Baseball Tonight on ESPN2 (the lead in) was delayed eight minutes due to some soccer telecast which ran over. Since when do soccer and women's basketball take such priority over MLB?
Speaking of ESPN, pleased to see that the network finally released Bobby Knight from his analyst role following its NIT coverage. Ever since the incident a couple years back where he used profanity on live TV and never apologized, it was incredible that the network stuck with him. After all, if one of his players had violated policy, you know Knight would have made sure the player was disciplined and that everybody knew all about how Knight took such action. Let's hope we have finally heard the last of him anywhere.

This week's BUSTED note has to go to Yankees radio voice John Sterling. During the season opening broadcast between the Yankees and Blue Jays on Monday (4/6), Sterling finished a play and quickly recapped and sent the broadcast to the end of inning commercial. One problem. That was only the second out. BUSTED

On a sad note, both MLB and NFL fans lost a legendary broadcaster with the passing of Lon Simmons over the weekend at the age of 91. Simmons had been a fixture in the Bay Area, mostly known for his work on the Giants radio broadcasts from 1958 (when they moved to San Francisco) to 1979 (missing 1974 and '75) and again from 1996 to 2002. From 1981 to 1995 he was across the Bay as one of the A's radio voices. Lon was on the air during the 1989 World Series broadcast when the big earthquake hit. And, early in his career he also called 49ers radio play-by-play. Even though his play-by-play in later years was as boring as Pat Summerall, Simmons brought a lot of humor and experience to the broadcasts even then. He will be missed.

ST. LOUIS: KXFM 1380 has added to its "mostly sports" radio lineup, including returning Howard Balzer to the local airwaves starting on April 20th. Balzer will co-host middays with Charlie Edwards. This week the station began airing J.C. Corcoran during morning drive although that show will not be limited to sports. The station will air a ton of syndicated sports shows including NBC Sports Radio.

ALBUQUERQUE: KXKS 1190 and 107.5 have gone to an all-sports radio simulcast. However, the vast majority of its content will be from Fox Sports Radio.

MELBOURNE FL: WLZR-AM and WSJZ-FM have dropped their FM simulcast of "The Fan". WLZR remains as "Sports 1560 The Fan" and continues with ESPN Radio. WSJZ-FM has, as of last week, switched to a combination of rock music and talk.

CHRISTOPHER IL: WXLT 103.5 ESPN has named Derek Fogel as Program Director as well as morning sports anchor on sister station News Radio 1340 WJPF which serve a small part of Southern Illinois. Fogel's father, Dave Fogel, is morning man on music station WJMK Chicago.