Tuesday, October 21, 2014

If Turner Dishes It Out, How Are Sports Fans Going To Take It ?

Here we go again with the rising costs of sports programming having an impact on how much more consumers are being expected to pay. As of press time (10/21), Dish Network is no longer providing Turner Broadcasting channels to its subscribers. Let the mud slinging begin.

Subscribers lose out on TNT, TBS, as well as CNN, HLN, Turner Classic Movies, and a couple of other channels in the family. You can't tell me it is a coincidence that this happens one week before the start of the NBA regular season (with TNT again having a national package of weeknight telecasts). Especially since TNT just nearly tripled its rights fees to renew its NBA rights earlier this month. Already, efforts are underway to raise the price so that TNT can attempt a return on its investment. An investment no one forced them to make.

If you are not a Dish TV subscriber, do not think for one minute that this does not have an impact on you. Perhaps it won't over the next few weeks, but for sports fans around the country this is another story which bears watching.

Turner Broadcasting is a division of Time Warner Inc., which also owns the L.A. Dodgers channel which is currently distributed in less than one-third of available cable/satellite homes in Southern California after a nearly $2 billion dollar deal commited to by TWC. Now, we have a percentage of national subscribers to Dish Network who, for very much the same reason, could be shut out of NBA telecasts for the regular season as well as potentially playoff games if nothing is resolved by April.
While this is going on, the possibility still exists of a merger between Comcast/NBC and Time Warner Cable. he potential transaction still has not been turned down. If it manages to be approved, consumers would be faced with the vast majority of cable systems, internet providers, and sports rights being owned/controlled by the game giant entity. Along with a lot of the media which "reports" and covers the very same sports teams and leagues.

Meanwhile, as we write this hours before the 2014 World Series gets underway, it's interesting to note that San Francisco area radio listeners have a choice of radio broadcasts, since ESPN's national broadcast is not blacked out in either local team market. With the likes of Jon Miller and a high caliber broadcast team, it's highly unlikely that Bay Area radio listeners would go anywhere other than KNBR 680's game broadcasts. But it's interesting to note that the ESPN broadcast will be carried on KGMZ 95.7 The Game.

Ironically, KGMZ is also sports radio and averages only about 20% to 25% of KNBR's total audience. In addition, the station serves as the Oakland A's flagship station, with the A's having blown a big division lead and then losing out in their one post-season game this year.

On the football side, several radio stations which carry the Bob & Tom syndicated morning shows are being provided with specific songs geared toward the local pro or college football team in an interesting marketing strategy. Duke Tumatoe and the Bob & Tom Band are producing the songs from their Indianapolis studios. Cincinnati's WOFX Fox 92.5 was the first station to receive one, with a song specific to the Bengals. Their stations in New Orleans, Detroit, and Buffalo, and Green Bay are among those which will be airing custom pro team songs, while stations in Oklahoma and Nebraska will be provided with songs to promote their major college teams. Most of the stations which air the show are not sports stations and/or do not air the broadcasts for the teams being featured within the songs.

It's not exactly a draft, but CBS and Fox have been working to select specific NFL telecasts to "protect" from flex scheduling to NBC or another network during the final six weeks of the regular season. NBC has the right to select from certain games for its Sunday Night Football schedule, with the current contracts allowing for Fox and CBS to protect up to one telecast per week from Week 11 through Week 17 of the season.

Among the games Fox is holding onto are Philadelphia vs. Green Bay (week 11), New Orelans at Pittsburgh (week 13), Seattle at Philadelphia (week 14), San Francisco at Seattle (week 15), and, for some unknown reason, Detroit at Chicago for week 16. I'll take a stab at a possible reason for Fox to hang onto Detroit at Chicago late in the season. It is likely because Fox loses the Chicago at Detroit telecast to CBS on Thanksgiving Day (when CBS was flexed a telecast on an "all NFC" day), and wants to be sure it will serve both Top 5 markets with a local telecast. However, as of now, it doesn't appear that by Week 16 either team will be a major post-season threat.

CBS, on the other hand, includes Miami at Denver (week 13), New England at Green Bay (week 15), and Indy at Dallas (week 16) on its list. We certainly understand New England at Green Bay on this list. Even if the Patriots are out of the picture, a Brady vs. Rogers matchup is top-notch no matter what.

On the college side, ABC is certainly pleased that the Notre Dame vs. Florida State matchup last Saturday (10/18) was at Florida State. Because of that, ABC was able to televise the game, and scored the highest rating of the season (thus far) for a college telecast. The Chicago market, with a strong Notre Dame base, scored a 10.4 local average rating for the telecast.

CHICAGO: WLS-TV channel 7 named Dionne Miller as its new weekend sports anchor, which gives her the distinction of being that station's first female sports anchor. Miller had been with WFLD-TV in Chicago as a weekend sports anchor since 2012 and had worked at Big Ten Network prior to that.

CLEVELAND: The impact of LeBron James continues. In addition to the AM-FM simulcast discussed here last week, the Cavaliers games will also be broadcast in Spanish. WLFM 87.7 will air all home and road games, and has brought in Rafael Hernandez Brito to call the games. Brito had called the Brooklyn Nets games in Spanish during the two previous seasons. This makes the Cavs the sixth NBA team to air at least some of its schedule in Spanish, and the first in a state other than Texas or Florida. The others are Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Miami, and Orlando.

CANTON OH: WHBC 1480 has added Cleveland radio veteran Kenny Roda to its lineup, with Roda hosting 3 to 7 PM weekdays starting on Monday (10/27). This moves Sam Bourquin to the morning show, along with Gary Rivers and Pam Cook. In addition to the stronger Cleveland flavor by adding Roda (who was with WKNR from 1992 into last year), the station also airs the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians broadcasts. The station also continutes its local flavor with numerous high school game broadcasts, some of which are called by Bourquin.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

NBA Advertising To Become "Uniform"

At what point will sports telecasts become too saturated with advertising content that they will become unwatchable? That "point" is getting closer to reality with help from the new multi-billion dollar deal for NBA rights from ESPN and Turner Sports. And it probably won't stop there.

Those fans who send me comments on this column thought I was nuts a couple of years ago when I began to comment about how it probably won't be long before the player uniforms contain advertising messages, and how NASCAR drivers were only the beginning.  Look again.

Among the small print in the new NBA rights deal is the ability for Turner Sports to sell advertising on NBA All-Star Game jerseys for 2017. (The new deal doesn't kick in until the 2016-17 season.)  It could get even worse.

John Ourand of Sports Media Journal has reported that negotiations are underway for ESPN and Turner Sports to receive money from any "jersey sponsorship plans" which the NBA sells to regional and national sponsors, and that the networks feel entitled to a percentage because said sponsors would be seen on ESPN and/or Turner Sports telecasts.

It is bad enough that we rarely see a camera shot without advertising somewhere during a MLB, NBA, or NHL telecast, including on the field, court, and ice. Once the players become walking, running, or skating billboards as well, it will make many telecasts hard to deal with.

It is interesting that CBS is actually looking at the rising consumer costs for cable/satellite service. The announcement (on 10/16) of the "CBS All Access" service to consumers, which allows programming to be seen without cable/satellite service for a monthly fee is sure to have ramifications on the industry.

Don't be surprised if and when other TV networks quickly come on board and also offer this service, and at a cost similar to the $5.99 monthly fee CBS plans to start out with. It is important to note that while the CBS plan is extensive, including first-run shows as well as entire show inventories on-demand, the announcement specifically states that CBS NFL coverage is NOT included.

I'm here to tell you that NFL and sports programming will be impacted big time from this. Here is why. Over the next few weeks, I fully expected NBC, ABC, and Fox to unveil similar services within the same price range. Thus, once all four networks have their full line of programming available, without cable/satellite being needed, it means that millions of "non sports" fans would have access to the four major broadcast networks' programming for around $25 per month, and can cut the cord with cable/satellite services. Their savings will be upwards of $100 to $150 per month in many cases.

Once literally millions of consumers do this, it leaves only the sports fans who can still afford it who would choose to pay these ever increasing monthly fees for cable/satellite in order to follow their favorite teams and games.

Meanwhile, we get ready for NFL Week 8 (10/26)which includes the Detroit vs. Atlanta game from London with a 9:30 AM ET start time. Fans have been wondering whether or not there will be four live NFL games available for that day, but the answer appears to be the regular three games. Word is that Fox plans to air its Fox NFL Sunday pre-game show at 9 AM ET for those markets getting the Falcons vs. Lions game only. Those markets will then receive either a 1:00 OR 4:25 PM ET telecast instead of both. (NBC's Sunday Night Football telecast rounds out the day as usual.)

In order to better sort out the "regular time" telecasts for October 26th, the NFL has moved Seattle at Carolina to CBS and the Houston at Tennesse telecast over to Fox.

Fox Sports Radio will not even be living up to that name much longer. The network plans to begin a new weekday lineup on November 3rd, which, by the way, includes about ten hours (that is HOURS, not minutes) of its day with programming not specific to sports. I especially love the release showing that hosts Rich Eisen and Jay Mohr's podcasts are now "ranked in the Comedy section of ITunes" as well as in the Sports category. After all, Fox is making it easy to associate its sports venues with laughter.

CLEVELAND: The "new" Cavaliers with LeBron James have increased interest to the point where the team's radio broadcasts will all be simulcast starting opening night. Both WTAM 1100 and sister station WMMS 100.7 will air all of the games, making the Cavs only the fifth team in the NBA to do so. (If you are wondering, the other four markets are Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Portland, and, ironically, Miami.) John Michael and Jim Chones continue on the call.

PHILADELPHIA: Sorry to learn of the passing of Bill Campbell, who at various points in his career did play-by-play for three of the major local teams (Phillies, Eagles, and Sixers). Campbell, who spent many years as Sports Director of WCAU (both radio and TV at separate times) passed away at the age of 91.

HOUSTON: Sean Salisbury has certainly found a home on Houston sports radio. In fact, he may not be able to leave "home" very often anymore. In addition to his afternoon show with John Granato (for Yahoo Sports Radio) which airs on low rated KGOW 1560 from 3 to 7 PM, Salisbury will also co-host from Noon to 2 PM on KFNC 97.5 on weekdays. He will pair with Dave Tepper during that time, replacing Jerome Solomon who left the station recently to devote more time to his Houston Chronicle duties.

DALLAS: The TV ratings for the Metroplex last Saturday (10/11) show that Notre Dame football doesn't hold up against the area's favorite teams. The Baylor vs. TCU telecast at the same time drew literally more than 12 times the audience as the Notre Dame 50-43 win over North Carolina. The Mississippi State vs. Auburn telecast, also head-to-head, drew more than three times the audience as N.D. and that game was decided by a 15-point margin.

WACO: Ed Sorensen started this week (10/13) as sports anchor on KWTX-TV. Sorensen previously spent 18 years as Sports Director of WRTV-TV Indianapolis.

TOLEDO: You might say that Norm Warner has gone from "The Front Row" to the Uecker seats. Warner, host of "The Front Row" on WLQR 106.5 The Ticket, is no longer with the station. Warner is also out as Program Director of WQLR-AM, a talk station. No replacement named as of press time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slam Dunk: Look Out Cable Costs

It's the high cost of renewal for both ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports with the extension of their respective NBA contracts, which keeps the league on the same national networks for the next 10 years. One can certainly understand an increase in the new rights fees, but the fact that the rights fees will amount to nearly triple what they have been is disturbing to many, especially consumers.

These networks will need to do something to help offset what will be a combined amount of more than $2.5 billion (that's billion) dollars they will pay the NBA per season, and it's most likely going to raise the monthly cable/satellite costs for consumers again and again, whether sports fans or not.

While it is understandable that ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports would want to retain and expand upon these rights, and keep Comcast/NBC and Fox Sports out of the picture, the fact that their combined annual costs will nearly triple from the current contract is cause for concern.

Meanwhile, ESPNU will have a curious live show coming up this Friday (10/10) at 3 PM ET. The network plans a live telecast from the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, KY with "coverage" of the University of Kentucky's two hour basketball practice. This is not just "any" practice, as it is intended for scouts and personnel of NBA teams in somewhat of a draft combine.

On one hand, this is a nice service (of sorts) for U. of Kentucky fans, as well as for school rivals, to be able to get a true sneak peak at the players for the coming season. Considering how much of the programming on these numerous sports networks is wasted time, the idea of live and fresh content from a major college hoops team has some appeal.

However, from here this looks to be under the media radar as what is really a blatant self-promotion for ESPN. Think about it. (I'll be interested in your feedback on this either way.) ESPN has just renewed and solidified its agreement with the NBA for years to come, and this is a form of "futures" coverage. But we have to ask, "Why Kentucky?". They won't say, but I will. Kentucky basketball is a big draw around the region and much of the country. ESPN is only a few weeks away from saturating us with college hoops telecasts at all hours of the day and night on all of its networks (which is good thing).

Keep in mind that Kentucky plays in the SEC, and the new Southeast Conference Network just happens to be owned by (you guessed it) ESPN. If you think this is a coincidence, please provide me with a count of the number of promos which will air about the new SEC Network during this telecast.

I'll grant you that I have not been kind to Fox Sports and especially Fox Sports 1 in its attempt to gain any sort of audience respectability during its first full year of existence. Sorry, but the first week of the MLB post-season did nothing to change my feeling on this. I still can't believe that, even with the millions in rights fees, MLB is allowing Fox Sports to dump its NLDS series on Fox Sports 1 instead of on the real Fox Network. With the way the NFL is dominating in TV ratings, you would think that MLB would want the maximum exposure for its post-season product, especially with the L.A. and San Francisco markets showing heavy interest.

Last Friday night (10/3), I had two relatives call me to ask when and where the National League games were on. One of them had to literally scroll through the tens of cable channels in search of FS1, which he didn't even know he had. As it so happened, I was in different restaurants both Friday and Saturday during the N.L. games, which always have the "biggest" game on their TV's. Neither had the FS1 telecasts on, although one put the game on a couple of its TV's when I asked a manager to do so, and he had to hunt to find the channel.

What were decent ratings could have, and should have, been a ton stronger had Fox Network shown the games like they have in the past. Frankly, if they feel these games are only worth being buried on FS1, they should have bailed on bidding for them.

But it got even worse later Saturday night when the Giants and Nationals went 18 innings. During the last few innings of the FS1 telecast, the bottom scroll kept making a big deal about some boxing match being moved to FS2. Worse yet, the scroll stopped showing ANY other scores or sports headlines.

As a result, fans who tuned in from roughly the 12th inning on couldn't even see any facts about the Cardinals-Dodgers game from earlier that night, or from any of the many college football games played all day long. This from Fox which televises MLB and college football games on its networks.

When the game ended shortly after 1 AM ET, the game telecast ended as Fox went back to its studio for what looked to be their post-game show. What is seemingly a cast of thousands was still in the studio at that hour. Yet, about two minutes into that show, and before a couple of the studio analysts were even called upon to speak, the telecast suddenly cut away to the start of some boxing match or something. No sign-off from the MLB post-game, no warning. They just cut to the a live feed from the ring, and the announcers welcomed the viewers who had just watched the marathon baseball game.

Thus, after a couple hours without any scoreboard updates on the bottom scroll, their live post-game show gets cut off without warning.

If Fox Sports 1 doesn't care about the most important events it has ever carried, we should be relieved that Fox Sports will continue to not be a part of NBA coverage for years to come. We can only hope that they will provide us with professional coverage for those MLB post-season games they still plan to hide away on FS1.

NEW YORK: WEPN 98.7 ESPN has brought Mike Lupica for an early afternoon show now airing weekdays from 1:00 until 3:00. As a result, Ryan Ruocco, who co-hosts with Dave Rothenberg on the show which leads in to Lupica, now returns to the studio to contribute on The Michael Kay Show which airs from 3:00 until 7:00 PM or the pre-game show for the station's Knicks and Rangers east coast broadcasts .

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NFL and MLB Helping Radio Ratings

The radio ratings for August into September continue to show that the sports news and teams drive the ratings and not the hosts. Baseball continues to help in markets such as Detroit, San Francisco, and New York. The Giants' battle for first against the Dodgers kept KNBR 680 atop the San Francisco ratings with an impressive half point overall ratings increase for the flagship station. In Detroit, even with a slight overall drop, WXYT-FM The Ticket stayed on top of the ratings. The Yankees still had a chance to make the post-season during the ratings period, and WFAN finished #8 overall while WEPN fell by .3 in the ratings from the month prior and failed to finish in the top 20 in the market.

Nowhere is the local team impact on sports radio more obvious than Boston this time around, especially with WEEI finishing ahead of The Sports Hub for the previous few months. With the Red Sox being hopelessly out of the race, flagship WEEI-FM dipped down to #13 overall, while WBZ-FM Sports Hub, helped with Patriots broadcasts and coverage with high expectations for the team, leaped ahead to #9 in the market with an overall 25% ratings increase just from the previous month.

In Philadelphia, anticipation for the Eagles helped WIP-FM to move up to #12 with a more than 10% overall increase over the previous month. What makes this more impressive is that WPEN also increased by more than 10% showing this was not a case of listeners switching sports stations.

Even the Houston and Atlanta markets, which have generally produced lackluster ratings for their sports stations over the past couple of years, reflect audience impact due to hopes for their NFL teams. Houston's KILT climbed up to #17 overall (for a market which failed to produce a top 20 sports station for the vast majority of its ratings books) with a .7 rating increase since July. Even KBME showed a 30% audience increase and cracking the top 25 station list. In Atlanta, WZGC-FM The Game, now a flagship station for the Falcons, jumped up 70% overall and finished in the market's top 20, now with more than four times the audience of WQXI 790.

The one oddity continues to be Los Angeles, where having both baseball teams in contention and the only way for the majority of Dodgers fans to listen to Vin Scully continued to have no impact on sports radio ratings. KLAC, the Dodgers flagship, actually dropped nearly 20% overall, while KSPN and KLAA (which share Angels broadcasts) continue to produce overall ratings under one full point.

Speaking of baseball, let's hope that TBS picks up the pace on its telecasts of the post-season.  The fact that TBS only showed 13 games for the entire regular season was evident throughout the early innings of the Tuesday (9/30) American League Wild Card telecast from Kansas City. It was obvious the announcing team of Ernie Johnson, Ron Darling, and Cal Ripken had barely worked together all year. There was little to no flow between the three. Darling seemed to be purposely looking for reasons to question managerial moves as if his only role was to make controversy. They did start to get it together later on, helped by an exciting game lasting nearly five hours.

We'll also see what the ratings show for Fox, which is sticking with its plan of burying many of its first round playoff games on Fox Sports 1 instead of Fox Network. These are undoubtedly the biggest telecasts the struggling network is showing since its inception.

Speaking of Fox Sports, another "ooops" moment on Sunday (9/29) during its Tampa vs. Pittsburgh NFL telecast. Their scroll at the bottom showed the Steelers as "3-1" late in the 4th quarter, before Tampa scored in the final minute and held on to defeat the Steelers and put their record at 2-2.

Meanwhile, the FCC eliminating the sports blackout rules does not actually force a change in the current system. Of course, the NFL was really the subject of the original blackout plan from back in the 70's. As we all know, the NFL has structured its TV contracts in recent years to allow for local market blackouts when games are not sold out or close enough to it.

What was nice is that the FCC discussion was streamed live via the government web site, allowing fans to see FCC Commission board members talk about being football fans and understanding exactly what this means to sports fans. So from now on, if you are not able to see a local market game on TV because it did not sell out, you can only blame the NFL. And you should. Considering how much the NFL has contributed to the rise in cable/satellite TV for millions of consumers (whether fans or not), fans are entitled to the game(s) of choice on Sundays.

CHICAGO: As if there isn't enough NFL player news away from the fields lately, the Bears' Brandon Marshall made his own news with by holding a press conference (last week) to blast ESPN. Marshall presented court testimony and additional documentation which prove his innocense of accusations of domestic abuse filed by an ex-girlfriend. However, ESPN reportedly showed an "old" profile of Marshall which included said allegations and without any form of "updating".

Adding to the mix is that Marshall is under contract to do a bi-weekly radio show in Chicago. The contract is with WMVP 1000, which is owned and operated by ESPN Radio. His next show is scheduled for Monday October 6th. Considering that Marshall did not appear on the previous show (reportedly due to his injured ankle), it will be interesting to hear whether or not Marshall appears on the station as scheduled under these circumstances.

Perhaps a more anticipated local media appearance will take place beginning Thursday (10/2) on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The regional network has added an NBC analyst to its Sports Net Central show on Thursdays for the remainder of the football season. Not just any analyst. Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt will be making weekly appearances. With all of the Bears related programming all season in Chicago, it is quite amazing that there are now two former head coaches (Wannstedt and Mike Ditka) with scheduled local weekly media appearances to analyze the team.

MILWAUKEE: Although full-time sports talk radio has yet to come close to catching on in the market, still another station is entering the mix. Sports Radio 105.7 The Fan brings a limited FM signal and will mostly simulcast WSSP 1250 and its CBS Sports Radio Network programming. The station will air the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. None of the three established AM sports stations in the market come even remotely close to the size of the audience for WTMJ, which is not full-time sports but continues strong with all of the local pro sports play-by-play.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fans Still "Raven-ous" For Game Telecasts

While the NFL continues to deal with off the field issues and unwanted media attention, the fans continue to watch the telecasts. The curiousity over how the Baltimore Ravens are and will respond remains high, as each of the team's three telecasts have averaged around 60% of Baltimore market households tuned to the telecasts. The network will air each of the Ravens' next three telecasts as well.

CBS' early game ratings from Sunday (9/21) were up 11% over week three from last year, leading in to the Denver at Seattle Super Bowl rematch in its doubleheader game which scored high ratings. What makes this curious is that the Fox regional telecasts actually came in about 8% lower than Week 3 did for them last year, while the Sunday Night Football NBC telecast of Pittsburgh vs. Carolina was down more than 8% from last year's Week 3, which also coincidentally featured the Steelers.

On the MLB side, ESPN came through with its added telecasts this week of "Post-season Impact Games", adding the Tuesday (9/23) and Wednesday (9/24) Giants vs. Dodgers telecasts with its Sunday Night Baseball crew handling it. The ability for ESPN to add late September games is part of the new contract which took effect this year. The network also added the Yankees vs. Orioles game on Tuesday, although this one was more of an excuse to get another Derek Jeter telecast on than a game with any true post-season impact.

Dodgers fans are already enjoying being able to watch their team on TV the rest of the way. The arrangement allowing KDOC-TV 56 to carry the Time Warner telecasts of the final six games this week (with Vin Scully on the call) got off to a strong start on Monday night (9/22). Even with an increase on the ratings only on TWC, the KDOC simulcast went to around three times the total audience share as TWC's version.

Also this week, L.A.'s KFWB 980, which has been all-sports as of this month, is now branded as "The Beast" and has added some weekday local programming. The morning show is co-hosted by Marques Johnson and Jeanne Zelasko (formerly of Fox Sports), while long time local sportcaster Fred Roggin handles Noon to 3 PM. George Wrighster and Brett Winterble co-host 3 to 7 PM while "L.A. Sports Today" airs from 7 to 9 PM.

PITTSBURGH: It certainly appears that interest in the Penguins is running high for the coming season. The team drew a respectable 2.2 rating on Monday (9/22) night during part of its pre-season opening telecast, which aired in prime time against Monday Night Football and with the Pirates still in the running for the MLB post-season.

CHICAGO: It is now news that there is no news about Cubs TV for next season. The predicted announcement that Fox owned WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV would be taking on the over-the-air package starting next season hasn't happened yet. WGN-TV supposedly does not wish to continue beyond this season. CSN Chicago would certainly take on the additional telecasts if nothing materializes, but not having anything in place by now is quite curious.

PHOENIX: The Coyotes are still in town as the NHL season is about to start, and the team will actually have three radio stations airing the games this season with the start of a new 3-year deal. KTAR 620, 98.7, and 92.3 will all air the games, with 98.7 also airing a weekly coaches show. Bob Heethuis returns for his 10th season of play-by-play, now with Nick Boynton (former Coyotes defenseman) on color.

HOUSTON: Barry Warner, who earlier "retired" from KILT 610 and is a former Rockets TV analyst, is making what could be called a 'brief' return. The "Barry Warner Classic Minute" will hit the local airwaves, but only on low rated KFNC 97.5 The Ticket and KGOW 1560.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Fox Should Be Hounded

While the NFL continues under a high profile public relations nightmare this week, the execs at Fox Sports are able to fly under the radar with their own challenges.

Speaking of "challenges", Fox was not when there could have been a huge coach challenge during its Seattle at San Diego telecast this past Sunday (9/14). Perhaps the biggest single play of the Chargers' huge upset of the defending Super Bown champions was the 51 yard TD run by Percy Harvin. The play in which Harvin appears to have stepped out of bounds yards before reaching the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown, helping San Diego to the seven point win.

As the play unfolded and even through the PAT and into the commercial break, Thom Brennaman did not even acknowledge the possibility that Harvin stepped out while he ran along the sidelines. We won't know for sure, but the lack of comment could have led to the lack of a challenge of the call.

A couple hours later, NBC ran the slow motion shot (on Football Night In America) which showed Harvin appear to have stepped out of bounds well before reaching the end zone.

Also during the late games, CBS added an interesting element to its Green Bay vs. N.Y. Jets coverage after a time out call took away a Jets TD at a key time in what wound up as a Green Bay victory. The Jets were granted a time out by officials, but a CBS replay with sound from the field revealed that it was not the head coach who called for the time out. Per NFL rules, that time out could only have been called by the Head Coach, and it the special replay (with on field sound only) revealed that it was not.

Put these all together from the same couple of hours, and we see that Fox, which was the first to hire a former NFL official as a special analyst for its telecasts, was by far the least active in providing fans with information that brings the game officials into question. The point is that now, in all of the "big 4" sports, replay and video is used to help determine the outcome of games, meaning that video which conflicts with the decision of game officials is more valuable than ever before.

Because Fox did not initially question a sideline run, it is possible that Seahawks fans, those with dollars riding on Seattle vs. the point spread, and fantasy players facing a "team" with Percy Harvin may have lost out because Fox did not point out what it should have right away.

Early ratings reports showed that Fox overall drew about a 4% lower rating for its Week 2 regional telecasts than it did in 2013, even with having New York (Giants) and Dallas among their markets.

We move back to Saturday (9/13) when Fox wound with a telecast conflict at 4 PM ET. Even though a rain delay was not their fault, allowing only a 3-hour window for MLB was clearly not enough time to allow for either a long game or a weather problem. Sure enough, many Fox stations left the Yankees vs. Orioles telecast in the 7th inning (which was delayed nearly an hour by rain) in order to show the entire Illinois at Washington college football telecast. Although I will grant you that the markets which switched over did so because of higher interest in the football game, the point is that having to leave a live telecast before its conclusion is not a good thing for a network, especially one which is trying to build its sports networks.

On top of all this, Brian Urlacher started off this week by announcing he is leaving Fox Sports 1 "effective immediately" only two weeks into the NFL regular season. I'm not buying the "to spend more time with his family" story. This was Urlacher's second season with Fox, so he clearly knew what is involved based on last season. It will be interesting to see whether or not a replacement is named within the next few days or not.

Meanwhile, the advance scheduling of an NBA exhibition game telecast would normally not be national news. But ESPN is clearly into promoting its NBA ties, especially with the likely upcoming contract extension. The Cleveland vs. Miami pre-season game, which will be played in Rio on Saturday Oct. 11th, will be shown live at 5 PM ET. The significance is the first meeting of LeBron James vs. the Miami Heat in more than 4 years. In another first, this live telecast will be on ESPNNews, since the other ESPN networks are filled with live college football telecasts.

LOS ANGELES: Time Warner Cable is throwing frustrated Dodgers fans a bone for the final week of the regular season. KDOC-TV will show the team's final six games over-the-air from Dodger Stadium, hosting the Giants for three games and then the Rockies on the final weekend, with Vin Scully on the call. The station is also carried on all of the region's cable and satellite providers.

I'm thinking this is a grand experiment for TWC. If and as there is advertiser demand (and with the Dodgers going for a Division title and having not been seen very much that is quite likely) and strong ratings, I look for TWC to consider farming out some games to KDOC again next season. This way they could continue to hold out for high fees from the other providers when they can show the increased demand for the games.

It will also be interesting to see if DirecTV, AT&T, and other providers will buy spots within those telecasts, and if so, what they would promote to Dodgers fans.

PHILADELPHIA: The Phillies will again be heard on WIP 94.1 and WPHT 1210 for at least the 2015 season, with only a one-year extension announced this week. Although the team reportedly only negotiated with CBS (which owns these stations), the feeling is that this sets the stage for a major bid from rival WPEN ESPN 97.5 for a long-term deal. This gives WIP-FM additional time toward structuring a solid deal for a long-term extension. WIP-FM also has the Eagles, while WPEN airs the Sixers and Flyers broadcasts.

CHICAGO: WBBM Newsradio 780, the flagship station for the Bears and starting next season for the Cubs, has added Rick Gregg to its sports anchor roster. Gregg has been filling in since late June following the passing of Eric Brown.

St. LOUIS: Washington MO, which is west of St. Louis, now has a Sports KRAP station. And a sense of humor in attracting attention to itself. The former WWMO has received the actual KRAP call letters and 1350 AM is "Sports KRAP" 24 hours a day, including SportsKRAP.com. The station will be an affiliate for Blues hockey and also airs K.C. Chiefs football. However, it airs mostly syndicated shows, and its web site, frankly, lives up to its name. A visit to it on Tuesday (9/16) still showed its headlines being from Sunday's game results and included prominent links to game and headline stories from earlier than that. At least the name is honest!

NEW ORLEANS: WODT 1280 has changed to Fox Sports Radio after an unsuccessful run as ESPN Deportes for the past two years.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Will NFL Blackouts Really End?

The FCC appears to be closing in on lifting TV blackout restrictions aimed at the NFL with a vote scheduled for September 30th and an official response from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (which is linked below). What remains to be seen, if and as this passes, is whether or not the current TV contract language between the NFL and the networks would take precedence over what the FCC says.

What also makes this interesting is how this vote, taking up valuable government time (since it is the "Federal" Communications Commission), is primarily geared toward the NFL. As of this season, the current MLB contracts with Fox, ESPN, and TBS allow for home team "duplicate" telecasts to also be shown, giving local subscribers the choice of watching their local or the national telecast. With the majority of NBA and NHL games being televised locally, including home games, blackout possibilities are rarely even an issue. 

That leaves the NFL, which has mostly enforced its ability to keep a local team telecast out of the primary home market in the event a game is not at least 85% to 100% sold out at least 72 hours before scheduled kickoff. The league may or may not have the language in place to keep things as they are. If they do, it will make it interesting to see if there is a challenge to the blackout of specific local telecasts, and how the networks would handle them.

Count me among the majority of fans who agree that based on the vastly increased cost to receive cable or satellite each month, much of which is inflated due to the high cost of sports rights fees, who believe that we are entitled to every local game on TV whether anybody shows up in person or not.

While this is going on, the report from Sports Business Journal that the NBA is closing in on the next TV rights contracts with both ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports shows how the NBA could benefit big time by helping these entities keep out the competition. The rights fees could jump to around $2 billion (that is with a "b") per season starting in 2016, while the two networks would, basically, retain a similar arrangement to what has been the case for the past two years.

The reason that both are so anxious to secure these rights for themselves is really to keep even one of the struggling networks attempting to compete for the national audience. After all, Fox Sports 1, NBCSN, and CBS Sports Network would stand to gain by getting in on NBA telecasts, and closing on the next agreement so early puts ESPN/ABC and Turner in the same position of strength they share now.

All three of these other networks have lesser packages of college sports, while FS1 has MLB telecasts in near secrecy. At least MSNBC retains quality programming during the same time of the year as the NBA with its large inventory of NHL telecasts and related programming.

While the new package will, of course, add to more price increases in monthly costs for subscribers, chances are those costs would be rising anyway. If one or more of the "next three" networks were to enter into the bidding, chances are the amounts still would have risen to the $2 billion mark anyway with the increased competition.

Although the media attention right now is, understandably, on the new NFL season, it is hard to overlook how fantasy football is quietly becoming a multi-million dollar operation which is having an impact on sports media. Fantasy is a huge part of the reason for the abundance of Sunday morning live NFL preview shows, some as long as four hours on national TV (such as CBS Sports Network's show). Fans are definitely participating in at least one league and the numbers seem to be on the rise.

You may not have been aware, even if you noticed one or more commercials for FanDuel last week, how some media companies are now in competition for fan attention and fantasy dollars. If you don't think that generating income for hosting fantasy leagues is a big deal, try this on for size. According to Media Monitors, FanDuel bought more than 21,300 commercials on national radio (not including local stations) just last week, for the days leading into the NFL openers. This made the company the #7 largest national radio advertiser for the week, up from the previous week when FanDuel purchased more than 12,000 national radio spots.

Meanwhile, whether you like his commentary or not, it is great to see that Curt Schilling is scheduled (at press time) to return to ESPN on Thursday (9/10) on Baseball Tonight now that his cancer treatments have reportedly been successful. Schilling might even be well enough to rejoin Sunday Night Baseball for at least one of the final telecasts this season.

WASHINGTON D.C.: WJFK-FM 106.7 The Fan has finally eliminated its broadcast conflicts when both the Wizards and Capitals are playing on the same day or night. The Capitals will remain on The Fan, while all Wizards broadcasts will move to sister station WNEW 99.1. This makes it easier for Wizards fans to find the broadcasts on a regular basis, while providing a better signal over most of the Washington/Baltimore area than WFED 1500, which previously aired the Wizards when the two teams had conflicts.

CHICAGO: Bears QB Jay Cutler will continue with his radio show on WMVP ESPN 1000 this season, but the number of shows is being reduced and the air time changed. What makes Cutler's "show" different from most of the other NFL QB (or team star) shows around the country is that Cutler actually goes to the studio and takes calls from listeners as well as direct questions from station co-hosts. However, instead of 17 shows (on Mondays when appropriate or Tuesdays if a Monday night game), Cutler will have his show a total of eight times, with the first one having been this past Monday (9/8) following the Bears' opening game. In addition, the show time moves to 2 to 3 PM instead of from 6 to 7 PM. This season, rival WSCR 670 The Score will air Cutler's weekly (as in EVERY week) official team press conference live each Wednesday at Noon, which means The Score will have Cutler on for more total days during the season while not paying him for the appearance.

Howard Griffith of Big Ten Network has been assigned a heavier workload and therefore can no longer co-host on WGWG 87.7 The Game's Noon to 3 PM show as of this week. Co-hosts Alex Quigley and Ben Finfer will continue on. The station continues its effort to be all about the Bears with former Bear Olin Kreutz being signed for a weekly phone segment and current safety Ryan Mundy appears twice each week, once each on the afternoon show and the late morning show. Defensive back Tim Jennings appears on Tuesdays nights from 7 to 8 PM on "Jennings and Jarrett". Jarrett is Jarrett Payton, the son of Walter Payton.

CSN Chicago has entered into a multi-year agreement to televise Illinois High School Association football and basketball playoff games, along with other championship events such as soccer and volleyball.

HUNTSVILLE: Cole Cubelic has returned to sports talk radio, now hosting mornings on WUMP 730 and 103.9. The former Auburn University lineman will, of course, focus mainly on college and pro football. He was previously on WZZN co-hosting an afternoon sports show, and for now will host the only local morning sports talk show.

AKRON: Must be a local market thing, but WAKR 1590 has added "The Average Sports Show" from 5 to 7 PM weekdays, hosted by Brad Russell. There does seem to be an explanation for that show name. Russell appears on sister station WONE 97.5 (a rock station) as "The Average Browns Fan". Here's hoping the show will, at the very least, live up to its name!

And, as promised, here is the link to the statement from Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC: