How To Improve TV Ratings For Nationally Televised Games

Steve Lepore is mostly an NHL media guy, writing about that pucking sport for SB Nation and Awful Announcing, as well as being a correspondent for SiriusXM radio’s NHL Network.

But Lepore does write about other sports and topics, and he has in fact recently written an article for Awful Announcing about the problem, as he sees it, that Baseball has as a national broadcast property.

Lepore proffers a cogent hypothesis as to why nationally televised baseball games continue to suffer in the ratings—e.g., ratings for one network are down double digit percents in 2014 versus last year—and makes suggestions to fix it.

It’s a good read and I would recommend giving it a look, but I can give you some spoilers here.

The two biggest problems, as Lepore sees it:

  • There are simply too many national games on TV: ESPN airs them on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays; Fox has Saturdays; TBS has Sunday afternoons in the second half of the season; and MLB Network picks up the remaining days.  Yet in this era of game ubiquity through vehicles like MLB.TV and Extra Innings, why watch a national game with a so-so matchup over a game involving a team you actually care about?
  • Baseball has what Lepore might term a “matchups problem”, concentrating too much on both (1) showing traditional big market teams which had pulled good numbers in the past, and (2) trying to be fair and featuring as many of the 29 American teams as they can.

Lepore’s suggestions for Baseball to fix this state of affairs:

  • Dump Saturday national broadcasts, which is a relic of viewership patterns from over a half a century ago, since people simply do not watch live TV on Saturdays, period.
  • Develop exclusive national broadcast game events on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the season, with all other games played during the day, and split those nights between ESPN and Fox (or more exactly, their new FS1 property).
  • Keep schedules flexible in order to choose top matchups for those Monday and Thursday games, making the decision roughly two weeks out, rather than committing to certain games and teams at the beginning of the season, when no one knows what the color of the season is going to be.

These may not make for “must see TV”, necessarily, but Lepore believes these changes could drive better ratings than Baseball gets for nationally televised games today.

Read the full article here:

RETHINKING BASEBALL ON NATIONAL TELEVISION

The AP Will Provide ‘Faster, More Engaging’ Game Summaries Starting 7/28/14

News from the print world this week is that the Associated Press will substantially change the way they write up games after they are played.  Instead of chronicling “every big play, every no-hitter and every controversy on the field during the hundreds of games that make up the major league baseball season”, AP will go to a “shorter, … faster” format meant to better engage readers in this ever accelerating world of ours.  (No quote marks on that last one, there—that one’s pure Chuck.)

Here’s how writeups will change:

The basics won’t change: We will continue to publish a NewsNow at game’s end, a 300-word writethru shortly after, followed by a 600-word writethru and a hometown lead.

What will change is how those stories look. The top of the story will continue to look like a traditional AP game story. After 300 words, the text will break into a chunky-text presentation featuring up to five bullet points that explain team storylines, key plays, injuries and a look ahead to what’s next for a team or player.

A “chunky-text presentation”, which looks to be a uniquely AP appellation coined specifically for this press release, appears to occur when a story breaks into short paragraphs set off by in-story headline-like phrases in capital letters, like so:

TIPPING PITCHES?

One night after Cleveland’s struggling right-hander Danny Salazar said he might be tipping his pitches, Indians manager Terry Francona said the 24-year-old Salazar is just leaving too many over the plate. Francona was surprised Salazar would say he was giving hitters clues.

“He’s not,” Francona said. “There were some instances last year in spring training that we kind of addressed with him. But, no, we really keep an eye on that.”

SLUMPS

Royals: Perez snapped an 0-for-22 slump with a drive over the center field wall off Masterson in the second inning for his first homer. The Royals catcher with a .295 average in three-plus seasons entered batting just .211 in 71 at-bats.

Indians: Third baseman-designated hitter Carlos Santana is in a 2-for-46 (.043) slide.

Both Ed Sherman (he of the eponymous Report) and Joe Lucia (at Fang’s Bites) like the idea, believing this change will make it easier for readers to digest (no more “meaningless information” that means nothing to the game’s bottom line) and for AP writers to whip up (less time-consuming and more opportunity for creative writing).  OK, we’ll go with that opinion as well.

Read more here:

A faster, new format for AP’s Major League Baseball game stories

Associated Press to go to bullet style for baseball game stories

THE AP IS CHANGING THEIR GAME STORY FORMAT

Ratings for MLB and College Ball on ESPN: Good

Where Fox is flailing, ESPN apparently is succeeding.

On the major league level, Fox’s Saturday night games slate has so far registered viewer interest level in the range of , but ESPN Sunday Night Baseball is getting a  from viewers, averaging a 1.3 household rating, which translates to 2 million total viewers.

Astute readers might note that the Fox number (which you can see by clicking on the “meh” icon above) is actually bigger than the ESPN number, but remember that Fox is a broadcast network with practically 100% penetration and greater ratings expectations based on its heritage and place on the dial, while ESPN is available in only about 87% of households and lives in triple digit land on most systems.

Last Sunday’s game was likely helped by the US-Portugal World Cup soccer (or “fútbol”, if you prefer) match, as the Rangers-Angels drew a 2.9, best number since a Yankees-Red Sox tilt from last August.  Or maybe more people watched so they could espy the primo Yu Darvish-Mike Trout matchup.  You’re a baseball fan—you decide.  We just report.

On the college front, the College World Series final between Vanderbilt and Virginia helped the Worldwide Leader (in more ways than one, apparently) to a viewership number of 2.4 million, best since 2009’s LSU/Texas final.  The game was, in fact, the third most-watched baseball game of any kind on ESPN all year, trailing only two games of the major league variety.

Read more here:

ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball Up; Hits Season High Thanks to World Cup

College World Series Final Sees Increases on ESPN (includes nifty six year historical viewership table)

One Option for Cubs in Post-WGN-TV World: Run Their Own Multicast Channel

Ed Sherman has written a couple of pretty good articles, both at his website and in the Chicago Tribune, about what the Cubs might do if they opt out of their agreement WGN-TV to carry 70-75 games per year: operate their own multicast channel.

(To be clear, this is a different deal than the WGN radio situation, in which the Cubs dumped ‘GN for WBBM-AM and the CBS promotional muscle behind it.)

A multicast channel is what “over the air” (OTA) TV has become in the wake of the move to all digital television for US stations in 2009.  Now the main TV channels are all “dash ones” (e.g., 2-1, 5-1, 7-1, etc.), and many of these channels carry subchannels (e.g., 5-2, 5-3, etc.) that feature additional programming, usually old TV shows and movies, cooking shows, or infomercials.

With options for OTA relatively scant—the Cubs can’t move the games over to Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN) because, frankly, CSN doesn’t want ’em, and no channel that’s a network affiliate can be expected to take them on—the Cubs would either have to go to a another local channel with less reach (such as WCIU-TV 26 or WPWR-TV 50); go crawling back to WGN and accept their newly suggested arrangement with less guaranteed money and more revenue sharing; or, again, start their own multicast channel, which sounds cool at first thought but would have the potential problem of not getting sufficient carriage by satellite and cable providers to warrant the startup and operational expense.

The Cubs have seemed to put themselves in a fairly bad bind, and the underlying reason for the bind is that, to be blunt, the Cubs suck (or at least they are perceived to suck), sporting one of the worst records in the majors this year.  Add to that the huge gamble being taken by the club to allow the big league club to flounder while relying on certain recent draft picks to take them to the Promised Land, a gamble that have led a lot of longtime Cubs fans to cool their ardor toward the team, and the prospects for the Cubs to generate significant TV revenue looks a lot more iffy now than it did when they presumably sketched out the idea on a bar napkin at a quarter to two in the morning one night some years ago.

Here are links to Sherman’s articles:

Cubs exploring multicast TV outlets for games

Multicast station? Cubs could leave WGN TV for highly unconventional outlet

Rangers Beat Writer Durrett Dead at 38

Richard Durrett, a Texas Rangers beat writer for ESPNDallas.com, passed away Tuesday at the age of 38.  The cause of death has not yet been officially announced, but reports unconfirmed as of Wednesday mid-afternoon are that the cause was a brain aneurysm.  Services are pending.

ESPNDallas.com Richard Durrett died Tuesday at the age of 38.

Prior to joining ESPN in September 2009, Durrett was at The Dallas Morning News for nine years, and was previously sports editor at the Record-Chronicle in Denton, Texas. In addition, he hosted a radio show on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM with Ian Fitzsimmons for a number of years.

It is always jarring to hear of anyone so young dying so suddenly, and at the hand of a cause that could happen to anyone anytime, and which strikes without warning.   Durrett is survived by his wife, Kelly, and two children.  If you are inclined to, you can say a prayer or hold a good thought for his survivors.  Or, if you are more into action than thoughts, you can donate to a fund set up to benefit the Durrett family on the Rangers website, at texasrangers.com/foundation.

Read more about this story here:

ESPN Dallas’ Richard Durrett dies suddenly at age 38

ESPN Dallas’ Richard Durrett dies

Richard Durrett has left us too soon

Report: Weak Ratings for MLB on Fox So Far in 2014

From Sports Business Daily comes the news that it’s not all good for Fox as far as MLB’s appeal as a TV program is concerned so far this year.

Saturday regional MLB games earned a 1.6 overnight rating, which is -22% lower than last year’s 2.2 and -39% lower than 2012’s 2.6.  The 1.6 is the third lowest ever for a primetime MLB game on Fox, and the two lower numbers came from broadcasts earlier this year.

Read more at:

Sports Media Watch

Sports Business Daily (subscription required)

Here’s a Nice Feature Piece on Vin Scully

Here’s a link to a lovely long-form feature by Cee Angi about he who is arguably, although increasingly inarguably, the greatest broadcaster in the history of baseball:

We’ve Been Friends Long Enough You’ll Understand’: Vin Scully, Baseball’s Longest-Tenured and Most Eloquent Broadcaster, is Still Looking To Make a Connection

What struck us most while reading this piece is that, even after sixty-five years of calling games, Mr. Scully is still as dedicated to the prep work of each broadcast as he ever has been.

Here’s our favorite inexplicable photo from the piece:

 

We don’t know why, either.

Here is a bonus video of Mr. Scully at work, from April 1984:

Chicago Broadcast Update: And the Hits Just Keep Coming?

This morning’s Chicago Tribune has a front page story on the potential for the Cubs moving their broadcast (i.e., over-the-air) games, currently on WGN-TV, to another station in the market beginning with 2015.  Possible other TV affiliates, according to the article, might include WPWR-TV (channel 50) and WCIU-TV (channel 26), the latter of which already carries eight overflow Cubs games on behalf of WGN-TV.

I don’t believe the article is breaking any news here, since last year the Cubs exercise their right to pull out of the current WGN-TV deal after the 2014 season, given the current rash of ever-escalating rights deal being signed by teams.  But given the events of the last few days, the paper saw fit to make hay on the story and resurrect to take advantage of exquisite timing.

That said, it is valid to bring up, and the article points out why: for a supposedly big market team that is the darling of so many fans across the country, let alone the city and the state, the Cubs make far less per game on TV rights than other teams of its size.  For example, the article points out that the Los Angeles Dodgers make about $2 million per game in TV rights on their new deal, while the Cubs make just $500,000 per game that runs on Comcast SportsNet, their RSN partner, and about half that for games running on WGN and WCIU, which makes up about half the schedule.

Read all about it here:

Chicago Cubs seeking new TV home, may leave WGN-TV

Pablo Sandoval Owes Reds Beat Reporter A New Laptop

Well, this is a hell of an occupational hazard for a baseball beat reporter.

During the top of the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s Giants/Reds tilt in Cincinnati, Pablo Sandoval fouled one up into the press box.  There are lots of targets up there, and the ball found one in Mark Sheldon’s Thinkpad.

Check out the priceless reaction:

 

Sheldon’s subsequent tweet indicates a confirmed kill:

The Reds won the game, 8-3, although it’s a little unclear as to how Sheldon communicated as much to MLB.com.

(h/t Business Insider)