This MC Squared Could Be The Solution For The Future of Local TV Sports

Even though I’ve yet to work in the Las Vegas local TV market, I know quite a bit about it.  Ever since it started producing metered overnight ratings in the early 90s we noticed that the unique combination of a 24-hour lifestyle, extensive penetration of local cable via one dominant provider (Cox) and the exponential growth it has seen over the years both in size and diversity, it was and is an excellent local market barometer for many marketers.  It was certainly the case for the FX I worked for in the 2000s, particularly at a time when the network was evolving both in tone and had yet to penetrate either physically or psychographically larger markets such as New York City.  We saw that local market ratings were far stronger and delivered significantly more households to our national audience than did many larger markets.  I also learned that because of this the potential of lower-priced independent and fledgling stations to deliver an audience if they had commensurate product was far greater than we saw in many other more compromised cities.  We could buy promotional time on a wide variety of local stations, in dayparts that even included overnight because, hey, to casino workers, that’s their prime access.

But I had never heard of the market’s ION affiliate until last week, when this little note about the latest pro sports team to choose a new side in the ongoing battle for survival that regional sports networks was dropped in my box, courtesy of Scripps’ ABC afiliate KTNV:

The Vegas Golden Knights are teaming up with Scripps Sports, the parent company of Channel 13, to bring more games to hockey fans.

Scripps Sports will televise all non-nationally exclusive VGK games on cable, satellite, and over-the-air television, they announced on Thursday. 

The Golden Knights are the first professional sports team to reach a deal with Scripps Sports, which launched in December.

“This deal is a significant win for fans because they will be able to see our games on television and for free, if they wish,” Golden Knights president and CEO Kerry Bubolz said. “That was our goal in finding a new TV partner. We wanted to serve our fanbase in the best way possible.”

The deal makes VGK the first NHL team to announce free over-the-air broadcasts to all fans.

Scripps Sports will air Golden Knights games on its local station KMCC, channel 34, which will be rebranded as an independent station before the 2023-2024 NHL season begins.

MCC.  A community college near my college town with similar initials was called MC Squared.  The solution to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity equation.  And given the popularity of the Knights, as well as the template laid out by other multi-station situations already existing in the market, including Sinclair and several digital subchannels, the odds for the opportunity for KMCC to break out immediately is one most of the strip’s casinos might choose to avoid.

ION previously announced a network deal with the WNBA that will provide the league with a weekly Friday night over-the-air TV partner for the first time in its history.  In Las Vegas, one of three four WNBA cities that do not currently have an NBA brother, the Aces are the current champions and are favorites to repeat in a season whose exhibitions began this past weekend and will extend through roughly Labor Day.  And reportedly the Oakland A’s will be heading there, possibly as soon as next year, and they will be in need of a broadcast partner.  One suspects that based upon the statement Scripps Sports champion Brian Lawlor supplied at the Knights’ press conference, such conversations are already occurring:

“We launched Scripps Sports with the belief that we could help teams reach more fans through our stations, which do not depend on subscriptions and added fees for the consumer.”

And while Scripps’ current approach is unique, it is not unprecedented.  During a brief period where a onetime New York City secondary PBS station changed hands, there was briefly an attempt to launch a sports-centric independent TV station, as Wikipedia recalls:

In 1996, ITT Corporation (then half-owner of MSG) entered a joint-venture with Dow Jones & Company to purchase WNYC-TV from the City of New York and convert it to a hybrid sports/business news format. The channel was renamed WBIS-TV and branded as “S+”. Beginning in January 1997, several Knicks and Rangers games that would have otherwise aired on MSG were moved to WBIS. Select Devils, Islanders, and Nets games from SportsChannel also aired on WBIS, temporarily relieving some of the need for multiple overflow channels. However, this would be short lived as by June the S+ format was cancelled and ITT would soon be selling both its interests in both MSG and WBIS.

The business news content was far inferior to that already being provided by CNBC and drove the overall total day average for the station to hashmarks–the equivalent of a zero.  (Ironically, Scripps’ ION affiliate in New York just happens to be the very same Channel 31 that was once WBIS and WNYC.)  ION uses marathons of acquired procedural reruns to populate its total day schedule such as BLUE BLOODS , LAW AND ORDER and FBI.  Their audience profiles compliment those of sports fans’.  And perhaps KMCC can draw further inspriation from New York from the announcement of an upcoming show that will be stripped in prime access by Nexstar’s WPIX-TV beginning next week that will test the potential for a sports-themed news show on a local station:

Nelson Figueroa, who pitched for the New York Mets and other Major League Baseball teams, has joined the WPIX New York on-air team as sports anchor and reporter.Sports Nation debuted on WPIX as a weekly show, airing 11 p.m. Sundays, in 2021, and Figueroa has appeared on it. It goes nightly next month.  Marc Malusis is the station’s sports anchor, and Malusis and Figueroa will host New York Sports Nation Nightly, a weekday 7 p.m. show that launches May 15.  

If that sounds retro to you, you might fondly remember as I did that New York Sunday nights were for decades driven by the groundbreaking SPORTS EXTRA, which the venerable Bill Mazer and, later, Tom McDonald hosted for WNEW-TV, which didn’t own any local sports rights.  But plenty of New York baby boomers, including those who advertise on local TV, remember it fondly, and will undoubtedly flock to the show on a station which up untl recently was the only local broadcaster in the country that carried a regular schedule of local TV games, a 25-game package of New York Mets games.

So Scripps’ concept of going back to the future with over-the-air local sports can easily be supplemented by a local sports news show or two.  Obviously, gambling and the allure of advertisers like BetMGM can enter into the mix in Vegas.  In a era where experts can develop a podcast almost overnight, I have little question that similar shows to SPORTS NATION could be executed quickly and cost-effectively.

And Scripps and Nexstar could easily be joined by some other major market stations looking to fill newly available hours.  As reported by BROADCASTING AND CABLE’s Michael Malone last week:

The eight The CW affiliates in the CBS-owned group will become independent stations in September. They are WPSG Philadelphia, WUPA Atlanta, KBCW San Francisco, KSTW Seattle, WTO(G) Tampa, WKBD Detroit, KMAX Sacramento and WPCW Pittsburgh. 

“We look forward to reimagining these stations as independents while leveraging the considerable value of their primetime real estate in each of the markets,” said Wendy McMahon, president and co-head, CBS News and Stations. “It’s an exciting time to look at new opportunities to add local programming, including live sports, and shows from across the Paramount Global brands.”

Atlanta, Seattle, Tampa, Detroit and Pittsburgh all happen to be markets where either a Diamond Sports or Warner Discovery-owned RSN currently exitsts.  Rights to several local teams’ games are indeed up in the air.  They all possess even stronger initial potential than do those cities’ ION affiliates.

Wendy, I know your priority has been local news, and considering your network may not be all that helpful with original scripted programming for a while you’ve probably got priorities.  But don’t miss out on all of this to consider the potential you have to follow Scripps’ lead and jump on this latest revival of a 90s fad to go back to the future to populate these stations with something more than just another iteration of extended prime time local news.

I’m more than willing to help you with another solution.  You know, the one that Einstein originally thought of.  I’d like to think it could be something worthy of your vision, too.

Until next time…


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