The first major upset of the Buffalo Bills 2012 season quietly occurred last week.
That’s when the National Football League team announced that the local rights to the Bills’ prime time home game with the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 15 on the NFL Network will be simulcast by independent station WBBZ.
WBBZ was a huge underdog for the game being carried nationally on The NFL Network. Insiders had Channel 7, the official station of the Bills, as the favorite.
But money talks. And WBBZ Owner Phil Arno emptied his pocketbook to land the game, which will have extra promotional value for the station. According to sources, WBBZ paid more than $100,000 to the NFL Network to land a game that has extra value here because The NFL Network isn’t available in about half the homes in the area because Time Warner Cable doesn’t carry it.
“We put in a very aggressive bid, well beyond anyone else,” said Bob Koshinski, WBBZ’s vice president and general manager. “We paid more than anyone has paid for an in season game.”
WBBZ is available over the air in parts of Canada, but it isn’t on Canadian cable systems. However, as an astute reader pointed out, The NFL Network is carried in Canada on Rogers Cable. That helps the Bills, who have heavily marketed the Ontario area.
In years past when the Bills managed to get a prime time game on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, the cable broadcast was carried by local network affiliates Channel 2, Channel 4 or Channel 7, all of which are on Canadian cable. Under NFL broadcasting rules, the rights to cable games are sold to local stations so non-cable subscribers can also see them. The rule decreases the pressure on cable companies like Time Warner to carry The NFL Network.
NFL Network games have more value here than ESPN games in Western New York because even Time Warner Cable subscribers can’t see them. ESPN is carried on local cable.
The fact that the game is scheduled during the November sweeps may have been a small factor in WBBZ – which carries a schedule of New York Yankee games but primarily carries repeats of classic TV shows — having landed the game. NBC (Channel 2), CBS (Channel 4) and ABC (Channel 7) are never happy when affiliates preempt their programming during sweeps and carry them after midnight when the game ends. Additionally, the Miami-Bills games is on Thursday night, a popular night for network TV.
“That (prempting a network’s programs) was a concern we obviously didn’t have,” said Koshinski, who is excited about getting the Bills game. “Barring this team unexpectedly completely going in the other direction, I would guess this will be the top-rated broadcast of the month.”
That is practically a given. The raising expectations for the Bills since the free agent signing of pass rush rusher Mario Williams and the re-signing of wide receiver Stevie Johnson are expected to fuel the team’s TV ratings this season.
WBBZ can easily expect a rating in the mid-to-high 20s, with the game getting another 10-15 points via NFL Network coverage carried on satellite TV.
The more significant factor in WBBZ landing the game undoubtedly was money. The rights fee it paid may put it in the outer reaches of being profitable for the station. It needs to sell a lot of advertising and at much higher prices that it has ever charged.
“We don’t plan on losing money,” said Koshinski. He acknowledged the game’s promotional value for the station figured in its winning bid. “The game will allow many more eyes to watch the station than ever before,” said Koshinski.
The station also will supplement its game coverage with a two-hour pregame show and an hour pre-game show. Koshinski, the former Channel 7 sports director and former general manager of the Empire Sports Network, won’t be involved with the on-air coverage.
“I got a lot of phone calls in the last few days,” said Koshinski, who used to be the general manager of the now-defunct Empire Sports Network. “I’ve heard from the old Empire alumni.”
The national rating that arrived Monday for the two-hour ABC “Megastunts” program featuring the Nik Wallenda walk over Niagara Falls was the same 6.2 figure that it was in the metered markets of the major cities on Saturday. It is expected to be the No. 5 program of the week after three NBA Finals games between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder and an episode of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” The stunt barely beat a repeat episode of “NCIS” – usually one of the two the most popular network series. Mark Harmon’s show had a 6.1 rating.
During the summer, the networks try to save money by airing repeats and cheaper-to- produce reality shows, which usually get national ratings in the 2-4 range.
Wallenda’s Walk out-rated the Los Angeles Kings’ game six victory over the New Jersey Devils that clinched the Stanley Cup by a 2-1 margin. The Cup final had a 3.1 rating.