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Arch Rivals in St. Louis

Why This Matters: Three stations are in a hot battle for ratings points in news, and one affiliate doesn’t do local news.

The Hockey team in St. Louis has been around for 50-plus seasons, but the Blues’ Stanley Cup victory in June was the team’s first ever. That went over as a big, big deal in market No. 21. More than a half million people turned up for the celebratory parade, which stretched from Enterprise Center to the Gateway Arch.

“It was nutso,” Mike Murphy, VP and general manager at KMOV, said. “It was probably the best thing the city has seen in 10 years.”

The team’s uphill climb to the title really resonated in St. Louis. On Jan. 3, the Blues had the worst record of any NHL team. Five months later they were hoisting the Stanley Cup. “Their coach told the players to keep their heads down and keep moving forward,” Alicia Elsner, president and general manager at KSDK, said. “St. Louis is all about working hard and making sacrifices.”

Three-Way Battle in News

The Gateway City has an exceptional three-way local news battle. Fox-aligned KTVI, which Nexstar Media Group will take over from Tribune Media, is the leader, with Meredith’s CBS-affiliated KMOV and Tegna’s NBC outlet KSDK real players in news, too. Nexstar will also acquire The CW affiliate KPLR; KTVI and KPLR keep the market informed with lots and lots of news.

“It’s an awesome news market; KMOV, KSDK and KTVI are on fire,” said Bill Hague, Frank N. Magid Associates executive VP. “They’re all pushing each other to be better.”

St. Louis native Kurt Krueger was named general manager of KTVI and KPLR in February, following the retirement of longtime GM Spencer Koch last fall. Krueger joined KTVI as director of sales in 1998. Krueger would not comment on the stations.

Sinclair Broadcast Group has ABC affiliate KDNL, which does not do local news. General manager Tom Tipton would not comment either.

In the 6 a.m. race in June, KTVI easily won the viewers 25-54 and households contests. KTVI grabbed 5 p.m. in 25-54, while KSDK edged out KMOV in households. KTVI won 6 p.m. in 25-54, while KSDK again got by KMOV in households. At 10 p.m., KTVI took the 25-54 battle with a 2.9, ahead of KMOV’s 1.6 and KSDK’s 1.4. In households, KMOV did an 8.1, better than KSDK’s 4.8 and KTVI’s 4.7.

The stations are hustling to get ahead. KMOV has the Surprise Squad, a mobile band of do-gooders helping those who need it. The concept came from Meredith’s KVVU Las Vegas. Segments, which go to air once or twice a month, include the Surprise Squad turning up at a grocery store and helping people pay for groceries. “They reach out to people who need help,” Murphy said. “It’s been very well-received.”

KSDK takes pride in its “professional” on-air look, according to Elsner, and rich anchor tenure. “We have names and faces that people recognize,” she added. “People that have committed their careers to St. Louis.”

In the fall, KSDK will premiere Project 5, which will see five charities targeted by the station, which deploys a “5 On Your Side” tagline. The charities will be profiled, and KSDK staffers will volunteer with them.

KSDK has a new director of sales in James Grilli, formerly the GM at WKEF Dayton, Ohio, and is on the hunt for a director of content.

KMOV has a big-city news director in Scott Diener, formerly of KCBS Los Angeles. “He has lots of energy and lots of good ideas,” Murphy said. “He knows how to tackle the big news, the big stories.”

Economy Is Good, Crime Is an Issue

The St. Louis economy is in decent shape. The stations benefited from major political spending last year, and enjoy television’s elevated state in St. Louis.

Crime remains an issue in the market. As one resident puts it, “We’re not Chicago, but then again, we’re not Des Moines.” A headline on the KTVI website after a July 4 holiday weekend that featured numerous shootings read, “Officials to Hold Press Conference After Most Violent Weekend in St. Louis This Year.”

Still, the market derives boundless joy from its NHL championship. Said Elsner, “This city is bursting with pride.”