Like many midsize markets, El Paso, Texas, is betting big on minor league baseball rejuvenating a sleepy city. A new downtown stadium hosted opening day April 28, as the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Triple-A squad affiliated with the San Diego Padres, took the field. Southwest University Park is viewed as the centerpiece of a plan to spark commerce in downtown El Paso.
“It’s a big deal for us,” says Gary Sotir, KTSM general manager. “There are only 30 Triple A-teams in the U.S.”
The ballpark is not without its detractors; after all, a perfectly functional city hall building was blown up to make room for the stadium, and there’s a serviceable minor league ballpark outside the city center. But, like the Chihuahuas players, El Paso is keen on moving up to the big leagues.
The border town of El Paso, with a DMA that includes Las Cruces, N.M., has enjoyed skyrocketing growth. In 2011-12, its Nielsen market rank shot from No. 97 to No. 91. El Paso features a lively band of TV news outlets delivering in English and Spanish. “The market plays bigger than it is,” believes Sotir. “The quality and types of stories come out of a market that seems much bigger than No. 91.”
Fully 78.4% of market residents are of Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey. Entravision owns powerhouse KINT, which is affiliated with Univision, and UniMás outlet KTFN. General manager David Candelaria departed the stations recently; the news director did not return a call for comment.
Grupo Televisa has XHJCI and XHJUB across the border in Juarez. ZGS owns Telemundo affiliate KTDO, which introduced local news in recent years. NBC affiliate KTSM features Estrella TV on a subchannel, while ABCaligned KVIA has Azteca America as well as The CW on its multicast tier.
News-Press & Gazette-owned KVIA is an English-language news power. “We place a premium on enterprise reporting and [covering] severe weather,” says Kevin Lovell, general manager.
Time Warner Cable is El Paso’s dominant subscription TV operator, while Comcast is strong on the Las Cruces side.
There are significant management changes coming up. KTSM, which has been awaiting FCC approval since Nexstar agreed to acquire the Communications Corporation of America stations a year ago, has a joint sales/shared services agreement with Cunningham-owned CBS affiliate KDBC. That expires at the end of October. Sinclair owns Fox affiliate KFOX, and will take on management of KDBC. “We’re interested to see how the ruling from the FCC [on joint sales agreements] shakes out,” says Sotir.
KTSM and KDBC keep separate news teams and studios, but share a newsroom.
KTSM had a crackerjack February sweeps thanks to the Olympics, winning prime by a mile. KVIA won the late-news race, while KINT took the adults 25-54 title at 10 p.m. Back in November, KVIA won the household morning derby and KFOX the 25-54 one. KVIA was the winner in early evenings and prime, while its 7.1 household rating/17.6 share at 10 p.m. trailed KINT by a tenth of a ratings point.
BIA/Kelsey had El Paso at a rocking No. 75 in revenue last year, though the station leaders say the market was down around 6%, and virtually flat in core business—an odd concept in the boomtown market. “We were like, whoa, what happened?” says Rene Santana, general sales manager at KVIA.
But first quarter is booming again, and the Chihuahuas will try to win the hearts of the locals. “The city is excited to have a team,” says Sotir, “that’s one step away from the big leagues.”
WHAT’S WORKING IN EL PASO: NARROWCASTING TO THE NICHES
KVIA has one of the liveliest multicast lineups around, with The CW on its dot-two, the News Now local channel on its dot-three and Spanish-language network Azteca America on its dot-four. Kevin Lovell, general manager, says revenue from the multicasts is hardly earth-shattering, but it’s growing, and gives the sales crew various niches—young viewers, Spanish speakers, news junkies—to sell to. “You have to take advantage of anything you potentially have to offer,” he says.
In February, Maury Povich on The CW actually beat Katie on the main station head-to-head at 2 p.m. KVIA supplements the digi-net programming with local content when appropriate, such as running the mayor’s State of the City address or a high profile parade on The CW or News Now.
“We try to get a reasonable amount of fresh content on there,” says Lovell.
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