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Market Eye: Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood

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Of course, there’s more to Green Bay, Wis., in the fall than Packers football— there’s high school and college football as well. Indeed, with autumn upon us and the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for the Packers’ fabled coach and awarded to Super Bowl champs, residing in Green Bay, the community-owned Packers— led by brilliant quarterback Aaron Rodgers— dominate the local discussion. ABC affiliates may not have much in terms of pro football offerings, but WBAY pitches in with its Sunday-night Packers program, Cover 2, and will shell out cash for a lone Monday-night game starring the green and gold from ESPN.

“We’re all trying to take advantage of the great momentum the Packers have,” says Don Carmichael, general manager at WBAY.

Football at all levels finds an audience in Green Bay– Appleton, which gained two places in the new Nielsen market ratings to DMA No. 69. Journal Broadcast Group, which owns NBC affiliate WGBA and manages Ace TV’s MyNetworkTV affiliate, WACY, purchased a sports production truck and aired what it said was the first of 50 local high school and college sports contests on Aug. 19. WACY airs the action Fridays in primetime under the “Showdown” banner. “We are committed to producing and building up as much local content as we can,” says Joe Poss, who took over WGBA-WACY five months ago. “If it drives interest and we can sell it, we will continue to do that.”

If WACY has football Fridays and Fox affiliate WLUK has the Packers on Sunday, where the games typically do a mammoth 53 rating/75 share, WCWF is shooting for Saturday, when it airs ACC college football. “It gives people the opportunity to watch football on Saturdays [as well],” explains Jay Zollar, vice president and general manager at WLUK-WCWF.

LIN expanded its local holdings when it acquired CW affiliate WCWF from Acme in April, following a services agreement with the station. Zollar says the acquisition has been good for business. There’s a new public affairs show on Sundays called CW Focus, and of course a Friday football program, called Gametime. Seinfeld shifted from WLUK to WCWF on Sept. 19. When Fox has Major League Baseball playoffs this fall, WCWF will air the 9 p.m. news.

WLUK is now providing weather updates on its CW sister station. “In this day and age, having real estate is important,” Zollar says. “It helps us attract new and different eyeballs.”

Also helping attract eyeballs is Maria Parmigiani, recently selected to be host of WCWF, representing it at school pep rallies, football games and other community events. Parmigiani is building a following on Twitter at @CW14Star.

WCWF isn’t the only recent acquisition in Green Bay. In April, Nexstar agreed to acquire WFRV and WJMN Marquette from an affiliate of Liberty Media for $20 million. Wisconsin native Joe Denk was installed as general manager in July, replacing Perry Kidder, who had run the pair since 1992. Carmelyn Daley, the executive producer, was named news director. Denk says more changes are coming, though he won’t offer specifics. “I think this is a great opportunity for Nexstar,” he says. “This is a good station, and a good market for us to be in.”

These are hardly the only shifts among Green Bay stations. WGBA reintroduced 5-7 a.m. news in January, after it had been scrapped for a few years. “I think it was the critical thing that we were missing,” says Poss.

Carmichael says WBAY’s local HD launch, with all the ancillary upgrades, should happen by the end of the year. With WBAY parent Young Broadcasting out of bankruptcy, Carmichael says the group is spending money to make money. “We’re back to the capital flowing, and to putting a lot of cash into the bottom line,” he says.

WLUK won the tight 2010 revenue race, according to BIA/Kelsey, its $18.8 million ahead of WBAY’s $17.0 million and WFRV’s $16.4 million. WLUK and WBAY were deadlocked in the May sweeps primetime contest. WBAY won morning news in May, which is typically WLUK’s title. The ABC affiliate also won early evenings and total day household ratings, while its 10.9 rating/ 26.3 share at 10 p.m. bested WLUK’s 9.2/16.6 at 9.

Time Warner Cable is the region’s primary subscription TV operator.

Market general managers say the economy is solid, if unspectacular. The raging collective bargaining debate stemming from state capital Madison earlier this year has sent issues money to the stations, and next year’s elections should be a strong driver too. “It’s positive, but not as positive as we might have hoped,” Zollar says of the local economy. “I would say we’re holding our own. It’s not going gangbusters, but it’s a slight rebound.”

The locals are exceptionally thankful an NFL strike was averted. The Packers are more than just a popular pastime in Green Bay—they’re good for local business. But while Packers-themed shows, hosted by coaches and players, are extraordinarily popular in the region, Poss says live games on WACY’s Showdown do better ratings. “A Packers show just doesn’t have the viewership we can drive out of live sports events,” he says. “We’re proud to create something new.”

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