When NBC's Sunday Night Football signs off for the evening, most affiliates go immediately to late local news. But in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, NBC stations are regularly stuck with an irregular vacancy in primetime. ABC affiliates on the West Coast faced a similar challenge in years past when Monday Night Football left a hole before primetime programming or late news. Now NBC affiliates are turning that hole into an opportunity for inspired locally produced fare.
While some stations are showing news and traditional sportscasts, others are experimenting with new media and even syndicating in other markets. The results are drawing both football fans and big-name advertisers.
KNBC Los Angeles is producing one of the most ambitious efforts, a new interactive sports game show, The Challenge. Over 15 weeks, viewers will be asked to answer NFL-related questions online and by text-messaging to win prizes, including a 2007 Chevrolet car or truck, NFL tickets and DirecTV installation.
The show was created by in-house sports producers and longtime sports anchor Fred Roggin, who hosts and executive-produces.
“We needed to do something different, and we wanted to use new technology,” says Roggin, especially since L.A. has no hometown football team.
After five weeks on the air, The Challenge is averaging a 1.9 rating with men 25-54. The strong showing with a hard-to-reach group has attracted such advertisers as Toyota, Honda, the Jack in the Box fast-food chain and Olevia televisions.
Integrating Sponsors' Products
In addition to traditional ads, the sponsors' products are integrated into the show, such as the Olevia monitors on-set.
In San Diego, KNSD created Football Night in San Diego, a post-game show focused on the hometown Chargers. Before NBC got back into football this season, says KNSD General Manager Phyllis Schwartz, “everybody had a piece of football but us, and we missed it.”
In a twist, KNSD is selling the show to other affiliates in markets that don't have an NFL team. So far, KVBC Las Vegas is syndicating the program, and NBC stations in the Yuma, Ariz., and Palm Springs, Calif., markets have expressed interest, says Schwartz.
“These markets have a lot of Charger fans,” she says, adding that selling the show gives KNSD a chance to recoup its production investment.
Given the unpredictability of when an NFL game might wrap, some stations are opting to slip into a newscast, which can be abbreviated more easily, rather than fielding a more structured original program.
KING Seattle, for instance, runs a show featuring Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, and KSL Salt Lake City airs Sports Beat: NFL Edition. KUSA Denver uses the time for an extra half-hour of local news, followed by a detailed sportscast.
A handful of stations, including KGW Portland, Ore., and KNTV San Francisco, run syndicated shows, including sports-bloopers program Whacked Out.
Sports Fans Can Be Swayed
On KNBC, ratings for The Challenge are best when a show can start on the half-hour, which has happened twice so far this season.
After all, even sports fans can be tempted by non–sports-related Sunday shows.
“When we get on at 8:30, we can smile at the end,” says Roggin, “If we run into the 9 p.m. hour—with Desperate Housewives—we're going to take a hit.”
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