How memories fade — fast.
Remember in August, when there was looming gloom-and-doom surrounding Missouri’s football team, with the naysayers having coach Gary Pinkel primed for the guillotine after a poor season the year before and talk rampant about his Tigers being overmatched in the Southeastern Conference?
Remember in August, when the Las Vegas “over-under’’ betting line for wins by the Tigers this season was set at 5½ in many sports books?
Remember all that talk about the “month of doom,’’ a five-game stretch from early October-early November when many feared MU would be lucky to win more than one game against an formidable lineup of SEC foes — Vanderbilt and Georgia on the road, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee at home?
Well, that Vegas bet was settled as fast as it possibly could have been — the Tigers won their first six games. Then they surged through that October gauntlet with only one loss, against South Carolina in a contest they easily could have won.
And all that chatter of Pinkel being over his head in the SEC has faded as quickly as the Tigers have risen.
Missouri’s football team is on a roll like it has been only once before in more than half a century, as it has a big shot at not only playing for its conference title but also an outside chance to land in the national championship game. But unlike in 2007, when the Tigers had a similar run, it hasn’t exactly been MIZ-ZOU spirit in terms of television ratings in the state’s largest market this time around.
In ’07, the Tigers beat arch-rival Kansas 36-28 on the last Saturday in November in a showdown for a spot in the conference title game. The victory vaulted the Tigers to No. 1 nationally the next week in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 1960, and they also were atop the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
Interest in the Tigers, from a TV viewership standpoint, was at an all-time high in St. Louis. According to The Nielsen Co., 26 percent of homes in the market tuned in to the thriller with KU, which is believed to be the highest rating ever for a regular season college football telecast in the market.
Fast forward to this season, when the Tigers again are having a monster year. They have one regular-season game remaining, Saturday against Texas A&M, and if they win their record will be 11-1 — the same as it was after beating KU in 2007. They again would gain a spot in their conference’s title contest and remain alive in the race for the national championship.
But St. Louis TV viewership for their games this year, their second in the Southeastern Conference, has lagged behind the numbers they were compiling when they were contending then for the Big 12 title.
At this point in 2007, seven MU regular-season games had been televised and drew an average rating of 7.1 in St. Louis, with five pulling a figure of 7.9 or better. This year there have been nine MU games shown on widely-available outlets (the others were either on pay-per-view or Charter cable) and just three have had a rating of at least 7.9, with the overall average at 6.0.
The reason for the 24 percent difference seems to be twofold:
• There still is unfamiliarity with SEC foes for a lot of MU fans, who had built-up knowledge of Big 12 teams — many of which had been rivals for decades.
• There is much more of a hodge-podge of outlets televising the Tigers now than six seasons ago. At this point in 2007, four games had aired on Fox Sports Midwest, one on ESPN, one on ESPN2 and one on KDNL (Channel 30). This year, three have been on ESPN, two on KPLR (Channel 11) — morning starts — one on ESPN2. But three have been on harder-to-find outlets that not all cable or satellite subscribers even buy — two on ESPNU and one on Big Ten Network.
Now, despite much buildup for Saturday’s game centering not only the magnitude of the contest for Mizzou but also the hype around controversial reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel being at quarterback for A&M, drawing a St. Louis TV audience rivaling the one for that KU contest six years ago appears to be unrealistic.
The 2007 game was on ABC (Channel 30 locally), Saturday’s will be on cable’s ESPN, both at night. But for whatever reason, over-the-air ratings in St. Louis usually are significantly higher than those for comparable telecasts on cable/satellite outlets despite less than 10 percent of the market getting only so-called “free TV.”
“It’s still a big over-the-air town,’’ Channel 30 general manager Tom Tipton said. “Any time you make comparative ratings from broadcast to cable, broadcast stations always seem to do better.’’
He has an interesting theory as to why that happens.
ESPN and other such sports outlets have a hard-core following, and most of their viewers know about big games coming up and don’t need to be led to them. But he said an over-the-air station can draw more casual sports fans by advertising it during its general-interest programs.
“People watch the broadcast stations more, so we promote other programing more often,’’ he said. “If they’re watching ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox, they may see a ‘promo’ for the game on other programming they’re watching and go, ‘Oh yeah, OK. I forgot about that game. I’ll watch.’ That’s where the promotion helps. ... There’s a lot to be said for that.’’
To that end, he says an emphatic “no’’ when asked if there is any way ESPN on Saturday will approach that 26 rating in St. Louis that KDNL pulled for that 2007 Mizzou-KU showdown. He points to the fact that the Cardinals did not even come close to that 26 figure in the first round of the recent baseball playoffs, when all the games were on cable. (The best figure they generated was 21.8).
“You’ve got the Cardinals in the playoffs, there’s probably not any better TV sports real estate in this market than that,’’ he said. “That’s a pretty good indicator.’’
KTRS (550 AM) is in the first season of a three-year contract extension to broadcast MU football and basketball in St. Louis, and station president Mark Dorsey said he’s enjoying the team’s surge from a bottom-line standpoint.
“It’s been good,’’ he said. “It’s made a little bit of a difference — we did pretty well with it last year.’’
The broadcasts are produced by Learfield Sports, which controls much of the advertising time during the play-by-play, pregame and postgame programming.
But KTRS does a lot of its own MU-related coverage, which Dorsey said is a key revenue source. Included in that additional programming are Pinkel’s show at 7 p.m on Mondays as part of 2½ hours of coverage devoted to the Tigers that starts at 6:30 p.m.
Also, MU play-by-play broadcaster Mike Kelly appears on McGraw Milhaven’s program on Monday and Friday mornings, then Kelly is on Wednesday nights from 7-8 o’clock. The station previews MU games at 6:30 p.m. Fridays with Jim Holder, who then provides a recap at 10 a.m. Sundays.
“When they’re the franchise of the radio station sports-wise, you dedicate a lot of time to them in both programming and in selling it, and we’ve done a pretty good job,’’ Dorsey said. “With the ancillary programming we add during he week, it’s great for our listeners, it’s great programing and it adds revenue to the station. It’s been a win-win for everybody, from the university’s standpoint, from Learfield’s standpoint and for the station.’’
But he said the move to the high-profile SEC two yeas ago might be as important to a boost in advertising interest as MU’s big season.
“With going to the SEC more advertisers have gotten excited about it,’’ Dorsey said, adding that this season’s succes on the field can translate to next year’s bottom line as preseason interest in the team figures to be high.
“I think there’s a windfall that people want to get behind a winning team, be it professional or at the college level,’’ he said. “Just like the Rams, if they close out strong they’ll have a windfall for next year. And the year (Mizzou has) had also will carry over.’’
MIZZOU ON ST. LOUIS TELEVISION
Ratings in the St. Louis market for University of Missouri football telecasts this year:
DATE FOE NETWORK RATING
Aug. 31 Murray State Pay-TV N/A
Sept. 7 Toledo ESPNU 3.4
Sept. 21 at Indiana BTN 1.6
Sept. 28 Arkansas State KPLR 5.3
Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt Charter cable N/A
Oct. 12 at Georgia ESPN 8.3
Oct. 19 Florida KPLR 8.3
Oct. 26 South Carolina ESPN2 5.3
Nov. 2 Tennessee ESPN 7.8
Nov. 9 at Kentucky ESPNU 5.0
Nov. 23 at Mississippi ESPN 9.3
SOURCE • The Nielsen Co.
NOTE • The rating represents the number of homes with a TV in the market that turned in.
N/A • Not available.