Mariners help KIRO score

Sep 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The Seattle Mariners are not only heating up Major League Baseball they’re also heating up ratings for CBS affiliate KIRO-TV’s newscasts.
KIRO’s newscasts have been in last place in Seattle for years. Now for the first time the station is climbing into second place, even giving ABC affiliate KOMO-TV a run for its money.
Cox-owned KIRO is airing 35 Mariners games this season, with Fox Sports Northwest telecasting the rest of the games in that market. KIRO has capitalized on Mariners fever by having news cut-ins aired at Safeco Field, the Mariners’ home stadium. KIRO anchors Steve Raible and Susan Hutchison deliver the 90-second news update, which airs in the stadium five minutes before the game starts. “We promote our 11 o’clock newscast in that cut-in,” said KIRO General Manager John Woodin, who has been at the station since Cox bought it four years ago. “I’m not sure if anybody else does that in the country.”
The ballpark also has five permanent signs with KIRO’s logo touting its “Eyewitness News” at 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. If viewers don’t notice the signs at the ballpark, a lighted scoreboard in left centerfield that shows scores from around the country displays KIRO ads between innings. These ads come up three times during the game and tout KIRO’s morning newscast, weather coverage and 11 p.m. newscast.
Station managers often note that many NBC stations are No. 1 in their markets because of strong prime-time lead-ins as well as high ratings for “The Tonight Show,” which translates into high morning ratings because viewers’ TVs are already set to NBC. That same theory may apply to what is happening at KIRO.
“Obviously the Mariners helped us a lot in accomplishing that goal, and also the new strength of the CBS lineup of summer replacements has helped,” Mr. Woodin said. “The Mariners never really lead into the 11 p.m. news, but we do a lot of topical promotion inside the Mariners games, and we felt that leads to a lot more sampling that is now turning into habit viewers. We’re seeing it now-on days we don’t have a Mariner game-that we’re still No. 1 at 11 p.m. in three of the last four nights when we didn’t have a Mariner game. So we’re getting some sampling, and now we’re turning that into some viewer habit.”
KIRO’s 11 p.m. newscast has been No. 2 in the July book, tied with KOMO at a 5.4 Nielsen Media Research rating and 14 share, compared with July 2000 when KOMO had a 5.8/15 and KIRO had a 3.8/10.
KIRO’s three-hour morning newscast, which starts at 5 a.m., was No. 2 in July with a 2.2/16, compared with July 2000 when it was No. 3 with a 2.1/13. The last hour of that newscast goes up against network programs on the two rival stations.
So far KIRO has been averaging about an 18.0/38 for its baseball games. “This is the highest we’ve ever gotten,” Mr. Woodin said. “They’ve been one of the highest-rated teams for about the last five to six years, since the 1995 season when they beat the Yankees.”
Sometimes KIRO will air special 7 p.m. newscasts if games end early. Those newscasts win the time slot, Mr. Woodin said. He said the chemistry among anchors Brad Goode and Joyce Taylor and meteorologist Andy Wappler has gelled. The team has been together for about two years.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV columnist John Levesque acknowledged that KIRO has always been seen as the market’s last-place station. He has long believed KIRO to be one of the best in the market when it comes to breaking news, but that advantage has not usually translated to better ratings.
“As long as I’ve been covering TV, they’ve always been good on breaking news,” Mr. Levesque said. “Maybe people are noticing they’ve been better on breaking news than some other stations in town. Your ability to do your job doesn’t necessarily get you a whole lot of points. KING is usually No. 1 because NBC is No. 1.”
But some executives at rival stations suggest that the KIRO increase in news ratings can be attributed to the Mariners fueling those numbers.
“You have to understand the power of the Mariners in this town; the 11 p.m. numbers are deceiving because it’s an anomaly because of the Mariners,” said one rival executive. “Are the numbers going to get a lift outside of the Mariners?”
In addition to taking advantage of Mariners fever, KIRO airs six half-hour programs on the team, one per month during the season, with KIRO sportscaster Tony Ventrella. The show focuses on what the Mariners players do outside of baseball and in their communities.
This year KIRO created another revenue stream by partnering with sister company Cox Apparel. The station sells Mariners-themed T-shirts on KIROtv.com that read: “Another Night, Another Hero.”
“Its something we’re trying to capitalize on, their success, and `Another Night, Another Hero’ is sort of a catch phrase, because every night there seems to be someone else on the team that helps them win,” Mr. Woodin said. Cox not only has an apparel division, which makes golf shirts and T-shirts, it is also the largest wholesaler of used cars in the world.
But Mr. Woodin said there is more momentum at KIRO, with “Judy Judge” recently moving to KIRO from UPN affiliate KSTW-TV. On Sept. 10, KIRO was scheduled to air a double run of the syndicated court program at 4 p.m. to lead into the 5 p.m. news. KIRO also acquired “Access Hollywood,” which was formerly on KONG-TV. It began airing on KIRO Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m., right after “Entertainment Tonight” for a one-hour block of entertainment programming.
KIRO has another year left on its contract to air the Mariners games.