The moment the Indianapolis Colts thwarted the New York Jets and earned a trip to Super Bowl XLIV, the “Countdown to Kickoff” clock started on WISHTV.com, detailing how many days, hours and seconds were left until the big game. But WISH's Super Bowl coverage was in motion even before the AFC Championship Game; the Indianapolis station had already flown two reporters to Miami to set the stage for the Super Bowl in its post-game coverage on Jan. 24.
If the Colts had lost that day, the LIN station would've eaten the cost of the trips. But with Indianapolis residents' feverish connection to their football franchise, WISH President/General Manager Jeff White says it was a risk worth taking. “We're going crazy with it,” says White, who's sending what he calls a “full contingent” to the Feb. 7 wingding. “The whole city is behind this; the city is just going crazy.”
While having a team in the Super Bowl would inspire emphatic fandom in every NFL market, Indianapolis and New Orleans appear to take the lunacy level even higher. Indianapolis is an extraordinary sports town (see Market Eye, Jan. 18) where football has surpassed basketball as the unofficial No. 1 sport in recent years, thanks to the perpetually strong showing by Peyton Manning and the Colts in the No. 25 DMA. That's no small accomplishment in the market where the iconic basketball film Hoosiers was based.
The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, were until 2002 the only major pro team in DMA No. 51, and they have sported a long history of misery. After the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, residents—already known for tipping a few celebratory potables—are more than ready to let the good times roll.
“It's stunned euphoria,” says WWL President/General Manager Bud Brown, who's sending a crew of 30 from his New Orleans station. “The city has had its share of disappointment and tragedy, but something like the [Saints-Vikings NFC Championship Game] had a tremendous effect on the population.”
Stations in both markets are going all-out to cover the event, with nightly specials, Super Bowl tidbits flavoring every newscast, sets—and anchors—done up in the local team's colors, and real-time updates on Facebook and Twitter. For the non-CBS affiliates that will not air the big game, general managers concede that the coverage is a drain on finances and staffers. It's also a major logistical hurdle—especially since the finalists were not decided until two weeks before the Super Bowl.
Further taxing resources, NBC affiliates also plan to cover the Winter Olympics, which start Feb. 12. Dispatch's WTHR Indianapolis, for one, has 19 bodies in Miami. Immediately following the game—and the parade, if the Colts win—two of them will repack their bags after arriving home and set out for Vancouver.
WTHR President/General Manager Jim Tellus says it helps that the station covered the Colts at the same Super Bowl venue in 2007, but concedes it's a big ask for his gang. “There's no question that our folks are working very hard,” he says. “But it helps that they're genuinely excited about it—they know it doesn't happen very often.”
New Orleans stations will also have their hands full with elections on Feb. 6, including the primary for a mayor to succeed Ray Nagin. “We'll have wall-to-wall coverage on that,” says WVUE President/General Manager Joe Cook.
Some stations are lightening the load by sharing with corporate siblings. WWL is sharing its Miami content with other Belo outlets. Tribune has duopolies in both New Orleans and Indianapolis, along with the Sun-Sentinel newspaper and WSFL in South Florida. “It gives us other outlets to pull in resources and enhance our coverage,” says WXIN-WTTV Indianapolis VP/General Manager Jerry Martin, who's sending 13 staffers.
Good times, bad times for affils
The CBS affiliates airing the game await a giant viewership and advertising windfall. (For perspective, the Saints-Vikings game did a shocking 63 rating/82 share on New Orleans Fox affiliate WVUE on Jan. 24.) Brown says that WWL sold out its inventory early last week, the spots commanding a 30% premium thanks to the Saints being in the big game. White says WISH's spots are going for about double what they would for a non-Colts Super Bowl.
The non-CBS general managers know their viewership will be minuscule during the Super Bowl. (“Whatever we have, no one will be watching it,” laments one.) They'll nonetheless do their best to get viewers to change channels for the post-game with slogans such as WXIN's “They have the game. We own the coverage.”
But WISH and WWL know the ball is in their hands on Sunday. “All eyes are on WISH right now,” White says. “It's a great time to show off our wares and pick up new viewers.”
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