20 March 2007

Is there room for another sports talk station?

Note: I'm picking this up from a previous post's comments thread.

We can all agree that the KNBR is skewed towards the SF teams and covers the W's mostly because they're under contract. The Oakland teams get token coverage, while the Sharks get mentioned because the Razor loves them. You can't fault KNBR for catering to their vested interests. Sports talk is not exactly high up on the journalistic integrity scale, so to hold them to task for this skew is laughable. To have another sports talk station makes sense for fans of those affected teams.

However, that's not the issue here.

The real question is: "Is there room in the Bay Area for another sports talk station?" The two KNBR's constitute 1 1/2 stations due to simulcasts (Razor & Mr. T), sloughing off W's or 49ers games when they conflict with the Giants or the Razor & Mr. T, Giants midnight baseball replays, and much of the throwaway syndicated programming out there (late night ESPN radio, most FOX Sports radio). Programming a sports talk station is inherently expensive and risky. Before you answer the question above, consider the following:
  • How do you balance expensive, locally produced programming against cheaper (and less popular syndicated shows)?
  • What marketing strategy do you use? Is the station an anti-KNBR? An East Bay station? A "fair and balanced" station? A more edgy station?
  • Do you succumb to "partnering" with ESPN (Eternally Self-Promoting Network)?
  • How much specialized programming do you include? Examples: boxing, outdoors/fishing, extreme sports, fantasy sports, auto racing, horse racing
  • What kinds of partnerships do you strike with local universities to carry their events?
  • What kind of sports news operation do you run? Do you cover every local pro sports event or cover events selectively?
  • Is it worth it to pay for higher priced, big name radio talent?
  • Should the station have sports programming exclusively, or a mix of sports and other news/talk?
  • How much do you want shows to be content driven (interviews) as opposed to caller driven?
  • How much time do you spend on pre- and post-game shows?
  • How much do gimmicks factor in? Examples: scantilly-clad women, contests and giveaways
Next, let's consider the market. The last published Arbitron ratings I've seen have KNBR at 2.3 for November '06-January '07 in the San Francisco market (14th) and 1.8 in the San Jose market (20th). KTCT (a.k.a. KNBR-1050) hit 0.6 (35th) in SF and 0.4 (40th) in SJ, which explains why they don't spend much on local programming.

Let's talk a look at the shares for sports talk stations in more sports-crazy markets (Arbitron ratings courtesy of Radio Daily News):

I threw in LA facetiously, of course. Other than LA, a market's total sports radio share appears to typically hover between 3 and 5 (3-5% of the market). The combined share of the two KNBR's is nearly 3, and in a place as diverse and segmented as the Bay Area, can you reasonably ask for more? Would the addition of another station take away a 1 share from someone else, whether it was KNBR or other types of programming? While the sports offerings may not be diverse, it could be argued that the market penetration for sportstalk is close to maxed out.

Then again, maybe it isn't. A look at the dropoff from the SF market to the SJ market indicates that the further outside of SF, the less popular KNBR is in general. The SF market includes Oakland, so the pooling of both east and west sides of the bay presents an inaccurate picture in ratings. The East Bay must be weaker than SF and the Peninsula. Perhaps an opportunity is there for an East Bay/South Bay oriented station, one that caters to non-SF teams. There's an obvious marketing angle in presenting the station as the opposite of the so-called effete, wine-sipping types to the west.

Wolff and A's broadcasting veep Ken Pries are paying attention to the market. Pries has indicated that if a station were available locally, the A's would be interested. There's an element of timing to such an acquisition, because in the recent past most local radio station sales have been as part of huge corporate portfolios, such as the Susquehanna sale. It's possible that the rumored sale of various Clear Channel stations may make one or more individual stations available locally, but it could lead to more of the same corporate horse trading.

Thankfully, other teams' owners have already set the trend by buying their own radio properties. The following are two excellent case studies:
  • A year ago, Angels owner Arte Moreno paid $42 million for KMXE, a 50,000-watt AM outfit in LA. Formerly a Spanish-language news/talk/sports outlet, KMXE was transformed into the Angels' spanish flagship. Over the last year, more English-language programming has been introduced, and Moreno changed the station's call letters to KLAA. It is thought that once ESPN-710's deal with the Angels elapses after this coming season, the English broadcast will move to KLAA. But what will happen to the Spanish broadcasts? Moreno has done a skillful job of marketing to that market, and he may be doing the team a disservice by not utilizing the station for Spanish. One way or another, the station promises to significantly boost Angels revenues.
  • A few months prior to Moreno's purchase, a company called Red Zebra Broadcasting bought three low-power stations in the Washington, DC area. Red Zebra is run by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. The three stations form a virtual "flagship" by simulcasting the same programming (ESPN radio and Redskins games). Depending on where you are in the market, you may be best served by listening to either WWXT 92.7-FM in Prince Frederick, MD, WWXX 94.3-FM in Warrenton, VA, or WXTR 730-AM in Alexandria, Virginia. Plans to buy two additional stations in Maryland were scuttled in January. If this sounds familar, that's it mimics what the A's were doing last year with two low-powered stations - though the A's didn't own the stations. Should two or more low-power stations owned by the same conglomerate become available, it's certainly within reason for Wolff to look into purchasing them, price being a major factor. Once purchased, an application can be filed to boost a station's signal to 20,000 or even 50,000 watts if it's AM, even more if FM.
Just as with the stadium situation, patience is required when looking at the radio market. The FCC isn't granting new licenses to anyone, so this radio wait is like looking for a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan. It requires timing, skill, and a bit of luck. The industry may shake out even more over the next two years, so with that aforementioned luck the A's may get themselves a station yet.


Georob said...

I don’t think it’s a question of needing another sports station, though one could argue that there are enough teams not serviced by KNBR that could benefit.

What the A’s need is a station that will promote them heavily and make them a focal point of their programming. That’s what KNBR has been for the Giants for over 25 years. The fact that they’re a sports station is almost secondary, as for many years they were billed as “The GIANT 68” Even back in the day when they had Frank and Mike and music in the daytime, they were all over the Giants at all hours, and this was when the team was really bad….playing in Candlestick, no less! Even with the Niners, Warriors, and everything else; KNBR’s focus has and always will be the Giants.

Overlapping schedules is a problem for two or more teams that share a station. That’s primarily why KNBR has 1050 as a backup. If you were to squeeze the Sharks, Earthquakes, and even the Raiders onto an “anti-KNBR” along with the A’s, for much of the season you’d have little time for Marty Lurie, Robert Buan, and all the “A’s talk” before and after games. KNBR has shown that it’s TALKING about the games that matters as much as the games themselves.

Given the choice of a KCBS or KGO airing just games and a lower powered station devoting at least 6-7 hours of A’s programming per day, I’ll take the latter. If someone can put together an alternative sports station that will give the A’s those seven hours plus promos the rest of the day, I’ll take it. Otherwise the A’s are better off on a talk or even music station with some sports. That’s what KSFO and KNBR used to be, that’s what KFRC could have been, and that's what I think is still doable even in today’s segemented market.

And BTW, thank you for welcoming me back.

Anonymous said...

I would really love to see the A's on a station that gave them exposure and support like KNBR does for the (hated) Giants. The fact that no one on KNBR mentioned the name Barry Zito until after he signed with the (hated) Giants, but soon after appeared to be giving daily interviews really exemplifies the point that the station is all about the Giants.
One angle for additional programming that I think would be of interest to a lot of people in the bay area, specifically due to it's demographics, would be coverage of more "international sports". I am not saying that the station would have to provide live coverage of every sporting event around the globe, but a place to discuss these events with on air personalities who actually know wha they are talking about, I believe would bring in a lot of listeners. The Bay Area has some of the best rugby teams in the country, CAL is a perenial NCAA national championship contender, and in the Mens Leaugues, there are several Division 1 and Division 3 teams that compete at the national level and win championships. A rugby show, I believe would get a lot of listeners. There is a huge South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc.) community in the bay area, and cricket is huge there. I think you could attract listeners who might otherwise not listen to sports talk with cricket oriented shows which might also be able to attract some new baseball fans (the games are different, but not completely dissimilar). The bay area also has a huge number of cyclist (Amgen Tour of California) and motorcyclist (Moto GP Red Bull Gran Prix Laguna Seca). These are untapped market from a sports talk perspective. All of which could attract more listeners to a station, which if it promoted the A's well, could also result is more people listening to at attending A's games. More diverse sports programming would also result in more options for sponsors like Cantebury, bike shops, motorcycle shops, etc. Focused programming you could actually sell to these sponsors. We wouldn't be relying on Lasik and Sleep Train to support every program.

Anonymous said...

Marine Layer, what about WEEI in Boston??? Isn't that station near the top? or "the ticket" in san antonio?

Marine Layer said...

The A's aren't in a good bargaining position. Ratings are bottom-of-the-barrel, so it's not a matter of having a KCBS or KGO doing just games since those two routinely beat the A's head-to-head by, as the late Bill King would called it, "a country mile."

If the experiment with KIFR doesn't work out, the A's may have no choice but to get aggressive in buying a station. For reasons discussed previously, this is no small task.

KNBR-680 gets a 1 share boost when the Giants are in season, so the games actually matter more than the support. No doubt there's a complementary relationship there, but there is a cost in heavily promoting the team, and it's clear that stations have balked at doing that for the A's in the last 10 years.

As for sponsors, radio is a tough business. Ever wonder why radio station ad time is littered with dubious male enhancement products, unrealistic weight loss systems, and subprime mortgage vendors? Maybe having other sports can bring up the audience IQ, but I'm not counting on it.

Georob said...

Lew Wolff buying a station probably would be, to quote my favorite sub-prime mortgage vendor; "The Biggest No-Brainer In The History Of Mankind".:)

Jeffrey said...

I guess there might be a ratings point out there amongst all the niche sports markets.

It's tough to tell because sports talk in general is crappy radio as far as I am concerened. I'd think if the station just played ESPN stuff with the exception of a few A's related local programs it would do better than dirt bikes, tae kwan do and thumb wrestling shows.

Zonis said...

I agree, one of the problems is that most sports talk stations are ridiculously dumb. If the A's get a new station, and cover the entire Bay Area sports sphere, emphesising the A's, I think they will get some listens.

And if they go the next step and get the right personel, do good interviews and have good quality sports discussion rather than the dribble that most sports stations go with, which seems almost intentionally dumbed down, I believe they will overtake KNBR in ratings when Giants games are not on.

I think that is a good reason why sports radio is not a huge ratings draw, especially in the Bay Area. Many people, especially A's fans, don't ignore KNBR because of its low quality and snubbing of their team. I have tried listening to KNBR before, and I am always very dissapointed.

But I have another question-if Radio is too hard to get, what about a TV Station? (I am assuming we'd have to wait until the FSN deal expires.) Would it be worth it? To have a station that would play A's and EarthqQuake games, as well as possibly Sharks and CAL Basketball games as well?

Georob said...

TV's a whole other thing. Radio is better geared to a multi-tasking society as you can tune into while doing other things (work, driving, web surfing, etc) It's also a much more personal medium and is particularly effective with sports.

TV, even sports programs; you have to focus on with little distractions, even if it's for a few minutes. That's not to say that an "A's TV" station wouldn't help, but the Giants dominate the Bay Area market in large part to radio and that's where the battle has to be fought.