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
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.