When Sports Teams Want to Be the Media

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This one is basically being written because of my reading of a Deadspin article. Yes, I read Deadspin articles.

Many of them are interesting, but this one in particular got my attention. It was one about Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and how he practically got a horde of sports reporters in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to kiss his feet.

And his butt…

And a few other things on his body.

The article basically said that ever since Dan Snyder bought the Redskins in 1999, he has tried his damndest to essentially control the flow of information regarding his team. In other words, he wants the entire Washington sports media market to serve as a public relations outfit for his team.

Deadspin mentioned a deal that Snyder just inked with the Washington Times where a weekly Redskins magazine will be distributed via the Times and where its staff will appear on the Redskins’ website.

In other words, don’t expect to see any anti-Redskins stuff (including columns advocating for the changing of the Washington team name) anywhere within the pages of the Washington Times.

This is a newspaper that already is trying to uphold a reputation as one of the most conservative-friendly papers in the nation, rivaling the New York Post, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for that title. It tries to be a conservative alternative to the supposedly liberal-leaning Washington Post.

But, since you already have stated unabashedly that you’re virtually an advocacy rag that tubthumps for right-leaning causes, why should anyone be surprised that you have linked up with the Redskins and its owner, who also happens to be a Republican and donates money to GOP candidates.

So, what else? An announcement that Snyder is also going to be a Washington Times columnist himself?

Political mess aside, this is more about the idea of sports teams (more like, sports owners) being able to control the narrative about their teams especially when their teams’ on-field play is not exactly the best thing going on.

The New York Yankees (YES Network), New York Mets (SNY), Boston Red Sox (NESN), Chicago Cubs/White Sox (Comcast SportsNet Chicago), Los Angeles Dodgers (SportsNet LA), and Houston Astros (Comcast SportsNet Houston) are among the teams with their own RSNs. Even though in the latter cases in Los Angeles, and Houston, those RSNs are not attracting a lot of cable coverage.

The New York Knicks (MSG Network), Los Angeles Lakers (Time Warner Cable Sports Net), Denver Nuggets (Altitude), and Chicago Bulls (Comcast SportsNet Chicago) are among the NBA teams with regional sports networks that they own. The cases with the Time Warner channels in Los Angeles are also striking because, in both cases, the coverage of the teams is relatively soft—even though the Lakers are one of the NBA’s worst teams at the moment.

Many sports teams now own regional sports networks which are able to make a lot of money for their respective teams. Some even own their own radio stations, like the St. Louis Cardinals did a few years back when they moved off of KMOX 1120 for 550 KTRS. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim own their flagship radio station, 830 KLAA-AM.

All four major sports leagues also own their channels, but much to their credit, the on-air talent does not (for the most part) allow the ownership structure of the networks to dictate favorable coverage to a league commissioner. This was illustrated when MLB Network (especially Bob Costas—a common critic of Commissioner Bud Selig) roundly criticized Selig as part of baseball’s problem with performance enhancing drugs when Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was found to have used PEDs.

So, the Snyder case with the Redskins illustrates just how desperate he is in controlling the media narrative around his team. Instead of trying to earn positive coverage with (gasp!) a winning football team, he wants to be lazy and not help in fielding a winning football team, then control the media so no one will say anything negative about him.

In short, that’s what you call an owner who is only using a team as an ATM and could care less if his team has any on-field success or not. Money talks and BS walks.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that Snyder owns the flagship station of his team’s radio network—ESPN Radio 980 WTEM. It also has two repeater signals on 92.7 FM WWXT and 94.3 FM WWXX. Needless to say, you won’t hear any more anti-Snyder blabbery on 980 AM moreso than you will see in the pages of the Washington Times thanks to that new deal.

That, perhaps explains why even with its extra sticks, 980 is still not up to par in terms of ratings with its rival across the street, WJFK-FM CBS Radio’s 106.7 The Fan—the flagship station for the Nationals, Capitals, and Wizards as well as an affiliate of Virginia Tech athletics and CBS Sports Radio.

Whereas The Fan does not hold The Fans hostage with pro-Snyder and pro-Redskins coverage motivated only by fattening of paychecks, 980 is essentially Dan Snyder’s PR outlet. In the July PPMs, 106.7 The Fan had a 2.3 whereas ESPN Radio 980 only mustered a 1.5.

Some of that 2.3 can be attributed to the Nationals and the fact that they are having a successful season up to this point. Nats radio ratings on 106.7 the Fan are surging this season, mostly because of the clarity of the FM signal and the success of the team.

But, it also has a lot to do with the fact that (especially) in Washington, DC, people will want to listen to any media outlet that does not have any financial stake in protecting any big boys.

Compare Dan Snyder’s idea of blacklisting any media type that dares to publish or utter one bad word about him in the District to that of the Jaguars and their media relations this year.

Even though the Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the NFL (so bad that they were once rumoured to be allowing fans to watch NFL RedZone on its JumboTron during games at Everbank Field), they seem to be pretty savvy in terms of media relations.

This year, the Jaguars ended a partnership with Cox Radio and its Conservative News/Talk radio station 104.5 WOKV that goes back to when the Jaguars became an NFL franchise in the 1990s. They signed with a new station this year to broadcast Jaguars games—WJXL AM/FM 1010 XL 92.5—owned by Seven Bridges Radio.

That station airs a sports format and is affiliated with ESPN Radio. It also includes for games to air WGNE-FM 99.9 Gator Country (owned by Renda Broadcasting).

The station talked all day on the occasion of the announcement that they landed the Jags’ rights about the deal and how big it was for the station to be the flagship of Duval’s only professional sports franchise. One of the guests on the station that day was Mark Lamping, team president. He said this:

“I want you to support us when we’re doing well and challenge us when we’re not doing so well.”

In my opinion, that was an extremely refreshing quote from a team president regarding a relationship that said team has or is about to enter into with a media outlet. Say what you want about the Jaguars on-field misadventures as of late, but there is no doubt about the fact that their media relations department is leaps and bounds better than that of the Redskins’.

He understood the concern that many in the Jacksonville/Duval area had about the possibility that the coverage on J-ville’s largest sports station could begin to get a little more skewed in favor of good coverage for a bad team. Lamping understood this and knew that he had to put out these concerns with one interview.

Granted, if the station actually stays to this promise is yet to be seen and heard and will be seen and heard by many in the area as the season unfolds. But, it was a refreshing first step.

Colin Cowherd on ESPN once remarked about how earlier in his radio career, he was on radio stations that happened to have rights to air team broadcasts. The on-air personalities had to temper their criticism of (or provide favorable coverage altogether of) those teams because of the financial ramifications of the relationship. He did not like being on those particular stations—and for good reason.

There’s no problem with sports teams becoming media. Sports teams, in fact, are already media by the fact that they have their own websites with their own content. But, does that mean that we can call a lot of these outlets, particularly Snyder’s, journalism?

There’s journalism and there’s public relations. What the Washington Times and ESPN Radio 980 are doing is public relations—and it’s not good PR either. We’ve found something else the Redskins are seemingly bad at.

Fox’s Touchdown Play By The Bay; Are St. Louis and Seattle Next?

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Fox has called an audible at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. It looks like they caught the defense napping and are about to convert on an 80 yard touchdown bomb.

In a power-play type move from Fox, they have announced a deal to purchase television stations KTVU-TV Channel 2 and KICU-TV Channel 36 from Cox Media Group in exchange for WFXT-TV Channel 25 in Boston and WHBQ-TV Channel 13 in Memphis.

KTVU is already a Fox affiliate, and is well-known by sports fans in the Bay Area as once being the longtime local home (in addition to the old SportsChannel Bay Area) of San Francisco Giants baseball.

Brass at KTVU are already saying that the acquisition by Fox will have no impact on its delivery of news—ignoring, of course, a redesigning of the logo to match the other Fox O&Os, a redesigning of the KTVU studios, and the changing of the graphics to, once again, match those of the other Fox O&Os.

In addition to being a Fox station, KTVU blows the other local television stations in the San Francisco Bay Area away in terms of ratings. KGO-TV (an ABC O&O), KNTV-TV (an NBC O&O) and KPIX-TV (a CBS O&O) play second fiddle to the KTVU calls by the Bay.

That’s one big reason why this is such a big deal. It definitely opens up Cox to new markets in Boston and Memphis—two markets where they have never been before and now may have the opportunity to expand in terms of both TV and radio.

The big deal, of course, is on the Fox side with KTVU. This deal will mean that five of the six English-network affiliated stations in the Bay Area will be owned & operateds. The outlier will be KRON-TV Channel 4, a MyNetwork TV affiliate and one whom according to Rich Lieberman’s 415 Media Blog, Fox initially had its eye on before pursuing KTVU.

It’s also huge news for a television network that recently went through an embarrassing journalistic escapade with its coverage of the Asiana Airlines story and the fake names associated with it. Instead, it’s deals like this that make media observers like yours truly say, “Ho Lee Fuk”.

That’s said to be one reason for why Cox wanted to offload KTVU in addition to some moving and shuffling amongst many of the news staff. But, when it comes down to it, this deal can be summed in with three things.

N.

F.

L.

The power that the NFL has in local television arrangements cannot be ignored. In the mid-1990s when television stations across the country were changing affiliations to Fox (primarily because of its wresting of NFC football from CBS), it caused the other “Big Three” networks scrambling for new stations to carry its programs. Fox was doomed to be a failure as a broadcast network without the NFL.

Oh, and that yellow family from Springfield better known as The Simpsons.

CBS had to air AFC football in response. Fox’s strategy has been to establish owned & operated stations in every single market with an NFC team so they could rake in both the local and national dough that those NFL deals offer. And as we know, there’s no money like football money.

Here’s the list of O&Os Fox currently has in NFC cities:

WNYW-TV Fox 5 New York (Giants)

WTXF-TV Fox 29 Philadelphia (Eagles)

WTTG-TV Fox 5 Washington, D.C. (Redskins)

KDFW-TV Fox 4 Dallas (Cowboys)

WFLD-TV Fox 32 Chicago (Bears)

KMSP-TV Fox 9 Twin Cities (Vikings)

WJBK-TV Fox 2 Detroit (Lions)

WAGA-TV Fox 5 Atlanta (Falcons)

WJZY-TV Fox 46 Charlotte (Panthers) (Deal done last year)

WTVT-TV Fox 13 Tampa/St. Petersburg (Buccaneers)

KSAZ-TV Fox 10 Phoenix (Cardinals)

Stations jumped to Fox after the NFC rights buy. Fox moved in and assumed not only their affiliation, but also locking them up as owned & operateds later on.

Fox is doing this deal because it allows them to have an O&O in another NFC market: the Bay Area with—the San Francisco 49ers who right now are probably the best team in the NFC not named the Seattle Seahawks. Also, having an O&O in market #4 is not something you want to pass up if you are a smart girl or guy in charge of a network.

Fox may not be done either. Variety reported last year that Fox was planning on making buys in Seattle and St. Louis in addition to the San Francisco purchase. The St. Louis Fox affiliate is KTVI-TV, a Tribune station. Tribune, based in Chicago, primarily runs CW affiliates, including the three flagship CW stations in New York City (WPIX-TV 11), Los Angeles (KTLA-TV 5), and Chicago (WGN-TV 9).

The Seattle situation is actually rather intriguing. The station that Fox is said to have its collective eyes on is not KCPQ-TV Q13 Fox, another Fox Tribune station. It’s KIRO-TV Channel 7, another Cox station, but is affiliated with CBS.

I’ve had numerous conversations with SeaTac Media’s Jason Remington about this issue and we both have thrown around ideas. I suggested that if Fox buys KIRO and changes it into a Fox O&O, then it turns the entire Seattle market upside down.

Seattle has already seen a change in its media landscape with Sinclair acquiring locally-based Fisher Communications, owners of stations such as KOMO-TV 4 (ABC), KUNS-TV 51 (Univision), and KATU-TV 2 (ABC) in Portland, Oregon. In addition, the purchase of Belo Broadcasting by Gannett has put the market’s NBC affiliate, KING-TV (and independent station KONG-TV) (get the King Kong reference?) under new management as well.

The idea I suggested to Remington was that Fox will make the buys in St. Louis and Seattle because those are two cities with NFC teams. Fox wants O&Os in both. If KIRO changes, then it raises the possibility that KCPQ and KSTW-TV CW 11 also change network affiliation. KCPQ, being a Tribune station could jump to the CW, and KSTW could become CBS considering that it’s already a CBS-owned station.

That market could see a “Big Switch” similar to what Denver, Phoenix, and Philadelphia all notably experienced in the mid-1990s during the days of the mass realignment of the local affiliations with the networks.

One cannot ignore said ramifications of a deal if it goes through in all three cities. Assuming Fox gets its coveted O&Os in San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis, Fox will have O&Os in every NFC market outside of New Orleans (Saints) and Green Bay/Milwaukee (Packers).

New Orleans’ Fox affiliate, WVUE-TV Channel 8 is owned by Tom Benson’s (Saints owner) Louisiana Media Company in conjunction with Raycom. Green Bay’s Fox station, WLUK-TV Channel 11, is owned by LIN Media while Milwaukee’s at WITI-TV Channel 6 is a Tribune station.

It’s even possible that Cox may have considered exchanging either their San Francisco station or their Seattle station in exchange for the Boston and Memphis stations. But Fox wasn’t getting both on one shot. So, if that’s what Cox was offering, then it was a slam dunk for Fox. A heritage station plus an indie in the largest NFC (and NFL, for that matter) market west of the Mississippi.

And, this could only be the beginning. If the trajectory as to where Fox is going with these deals is any indication, it may not be long before Fox says hello on an O&O basis to the Space Needle & the Gateway Arch as they have just done so to the Golden Gate Bridge on the city by the Bay.

You Can Catch it All on WBBM? What Triggered the Cubs’ New Radio Deal?

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Poor Steve Goodman…

As most Cubs fans know, in 1984 when the Northsiders were in the throes of a pennant chase, he recorded the oh-so-popular “Go Cubs Go” track that is once again played on the speakers at Wrigley Field after Cub wins and it becomes “White Flag Time” at the Friendly Confines.

Included in the middle part of the third and final verse, it includes the lyrics: “Baseball time is here again, you can catch it all on WGN…”

Thanks to new Cubs owners the Ricketts Family, that is about to change.

CBS Radio and the Chicago Cubs recently announced a new 7-year $70 million agreement that will allow CBS’s News Radio station WBBM 780 to broadcast Cubs games starting with the 2015 season. The deal ends a partnership (for now) with Radio 720 WGN that goes as far back as 1925—17 years after the Cubs’ last World Series victory, 11 years after the debut of Wrigley Field, and 9 years after the Cubs played their first baseball at the Friendly Confines.

Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer will still remain at the mic for Cubs broadcasts. Reports say that this was “non-negotiable” on the part of the Cubbies’ brass (meaning the Ricketts family and team president Crane Kenney).

The Cubs just aren’t signing a radio partnership with WBBM to broadcast games. It is also supposedly doubling as a marketing partnership as well. It will also allow the Cubs to promote upcoming concerts at Wrigley Field through CBS’s other music radio stations in the Windy City. These stations are WBBM-FM “B96” (CHR), WXRT-FM 93XRT (Adult Alternative), WUSN-FM US 99.5 (Country), and WJMK-FM 104.3 K-Hits (Oldies/Classic Hits). They also own sports WSCR-AM 670 The Score.

In other words, the Wrigley Field Concert Series is essentially a marketing tool now of CBS Radio and the Cubs.

Surprisingly enough, it is this partnership that is the reason why the dollar amount that CBS will pay to the Cubs is actually less than if they would have re-upped again with WGN. Jimmy de Castro went on both of Tribune’s radio stations (WGN 720 and WGWG-LP 87.7 The Game) and expressed that it was a case of the Cubs losing WGN, not the other way around.

While de Castro was a little more reserved when talking to his own media outlets in the Chi, he fired some shots at Clark and Addison in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“They’re making step by step that are PR nightmares…At the same time, they’ve lost 35 games this year, 288 in the last three years, and no one’s listening or watching.”—De Castro to the Sun-Times

The door was kept open to a return for the Cubs to 720. De Castro, in his interview with 87.7 The Game mentioned how the St. Louis Cardinals ended their long time partnership with KMOX 1120-AM as they pursued their own radio station for a few years. That did not work and the Redbirds eventually returned to KMOX prior to the 2011 season. In the Cards’ first year back, they won the World Series over the Detroit Tigers. He also said that the station would still stay committed to covering Cubs baseball and that they have supported the rebuilding process led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

De Castro said that from a business perspective, what the Cubs wanted out of the Tribune Company didn’t make sense. He said that they couldn’t justify an arrangement where they lost a grand total of $6 million a year while they’ve maintained their status as the flagship station of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks who have won two Stanley Cups in the past five years. WGN is also the flagship outlet for Northwestern University athletics. Given the ‘Hawks partnership, it did not make smart business sense to keep the Cubs on the station if they were demanding more than what the Blackhawks were receiving.

If anything in Chicago sports is worth ponying up a full $10 million on, it’s Patrick Kane, not Anthony Rizzo.

Even with this, Robert Feder’s blog on Chicago media reported that WGN still tried everything in their power to keep the Cubs on ‘GN, including granting the team a minority ownership stake in the station.

Ultimately, this wasn’t enough as the opportunity to market Wrigley Field as a concert venue through CBS’ Chicago cluster was too much for the Ricketts Family and Crane Kenney to pass up. The result—the Cubs will be on WBBM 780 starting in 2015.

At the introductory press conference that featured Tom Ricketts, Crane Kenney, Dan Mason (president of CBS Radio) and Rod Zimmerman, who is in charge of CBS’s Chicago cluster, Mason and Zimmerman were presented with honorary Cubs jerseys that said their last names and the number “15” on the back.

Cliff Floyd once wore this number during his short-lived career as a Cubbie.

A third jersey featured “CBS Radio 780” on the back. At the press conference, it was revealed that 780 AM (only a few ticks on the dial shy of 720) will broadcast games while 105.9 FM retains its All-News format.

Feder also reported that whenever there is a scheduling conflict with the Bears (who also have WBBM as a flagship), the Bears will be on 780 while the Cubs will be heard on 105.9. A new logo featuring the Cubs Radio Network has already been released and is on the CBS Chicago website. The Cubs say that network will be duplicated with ‘BBM as the flagger. At the presser, Kenney touted how 780 has the same signal clarity and strength as 720.

With all of this mentioned, only one question needs to be asked—how much money did WGN offer the Cubs?

$19,080,000 a year?

I kid…

It must be asked. After all, it turned out that the CBS amount was actually less than the amount offered by WGN because of the additional incentives given thanks to the concert opportunities for Wrigley Field. Thanks to the upcoming “WrigleyPalooza”, CBS’s offer (if we’re supposed to believe what is coming from CBS and the Cubs) is actually lower than that of WGN’s.

What has to be asked is how much did WGN offer the Cubs? If it was over the $10 million that they’ll be receiving annually from the Tiffany Network until 2021, then the motivation behind the Cubs’ move was about the marketing opportunities and the concerts instead of the money.

If ‘GN’s offer was under $10 million, then CBS basically offered everything short of all of Cook County for the rights to broadcast the Cubs.

With this deal, CBS now has the rights to half of the major professional teams in the City of Broad Shoulders (including the MLS’s Chicago Fire). One of those other teams just happens to be another team that happens to play its games at U.S. Cellular Field—on the South Side of town.

The White Sox air on 670 The Score WSCR. In 2010, the Sox and CBS Radio signed a five year agreement to continue broadcasting White Sox baseball on The Score with Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson at the call. That contract ends after the 2015 season.

It has been speculated that this move could push the White Sox to pursue other options, especially if they are getting paid by CBS less than what the Cubs are getting via their new contract. After all, it is obvious to say that the Sox’ on-field baseball product surely merits more than the $10 million the Cubbies are about to receive from CBS Radio—does it?

One of the stations that could be in play is WMVP-AM ESPN Radio 1000. They’re one of four ESPN owned and operated stations across the country along with their affiliates in New York (WEPN-FM 98.7 via LMA), Los Angeles (KSPN-AM 710), and Dallas/Fort Worth (KESN-FM 103.3). One reason they could be in play is because they are already the flagship radio station for Chicago Bulls basketball. What do the Bulls and White Sox have in common? Both are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf.

Reinsdorf would surely love to have both of his teams on one station for the cross-promotional opportunities that would explode from such an arrangement.

But, it could be a number of things that are pushing this Cubs bit to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s. From 1981 until the late 2000s, the Tribune Company weren’t just broadcast partners of the Cubbies—they owned the team. So it was very easy for WGN-TV, WGN Radio, and the WGN Superstation to broadcast their games. In Rickettsville, tradition runs second to the big bucks, and Tiffany’s got plenty of them.

Wrigley Field was already a hot concert venue even before the Cubs inked this deal. The temperature at Wrigley just rose a little bit.

One more note to this deal: Cubs TV broadcaster and noted rock music fan Len Kasper once hosted a weekly show Wednesday evenings at 8:00 pm on 93XRT. Any chance of that show returning now that Clark and Addison is now H&H with 22 West Washington Street?

That is neither here nor there. What is obvious is that when a 90 year partnership in radio has severed ties and has at least said “See you later” if not “farewell”, it makes all of us say this: