A’s and 95.7 The Game extend through 2018

It started with a four-year run, and will now go another four.

There hasn’t been any drama leading up to this renewal, with The Game on hand at both FanFest and this week at Hohokam Stadium. While the A’s are no ratings bonanza, the team is by far the biggest constant in The Game’s programming. Now that the station will be going through its own form of regime change, perhaps Entercom will see fit to grow the station’s brand and the A’s brand together, instead of being at odds as they were at times. No matter, at least it’s stability, the most fans have seen since the KSFO days.

My only suggestion at this point is to work on boosting the signal. East and North Bay fans have been clamoring for this since Day one.

Program Director Jason Barrett to leave 95.7 The Game in June

I travel a lot. I’ve been to 49 states, nearly all of them on business. I’ve rented cars in all of these markets, which has given me a chance to sample sports radio everywhere: California and the Northeast, the South and the Midwest. Thanks to the internet you can do the same now via streaming. Most people aren’t going to go out of their way to do that, except to follow distant team coverage. Having listened to so many different sports talk stations, I can give you one complete immutable fact about them.

THEY ALL SUCK.

The programming is disposable and predictable. The talent is largely marginal. It’s the low hanging fruit of media. There really isn’t much difference from one station to the next. Listeners may latch onto one or two hosts because of their style, or listen to a particular station mostly because it’s a team’s flagship. 95.7 The Game launched with the idea that it was the A’s flagship, but would give thorough coverage to all of the Bay Area’s teams.

Jason Barrett came in as the program director shortly after the station’s launch in 2011. Not surprisingly, the New Yorker brought in a New York host, Brandon Tierney. That didn’t go over so well – with A’s fans especially. Some worked well for a small but loyal audience, like The Rise Guys until they were unceremoniously canned, or Damon Bruce most recently. Chris Townsend has been the one constant on the station, taking numerous time slot changes like a pro that he is. If the maxim of radio is know your audience, Barrett didn’t. He brought an East Coast sensitivity to the Bay Area under orders from an East Coast corporate parent, and it showed.

I don’t think it’s possible to make truly good sports talk. It is possible to make sports talk that sucks less. One way to reach that not-so-lofty goal is to hire hosts that really know the local teams. When a guy doesn’t know much about a team’s history or players it’s glaring. It gives one more reason for a listener to change the station. For whatever reason Barrett wasn’t terribly concerned about that, figuring that outside talent had a natural learning curve and would adapt quickly. That brought at best mixed results. Even bringing in guys with a clear specialty and without broad sports knowledge can be dangerous, as we saw with Ric Bucher (basketball) and now John Middlekauff, whose discomfort level rises when venturing outside football.

Whether it was Barrett or the higher-ups at Entercom, the push to get Giants fans has proven highly divisive to A’s fans, though it has probably led to The Game’s firm 2nd place among the three Bay Area sports radio stations. A’s fans are willing to stomach some amount of Giants talk, but not the beyond-equal-time treatment frequently on display. Though I’ve heard a lot of things about what Barrett did to meter topic time, I don’t have any interest in doing any measurements or protesting loudly. Mostly because of the aforementioned reasons, I simply don’t care that much. Fans can choose to be inundated by coverage in many forms, from traditional beat writers and columnists to bloggers and fan sites to podcasts and live streams. I watch all four major pro sports, multiple college and individual sports, pretty much anything competitive. I don’t worry too much about how well-executed sports radio is, I’m only concerned that the A’s have a proper station. So if the station’s execution improves by having better hosts or a better program director, great. It probably won’t affect might listening much, it might affect yours.

If anything, my criticism is reserved for Entercom’s disinterest in boosting the station’s signal. As a Class B station with less than 7,000 watts of power, the coverage footprint was limited. East Bay coverage could be sparse at times, North Bay coverage a big fade. Maybe Entercom wanted to wait until the station stabilized. Whatever the reason, the signal has left many unsatisfied, though game broadcast availability through MLB apps has helped. There’s no way The Game will ever come close to challenging KNBR-680 without a boost to cover more of the Bay Area.

Then again, maybe second place is good enough. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is. They could go totally cheap by turning automatic and simulcasting ESPN Radio’s shows from Bristol, then supplementing games with pre/post-game coverage. They could boost the signal, get into a real bidding war with 680, and get into a real war with The Leader. Or they could go in generally the same manner as they’ve been going, but with a better PD and more hyperlocal focus. I don’t know that such a move will seriously improve ratings. It would at least reduce the bad PR associated with Barrett.

Other articles:

Barrett’s blog, citing his desire to spend time with family as his reason for leaving

Bay Area’s Sports Guy’s anecdote about meeting with Barrett

Dish Network and Comcast SportsNets extend deadline to resolve carriage dispute

I was getting ready to write about Dish Network dropping the various Comcast SportsNets (Bay Area, California, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington). As I did a cursory check to see if there was anything new, I saw a new page when I went to the IWANTCSNBA.com website:

notice

IWANTCSNBA.com page accessed at 8:45 PM PT

A check of the sites for CSN California and CSN Chicago produced the same results. NBC Sports is negotiating the channels as a package, though with different monthly subscriber fees for each.

So I suppose cooler heads have prevailed for now. There has been no official statement from either Comcast or Dish regarding the previous impasse, nor an indicator of whether there has been any legitimate progress. Dish covers approximately 500,000 households throughout Northern California, and while it generally appeals to many who prefer not to pay excessively for sports – especially potential cordcutters – many fans of the Warriors have recently expressed their displeasure at the possible CSNBA drop by Dish. CSNCA, which carries the A’s and Sharks, would also be affected.

The satellite provider has told some customers that the extension would run another three weeks. Dish and CBS reached a similar extension before Thanksgiving over the carriage of CBS-owned local stations, including San Francisco’s KPIX-5 and Los Angeles’ KCBS-2.

 

Interview on Swingin’ A’s Podcast

Yesterday I did lengthy interview with Tony Frye (@GreenCollarBB) of Swingin’ A’s about all manner of stadium stuff. Since it came on the heels of the election, we talked a lot about that and the Raiders. We talked a good deal about the A’s too, and I tried to show how the two are interrelated and how the teams’ fates are intertwined as long as they’re in Oakland.

Swingin’ A’s Podcast Episode 4

My part of the interview comes about 36 minutes in and runs a whopping 50 minutes.

In the interview I discuss Walter Haas and Steve Schott, the latter a subject of a Frye blog post from earlier today. I focused on Haas, partly because of some renewed interest in what he did towards the end of his ownership tenure. Take a look at some of these articles:

A’s fight economics to build dynasty 

haas_1990-lodi

Athletics to move if Raiders return?

boca_raton-athletics_to_move

Athletics seek protection against return of Raiders

deseret-athletics_seek

While we remember Haas for his great generosity, winning teams, and partnership with Oakland, what has gotten lost was that when the winds started to swirl around the Raiders and their potential return to Oakland, Haas picked up on it early and voiced his worry about it. He soft-played it, didn’t want to make appear like he was threatening to move out of Oakland. He made it clear, however, that the team was losing money because of his family’s sacrifices. He was going to sell at some point if it got much worse, which it did. He ended up selling at a heavily discounted price because of the big debt load. Haas felt his business was threatened, so he reacted the way you’d expect a business owner to do – to try to protect his team. Some owners have taken this to unseemly extremes, and it’s unfortunate that Oakland has had to suffer the worst of that behavior from Al Davis and Charlie Finley.

I’ve mentioned this before and it bears repeating: it’s no coincidence that the A’s salad days occurred when the Raiders were gone. The three-peat A’s won the most, but turnout was not particular good and Finley whined about it frequently. With no competition from football on or off the field, Haas didn’t feel a threat. He allowed the Giants to explore the South Bay, in hindsight a strategic error on his part. Haas was as genial guy as ever existed in the Bay Area. But he was still a businessman who knew what was Priority #1 when backed into a corner.

Listen to the interview, rate it on iTunes, and give feedback here in the comments section. I had a good time talking to Tony, and I expect to do another one of these in February, after the Coliseum City ENA expires. Then we can talk next steps. For now, give this a listen.

P.S. – The day Frye asked me to do the interview, Mike Davie of Baseball Oakland wanted to be on too. He’ll have his own episode at some point with a lot of Oakland cheerleading and ownership bashing, I assume.

Damon Bruce in, Rise Guys out as part of reshuffle at The Game

The Game finally got their man today, as they pulled Damon Bruce over from KNBR purgatory to host the afternoon drive time slot starting on March 31 (Opening Day). Bay Area Sports Guy has the scoop and the press release. In the process, the show hosted by Chris Townsend and Ric Bucher will move to the mornings, displacing The Rise Guys (Whitey Gleason, Mark Kreidler, Dan Dibley) in the process. The other daytime shows will remain as is. As it stands the lineup will now look like this:

  • 6-10 AM – Bucher & Towny
  • 10 AM-Noon – Haberman & Middlekauff
  • Noon-3 PM – The Wheelhouse with John Lund and Greg Papa
  • 3-7 PM – Damon Bruce

You may remember that Bruce got himself suspended over a bizarre misogynistic rant he gave over the air in November. Whether that was off the cuff or a stunt designed to help him ease out of the 1050 gig, we may never know. Memories are short in sports talk, and some guys can get gigs no matter how much Neanderthal behavior they exhibit.

The 7 PM slot will apparently remain open, as it has from the beginning, perhaps to keep any one entrenched host from complaining too much about A’s baseball interfering with his hours. That’s just as well. I listen to The Game primarily for the A’s, not the sports talk.

FCC to consider eliminating its own sports blackout rules

Don’t get your hopes up yet. Well, maybe a little. FCC Acting Chairperson Mignon L. Clyburn wants the agency to consider eliminating its sports blackout rules. This isn’t your typical Friday afternoon, sweep-it-under-the-rug type of press release.

ACTING FCC CHAIRWOMAN CLYBURN STATEMENT ON TAKING ACTION TO ADDRESS THE AGENCY’S SPORTS BLACKOUT RULES

“Today, I circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the Commission’s nearly 40-year old sports blackout rules.

“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games. Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.

“Nevertheless, if the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the Commission’s involvement in this area should end.”

The language in the release emphasizes that many sports leagues enter into their own blackout agreements that are often the cause of blackouts. However, it’s the NFL that most often comes under fire when local games incur blackouts, and it’s the FCC’s rules that govern those instances. MLB gets protection thanks to its antitrust exemption, which has resulted in the teams creating the Byzantine TV territories and rules that we all know and love. Both the NFL and MLB are facing a class action lawsuit over blackouts.

Mostly, it’s the leagues’ various exclusivity agreements with the national networks that have dictated blackouts. Asked to respond, the NFL stated that a change would “undermine the retransmission-consent regime and give cable and satellite operators excessive leverage in retransmission-consent negotiations.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), also discourages eliminating the rules:

“…However, we’re concerned that today’s proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports. Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community.”

Moreover, Clyburn made this move on her way out the door, as her tenure as acting chair ends Monday. It’ll be up to the next chair and Congressional muscle to push this through, which will be tough given the networks’ and leagues’ gargantuan lobbying efforts. Still, it’s a step forward for fan and viewer-oriented groups looking to fight back against the unwieldy beast that is TV.

The FCC last visited the rules in 2000. Naturally, nothing came of the inquiry, which helped get the ball rolling on TV mega-deals.

TV rights wave brings A’s along for the ride

When the A’s made the move to basic cable full-time, it was considered to be a solid, though not groundbreaking, improvement for the A’s in terms of revenue. More games would be broadcast (still not all games), and peripheral coverage would would improve via CSN California’s revamped local programming. While the second part would prove true, it wasn’t clear what financial benefits the A’s were getting. As late as last fall the rights fee being paid by Comcast to the A’s was kept hush-hush. I had heard the rights fee started at $15 million with escalators for improved ratings. Whatever the figure truly was, it wasn’t supposed to be terribly competitive within the new TV rights bubble, let alone the mega-deals signed by the LA teams and Texas.

Well, turns out that Lew Wolff and Ken Pries worked out a pretty good deal after all. In Wendy Thurm’s latest post on Fangraphs there’s a table that shows updated TV rights deals (courtesy of Sports Business Journal). The A’s are in pretty decent shape with a deal that works out to $43-48 million per year, which is a lot more than previously speculated or earned in the previous contract. $43+ million still pales in comparison to the Rangers’ or Angels’ $150 million, but those teams were playing a different game from the A’s anyway. The boost is enough to help the team competitively, not enough for management to start making a bunch of stupid personnel decisions. The annual rights fee puts the A’s at 11th or 12th depending on how you’re counting, squarely within MLB’s CBA-defined Top 15 markets.

Of course, the downside is that what looks good now could look puny a decade from now, when the A’s can exercise their first option to renegotiate or extend the CSNCA deal. Several teams will have the opportunity to renegotiate their deals or start their own RSNs before the end of the decade. Chances are good that they’ll do just that. Look for the A’s to follow suit a years later.

How the A's TV deal stacks up against division and crossbar rivals

How the A’s TV deal stacks up against division and crossbay rivals

Despite the added revenue, let’s be clear about something: the A’s are still last in the AL West in terms of TV revenue (and probably radio as well). I suppose that no A’s fan will care as long as the team keeps leading the division in the standings.

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Note: The SBJ article dates back to Opening Day. Either I missed it completely or I skipped over the updated figure. Apologies.