Last Tuesday, the Oakland Athletics announced the team would not have a local radio broadcast partner for the 2020 season. The A’s chose not to renew the rev-share based deal they had with KTRB last season (the station wanted to have the team back). Instead, the club will make audio broadcasts of games available via the streaming service TuneIn (Ken Korach and Vince Controneo will remain on the call). The franchise introduced A’s Cast on the free internet platform last season and President Dave Kaval said the response from fans was so overwhelmingly positive that the organization “felt it was really important to amplify the partnership [this year].” The A’s will become the first MLB team since the 2000 Montreal Expos without games on traditional radio airwaves in their home market.
Howie Long-Short: The Athletics are selling this wholesale move to TuneIn as a forward thinking endeavor. Kaval was quoted saying “everything [today] is podcasts and [about giving the fan the] ability to consume content in a more tailored way.” But changing consumption habits – and the club’s desire to capture data that it can use to “acquire new fans” – is only half of the story. Seth Everett (radio announcer, iHeartRadio) believes “the A’s would love to be on radio” and that they simply lack a viable option (remember, this is a club that has gone through 15 radio partners in 50 years). “If KNBR offered the team a [carriage] deal, they would run to take it.” Of course, that’s not going to happen – KNBR is the flagship for the San Francisco Giants.
With KNBR out of the equation and the team having burned its bridge with 95.7 The Game (the only other all sports station in the market), there really is no other logical radio home for the Oakland baseball franchise. Jason Barrett, President, Barrett Sports Media explained that the “higher performing NewsTalk and music brands don’t have an interest in airing A’s games because they don’t produce high ratings and advertising interest is low.” The team was lucky to receive a life vest from KTRB (a talk station on the AM dial) last season, but a weak signal and its conservative leaning hosts upset fans ultimately leading the team to end the one-year shotgun marriage.
It’s hard to argue that the A’s are better off without a radio partner. Revenues aside (for reference purposes, the most popular clubs can command between $15 million/year and $20 million/year for rights), Barrett says “will more or less people hear the A’s product in 2020?’ The easy answer is less. Not having games available on the radio in your home market is a disservice to your fans and it leads to a lack of conversation and relevance.”
The Athletics aren’t the only pro sports team without a local radio home (there are NHL, MLS and XFL franchises that all do without too). While one could certainly argue that any organization without a flagship station is missing out on regular opportunities to promote their product (think: each game serves a 3 hour infomercial and a jumping off point for shoulder programming), it’s seemingly a bigger deal for a team in a sport where the average fan is 53 years old (by comparison, the average NBA viewer is just 37).
The A’s decision to “amplify their partnership” with TuneIn seems to be premature. While podcasting and streaming “have grown exponentially” over the last couple of years, AM/FM radio remains “the dominant audio platform” (89% of people 12 or older listen weekly) and Everett says that it’s likely to remain that way for the next decade or two. “The theory is that are generational and there is still a generation of fans that listens to games on the radio as they have for the last 50 years. Only once those people stop driving will radio consumption levels begin to decline.”
Technological innovation will also need to occur to make listening to podcasts or live-streams as simple as turning the dial if those formats are going to surpass traditional radio in popularity. Unfortunately, Everett says satellite radio’s stranglehold on the auto industry is preventing those advancements from occurring. “Sirius and XM have long-term deals with all of the auto manufacturers and those companies simply aren’t trying to upset the apple cart by making it easier for drivers to listen to [new audio formats].” As it currently stands, there are many cars on the road where smart device connection isn’t even possible – meaning those fans won’t be listening to A’s games at all.
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