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How Valuable Is Live Play-By-Play to Radio in 2021 and Beyond?

“A recurring theme echoed by the radio leaders BSM interviewed about this topic was that radio stations must be able to stream their live play-by-play games in addition to the traditional terrestrial signal.”

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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Who doesn’t love hearing the great Al McCoy document every “Shazam” on 98.7 Arizona Sports, as the Phoenix Suns try to make a magical run to their first championship?

Besides those in Kansas City, who didn’t love hearing the legendary Gene Deckerhoff’s calls of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes in Super Bowl LV a few months back on the Bucs’ flagship station, 98 Rock?

Live play-by-play on the radio is a thing of beauty, especially if you have outstanding broadcasters, a winning team and a clear-as-day signal. Think about it. Before your very ears, wherever you may be, the broadcast brings you inside the stadium, and you can visualize exactly what’s happening.

But in the technology-filled world we live in these days, with people’s attention being stretched in so many directions, is there a true value to live play-by-play for radio stations in 2021…and beyond? As Scott Sutherland, market manager for Bonneville’s Phoenix cluster (which includes Arizona Sports 98.7, Sports 620 KTAR and KTAR News 92.3 FM), told Barrett Sports Media during a recent exclusive interview, “Who has the big Yamaha (radio) receiver” at their home these days? “No one.”

That’s why a recurring theme echoed by the radio leaders BSM interviewed about this topic was that radio stations must be able to stream their live play-by-play games online in their respective markets, in addition to the traditional terrestrial signal.

Sutherland, whose Phoenix stations carry the Suns, Cardinals and Diamondbacks over-the-air (The Phoenix Rising soccer team is online-only), said a big question market managers better ask when negotiating play-by-play rights with teams is, “Are streaming rights included? If they aren’t, it’s to the point now where it’s probably a deal-killer…where stations are moving people to apps…I think the deals are turning to where streaming rights are included. We’re paying for the audio rights in our DMA (Designated Market Area). If the streaming isn’t included, all we’re paying for is in-car listening…and even in the car, if they listen to an app, those rights would not be available. Streaming rights play a huge role.”

In Tampa Bay, where they’re still bragging about being Kings of the NFL and are in the Stanley Cup Final (once again), WDAE and WFLA Program Director John Mamola is big on stations having streaming rights, too. “MLB.com and the At-Bat app are great, but you gotta pay for it,” he told BSM. “There’s no reason (people) shouldn’t be able to consume Tampa Bay Rays content” in the DMA via the WDAE channel on the free IHeartRadio app. “Not everyone listens on a radio anymore. It’s vital that radio stations continue in that path to find ways to integrate those play-by-play rights on their internet stream. If you’re not thinking of different ways to work with your partnership to get it to more people in any way, any shape possible, then you’re just taking the play-by-play rights for granted.”

From IHeart stations, to Audacy, Cumulus, Beasley and everyone in between, some stations have been able to air the live play-by-play broadcasts on its online stream in the market. For this article, Barrett Sports Media isn’t naming which stations can air the broadcasts on its stream, as it’s a fluid conversation/negotiation that’s occurring between stations and teams throughout the country. What is clear, though, is that for live play-by-play to be viable for some radio properties, teams and leagues (and Satellite Radio) won’t be able to have exclusivity in the streaming space.

If you’re Dan Bennett, the longtime leader of Cumulus’ Sports Radio 96.7 FM/1310 AM “The Ticket,” you don’t necessarily need live play-by-play to be a powerhouse. The Ticket built its bulletproof brand on the backs of its iconic, one-of-a-kind sports talk hosts. Sure, The Ticket is the home of the Dallas Stars, but there won’t be any financial losses on Bennett’s watch to have the Stars’ play-by-play rights. “If you can’t make them make financial sense, then it’s really difficult to justify it,” he told BSM. “…We bill good money with the Stars and we really don’t have any expenses.”

Overall, Bennett said the “value is still there” for radio stations to have live play-by-play. In 2020, “when the Dallas Stars made their Stanley Cup run, our ratings were number one in the market with men,” he said.

Bennett did mention that Westwood One, a Cumulus entity, produces the popular NFL Sunday Night, Monday Night and Thursday Night Football radio broadcasts nationwide, which The Ticket carries. “It absolutely gets ratings and we sell that and generate revenue…it’s one of the most valuable (play-by-play rights) out there.”

The Ticket’s main competition, Audacy’s 105.3 The Fan, is the home to two Dallas big-four pro teams, the Cowboys and Rangers. The Fan is more reliant on ratings boosts from its live play-by-play programming than The Ticket. But you can say that about a number of radio stations across the country. In Columbus, no one can argue that being the “Home of the Buckeyes” boosts ratings on 97.1 The Fan. In Pittsburgh, Audacy’s 93.7 The Fan dominates the sports talk conversation on the Steel City’s airwaves, in ratings and revenue, in the critical 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekday arena, in addition to having the rights to the Pirates and Pitt Panthers. But IHeart Pittsburgh has two Mike Tyson-like punches in its stable — play-by-play rights to the Steelers and Penguins. Fans of those two teams who may not care for Classic/Album Oriented Rock or Alternative Rock have been hypnotized to turn on legendary station WDVE (102.5) for Steelers games, and 105.9 The X for the Penguins, constantly introducing new audiences to those stations.

Pete Ciccone, Program Director for ESPN Radio, is certain that the network’s play-by-play rights to Major League Baseball and the NBA plays a role in whether some stations decide to become an ESPN Radio affiliate, as opposed to, say, Fox Sports Radio.

“It’s a big part of the package. I don’t want to say it’s the only element, but I still believe after all these years, it’s a significant part of the package,” Ciccone told BSM about ESPN Radio’s play-by-play rights. “When you combine that with the personalities we have on our talk lineup…whether it’s the hosts themselves or the number of diverse ESPN contributors who frequent our airwaves, when you take all of that combined, that’s what builds up the value of ESPN Radio. But there’s no doubt that the play-by-play card we can play…that helps.”

Even in this fragmented world we live in these days, Ciccone said ESPN Radio is committed to live play-by-play (the network also airs college football). “There’s been no discussion whatsoever of change,” he told BSM. “We’ve been longtime partners with the NBA going back to ’95-’96, partners with MLB since 1998, been a large part of the college football playoffs in conjunction with our TV brethren…there’s no question, from our standpoint, we see the value in play-by-play and I tend to think our affiliates still do, too.”

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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