Sports Radio News
ESPN 1000 Looks To Get Stronger With The Chicago Bears
“There’s credibility with ESPN, there’s credibility with the Sox, there’s credibility with the Bears. I think we were already strong. Now we’re just even stronger.”
For the last 22 seasons, radio broadcasts of the NFL’s Chicago Bears have aired on Audacy-owned WBBM Newsradio 780 AM/105.9 FM. Now, its flagship station and live game broadcasts are set to move to ESPN 1000, owned and operated by Good Karma Brands, beginning at the start of next season in a multiyear agreement.
“We were incredibly impressed with the enthusiasm shown by the leadership team at Good Karma Brands,” Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips said in a statement included in the team’s press release. “Their plan for presenting Bears football on the radio is first class and we know that ESPN 1000 will be an excellent home for our games and an axis for Bears talk year-round. We look forward to working with the station beginning in 2023.”
There had been much speculation regarding the broadcast rights for the team with reports in June indicating three stations were involved in the bidding, according to Daily Herald media columnist Robert Feder.
In the end, ESPN 1000 Chicago has earned the distinction of adding an NFL team to its slate of programming and live game broadcasts, which also includes all games for Major League Baseball’s Chicago White Sox. In a span of nearly three years, the brand secured its second professional media rights agreement, and the first under new market manager Keith Williams.
“I think it all started with a conversation back in March where we were just asking questions about their needs, their goals and their ideas,” Williams told Barrett Sports Media. “Over the next few months, [it was] just conversations, developing relationships and understanding what would make the most sense for us and for them to form a partnership.”
Although ESPN 1000 was acquired by Good Karma Brands as part of a larger transaction earlier this year, the station has been operated by the company since October 2019. As a competitor to 670 The Score, ESPN 1000 continuously seeks to distinguish itself from others in the marketplace, or as Williams puts it: “Much like our company always does – when others zig, we zag.”
While they are unable to disclose specific changes that will take place under the agreement since it takes into effect at the start of next season, management at ESPN 1000 Chicago knows the Bears are central to covering sports in “The Windy City.”
“The Bears are the biggest team in town,” said ESPN 1000 Director of Content Danny Zederman. “Even though we’re not the home of the Bears currently, we’re still talking Bears from the minute we [go] on the air… to the minute we go off the air; however, we’re not going to treat the Bears as just 17 games. It’s a 365-day a year product.”
As part of the new media rights agreement, ESPN 1000 Chicago figures to gain more access to players, coaches and other team personnel. Additionally, it will air pregame and postgame programming, along with an additional Bears show once per week, according to Zederman, to maintain its coverage of the team which he says is “the best in the business.”
Just how the addition of the team will impact its ratings is yet to be seen – but it will now have the radio rights to two professional teams just as Audacy-owned 670 The Score does with the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.
“We’re not worried about that,” Williams said of the effect the deal may have on ratings. “We’re worried about putting the best product out to our fans that we have. If we can satisfy our fans and get results for our advertising partners, that’s what Good Karma Brands is all about.”
As the implementation of digital platforms and creating content tailored towards listeners proliferates in emphasis across the industry, ESPN 1000 Chicago will seek to remain at the forefront of innovation. Moreover, it will continue to produce and distribute content to consumers to ensure the brand is able to satisfy the overall fandom and aspiration that exists for entertaining and compelling coverage.
“As the radio industry pivots, we are going to pivot and grow with it,” Zederman expressed. “Any way we can reach the fans and provide them with something that they want to consume, we’re going to be there and doing it.”
For companies or brands looking to advertise, game broadcasts give them the ability to reach specific demographics within somewhat of a captive audience fixated on the gridiron. Since coverage of both the White Sox and the Bears will be year round on ESPN 1000 Chicago starting in the 2023 NFL season, advertising partners will have the ability to disseminate their messages to listeners and the potential to reach new sectors of the marketplace.
“In today’s time-shifted world of podcasts and recorded television programs, where ears and eyeballs are is in live sports,” Williams said. “Our belief is that the fans will be there; they’ll be listening and what better way to get your brand and your product out there from a marketing standpoint for some of our advertising partners to do it inside and around the game.”
Since its loss of the Chicago Bulls in 2016, ESPN 1000 did not have professional broadcast rights, although it was airing games for both Notre Dame football and University of Illinois Flames men’s basketball.
Nonetheless, one could argue the brand was losing potential streams of both revenue and listenership, thus weakening its position in the marketplace. Yet it has remained in steady competition with competing brands both inside and outside of radio, and now continues to strengthen its standing as the broadcast home of professional baseball and football teams.
“E-S-P-N are four of the most powerful letters in sports,” Zederman said, “and in the city of Chicago, there’s not a more powerful team than the Chicago Bears. I think that marriage speaks for itself.”
“The brand’s already strong,” added Williams. “We are ESPN 1000. Adding the Bears in addition to having the White Sox just continues to elevate everything. There’s credibility with ESPN, there’s credibility with the Sox, there’s credibility with the Bears. I think we were already strong. Now we’re just even stronger.”
There exists a distinct possibility that come opening week next season, the Chicago White Sox, led by new manager Pedro Grifol and young stars Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez, could find themselves in contention for a playoff berth with the hopes of it culminating into a deep postseason run.
With that possibility comes the chance that the White Sox may be playing in a postseason game while the Bears are on the field, creating a quandary for ESPN 1000 Chicago; however, a plan is already in place if that situation were to arise.
“If the White Sox are in the playoffs, they will be on ESPN 1000,” Williams said, “and the Chicago Bears will be on a conflict station that we will determine in the future.”
As the new flagship station for the Chicago Bears starting next season, ESPN 1000 Chicago and the team will work to collaborate and maintain a mutually-beneficial, professional relationship with the goal of generating success.
Although that term is implicative of a connotative definition up for interpretation by those in different industries, it is quite bilateral in sports media from the perspectives of content and revenue, two properties which ostensibly garner a dependency on one another.
“If our advertising partners are increasing their business, it means we have a lot of fans that are listening to their message,” Williams said. “If the fanbase is there and they’re supporting our advertising partners, then that is success to us. I guess the flip side of that too is just… are the Bears happy with the broadcast and the coverage that we’re providing because they are partners with us in this venture.”
The city of Chicago has not had sports radio on the FM dial over the last several years – the HD2 partnership between Good Karma Brands and Hubbard Radio notwithstanding – yet it is still able to attract listeners on AM and various digital platforms.
As radio continues to utilize innovations in technology and adapt within the crowded sports media landscape, ESPN 1000 Chicago management believes that consumers know where to go to receive the best content.
“It doesn’t matter where you are on the dial,” Williams said. “I think if you’re putting out enough good content, people will find a way to get to you.”
With the addition of the Bears to its airwaves, along with the existing partnership with the White Sox and vast array of talk shows, ESPN 1000 Chicago looks to be a leader in the evolution of sports media. In so doing, it intends to utilize new technologies and methods in reaching both its dedicated listeners and those who occasionally tune in to the station or consume its content on digitally-based platforms.
“The more we can continue to push our team and just sports radio in general to educate, to inform, but most importantly [to] entertain, is going to grow fanbases and bring people to the format,” Williams said. “Obviously whether that’s live; whether that’s time-shifted with podcasts or videocasts or whatever ends up happening here in the future, we have to be fun; we have to do it in a fun way, present it with personality and grow from there.”
Since sports fans are easily able to find out the latest scores, statistics and news about their favorite teams or players through the internet, the compelling draw of sports radio is in its personalities. Even so, people can tune in to radio shows on-demand, diminishing the impact live programming has on the industry.
Yet with sporting events, fans want to be tapped in regarding the latest action and express their fandom through social media or mediated forms of communication; therefore, they opt to listen live and remain on the station during advertising. Part of the reason football fans enjoy listening to games on radio as well is because it is the medium on which local broadcasters are heard since the commentators in the television booths broadcast games nationally, and thus are subject to change by the week.
“The only thing you don’t consume on-demand are live games,” Zederman said. “You want to see the action when it’s happening; you want to hear the action when it’s happening. If you’re a Twitter person, you want to react with the fans on Twitter as the action’s happening. Having live games, be it the White Sox or the Bears, is a game-changer for us because people come to hear live sports; that’s what it’s all about.”
“We’re aggressive to grow our fanbase; we’re aggressive to get live sports on the air,” added Williams. “Combining that with ESPN will lift everyone’s brand.”
ESPN 1000 Chicago will officially become the flagship radio station for the Chicago Bears at the start of the new NFL league year in March 2023. The remainder of Bears games this season will be broadcast on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM/105.9 FM, along with TUDN Deportes Radio 1200 AM and Latino Mix 93.5 FM.
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Sports Radio News
Jay Williams Calls Listener, Forces Him To Pay Their $1000 Lakers Bet
“Don’t get me on national TV and radio and then not pick up the phone when I call.”
If you owe Jay Williams money, he is going to find you. Just ask Rob, a listener in Orlando who bet the ESPN Radio morning man that the Lakers would advance to the NBA Finals.
Last week, Rob called Keyshawn, JWill and Max and bet Williams $1000 the Lakers would eliminate the Denver Nuggets. Williams said if that happened, he would pay Rob $1500.
Obviously, that is not the way things played out. On Tuesday morning, Jay Williams called Rob demanding payment.
“He owes me my money,” he said. “So you know what we do? We got Detective Pat on the call today. Pat, let’s give this man a call. See if this guy picks up, trying to run away from giving me my money.”
The show’s associate producer Patrick Costello called the number Rob left last week. On the first attempt, the listener did not pick up. Williams vowed to keep up the pressure on social media and national radio and television until he got paid.
“Don’t get me on national TV and radio and then not pick up the phone when I call.”
“You know, getting that money is a wrap, Jay,” Keyshawn Johnson said through laughter. “I told you that.”
The show made one more attempt to connect with Rob before having to turn things over to Greeny. This time, the Lakers fan picked up and acknowledged that he had to pay. He offered to make a donation in Williams’s name.
“I’ll send you my bank account here privately, and then I will send it to the charity of my choice,” Williams agreed.
Rob agreed to the arrangement. Williams asked him if he wanted to apologize for doubting the basketball analyst’s prediction of the Lakers’ demise.
“Apologize? I need the Lakers to apologize to me after that performance,” Rob said. “Because Jesus Christ, that was horrible. That was bad.”
Sports Radio News
Stoney & Jansen on LeBron James Retirement Talk: ‘NBA Needs Offseason Stories’
“I think we pick and choose with him. I think I’ve been too hard on him and I’m kind of realizing that.”
As the Los Angeles Lakers exited the court after being swept by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals on Monday night, a grim reality set in across the basketball world regarding the future of forward LeBron James. Widely regarded as one of the best players to ever suit up, James is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader, a 19-time All Star selection, four-time MVP, and four-time NBA champion.
During his postgame media availability on Monday, he stated that he had to seriously think about his future, undoubtedly referencing retirement. James just completed his 20th season in the Association and continues to play at a high level, but is going to think about walking away from the game after falling short of the NBA Finals this year.
“He’s been a pretty good soldier for the game,” said Tom Milikan, morning show producer and assistant program director at 97.1 The Ticket. “There’s been some things I haven’t agreed with him [on] that he’s liked or tweeted or whatever. I think he’s had some ignorance, but I think that applies to every single athlete out there that’s great.”
Throughout his NBA career, James has been the subject of criticism. The ESPN special he participated in titled The Decision saw him reveal he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. He is also a frequent subject across the network’s programming, including on Get Up, First Take and NBA Today.
“I think we pick and choose with him,” Millikan said. “I think I’ve been too hard on him and I’m kind of realizing that.”
Show co-host Mike Stone read messages from the 97.1 The Ticket text line during the show, many of which criticized James for being a “flopping” player desperate for any semblance of attention since he will not be in the NBA Finals. One text suggested his revelation of weighing retirement was done intentionally, surmising that he has a film documentary crew around him and coming back stronger than ever would make for a great story.
“The league needs some offseason stories,” Millikan said. “From what I know, the free agency class is not all that great this year – and one of the big names is Kyrie Irving, and that’s toxic. It’s sort of like, ‘Hey, maybe they’re generating buzz or trying to do the whole Brady thing.’ So be it – I’ve seen it 15 times in my life.”
Stone recognized that athletes like James are genuinely once-in-a-generation type talents, and that his time in the NBA has been defined by more than what he has done on the court. James has also been an immense advocate for greater causes, including social issues, youth education and community affairs. Whenever he decides to call it a career though, fans should rest assured that James has truly given the game everything he has.
“I want to see the best that they have for as long as possible,” show co-host Jon Jansen said of star athletes. “If they end up playing too long, so be it. I don’t care. Then I know I’ve [seen] it all.”
Sports Radio News
Danny Parkins: NFL Teams ‘Don’t Really Care About Your In-Stadium Experience’
“In one year of Al Michaels complaining about the games, they’ve changed two huge rules around it.”
On Monday at the NFL Owners’ Meetings, flex scheduling for Amazon Prime Video’s presentation of Thursday Night Football was approved 24-8. Games can only be flexed between Weeks 13 and 17 with 28 days notice required. Additionally, a maximum of two games can be flexed per season, with the entire operation being on “a trial basis.”
“In one year of Al Michaels complaining about the games, they’ve changed two huge rules around it,” said Danny Parkins on 670 The Score as the news broke Monday. “[The] first rule already happened, and the Bears are one of the teams that either benefit or are victimized by the rule depending on your interpretation. You can play on multiple Thursdays this year. You can’t play multiple road Thursdays, but the Bears have two Thursday night games – in Washington and home against Carolina.”
In an effort to broadcast compelling action on a national stage, the National Football League did not give all of its 32 teams at least one game on national television this season. Conversely, the New York Jets, complete with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will be featured on national television for the maximum of six times, including two matchups on Thursday Night Football. The Jets, along with the Chicago Bears, dissented from voting in favor of flexible scheduling, but Parkins assumes it has nothing to do with the fans.
“My guess is [it is] because they already have two Thursday night games,” Parkins said. “Maybe they’re just altruistic and they care about fans and travel and all that, but I bet you that they said, ‘Well, we’re playing in Week 5 in Washington and Week 10 at home against Carolina. We don’t want to risk Bears-Browns or Bears-Falcons being flexed into Thursday Night Football later in the season and end up with three Thursday night games.’”
Many football fans and media professionals have pushed back on granting the property any type of flex scheduling because of the negative impact it has on injury prevention, something that is not as pronounced with other properties solely because of the day of the week. Sunday Night Football on NBC was previously the only property with flex scheduling ability, and Monday Night Football on ESPN is being granted that ability between Weeks 12 and 17 with at least 12 days notice.
“They don’t really care about your in-stadium experience – they don’t,” Parkins said of the league. “As long as you watch on TV, they’re thrilled because that’s where they make a huge, ungodly percentage of their money – more so than any of the other sports.”