950 KJR Shakes Up Lineup

May 18, 2018

Sports Radio 950 KJR continued their shake up in March, juggling their hosts time slots and naming a new morning team to fill in following the temporary run of Dick Fain.  Fain himself had filled in admirably for the departed Mitch Levy since August.

The new lineup includes Chuck Powell, moving from the morning midday show, and former Mariner Bucky Jacobsen in the morning drive.  Powell’s co-host, Jason Puckett remains in the 10am-1pm time slot, joined by former KJR stalwart Mike Gastineau on a temporary basis until the recently retired Seahawk Cliff Avril joins Puckett in July.  Ian Furness maintains his 1-3pm afternoon midday show, while Fain joins Dave Mahler in the afternoon drive.

Additionally, Terry Blount, once ESPN’s Seahawk beat reporter, recently started a Saturday, two hour midday show.  Weekend programming for sports radio stations provide ample opportunity to experiment with local shows, hosts and topics, in an effort to establish a niche, grab listeners and as a test run for weekdays.

This string of changes at iHeartMedia’s Elliott Avenue studios began with Levy’s highly publicized, low brow departure.  Not so coincidentally, at the same time The Seattle Times banned their staff from appearing on KJR.  Along the way, the station picked up Sounders broadcast rights, added a secondary channel in 1090 AM (formerly CBS Sports Radio The Fan) in the acquisition of some CBS stations and at the same time switched South Sound Sports 850 AM to political talk, though keeping the Rainiers on there due to that station’s strong south sound signal.  The long time Seattle sports talk station seemingly did everything but reintroduce an FM simulcast.  All this while iHeartMedia filed for bankruptcy.

KJR’s ratings have generally lagged rival 710 ESPN.  Time will tell whether these changes help.  If so, it may next be 710’s turn to shake things up.  With an NHL expansion team likely on its way in a couple of years, expect both stations to make a play for that club’s radio rights.  The preparation to impress is under way.


Close Ties of Local Sports Execs, but ROOT Sports NW remains lonely

March 21, 2018

Geoff Baker of the Times penned an article about the coziness of our local teams.  The gist is the expected arrival of Tod Leiweke to run the yet-to-be-official NHL expansion team and his relationships with other local sports executives.

It all makes sense until the part about how the relationships could benefit ROOT Sports NW.  ROOT and the Mariners have had plenty of time to gain full Sounders TV rights, from the club’s entry into MLS in 2009 to when the M’s took a majority stake in ROOT Sports NW in 2014.

In fact, it’s going in the other direction.  This season, the RSN is no where to be found as a cable partner, with the Sounders instead going with YouTube TV in addition to recent broadcast partner KCPQ/JoeTV.  And just like that, the Sounders crest is no longer featured on the ROOT website.  But the rival Timbers are still a partner with ROOT.  That doesn’t seem to bold well of a future where the Mariners share ROOT with the Sounders.

ROOT is not alone this.  Not long after 710 ESPN affiliate 97.3FM lost Sounders radio rights to 950 KJR, 710’s website dropped the Sounders from the “teams” banner on the main page.   These actions tell fans that these media outlets were interested in covering the Sounders when there was a media relationship, but not as interested in covering the club as a local sports team.

Baker also doesn’t touch on the much rumored ROOT Sports NW/TrailBlazers negotiations from last summer, where many thought the region’s NBA team would end up on the region’s main RSN.  For whatever reason, it didn’t work out.  Given this, and the lack of a Sounders deal, it’s easy to conclude that the Mariners primarily want to keep ROOT an M’s specific network, with some Timbers soccer here, and Big Sky football there.  That’s fine, until it’s time to renegotiate carriage deals or a rival network emerges.  After all, who’s to say the new NHL team would even want an RSN?  Maybe they go the OTT route, especially given the demographics of the league and this market.

Lastly, we don’t know if the Storm and Reign fit into this close executive circle.  But we do know their games are additional programming that could benefit ROOT.  Marketing opportunities could range from a Sounders/Reign doubleheader at the CLink to a Storm game at Safeco.

Baker raises some interesting points, but at least when it comes to the Mariners and their running of ROOT, actual events show the network has little interest in becoming an “MSG Network type venture.”  And this doesn’t even get into the M’s real estate strategy, anti-SoDo stance and apparent disinterest in incremental revenue opportunities possible in its neighborhood.  Cozi, maybe.  But not without a lot of local possibilities already left on the table.

The Sounders partner with 950 KJR AM

February 27, 2018

In a surprising, yet logical joining of two Seattle sports institutions, the Sounders and 950 KJR AM announced a multiyear agreement for the iHeartMedia station as the new radio home of the club.  Surprising because Sounders and soccer talk has not been even a small part of the station’s programming that trends towards football heavy discussion.  Logical because KJR has programming room to add one of the city’s major sports franchises, just as the Sounders can benefit teaming with the city’s oldest sports talk radio station in an attempt to gain the attention of the region’s casual sports fan.

KJR, the long time Sonics radio partner when the two shared common Ackerley family ownership for years, has been without a local major league franchise since the failed Schultz ownership switched radio broadcast affiliates in its latter years.  And it doesn’t seem like the Mariners or Seahawks will change radio homes anytime soon from 710 ESPN.  The loss of UW football/basketball games a few years ago left KJR with no live, local play by play programming.  That’s a tough position for a sports radio station that use to bill itself as the live and local choice.

If this relationship between KJR and the Sounders goes well, it also further strengthens the station’s standing if the NBA returns.  Between a successful run with the Sounders, a history with the Sonics and available air time during the winter months, the old radio home of the NBA would be well positioned to become the new radio home of the NBA.  It would complement the Sounders schedule well.

This possibility perhaps gains in likelihood if the expected NHL expansion franchise partners with 710 ESPN, given the closeness of 710 with OVG and the ownership group.  Adding an NHL team to a schedule that already includes the Mariners, Seahawks and WSU athletics would leave little programming room for an NBA team.

The Sounders finally get a consistent radio home after years at 710 ESPN sister station 97.3 KIRO FM.  The fact they were on that sister station did little to get the club attention on 710.  They were neglected, or even derided, as much on 710 as they were on KJR.  The relationship with the Bonneville owned stations stemmed from when the Sounders business operations were run by the Seahawks.  The Sounders essentially were an add in to the Seahawks/Bonneville partnership, and were treated as such.  Now the team will receive attention and focus from KJR as a rights partner that they never had with 710.

This agreement is worth a shot for both sides.  Financial terms were not revealed, but the deal can definitely benefit the Sounders and KJR.  And short term success can lead to longer term opportunities for each.  As weird as this clash of two sporting cultures seems now, fans may one day see it as a pitch perfect partnership.


New National Sports Network On In Seattle

October 30, 2017

If you find yourself needing more Mountain West Conference volleyball or West Coast Conference coaches shows, Stadium is for you.  Stadium is the joint effort of Sinclair Broadcasting, Campus Insiders and 120 Sports.  Available nation wide via its website, broadcasting on Twitter and distributed on over the top services, Stadium can also be seen on broadcast TV on digital subchannels throughout Sinclair’s network of properties.  Locally, Stadium appears on 51.3, which is actually a subchannel of Univision.

The multi-platform approach is a unique way to go for national reach.  At least compared to that of a network distributed via cable.  Along with college sports, 120 Sports’ relationships with the various major leagues means highlights and archived programming are also part of the network.  Studio programming provided by 120 Sports includes The Rally, which some refer to as a millennial version of SportsCenter.  Campus Insiders, meanwhile, brings its array of webcasts of collegiate sporting events.

It may be modest now, but over time we’ll see if the owners have grander plans for Stadium.  Given the network began televising in September to a non cable audience, it still has a relatively low profile.  But for those cable cutters and cable nevers, it’s another option to view and consume national sports news and content through linear TV and online.

Whither KJR-AM Parent iHeartMedia?

September 30, 2017

Sportsradio 950 KJR parent iHeartMedia may avoid declaring bankruptcy, with its biggest creditor considering revised terms.  New debt issued in mid August provides favorable terms for that creditor, Franklin Resources.  And now with the completion of 3Q, investors will soon get an update on the media behemoth’s financial condition, along with news regarding yet another debt restructuring.  Needless to say, its been an eventful run.  This all would seemingly be an improvement on the dubious spring announcement about the company as a “going concern” after discussions with Franklin hadn’t made progress.

iHeartMedia, formerly known as ClearChannel before being taken private in 2008, has yet to recover from the debt load placed on the company during that buyout.  It’s not obvious where KJR ranks amongst the company’s important, or profitable stations, but it’s fair to wonder whether the parent company’s financial position has prevented 950 from bidding on, or retaining (UW football/basketball), local sports rights.  Though KJR is far from the only sportsradio station in iHeart’s stable of programming, so any future changes would likely not be felt by 950 alone.  We may be a few weeks away from knowing whether those changes are for the better or worse.


The Sounders Seek Revenue Opportunities

August 29, 2017

Not exactly a gripping headline when stating the obvious.  But this month the Sounders announced they’re seeking a new naming rights partner, perhaps most prominently for the jersey.  The current deal with Microsoft, extended multiple times since the inaugural MLS season in 2009, expires at the end of the 2018 season.  Adrian Hanauer acknowledged in media reports covering the story that the team doesn’t earn much revenue from its TV deal (currently with Q13 FOX).  One can infer the radio deal (97.3 KIRO-FM) doesn’t bring in much either.

So this upcoming naming rights negotiation represents a big opportunity for the club to grow its revenues.  Maybe better media deals will follow.  All will only further boost a team value that Forbes pegs at $295M, good for second in the league.

Notably, the Mariners are currently looking for a new stadium naming rights partner, while OVG reportedly is already seeking corporate sponsors for its proposed KeyArena remodel.  We’ll see how the final deals shake out in terms of value compared to league peers and whether the teams stay local when finding their partners.  There’s no better time than now to explore opportunities in the thriving Puget Sound region.  And for the defending MLS Cup champs, seemingly a lot of runway to grow the business.

Will Houston Ice Seattle’s NHL Hopes?

July 26, 2017

With the Houston Rockets now for sale, the possibility arises that the NHL could again look at that market.  The Rockets owner remained unwilling to consider sharing the arena on any terms that would have been acceptable to NHL partners throughout his ownership of the franchise (though minor league hockey was played there).  And during his ownership reign, the NHL continued its sun belt market focused strategy.  It’s fair to conclude that given Houston’s size, wealth and location, the city would have appeared near the top of the list with a more welcoming arena partner.

Houston’s strengths as a market still apply, which could impact Seattle’s NHL hopes.  The Toyota Center is NHL ready, a franchise there could be placed in either conference, or allow another Central time zone club to switch conferences.  That lessens the need for Seattle as an addition to the shorthanded Western Conference.  It probably also helps to have a ready made rival nearby in the Dallas Stars.  And Houston has a surprisingly robust hockey history, ranging from the WHL to various minor league teams.

This all goes to show that those who claim to want a modern arena developed within Seattle, along with their involvement in the excruciatingly slow process, best get moving.  Events far from here, and outside local politicos reach, can have just as much impact in determining whether the city gets to suit up in the NHL or NBA (again) in the future.