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.


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 Arena Debate and Local Sports Talk Radio

December 30, 2016

Since the SoDo arena was first proposed, dividing lines have been drawn between those supporting the plan and those opposed, whether on an economic development basis, political views, the future direction of Seattle, etc.  That has extended to sports talk radio as well, with KJR 950 supporting the plan, and in many ways actively campaigning for the arena.  As such, the station has interviewed Chris Hansen multiple times, along with other arena supporters.  In contrast, the potential redevelopment of KeyArena and any other regional arena proposals, often get quickly shot down as not feasible by those at the station.

Meanwhile, 710 ESPN, likely influenced by the Mariners and Seahawks, their broadcast partners, has barely mentioned the SoDo proposal.  Essentially, they’ve practically ignored the plan over the last couple of years, using arguments that the anti SoDo groups have applied.  This position stands out, because early on in the SoDo developments, 710 was not so indifferent.  And especially recently, they’ve taken the banner of KeyArena redevelopment and ran with it.  This included an interview with Tim Leiweke, the public face of one of the two groups planning to respond to a city issued RFP for renovating KeyArena.

Expect this situation to carry on into 2017, until one plan finally stands above the other.  Then both stations will likely support whatever arena plan that is, because only then can progress be made towards the ultimate goal, which is getting NHL and NBA franchises to fill that arena.

KJR-AM And 710ESPN Recent Ratings

February 20, 2016

Nielson Topline Radio Ratings are out through January.  As was the case in December, 710ESPN leads KJR by a decent amount.  In fact, in both months, 710ESPN’s rating is over 30% that of its competitor in the overall AQH Share, Persons 6+, Mon-Sun, 6AM-Midnight category.

Without question, both stations went long on Seahawks/NFL talk during this time, as it was the closing months of the season.  But it also goes beyond 710ESPN having the Seahawks’ radio rights.  Radio people often say having a team’s rights don’t substantially move the needle when it comes to ratings.  And in the case of these two stations, 710ESPN has kept its lead over KJR for some time.  Both have made changes in their late morning shows in the past year or so, thought that time period isn’t the ratings driver that one finds in the morning or afternoon drive shows.

This doesn’t mean changes are in store for KJR.  But there are opportunities for both stations to experiment and innovate.  However, their corporate parents are quite different, with KJR owned by audio giant iheart Media while 710ESPN is part of the much smaller Bonneville International, with stations in four western U.S. markets.  For all we know, these owners could be satisfied with the current situation.  Though from what I can tell, listeners of either would say there’s room for improvement.

A Shake Up in Local Sports Radio

June 30, 2014

The UW and KOMO recently announced that the station will begin carrying football and men’s basketball starting this Fall.  This marks a return to KOMO for the UW, who were there for many years before moving to KJR AM.  This is seemingly a blow to KJR, who are left without any significant, local teams to broadcast.  The station suffered a previous hit when the Sonics, long the station’s key programming,  moved to 770 AM a couple of years before leaving town.  Additionally, it marks a return to sports for KOMO, just a few years after ending the relationship with the Mariners.  KJR has a weaker signal than KOMO, and after a short trial, ended the FM simulcast it once promoted.  Perhaps this also hurt the station in negotiations, in addition to KOMO’s ability to cross promote UW athletics on their TV station.

What’s unknown is whether KOMO outbid KJR, or whether KJR never placed a competitive bid for the rights.  Potentially, this decision could have been driven from parent ClearChannel rather than locally at KJR.  KJR can still succeed with their “Live and local” mantra via their various local sports talk shows.  But they’ve been in a difficult ratings battle with 710 ESPN.  Another player locally, 1090 The Fan, a CBS Sports Radio affiliate, has not increased their local shows beyond afternoon drive time.  For the time being, more than a year after debuting, 1090 is still a minor player.

And next for KJR?  Maybe they continue with talk only.  Or, perhaps they bid for Sounders rights when they come up, which could be soon now that their business operations are separate from the Seahawks.  But such a bid seems unlikely given KJR’s perceived core demographics.  Even though the area has three, distinct sports radio stations, one gets the sense that all is not as it could be.  We might see more shakes ups in the not too distant future.


A Third Sports Radio Station

January 30, 2013

Earlier this month, 1090 The Fan began broadcasting as part of the CBS Sports Radio Network.  The Fan now joins KJR, who recently shook up its on-air hosts’ schedules, and 710 ESPN in the niche.  Whether three’s a crowd, only time will tell.  In general, the more options for the sports fan, the better.  The station currently has only one local show, in afternoon drive time, but has indicated that they expect to add local shows over time.  There has been no indication of a desire to make a play on local sports rights down the road.  One could argue whether there’s enough compelling local sports radio rights (to games) to support three stations.

Beyond these three, NBC Sports Radio Network and the Yahoo! Sports Radio Network, formally Sporting News Radio, are planning national pushes.  We’ll have to wait and see if that includes stations in the Seattle market or the less grand option of providing syndicated content to a partner station.  No matter how many sports radio stations end up operating here, a path to success might include breaking away from the usual pattern of interviews/callers/banter and trying different content and different methods of engaging the fans and providing the information they truly want.

WSU to 710 ESPN

May 20, 2012

In an unsurprising move, 710 ESPN and WSU announced that WSU football and men’s basketball games will be broadcast on the station beginning this fall.  Those sports move over from 770 KTTH, which will continue to host those sports whenever there’s a conflict with the Seahawks or Mariners.  Both stations are owned by Bonneville Media.  This is unsurprising for two reasons.  First, since Bill Moos took over as athletic director at WSU, the school’s athletic profile has risen on the westside of the mountains.  That’s especially true since the hiring of Mike Leach.  Secondly, there’s been a more noticeable WSU presence on 710 recently (beyond station employees that are alums), whether interviewing athletic department employees or just discussing the school.  One can conclude that this has been part of Moos’s strategy since taking over the department.

When 710 ESPN first went to the all sports format, their primary selling point was that they were the home to Seattle’s professional teams (the Sounders are on another Bonneville station, 97.3 KIRO FM).  They later added Seattle U basketball.  So far, it’s unclear whether that continues to be part of the programming or not.  The station has not indicated one way or another.  It’s inevitable that some SU and WSU basketball games will overlap.  Additionally, the station occasionally broadcasts Thunderbirds games as well.   Rival station 950 KJR’s main calling card is as the home of UW athletics.  So, this WSU-710 partnership adds a little more to the station rivalry.  Having decided that there’s no room for the Sounders on 710, the station will now have a challenge ahead if they do have the opportunity to offer additional local team programming in the future.  That window to offer more programming remains larger for KJR.