The Separation Of Church & Sport
News this week of the cancellation of WTEM Washington’s cancellation of its new morning show before its debut due to interference from the management of the co-owned Washington Redskins shed light on the issues facing co-owned franchises and radio stations.
Cross-ownership of broadcast properties and professional sports franchises dates back to the early days of radio when Powel Crosley, Jr. owned the Cincinnati Reds and WLW. While much of the cross-ownership these days is limited to regional cable networks, seven franchises of the big four professional sports leagues currently share common-ownership with a broadcast radio property to mixed results.
Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno purchased 830 KLAA Orange, CA to become his team’s flagship in 2006. Outside of the afternoon show, KLAA now carries ESPN Radio programming not aired on 710 KSPN and has never been a ratings factor in the Los Angeles market to the point where the team also placed their games on KSPN. The Pohlad family purchased then 96.3 KTTB Glencoe, MN in 2007. The Minnesota Twins moved to the co-owned station in 2012, but it has stuck with multiple music formats as opposed to being paired with Sports talk and has also yet to be a major ratings factor. The Los Angeles Dodgers revealed this week some of the details of its new minority stake in iHeartMedia’s 570 KLAC. Part of the move will see the station’s “Dodger Talk” air daily year-round. The Dodgers deal is reminiscent to the St. Louis Cardinals 2005 purchase of 50% of Talk 550 KTRS. Lacking the signal and market presence of CBS’ 1120 KMOX the deal was a major failure and the team crawled back to KMOX in for the 2011 season.
The NBA’s Utah Jazz are co-owned with “1280/97.5 The Zone” KZNS/KZNS-FM Salt Lake City and are the top-rated of the three Sports stations in the market thanks to holding the rights to the franchise. Kroenke Sports and Entertainment are partners in “Mile High Sports” 1550 KDCO/94.1 K231BQ Denver, but due to its weaker signal their Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche also air on Lincoln Financial Media’s “104.3 The Fan” KKFN-FM.
None of these stations have been as successful or as controversial as Daniel Snyder’s Red Zebra Broadcasting. Running four signals in the Washington market and one in Richmond, VA the stations exist mainly to preach the gospel of the Redskins. The dissolution of the new “Man Cave” morning show and exit of Program Director Chuck Sapienza this week reportedly came from Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen’s dislike of what co-host Jason Reid wrote about the team at his former employer, The Washington Post. WTEM/WWXT/WWXX are in a tight ratings battle with CBS’ “106.7 The Fan” WJFK-FM, with the morning slot held by ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike considered the weak spot in the 980 lineup. The team doesn’t censor all negative discussion of the franchise, however it does ensure the ability of the team to control some of the discussion surrounding the franchise. Employees of the station even have @Redskins.com on their e-mail addresses.
Sports Talk in general as a format ties in very well with a sports franchise in multiple ways. It could be used merely to ensure a play-by-play outlet like the Angels do or be a team-specific chat outlet like WTEM does at the expense of the other major sports franchises in the market. Most of these franchises are still trying to figure out how to utilize the broadcast outlet in connection with the team, and few have found the perfect recipe.
As founder of the format and later Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan said about a fellow owner listening to a Seattle sports talker, “I’m not a religious man, but I knew there was a God when I heard the guy who invented this miserable format is now a major league baseball owner and he’s getting ripped all day long like the rest of us.” This shows how and why owners like Snyder would want to curtail the bashing and have an outlet that only talks positive about the team, but being able to brush off negativity is necessary for the most successful team and radio station operators.