Sports talk radio debate: Super Bowl vs. Spring Training

January 31, 2013

By Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post.

 

Some D.C. sports fans and media types have been debating this week whether local listeners are well served by on-site programming from the Super Bowl’s Radio Row. So let’s bring that debate to this space.

Chris Kinard, the program director for 106.7 The Fan, told me he decided that his listeners would be better served by sending the Junkies — The Fan’s popular morning drive show — to spend a couple days with the Nats at Spring Training instead of the Super Bowl.

“My thought was I can use that money more effectively,” Kinard said. “The Nationals are coming off a historic year, we’re the Nationals’s station, and I want to send our morning show to Spring Training, let them experience that and let our listeners experience that through them.”

ESPN 980, on the other hand, has several on-air personalities — including Doc Walker, Thom Loverro and Andy Pollin — in New Orleans all week. (Mid-day host Brian Mitchell is also in New Orleans, through his association with Comcast SportsNet.) ESPN 980′s director of programming Chuck Sapienza — who is also in New Orleans to help produce three on-site daily shows — said it’s a no-brainer for any sports talk station to cover the Super Bowl.

“There are probably 250 sports talk stations from around the country here, if not more,” he said. “Everybody is here. Programmers never agree on anything, but they agree on this: the Super Bowl is the biggest event of your year, and everyone is here. You should be here, covering the biggest event in the world.”

Sapienza said the live shows from Radio Row help his station promote its coverage of the game itself. The on-site shows also are sponsored, which brings in money. But he also said that being in New Orleans is a benefit for listeners — his Thursday afternoon “Inside the Locker Room” show was scheduled to include Mark Schlereth, Jonathan Ogden, Larry Fitzgerald and Dick Vermeil, among others.

“Radio Row has become a sports-talk radio convention,” he said. “This helps us get guests during the year. I booked J.J. Watt because he’s doing something with Axe Body Spray; two or three times a year they’ll now call us for an interview, with big-name people you can’t ordinarily get. You’re building relationships….

“Look, Monday and Tuesday are ridiculously slow, and you have people on that you wouldn’t normally put on, because it’s slow,” he continued. “But today, we’ve had three Hall of Famers on already. I got the first interview in the entire building with Jonathan Ogden, who’s probably going to be elected to the Hall of Fame next year. You can’t get that if you’re not here. Tomorrow Thom and Kevin [Sheehan] have Jerry Rice and Steve Young on together. San Francisco’s in the Super Bowl, and we have two of their five greatest players on together. That’s why you’re here.”

I think these are all fine points. It’s also worth noting that local broadcasters like Dan Hellie (WRC), Alex Parker (WJLA) and Kristen Berset (WUSA) are all in New Orleans. And neither program director wanted to criticize the other’s approach. But Kinard also makes fine arguments in his favor.

“I just felt like while Radio Row is great, and obviously the Super Bowl is the biggest thing that happens in sports all year, I don’t know that it was worth sending everyone in the world down to New Orleans,” he said. “I don’t know that we were going to get something there that you can’t really get just from home. It’s not like you’re interviewing the players and the coaches and the team executives on Radio Row. You’re just getting to interview the same pundits that you talk to all year — people getting paid to sell things or talk about a credit crard rather than the football game. I’d rather our hosts take calls and talk about the football game than have a guest getting paid to talk about a credit card or whatever else they’re being paid to talk about.”

Of course, neither station is ignoring either event. Kinard and LaVar Arrington are in New Orleans for the last two days of this week; Loverro will be in Viera for ESPN 980.

But last year, 106.7 The Fan had 11 people in Indianapolis; this year, instead, they’ll have about seven people spend two days in Viera. (The Junkies will also tape other on-site interviews that will be used later.)

“It’s only natural that as interest grows, ratings grows, attendance grows at the park, attendance grows at their events, we want to kind of add something to our coverage every year,” Kinard said. “I don’t think it means every station who sends 10 people [to the Super Bowl] is stupid. For our station, our audience right now, I think it’s a better investment, a better business decision and better for our audience to use some of those resources that we would have spent on [the Super Bowl] on improving coverage and getting access to a local team that’s really hot right now.”

Thoughts?

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · January 31, 2013