When Mark Burdett arrived at WUSA 9 last spring, the former Ravens executive was determined to enhance his station’s position in the local sports media landscape. One of his first ideas came from his former market, where the Orioles have long broadcast a select number of games on WJZ, the city’s CBS affiliate.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to able to emulate that in Washington, to build a relationship with the team and use that to help reinvigorate our sports brand and our sports identity,’” Burdett, the station’s president and general manager, said this week. “It was a natural for me. And as great a season as the Nats had, the timing couldn’t have been better.”
Which is why MASN and WUSA 9 announced plans this week to simulcast 20 MASN-produced Nats games on Washington’s CBS affiliate. (Read more about it on MASN’s site and on WUSA’s site.) That’s the same number of games that have been available over-the-air in recent years, but the CBS affiliate brings a somewhat more notable profile than the Nats’ previous over-the-air home, WDCW.
“The size of the audience and the reach of the station in this market is significantly larger,” Burdett said. “We’re reaching a pretty significant 25-54 year old demographic, and I think MASN saw that, and I think the Nats would see that.”
Several over-the-air stations – including other Washington network affiliates — competed for the chance to showcase the Nats, who earned their best-ever television ratings last season. Burdett had worked with MASN while with the Ravens, and he and MASN executive vice president Jim Cuddihy discussed a possible agreement for months, before finalizing a deal over the weekend.
For MASN, the move to a network affiliate means more chances for on-air promotion during WUSA’s five-plus hours of daily news programming – “tune in to Saturday’s game, right here on WUSA 9,” for example. There’s also symmetry, since both the Orioles and Nats will now have 20 games on their cities’ CBS affiliates.
“They have robust news programming and a renewed focus on sports,” Cuddihy said of his new partner. Local news stations “have a special place in the community and a special obligation in the community, and the relationship they have with the viewer help made it easier for me to choose them.”
The Nats are Orioles are two of about a dozen Major League Baseball teams with over-the-air partners in addition to their cable homes. As in past years, simulcast games will still appear on MASN or MASN2. The over-the-air schedule starts on Opening Day and concludes in August, before weekends are filled with football, but the tentative schedule – largely filled with Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games – could knock some golf broadcasts off the air.
Market research, Burdett said, showed that local viewers felt pride and a strong bond with the Nats, and that this bond “resonated with women as much as with men.”
“I think it’s a really nice complement to what CBS already gives us, which is a pretty doggone good sports programming schedule,” he said. “Our intention is to build a stronger and deeper relationship with the Nationals, covering them more frequently, possibly traveling with them, doing some promotions with them, maybe finding some sponsorship opportunities. I haven’t really negotiated or talked with the Nats; I would have been empty-handed prior to having an agreement. But now that I have an agreement, that’s the next step.”