Friday, March 30, 2007

No Brainer?

Upon arrival for the Blues game at the Scottrade Center Thursday, I was aware that there would be a press conference at 6 o’clock introducing a new minority owner. What I wasn’t privy to was that it was a double-barreled newser with a second announcement that would be more impactful on Blues fandom.

Tom Stillman, who owns a Miller beer distributorship in Earth City, was intro’d as the new minority partner. Some are making a big deal of the fact that the guy sells Miller in a town known for A-B products. I don’t think the new Blues ownership would bring in a minority owner, no matter how much money he is willing to throw on the table, if it would jeopardize the relationship the team has with “The Big Eagle”. You just don’t do anything around here without the explicit approval of the folks down on Pestalozzi. I’m sure Dave Checketts, Peter McLoughlin (a former A-B man himself) and company, have done their homework on this one.

The second announcement, that Blues games will be aired on KMOX in a multi-year agreement starting in the fall, is of more interest to Blues fans. It’s also of more significance to the re-building of the team itself.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that KMOX’s image as a sports radio station…particularly the “Sports Voice of America”, as it once billed itself… has come crashing down with a gigantic splat over the last few years. Tim Dorsey and company at KTRS accomplished their mission of stripping the boys on Memorial Drive of their prized sports properties. The occasional Mizzou football and basketball game on 1120 isn’t going to impress many that your station is a leader in anything. Having said that, the enormous, clear-channel signal of “the MOX” hasn’t changed at all. And those call letters still have a fair amount of magic associated with them…even if you have to be 35 or older to remember the real glory days of the station.

As the current radio rights agreement with 550 was nearing an end, there was apparently a fair amount of competition among the broadcasting companies in town to land the Blues next deal. On the face of it, this was a slam-dunk, mail-it-in, no-thinking-required, call for Blues ownership and management. To have a station with the reputation of KMOX as your exclusive playground should be too good to pass up. If you were wanting to expose your sport and market it to people in this part of the country would you rather be on a station that has a whopper of a daytime signal…but struggles for nighttime coverage (when most of your games are played)? Or would you rather be on a station that can be heard, with a few exceptions, in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains? Right. Some of the other stations in town were also given a chance to make a pitch…but they likely had the same problem arguing against that big night-time signal.

What’s interesting here…and what I will be curious to watch…will be the form that the new Blues/KMOX relationship takes. Why? Because the Blues are buying the time and will be selling and producing the broadcasts themselves…as I understand it. Brokering out the time to the Blues puts KMOX in a less passionate business position than if they had bought rights and stood to profit based on their own sales and promotional efforts.

So, just how excited will KMOX be to promote the games? Will the sports shows focus on hockey? Or will the station fall into the trap of talking about baseball (which is King.. right now anyway…in St. Louis) and football which is currently more popular too, to the detriment and exclusion of the Blues? Promises have been made to do a Friday night hockey show...a Sunday morning segment...and a drive-time segment. That's all fine. But there also needs to be a "hockey mentality" at the station. Simply fulfilling those promises won't require much in the way of commitment to the hockey fans of St. Louis.

One doesn’t have to strain to imagine a very difficult relationship ahead for Blues management with its new broadcast partner unless KMOX GM Dave Ervin demands his staff “play nice” with their new hockey friends. How much time will Chris Kerber and Kelly Chase get on 1120 aside from the Friday night show? Anywhere close to what they got when KTRS had only hockey? Will there be any mention of hockey during the day by show hosts? Will morning drive and afternoon drive sports reports lead with Blues hockey, or Cardinals baseball, when there are stories about both? Will there be call-in shows devoted strictly to hockey when a big trade is made...or some other significant story breaks? Even in the off-season? In my mind, these are all things to keep an eye on.

Not having to be bumped for baseball is a good thing for Blues fans. Having that big signal to rely on, no matter where you might be in the region, is also a good thing. Being able to market your new, young-and-improving team to mid-America on a signal like that can only mean good things for attendance. As long as the Blues are not treated like “the other pro team in town” by KMOX, this will be a great move all-around.


Brent said...


No stories from the Ottawa game?

Brent said...

Tom, no stories from the Ottawa game?