I didn’t expect the level of interest I received on my post detailing failures to execute a competent strategy for Padres Radio on FM 94.9. But I was wrong. I was flooded with stories about just how bad things were going over at 94.9 and Padres Radio. I thought it was bad before, but OH MAN IS IT BAD. Like possibly bankrupt the station bad. Not only are there vast failures in social media and fan outreach, low quality audio products that are only available through the 94.9 website with little to no promotion, and an inability to produce quality or interesting content, Padres Radio is showing no capability to perform basic business functions like calling back potential advertisers that were interested in the product. When you pair failures and gross mismanagement like these examples with a potentially dreadful on-field product and a $2M rights fee, you wind up with an anchor tied to the neck of a radio station that could sink it to the bottom of the Bankruptcy Sea. Here are some fun facts I recently learned.
I noted that 94.9, who should be going full steam ahead on marketing the fact that they are the new Padres flagship station, are farming out Spring Training games to their partner station KSON. Aside from the fact that there’s really no reason not to preempt the 42nd spin of Santeria for a Padres game, which by the way they’re PAYING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS FOR, they aren’t even putting the games on KSON proper. Of course they’re not, KSON actually gets good ratings. Padres Spring Training games would drag down that station’s ratings success. No, they’re putting the games on KSON HD-2. That’s right, you will not be able to pick up the games on your radio unless it’s an HD radio. I have HD radio in my car and consider myself fairly savvy with technology and I barely know how to tune the HD substations. Now imagine your grandparents trying to listen to the game, an age group that is a big portion of the season ticket base, and trying to find KSON HD-2. Good luck. Did I mention that 94.9 itself has 2 HD substations they could have put the games on if they wanted to (this wouldn’t make sense either but that’s besides the point)? For the Padres themselves, they’ve decided to pin their 2017 marketing on hyping the future. So these Spring Training games are especially important for them as it’s a chance to introduce many of these prospects to an audience not accustomed to non-Major League roster names. Now the majority of their games are buried on a station no one can listen to. They can’t be happy about that. So 94.9 essentially gambled the station’s future on carrying Padres baseball and they can’t figure out a way to get the games on their own airwaves? Great management by Kevin Callahan, 94.9 operations manager.
Mr. Callahan is who we have to thank for masterminding the hiring of Rich Herrera to run Padres Radio operations, and likely who we have to thank for canning Cantore and Woods, who I previously wrote were literally the only real shot 94.9 had at converting their existing listener base over to Padres listeners on an alt rock station. As operations manager, I’d have to assume he’s also responsible for the failure of Padres Radio to capture many of 1090’s previous Padres advertisers. Apparently callbacks are so hard to come by from potential advertisers and promoters that 94.9 isn’t going to be allowed to participate in the annual Opening Day Block Party. This was previously sponsored by the parent company of 1090, which allowed their talent to do live broadcasts from the Block Party. Think 1090 booths with Darren Smith broadcasting, MAX FM with a wheel to hand out swag, etc. This is also why no other stations were allowed to broadcast from the Block Party; 1090’s parent had exclusive rights. As would be expected for the new flagship station of the Padres, the same deal was offered to 94.9, which would have been a great opportunity to flaunt and promote their new status. Instead, Herrera and the 94.9 team didn’t call back the Block Party promoters. Needing a sponsor, the promoters went back to 1090’s parent company and got them to sponsor the event again. This means that the flagship station of the Padres will not be contractually allowed to broadcast from the Padres’ own Opening Day Block Party. Nice management of the situation. You’ll notice on 1090 that they feature tourism ads to visit Peoria and Padres spring training. Have you heard anything similar on 94.9? Of course not.
Rich Herrera seems like a nice guy. It’s possible he’s just not cut out to be the head of Padres Radio operations. Who knows, it’s still early. But it’s not looking good. As of 2/23/17, Padres Radio and 94.9 brought on a veteran producer from 1360 to help out with social media and production. This is a good thing. It doesn’t change the fact that Herrera is most definitely not the personality 94.9 and the Padres needed to convert alt rock listeners into Padres fans. But at least the sparsely listened to podcasts (still available nowhere except 94.9’s website with little to no social media promotion) won’t sound like total garbage (seriously, just listen to the quality of the Agler interview here. It’s worse than the time Marver podcasted with me on a headset in his car). Keep in mind that this is the flagship radio station for a billion dollar corporation, a Major League Baseball team. What they produce and put out reflects directly on the brand and reputation of the Padres. At the very least, the work of Padres Radio should appear to be professionally produced. It’s just not. The aforementioned podcast with Jesse Agler featured three, count em’ THREE, spelling errors in the synopsis, in addition to misspelling Jered Weaver’s name in the title.
That’s great, really great. The Padres, whose marketing is led by #brand obsessed Wayne Partello, are being represented by synopses written at a 3rd grade writing level. That’s not good for the #brand.
And like I said, Herrera could get better. But he’s not a fresh, young talent learning the industry. He’s a longtime vet of the industry, with a long track record of work and reviews of his work. We occasionally see Fangraphs or local blogs ask for ratings of our announcers. Tampa Bay Rays blog Rays Index did one on Rich’s work as pre/post game host during his tenure there. The results were not favorable.
Padres fans love to have things dumbed down for them, love having comments buried by team cheerleaders, and especially love being treated dismissively (we have so much practice with the Dee regime; appreciate the passion!). So it’s not like he’s an unknown quantity. I asked some Rays writers their opinions and they all basically said the same things as the comments on this blog post. So buckle in guys!
Here’s the thing about 94.9. They’ve now tied themselves contractually to the Padres rights fee deal of ~$2M. If they botch the execution, they still owe the Padres that money. 1090, a station that pretty much did everything right carrying the Padres (I mean other than putting Sileo on pregame)(OK that was a huge mistake), had supportive hosts during the day willing to promote the Padres and Padres broadcasts, and fairly competent management and sales, still lost money on carrying the Padres and the rights fees were less! And here’s 94.9 paying more for it, with a worse Padres product, and they’re totally screwing up every aspect of the strategy and execution. They can’t even call back advertisers correctly and that’s their lifeblood! These are the types of errors that will bankrupt a station when a $2M rights fee substantially narrows the profit margins and the margins for error.
The Padres demand for a quick surge of rights fee profits may doom their broadcasts into obscurity at a time when they need to be fostering the fanbase as best they can. Wayne Partello, radio guy (the Big Bamboo himself!), knew better. Unfortunately, now departed team president and noted yacht owner Mike Dee insisted on forcing the rights fees onto an FM station, against his lieutenants advice (who actually had experience with the radio industry). As we saw so often, it was Dee’s hubris that led to his downfall, and it’s unfortunate that even after his unceremonious firing, the team, its fans, and it’s partners will be paying the price for his incompetence for years to come. Now the Padres are faced with one of their major broadcast partners being a dysfunctional mess on a signal that can’t reach the county lines while the Padres’ “broadcast network” still involves ZERO English speaking affiliates simulcasting games (their primary FM signal is literally smaller than their Spanish language partner). Very embarrassing, and loyal Padres fans that are buckling in to watch years of losing deserve better than having to search for Spring Training games featuring Cal Quantrill, Manuel Margot, and Luis Urias on KSON HD-2. It’s clear that major changes need to happen at 94.9 if this mess has any chance to be fixed, and it doesn’t appear the right personnel are in positions to actually do so.
Next week, we can get back to Padres related dick jokes here on Gwynntelligence. For now, enjoy the game this weekend on FSSD.