What is it about 2020 anyway? Especially when it comes to sports and radio.
You may remember the story about the Oakland A's back in February. Even prior to the pandemic, they embraced the brilliant strategy of making their radio broadcasts stream-only. If you lived in the East Bay, the only way you could hear the games was on TuneIn.
That turned out to be a short-lived game plan. Just six games into this year's shortened season, the A's relented, signing up with iHeart's KNEW (Bloomberg 960) to carry the games terrestrially. Why the reversal? Their fans weren't just confused. They were pissed off.
So, you'd think sports franchise owners would think twice before pulling the plug on radio play-by-play broadcasts. But now here we are nearing the end of the NBA season, and the Orlando Magic have announced their radio plan for the 2020-21 season.
There isn't one.
The games will still be on the radio. But they'll be simulcasting the TV audio. The entire radio team has been fired. That includes 29 year-veteran of these Magic radio broadcasts, Dennis Neumann, as well as former NBA coach Richie Adubato, and Joey Colón who has spent the past 22 years broadcasting the games in Spanish.
Of course, the problem is money and the coronavirus. But as we continue to see during this pandemic, companies and brands are often too eager to jettison content pieces that matter.
The Magic's ownership may think – or maybe rationalize – that the TV sound from FOX Sports Florida will be “good enough” for the radio audience. But sportscasters will be the first to tell you they're calling a different game, depending on the medium.
The radio “flagship” is iHeartRadio's FM 96.9 The Game, (also broadcast on AM 740). I'm sure their management team will be thrilled by the phone calls, Facebook posts, and tweets that will most surely kick off the new season, likely blaming them for axing the radio hosts.
Radio requires more detail, more color – more effort – to paint those pictures with words that convey what's happening on the court, on the bench, and hopefully one day, in the stands.
Plus, you have to wonder what all those instant replays are going to sound like on the radio – where Magic fans can't see them.
But after all, it's only radio.
In case you're wondering, the Magic is owned by the DeVos family. (Yes, that DeVos family.) The cost of these radio broadcasts and those associated with them are but a rounding error, but obviously budget cuts are necessary at this time.
To ownership's credit, they put up $2 million for a compensation package to support 1,800 hourly workers who worked for the local teams they own, as well as employees from the Amway Center.
But as for these radio broadcasts, well, the writing is on the studio wall.
Because the Magic has failed to update its website, these now-unemployed radio sportscasters are still prominently identified and pictured. I've gone to the trouble of adding my own “artwork” – red X's – to bring them up to date. On the Magic website, clicking on these guys still takes you to each one's bio.
The website also promote that Colon and Neumann (co)-host weekly podcasts for the Magic. But now, apparently not.
But if you're in radio, you're gone. The team is telling its audience, its sponsors, and all who interface with the organization there's no reason to have radio when you have TV – sound and pictures. Beyond that, the same words they say – or don't say – on TV will translate to radio. Or at least, it will have to do for now.
Will fans notice? In Oakland, it was obvious A's games simply were gone from the AM and FM bands. Too many either didn't know about the TuneIn option, didn't understand streaming, and/or thought it was a pay-for option.
In Orlando, the slight is a more subtle one. Magic games will still be on the radio – ish. Will fans notice their favorite radio announcers are gone? Or that it's the TV team on the radio? Or that television play-by-play pales in comparison to its radio equivalent?
Surely, Latino fans – a rapidly growing segment of the Central Florida population – will know Joey Colón's Spanish commentary is a thing of the past. Will they complain? And will Magic ownership care?
Perhaps radio haters and the many radio self-loathers out there will look at this as yet another “L,” a slight that increasingly occurs. Some will contend this is radio's just desserts = the payback for its lack of investment in content and marketing over the years.
Maybe so, but just as the failed Oakland plan sent a message to MLB's other 31 teams that taking games off the radio is a dangerous – and dumb – move, will NBA (and NHL) teams be emboldened to employ cutbacks to save some cash by eliminating the radio team – especially in an environment where there are no fans, no hot dogs and beers, and no parking revenue?
A very sad reality of the Magic's attempt to plump up the bottom line is that many young people interested in radio look to sports radio as their way “in.” And for those of you plying your craft in radio sports broadcasting, there's no magic answer here. You know your job is a special one, but if the teams that pay for you conclude there's no downside in axing radio play-by-play, they'll do it.
Why? Because it's just radio.
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