Well, you can forget about WCCO, or KFAN, or even the Pohlad’s own radio station grabbing the Minnesota Twins from the Hubbard family; 1500 ESPN (a.k.a. KSTP-AM) will retain the team’s radio rights for another two years.
The station’s release is here, and for the moment, neither side is talking money. In the current four-year deal, it’s believed the Hubbards pay the Twins a million bucks a year. In return, games are getting huge ratings — fourth in all of baseball with a 17.0 rating among men 25-54. Overall, listenership is up 21 percent this year, though a good team and Target Field might get some credit.
The Twins will still control all advertising during the broadcast, and the game production itself. Twins president Dave St. Peter says announcer Jon Gordon and Dan Gladden both have contracts up at the end of this year; an announcement on their fate will probably come “shortly after the season ends.”
There have also been complaints that KSTP’s signal and statewide network are inferior to longtime former rights-holder WCCO; St. Peter notes the Twins now have 85 affiliates, up from 57 in the last year of the WCCO deal, and that small statewide stations like having fans tune to them instead of the Good Neighbor’s booming clear channel.
CBS, which owns WCCO, and Clear Channel, which owns KFAN, both submitted bids that were ultimately found inferior. St. Peter says the Twins considered putting games on the Pohlad-owned KHTC-96.3 (formerly B96), but a format switch had lifted that station’s ratings and it made more sense to get checks from the Hubbards.
St. Peter repeatedly invoked the ESPN brand as a reason for standing pat; KSTP dumped its lousy-performing mostly-right-wing talk format for mostly sports earlier this year, partly to provide something less grating for many Twins listeners when they got in their cars the morning after the game. Without commenting on the ideological ramifications, St. Peter termed the format switch “significant.”
One obstacle for WCCO and KFAN is that both have rights that conflict with Twins games — Gopher sports and the Vikings, respectively. There was talk that KFAN owner Clear Channel would use one of its FM signals for the team. But St. Peter says “priority was not a significant factor.”
The deal is relatively short — half as long as the previous agreement — which gives the Twins some flexibility in a fast-changing media marketplace and limits the Hubbard family’s downside risk.
Thanks to weak hosts and a confused format, KSTP clearly blew a chance to capitalize on the Twins in the deal’s first three years. For a station that gets zero ad revenue during highly rated games, the whole game is getting more people to stick around for regularly scheduled broadcasts.
The Hubbards still carry a millstone in the morning, when their ESPN franchise deal forces carriage of nationally syndicated (and not compelling) programming. But obviously, they decided this year and the next two offered enough hope to keep going. So at least until after the 2012 season, you won’t have to change your pre-sets.