A’s Ditch Local Radio For Streaming And Bet On Digital Future

    • Analysts debate if baseball’s older fan base will adapt to streaming-only broadcasts.
    • With 75 million monthly active users, TuneIn currently has deals with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL as well as 148 college teams.

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In the best-selling “Moneyball,” author Michael Lewis portrayed the Oakland A’s as famously willing to abandon old ways of doing business. 

The A’s are at it again, becoming the first MLB club to ditch terrestrial radio in favor of internet streaming audio.

The A’s made headlines last week announcing they’ll exclusively stream all of their games in the Oakland/San Francisco market for free on TuneIn this season – while cutting ties with local radio station KTRB. 

“Fans are consuming media differently and we have to adapt to meet those needs,” A’s President Dave Kaval said in a statement. 

The A’s and TuneIn launched a 24/7 channel dubbed “A’s Cast” last season. It grew into MLB’s No. 1 team podcast, with 650,000 downloads, and marked the first time the A’s boasted the league’s most popular and downloaded property.

During the off-season, TuneIn met with the ballclub to discuss testing exclusive streams of A’s games this season. The two sides were so impressed by the 2019 results they agreed to bypass the test phase – and name TuneIn the club’s exclusive audio distributor for the 2020 season.

“The fan engagement on TuneIn from the 2019 season on A’s Cast gave us the confidence to lean deeper into this relationship with the A’s for exclusive play-by-play in the home market,” Kevin Straley, the chief content officer at TuneIn, said. 

Straley declined to comment on terms of the A’s deal or whether TuneIn is negotiating similar deals with other MLB clubs. 

As part of the agreement, the A’s and TuneIn will offer fans one commercial-free broadcast per homestand. TuneIn has 63 commercial-free stations on its premium service. Premium users typically show a higher rate of engagement with commercial-free music and news.

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“We are excited to see if the engagement with A’s commercial-free play-by-play follows the same pattern,” said Straley. “In addition to commercial-free play-by-play, the incremental content for A’s Cast this season around Esports, gaming, analytics, and historical tributes will further enhance the listening experience for A’s fans on TuneIn.”

The Bay Area is the epicenter of the tech industry. Many tech-savvy A’s fans won’t miss a beat listening to games on a streaming audio platform like TuneIn instead of a local radio station.

The A’s are also not abandoning radio completely: Their games will still air on radio stations in other Northern California markets such as Sacramento. 

But baseball has the oldest audience among the Big 4 pro sports. Some media experts question how older fans in the market – who’ve listened to ballgames on their old-fashioned radio for decades – will adapt to a digital stream.

“Old school fans will understandably think that it’s bush league not to be on a terrestrial radio station,” warned David Halberstam, publisher of Sports Broadcast Journal.

Other experts wonder whether the move will result in fewer listeners and less ad revenue. 

The A’s decision to abandon local radio is “foolish,” Jason Barrett, president of Barrett Sports Media said. 

“It would be a mistake right now for other franchises to follow suit because they’d earn less money, and be heard less. If you’re reaching fewer ears, earning fewer dollars, and selling fewer tickets due to not having a media partner push your messaging, that’s not a blueprint for success.” 

Both the A’s and TuneIn dismissed those fears. 

The A’s Kaval noted team fans have been using A’s Cast for the last year. “It’s incredibly easy to listen via our website or their smartphone,” he said.

With the NBA’s Golden State Warriors moving to San Francisco and the NFL Oakland Raiders headed to Las Vegas, the A’s will be the last pro sports team left in the city.

TuneIn already has exclusive audio deals with Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls and UC Santa Barbara’s Gauchos team, Straley noted. Based on their experience with those partnerships, they’re confident there won’t be problems. 

“These partnerships helped to build the framework and potential for the A’s exclusive agreement for the 2020 season,” Straley said.

With 75 million monthly active users, TuneIn currently has deals with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL as well as 148 college teams.

As streaming technology becomes easier and more accepted, more sports teams are likely to ditch their local radio stations for digital. But that doesn’t mean teams have to make a binary choice, according to Barrett.  

“Over the long term, digital will be a much bigger part of broadcast distribution because media brands and franchises realize the inside of vehicles are evolving and streaming is becoming a greater preference for how consumers listen to content,” he said. “However, that doesn’t mean that teams don’t need to partner with radio stations. They’ll just place a higher value on the station’s total audience across multiple platforms, instead of relying on what’s been produced on the radio.”

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However the deal works out, TuneIn will emerge as a winner, predicted Halberstam. 

“TuneIn will now be on the consciousness of A’s fans,” he said.