Sound Bites: Dissecting Radio-Only

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

Editor's Note: this post is part of the Front Page Auditions Series

Every season, there are select Oakland Athletics baseball games that are not televised for Bay Area baseball fans. These games are typically midweek afternoon matchups against small market teams. According to the current broadcast schedule here, the A's will play at least 15 such games in 2014. That's about half a month, or 9% of the schedule.

Why aren't all the games televised? It seems illogical. How does Major League Baseball, the Oakland Athletics, Comcast Sportsnet, or anyone else profit off of an untelevised baseball game?

"The entire basis of professional sports is the public's interest in what is going on," Bill James once wrote. "To deny the public access to information that it cares about is the logical equivalent of locking the stadiums and playing the games in private so that no one will find out what is happening."

James was referring to his struggles of accumulating data because the MLB would not openly divulge statistics. "Major League Baseball had no sense of the fans as customers," Michael Lewis later wrote in Moneyball. We have come a long way since Bill James and Michael Lewis typed those respective words. Yet, one old institution still prevails: radio-only baseball.

This isn't a problem for every fan base. Our neighbors to the west, the San Francisco Giants, will play every game on television. The same goes for the Angels. The Yankees have their own network! (Although it could be worse: ALL of our games could be radio-only, which is a reality for some Houston Astros fans, as CSN Houston faces Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.)

On the surface, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense why a baseball game would be radio-only. There are cameras there! You know this because you watch highlights of the game after it ends, which is particularly frustrating. You want to watch the entire game at a location where cameras evidently exist, yet someone is withholding it from you.

Even if you are willing to pay for it, most Bay Area fans can't watch a radio-only A's game. The MLB Extra Inning package blackouts the games that are in your market. This means that you rely on your local affiliate to air the game if you want to see it. For a game like the one that will take place on April 10 2014, between the A's and the Twins, you are out of luck.

This is because the cameras on April 10 will not belong to the A's local affiliate, CSN California, but to the Minnesota Twins's affiliate, Fox Sports North. CSN California can't air the FSN feed. CSN California has chosen not to produce the game.

What does CSN California televise instead? Frequently, the answer is infomercials. (Ironically, the other common answer is a radio show.) As much as rapid fire switchblade action entertains me, I can't imagine an informercial for the Slap Chop out-drawing the day's A's game. I understand that infomercials are paid programming, but doesn't the advertising from an A's game -- any A's game -- generate more revenue?

Ostensibly, demand for the game is high enough to warrant a telecast. CSN CA should be encouraged to buy the rights to all 162 A's games and air every single one. Why don't they? I called CSN CA Director of Programming Rich Leeson to find out.

According to Leeson, it's a matter of juggling priorities. CSN CA has limited resources, games cost X dollars to produce and yield Z dollars in revenue, so they have to pick and choose which games will attract the largest audience and provide the biggest bang for their buck.

"We will air and produce 147 games this year, which is the standard for most seasons." Leeson said. To shortlist games, they "immediately close out the FOX national window" and reduce the remaining number by "taking midweek afternoon games out of mix." There are other considerations like "where game is at, is it a heavy rain venue, is it a long road trip for the team" and time zone.

Will we ever see a day when all A's games are broadcast? "It could happen eventually," Leeson said. "Neilsen just recently [started] a good way of tracking DVR viewing, and it could have implications, but sports are fairly unique to live viewing."

Team success is a huge part of it. Demand drives supply. Leeson suggests that if the A's win two titles in four years, like the rival Giants, that would possibly create the demand needed for a full 162 game broadcast schedule.

Rich is reassuring that CSN CA will be on top of the good stuff. "If the A's go on another 19 game winning streak, I guarantee you that we will not miss one. If we don't own [the next one], we will reach out to league and say ‘Name your price.'"

That's good news, unless there's a no-hitter in progress or some other unforeseeable time-sensitive feat. Also, if you are a hardcore A's fan, you may just want to watch the rubber match between Oakland and Tampa Bay. You don't want to search for an illegal stream online, sit in your car, or rely on MLB Live Look-In for momentary glimpses into the action.

You see what I'm saying. But if it's Wednesday at 12:30, that's all you can see.

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