Catch an A’s highlight in 2019 and you’re quickly reminded the club still shares the Coliseum with the Raiders. The final intersection of Major League Baseball and the NFL. The last link between America’s past time and America’s game.
The faded sideline and hash marks streaking the outfield serve as a metaphor for the unique challenges the A’s face year in and year out. These challenges would be viewed as problems to most sports franchises, excuses to underachieve.
The A’s don’t see problems. They see opportunities.
In 2003 Micheal Lewis provided an explanation to the question baseball fans had been asking themselves for years; how are the A’s consistently at the top of the standings and the bottom of the league’s payroll? At the time, the Moneyball outline of Billy Beane’s philosophy towards building a team was viewed somewhere between radical and sacrilegious by baseball purists. The franchise didn’t have the checking account to compete with their counterparts, so they relied on numbers. They leaned on data. They reassigned value from things like batting average to on-base percentage and did little else but win in the process. The rest of the league took notice. Within a couple years, “Sabermetrics,” went from an obscure term coined by Bill James in the 70’s to common sports vernacular.
Billy Beane changed Major League Baseball – but he did it out of necessity, by playing the hand he was dealt. 16 years after Moneyball, history could be repeating itself in Oakland – this time in the broadcast booth.
It’s the 9th inning of Game 153 on a Wednesday afternoon in Oakland, but Chris Townsend’s energy level would make you think it’s Opening Day.
“Are we going to have a scoreless game go into extra innings? How often do you see that in the American League? This hasn’t happened here all year,” he asks from his familiar corner of the Coliseum Press Box.
Townsend’s love for the game is infectious. His interest in obscure stats (like the A’s MLB-best 19-5 record on Tuesdays) is beyond genuine. He’s also the first to admit his enthusiasm has a lot to do with his new role as the voice of A’s Cast Live, the flagship program of the A’s Cast streaming station. If this sounds foreign, that’s because it is. It’s a somewhat unprecedented digital radio network conceived by the A’s, run by the A’s, and consumed by more than just A’s fans.
“The development of A’s Cast was driven out of necessity,” explains Matt Perl – the team’s Director of Performance Marketing and Broadcasting.
Perl is eluding to another challenge unique to the Oakland A’s – their lopsided share of the Bay Area market. A’s fans don’t lack passion, and there’s always been frustration with the Giants being an above-the-fold favorite to most of Northern California’s media outlets.
“We listened to the fans,” Perl continued. “They kept saying they wanted more coverage, so A’s Cast is a direct result of that Fan Feedback. There’s incredible digital streaming technology, we knew we could do it, we just needed the right people to help us grow.”
Enter Chris Townsend, a Bay Area sports veteran who’s hosted morning shows, evening shows, pregame shows, post game shows, and everything in between. As a personality who came up through terrestrial radio, Townsend was leaving his comfort zone by committing to a digital format, but it was a gamble he was happy to make.
“I love this franchise,” declared the 47-year-old. “I’ve also always thought streaming radio was the future.”
Townsend’s job description wasn’t well defined when A’s Cast launched at the start of the season. He would host a couple podcasts, and maybe a few live stream pre and posts a week. All he had to start was a table, some equipment – and unprecedented access to the team.
“I went out there Opening Day and started talking, and they just kept bringing me people,” Townsend shrugged. “I talked for four hours and after we found out fans were listening, so we just went from there.”
And like that – A’s Cast was born. A streaming network with a handful of A’s related podcasts under it’s umbrella. On paper, it all appears modest – until you look at the numbers.
Since the debut on March 28, a staggering 181,000 hours of programming has been live streamed – and that’s just the beginning. Perl’s department has counted nearly 500,000 individual downloads of the network’s podcasts – a 1500% increase over the previous 12 months. It’s hard to wrap your mind around that kind of growth – but what’s more attractive is the team’s instant access to information no one’s ever had.
“The data is unbelievable,” exclaims Townsend. “We could tell you how many people are listening in Hayward, how many people are listening in Fremont, and we get a crazy number of downloads out of Sacramento.”
The lifelong AM/FM radio veteran is giddy when discussing the information made available to him – as he should. His team is making history, and it’s turning some heads.
Several weeks ago, MLB announced that the A’s surpassed every other franchise as the league’s most popular and downloaded property. With the full support of baseball, the humble digital network started booking guests that would headline any national syndicated show.
Scott Boras, Matt Vasgersian, Tim Kirkjian, Tom Verducci, Bert Blyleven, John Smoltz and Rickey Henderson are just a few examples of the laundry list of A-listers A’s Cast Live has featured.
“When we got Jim Palmer – I knew we were onto something,” Townsend paused and looks around the room before determining he was the only one who remembered the Hall of Famer’s career as a Jockey underwear model.
“You guys don’t understand! Palmer was more than a pitcher! Everyone knew Jim Palmer!”
“Jim Palmer was definitely before my time,” admits Cody Elias, A’s Cast Live producer.
Elias, better known as “Commander Cody,” to A’s fans, joined the operation in May, when it was clear the A’s Cast experiment was here to stay. Since Memorial Day, the franchise has committed to a 3 hour A’s Cast Live broadcast Monday through Friday. They set up on the field during home games and at Townsend’s San Jose home during road trips. Listen to an episode, and it becomes clear A’s Cast Live isn’t just for Oakland homers – it’s a baseball podcast that happens to specialize in the A’s, making it relatable to just about any baseball fan.
When Townsend and the Commander aren’t chatting with Hall of Famers on air, they’re talking with PR representatives from visiting clubs off air. The Red Sox, Cardinals, Mariners and Angels are just a few clubs that have expressed interest in the operation. While the data and the national attention is great, it pales in comparison to the feedback Townsend receives from the fans.
“I get thanked every day from fans. People are thrilled there’s finally A’s content out there – and as I talk to one person, another may ask, ‘hey, what’s A’s Cast?’ If it’s an older fan I’ll set them up on their phone right there. The whole thing has been pretty cool.”
Pretty cool is probably an understatement. In less than 6 months, the A’s shifted from the younger brother in the Bay Area to MLB’s digital leader, all because they chose to listen to their fans.
So stand the A’s. One foot planted in America’s final MLB/NFL venue, the other on the doorstep of the digital frontier. A franchise that refuses to make excuses on the field or in the booth.
“It’s like Brad Pitt’s line in Moneyball when he’s talking to the scouts,” Townsend offered as he was setting up for the A’s Cast Live postgame show, minutes after Mark Canha’s walk off RBI single. “Adapt or Die!”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.