Super Bowl 50 Radio Row

One of the common features of Super Bowl Week is radio stations from across the country setting up shop on Radio Row, broadcasting live from the Super Bowl location and bringing in all sorts of celebrity guests. Doing so is highly expensive, though, with costs often totaling tens of thousands of dollars, and there’s a debate as to whether it’s actually worth the price for stations.

Over at Sports Radio PD, Jason Barrett has an excellent in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of going to Radio Row, drawing on both his own experience running stations and the experiences of station executives from across the country. Here are responses from programming executives Rich Moore (Sports Radio 950 KJR, Seattle, WA) and Dan Zampillo (ESPN LA 710, Los Angeles, CA) to one of the key questions Barrett asked:

Some industry folks feel that it’s not worth the expense to broadcast from there. How do you respond to that?

Moore: It’s certainly going that way. It is really hard to commit to it each year in advance, but if you work with your sales team, and can justify great value and frequency to see your coverage, it can be done. It’s RADIO row, and yet the NFL is pricing radio stations out of being there. $2000 for ISDN and internet is almost impossible to justify.

Zampillo: I understand that point of view. The problem is, Radio Row used to be special. Now, everyone has the same guests on, and most of those guests are low quality guests who are pushing products that do not connect with our audience. If you can do the best version of your show while working in important aspects of being on Radio Row like BIG name guests, it makes sense. If you can’t do that, then I understand staying home.

There are other elements to consider as well, of course. These executives and three others on the programming side Barrett spoke to all see benefits in being there for Radio Row, and they all conclude that it’s worth it for their own stations. Some also mention that it turns a profit for them thanks to increased ad rates they can command.

Other sales executives Barrett interviewed talked about how being at the Super Bowl provides particular opportunities to work with advertisers who are big football fans, and how it can lead to more memorable and meaningful ad content. That’s important too, as is any ratings boost the stations can gain from on-location content. The programming executives Barrett spoke to also discussed potential downsides of not being there, particularly if an in-market competitor is.

Beyond that, Barrett cites his own experience from San Francisco’s 95.7 The Game to mention how going to the Super Bowl helped improve his station’s profile and let them eventually land Raiders’ rights. Spending on the Super Bowl can definitely send a sign that you’re serious, and that you’re a good choice for local teams; it can also help your radio team make contacts that can pay off throughout the season. However, Barrett also rightly notes that the bottom line can be a tough sell for top executives:

For a Program Director, General Manager, President, and CEO, to sign off on spending ten to twenty thousand dollars to send their people on the road to broadcast for three to five days from a remote location, which won’t provide a huge return on investment from advertisers or the ratings, is a tall order. I’ve heard hosts over the years say, “it’s the Super Bowl, if our sales team can’t sell this then we’re screwed”. That may sound right, but what many talent lack an understanding of is how much value advertisers place on this one to two week promotion.

If you’re a client, the debate becomes whether or not it’s beneficial to spend thousands of dollars on this promotion instead of on a sustained campaign on the same radio station. Many hosts think that by reading the sponsor’s name and five second tag prior to each interview that they’ve fulfilled their obligation, but what they haven’t taken into consideration is whether or not those name mentions and tags help the client grow their business. Giving a client a web banner on your Super Bowl page, a name mention on your social media posts, and on-air plugs prior to interviews may fulfill what was presented, but if the client loses money, they won’t support future promotions.

That really may be the key here. If the sales teams can sell ads at enough of a markup to make a Radio Row trip at least revenue-neutral (and some of the executives Barrett talks to say they make money on going), and if the return on those ads is sufficient enough to keep advertisers interested in paying a premium for live on-location content, then the tradition of Radio Row will probably continue indefinitely. There are some issues threatening it, though, from the expensive technology fees to the feeling of recycled and uninteresting guests to the often-minimal ratings increases.

Barrett’s piece analyzes all sides and mostly concludes that Radio Row may or may not be worth it depending on an individual station’s goals and situation, and his whole piece is worth a read for those interested in this issue. There are ups and downs to Radio Row, and programming staff and talent often value it more than, say, sales staff or top overall executives.

One key theme running through the piece is that there’s a lot the NFL could do to improve Radio Row, though, from lowering technology fees to providing better lists of what guests might be available on a given day to streamlining the hotel and accreditation process. There are still plenty of stations ready to pay up now, even with elements of the experience being subpar, but that may not always be the case; improvements from the NFL’s end might help make it a much easier call to go to Radio Row.

[Sports Radio PD/photo from CBS San Francisco]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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