In the excitement surrounding Philadelphia Union's first-ever playoff appearance, it's easy to lose sight of a big development off the field for local soccer supporters.
On October 20, the team announced a brand new radio deal with CBS-owned SportsRadio 610 WIP, the well-established local station that now broadcasts on both 94.1 FM and 610 AM.
Union executive vice president Dave Rowan revealed that the club's first radio deal will be primarily controlled by the team and that all programming will air on WIP's 610 AM channel.
The deal includes the radio broadcast of 17 Union games in 2012. There will be also be a new weekly hour-long talk show program. Both broadcasts will be radio-specific, meaning they will feature their very own talent. In other words, the play-by-play commentary on live game broadcasts will not just be a simulcast of the TV commentary.
"It was an important part of the discussion, as far as the format and the content of the shows – it's our responsibility," explained Rowan. "[WIP] are not going to be programming it or developing the content. It's going to be our talent. Not that their talent might not be involved, but the content and the programming of the show is going to be done by the Philadelphia Union.
"Just like television, we get the time from CSN and 6abc, but we produce the games, hire the talent, review them, tweak them, and think about what we can do better, each and every broadcast. [Radio will be] no different from how we do television. It's our broadcast, it's our image, it's our branding, it's our marketing, and that's how we're going to go about it."
Rowan says it's still uncertain which 17 games will be broadcasted by the team. The games could be either home or away matches, and the first year will serve, in part, as a "beta test" to iron out the process. A 17-game broadcast package is equivalent to half of the MLS season.
While the game broadcasts are significant, Rowan says that the weekly talk show was a much bigger priority.
"In the overall deal, the games are important," said Rowan, "but the bigger part of the relationship, and quite honestly what drove the deal, was doing the weekly one-hour show for more than half the year – from the middle of March through the end of the season. That was as critical – more important, quite honestly – than doing the games. Not that the games aren't important, but just having that weekly Union and soccer talk out there, it was the thing we heard from our fans – why isn't there more soccer talk?
"We're blessed that we have great TV partners. But if fans aren't getting the games, and there are some fans who can't get to the TV, then the radio will be a nice piece. But again, doing that weekly one-hour show – we're really excited about it."
Rowan revealed more specific details about the talk show.
"Where we are now, [the weekly show] would [broadcast] in the early part of the week, whether that's a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It would fall somewhere between the 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. time period. The reason there isn't a definitive time yet is because it's going to tie into being able to do the show on location. If we do it from a local establishment, say a bar, a restaurant, or a high traffic place, we want to have that flexibility. We could do it from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., or 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., or 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. The way it's written out right now, it's a one-hour show between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., with our sole right to take it to an on-site location."
When the radio deal was announced last Thursday, fans greeted the move with a combination of enthusiasm and surprise. Among supporters, there's been a feeling that soccer has been slighted by WIP's talent, a sentiment that Rowan is well aware of.
But there's also a deeper bond with CBS RADIO that reveals more about the deal. Before WIP's move to the FM dial, 94.1 WYSP was a significant supporter of the Union. Morning show host Danny Bonaduce was heavily involved in promoting the team, and disc jockey Gordon hosted the "Union Sound" podcast, which can be now found exclusvely on philadelphiaunion.com.
Rowan says the new radio deal is an extension of the prior relationship with WYSP and CBS RADIO as a whole.
"That was an important part of our discussion," he said. "We had interest from multiple radio partners in town. But again, based on the commitment that CBS RADIO and WYSP had given in the past, that was a goal of ours – to take care of people who have been with us from the start. Collectively, the CBS RADIO group, and WIP specifically, is still the preeminent radio station in town. I know some people have differing opinions, and that's why I told [WIP afternoon hosts Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano] that there are a lot of different flavors out there.
"I know Glen personally, and I know he is not a soccer fan by any means," Rowan continued, laughing. "Sometimes he can be the anti, but we're not trying to convert people who aren't fans of the sport. I know there's interest out there, and [Macnow and Gargano] told me they've had more phone calls and emails in the last 72 hours than they've had for any other announcement they've put out there. There were very strong and resounding emails and voicemails to their program director and talent."
Expect to learn more details about the new radio deal over the winter months. Rowan says there's a lot of work to do, but confirmed that there has been massive interest from prospective talent for both the weekly talk show and the individual game broadcasts.
"We've been inundated with people from across the country, and across the globe, hearing about this and sending in tapes, sending in emails, interested in being a part of the show," said Rowan. "We'll begin that process of sitting down internally when we do our 2012 planning, which will be in the November time period. We can't really do anything until the MLS schedule comes out, so I don't think we'll have any type of formal announcement as far as what games we're broadcasting, where the show is, and who the talent on the show is until we get into the January and February time period. Again, that's driven by the schedule and doing it the right way, not just rolling it out there."
In addition to being on the airwaves, both the game broadcasts and weekly show will be available online, enabling those out-of-market to tune in as well. All in all, the flexibility of the deal and overall increased presence on the radio makes for a landmark achievement for the second-year club.
"It was one of our top priorities, a top priority in the offseason," said Rowan. "Being able to have that checked off already is a great credit to quite honestly CBS RADIO for their openness, their interest, and our fans, because that's what they wanted. We always make sure we're in tune with fans, and we wanted to do whatever we could to get it done."