Red Sox fans who want to hear all of the games on the radio next season will have to switch between the Sox's new home, WRKO-AM, and Boston's dominant sports station, WEEI-AM.
WEEI, the Sox's current flagship, will keep roughly 30 games next season -- all Friday night games, as well as weekday afternoon games -- while WRKO will take the rest. WRKO will air pre and postgame shows, but WEEI will continue to take calls from fans and host its exclusive interviews with a variety of Red Sox executives and players, including chief executive Larry Lucchino.
Though the situation may be slightly confusing for Sox fans, it makes sense for both the team and the parent of both radio stations, Entercom Communications Corp. The Sox inked a deal that is one of the most lucrative in Major League Baseball -- about $13 million to $14 million a year over the life of the 10-year contract. Not only does it rival the Atlanta Braves' $13 million a year, but it roughly doubles the Sox's current deal.
For their part, Entercom executives hope the Sox will provide a big boost to WRKO, which has been less successful than WEEI. By splitting the games, Entercom keeps WEEI affiliated with the Red Sox while not having to disturb WRKO's weekday programming. Also, Entercom has negotiated agreements with the Red Sox to help promote its other stations in Boston: WAAF-FM will run a promotion to give fans a chance to watch a game from behind the Green Monster, while WMKK-FM will get Sox tickets for a promotion in which it will encourage listeners to wear red to support the Jimmy Fund.
The agreement, concluded in the early hours of Monday, is most notable for what it does not include: The Red Sox will get no control over the content on WRKO or WEEI. The team will have an option to take a very small ownership stake in WRKO -- but that, according to both sides, would be for investment only. Several sports teams -- most notably the Washington Redskins in football -- have bought stations or majority interests in them to have more control over media that cover the teams.
''We'd have no control over the station," said Mike Dee, the Sox's chief operating officer. ''It'd be more as a cheerleader and an investor than an operator."
During the Sox's monthslong negotiations for radio rights, executives got very close to signing a deal with the owner of WBOS-FM, Greater Media Inc., in which the team could have taken up to a 25 percent stake in the station. It is unclear how much control the Sox would have had, but the sides had talked about putting sports programming on the air.
(The New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe, holds a 17 percent stake in the Red Sox.)
Though most Sox games will switch to WRKO, little else about the station will change, executives said yesterday. WRKO will keep its talk format during the day, and any sports-related programs, excluding the pre- and post-game shows, will air on WEEI.
Though the deal makes WRKO the only Boston station with rights to two pro sports teams, ''WRKO is not going to become a second sports station, if you will," said Jason Wolfe, who oversees programming at WEEI and WRKO.
He said that because of Major League Baseball rules, the number of commercials during Red Sox games is not likely to increase, but that radio executives would continue to sell advertising plugs during the games.
One small change: WRKO may stop Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr's show at 6:30 p.m., instead of 7, to make way for the Red Sox.
Dee said Sox executives talked about whether it would be confusing for fans to have games on both WRKO and WEEI, but decided that they could make it work if the schedule had enough regularity. The Red Sox recently went in the opposite direction with their television coverage, which had been split between NESN and Channel 38. Dee said executives view the radio deal as different because both WEEI and WRKO are owned by the same parent company and can cross-promote.
The arrangement will benefit fans, Dee said, because they now will be able to discuss the game on WEEI while it is still being broadcast on WRKO.
The switch had a financial benefit for the team: Entercom executives felt they could offer more money if they moved the game to WRKO, because they could use the Sox games to catapult the station up in the ratings.
''With this foundation in place, we expect great things from WRKO and believe its performance will surge in the near future," David Field, Entercom's chief executive, told analysts during a call yesterday on first quarter earnings.
Sasha Talcott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
High and low
Top commercial stations in the Boston market ranked by 2005 revenue.
SOURCE: BIA Financial Network