SBJ/March 13 - 19, 2006/This Weeks News

Red Sox seek MLB’s largest radio rights deal

The Boston Red Sox are seeking a new $12 million- to $15 million-a-year radio rights deal that would be the most lucrative in Major League Baseball, and are hinting that they might join the growing number of clubs that have bought their own radio station if the market can’t meet their demands.

The Sox are pitching a big rights-fee increase, sources say.
Sources in the Boston area said the team is asking for a 20 percent to 25 percent increase over their current $10 million to $12 million-a-year deal, which runs through this season with Entercom’s WEEI-AM. WEEI has vaulted to the top of the local ratings since it acquired the Red Sox rights in 1999.

But the team has not ruled out buying a piece of a radio station, as the St. Louis Cardinals did, or owning one outright, such as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“We have a variety of different options, all of which are good,” said Mike Dee, the Red Sox’s chief operating officer.

Dee said he expects to have a deal in place by the end of March, and added that buying a radio station would suit the team. “It fits with our profile,” he said of the team’s ownership group, led by John Henry.

The Red Sox are majority owners of NESN, the team’s regional cable network, and Dee noted that “we have a lot of [broadcasting] experience.”

The team’s deal is roughly on par with the $51 million, five-year deal that the New York Yankees have with WCBS-AM in New York, which also expires after this season. New York newspaper reports predict the Yankees also might buy a radio station.

Entercom’s executives did not return two calls seeking comment, but the company is positioning itself to hold onto the Red Sox, having expanded its reach in the last y ear by acquiring stations or frequency in Rhode Island and western Massachusetts.

Among the stations reported to be interested in the Red Sox — all of which have weaker signals than 50,000-watt WEEI — is J Sports Boston’s WAMG-AM, part of a year-old duopoly financed by the venture capital firm WallerSutton and led by former ESPN Radio executive Jessamy Tang. Greater Media’s WTKK, an FM station, might also be interested because the talk station has added weekend sports elements. Greater Media also launched an all-sports format station in Philadelphia last fall.

Dee said signal strength, financial condition, local commitment and the station’s fit with baseball would join cold cash as major factors in the team’s decision.

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