Sat. Mar 23rd, 2019

Why Blackballing a Local Team Is a Bad Bet

Rarely do sports radio brands take drastic measures to blackball sports teams from being covered and discussed in local markets. Even when a particular radio station doesn’t hold the rights to a local franchise, if the audience possesses an appetite for the team and content, hosts make the team a regular part of their programming.

But in Las Vegas, Nevada, CBS Radio had a different point of view. The station was preparing to institute a plan to ignore the city’s first ever professional sports franchise, the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, until cooler heads prevailed and an initial decision was reversed.

Until 2017, Las Vegas has never had a professional sports team. The arrival of the Golden Knights should excite the community, and the local passion for sports will only increase in the future when the Oakland Raiders relocate to sin city.

Before CBS officials adjusted their stance, they had sent out a memo to their staff, asking them to eliminate conversation about the local hockey team on all of the cluster’s radio stations. Below is the email.

Tue 8/8/2017 8:57AM

King, JB

Las Vegas Golden Knights

To: @CR Las Vegas All Employees

Just wanted to pass along this info….a decision has been made that effective immediately, there are to be no further mentions of the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team on any CBS/LV radio stations or any of our social media platforms. This includes, but not limited to, on sale ticket mentions, player/coaches interviews, plugging locals to sing national anthem, TV broadcast schedule, etc. It is now the responsibility of the Golden Knights’ chosen radio partner to help accomplish their goals, not ours. We are asking you to include ‘show’ pages, as well. We need to show a united front on this issue. If you have anything already planned around the team, please cancel. If you have any ‘best of’ bits around the team, please do not air and find another piece of content.

I am out of the office this week, but will answer any questions next week when I return. For any immediate questions, please see Tony.

Thanks, Have a great week.


Upon reading the internal response, I was surprised and disappointed. When a local market is excited about a new team, and a radio group’s personalities share that enthusiasm, it doesn’t make a lot of business sense to restrict them. There isn’t much to be gained from taking that position.

The e-mail went on to include a line from King which said, “We need to show a united front on this issue. If you have anything already planned around the team, please cancel.”

But for the employees inside CBS Las Vegas who didn’t agree, what was their recourse? They were left with two choices. A) Ignore the memo and share in the same local experience with the audience, risking their employment in the process, or B) follow the mandate, and risk losing your audience because of an inability to connect with them on a story they’re excited about.

In analyzing the situation from afar, I don’t think local executives took into account the public relations hit they’d take for making that move. Content conversations about what to focus on and ignore do come up from time to time but rarely are they conveyed in email with an entire cluster being directed to pay no attention to a market’s brand new franchise.

Sticking to that plan could have affected future future negotiations and ad buys with the Knights. It would have sent a bad message to the Oakland Raiders, who will soon be in the market and looking for a strong radio cluster to do business with. It may have also created employee dissatisfaction, leading talented people to look elsewhere for opportunities.

Above all else, it would have penalized the audience. When listeners tune into their local stations, and are excited to hear about their new hometown team, they should be able to hear about them. The goal is to serve the community, and by preventing specific content from getting on the air, it creates a negative image for the company, giving listeners a reason to reject brands and personalities who otherwise are deserving of their time.

To CBS Las Vegas’ credit, rather than standing the course and allowing the frustration of not landing the Golden Knights radio deal to impact future business, they took a step back, evaluate the situation, and resolved it.

After initially telling Ron Futrell, “We have a lot of other things to cover, the Knights don’t work into our coverage. We support their (the Golden Knights) success in the marketplace, but that will depend on their partnership that they’ve already developed”, SVP/Market Manager of CBS Radio Tony Perlongo took a bold step by admitting a mistake. He could have stood his ground and insisted in keeping even the smallest of details such as Golden Knights scoring updates off of his radio station’s airwaves, but instead made the right call for the betterment of his brands, clients and the audience.

In a statement sent to BSM, Perlongo said, “With six radio stations in Las Vegas we have always prided ourselves on informing, educating and entertaining listeners and supporting the local communities we serve. However, we missed the mark in an internal email that instructed our stations to no longer report on certain aspects of the Golden Knights, the city’s first and only major league sports team. This was an error in judgement on our part and we deeply regret it. We will of course cover the team, first and foremost on Sports Radio 1140 and on our music and news/talk stations as it makes sense for those formats and audiences. We apologize to the Golden Knights, their fans and our listeners and look forward to rooting the team on when the puck drops in a few weeks.”

I tip my cap to local officials because not every group can check their ego at the door and reverse a controversial decision. As a company, CBS Radio doesn’t operate this way in other cities. If they did, the outcry in cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit would be intense. And don’t think for a second that a few advertisers wouldn’t bail after the public backlash caught up to the brand.

At times, business decisions can become personal. That’s especially true when a group loses out on a potential partnership opportunity. CBS bid for the rights to the Golden Knights, and the team chose to partner instead with Lotus Broadcasting, so it’s understandable if there was a lot of internal frustration, especially after the company made what local sources said was a strong offer.

I’ve been in that situation before and it’s emotionally taxing. A lot of time, thought, money, and strategy goes into trying to secure an opportunity to grow your radio station and when it doesn’t work out, it stings. But regardless of how bad it hurts, you’ve got to be able to process the situation, and do what’s best for your company, advertisers, and audience.

A local radio station has a responsibility to serve its local community, the same way a steakhouse is expected to provide steak to those who walk thru the door craving it. By ignoring topical content, especially during a franchise’s first season in the city, CBS Las Vegas would have been denying their customers an opportunity to eat. The city of Las Vegas has waited so long to become a professional sports city, and ALL local media outlets should be invested in making sure the team succeeds because if they do, it benefits everyone.

When opening night takes place, and the entire city is buzzing over the arrival of the Golden Knights, it’s good to know that listeners won’t be forced to turn off a local CBS radio station because the company’s business negotiations caused a stir and prevented them from hearing about their local team. I don’t often advocate hockey talk on the air, but this is one of those times where the rules go out the window. The arrival of the NHL in Las Vegas is exciting and there is a lot more money to be made in the future by working in tandem rather than against the city’s newest sports team.

Now we can all raise a glass and celebrate life and the impact of good decision making. I was starting to wonder if the next call would be to eliminate music from the music stations if disputes came up with recording artists and record companies. Fortunately we won’t have to worry about that.

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