The San Jose Sharks have parted ways with long time broadcast partner 98.5 KFOX-FM, announcing plans Thursday to move all audio broadcasts of their games for this and future seasons to their website and mobile app.
The NHL team announced the ‘Sharks Audio Network’ would debut Tuesday at 8 a.m. and feature Sharks and Barracuda-related programming 24 hours a day on the Sharks+SAP Center App and at sjsharks.com.
The Sharks’ move is meant to increase content for fans and designed to expand the team’s reach throughout the Bay Area.
KFOX, a classic rock station, has been the Sharks’ radio network flagship since the 2000-01 NHL season. While KFOX’s signal is powerful throughout much of the South Bay, it does not reach parts of the East Bay, including central Contra Costa County.
“This certainly was not a situation where we were dissatisfied with KFOX. They’ve been a great partner to us,” said Scott Emmert, the Sharks’ vice president of communications. “But the reality is even the strongest signals have their limitations. There’s only so many 50,000 watt flame throwers out there.
“With a lot of the competition that we have in the market with other professional teams, the reality is that some of those options are limited.”
Emmert said the possibility existed to continue to have broadcasts on both terrestrial radio and the team’s digital platforms, but the organisation felt it needed to consolidate all of their game broadcasts into one area.
“When you’re splitting the audience, it does make it tough, particularly when ratings come into play, when there’s market demographics, when you’re trying to entice advertisers to support, there is a little bit of a need to centralise a lot of this content,” Emmert said. “Obviously the games have been available via streaming previously, so people have had access to that.
“We fully understand that there are lots of people out there who are attached to terrestrial radio, and that this is going to take a little bit of time, it’s going to take a little bit of education on our part.”
Bonneville International owns and operates KFOX and three other Bay Area radio stations.
Brian A. Figula, director of programming operations at KFOX, wrote in an emailed statement that, “All of us at 98.5 KFOX and Bonneville are big fans and supporters of the Sharks and value our history together. We are presently working with them in ways that continue what is a long term partnership and that are responsive to the significant changes in the market.”
The team’s audio broadcasts will still feature long time play-by-play voice Dan Rusanowsky, who will be joined by colour analysts and former Sharks players Scott Hannan and Mark Smith.
All Sharks games will still be televised. As of now, 53 games will be shown on NBCSCA, including the Sharks’ season-opener next Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. Randy Hahn remains the team’s television play-by-play announcer and Bret Hedican will serve as the colour analyst.
Due to the NHL’s current COVID-19 protocols which forbid announcers from traveling with the team, no broadcasters will be on the road with the Sharks this season.
Three games, the Feb. 3 and April 21 games vs. Vegas and the March 24 game vs. Los Angeles will be on NBCSN. The Sharks’ April 21 game could represent Patrick Marleau’s 1,768th career NHL game, making him the league’s all-time leader in that category.
The Sharks experimented with digital-only audio broadcasts last season, as four games last February were aired on their app and website and not on KFOX.
Just before the Sharks announced their plans for digital-only broadcasts early last year, the Oakland A’s trumpeted their own plans to abandon terrestrial radio and broadcast all their games on A’s Cast using the TuneIn streaming service. But the plan didn’t go over well with fans and in July, six games into the truncated 60-game season, the A’s announced that Bloomberg 960 AM (KNEW) would broadcast the remaining 54 games of the season.
“It’s going to take some time, and we fully understand that there’s probably going to be some growing pains and maybe even a few hiccups along the way,” Emmert said.
“But we were very encouraged by what we saw last year, both from a technical perspective and from the ability to do things a little bit different and interact with fans. We really think we have something to build off there and are looking forward to not only retaining the audience that we have, but continuing to grow it as we produce more and more content.”