When the Twins open the 2020 regular season on March 26 in Oakland, Minnesota fans will be able to listen to the radio broadcast on a network of 81 stations spanning five states.
Fans back in Oakland, however, won’t be able to listen to the game in the traditional way. Instead, they will only be able to stream games via a free app – a decision announced this week in euphemistic, future-focused terms by the team.
“We’re excited,” A’s President Dave Kaval told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re trying to be innovative, we’re trying to be responsive to fans and trying to attract younger fans.”
The greater truth is likely that the A’s, in becoming the first major league team to go this route, are in spin mode after failing to secure a local radio carrier. Their games were carried on a conservative talk radio station in the Bay Area last year, a solution that wasn’t great for either side. The closest signal carrying A’s games this year will be in Sacramento, a good 90 miles away from Oakland.
But even if the A’s are taking an early and not entirely intended plunge into this sort of broadcast arrangement, it does in some ways represent the wave of the future.
All major league games are available via streaming for a fee of $19.99 a year, which is controlled by MLB. At some point, that might become a free offering. For now the vast majority of teams, including the Twins, “kind of have a foot in both places” when it comes to streaming and traditional radio, said team President Dave St. Peter.
“What’s optimal is that games are available on streaming, which they are for the Twins, and you maximize your coverage via traditional radio stations – the metro affiliate and your network,” St. Peter said. “That’s certainly the approach the Twins have taken.”
Baseball’s pace lends itself well to the radio. There’s a certain nostalgia and rich history that accompanies listening to a baseball game on the radio – one that has carried on even with countless technical advances, both audio and visual.
St. Peter also is aware, though, that the “foot in both places” approach figures to shift as the years go on, with increased attention paid to the viability of streaming. After all, streaming is just about delivering the same product in a different way – akin, I suppose, to newspapers’ ongoing transition into the digital world from a print-only beginning.
“That’s the question: When does traditional radio just become streaming. I expect that’s going to converge at some point,” he said. “I would say certainly over the next decade, maybe even two or three years, there will be an incremental shift in availability on our streaming platforms.”
Oakland, which also suffers from so many of its road games bumping into the lucrative drive-time hours because of the time zone difference, will offer an interesting early test kitchen.
For now there is plenty of demand for traditional over-the-air radio broadcasts from a Twins audience that “skews older,” St. Peter said.
“If we went to streaming exclusively this year, my phone would be ringing off the hook with fans frustrated they can’t find games,” he said.
Kaval, the A’s President, figures to be fielding those calls in a little over a month when the regular season commences.