Chicago Bears fans will have to tune in to a new radio station in 2023 to hear games
The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting the radio rights for the Chicago Bears are up for grabs after this season after the team and WBBM-AM did not come to terms on a renewal.
Courting the Bears are Good Karma Brands-owned ESPN 1000 (WMVP-AM) and iHeartMedia’s Rock 95.5 (WCHI-FM.) In June, Robert Feder reported three stations were vying for the rights for the Bears when they expire after the 2022 season. Now the number is down to two with incumbent Audacy dropping out.
All-news WBBM is owned by Audacy and is part of a seven-station cluster in Chicago. WBBM for the longest time was owned by CBS Radio, who was purchased in 2017 by Entercom Communications. In April 2021, Entercom changed its name to Audacy in order to emphasize audio content other than terrestrial radio. In 2014, CBS made a huge play in snaring Cubs games away from their longtime home at WGN-AM, ending a relationship that stretched back 90 years.
WBBM reclaimed the rights to Bears football in 2000, after fifteen years at WGN-AM.
The Sun-Times report state the company has been losing money on Bears football and comes at a time where Audacy is experiencing financial problems as the company’s stock price is under a dollar and faces delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, a similar situation Cumulus faced before they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The rights may have been too expensive for Audacy as a result.
Even though the Bears haven’t been good in recent years with just two playoff appearances in the last decade – including one they backed into, the team is still one of the biggest draws in Chicago, radio or television given the NFL is a powerhouse product.
While ESPN 1000 snagged the rights to the Chicago White Sox in 2021, iHeartMedia and predecessor Clear Channel never held any sports rights in the Chicago market. While Rock 95.5 bidding on football rights sounds unusual, many FM rock stations holds rights to NFL teams, including San Francisco’s KSAN-FM (who holds the rights to the 49ers) and WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh (home of the Steelers.) Like Audacy has done, iHeartMedia can cross-promote Chicago Bears games and events across its cluster of stations, including WLIT-FM, Kiss 103.5 FM (WKSC) and V103 (WVAZ-FM), among others.
However, Rock 95.5 is a middling-rated station at best and live football games could alienate listeners who are not football fans. I brought this issue up more than a decade ago when the former Nine FM broadcasted high school football games on Friday nights. Beginning this week, iHeartMedia begins broadcasting Green Bay Packers games over Milwaukee’s WRNW-FM as part of a new rights deal struck with the team in October 2021, ending a longtime association with Good Karma’s WTMJ-AM (the rights in the Green Bay area are split among many radio stations.)
Announcers Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer are expected to remain in their roles as both are employed by the Bears, and not Audacy.