To gauge how excited San Diego Padres fans were for the 2023 season, following the team's deep run into last year's postseason, all you need to do is look at Nielsen's audience trends for the team's flagship station in the market, Audacy's “97.3 The Fan” KWFN, the focus of this week's Inside Radio By The Numbers.
“It had been building since last year, in conjunction with the level of interest in and excitement [about] the Padres,” KWFN and San Diego Padres Radio Network Brand Manager Adam Klug says about the station's leap from 15th to sixth-ranked in persons 6+ share (2.6-4.9) March to April, along with a 62% gain in average quarter-hour persons 6+ Monday-Friday 6am-7pm, to move from 15th to seventh.
“The Padres had the highest expectations going into a season that they've ever had in the history of their organization,” Klug notes. “They were projected to be a World Series contender, and they have one of the most talented rosters in baseball. The excitement [about] the team, combined with the fact that we're the flagship and the only live and local sports station from 6am to 6pm – and we're on the FM dial – all those combined really exploded in April.”
Explode, indeed. According to Nielsen, San Diego's Fan also saw its weekday 6am-7pm cume listenership jump 65% from March to April's 86,500, doubling what it was a year earlier – that even without the Padres' '23 season-opening game being played during those daytime hours. Padres-mania has put The Fan well ahead of its competitor in the format, iHeartMedia's “San Diego Sports 760” KGB-AM, which slipped from 1.5 to 0.9 Mar.-to-Apr. 6+.
One key move the station made in the past year was dropping syndicated programming that aired between its morning show, with Ben Higgins and Steve Woods, and John Kentera's midday show. “We saw plenty of data that suggested our listenership was high in morning drive, would drop off when we went to national programming, then come back for when we [were] live and local again in middays and afternoons,” Klug says, noting this was likely due to the unusual nature of the market, sports-wise. “San Diego is unique in that we only have one professional sports team, and that sports team is a baseball team. I used to produce national sports talk radio, so I can tell you [they] don't talk a lot of baseball, so live and local is definitely something we wanted to emphasize and build upon.”
The Fan's PM drive show is co-hosted by Chris Ello along with former San Diego Padre, and son of the Baseball Hall of Fame inductee who was known as “Mr. Padre,” Tony Gwynn Jr., who also handles color analysis for the team's games on KWFN. While the station also increased its commitment to game coverage by hiring a full-time pre- and post-game host, Klug also says COVID's fade played a part in the ratings bump. “We've been able to get out into the community and do more live broadcasts in various locations,” he says. “That's allowed us to engage with our audience more than we had done prior to last year.”
Most important to The Fan's success, though, is delivering with Padres talk all day long. “It's been really Padres-centric,” Klug says. “We're talking Padres baseball 90-95% of the time because we've listened to what our audience wants. I tell my guys all the time, when you're tired of talking about the Padres, talk more about the Padres. Our audience cares more about who the fifth starter is going to be, who the seventh inning reliever is going to be, who's going to be the setup man, than [about] Aaron Rodgers going to the Jets. [We've made] it known to everybody who's a sports fan in San Diego, if they want Padres coverage, discussion, analysis or content, everybody knows where to go.”
While The Fan also covered San Diego State University's run all the way to the NCAA Championship during this year's March Madness – which Klug says probably brought some new listeners to the station, even though it didn't carry the games – he realizes there's still more work to be done. “We have over the last few years built ourselves into the number one sports station in town,” he says. “We've only been on the air for about five years, so there's lots of room to grow and get better. In the scheme of things, we're still trying to make our footprint in the market.”