Last week, news broke that the Detroit Lions would be changing stations, in part due to comments made over the years by popular personality Mike Valenti. For Michigan’s neighbor to the south, there has been little fanfare over a radio deal for the Cleveland Browns that handcuffs not just one, but both of the dedicated sports talk stations in the city.
In 2013, ESPN Cleveland became the official home of the Cleveland Browns.
In 2013, CBS Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan became the official home of the Cleveland Browns.
For any other city, these statements would be mutually exclusive. But not Cleveland! After their deal with Clear Channel’s WTAM 1100 expired, the Browns shopped their rights around and they decided to enter a “long-term partnership” with the two all-sports stations in the city. The team wanted both an AM home and an FM home, and this was apparently the best option they could find.
The agreement calls for a Browns Radio Network-branded four-hour pregame show on ESPN Cleveland along with a two-hour postgame show on The Fan. The deal also includes a simulcast on CBS Cleveland’s classic rock station WNCX, because two flagship stations were apparently not enough.
Away from game day, ESPN Cleveland expanded its all-Browns show, Cleveland Browns Daily, to two hours per day, airing from 1-3 p.m. There is also Cleveland Browns Weekend, which airs on Saturday mornings on 92.3. That doesn’t even include Browns talk on all of the other local stations, Mike Pettine’s weekly coach’s show, and anything else football-centric these stations choose to talk about. And CBD even airs on weekdays during the offseason, because Thursdays in April definitely need more Browns talk.
Another oddity in the deal involves the two sports talk flagships. When ESPN Cleveland and 92.3 The Fan are not airing flagship Browns Radio Network pre/postgame shows, they can air a local pre/post show of their own.
None of this includes unaffiliated reporters and writers, team-hired reporters, and other people who enjoy torturing themselves cover the Browns for different blogs, both local and national.
Cleveland is, was, has been, and always will be, a football town. I’m pretty sure that the Browns even led off the nightly news during the years when they were gone. But this feels like overkill, even to the staunchest of Dawg Pound members. Perhaps that is why the Cleveland Scene eulogized the state of local sports radio in September.
In that same article, it was mentioned that team executives have requested more Browns talk. Funny, because the team won’t foot the bill for 92.3 to send a reporter for most road games. And I am sure that the Browns talk these higher ups are asking for has nothing to do with Johnny Manziel’s recent bye week activities. Just be sure to open the window before you throw objectivity out of it.
In most cities with two sports talk stations, the rights holder is effectively a team cheerleader while the other station argues with truer objectivity. That cannot happen in Cleveland because both stations are in cahoots with the team. No matter how objective they would like listeners to believe they are, the conflict of interest is both inherent and ingrained.
It seems like the bubble is about to burst on Browns coverage. Two years ago, team coverage took a leap, with local coverage of the team still growing. At some point, all of the losing and embarrassments that the Browns have had will lead to fans turning off their radios, or at least wanting to talk about another local team. But there will probably just be another new front office regime to talk about instead.
The two eternals in Cleveland sports are hope that the Browns will win and proof that they cannot. Listeners can be sure that local sports talk will be there every step of the way, even when there is nothing to report.