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Warriors’ surprise split from KNBR is a game-changer for local sports

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The landscape of Bay Area sports media shifted dramatically yesterday. Whether it was for better or for worse, only time can tell.

The news that the Warriors have switched from KNBR to 95.7 The Game, (first reported on GSOM by bilfor) came somewhat as a surprise to the Bay Area sports community. In hindsight, the writing seems to have been on the wall for at least a year, due to conflicting schedules and contract priority issues with the San Francisco Giants. Still, it seemed unlikely that the Warriors would part ways with the most popular sports radio station in Northern California, a partnership that had lasted 32 consecutive years, 40 overall.

Local fans will likely not be impacted by this switch, aside from having to change the station. They will benefit from access to all games with little to no competition from other sports, more dedicated and consistent coverage, as well as clearer sound quality on the FM dial. Non-local fans will not fare so well.

Despite adding affiliates in San Jose and Vacaville, 95.7 still cannot match the broadcasting power that KNBR provided the Warriors with previously. Essentially this move has now completely taken away accessibility to fans outside of the Bay Area. The Warriors have a strong and growing fanbase throughout all of Northern California who already had difficulty watching games due to living in what is considered to be the Kings’ market. Now that group of fans can’t even follow the team on the radio, so there is a certain level of understandable disappointment about this move.

There are ways around this, however. The best place to listen to regular programming would be the website for 95.7 The Game, which provides live streaming and has a podcast feature seemingly similar to KNBR. Unfortunately, you’ll have to be at a computer or use a mobile browser because they do not appear to be on iHeartRadio yet for mobile streaming on the go. Additionally, like with KNBR, game broadcasts will probably not be streamed. For this, your best bet is to sign up and pay for the NBA Audio Pass which allows you to listen to the radio broadcast online or on the mobile app. Last year, it was around $10 for the season and that shouldn’t increase much, if at all. (Edit: Please see community comments below for further options about mobile apps)

Tom Tolbert remains uncertain of his future with the Warriors. He stated on-air yesterday that his hosting duties at KNBR are his top priority, but he’s open to working something out to continue being a Warriors broadcaster. Logistically, this will be difficult, considering the time his show airs and the arrangement he previously had where they would record his KNBR show live from Oracle Arena, then switch over to the broadcast. This may not be an option anymore.

It remains to be seen how accommodating the Warriors will be with KNBR going forward. They previously had standing weekly shows with Draymond Green and Steve Kerr, but will likely not have the same level of access to organization members that they once had. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group said on social media that the organization was, indeed, very displeased by the fact that the station favored early season baseball games over the playoffs. Not only has this cost the station the rights to broadcasting, but it could potentially destroy their ability to have any content from within the organization at all. It is a monumental blow to KNBR to lose one of the most successful, popular, yet somehow controversial sports franchises in the country right now to a station that has the potential be their direct ratings threat.

Though KNBR was not completely at fault in the broadcasting decisions that seem to have driven the Warriors away, it was a shot in the foot for them nonetheless. Obviously we are not privy to what happened behind the scenes or what attempts may have been made to avoid the conflicts. But it seems as though a compromise could have been reached with the Giants in light of the comparative importance of both games. Like the A’s, the Giants seem to have a good PR relationship with the Warriors and even the Giants broadcasters at the time (all noted Warriors fans) seemed confused about why they were receiving priority; but again, we don’t know everything. But we do know that this puts KNBR in quite the bind in terms of must-hear programming and ratings potential.

For 95.7, this is a massive achievement for a station without much local history or proven success. The new revenue should allow them to hopefully improve upon things they are lacking, as addressed earlier. They have essentially cornered the market on East Bay sports, and with the Warriors set to move to San Francisco, could grow their listener base even wider, as long as they put in the effort to allow their station to grow and thrive.

In the Warriors’ regard, taking a chance on a newer station is a big risk. If 95.7 is unable to build long-term success from the gift the Warriors have bestowed upon them, the Warriors may not have other options down the road. A split like this is like burning a bridge and KNBR might not be there for the Warriors if things go south in the future.

Ultimately, though, this move will have little to no affect on the game. Warriors basketball will go on as usual. Someone will still broadcast it. Local sports radio will still talk about it. But the landscape of Bay Area sports media shifted dramatically today. Whether it was for better or worse, only time can tell.