The Covid-19 crisis in media has claimed New Zealand’s last surviving radio station solely dedicated to sport.
Amid a wider crisis in media funding right now, the first outlet has been forced to close the doors – and it isn’t likely to return.
Staff at Radio Sport have been told that the station has been closed indefinitely, amid the loss of revenue that has come with the cancellation or postponement of sporting competitions all over New Zealand and around the world. From 1.00pm today, all frequencies are instead carrying sister station Newstalk ZB.
The move came out of the blue for the sports media world, with Radio Sport’s social media platforms suddenly being deleted midway through the day. The Radio Sport audience was also given no indication of what was to come. Jason Pine signed off his morning show at midday with a promise that he’d be back the next day.
The Radio Sport team was informed at an NZME all of sport meeting at 12.15, while the airwaves were occupied by the regularly scheduled broadcast of The Country.
Wider job losses are also possible in the NZME group, particularly in the sports news department. In an email sent to all staff seen by The Spinoff, NZME’s CEO Michael Boggs said it was an “incredibly difficult decision”.
“The professionalism displayed by the Radio Sport team over the past couple of weeks has been amazing. Despite almost every sporting code ceasing their competitions, the team have continued to deliver great content from increasingly limited sources for their audiences.”
Radio Sport had a largely male audience, in the 40-64 demographic, with over 150,000 listening through iHeartRadio each month. It had a station share of around 2% of the total nationwide audience at the end of 2019, which was bolstered by live commentary rights for the All Blacks, Black Caps, and NRL, among other codes. The station also routinely cleaned up categories it was eligible for at the Radio Awards.
In an increasingly paywalled media world, it was also notable as the last major bastion of free-to-air sport.
However, storm clouds had been gathering this year even before the crisis of Covid-19. It was announced that this year’s summer of cricket would be the last broadcast on Radio Sport, with the final games of the season ending up cancelled due to travel restrictions. It is understood that live cricket commentary had become too expensive for NZME to justify the continued investment.
One staff member spoken to by The Spinoff on condition of anonymity said they were “devastated”, and “never thought this day would come”.
“Basically we were told that revenues has slid so much [due to the lack of sport] and there was no forecast as to when they might return.”
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A different off-the-record source told The Spinoff that with the lack of content, audience numbers for online sports coverage have been “through the floor”.
Tributes have been made to Radio Sport on Twitter, with the news sending shockwaves through the tight-knit sports media community. Spark Sport commentator Scotty Stevenson said he was “feeling for the all the Radio Sport staff right now. Incredibly passionate and skilled people.” And former sports reporter Adam Cooper, who is now with Newstalk ZB, said “it’s only those with true passion and dedication that deal with the long and unsociable hours that sports radio brings. We’ll see a lot more from many of them I’m sure.”
NZME has been approached for comment.
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