Craig Karmazin’s Next Milwaukee Move

At the OMW Sports Desk, we’re watching closely the moves of Craig Karmazin, whose Good Karma Broadcasting is buying Cleveland gospel daytimer WABQ/1540. The station is widely expected to flip to sports with ESPN sometime later this year, after Salem’s WKNR/850 loses its ESPN affiliation in mid-October…unless Karmazin’s holdings in the Cleveland market take another form.

Good Karma’s Milwaukee ESPN Radio outlet, WAUK/1510, has made another bold move in its competition with Entercom’s WSSP/1250.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sportswriter Bob Wolfley reports that WAUK will become the new home of Marquette University basketball, taking the play-by-play from Clear Channel talk WISN/1130. The move also reunites “ESPN Milwaukee” afternoon drive host Steve “The Homer” True with his Marquette play-by-play duties.

The new deal got done, in part, because the Marquette folks were impressed with Karmazin’s overall vision of marketing beyond just carrying the games. Just ask Marquette’s director for athletic marketing and communications, Michael Broeker:

“In one of my initial meetings with Craig, when we first opened it up, he said, ‘I just don’t look at it as a radio broadcast. I’m more interested in the sports marketing partnership,’ ” Broeker said. ” ‘It’s a sports marketing agreement for me.’ That’s the sort of thing that is so appealing to us, the opportunity to be involved in all facets of their platforms. He’s a creative guy who does a great job marketing his stations.”

Broeker and Marquette were so impressed, in fact, that the positives overcame WAUK’s biggest negative: It’s a daytime station which extends its hours to nights only by leasing 6 PM-6 AM on urban talk WMCS/1290.

One thing that got nailed down in this discussion: Marquette sports broadcasts will stay on one frequency, and listeners won’t be forced to change the dial during the games. Games will start and end on the same frequency, be it 1510 or 1290.

This would presumably involve WMCS management acceding to a preemption of some of their daytime programming – like, on late Saturday afternoons – to carry the basketball games on 1290 outside the normal LMA with WAUK.

This would presumably not have been difficult to sell to WMCS, as the station now will be airing some Marquette basketball games without even having to pay for them. The popular games will be a listener draw to promote even their daytime programming, which is separate from WAUK’s ESPN Radio format.

What does it mean here?

It shows again that Karmazin is, at least in Milwaukee, willing to be competitive for major sports rights.

In Cleveland, there are basically only four major sports rights packages that matter. The three major professional teams, the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers, and Ohio State football.

It’s still too early to say if Karmazin is going to go after the pro rights, which are held by Clear Channel in mostly long-term deals. The money needed to wrestle even one of those teams from Oak Tree is probably pretty significant. Karmazin doesn’t appear to be broke, but it’s a stretch to say he’s willing to outbid a major group like Clear Channel for such “beachfront property” in sports.

But we would not at all be surprised to see Good Karma make a major play to unseat the Buckeyes from their long-time home of WKNR. The rights are still secondary here, since this is not Columbus, and it would surely be an attractive catch for Mr. Karmazin…

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