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UH’s radio rights deal is an interesting partnership

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 10:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

On the way to the Holiday Bowl in 1992, visionary athletic director Stan Sheriff began exploring the then-radical idea that the University of Hawaii could bring radio broadcasts of its sports teams in-house instead of contracting out the rights.

Had Sheriff, who had a hand in creating UH’s TV partnership with KFVE, not died of a heart attack weeks later in early 1993, it is a concept that might well have been launched. UH could have hired its own on-air radio talent, arranged air time, sold ads and pocketed the proceeds.

Now, nearly 20 years later, terms of UH's three-year contract extension with KKEA 1420-AM suggest the school is willing to dust off the idea again if not ready to dip a toe in the water for the future.

Outlines of the new agreement in principle announced Tuesday make UH an equity partner in the deal, the parties say. That's one step away from going it alone, which would no longer be all that huge of a leap for UH in June 2014 when the deal expires after its 20th consecutive year at 1420 on the AM dial.

KKEA general manager Randal Ikeda said the new arrangement involves, “net income sharing” and “promises a broader partnership” between the station and UH. Under the agreement, the station said, it will give a yet-to-be-announced portion of its net income to UH after “recapturing a portion of sales costs and expenses.”

Moreover, parties said UH will assist in sales efforts where needed and may tie-in with its highly successful corporate partner program. “The upside is if they make money, we make money,” athletic director Jim Donovan said.

What that will mean for local listeners in the meantime remains to be heard, especially when it comes to staffing road contests in sports other than football.

Once, competition in the marketplace assured UH could be hands-off, sitting back and pocketing handsome radio rights fees. But as advertising sales have plummeted 30 percent or so in the local market from their peak and all-sports format outlets have dwindled, bottom lines and rights fees have been impacted to the point that UH might have been guaranteed only $150,000 from the new deal. That would be less than half of some recent contracts.

Which is why these days most of UH’s peer institutions in the Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West have tied up with outfits such as Learfield or CBS Collegiate Sports that manage media rights for them. Learfield alone has six WAC and five MWC schools.

Whether UH considered retaining its rights this time or used it as a point of negotiation to drive the new deal, nobody is saying.

But UH said there has been a scarcity of other stations showing interest in the contract while KKEA has battled declining numbers. “They (KKEA) shared their sales numbers and expense numbers with us and we could see it is a very tough situation for them,” Donovan said.

UH also knew that the KKEA ESPN brand has value and, through its sister station at 1500-AM, the versatility to air multiple events simultaneously. KKEA’s all-sports format, most notably through the popular Bobby Curran morning drive-time show, has provided a convenient promotional platform. “They have the sports niche from where many of our customers come,” Donovan said.

You wonder what Sheriff might have shaped had he been able to see the vision through.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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