clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Lions are moving from 97.1, but they're doing so for questionable reasons

Trying to control commentary is a growing trend in NFL markets, but it won't make people like you.

Dave Reginek/Getty Images

At this point in the Lions experience, every little thing the Lions do is The Wrong Thing to the masses. If the Lions hired an accountant, it would be disseminated among fans; the accountant doesn't know football, the accountant comes the Ford fold, the accountant isn't a Winner, and all the other noise that is generated from hyper-attention to these franchises. However, in the scenario that just unfolded, there's a good reason to dissect the matter.

On Friday, the Lions announced a new five-year deal that made Detroit AM station News/Talk 760 WJR the new flagship station for the Detroit Lions, which means that WYXT-FM 97.1 The Ticket will no longer carry the game broadcasts.

But their reasons for the move are proving to be disturbing. Although the Lions paint this as a business move, CBS Radio (who runs 97.1) has responded in their corporate statement, and boy is it damning (bold is my emphasis):

"CBS Radio and the Detroit Lions are parting ways. 97.1 The Ticket has served as the flagship station for the Lions for more than a decade," the statement read. "CBS Radio says it has been negotiating with the Lions a long time. It is sad to say goodbye, but in the end it came down to the integrity of CBS — the refusal to be censored in talking about the team and making honest assessments on the air about this team."

This is proving not to be hyperbole as the story unfolds. From initial reports, the Lions were not happy with how on-air talent discussed the team, particularly the negative light the Lions were painted in. The team wanted more control of the message, and CBS Radio refused to budge. For their part, morning show host Michael Stone used his platform to air out his grievances with the move on Friday.

This isn't a new move among the NFL, and the Lions certainly weren't the first to pull such a move; Dan Snyder has had his hand in the D.C. pie for a while now, just as one example. And there's nothing that can stop a team if they decide to change flagships, as it is within their right to chose who they do business with. But their reasons for doing so are considerably questionable, and this trend is becoming problematic.

As journalism evolves with digital media and the whole venture becomes more costly, advertisers and sponsors and partners hold more and more clout because they ultimately control who gets to go home with groceries and who doesn't. As that fact becomes more self-realized by the people who hold money, corporations have come to understand they can exercise that power without reservation, caught up as they are in the Corporate New Age dogma of the power of The Brand and "engagement" and "controlling the message." The concept of criticism chafes against the Brand. It causes degradation to the Brand's power. It does not paint the Brand in the most pleasing light to be marketed. It must be erased. It must be stamped out. The Brand demands it.

It also means that if they don't like what independent voices are saying about them, they can quickly yank the leash if they happen to have a partnership. No one pays for the vast majority of journalism or radio. CBS Radio was punished financially because they stood behind their employees and did not curtail their freedom to speak and print what they wished.

The corporate and the editorial must be separate in journalism. That is the logic that CBS Radio ran on when dealing with the Detroit Lions. They took the Lions' money, they broadcast their games on their platform (broadcasts that included the Lions' own sponsors), and they ran radio spots telling listeners about where they could hear the broadcasts. They advertised for the Detroit Lions, but they would not market for them. That's an essential component behind journalism; when it stops separating the corporate and the editorial, it becomes impossible to tell when the voice is muzzled.

For all the faults found in 97.1 The Ticket and how they have run their own flavor of sports radio, it is still a station with respectable clout and nationally-recognized talk shows. For all the times we talk on the PODcast about 97.1 and the bizarre callers and hot takes and so forth, we also understood that the format they ran was one that appealed to a great number of sports fans in the Detroit metro area.

That such a voice was punished because it didn't toe the line is sad, and it's a bad look for the Detroit Lions. Again, they are free to do business with whoever they wish, but they will be hard-pressed to find a place without negativity when it comes to their team. There is a lot about the history of this organization that would draw ire and criticism. If that reality is unsettling for their brand image, they should consider why these things are as they are and work to correct them rather than worry about punishing those who would be critical. This is not to assume WJR will simply fall in line, but the message the Lions sent by dumping 97.1 for editorial reasons will resound with AM 760 and any who want to create on-air content regarding the Detroit Lions.

Of course, many might also espouse this point when it comes to the Lions and their need to control their image:

Personally, I'd prefer if those radio guys could say what they wanted regardless of Sunday's outcome.

NEW: Join Pride of Detroit Direct

Jeremy Reisman will drop into your inbox twice a week to provide exclusive, in-depth reporting and insights from Ford Field. Subscribe to go deeper into Lions fandom, and join us on our path to win the Super Bowl.