Now, Leonsis begins by talking about SportsTalk 980's coverage of D.C. United, but make no mistake about it - his point is more broadly addressing the station's coverage of his Capitals, a paying customer of the station.
But Leonsis also has a savvy enough media mind to know that in order to survive in an ultra-competitive commercial arena, you've got to either find and cater to a niche big enough to support your product or give the masses what they want. Since there aren't enough hockey fans in D.C. to support 980's existence on their own, the former is out. And as much as I'd love to hear drive-time sports radio discussing the Caps' blueline battles, the vast majority of listeners would rather hear opinions (or voice their own) on Michael Vick or Tim Donaghy or the competition for spots in the Redskins' secondary. Those are the facts of the business, and there's nothing noble or ignoble about accomodating that truth. Put it this way - if you were an advertiser paying for a 30-second spot during the 5:00 p.m. hour in mid-August, would you rather your commercial air right before a teased segment featuring an interview with Joe Gibbs or Olie Kolzig?
At the end of the day, radio is out for ratings, so that's what will guide them at nearly every turn. Leonsis knows this and he knows what he's doing. He isn't asking for more hockey talk. In fact, he might be asking for less. At the very least, what he's doing is similar to a coach complaining after a bad call - it's not the last call he wants changed to be in his favor, it's the next call.
As has become readily apparent over the years, gratuitous cheapshots are a primary currency of the talk radio personality (look no further than the second paragraph of Czaban's post to see a perfect example of this), and hockey is always an ample target for a quick zinger on poor ratings or excessive violence or xenophobia, be it from Czaban's over-the-airwaves ilk or the Tony Kornheiser's of the world doing drive-by hits in dead-tree media. This is (or at least should be) what Leonsis is looking to purge from the daily sports talk routine. He doesn't need "The Czabe" to sell tickets (and judging from the station's ratings, that's a good thing) - a winning on-ice product will do that. He doesn't need SportsTalk 980 to disseminate information about his team - a healthy online community does that. But what he and his sport do need - and deserve - is respect. Working the refs, as it were, will help in that effort.
Czaban, who has a great face/hairline for radio (I've got to admit - the gratuitous cheapshots are kinda fun), is mostly right: "Sports talk radio is not a democracy of equally shared time between all sports. The most popular sports get the most coverage in a variety of ways." (I say "mostly right" because sports talk radio actually is a democracy in which the ratings are votes and the sports that get more votes get more coverage, which is his main point despite his apparent fundamental misunderstanding of eighth-grade level civics). Talk radio is reactionary - if you build it, they will come, not vice versa. If you have a product about which people are buzzing with excitement, sports talk radio will cover it. But don't necessarily expect sports talk radio to create that buzz for you.
So who are the winners and losers in this throwdown? Well, no one's a loser that wasn't one before (speaking of which, Czabe, a note on this whole blogging thing - be a mensch and let people comment on your site). Really, both Czaban and Leonsis are winners; Czaban because we're talking about him and Leonsis because he's repositioning his product so that it will be shown in a better light, even if that light is at a similarly-low wattage (and something tells me that Leonsis will be a guest on Czaban's show at some point before Opening Night).
It's August 17 in the nation's capital and the owner of the local hockey team has the area's top sports talk radio "talent" on the defensive and talking about him and his team. Mission accomplished.
For more, be sure to check out OFB's take on this story, as well as EMac's take over at FanHouse and CapsNut's. Update: forget all that - check out Agent Steinz's recap for everything you need to know.