In the last few days of July, the digital-only radio broadcaster EON Sports Radio was launched. The principal backer of the venture was John Wall, the driving force behind Acquire Learning and the racing industry digital news site G1X.
Wall told Mediaweek he knows the racing industry well and with some of the talent from TVN departing, he saw an opportunity to develop G1X as an asset that could work well for wagering providers and the wider racing industry.
“We have got some great traction for that brand and we have established ourselves as the independent voice of the racing industry.
“There was a great opportunity in Australia to develop a national 24/7 sports network” – Wall
“As a result of the success of G1X.com.au, I was approached by Glenn Wheatley and Danny Staffieri.” Wall added he didn’t know either of them previously, but had heard of their reputations. Wheatley launched EON FM in 1980 and Staffieri was the founder of Melbourne sports-only radio station SEN 1116.
“They had an idea about a national sports radio station. When I first heard it, I remember thinking, what, another one? When it was explained to me there wasn’t another 24/7 national sports station, it seemed like an obvious gap in the market.
“We did some research and then I visited Talk Sport in the UK during a visit to my London office. Talk Sport holds the commercial radio rights to the Premier League and it was convinced there was a great opportunity in Australia to develop a national 24/7 sports network.” Wall also noticed that Talk Sport recently was acquired by News Corp for £220m. “That gave us a little bit of confidence.”
One of the reasons there is not already a 24/7 national sport radio operation is there is no unifying major national winter sport in Australia. Wall doesn’t see that as an obstacle they can’t overcome, and they have time on their side.
Wall said the EON Sports Radio investors don’t have unreal expectations. “We have drawn up best-case and worst-case scenarios. We are very committed. I certainly don’t want to fail because it would be a very public failure. That is not an option. We have a year of cash up our sleeves.” Wall revealed their best-case scenario has EON cash-flow positive in four months. “That is more likely to happen in 6-7 months and then hopefully by the end of 12 months we have recouped our losses from the launch period.
“I am a big believer in doing things profitably rather than doing it to satisfy my ego. We haven’t gone and invested in talent that might cost us over half a million dollars or more, which would make it very hard to get our money back.
“We have gone for great talent that is experienced in broadcasting. I am a firm believer that you can serve your customers profitably. The fact that we are the only national sports 24/7 broadcaster provides a unique opportunity for our advertisers and our listeners. As we become more profitable we can consider investing in other things.
“I have had businesses before that didn’t make much money…they are not much fun. We are very focused on getting to a break even as soon as we can. There are plenty of people with skin in the game at EON who are incentivised as well.”
As to the different needs of the audience in different parts of Australia, Wall noted they would in future be able to offer split signals for fans of different sports. “For now I think listeners will be attracted by the variety.” He added that listeners to SEN 1116 get around 90% AFL coverage. “That is good, but sometimes listeners might like to know what is also happening in soccer, the NRL and other codes. We can be a bit more nimble and be able to take a few more risks than somebody else. We are privately owned and if something doesn’t work it can be changed very quickly and no one will lose their job.
“We will learn very quickly by listening to the audience and build great content off the back of that.”
Wall’s other business was able to rent EON Sports Radio office space and offer back-end support for things covering general administration and it also had links to some of the talent the station is using on air.
Wall’s Acquire Learning has a large facility in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn and has used some redundant training room for both G1X and EON Sports Radio. “One of the things that was attractive to me as an investor was that I could leverage off existing infrastructure and get the business going very quickly. There were some real economies of scale.” EON used some of the talent, production skills and social media skills of people already working for G1X.
The decision to launch the sports station was only made several months before the July 20 launch and there was a scramble to get it all ready.
EON Sports Radio considers it a soft launch, wanting to get the format polished in time for the Premier League season kick-off on August 13. Premier League is one of the sports EON has live rights to.
EON Sports deal with ARN
The new broadcaster is using DAB+ spectrum from one of Australia’s largest radio networks. “We have done a deal with Australian Radio Network and we have leased their spectrum,” said Wall. “That gives us opportunity down the track once we are established to look at partnerships with Gold FM and KIIS. We are in the ARN family, albeit more of a cousin than a son or daughter!”
ARN also supplies a news bulletin to EON Sports Radio. EON also has a content agreement with Crocmedia which supplies some of the talent on air across the day. “We have a great relationship with them and I have a lot of respect for Hutchy,” added Wall.
Despite the link with ARN, Wall denied there was any joint bid from the new digital broadcaster and ARN for AFL radio rights. “We’d be hopeful ARN get it because we could then do a deal with them. We will approach whoever gets the rights with a view to securing a couple of games every week. We don’t have the financial firepower to secure any rights on our own.”
Acquire Learning’s media superstars
Although they are not connected with the EON Sports Radio business, Wall has some media superstars sitting on the board of his major business who did contribute with some thoughts for the EON investment.
“Andrew Demitriou is a great mentor and a great friend of mine and sits on the Acquire board and I’m very fortunate to have him involved in the business. He gives me advice but lets me make the decisions. He brought to my attention the pros and cons with EON Sports Radio. He is a very busy guy involved in a number of businesses. He is in the office at our headquarters one or two days a week.”
NewsLifeMedia’s Nicole Sheffield also sits on the Acquire board as does former Seven West Media CFO Peter Lewis. As Acquire is not connected to EON financially other than sharing an office facility, those board members were not directly involved. “I have been blessed having some very clever people involved in that business,” added Lewis.
Who owns EON Sports Radio?
Wall is the major shareholder with Glenn Wheatley and Danny Staffieri minor shareholders. “I am not involved at an operational level,” Wall told Mediaweek. “The professionals are running the station including John Clark who is head of content.” Wall said he has been having a good time and he is involved on the sales side of the business.
EON Sports Radio has a number of ad deals in the pipeline that Wall expects to close before the EPL season starts. “We have two full-time salespeople and that team will grow now we have started broadcasting.”
Although women listeners are more than welcome and there are plenty of female voices on air, Wall expects initial advertisers to be attracted by the male demos the combo of G1X.com.au and EON Sports Radio will attract.
Acquire has a major shareholding in the recruitment search site CareerOne and already there are some synergies between the radio play and the careers site with ads popping up on each.