This upcoming season, fans will be able to listen to Loyola men’s basketball games for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Except, there’s a catch: it’s not technically radio.
Loyola will be rolling out a new audio-only stream of the games this season, Loyola Athletics told The Phoenix. This stream will be free, but can only be accessed on the Loyola Athletics website through smartphones or computers. It won’t be on a terrestrial radio station.
The new audio-only stream will be available for every game — both home and away — this upcoming season, according to Loyola’s senior associate athletics director of external operations Tom Sorboro. He also said this new audio-only program won’t impact the TV broadcasts. Loyola will still broadcast select games on ESPN networks and NBC Sports Chicago.
This stream is a result of Loyola’s multimedia partnership with Learfield IMG College, announced last spring.
Learfield IMG College deals with the athletics multimedia rights for various colleges and conferences across the country. It helps produce certain multimedia programs, and it also deals with the business aspect of multimedia, which includes working with sponsorships and advertisements. Loyola Athletics spokesperson Bill Behrns said he didn’t know the specifics of the agreement between Loyola and Learfield IMG College.
Sorboro said the athletics department and Learfield IMG College looked closely at putting the Ramblers on a traditional radio station. Ultimately, the high price tag of traditional radio drove the choice for an online audio-only stream, according to Sorboro.
Nick Amatangelo, a 2014 Loyola graduate and former Phoenix sports editor, still follows the Ramblers closely, but since he lives in Omaha, Nebraska, watching on TV isn’t always possible. He said he’s excited about the idea of an audio-only program, but added that watching the Ramblers on TV would still be his first choice.
“Something is better than nothing,” Amatangelo said. “For someone like me, I live in Omaha, and it’s not really realistic for me to make it to Chicago to watch the Ramblers. … [The audio-only stream] gives an opportunity for somebody who can’t actually go to the games and can’t see them on TV unless they’re nationally televised to be able to follow the team.”
Despite already graduating, Amatangelo, 27, traveled to Atlanta for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in 2018. He also made the trip to San Antonio for the Final Four that year.
Without a free streaming option always available, Amatangelo was forced to receive updates on the games through ESPN and Twitter.
“[The audio-only program] is better than following tweets or a box score,” Amatangelo said. “I’d absolutely listen and follow along.”
Amatangelo said there was a radio program for men’s basketball team during his time at Loyola. As a student, he said he helped in the production process for the show, which was produced by WLUW-FM 88.7, Loyola’s student-run radio station. However, the athletics department said the on-air talent for the new broadcasts will be professionals, and there are no plans to include student workers with the new audio-only program.
Behrns said they stopped streaming on WLUW due to cost. Due to it being a non-commercial station, Loyola was unable to run advertisements on its streams. Loyola will be able to profit from commercials during the new audio-only stream on the athletics website.
“Coming off the Final Four, [radio] is something that people had asked about a lot.”
— Tom Sorboro, Loyola associate athletics director of external operations
Most of what Learfield will bring to the table is behind the scenes, Sorboro said. He also said one of Learfield’s main roles is to manage the corporate sponsorship operations for the universities they work with.
Sorboro listed two main reasons for partnering with Learfield IMG College. First, to increase revenue. Second, to “raise the platform for Loyola’s brand,” which is where the new audio-only stream comes into play.
“Coming off the Final Four, [radio] is something that people had asked about a lot,” Sorboro said. “[Learfield IMG College] has an entire team who’s dedicated to broadcast operations for all of their schools. That was something that was very important to us.”
Loyola is planning to utilize Learfield IMG College’s expertise in broadcast beyond the audio-only stream. There’s a weekly “Inside Loyola Athletics” digital show in the works, according to Sorboro.
The “Inside Loyola Athletics” show is still in the preliminary stage and wouldn’t be ready until the 2020-21 academic year at the earliest. The athletics department is also in talks with NBC Sports Chicago about producing and airing the “Inside Loyola Athletics” show through that regional network instead of in-house, according to Sorboro.
“We’re talking about different video options,” Sorboro said. “[‘Inside Loyola Athletics’] could be something like our audio [stream] where it’s digital only, and we create the content.”
Regardless if “Inside Loyola Athletics” is produced by NBC Sports Chicago or in-house, the vision wouldn’t change. The show would include athlete features and behind-the-scenes stories on the various teams and athletes at Loyola.
The Ramblers’ first regular-season game is Nov. 5 against University of California, Davis.