As a Green Bay Packers fan, I regularly listen to 105.7 FM The Fan (WSSP AM & FM) in Milwaukee. When I found out at the end of last year that their afternoon drive host, Ramie Makhlouf, was leaving the station to take a job at KSTP-AM (at the time, branded as 1500 ESPN) in Minneapolis, I made a mental note to see how that move might play out for him over the coming weeks and months.
A few days later, I heard that KSTP was embarking on a rebranding, dropping the ESPN naming in exchange for SKOR North (SKOR pronounced as “Score”), a play off the SKOL chant associated with the Minnesota Vikings.
With the new branding comes a new marketing strategy that emphasizes digital. The station is touting that their content is available across multiple traditional and digital platforms, including live streaming via a dedicated app and website, various social media channels, podcasts and terrestrial via AM 1500 and their HD channel on the FM band.
The name change to SKOR North is interesting for so many different reasons. While I appreciate the attempt at playing off of an idea that is local to that area (the SKOL chant), I usually would shy away from any type of naming that involves an awkward or unfamiliar spelling. Long-term, this hopefully becomes a non-issue if the station can gain reputable traction where the locals become familiar enough with the branding and spelling that it really doesn’t matter. Continuing to go strong on the digital front where visuals allow people to repeatedly see the SKOR North logo should provide an assist.
So far, the digital first content strategy doesn’t appear to be an empty promise. Since I began following SKOR North on Twitter, I’ve come across multiple occasions where their live video stream pops up at the top of my timeline, making free content available front and center. They were live video streaming during the SuperBowl, providing listeners an opportunity to hear additional in-game analysis and thoughts.
The SKOR North rebranding is also interesting because the radio station’s frequency is excluded from its naming scheme. The station is branded simply as “SKOR North” as opposed to a traditional radio naming scheme such as “1500 SKOR North” or “SKOR North 1500.” I always figured that as traditional radio stations bridge the gap between terrestrial and digital, frequencies and call letters would have less significance. But is it too soon for a terrestrial radio outlet to de-emphasize call letters and frequencies from their branding? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it is a question worth asking.
From what I’ve read, KSTP is not among the popular sports stations in the Twin Cities, so in that case, there may potentially be less to lose by going all in on a digital rebranding that de-emphasizes their frequency from their overall branding.
It would be harder for heritage stations branded around their call letters to attempt a similar stunt. Imagine how awkward if one day, a station such as WCCO-AM (in Minneapolis) or WGN-AM (in Chicago) were to drop their call letters in exchange for some name that came seemingly from out of thin air.
In Toronto, the heritage news/talk station CFRB-AM quietly de-emphasized the call letters from their branding about a decade ago, and are now simply known as “NewsTalk 1010.” That was an example of a slow build where for the longest time, they were branded as “NewsTalk 1010 CFRB,” so that by the time they did drop the call letters and were simply known as “NewsTalk 1010,” it wouldn’t come across as jarring.
I look forward to following the continued transition to SKOR North and seeing how it plays out over the next few months. From a ratings and branding standpoint, I hope it works out for them. If at some point, they silently begin to reemphasize their frequency or adjust their branding from “SKOR North” to “Score North,” then you know the rebranding efforts likely aren’t going too well.