Written by Radio

TeamRock: An Autopsy (I Never Understood You)

The sad news, just ahead of Christmas, is that 73 staff who worked for Team Rock, have lost their jobs as their company has entered administration. The Daily Record reports that just seven staff will be kept on to help administrators.

It’s a disappointing end to a business that I never quite understood.

Team Rock Ltd was the company properly launched in 2013 by Billy Anderson, with ex-GMG executive John Myers as chairman. The group bought Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines from Future Publishing, and also announced that there would be a new national digital radio station – also called TeamRock (Which never did make any sense to me as a consumer brand).

It was a competitive marketplace for rock radio with Planet Rock, itself recently sold to Bauer, Kerrang! and Absolute Classic Rock all on the airwaves, the latter pair also owned by Bauer.

At launch it was reported that the station would not carry spot advertising, instead relying on sponsorship and promotions:

“Spot advertising on niche radio stations is an outdated model. While TeamRock is a much wider business, radio will play an important role in our development,” said their Chief Executive Billy Anderson.

They promised a different mix of rock music, and from all accounts, they did deliver that, going deeper and further away from the mainstream than other stations. But all commercial radio stations rely on robust business models to bring in revenues – to pay staff, transmission costs, rights holders and so on. Traditionally that has been an ad-funded model – stations play music, and interrupt that music with advertising breaks.

Now that’s not necessarily the only way to make money, and a commercial station might make between 20% and 40% of its revenues through other means – promotions (paid for competitions), sponsorship and concert co-promotions for example. And some religious stations are built almost entirely around listener donations.

Stations are always looking for new revenue streams, and nobody is sitting still.

Beyond this, a radio station could conceivably form part of a larger business’s marketing budget. In TeamRock’s case, perhaps promoting a profitable stable of music magazines. And the internet has brought subscription models – paying for your favourite radio stations. Various groups have tried that model to greater or lesser success.

I wasn’t alone in wondering about their business model. Matt Deegan wrote about it at the time, noting the difficulties smaller groups have selling spot airtime.

TeamRock never went onto RAJAR, so we don’t know how successful they were as a station in terms of listeners. That immediately becomes a challenge when you’re talking to advertising agencies and trying to do sponsorship deals. Promoting concerts is a little simpler since the promoter will quickly know how good you are at selling tickets.

But broadcast radio isn’t cheap. There are significant costs in getting national DAB transmission, and it was notable when TeamRock came off the platform in July 2015.

The company obviously needed some serious capital to buy the magazines and set up the station, and Harwood Capital’s investment vehicle, North Atlantic Smaller Companies had a shareholding, raising a reported £13m-£15m in 2013.

Later that year, they received a £650,000 grant from Scottish Enterprise in return for delivering a significant number of jobs in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, although the group also maintained offices in London.

But on-air, it felt that the commercial opportunities were scant. When the station came off DAB they said they’d be concentrating on streaming and podcasts, with a million registered users.

Money was clearly becoming an issue, and at the end of 2015 they carried out a new funding round of £4.5m again with North Atlantic Smaller Companies, including, seemingly, a £2m investment from Scottish Enterprise.

The most recent results filed with companies house showed the business as having reported a loss of £8.8m in the year to March 2015, from a loss of £4.3m the previous year. The accounts show a £6.5m turnover, but with a cost of sale of over £2m, and expenses of over £12m, they were haemorrhaging cash (although at least one of the directors was taking home £126k).

Earlier in 2016, the station got rid of its remaining presenters, and then in the summer, John Myers left.

It was clearly the beginning of the end. Reports suggest that the directors were looking for a further cash injection, or to make a sale, but they didn’t complete a deal and so they have now ceased trading.

According to ABC, for the year 2015, Classic Rock was still selling just over 51,000 copies a month (down from 56,000 three years ago), while Metal Hammer was at just under 21,000 copies a month (from 26,000 three years ago). You would imagine that Classic Rock is probably still a viable product – perhaps even Metal Hammer. Mojo, by way of comparison, currently sells 70,000 copies, and Kerrang! 24,000, so perhaps there’ll be a sale of these assets, with maybe Bauer best placed to add these to its portfolio reducing overall costs at the same time. But we’ll have to see.

It’s all a bit of a sorry tale really. There was never a clear business plan that made a great deal of sense – at least to this observer.

A lot of people have lost their jobs, and a number of private equity investors have lost their money. You would think that Scottish Enterprise should have questions asked of it too, in particular the timing of the £2m investment at the end of 2015.

[Updated to correctly name Billy Anderson as launch CEO] [Update 2: Fans, readers and listeners are donating to a crowdfunder to get some cash to the redundant staff. At time of writing they’ve raised over £50,000.] [Update 3: TeamRock’s magazine assets have been sold back to Future for £800,000. That’s quite a tidy earner for Future who initially sold them for £10.2m in 2013. Sadly, I wouldn’t imagine that a significant number of jobs will be saved however.]