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How Millennials Can Alter The Future of NYC Sports Radio

Jason Barrett

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WFAN has occupied the penthouse in New York City for quite some time. For over a quarter of a century, Mike Francesa has been a dominant force, and he’s not expected to suffer ratings amnesia during his final eighteen months on the air either. In case you missed it, the WFAN ratings king announced he will leave his radio home at the end of his contract in 2017.

This begs the question, what will happen once Francesa’s gone? Will loyal FAN listeners stick with the radio station and support the next show that follows Mike? Will they jump ship and throw their support behind the Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York? Or will they change their habits and listen to other alternatives?

Where the story becomes more intriguing is when you take into account WFAN’s wheelhouse. The station has an excellent connection with males 45-54. Those listeners have grown up with the Fan and pledged their allegiance to guys like Francesa, and Joe Beningo, who have hosted daily for over twenty years. Even the radio station’s morning show, Boomer and Carton, has been in morning drive for close to nine years.

We’ve been down this road before wondering if a shift in the market would take place. When Howard Stern left the New York City airwaves, stations tried many different tactics to reel in his listeners. When WFAN parted ways with Don Imus after the I-Man made controversial remarks about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, Boomer and Carton took over and proved that they could not only keep the existing audience, but bring in new listeners as well.

But losing Mike Francesa is unchartered territory. Imus didn’t talk sports daily. He wasn’t connected to Chris “Mad Dog” Russo for nineteen years, and viewed as the sports radio show of record in the nation’s top radio market. He was also lining up against a national sports morning show, not a strong legitimate local contender. One of the few things he had in common with Francesa was that each of their shows skewed older, and received strong support from that demographic.

That was then, and this is now. The habits of listeners have changed over the past decade. Loyalty isn’t as strong as it once was. Content options are greater than ever before. And younger listeners are consuming sports radio programming differently. What that means is that prior success doesn’t promise future success.

I was curious to see how younger listeners in New York City were listening to Francesa, and his competitor Michael Kay. In the key demo of Men 25-54, Francesa has long been the king, and that continued in May. Mike finished just under a 7 share. Kay meanwhile was in the top 10 and slightly below a 5 share.

But when you turn the attention to the younger end of the demo, you can see a shift starting to take place. In May, Men 18-34 listened more to Michael Kay’s program between 3p-7p than they did Francesa’s. Kay was a half point higher than Francesa. The two shows tied in April with Men 18-34, delivering shares in the low 3’s. If you turn the clock back twelve months ago, WFAN was doubling ESPN New York’s performance. That’s a pretty significant shift.

It’s even more impressive for ESPN New York when you analyze the hours of 4p-7p. That’s when Peter Rosenberg joins Kay, and Don LaGreca (he doesn’t appear during the first hour of the program). With Kay’s program operating at full strength during those three hours, they’ve beaten Francesa with Men 18-34 during every single month in 2016.

To be fair to Francesa, he hosts his show from 1p-6:30p. I’m focusing on the head to head matchup with Kay, not including the earlier hours when Mike is lined up against Hahn and Humpty. We’re also looking at the younger audience, not the key demo of Men 25-54.

Another factor to take into account is that Francesa’s reach hasn’t grown during the past few years. Kay’s has. The YES Network now airs Kay’s show instead of Francesa’s. That’s helped the ESPN New York host pick up an extra 200,000 viewers daily. Kay, LaGreca, and Rosenberg are also active on Twitter, and collectively have 550,000 followers. Francesa remains uninterested in being present in the space. I don’t have full details to each station’s podcast and streaming data but I’d be very surprised if ESPN New York was losing that battle.

The reason this story interests me, is because we know Francesa plans to leave. Tomorrow’s Men 25-54 audience is starting to turn to Kay, and that hasn’t been the case in the past. Millennials do change their habits frequently, so assuming that these trends can’t be reversed would be a mistake, especially when a permanent replacement for Francesa has yet to be named. But, if you’re Kay, LaGreca, Rosenberg, and ESPN New York’s management, you have to feel optimistic about the way younger audiences are responding.

When you add it all up, here’s what it means. Francesa remains the king of the Men 25-54 competition, but in a radio market as competitive as New York City, Kay is doing quite well. WFAN reaps the benefits of a bigger radio cume. ESPN New York has the advantage of a larger total audience. I don’t see a massive change occurring during the next 18 months unless something unplanned takes place, but given the inconsistencies of radio ratings measurement that’s also not a guarantee.

What is clear though is that younger listeners are tuning in more frequently to ESPN New York. The addition of Rosenberg has paid dividends, and when WFAN moves on without Francesa after 2017, the person or persons they put in afternoon drive will need to have an ability to reach the younger end of the demo.

Nielsen is taking steps to make digital listening a bigger part of the ratings story which will further help ESPN New York’s narrative. It’s still WFAN’s turf until proven otherwise, but yesterday’s fortunes don’t promise tomorrow’s riches. If the FAN stumbles during the next 18 months or replaces Francesa with someone who doesn’t appeal to the younger end of the demo, we could see a shift in the market. That’s a story few thought was possible.

Sports Radio News

New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend

More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

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MLB Radio

When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.

In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.

Radio Listeners to MLB

Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.

The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.

Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.

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Sports Radio News

Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time

Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

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Jeff Dean Show

Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:

“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”

Jeff Dean Facebook

Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”

Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.

Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.

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Sports Radio News

Jonas Knox: Adrian Wojnarowski’s NBA Draft Reporting Was Desperate Ratings Ploy

“The idea that Woj is going to get duped by Orlando Magic in the draft! The first time he’s ever been duped in his career?”

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Thursday’s NBA Draft is a moment the guys waiting to hear their names called had been waiting for since the day they picked up a basketball. While his draft came decades ago in the NFL, LaVar Arrington could relate to what they were feeling.

“It’s a dream recognized,” he said on Friday’s episode of FOX Sports Radio’s 2 Pros and a Cup of Joe. “You work so hard for so long. So, when you’re sitting there waiting for them to call your name, it’s a surreal moment.”

His partner, Jonas Knox, wasn’t in such a nostalgic or celebratory mood. He had a problem with the information leading up to draft night and just how much the narrative that Auburn’s Jabari Smith would be taken by the Orlando Magic with the first pick was pushed before all the sudden, it wasn’t.

“What a bunch of crap that we are being fed by Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN, the Orlando Magic,” he said. “Whoever’s feeding it is full of crap.”

Wojnarowski tweeted an hour before the Draft that Jabari Smith was still the favorite to be taken, but he was hearing that the Magic weren’t ruling out Duke’s Paolo Banchero. 

When the first pick was announced, it was Paolo Banchero that heard his name called, not Smith. 

“One of three things happened,” Knox said. “Either ESPN is so desperate for ratings and for people to give a crap about the NBA Draft and their sport that they waited until the final hour to pump up some interest, realizing we’ve got a problem here based on some ratings and some reports on some ratings in the NBA Finals, so they waited until an hour before and had Woj drop a ‘Woj Bomb’ that it could not be Jabari Smith, that it could be Banchero who’s gonna go number one overall. It’s either that or Woj is in some kind of cahoots with the Orlando Magic.”

That is a powerful accusation. Knox finds it hard to believe the information got to ESPN’s renowned NBA Insider so late in the process.

“The idea that Woj is going to get duped by Orlando Magic in the draft! The first time he’s ever been duped in his career?”

He didn’t rule out that someone was trying to make money behind the scenes. As late as Thursday afternoon, the Duke Forward was still in plus territory to be the top pick on many sportsbooks’ odds boards. The odds had gone as high as +1600 last week.

“I call BS. I think it’s all shenanigans and I think somebody needs to get called out for it,” Knox concluded. “That pisses me off, man.”

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