The sports radio format has enjoyed great growth and success over the past few years and remains well positioned for a healthy 2015 but while the future looks bright for the format, change has been the dominant word to describe what’s transpired in 2014. From local to national, everywhere you turn. change has been front and center.
First let’s take a look at the national level. When the year started, Bruce Gilbert was overseeing Clear Channel and Premiere’s Sports brands, Scott Masteller was programming at ESPN Radio Network, Stephen A. Smith was doing local radio for ESPN NY, Rich Eisen was focused solely on his NFL Network duties and CBS featured TBD in the AM and John Feinstein in middays.
As the year ends, Gilbert has since been named SVP of Cumulus and Westwood One Sports, Don Martin took over Gilbert’s spot with Clear Channel and Premiere, Masteller exited ESPN Radio, Stephen A was hired to host for Sirius’ Mad Dog Radio channel, Eisen ventured into national sports talk radio by joining the Fox Sports Radio lineup and CBS added Gregg Giannotti and Brian Jones to mornings and moved Brandon Tierney and Tiki Barber to middays while parting with Feinstein and Dana Jacobsen.
For example, 60 The Fan and 92.9 The Game in Atlanta, WEEI in Boston, The Score in Chicago, ESPN Los Angeles, ESPN New York, WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia, Mighty 1090 and XTRA 1360 in San Diego, 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, 710 ESPN in Seattle and WQAM in Miami all made changes to their lineup this year. Go beyond the top 20 markets and you’ll find even more of it.
Next, let’s take a look at what corporations did in 2014 to become more involved with the format.
First, CBS swapped properties with Beasley Broadcasting, acquiring sports station WQAM in Miami. Beasley landed The Fan in Charlotte and The Fan in Tampa as part of the trade. Also dealt were some smaller AM signals and the once powerful 610AM signal in Philadelphia. Beasley acquired those outlets. Beasley then elected to drop the sports format in Tampa and is launching a new format on January 5th.
Secondly, Entercom acquired 15 stations from Lincoln Financial which put them in control of sports radio stations 104.3 The Ticket in Miami, 790 The Zone in Atlanta and 104.3 The Fan in Denver. Entercom has announced they will divest 104.3 The Fan due to FCC regulations in the Denver market.
Third, Tribune Media came out of the gate looking good with the launch of 87.7 The Game in Chicago but by year’s end, the company pulled the plug on the radio station siting an inability to generate enough advertising revenue and ratings to support the station. The company was further damaged on the PR side for the way its employees found out about the company dropping the format (thru an article on social media).
Fourth, Los Angeles added a fourth sports station with the addition of The Beast 980. Programmed by Owen Murphy, the station offers a mixture of local and national programming as well as the broadcast rights to the Los Angeles Clippers. It’ll be interesting to see how the 4 sports talkers in Los Angeles stack up in 2015.
On a smaller scale, Sirius also made a move to add a new channel with the creation of Bleacher Report radio. While the website itself has become a destination for sports fans the past few years, the radio channel is only a few months old and not familiar to most as of yet.
If you glance over those changes above (and I’m likely forgetting some others) there was a lot of movement during the past 12 months. However, one of the main reasons why this industry continues to thrive is because sports radio operators locally and nationally have not been afraid to take risks and challenge themselves to do better. It may not always be comfortable or popular but if the goal is to improve, sometimes difficult decisions are required.
Nobody knows more about change this year than myself. Over the past year, I changed 3 of my 4 primetime shows (M-F 6a-7p) including something I hadn’t had to do in my previous 17 years in the business, change a morning show 3x in one full calendar year. Was it how we drew it up at the start of the year? No. But sometimes in life and this format, adversity strikes, and when it does you’ve got two choices – A) rise up and make things better or B) put your head down and wallow in self pity.
While it may have been bumpy, uncomfortable and mentally taxing along the way, 2014 produced the best results we’ve had in San Francisco since we launched 95.7 The Game. While most people prefer the same routine and path of least resistance, sometimes you have to roam thru the woods into foreign territory to end up in paradise.
Sports radio as a format has the potential to reach millions of people each day and generate large ad dollars given its ability to provide sponsor inclusion in everything we do. The format is seen mostly in a positive light by advertisers and it’s one of the few formats that people feel they have to experience LIVE. That gives us an edge over other formats which are fighting negative content associations or becoming more than just background noise. To say that opportunity lies ahead on an even larger scale for our format in the new year would be a massive understatement.
On that note, it’s time now to put 2014 in our rear view mirror and look ahead to what lies ahead in 2015. Judging by what I’ve witnessed over the past year in this format, I’d expect more unpredictability and risk taking. I see that as a good thing.
If you’ve listened to stations who perform this brand of sports talk content or if you work in the format itself, you can quickly see the emotional connection that exists between the audience and the radio station’s personalities. That connection from user to content provider is one of the many reasons why I along with many others love being part of this machine. Now that’s something I don’t see changing!