Oh how the tide has turned in Dallas!
For years, Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket has dominated the market and had competitors questioning whether or not they had made a smart decision to enter the sports talk space.
And rightfully so.
The brand has been highly entertaining, the personalities are authentic, funny, larger than life and the competition was minimal.
But over the past few years, competition has improved, signals carrying sports talk programming have gotten stronger, and the once thought to be untouchable and iconic Ticket, now faces a challenge they’ve not had to deal with before.
Enter 105.3 The Fan.
Currently led by Gavin Spittle and featuring Shan & RJ, G-Bag Nation, Ben & Skin and K&C Masterpiece, the station has experienced some bumps and bruises along the way but is now starting to catch fire and become a force with Dallas sports radio listeners.
The Fan started its climb in 2009 when it acquired the rights to the Dallas Cowboys. While the addition of America’s team put the radio station on the map in a bigger way, the ratings were not to the level they are now.
Part of that is due to consistency with the lineup, which deserves credit for being very entertaining. Some of it stems from having further developed the Cowboys association on their airwaves and carried a few seasons worth of games. The other part of the growth comes from making a critical decision to acquire the rights to Texas Rangers baseball in November 2014.
By offering Dallas sports fans a number of great weekday shows, plus every Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys game, on a strong FM signal, it’s no surprise that local listeners are changing their habits and rewarding The Fan.
For the July ratings book, The Fan was ahead of The Ticket and ESPN 103.3 in the Dallas sports radio race in most categories. Here’s how the numbers stack up:
|Morning Drive – 6A-10A|
|105.3 THE FAN||Shan & RJ||4.2|
|THE TICKET||The Musers||7.9|
|ESPN 103.3||Mike & Mike + 1-hr of Colin Cowherd||3.2|
|Mid-days – 10A-3P|
|105.3 THE FAN||G-Bag Nation||5.2|
|THE TICKET||Norm Hitzges/Bad Radio||3.5|
|ESPN 103.3||1-hr of Colin Cowherd/Dennis & Friedo||1.6|
|Afternoon Drive – 3P-7P|
|105.3 THE FAN||Ben & Skin||5.2|
|THE TICKET||The Hardline||4.5|
|ESPN 103.3||Cowlishaw & Mosley||2.3|
|Evenings – 7P-12A|
|105.3 THE FAN||Texas Rangers/K&C Masterpiece||8.3|
|THE TICKET||The Ticket Top 10/Scott Ferrall||2.5|
|ESPN 103.3||ESPN Radio||1.6|
|105.3 THE FAN||All Shows, Ancillary Programming and Play by Play||4.6|
|THE TICKET||All Shows and Ancillary Programming||4.1|
|ESPN 103.3||All Shows and Ancillary Programming||2.1|
|105.3 THE FAN||Shan & RJ, G-Bag Nation, Ben & Skin||4.9|
|THE TICKET||The Musers, Norm Hitzges, Bad Radio, Hardline||5.2|
|ESPN 103.3||M&M, Cowherd, D&F, C&M, ESPN Radio||2.3|
For those of you reading who don’t understand the differences of ratings and categories, let me keep it simple for you. Men 25-54 represents male listeners between those ages and Persons 25-54 represents men AND women in between those ages.
For example, in July, The Fan was 6th with a 4.1 in the Persons 25-54 demographic. This is for the Monday-Friday 6a-7p time period. That’s a really strong number. For The Ticket, they were 14th with a 3.1 and ESPN 103.3 was 30th with a 1.3.
In the category of Persons 12+ (all male/female listeners older than 12 years old), Monday-Sunday 6a-Midnight, The Fan placed 13th with a 3.0, The Ticket finished 21st with a 1.9 and ESPN 103.3 was 31st with a 1.2.
You can attribute some of those stronger weekend numbers to Texas Rangers baseball airing on The Fan.
In addition to those stories above, what really caught my attention were the differences between all three stations when you look at their performance over a 12-month period. In the radio industry we call this the “year to year” analysis.
Starting with morning drive in the Men 25-54 category (sports radio’s target demo), it’s clear that this is the show that drives The Ticket. The Musers are excellent, and have been for a long time, and they remain the market’s top choice. Year to year their ratings haven’t changed much either.
During that period they’ve gone from an 8.2 to 7.9 which is very strong. They did have a little bit of a lull between November 2014 and April 2015 where the show rated between a 4.8 and 5.9 but they are prisoners of their own success. Most morning shows would take a 4.8-5.9 to the bank every time. This is clearly where The Ticket can paint a great local story with their fans, and more importantly their advertisers.
When you look at The Fan during mornings, while they’re not beating The Ticket, they are making major strides. Year to year, Shan & RJ have climbed from a 2.3 to 4.2 and currently rank 5th. Stations can make a lot of money with a Top 5 morning show. The uptick began last September (football season) when the show grew from 2.3 to 3.7 and they’ve been consistent and climbing ever since.
For ESPN 103.3, the story is built around consistency too. They’ve gone year to year from a 3.1 to 3.2, which puts them in 11th place. Considering that the programming is national and they’re competing against two other powerful local sports stations, that’s actually a very healthy number and one they can use to drive business to the radio station, especially when advertisers have to pay a king’s ransom on the other two brands.
Digging into the 10a-3p section with Men 25-54, this is where The Fan has really caught fire. G-Bag Nation led by Gavin Dawson has risen in 12 months from a 1.7 to a 5.2. That growth is massive and shows that the station has stumbled onto something big which local listeners are really enjoying.
During the same period of time, The Ticket has dropped from a 6.0 to 3.5. Think some of those listeners might have jumped ship over to The Fan?
For ESPN 103.3 this is the area where they’re getting hurt. They’ve been consistent during the past 12 months, but their numbers are a significant drop off from what they deliver in mornings. They’ve gone from a 1.7 last year to 1.6 this year. That means they lose half their ratings between morning drive and midday.
Next up is afternoons with Men 25-54 and there’s a real strong battle taking place here between Ben & Skin and The Hardline. While B&S won for the month of July, placing 2nd with a 5.2, the Ticket wasn’t far behind, finishing 7th with a 4.5.
When you dive deeper into the numbers you find that this is the first month Ben & Skin have beaten The Ticket since March, but even in the months where they’ve finished second, it’s been a neck and neck race. That’s drastically different than a year ago when The Ticket was hammering The Fan 6.3 to 2.1.
If you’re looking at it from The Ticket’s point of view, you’d highlight the fact that you’re winning in morning drive, have won five of the seven ratings books this year in afternoons and overall you’re ahead Monday-Friday 6a-7p with Men 25-54.
You would be pretty concerned about your margin for error because it’s very small and with your competitor having a play by play advantage, that makes things tougher when having to answer questions from clients about why you’re no longer dominating everyone.
None the less, you should still feel pretty good about your brand because your shows still have a great connection in the marketplace, especially The Musers, and despite no play by play, you’re very much in the thick of the race.
For ESPN 103.3 the afternoon story is better than the 10a-3p situation but given the large levels of listening taking place on The Fan and The Ticket, it becomes harder to deliver an impact. Cowlishaw and Mosley have been very consistent for the past year, slightly dipping from a 2.7 to 2.3, but they’ve placed as high as 6th with a 3.8 in January, so it’s clear that there’s room for three strong local afternoon shows. Given that their show provides a different approach than their competitors, that’s a positive in the market.
Wrapping up the ratings breakdowns we have nights, 7p-12a with Men 25-54. This is an area where you’d expect The Fan to take charge given their association with the Rangers and the other two stations not having play by play during that time, and sure enough, they do.
The Fan was dominant in this category, finishing 1st with an 8.3. This marks the third consecutive month where the station was #1 during evenings, and since baseball started, the numbers have grown from a 4.0 to 8.3. Clearly the baseball team is delivering more listeners and longer listening times, which is good news for the station’s weekday shows which should receive more sampling.
For The Ticket and ESPN 103.3, it’s a tougher road to hoe without live sports during the evening. While the numbers aren’t very high, what is interesting is that during the past year The Ticket has gone from a 1.7 to 2.5 while ESPN 103.3 has gone from a 3.0 to 1.6. ESPN’s dip though I’m guessing is due to having the Rangers last year and being without them this year.
Overall the Dallas market has three different stations, presenting three different approaches, and the real winners are the local listening audience who have great options. Based on the numbers, the overall leading choice this month is The Fan, and considering where they were a year ago, the tide seems to be turning in their favor. They should be applauded for making adjustments and further investments because it’s starting to pay dividends.
The Ticket however remains a powerful brand with a great lineup and based on their drive time numbers, they’re not far off. Their morning show remains dominant, and if they regain the top spot in afternoons, they can easily position themselves as the lead dog with advertisers because clients want their messages heard during prime time hours.
The real interesting story to follow going forward will be how The Fan capitalizes on their play by play advantage. What they’re doing right now is working, and they’re only into the first year of their agreement with the Rangers.
If the Cowboys are good again, which many expect them to be, and the Rangers compete down the stretch, especially now that they’ve added Cole Hamels and made themselves even more compelling, those listeners will be visiting The Fan’s weekday programs more frequently. It’s then the job of the radio station’s on-air talent to convert those samplers into loyal listeners.
Based on what I saw in July, The Fan is on the right track.