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WFAN Wins August But ESPN NY Is Closing The Gap

The August book in New York produced some signs that should make the fall book in the big apple very interesting. For the first time in a while we’re seeing some signs of a much closer race between WFAN and ESPN NY 98.7FM.

As both brands enter the fall, they should each benefit from the addition of play by play. WFAN will add New York Giants football, Brooklyn Nets basketball, and New Jersey Devils hockey. ESPN NY 98.7FM will air New York Jets, New York Knicks, and New York Rangers broadcasts. There’s an outside chance of the Yankees making the playoffs and helping WFAN’s October push, but right now the Bronx Bombers are on the outside looking in so expecting playoff audiences to show up and fuel additional October growth seems far fetched.

In analyzing the August book, WFAN is in familiar territory – leading the race. They win each daypart with Men 25-54, and that news should give CBS New York executives plenty to feel good about. However, although WFAN remains in front, they’re not as far out in front as they have been in the past.

To illustrate the point, I’ve included the current month and last year’s numbers during the same period. This is what many sports stations use to measure their growth. When you look at the comparisons, you’ll see ESPN NY has grown in nearly every category. WFAN during the same period has slightly declined, with morning drive and 10a-12p being the exceptions. Bear in mind, The Fan has had the benefit of airing New York Yankees games during the summer. ESPN NY doesn’t have local baseball games to provide additional cume. That has to make ESPN executives feel encouraged.

What really stands out from ESPN NY’s side in this book is the continued progress in afternoons by The Michael Kay show. The program won the Men 18-34 demo for the fifth consecutive month against WFAN, and gained a full point with Men 25-54 from July to August. It also grew by nearly a point and a half year to year. In August the show trailed WFAN by just six tenths of a point and two ranking positions. Last year they were down two and a half points and eight positions. That’s tremendous progress.

Looking further at ESPN NY, the station has to feel great about the way some of their changes have paid off. The radio station dropped Mike Lupica in favor of Hahn and Humpty, and replaced Colin Cowherd with Dan Le Batard when Colin left for FOX Sports, and in both cases they’re up in the ratings. Mike and Mike have also remained consistent in share while growing in rank. Those are very healthy signs. They’re not as strong M-SU 6a-Mid due to a lack of play by play during the summer months, but once the fall arrives that performance should change.

But let’s not ignore where WFAN is either. They are still the market leader and inside the top 5 in almost every category. I was surprised to see Mike Francesa’s show finish in 4th given his past performances but Fan supporters will point out that Mike was on vacation most of the month. That’s a valid point. However, the ratings system doesn’t measure attendance, and during the same time last year when Mike also took a vacation, the share was six tenths of a point higher.

The Fan does have the better signal, heavier local focus, and personalities who have been the authority on New York sports for decades. Those should serve them well going forward. But if they take their eye off the ball, things can change in a hurry. All they need to do is look at what’s developing in the heart of afternoon drive.

The real questions going forward are, how will these numbers look next August? Or in January 2018 once Mike Francesa leaves? Can ESPN NY make further inroads this fall when both brands carry a ton of play by play and sports radio interest increases? Will WFAN strengthen its performance with younger listeners or does ESPN NY continue to widen the gap with listeners who don’t have built in loyalty to Francesa, Joe and Evan, and Boomer and Carton? Has ESPN NY milked all it can from its national shows or can further strides be made?

There are a lot of questions left to be answered. But for now, let’s be satisfied that there are two great options to listen to in the big apple. Judging from the results, listeners are enjoying the programming provided by both brands.

STATION/SHOW Aug-16 Aug-15
M-SU 6A-Mid
WFAN 4.9 (4th) 5.1 (8th)
ESPN NY 98.7FM 2.7 (15th) 2.5 (14th)
M-F 6A-7P
WFAN 5.3 (4th) 5.6 (5th)
ESPN NY 98.7FM 3.6 (8th) 3.0 (14th)
M-F 6A-10A
Boomer & Carton 5.8 (4th) 5.5 (3rd)
Mike & Mike 3.4 (9th) 3.5 (12th)
M-F 10A-12P
Joe & Evan 4.4 (5th) 4.3 (7th)
Dan Le Batard 2.5 (12th) 2.0 (16th)
M-F 12P-3P
Joe/Evan + Francesa 5.1 (6th) 5.5 (6th)
Hahn & Humpty 2.7 (11th) 2.6 (14th)
M-F 3P-7P
Francesa + Somers/NY Yankees 5.5 (4th) 6.0 (4th)
The Michael Kay Show 4.9 (6th) 3.5 (12th)
M-F 10A-1P
Joe & Evan 4.3 (5th)  4.8 (6th)
Le Batard/Hahn & Humpty 2.6 (10th)  2.2 (14th)
M-F 1P-6:30P
Francesa 5.6 (4th)  6.2 (4th)
Hahn & Humpty/Michael Kay 4.2 (8th)  3.2 (13th)

*** All numbers are for Men 25-54

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