The media world has been buzzing since Richard Deitsch broke the news that Mike Greenberg would be leaving his radio program on ESPN Radio in the foreseeable future. Although a date and replacement show haven’t been announced, industry sources say they expect the situation to be resolved sooner rather than later.
There are changes that will take place on the television side due to Greenberg gaining a new show and prominent role, but for the sake of this conversation I want to keep the focus on the radio side of things.
Mike and Mike have been the face of ESPN Radio in morning drive for a little more than 18 years. Losing a program that possesses ability, consistency, credibility, and longevity is difficult for any radio operator. Especially when it could lead to a loss of revenue, ratings and affiliates. Couple that with ESPN losing a few high profile personalities in recent years, and it magnifies the situation even more.
You learn early on in the radio industry that change is constant. When it occurs, others will smell blood in the water and look to seize the moment. That’s just the simple nature of operating in a competitive industry.
I don’t need to be a fly on the wall inside of the offices of FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio, Westwood One/NBC Sports Radio, and SB Nation Radio to know that they’re strategizing how to approach ESPN affiliates to try and crack open the door to gain clearance for their programming. Whether they can get inside the room though and stay awhile will be based on the way ESPN handles their relationships with their radio partners, and what quality programming they make available in place of Mike and Mike.
Other excellent personalities still exist on the ESPN radio network, but the brand will take an instant hit by losing Greenberg. Keeping Golic may help ease the pain in the short-term but regardless of his involvement in the next program, he will always be identified as one half of Mike and Mike. His daily presence will serve as a reminder of what once was, just as ACDC and Van Halen discovered how different they were received after Brian Johnson and David Lee Roth were no longer singing their songs.
That’s not to say that ESPN radio won’t thrive in the next year or two without Mike and Mike, but retaining partnerships and convincing listeners that the network is heading in a better direction is difficult when you break up a show with 18+ years of staying power.
What will be interesting to keep an eye on in the future is how ESPN radio adjusts its focus towards radio. Is the network better served being a content provider for markets outside of the top 20 which operate with smaller budgets? Is it going to continue to insist on clearance of its top shows in major markets? Will they allow their own local stations to pass on network programming in favor of local shows which have a stronger ability to generate higher ratings and revenue? Does it evolve into a brand with a heavier focus in the digital space? And how do those changes appeal to national radio talent and affect future negotiations?
One huge positive going forward for the network is that they’ll soon have the influence and guidance of Justin Craig who has done a fabulous job running the company’s brands in Chicago and New York. Craig, cut his teeth at the network and gained respect for the way he produced Mike and Mike, and has spent the past decade programming ESPN 1000 and 98.7 ESPN NY, and helping each brand enjoy success. The decision to have him return to Bristol to oversee the network’s radio operations is a smart one. Dave Roberts will remain involved as well, but his responsibilities with First Take and other TV programs take precedence.
I was curious how the news of Mike and Mike’s eventual farewell was being received by programmers and market managers, so I decided to involve 6 individuals who have a history of working with ESPN radio on a local level. Their identities have been protected in order to gain the most candid insight available. Here are their responses.
What was your immediate reaction to the news of Mike and Mike coming to an end?
Executive 1: It confirmed that TV is the primary focus at ESPN.
Executive 2: I was extremely surprised. In an age where sports syndication is a fight to gain affiliates, this show has had amazing tenure in multiple markets.
Executive 3: It was a hell of run. Not many shows these days can last a year let alone 19 so they definitely deserve a ton of credit. But like a long marriage can sometimes get stale, this happened with this show. No matter what guests or third host’s were added, the program never seemed to evolve. It played well for medium sized markets. Not so much for most large markets. So I’m not shocked that it’s run is over.
Executive 4: I’m shocked and seriously disappointed. An iconic show with two strong personalities, wrapped around by the biggest and best stars in both sports and entertainment.
Executive 5: I’m not surprised. I’ve felt like the show had become stale in recent years. The guys were so comfortable with one another that I think their evolution was stunted a bit by both their success over many years, and the possibility that there was/is a lack of someone at the mothership who’d challenge them in ways they might not particularly like.
Executive 6: I was not surprised. I had heard the rumors. After the “we’re moving the show to New York” blew up and Greeny dropped his agent over it, ESPN was going to appease Greenie. I feel with Golic staying that keeps substance and relatability to the show.
How does the loss of the Mike and Mike brand affect your perception of ESPN Radio?
Executive 1: This show has been the foundation of the network for a long time. I am curious to see what they do now. How do they reinvent the morning show and make sure it plays to the largest audience possible?
Executive 2: I don’t think it does. It’s been a great brand and a tremendous marriage.
Executive 3: Mike and Mike were ESPN Radio. Really the only ESPN program left that had some familiarity and traction nationally. In the last couple years the programming has gone significantly backwards which I think has taken a toll on its perception and this will initially only make it worse.
Executive 4: It takes a hit. Mike & Mike set the day and tone for the rest of ESPN Radio.
Executive 5: It depends on how they replace Greeny. It’s a given that theirs is the signature show on the network, but I think they need to be very careful about who they put in that lead chair and what they want it to say about the direction moving forward.
Executive 6: Of course it affects it. Any change and especially one in AM drive will have a huge impact. Now, how does ESPN handle it is the question. The audience will decide, but there is a comfortability to having Golic stay. He provides the personality and tone of the show. The driver is important, but in my opinion, it would be a bigger deal if Golic was leaving and Greeny was staying.
If you are/were running a station with Mike and Mike in the morning, how would you proceed going forward? (EX: clear the next ESPN Radio show in mornings, switch radio affiliations, move a local daypart on your station into morning drive and clear a different ESPN Radio program, etc.)
Executive 1: The key is to wait and see what their plans are for the future. ESPN is the #1 brand in sports. Everywhere you go today there are challenges in terms of branding and perception because there are more and more options available for consumers. While waiting to see what happens, I would at the same time be exploring all possible options. What gives my station the best opportunity to drive quarter-hours and revenue is what it is all about.
Executive 2: I would wait to see how the new show does since one of the hosts are remaining. Many forget that while it wasn’t as successful, there were hosts before Mike Greenberg. Greenberg and Golic are a terrific pair who have taken the show to amazing levels. Let’s see if a new host can maintain it.
Executive 3: Be open to what they propose as the replacement but definitely look at other options immediately. What one does next entirely depends on the market/budget etc. If you have strong local talent available to you that is always the best approach to succeed in this format.
Executive 4: I would go local and not look back. ESPN Radio might as well scrap the whole “Mike” thing because even a different variation, with one “Mike” or some other form will always look like a weak imitation.
Executive 5: I think it’s going to depend on what the next show is. I certainly have to think about possibly doing my own morning program and then clearing LeBatard live, instead of what we do now (run M&M in morning drive and then go local until 7p).
Executive 6: We’ve talked about it and can’t afford to “wait and see”. This is the most important ESPN radio show. It’s what starts the day and sets the tone. If they don’t get it right, it could alter ESPN radio’s dominance. I do feel confident they’ll get it right but you can’t experiment.
If you were to drop ESPN Radio from your station, which other sports radio network do you believe provides the best lineup, product and value?
Executive 1: I am not sure if just one network can truly get the job done. Every market is different, and thus the programming strategy needs to be different. It also depends on how much local programming my budget can afford, and what other network shows would be available. Maybe I go live in one day part and syndicated in another with a show that is different from what I’ve carried in the past. Each operator has to do what will be best for their individual station.
Executive 2: CBS Sports Radio. It’s the most consistent lineup with brand names.
Executive 3: If you can’t go local I would consider Fox Sports Radio’s Outkick the Coverage show with Clay Travis. At least he’s willing to provide strong opinions, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and understands how to play the digital game.
Executive 4: I’d stay with ESPN Radio. The rest of the lineup is still better and their play-by-play assets are second to none. Go local though, in morning drive.
Executive 5: FOX Sports Radio, but ONLY because of Dan Patrick.
Executive 6: We won’t drop them. We’re connected at the hip in branding and have enough live/local programming that I’m not too concerned if Trey Wingo is the guy. However, they are going to be impacted audience wise, and so will others. The balance of your station’s brand will make the difference, along with the performance of the new show. It’s the best network show in the AM when compared to other network choices and local options cost a lot more. If you can afford that though, that’s certainly an option to consider.
If you were in charge of operating ESPN Radio and putting in a replacement for Mike and Mike, and millions of dollars were at stake, what would you do? (EX: accept whatever show the network provides next, pair two or three other ESPN personalities together, bring in someone from the outside, shift another show from the network into mornings, etc.)
Executive 1: The show that has been the staple of the network will never be the same again. Still having Golic on the show is good as he is a link to the past success of the show. Lots of deep discussion needs to take place both internally and externally. I would certainly want to get a sense from key affiliates what they are thinking and what they feel can move the needle in the future.
Executive 2: Put one host with Golic. Trey Wingo is an excellent choice if that’s the case. Golic is a major radio personality so you should continue to build around him.
Executive 3: I expect ESPN Radio to go the safe route to attempt to preserve as much of the revenue as possible. That means staying in-house and building around Golic. If they truly wanted to produce the best “sports radio” morning product possible they would go outside and bring in an entertaining opinionated “radio” lead host or complete new team. That was done in the past but with a different management team. The end result of that move resulted in…Colin Cowherd.
Executive 4: Do something different in morning drive on ESPN Radio. There’s a reason why they’re breaking up the Mike’s. If the reason is so strong to put at risk millions of dollars, some other off shoot currently being suggested isn’t the answer. It might be a stop gap, a band-aid of sorts, but even that will eventually fail. It will look like a weak imitation, which is exactly what it will be.
Executive 5: I’ve always felt the show lacked both a certain amount of spontaneity and edge. Trey certainly helps in those areas. But I think a big female personality could help (Beadle?), though it would depend on chemistry and fit. Booger McFarland is also a star in the making. The show needs some diversity!
Executive 6: I’d keep Golic, and if Wingo isn’t an option, then Ian Fitzsimmons would make the most sense. I’ve always love Stink too!