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Dickey: "We Respect ESPN But They've Sort of Had it All to Themselves"

From integrating Citadel under the Cumulus umbrella ahead of schedule, to launching Mike Huckabee and Geraldo Rivera, to getting all his stations on iHeartradio, launching an all-sports network with Dan Mason must seem like just another day at the office for Lew Dickey. "We are a natural distribution partner for CBS," Dickey told Radio Ink last night. We are pleased to be doing this. This is a great boost for our network and our sports franchise." And, despite calling it a good product, Cumulus will phase out ESPN on all of its stations and incorporate the CBS Sports brand when all the elements are in place, many of which should be ready to go by the time all the radio brass gather in Dallas at the Radio Show in September. Read more from our conversation with Dickey last night.

Tell us about the discussions with CBS. Do you pick up the phone and call Dan Mason and say "Let's do this deal"?
Dickey: There were discussions at several levels, obviously. It is something they are very excited about. It is a strategic imperative for those guys as it was for us. It is just one of those deals where it just made a lot of sense for each company to leverage its respective assets to create this offering. Obviously, sports was one of our key focus content verticals. It is something that we wanted to leverage the power of our O&O group along with our distribution through our network. It made sense for us to seek a partner and do this. With their lineup, it is a key content focus of CBS, so with their lineup, it just made a lot of sense for us to do this.

You guys have a relationship with ESPN. How does this effect them?
Dickey: I think this has been a gradual evolution for ESPN to take all these functions in-house, and it just makes sense for them to do so. They are a big operation. They have a pretty deep bench. It just makes sense for those guys to be self-sufficient and to do this. This is something that has been in the making for a long time. This is just a natural evolution. With that being said, Cumulus was in the position of having a lot of sports stations and a great network of distribution of content and time sale, so it just made sense for us to seek a partner where we could create a competitive entrant. That's what we did with CBS.

What do you want GMs to know?
Dickey: I think ESPN is a fine product. I think we can put a very competitive product on the field. There is choice now. I think for the first time, there is going to be real choice for not only updates, but a 24-hour network, expert analysis, and features. There is going to be a legitimate competitive offering out there, to offer real choice. I think choice makes everybody better. I think the broadcasters will benefit from this. We have a lot of respect for ESPN and what they've done. I think they have sort of had it to themselves, and this is a real opportunity to offer real choice to both the broadcasters and the advertisers.

What are your thoughts on how big this business has become and how much bigger it can get?
Dickey: Sports, as you know, because of the immediacy, as a content vertical, sports is one of the most lucrative out there. Period. It is something that has been a big focus of ours. This enables us to take it to the next level. For the pioneers who launched those stations 25 years ago, it was a great deal of forward thinking. They are certainly being proven right by the dramatic demand of it by both listeners and advertisers. It is a great content vertical. I think it is great content for radio. We are big believers in spoken word at Cumulus, as you know. This is just another iteration of spoken word radio.

More Coverage of the deal:
The Baltimore Sun
Chicago Tribune

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