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Who's Winning the Sports Talk War?


Its been one year since the radio space once dominated by ESPN was invaded by several other players. CBS launched its own sports network with selling help from Cumulus. NBC Sports Radio was launched in the middle of the year and is now part of the WestwoodOne menu of items. Fox Sports Radio and Gow Yahoo! sports were already in the space and continue to offer radio stations sports programming options. We spoke to most of the players in the sports talk game to get their assessment on how things are going (Fox Sports Radio declined to be interviewed). Here is what they had to say.

Traug Keller is SVP/Production, Business Divisions at ESPN. Keller says the sports talk business is very healthy and ESPN Radio (now called ESPN Audio) is extremely healthy. "Business is good. We continue to see growth on the digital side. I think all the work weve done over the years is really beginning to pay dividends in terms of listenership. Weve been doing more and more with taking our terrestrial numbers and adding digital numbers, and its to the point now where its almost ludicrous for shows to be measured [as broadcast radio] only. We are seeing consistently north of a 40 percent bounce to our terrestrial numbers from all this."

Keller also says the sports talk audience is growing as a result of all the new content. "I think the pie is getting bigger. Certainly, in the advertising field, there was a void left because of the avoidance of political talk Rush and Hannity. I think the timing of CBS coming into the market was good. It raises the visibility of the format all around. I think it has been good for the format. NBC, I cant really speak to, because I just dont see it or hear it, quite frankly."

Chris Oliviero is the EVP/Programming at CBS Radio. The CBS Sports Network just turned one, having launched in January 2013. Oliviero says CBS Sports Radio is where he wants it to be. "By all internal and external metrics, its right on schedule. The feedback weve gotten from affiliates has been positive. Are there things we can do better? Absolutely. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the entertainment business who could say they do everything perfectly. There are things that we can tweak. But overall we are very happy. Our affiliates are happy. Our talent is happy. And our advertisers are happy. If you get the right mix of happiness among advertisers, affiliates, listeners, and talent, thats a pretty good metric."

Looking ahead to 2014, Oliviero says, "If this year was the baby steps for all the new entries into the space, I think in 2014 we will grow up a little bit from some of the mistakes we made. Is there enough space? I think that is for the marketplace to decide. So far, 2013 has proven that there is enough space. But in 2014, we will see if that holds. We think there is. If there is not, it is going to come down to the age-old adage of whos got better content. Those people will survive. Others will not. But so far, there is enough shelf space."

Chris Corcoran is EVP/GM, Sports Programming WestwoodOne. Corcoran says there's plenty of room for all the players and the listener pie is getting bigger. "I think it is similar to TV, with all these networks  it gives more options, and it also keeps all these networks on their toes. Regardless of other networks out there, you want to have the best content, but it makes you really think, every day, closely about Is this content great? How does it separate itself from the other networks? From the other dayparts? What are we doing differently to offer these listeners and these radio stations and the advertisers something that is totally unique, totally fresh? Because, at the end of the day, we are all talking about the same stories. How we position the stories has to be a little bit different and unique. I think having that many options out there is a good thing. Its a very crowded marketplace, but thats why I think digital and online and what you do with on-demand is critical in the future of all these networks."

Gow Communications CEO David Gow says radio stations now have a long list of great options to choose from. "They have the chance to look across more networks and more programming options than they have historically. Actually, one trend I am perceiving is that many of the affiliates are taking what I would call best-of-breed programming. They are cherry-picking a show from one network, and another show from another network, and landing with a really, really strong content offering in their marketplaces. The one thing I feel great confidence about is that we are going to continue to grow our audience base. We are expanding our reach through all of our platforms. We think that changes in 2014 among the networks will only give us additional opportunities to grow."

To read the entire Sports Radio Special Report which appears in the latest issue of Radio Ink Magazine CLICK HERE

(1/4/2014 2:02:34 PM)
WUFC-AM 1510 in Boston is not only at the BOTTOM of the heap among Boston's all-sports stations, it wasn't able to get people to call in to its ONLY live-and-local show (3 to6 pm weekdays) in the midst of the Red Sox in the World Series, the start of the Patriots' and Bruins' seasons and even the run-up to the Celtics opening day. Hour after hour, day after day, they'd say "phones are open, call us now" to no effect.

- Laurence Glavin
(1/2/2014 11:05:21 AM)
Great article. As a developer of digital products for sports talk radio I can relate to this. All of these programs are all talking about the same subjects for the most part, and the delivery, as well as the channels that the networks reach their audiences is key. Espn is the leader at understanding the importance of not only unique & compelling content over-the-air, but also delivering unique and compelling digital products that entice the listener/user to use.

Gabe B

- Gabe Barnes

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