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Yanks Could Be Game Changer for ESPN Radio

By Mike Silva ~ May 1st, 2012. Filed under: Sports Media Commentary.

ESPN started a new era in New York radio when it moved to FM yesterday morning with their 98.7 debut. They also turned 1050 into a Spanish speaking equivalent and renamed it ESPN Deportes.

There is also a new lineup on the station. I don’t know if it’s possible for Terry Collins or Joe Girardi to shakeup their lineup as often as ESPN Radio has done during its tenure on the New York airwaves. It seems there is a new “plan” every six months with the latest revolving around Stephen A. Smith.

In addition to getting more face time on television, the suits moved Smith to the 1-3 pm time slot and paired him with Ryan Ruocco. Under the new configuration, “The Mike Lupica Show,” moves to a noon start time, while “The Michael Kay Show,” will continue to air from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. weekdays. ESPN continues a “tag team” approach in competing with Mike Francesa in the afternoon.

We won’t even get into the ratings game, as WFAN routinely destroys WEPN thanks to their two mainstay programs: Boomer & Carton in the morning and the aforementioned Francesa.

But could this change with the new move to 98.7 FM? Doubtful as Smith has very little credibility with the knowledgeable New York sports fan. His rantings and gasbag antics are phony and transparent. I will actual say that Smith might be the only radio personality that can make Craig Carton a likeable figure. For as phony a non-sports fan Carton is, I will take him over Smith’s fake outrage and race bait tactics.

Will we be able to hear this new lineup? We all know that one of the biggest issues with ESPN has been its signal. On 1050, it was difficult for many in the five boroughs to get a clear signal, much less those outside the city in Long Island and New Jersey. The move to FM should alleviate that problem*but is it enough to lure the real prize, which is the radio rights to the New York Yankees?

*I still experienced static when trying to listen to the Knicks last night. I live on Long Island in the Smithtown area. I traveled about 15 minutes east to test it and the signal had even more static. I did hear, however, the signal very clearly while traveling through New York City. It’s an improvement, I guess. If suburban fans can let me know their experience  I would appreciate it.

Right now, ESPN has the rights to the Jets, Nets and Devils. The Nets and Devils are irrelevant and the controversial Rex Ryan and popular Tim Tebow isn’t enough to force sports fans to turn the dial. Baseball still is king in this town and WFAN has both New York managers, access to its stars and a caller-driven format that lends itself to 24/7/365 baseball talk. The Super Bowl champion Giants are also on WFAN and have made a power play by taking Eli Manning off his weekly spot on the Michael Kay show. ESPN now has to hope the Knicks continue to stay relevant and Rex Ryan sticks his foot in his mouth. Still, it won’t be enough. They need a game changer.

If ESPN were to lure the Yankees at the end of this season it would be a huge blow to WFAN. You basically would be setting up a scenario where fans would only be able to get full coverage of the Bombers on ESPN. You can forget Girardi, Cashman or any Yankees star making appearances on WFAN. Forget those Mike Francesa remotes from Yankee Stadium. With Francesa’s contract up in 2014, you have to wonder the future of his show simulcasted on YES. Do you think Bristol will want a competitor simulcasted on their prized team’s network? I could see Kay’s ESPN show sliding right in as a preamble to Yankees baseball.

Right now. this is all fun speculation as Bob Raissman of the Daily News reported on Sunday the Yankees will probably re-up with WCBS to remain on 880. Ultimately the move to FM will not be the deciding factor, but how much money is anted up for the radio rights.

I think ESPN and the suits in Bristol have to make a serious run at the Yankees. I heard some rumblings last week there is huge concern about ESPN losing the Knicks and the Rangers. If they do, obtaining the Islanders, Devils or soon to be Brooklyn Nets is a huge downgrade. There has always been industry rumblings that WFAN will eventually purchase its own FM signal. Such a move would alleviate any issues handling the Mets, Knicks and Rangers. They already did it for years without an FM station, so I don’t see an issue. It’s kind of odd not having the two MSG teams on the FAN.

The Yankees might be the last hope for the station to have any relevance. They aren’t going to compete in a sports talk format. For as flawed as Boomer & Carton and Francesa shows are, they have the most important 13.5 hours of radio locked up. Even if Esiason eventually gets smart and leaves his combustible co-host, I can’t see Mike & Mike competing with their national and commercial driven product. Even Carton’s cockroach act is better than listening to four hours of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic do a few minutes of radio wrapped around endless commercials.

The other factor is the emergence of technology in vehicles that allows fans to listen to the internet and podcasts. The music format has taken a huge hit (see Pandora), and it’s only a matter of time until sports talk goes the same way. You need live sporting events to be a relevant and profitable station. The rest is window dressing.

Having the Yankees would change the game for ESPN. I don’t have to tell you about the Bombers immense popularity. ESPN would corner the market on Yankees guests and breaking news related to the team. Only the YES Network would have more access. Sure, Joe from Manalapan can call Francesa to vent about Joe Girardi’s bullpen management, but he won’t hear the General give his rationale unless he turns on 98.7 FM.

You basically would have the radio version of a turf war. WFAN would be all Mets all the time. ESPN would be all Yankees all the time. Even an improved Mets team doesn’t have the worldwide brand recognition of the Yankees. It would be the first clear victory by ESPN in their history against the New York sports radio giant.

Despite what sources are telling Raissman, do you think ESPN spent $100 million dollars for an FM signal so they can just carry the Knicks and Rangers? They didn’t become the “World Wide Sports Leader” by settling for second best.

If they do obtain the Bombers it would be a huge revenue hit to CBS and a punch to the gut for WFAN ratings.

This is probably the only move that could make ESPN relevant in this town. It’s certainly not going to be a gasbag like Stephen A. Smith.


Concerned about John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman becoming extinct if ESPN obtains the radio rights to the Yankees? Raissman also cites a source that said “Ma & Pa Pinstripe” won’t be going anywhere, even if ESPN holds the Yankees rights.

“At the end of the day,” the source told Raissman, “people listen to the games because they want to listen to the Yankees. Media guys rip John. (The Yankee hierarchy) don’t care. You don’t love him, but they know their fans do.”

Do they? I get the sense that Yankees fans have tired of the act. Outsiders think the duo’s shtick is cute, but I get tons of complaints from pinstriped denizens.

Personally, I think there is a charm to Ma & Pa that makes them a good listen, but I could see how inaccurate calls and silly banter could wear a listener out.

Let’s take a quick temperature here on the site. Would you like to see John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman be replaced? Are the Yankees suits correct in standing by their flawed radio duo?

Want to know where to find Mike Silva now? He Host's the "Weekend Watchdog” on Long Island’s ESPN affiliate Champions Radio (96.9/107.1FM Suffolk) go to http://weekendwatchdog.com to listen and interact with Mike at mikesilvamedia.com
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1 Response to Yanks Could Be Game Changer for ESPN Radio

  1. Reg

    You forgot to mention WFAN’s contract with the Mets is up after this year. The reason why the Yankees extended their contract w/ 880 only for one year was to be available for a bidding war between WFAN and ESPN. WFAN will be willing to dump the Mets to get the right to the Yankees.

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