The Inevitable New York Sports Radio War

WFAN 660 WCBS 880 New York Yankees Mets MSG SNY YES Network ESPN Radio Mike Francesa Boomer EsiasonEven before Family Radio’s application to convert 94.7 WFME to commercial status in preparation of a sale, it was looking more and more inevitable that CBS’ 660 WFAN dominance in New York would soon be challenged.

While ESPN has been known to be on the lookout for a more competitive signal for 1050 WEPN there are three other entities that have a lot to gain by making a play for 94.7 or any other New York FM that may come on the market.

The first All-Sports radio station, WFAN will turn 25 on July 1. By the end of 2012, four of their most vital assets could be in play for competitors.

WFAN has been the flagship station of the New York Mets for all 25 years of the station’s existence. Their current rights deal expires at the end of the coming season. Sister 880 WCBS has possessed the rights to the New York Yankees since 2002, a deal that was extended for one year this past October. The general assumption is that the Yankees will slide to 660 in 2013, but nothing is in writing meaning the rights to both baseball teams will be in play this year.

Meanwhile, WFAN morning co-host Boomer Esiason’s contract with the station is rumored to expire this year and afternoon powerhouse Mike Francesa commented earlier this week that he is leaning towards leaving when his contract ends in February 2014. Francesa, a strong morning show, and having the baseball play-by-play rights have been the three tentpoles in WFAN’s programming.

If not ESPN, who else is in place to make a move for WFAN’s programming? Look no further than the three regional sports networks in New York. Let’s look at each of them and why they should be players.

Sportsnet New York

Ownership: 66% owned by the New York Mets, 22% by Time Warner Cable, 11% owned by Comcast

The least likely of the three due to the Mets financial issues, SNY has a number of current and former WFAN staffers hosting shows on the network. However it is not reliant on radio simulcasts like the other two are.

Madison Square Garden

Ownership: Owned by Cablevision systems, MSG owns the NBA New York Knicks and NHL New York Rangers.

If anybody needed a radio station to manage its public relations it is MSG. The company has been known for playing dirty with competitors. It witheld the HD feeds of its networks until losing a court battle. They are currently in a carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable.

Cablevision is responsible for the launch of WKNR in Cleveland’s Sports format during its time owning that station. WFAN’s Boomer & Carton morning show is currently simulcast on the network, as is Fox Sports Radio’s Dan Patrick on its secondary MSG+ network.

YES Network

Ownership: New York Yankees and Goldman Sachs

Then there’s YES. The “Network Of Champions” is the most reliant on WFAN content as it simulcasts Francesa for 5.5 hours daily. If Francesa were to retire or go to a competitor, that is a huge block to fill that can be done in house. Throw in the fact that they could keep the Yankee radio rights in house to sell in tandem with television and you have a reason to worry if you’re CBS.

Everything that happens at YES is about expanding the Yankee brand worldwide. A radio station dedicated mostly to the Yankees is the next likely extension. It’ll no longer be reliant on WFAN for programming, could take their two of their most valuable assets and have a built in marketing machine.

Thanks to the Yankees, WCBS was the third highest billing station in the country in 2010. WFAN was ninth, with the pair responsible for almost $90 Million in revenue. If a competitor to WFAN were to arise on FM, CBS would need to give the station an FM simulcast, most likely in place of CHR “92.3 Now” WXRK to protect its assets.

If 94.7 can be acquired in the $50 to $75 Million range, which may be overpriced, it still would not take that many years for a Sports format built around the Yankees to make that price back. YES may not be in the radio business but there may be too much money on the table for them not to be.

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