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.

  1. Joseph says

    I would think that if CBS Radio keeps the Yankees beyond 2012, they’ll be on WFAN-660 (probably including an FM simulcast by then) starting in 2013.

    With the Yankees’ move to an all-sports station, I can see WFAN expand Yankees’ coverage to include all pre-season games (except for “split-squad” games, but I can see the Yankees succumb to WFAN and not schedule split-squad games), as well as 90-minute pregame and one-hour postgame shows for regular-season/playoff games.

    I would think that if CBS also kept the Mets, they probably would go to WINS-1010, making WCBS-880 24/7 all-news.

    In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if “1010 Wins” does what KFWB-980 Los Angeles did a few years back: Change from 24/7 all-news to all-news during drive times but go talk middays, evenings, and overnights.

    1. Charles Everett says

      There are many things wrong with Joseph’s picture.

      (1) Why would WFAN need an FM simulcast? WFAN has the largest signal area of any radio station in the Northeast. It’s not Philadelphia or Boston where sports radio on AM misses most of the population.

      (2) WFAN has live play-by-play every week of the year. They carry spring training baseball only if the Devils or Nets aren’t on at the same time.

      (3) No baseball club is going to do one-hour pregame and postgame shows unless the ad money is out there.

      (4) WINS is not — repeat, not — going to break format just to carry baseball or talk. The Yankees were on WINS in the late 70’s because nobody else wanted them — and yes, it disrupted the all-news format.

      1. Lance Venta says

        In response to some of the points:

        1) WFAN will need an FM simulcast the second a competitor debuts on FM. Try finding someone 35 or under that listens to AM on a regular basis. It gets harder every year. Has nothing to do with signal penetration and all about where the audience is. The teams want to be on FM. At this moment there are 8 MLB teams that have FM flagships. That number could get to 10 by opening day with the addition of more simulcasts. Having 50kw signals that reach dozens of states is meaningless when they have their MLB @ Bat app streaming all games.

        2) Not even then. WFAN usually has only carried Saturday or Sunday afternoon spring games the past few years when there’s not Devils or Nets conflict.

        4) WINS isn’t going to break its news wheel at all. The Yankees prop up WCBS’ numbers in the spring and summer. WINS is the more successful standalone News outlet. They’re not going to mess with it at all.

        1. 4-12 says

          Well said!

          I think ESPN will buy 94.7 but the question is how can they move the signal to NYC

  2. Joseph says

    I forgot that the Yankees’ coming to WFAN would be a huge promotional opportunity.

    I can hear the promos now:

    “The Biggest Name In Sports—–The New York Yankees—-And The Biggest Name In Sports Radio—-WFAN Sportsradio 66—-Are Now Together! Every Yankees’ Game From The First Pitch Of Spring Training Through The Final Out Of The World Series Exclusively On ‘The Fan’!”

  3. Doug says

    How, if at all, will apps like have an affect on all this. With that app I get hundreds of radio stations that I can listen to thru my iPhone. And many stations have their own apps to let you listen to their feed live. I tuned in to sports stations in towns that had football teams in the playoffs and it was great. Regional markets could be created. Yesterday CBS stations 98 .5 in Boston and wfan had their midday show hosts join each other for a one hour simulcast. Thanks. And ps the signal quality thru iPhone is better than the am and there is no issue of electrical interference. For example I can hear wfan on iPhone on commuter train but not on am because of interference.

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