This Wednesday marks the début of CBS Sports Radio. This new effort has ESPN Radio squarely in its sights. Unlike FOX Sports Radio and others, CBS seems ready to be competitive right out of the gate. Cumulus Media has partnered with CBS on the effort by bringing 47 stations to the party. This according to the New York Post means that 100 stations will be airing the network on day one. CBS Radio’s local sports talk stations have shown the ability to not only get in the game, but to be game changers.
Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub (WBZ-FM) is a good example of going from a standing start, a music format, transitioning to sports talk in August of 2009, now it is in a dominating position relative to longtime sports talker WEEI. CBS Radio knows how to get it done. They concentrate their efforts in the country’s largest radio markets while Cumulus is in medium to small markets. That is a distribution pipeline.
No doubt there is some smart thinking behind the move. However, ESPN Radio will have a least a three to one listener advantage. The sports leader will be in a commanding position at the outset. They got where they are because of their smart thinking. Building the ESPN TV brand across media platforms (radio, web, social media) to create one of the most recognized names in the world.
It is critical to consider a good competitor, like CBS/Cumulus, can not only make a dent, but can by their very entry into sports talk get others, like FOX Sports, to up their game. NBC Sports is lurking in the wings, along with CBS, with cable sports TV operations. Is an NBC sports radio effort far behind? ( Dan Patrick’s radio show is simulcast on the NBC Sports Network.) The point is that this is not just a radio battle. It includes TV, websites and social media.
Karma is a bitch for ESPN. The radio network made its bones on AM radio stations. Execs at the network determined they wanted to be on high powered FM sticks. As part of this strategy they refused to sign contracts with AM stations letting them broadcast month to month. Many had branded their stations as ‘ESPN 970’, ‘EPSN 600’ and ‘ESPN 1240’, etc. I have heard the phrase ‘You dance with who brung ya’ many times on Sports Center. Apparently, the network choose to ignore this adage when dealing with their affiliates. As a result these stations have been more than primed to be receptive to CBS Sports Radio.
The fragmentation of viewership/listenership through a marked increase in our choice for sports entertainment means ESPN can only lose. The question is to what degree. Based on their history, CBS Radio will be a heavy hitter, the question is whether a radio challenger’s success will translate across other media platforms. ESPN has already done it, but can they evolve fast enough when an outside force is the one causing the need to change? Without a doubt this is a multi-front media war. How success is defined probably will vary according to your source. If nothing else, it will be an interesting 2013.
NOTE: CBS Sports Radio Begins Broadcasting Wednesday, January 2, 2013