We’re a couple of days away from Super Bowl 51 and if you’ve listened to either of the two local sports outlets, you’ve heard plenty of analysis, plenty of guest insight, and quite a bit of ribbing as well. It’s no secret that as true rivals, 98.5 and WEEI are competing every minute of every day for your ear and your loyalty, and it’s fair to say that some personalities have no love lost for each other. Well, all that may change going forward as the parent companies of both stations, CBS and Entercom, rocked the broadcast industry this week with a major announcement that the two companies will merge, creating a new company, which Entercom will run, that will be the second largest radio firm in the nation. Once the deal closes, Entercom will own both WEEI and 98.5 and the rights to all of the professional sports teams in Boston, a dominating entity that will clearly be a ratings and revenue leader in the marketplace.
Having worked for Entercom for 15 years, I know that it was always their goal to be able to expand its reach into the major markets if the right type of deal presented itself. Several years back, Entercom and ABC Radio engaged in similar discussions, and had that deal closed, it would’ve given Entercom a footprint in many of the top ten radio markets, which, at the time, would’ve significantly improved the company’s profile. This merger with CBS is a much better deal.
Whether or not Kirk Minihane and Fred Toucher play nice together in the sandbox is irrelevant. If you look at the larger picture, the two sports stations have, as part of its audience, roughly one third of every male listener between the ages of 25 and 54. Both morning shows are absolutely dominating with every major male demographic. While Felger and Mazz are far ahead of Dale, Holley, and now Keefe, in afternoon drive from a ratings perspective, the combined strength of the two shows is tremendous within their core demos. The same goes for both midday shows. The two stations share listeners, they share advertisers, they share content, and now they share ownership.
While many of you espoused some ridiculous theories on twitter this morning relative to a sports radio “merger within the merger”, that will absolutely not happen. Don’t hold your breath for the K&C&T&R morning show. Each station is too well defined at this point and it would foolish to mess with success. The Sports Hub rules with younger men. ‘EEI wins with older men. The personalities of both stations are dramatically different in the morning, and different enough throughout the rest of the day that each outlet has been able to maintain its respective audiences. Trust me folks. Don’t waste your time thinking of a new “Big Show” with Felger & Glenn and a cast of thousands or Dale & Holley, with Keefe, Bertand and Hardy. It’s just not going to happen.
What changes might take place? Entercom loves to cross promote its brands. I wouldn’t put it past them, as an example, to run a promo for Felger and Mazz in Kirk and Callahan’s show. Or have hosts from the various programs on one station show up in different day-parts on another to provide an alternative point of view about the subject matter at hand. I’m sure Minihane’s head might explode, but remember we’re talking about utilizing the assets of both stations to grow the existing audience. Cross pollination of talent and resources is bound to be discussed, but here’s one I’d definitely keep my eyes on. Comcast wanted a relationship with ‘EEI for several years, to the point where there was discussion about merging weei.com and csnne.com, but neither party wanted the other to be the alpha so the deal died on the vine. Then, Comcast wanted the old Big Show on TV. A lot of cash would’ve been coming Entercom’s way, but the company didn’t want to harm its relationship with the Red Sox, so it consummated a deal with NESN, and then Big O got pushed to the back burner in favor of D&C. Now, with all of the sports content under one roof, I think the new Entercom will be able to create multiple opportunities with Comcast, and NESN, not only for a midday simulcast but for fresh, additional content that enhances both brands. Comcast wants more local sports content and Entercom will have it. We can see that the company has put a ton of resources into its digital efforts, and that is sure to continue. Look for all of the CBS websites to be rebuilt, highlighting the individual personalities, and shows, and eliminating the static, yet consistent, theme that all of its stations currently live under.
As for all of the play by play broadcasts, I would expect that there’ll be a conversation with the Celtics about a move back to 93.7, eliminating many of the conflicts that currently exist with the Bruins. This would also allow WZLX to maintain format at night where its numbers are strong. The Red Sox deal won’t be affected and neither will the Patriots. And the company can still use 850 AM as an alternative outlet for BC sports, the Revolution and national sports play by play that conflicts with a local broadcast.
You’ll still hear plenty of fake outrage from the hosts, with the only difference being it’ll be easier to spot. I guess the only question that remains is which station can do a better job of kissing Portnoy’s ass to get him as a regular. One promise I can make, is that there won’t be the need for any “industry research” to determine which host, or hosts, might be on the back nine and worthy of being shown the door. By owning the whole enchilada, Entercom has altered the way that the current level of competition exists, and the “12-angry-men-in-a-room-deciding-on-a-talent’s-future-research-budget” will probably be the first to go. No worries Big O. No worries.
Having said that, there is one last point worth considering, one that probably won’t get much play in the press here in the short term. This deal will get a look from the DOJ and, as has been the case in past mergers of this magnitude, the department could determine that the new Entercom has an unfair advantage by combining these two incredibly strong assets. If that is the determination, and the DOJ doesn’t bless the deal, then Entercom may be forced to divest of one of the two sports stations. In that scenario, Entercom would still maintain all of its sports rights. It would only have to part with the specific assets of one of the two radio stations. But for right now, it’s a damn exciting day for radio and for Boston sports radio fans. I’m very happy for my friends at both stations who are going to be in an incredible position to win once the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.