Sports Media Musings: The Big O losings O’s

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I previously wrote Ordway is a program director. He no longer holds that title. Oversight on my part. Apologies.

Chad Finn’s article last week said according to industry sources, Glenn Ordway was given a choice: Cut his rumored $1 million salary in half, or face the possibility of losing his job at Entercom-owned, WEEI. The Big O’ thought better of it to take the former.

Ordway, who’s role includes hosting “The Big Show” afternoons from 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM, failed to finish in the top three in the coveted 25-54 demographic during the spring ratings book. This, allegedly, gave Entercom an oppotunity to opt out of Ordway’s rather lavish contract.

The timing of the pay-cut is curious and – from an outsider’s perspective – ominous for the former monopoly of sports radio in Boston. I’ve documented in this space before how WEEI’s fall from grace coupled with their adversary – 98.5 The Sports Hub – has unfolded. But I ruminated the possibility of a WEEI bounce-back in the summer books, which are set to be released next Tuesday by third-party Arbitron.

The Bruins Stanley Cup frenzy waning combined with the fact WEEI broadcasts Red Sox games, seemed to point to an oppotunity for WEEI to take back what was once theirs. With news of The Big O’ losings O’s at the end of his paycheck, one has to postulate Entercom has caught wind they under-performed (again) during the summer ratings period.

Since I’m here, let’s dig a little deeper.

Ordway’s salary cut is appropriate. Obviously this is opinion, but he never should have been making that kind of money to begin with.  The guy talks about sports four hours a day. Granted, his show was largely successful. And if you’re the best, you deserve to make the most. But Ordway – along with the rest of the WEEI roster – was the best by default. Never once, while listening to “The Big Show”, was I ever met with an epiphany from an Ordway ‘take.’ I never found myself saying, “Wow, that was a different spin on things I had not considered.”

Things were supposed to change after “The Big Show” changed up the roundtable format with the addition of the affable Michael Holley. However, still, more often than not during “The Big Show”, my ears are met with colloquial conversation that after 20 minutes turns into yelling, and has “celebrity” callers garble more nonsense. The only change seems to be Mike Adams doing his best Ed McMahon impression. I’m not sure if this was a joke that I was not “in” on, or if the program was just a caricature of a sports show. Once Mike Adams became a permanent fixture, I was convinced it was the later.

Perfect Example: Holley (in a sarcastic tone) – “Mike I know you are a hardened journalist — what do you think?”

Adams – “Journalism? I may be a professional at Ururinalism!”

It is unclear whether Adams bombs like “The Situation” at the Trump Roast on purpose or not.

Back to the show. With news of CSNNE’s agreement to simulcast Ordway’s direct competition – “Felger and Mazz” - things continue to look bleak for WEEI. Moreover, the Red Sox collapse combined with the real possibility the NBA season won’t take place means WEEI is forced to talk Patriots/Bruins until the ‘Host Stove’ talks heat up. Only issue is 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for those two teams and carry the games.

Next Tuesday will tell us more. A lot more. But as a personality told me recently, “It is easy to see which station is going up and doing well, and which station is not.”

  • mikewichter

    whose, not who's. I expect better from this site. it is not the herald.

  • tl;dr

    And not to mention the blatant ripping off of the Carmine the Computer thing from TSH.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthrocoon Bob Nelson

    Overpaying for talent that seemed a good idea at the time and now they have to cut back. Competition from 98.5 has hurt them and led them to simulcast on FM, which should have been done years ago. The Sports Hub's debut was announced weeks in advance–they could have scooped them and gone to 93.7 then! Talent still would have mattered but the better signal (for many) would have been a plus.

    In making the move to FM, Entercom had to get rid of Mike which made them money and cost little. But they had to shore up the WEEI brand. Now they no longer have the "Mike" revenue stream. PPM for WRKO hosts, etc., were lower. Less money coming in. Something had to give. Also: high price of Sox contract. That's another reason for the FM move: they need to make the best of it. So, they got money from EEI, AAF (on 2 signals, one to better reach Boston), Mike 93.7, and some from RKO. Subtract "Mike" to shore up EEI. Less ad money, still paying big bucks for Sox…Glenn's ratings declined and there was a clause in his contract if ratings dipped. They took advantage of it.

  • JSR

    Ordway is not the program director at WEEI.

  • latetodinner

    Ryan…nice job putting this piece together. Let me add a slightly different view on why Ordway was making the $1 mill and why he would take the pay cut. I never understood why WEEI would guarantee Ordway $1 mill as a salary. Most radio media people (with a few exceptions…Howard Stern being the most famous) make their money by getting a percentage of the ad rates. So why Entercom felt they had to guarantee Ordway money tells us that either Entercom was afraid of losing Ordway or more likely Ordway wanted more job security. I believe that for all of WEEI's ratings issues…they are still making money hand over fist. However they are not stupid…they want to control expenses as they will take a hit in ad revenue. So they go to Big O…they say take a cut or go…and he smartly takes the cut. What we don't know is if he had new incentives put into his deal that allows him to make the money back if the ad revenues pick back up. Notice I did not mention ratings…they are immaterial to this discussion. it is all about revenue.

    I do think your observation that Entercom knows the summer book will not be "friendly" is correct. WEEI has taken one step in righting their ship by going to an FM signal. The next step will be making WEEI AM an ESPN full time affiliate. The last step is changing the on air lineup. Until that is done they will continue to fall because TSH right now seems more relevant in the market. Ordway has proven to be a pretty good company guy over the years. His acceptance of a pay cut is another example of that. Having said that, it is going to be very interesting to see what happens in a year when his contract is up. Let's say hypothetically that the Big Shows annual revenue was about $10 mill and it has fallen to $7 mill with the TSH competition. Ordway was a team player…saw the issue and agreed to take a pay cut. Can Entercom go to a 20 year + employee now and not resign him? $7 mill is still a heck of a lot of money and at the reduced salary rate there is good profit there.

    I do not know the answer to that question, I am just speculating that there is a lot more going on than we know. I know some people want Ordway gone which is fine but does Entercom view him as loyal or do they want him gone? Do they appreciate the shear number of dollars he has contributed to the bottom line over the last 20 years? We will find out.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthrocoon Bob Nelson

      K. Vahey mentioned on boston-radio-interest that according to a "good friend" who works at ESPN, 850 is supp. to go 24/7 ESPN (well with occasional PBP spillover?) "in the next month".
      WEEI signed with ESPN in Nov of 2009 (did get to carry some baseball playoffs in Oct of that year). That was when they dumped Fox and TSH, which had Sporting News, picked up Fox. Maybe the contract has a Nov 1 date or something? If Vahey's info is correct, expect the ESPN 850 move to happen. If…

      • Rick

        WEEI to FM was floated as soon as WBZ-FM started up.

        Also, WEEI picking up ESPN had more to do with 890 failing than the Sports Hub.

  • Fred_West_Lynn

    Excellent points by LTD.
    Ryan, a couple of questions:

    — why only Ordway? Is the D&C show still the revenue generator it was? I assume that Mutt and Merloni don't make a lot and that Mike Adams is paying Entercom to let him be on the air, but D&C pull down big bucks, are two fat deals in a single slot, and have sharply declining ratings (which must affect revenue eventually).

    — you identify Ordway as "a program director." I have heard him many times say that's no longer one of his responsibilities and solely Jason Wolff's.

  • Ryan Hadfield

    Oversight on the program director. Updated. Rule #76 – No excuses play like a champion ….bad job by me.

    Re: LTD, thanks for taking the time and agree with your post. While it is true WEEI is still a profitable entity and revenue is the key, you have to consider ratings — always. Because higher ratings = premiums on ads = revenue. If your company A and you see Felger and Mazz garnering more ratings than The Big Show then you probably will want to run your commercial on TSH.

    Re: I'm not sure about the contracts of D&C, remember Finn cites 'according to sources'. Maybe D&C don't have that option and Entercom is handcuffed?

    • APimpNamedDaveR

      John Henry is now considering firing Terry Francona due to your mistake re: Ordway's role. Sorry….

  • Classless

    Fantastic Mike Adams exchange. That nails it right there. Sad thing is there are actually people who listen to the show (and the hosts themselves) who are too dumb to realize he's not funny.

  • The Hey

    Since you brought up that TSH is a Patriots rights holder, why does it seem like WEEI is more friendly with Patriots management?

    Sure Bellichek and Brady are paid gigs, but 'EEi gets to broadcast from the stadium each week while TSH is relegated to the CBS Scene. And the Krafts always seem to be on 'EEI every time they have something to say. The team seem to be more accessible to 'EEI than there own right holder. Does Ordway has something to do with that?

    • bostonsportsmediafan

      Maybe a paid contract virtually requires them to be more cozied up? I've asked the same question for a bit. Pats rights holder, pregame, better coverage and questions asked (can't all he blind fans) compared to WEEI but yet they don't have the exclusive for the Hoodie/TB12 interview? And, maybe TSH broadcasts from CBS scene because they are owned by them CBS?

      Take that issue and compare to how D+C (with the NESN simulcast) treat some of the RedSox issues. I've yet to see "hard hitting questions" on this like TSH has been doing.

  • FHG

    Another indication WEEI is sinking fast is the (re)appearance of Giant Glass advertising on 98.5. The usual jingle laden Dennis Drinkwater voice over ad first showed up on 98.5 about 3-4 months after the station went on air, but only for a very short run. Did WEEI pull some sort of exclusivity clause? Was Drinkwater testing the waters? Giant Glass/Red Sox/WEEI are so intertwined, it was surprising to hear the ad on the competitor's station. Now, a year plus later, with the move to FM, Ordway's salary cut, falling ratings, etc., it was interesting to hear a revamped, more low key, Giant Glass ad on 98.5 with no Drinkwater voiceover. Thought it was another ad by JN Phillips. Did Drinkwater have an out clause if the ratings dropped to a certain level? Perhaps a new contract that removed any type of exclusivity. Drinkwater's no fool. He's going to spend his advertising money where he gets the most return.

  • Linda

    It's easy to be the prettiest girl in the room when you're the ONLY girl in the room. As Chad Finn indicates…they were #1 by default since they had not worthy competition in this sports-crazy town. Only a matter of time before an astute programmer came along….and 'EEI was so self-indulgent and horribyly programmed, that competing with it was, at least initially, like shooting trout in a barrel. I wonder (since I no longer have to listen to that drivel…the Mike Adams reference earlier is everything you need to know about that no-talent participant…and another reason why escape from the 'EEI hell was so sweet) if John Dennis continues to do endless, droning interviews with Brad Faxon so he can ensure free golf games at various courses. Another indulgence with which we no longer have to deal. The list seems almost endless, but there's a true sports station in town now…entertaining, gritty when necessary, never condescending, no sucking up to interview subjects, and I don't feel like I'm losing brain cells by satisfying my sports addiction. WEEI, it's management and "talent" (using the term very loosely) got what it deserved.

  • Boston Guest Fan

    Part I

    Well, I used to like WEEI because it was Boston sports talk all the time. It did become too much of a boys club over time which was still okay to sometimes annoying. Then 98.7 showed up and I have flipped over primarily due to the radio hosts' better insight and analysis. Felger (now I understand much of his wisdom), Maz (great baseball analyst), Gresh (great football analyst who takes the time to explain much of the on-field strategy), Zo (knowledgable about the game he played, has good contacts, but not particularly insighful) are all excellent options to WEEI. In the early morning I still listen to Dennis & Callahan as they are the best mainly-sports-entertainment show in the morning – although they tend to add too much politics into it.

  • Boston Guest Fan

    Part II

    It is interesting that to real Boston fans, both the early morning and late night 98.7 broadcasts seem terribble (morning and DA planet from who knows where) and out of place to Bostonians (I am one, not from Dedham, not from Quincy, not translanetd New Yorker or Chicagoan). Not sure who the intended audience is except perhaps it is meant to attract more national and female audience. When I go back to WEEI Ordway now, Glenn's just that much more annoying. Miky is okay in reading the news or at night but not particularly good.

  • Boston Guest Fan

    As for Glenn, the main issues are that he always yells in platitudes, only speaks factually (in his own mind), never listens, cannot be challenged with an opposing view (Holley tries), and never allows the 'affable' likeable Holley to complete a sentence (I keepo thinking shut-up Glen so I can hear Michael's point). Glenn is just hard tio take. Disclaimer, I always liked him as a Celts broadcaster and as host but something hapenned as he elevated his self-worth to the point that it has ruined his broadcasts for me. Even Michael can't save the show. Maybe others feel like I do and maybe others made the choice I made.

  • Boston Guest Fan

    One other thing, it is nice that WEEI has the guest sports interviews however, it clearly tempers or eliminates criticisms. The 98.7 gang, Felger in particular, have no such tentacles dragging them down. Felger was right abour Manny. He was right about Moss. He was right about the Red Sox. He was right about the Bruins. His insight while critical does make me chnage my mind and look at things in a different way. That is the other reason for switching over. Sorry EEI, stay relevant but you need to improve.