Sports Media Musings: 98.5 The Sports Hub Wins The Summer, WEEI Finishing 8th

98.5 The Sports Hub took the momentum obtained from their win in the spring ratings period, and never looked back. In the summer ratings period, released by third-party Arbitron yesterday, “The Sports Hub” found itself in the poll position again, earning the highest share among the coveted men’s 25-54 demographic in the Boston market. Chief competitor, WEEI, finished in a tie in the 8th position in the demographic.

Chad Finn of The Boston Globe has the full breakdown of how each time slot stacked up against one another here. Upon inspection, the numbers seem to be lopsided in favor of 98.5 — each program nearly doubles up counterpart, WEEI’s share. (“Gresh & Zo” triple “Mut & Merloni” in the share)

The only time WEEI held an advantage was the paltry 7 P.M. – Midnight period. This, most likely, was due to WEEI’s dissemination of the Red Sox games summer nights.

Going Double-Rainbow Guy — What Does This Mean??

I’ve talked about the importance of this particular ratings period since the spring book was released. I rationalized that the Bruins Stanley Cup run skewed the numbers, and the summer ratings would give us real indication of how these two entities are performing in relation to one another. Since their inception, “The Sports Hub” has championed the Bruins as the team’s flagship station. On the other hand, WEEI had long dismissed the Bruins as a viable topic in their programming. The numbers had to be exacerbated from an ‘EEI perspective and, incongruously, inflated like Barry Bonds’ head from a “Sports Hub” perspective…. Right?

Apparently not. Even with WEEI broadcasting “The Boys of Summer” The Choke Artists of Fall, “The Sports Hub” maintained dominance. Although, as the article points out, WEEI’s share did not include their new FM simulcast on 93.7 — which was available the last 3 days of the ratings period.

I’ve personally believed this period was critical, and will not bear any concessions to that notion because of 3 days. The FM thing is a real commodity which parent company Entercom should have implored much sooner. HOWEVER, I rationalized the Bruins run last time and I refuse to rationalize a ‘signal’ issue as an excuse for a station which was dominant from their launching point in the early 90′s all the way until 2010. The signal was never an issue for two decades — worthy competition doesn’t make it an issue now.

When news of the simulcast first arose, I wrote that Rule #76 was now in effect (No excuses, Play like a champion). And that still holds true. The ‘radio wars’ would have nothing to do with including different market figures (though WEEI is still including their Providence share), or a bad signal. Instead the name-of-the-game would now be about content.

Who is producing better entertainment? Who is producing better dialogue? Going forward these would be the questions answered by the ratings. But just because Entercom management is late to the FM party, does not preclude the here and now.

And the here and now suggests WEEI needs to do something…. and fast.

Predicting the Weather

Going forward each station has distinct advantages. WEEI has the ESPN affiliation and “Patriots Monday”. Both those factors amount to one thing: Great guests. “Dennis & Callahan” have a weekly can’t-miss interview with Tom Brady, “Mut & Merloni” have Troy Brown, and “The Big Show” has Coach Bill Belichick and Tedy Bruschi. One major disadvantage for ‘EEI is the ignominious end to the Red Sox campaign and the concurrent NBA lockout (WEEI broadcasts the Celtics).

98.5 The Sports Hub has lower-level Patriot players making appearances, and a plethora of local analysts. This seems like a large disparity, but “The Sports Hub” has always been able to do more with less. Presumably – because of their impressive ratings wins and also because they are the flagship station for the Bruins and Patriots – “The Sports Hub” will garner better guests in the future.

Perhaps the biggest advantage for “The Sports Hub” – and I’ve pondered this before – is the relationship with Comcast SportsNet New England. The “Felger & Mazz” simulcast on the flourishing television network displays a strong marriage forming. With a steady diet of ratings wins, what is stopping a CSNNE personality like Tom E. Curran from jumping from his spot as a guest on “The Big Show” to foray on to fellow CSNNE-er, Mike Felger’s world on “Felger & Mazz?” ESPECIALLY, if the show is being broadcasted on Curran’s primary employer, CSNNE? Joe Haggerty, CSNNE’s hockey writer, already made a similar move.

How Did We Get Here?

So what has happened here? Is it as simple as what Chad Finn said on my podcast? Are people just sick of WEEI’s “We’re number 1, we can do what we want” attitude?

I’m not sure. Here are a couple of things to think about though. I’m not using this as an opportunity to give myself exposure, but listen to my podcast with Rich Shertenlieb of “The Sports Hub.” He talks about important lessons such as never becoming complacent, learning how to fail, and taking chances. He sounds like a down-to-earth guy who is “Youngry” (young & hungry). And these qualities come through in “The Sports Hub” culture.

On the other side, it feels like decades ago when Gerry Callahan infamously told Jessica Heslam he was hiding under his desk because he was ‘afraid’ of the competition. These sarcastic remarks, along with Callahan feigning he had never heard of “Toucher & Rich”, no longer feel arrogant — they feel ignorant.

A Word On Finn

Years ago, Chad Finn wrote a column stating if a station came along with a strong signal and real commitment that WEEI would get a run for their money. This, of course, came to fruition with CBS putting together “The Sports Hub.” In his coverage, Finn has maintained a mostly objective point of view. Obviously, at times, it is transparent he is rooting for what he thought in the original column was a fictitious station, but his reporting of the numbers has been straight-forward.

Yet John Dennis still felt the need (maybe out of frustration) to take a small shot at the Globe reporter on Twitter…

@GlobeChadFinn You left out the “Whooey, Chad is jacked and pumped” part !

Realizing this was social media, Finn deftly avoided any run-in by deflecting the shot..

@JohnDennisWEEI Nice. Actually, have enjoyed listening to you and Gerry take apart the Sox the past couple of days. Credit where it’s due.

Finally, Dennis decided to show he is working on reaching that younger demographic by referencing a show that existed in the mid-70′s…

@GlobeChadFinn As Fred Sanford famously (and often) said….”I think I’m gonna have the big one Elizabeth.”

  • Flip Flopper

    Actually agree with Chad here, D&C has been better as of late and more sports related. I'm back flipping back and forth with T&R F&M much better than Big Show still and can't take Mikey (remove him quickly while you have any listeners). Glad I have a job and can't listen to Gresh, I don't tune into pregame because of him. Happy to have the choice in Boston.

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    Looks like D+C are bringing on @RapSheet Wednedays? I am not sure if this happened before or is something new, and they've begun promoting their twitter handles for D+C t-shirts. Usually switch too often (depending on the topic) and stick with DP till 12, so I can't say for sure.

  • Tom

    To me, the mornings are the toughest to choose between the 2 stations. When both T&R and D&C are talking sports, it is no contest that you have to listen to D&C. T&R are great guys, but there are times when talking about sports, that they literally have no idea what the're talking about.
    Of course, when it comes to converation off of sports, T&R are a thousand times better. Gerry is so far off his rocker politcally, with no semblance of balance in his views, it's excruciating to listen to.

    The afternoons are no contest. No bigger Holley fan than me, but Felger & Mazz are way better than listening to Big O. F&M's negativity grates, don't get me wrong, but they talk about what you want to listen to and they aren't full of inside jokes and silly jokes that aren't funny (see: Mikey).

    • tl;dr

      One doesn't need to have balance in one's views. In this country you can espouse whatever views you want unbalanced or not.

    • bostonsportsmediafan

      I say the same about the morning show. Lately, D+C have stuck to sports. T+R still sound like a Howard Stern morning show with these esoteric jokes that look like they stole them from a high schooler's Facebook page, and they're constantly laughing at themselves.. As much as I'm not a fan of D+C, mornings are for more straight sports, and they've done a good job lately for that.

      • Siggy

        I agree it has not been a good few weeks for the Toucher crew. D+C have been better on the whole Red Sox collapse and aftermath. The 98.5 morning show lately has seemed to be all giggles and inside references.

  • Siggy

    I like your posts Ryan, analyzing Boston Sports Media rather than posting links.

    I would challenge your assumption that with higher ratings will come higher-profile guests for 98.5. One appeal of 98.5 for me has been their irreverence and freedom to comment. Celebrity caller Danny from Quincy had it right a couple weeks ago when he told F&M that he was afraid their special announcement about the Comcast simulcast was going be a WEEI-style announcement of a "(Insert Team Name) Wednesday" with a day devoted to team interviews, player puff pieces and general ass-kissing.

    The more loaded down you become with big name interviews the less able you are to criticize because you might lose access. I for one loathe just about all athlete interviews; they are boring and add nothing.

    • Ryan Hadfield

      Thanks, Siggy.

      Good take. I was actually discussing this the other day with a sports writing class. CSNNE differentiates itself by not holding back (sans the Celtics because of that conflict of interest), whereas NESN loses that quality.

      Athlete interviews are typically dry, though there is always the potential of a Brian Scalabrine-type segment.

  • latetodinner

    Hey Ryan…nice recap of the ratings. I disagree with some of your conclusions but that is what makes horse racing. In no particular order here are my observations about your observations :-)

    - The summer ratings book has never been that relevant because of the amount of vacations and fillin hosting. Couple that with a splintered audience doing god knows what in the summer (ask the TV networks about summer programming, viewer habits and the revolvers they keep in their top drawer to blow their brains out because they can't figure it out) and you get at best a partial view into what is actually going on. This is not to discount 98.5's numbers or explain away WEEI's. I am simply saying summer numbers need to come with an asterix.

    - That said listening to D&C today pitching their twitter accounts to hopefully get 10,000 followers was beyond painful. I swear the radio business is not that complicated and Rich S got it exactly right on your pod cast (yes I listened). Work hard, stay focused and have a plan. It is painfully clear to me that Jason Wolfe at WEEI has no plan for either D & C or the Big Show. D & C seemed to be heading back towards talking sports, which is where I think they have their best advantage. Gone is the awful headlines segment. They seem to be getting better guests. But then they pull out the twitter thing to sound relevant. The problem is you can tell that John Dennis could care less about twitter, his followers or having to pitch the idea. Giving away the t-shirt to a random new follower sounds like total desperation. As I said above…this is not that complicated…if they just talked sports, did away with the gimmicks, stayed topical and thoughtful…they would do just fine. It is all this trying to be something they aren't that is causing them issues.

    - Lastly, I think Chad Finn is absolutely right when he refers to WEEI's arrogance as being a major part of the problems there. If they do not think there is a problem then they take no steps to fix it. The more interesting thing to me is the steps they seem to be taking are more of the reactive rather than well thought out active steps. Switching to FM…panic move…it was correct but it was reactive. Cutting Big O's salary…panic move and reactive. Okay now that WEEI has cut his salary what are the going to do to help him succeed? Dump the ever dull Holley or the bombastic moron Adams? Are they going to add more third man in but actually have them be experts and not Steve Buckley? Are they going to ride Mutt and Merloni even though it is clear they suck? If I were counter programming Felger and Mazz I would look for a baseball and football expert who can talk general sports…team them and make sure they drive conversation rather than just create contraianism.

    • duff duffy

      It's fun to watch EEI squirm these days, their glass house is crumbling. They got so complacent being the only game in town they forgot or never knew how to compete.

      They'll never win the young demographic with the current cast of grandpas. Fatty and the forehead have turned into Imus who they openly mocked. Their pompous smarter than everyone attitude has put them where they've long belonged, at the bottom.

      Hey, let's bring in Portnoy to reach the young demo. Hey let's screw Dale and lose the only time slot not tanking,hey let's jump on this facebook twitter thingy, friggin dinosaurs- fun to watch this debacle.

  • Frank

    My take, I think WEEI should dump the M&M boys and move Glenn to mid days (Much like Ordway did to Eddie when he became obsolete) and pair him with either Dale or Pete. Ordway still has some listeners and he may find success again against poor competition in G&Z. Then put Tom Curran and Joe Haggerty with Holley for a “3 man weave” in drive time. Three good, semi-young, and knowledgeable reporters to build a foundation on going forward.

  • CBK

    With Mut & Merloni getting crucified in the ratings for a second session in a row, is it time to make a move? I think Lou's pretty good, but Mut is Just Another Guy. I have nothing against him, but he's just… blah. What's the difference between him and any weekend or fill-in guy?

    I don't know who would replace him. I'd guess that WEEI would want someone with hosting/interviewing experience instead of pairing up two ex-athletes together. Slim pickings, especially since they wouldn't dare to bring Dale back, since that move got them to where they are now.

  • Moon

    Interesting article. Like others I'm finding D&C to be listenable now. I like T&R but sometimes I just want sports and not things like Marchand singing 80's tunes as was done this am.

    I'm finding that I'm starting to find a lot of warts in 98.5 now. Perhaps that happens when you are no longer the little guy. F&M were unlistenable yesterday. They talked politics which disgusted me and turned me off. I'm amazed that someone would risk alienating part of their audience by being so critical of how they feel or what they watch, like Felger did yesterday. I thought WEEI proved that this is a failed strategy.

    It feels like they are getting arrogant and big headed. And Mazz brings nothing. He's a puppet. The Baseball Show which was great last year was nothing more than a mirror image of what was discussed for four hours on the F&S show.

    I like it when both stations use guests such as reporters or national analysts. F&M could use more. I think overall EEI does a slightly better job of it when you consider guys like Esiason, Gammons, Jackie Mac, among others.

    In general it seems like EEI is responding and trying to fix things. 98.5 or at least some of the shows (G&Z and F&M) seem to be trending in the wrong direction.

    • NutCracker

      You make some very good points. I absolutely hate when these talk hosts interject their politics into the conversation even if I sometimes agree with their opinions now and again. I left WEEI because of that week long free infomercial for Scott Brown when Ordway, DeOssie and Smerlas forced down our throats the "don't vote for Martha Coakley because she's a Yankee fan" shtick. Please don't insult my intelligence. When F&M started talking politics it was a total turnoff. I'm starting to find Felger a little annoying lately. Mike's constant whining and negative narrative (Mazz too) gets old after a while. I understand 98.5 has attached their wagon to Felger but he's getting to be over exposed IMO. I listened to the Big Show today because of the Francona interview and it was awesome sports radio. Just talk sports and leave the politics to Howie Carr and Rush.

      • bostonsportsmediafan

        Agree here. F+M, especially Felger, were going nuts about calling Hank Williams (See ESPNMondayNightFootballSong-Gate) a hick and everything/everyone. Maybe not everyone from Boston was born here and isn't as "elite" and "cultured". I'm surprised someone didn't stop or say anything because from 2-5, they brought it up more than once, and around 5:30 they devoted an entire 20 minute segment. Thankfully, I had dinner to make so I had to turn the radio off.

        The discussion could have stayed intelligent as a post on sportsofboston kept it about discussing the merits of removing the theme/suspending it/never using it, or you can disgress into this "im elite and you're a hick–ergo, better than you" stuff.

  • napatree

    I think that you'll see a solid dip in 95.5's numbers over the next 2 books, partly because of the ongoing inconsistent listening audience, but do not discount the "over used" factor. Many of the Boston sports media are so intertwined, it doesn't make for rivalries. It just makes listeners/viewers confused. Also, I think someone should get to Felger and convince him that being "ubiquitous" is actually not a good thing in his case. He appears on everything, soon, nothing he says in any of the shows he hosts/cohosts etc. will have any "new " value. He is in real danger of being overused, and once that happens, he becomes "the story" and not in a good way.

  • just sayin'

    just my 2 cents here, but nothing makes me change the dial faster than the athlete guest appearance. I couldn't care less to hear about hearing the same tired sports cliches about playing hard, etc rolled out. However, coach Bill is great.

    • Moon

      Couldn't agree more. I enjoyed hearing Verducci who has an outsiders view on D&C this am. I want more of that.

    • Pope of Chilitown

      Totally agree. And while there are exceptions like Sean Thornton who make for good listening, overall they tend not to be the most well-spoken bunch in the world. That, combined with them not really saying anything anyway makes it must-turn radio for me.

  • Winning_

    I think the summer ratings are an accurate indication of what is to come. Yes, it can be argued like LTD mentioned, that summer ratings don't count as much due to vacations. However, each station has a plethora of hosts (Felger, Mazz, Dennis, Callahan) who all take turns with vacations. I wish Glenn was on permanent vacation, why bother coming back. So I think the vacation excuse balances out for both sides. It will definetely be compelling to see how WEEI combats Bruins season. I was thrilled to listen to the Hockey Show on 98.5 on my way home. I know it will only be 1 time a week since Gosh and Beers are always quite busy, but I wish it was on everyday 6-7. Bruins season will likely cripple WEEI, unless they get someone in on a regular basis to discuss it. Haggs has left for greener pastures so other than Dale there is not much left. Most hockey guys we don't know of since hockey was buried by WEEI for so long. These guys never had a radio opportunity, if they even wanted one. I would be interested to see if WEEI approaches Fluto, Stephen Harris, Dupont to become a fixture on their airwaves. With the lack of basketball, Felger will be happy unlike WEEI. They usually had better bball coverage overall.

    • latetodinner

      Winning…nice post. I might not have been clear…I am not saying that the 98.5 ratings were not indicative…I was only saying that summer ratings are not representative. I fully expect WEEI to take a beating in the fall book. Changing signal is not enough. The midday show, while not a huge revenue generator is abysmal. As each day passes the Big Show becomes less and less relevant especially since they keep letting Mike Adams talk. With the Sox done and the Celtics locked out for the foreseeable future WEEI is going to have to rely on Pats talk and hot stove baseball. You correctly point out WEEI has no hockey credibility left. I just do not see how they develop it. If they bring in someone like Fluto or Dupont the move wreaks of desperation. The only way to do it is to replace one of the midday hosts (Muttansky) or Holley with a hockey guy…like Sean McAdam. The problem is there are very few guys like McAdam in the market. So I would think they would have to raid either Detroit or NY for that person. I just don't see WEEI willing to make that bold of a move. As such they will continue to become more and more irrelevant in the market.

      • Winning_

        Yeah I'm not hating on your point on summer ratings, I know it is largely dismissable. I just find it interesting that TSH still wins by that large a margin. It points to two things, one of which is important. People would still rather to listen to TSH when they have normal hosts and if they do have replacements, listeners are not going to WEEI seeking shelter and comfort, because it offers little of each. Normally I would try to find a regular show in this case, but most replacements on TSH are better IMO. I think right now listeners are tuning into TSH and staying on 98.5 rather than seeking out that beautiful 93.7 signal, which if anyone didn't know, it WEEI's now clear FM station.
        Again I will be watching what WEEI does to combat Bruins coverage. Yes it will reek of desperation, but we can't fault them for acting. In their case, its better than continuing to ignore Bruins fans. I wonder what new "personalities" emerge as we have not heard from many of them on radio/tv if ever. TSH would be smart to have a day with Amonte in studio, much like they do with Wiggy. Yes it models after the old Big Show format. But I think they handle it much better, and the guests are directed to their natural sport.

  • mandb97

    Ryan, this is a terrific post. I listened to the Big Show for more than sixty seconds for the first time in a while. I wanted to hear some of the Terry Francona interview. I must admit that it was pretty good. What still amazes me is that there were players getting drunk in the clubhouse during games. Unfortunately, I am not surprised that this was leaked by the front office. The front office pats Francona while the camera is on them the twist the knife in his back when it is off. This is par for the course. Late is absolutely right when he says ownership needs to be called on the carpet. They had no intentions of extending Francona and instead of giving him a buyout before the season, ownership had him stay, thus letting the players know Francona was a lame duck and could be walked all over.

    Chad Finn brought up the most disappointing of all players and that was John Lester. He was terrible in September and showed he has no leadership ability at all. Francona had such respect for him and like Fredo, Lester broke his heart.

    I do not think Terry Francona will ever manage again because I honestly believe he is going to be a star on television. He has a good wit and seems like he can explain the game in a very simple way.

    Back to Glenn Ordway, who said the most telling statement about how things are going for the Big Show. At the end of the Francona interview, Ordway basically said thanks to Francona for appearing every Wednesday because the show needs all the help it can get.

    • latetodinner

      mandb…if Tito does not manage again it is not because he is great on TV…it is because he still does not see how admitting the guys occasionally had a "cup of beer in the clubhouse" is the absolute wrong thing to say in public. It might be true, players are of age and in a profession where Beer companies pay good money to be sponsors and the product is readily, legally available. The problem is by admitting it publicly you are telling each and every potential future employer that you can't control your clubhouse. It was one of the dumber public statements I have ever heard Tito make. He is usually quite good at watching his words and saying the right thing.

      Also, I am torn over senior management's leaking of the lost clubhouse. Part of me thinks they were culpable also and by leaking it they are showing they did not have control over their manager. As such they are paving the way to rid themselves of Theo…Tito's immediate supervisor. On the other hand, they gave Tito $180 mill worth of assets to manage and this was how he decided to handle it. At some level they should tell the world what this guy did with their spent money and explain this one reason why the team was not successful this year. They gave the manager the freedom to do what he needed to do to succeed…he CHOSE not to do the right thing…so now he is gone.

      Lastly, I feel bad for Ordway…being saddled with Adams and Holley. He sees the writing on the wall and is just playing out the string.

      • Winning_

        Feel bad for Ordway??????? You feel bad for the guy who for years yelled and screamed over callers, blew them up when challenging him, only allows celebrity callers who he can ridicule, along with employ the likes of Fred and Steve? Wow, that may be silliest thing I've ever heard.

        • latetodinner

          Feel bad in the same way I do for a trapped chicken that I know is going to be my dinner. Ordway, for all of his worts, has been a fixture on the Boston Sports scene for 20 years. You may not like him but he certainly does not deserve to have his final days be remembered as being the straight man to Mike Adams…not even Ordway deserves that fate.

      • mandb97

        Late, I have two thoughts with regards to Francona. The first is Francona is like Pavlov's dog. If anyone in the media criticizes his players, even now that he not the manager, his first reaction is to defend them. It is just his makeup and a flaw. The second thought is that the longer ownership went without re-upping Francona's contract, the more the players had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Francona was completely powerless. It is why management should have just let Francona go right after the 2010 season. They never had any intentions of resigning Francona. It does not help when there is no leadership within the players ranks.

        I have a novel idea for ownership. How about John Henry or even Tom Werner going to a mic and stating that they are incredibly grateful for the job Terry Francona did as the manger of the Boston Red Sox, then saying the team needs to make a change. There was no need to leak out what was going on in the clubhouse. It's called class. The Red Sox were completely lacking it. The organization is now taking more flak for how they have handled the firing of Francona then for the firing itself.

        Late who is this Holley you speak of? I remember a Michael Holley from the old Dale and Holley show. I liked that show. Is he the same one? I know the Big Show is with Ordway and Holley but all I hear is Ordway talking over everybody except for Mike Adams. I would love to hear this Holley fellow speak but alas, Ordway still thinks the show is only about him.

    • Ryan Hadfield

      Thanks for the kind words, Mandb97. We'll have to see how Tito does filling in for Timmy Mac on Fox during Game 1&2 of the ALCS, but I could see him doing well on TV.

  • johng

    Nice catch on the tweet. I've been making a running joke at work of the number of antiquated references EEI makes. "Sanford and Son" barely fits my age, and I'm 43.

  • bostonsportsmediafan

    2-3pm hour now on F+M @ SportsHub and Felger Mass is going back on the Hank Williams thing since the relationship was terminated today. Had to turn it off because of how vile Felger got.

    He's doing the same thing as before "I'm better than you" . Right after, of course, justifying his initial argument on the first amendment, the rest is trashing conservatives and southern culture. Really Felger? If you have this big of a problem with the culture, I'm sure MSNBC would love you on. Linking together Fox (they didn't support him this), the South Eastern Conf (SEC Football), etc.

    Most other outlets did the lip service and had an intelligent discussion about this.

    I get that a lot of the area and media are liberal, but you can have a discussion about the Hank Williams issue without talking politics. Maybe SportsHub/Felger took this whole new simulcast too seriously and let it go to their egos?

    A note to SportsHub but to anyone in sports talk: WE LISTEN TO SPORTS TALK TO BE AS FAR AWAY FROM POLITICS AS POSSIBLE. There is a PLETHORA of stations around here and everywhere if any of us wants to tune into a political station.