Tampa, Orlando Tuning Out ESPN

Two longtime ESPN Radio affiliates in Tampa Bay and Orlando are in the process of dropping the network, after ESPN played hardball with station owner Genesis Communications, asking for what one radio trade publication called "everything but the kitchen sink."

Last week, CBS Radio made two major announcements that would impact the sports radio landscape in Tampa Bay: the debut of a new sports radio station, “98.7 The Fan,” scheduled to debut in August at a date to be determined; and the launch of the CBS Sports Radio network, whose updates would be used by “The Fan” among many other stations across the country, starting September 4. The network will go 24/7 on January 2, at which point “The Fan” sister station 1010 AM WQYK will end a “Fan” simulcast and clear the new network. Currently, WQYK-AM is operating a piecemeal sports radio format, running mostly programming from UPN, I mean, Yahoo! Sports Radio. (It won’t be the only market YSR loses in the next seven months, trust me.)

So here’s the sports radio scene in Tampa: WDAE AM 620 (“The Sports Animal”) is doing their thing, Fox Sports Radio affiliation in hand (of course, station owner Clear Channel distributes FSR, so no surprise there). And CBS will be doing their thing, but until then, they’re affiliated with the dead sports radio network walking.

But wait – where’s ESPN? You would figure ESPN Radio would be quite visible in a market with three major sports franchises.

Currently, they can be found on AM 1040 in Tampa – but at least on that frequency, and another in a neighboring market, the Worldwide Leader’s days are numbered.

For the last decade, Genesis Communications had delivered ESPN Radio to Tampa Bay listeners, first via WLVU AM 1470 and since 2008 on WHBO AM 1040. Likewise, across the I-4 in Orlando, Genesis-owned WHOO AM 1080 had been carrying ESPN Radio programming for the last ten years.

That came to an abrupt end last week, when Genesis had rebranded what have been known in their respective markets as “ESPN 1040” and “ESPN 1080” as the collective name of “Sports Talk Florida.”

They’re still carrying ESPN Radio programming, but they’re planning to restock their schedules with new programming by October 1. The reason being, according to Genesis Communications president Bruce Maduri: “The time has come to develop more new local stars and original programming not available on other competing audio media platforms. Genesis will focus on bringing new and compelling local and national content to listener and advertisers, which will include sports/talk and play-by-play, all under a branding strategy both will love.”

Behind the scenes, however, the real reason for this new course of direction is ESPN Radio asking for high carriage fees and inventory demands. As RBR.com’s Carl Marcucci writes, “We had heard the ESPN Radio deal with Genesis started going sour months ago when the contract talks didn’t renew as they usually had before re-upping with the network. Then, when they did begin, ESPN Radio wanted everything but the kitchen sink from Genesis.”

Way to negotiate, ESPN. But then again, what else do you expect from a broadcasting entity whose cable channel rakes in around $5 per subscriber (with the next highest-costing cable channel in the neighborhood of $1.50). But cable companies would be committing suicide if they fathomed dropping ESPN – sure, the two sides can fight about how much a channel is worth, which could lead to that channel and/or others being blacked out for a great deal of time – and ESPN’s parent company, Disney, is no stranger to such disputes.

The difference between ESPN Radio, as opposed to their television wing, is that the programming is available anywhere for free, via the Internet, smartphone apps, and of course, 600+ other radio stations. (ESPN Radio can also be heard via SiriusXM Satellite Radio.) To view ESPN on TV, you must be a cable/satellite subscriber. Not the case when you turn on a traditional radio.

With so many dime-a-dozen music channels that can be heard on the radio, and spoken word programming guaranteed to be offering something new and fresh each day, it may make sense if a radio operator were to pay a premium to be the representative of a specific programming format or service in their market.

But there’s a difference between sense and senseless.

With ESPN scaring away a longtime affiliate of their radio network, they’ll have to look for a new suitor in not one market, but two. RBR.com hints that ESPN is even talking to WDAE to have their network cleared, but given the Clear Channel/Fox Sports relationship that I alluded to earlier, the chances of that are slim to none. Of course, CBS’ 98.7 FM and 1010 AM are out. Perhaps their best option is to echo their actions in New York City and enter a local marketing agreement with another radio operator – perhaps on FM, what with the advent of “98.7 The Fan.” And wouldn’t that make “The Sports Animal” a little bit angry: For WDAE to migrate to FM, it would have to be at the expense of one of five sister FM stations in the Clear Channel which all appear to be doing relatively well. A good problem to have – but not with spoken word formats moving to the FM band now more than ever.

Meanwhile, the sports radio picture in Orlando is a bit similar: you’ve got your Clear Channel/Fox Sports station (WYGM/”740 The Team”), and AM 1080, and that’s it for now. Late next month, the market will be getting another new sports station with the branding “Rivalz Sports Orlando” – another local original sports offering, it looks like.

The question is, did ESPN intentionally demand “everything but the kitchen sink” from Genesis Communications and their two AM stations, knowing that they would likely pass on extending their contract, thus making them free agents for a bigger and better pair of frequencies, preferably on FM, for their product?

If you think about it, Walt Disney World has a huge footprint in Orlando. Disney is ESPN’s corporate owner. And let’s not forget the synergy that is in full effect when you visit the “ESPN Wide World of Sports” complex near Disney World. The market must be that important to them that they were to make an offer that Genesis could refuse, so they could go on their merry way and search for a bigger signal in Orlando, as well as Tampa.

While we applaud Bruce Maduri and Genesis Communications for taking a stand against the “evil empire,” we expect the Worldwide Leader to get what they want in the end – if it wasn’t their asking price for Genesis, it would be new stations with a better reach than what WHBO and WHOO had to offer.

And we’ll likely learn which new stations they are by October. But it’s anyone’s guess as to what they will be.

It’s a small radio dial, after all.

One comment on “Tampa, Orlando Tuning Out ESPN

  1. Roland Rojas says:

    Are you guys kidding with this guy that does the sports tick? I hope that the station manager doesn’t think that this jokers voice or accent is going to be received on the Tampa radio listeners. I feel that every time he finishes his sentence, I am going back to Romper Room….I will not be listening until you guys get rid of Mr. Rodgers.

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