In the city of Portland, there are now three radio stations offering full-time sports talk programming. Considering that the market’s population is just above two million people, and the commitment to programming has been filled largely by network shows, I was curious to see how the format was being supported by local fans.
While at first you may flinch and say “three stations offering full-time sports programming isn’t a lot“, keep in mind that large markets such as New York City, Chicago, Washington DC and Philadelphia don’t offer that many choices, and comparable markets such as Baltimore, St. Louis, and Tampa don’t either.
Throughout the years I’ve found that the Portland market does a great job in launching the careers of some excellent radio talent. It’s also been the home to some of the industry’s finest programmers. For example, Colin Cowherd, Gavin Dawson, John Lund, Dave Shore and Chad Doing are just a few who have hosted local shows in the market. Scott Masteller, Allan Davis and Dennis Glasgow have all programmed while calling Portland home.
The city is known for its incredible passion and love for Trail Blazers basketball, and after experiencing it myself last season, I can tell you that the support is as strong as anywhere in the country. That same enthusiasm and interest is also felt on the college football circuit, as the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers not only occupy the headspace of Portland sports fans, but also the entire state of Oregon!
I wanted to take a look under the hood to see what is happening in the market, and whether or not the market’s appetite for sports, was enough to support three full-time sports talkers. As you’ll see in the examples below, there are many positives for each brand to hang their hat on, but there are also some challenges as well.
When you analyze the three brands, it’s clear that Portland sports radio revolves around 1080 The Fan (KFXX-AM)! They are the market leader, with the firmest commitment to local sports programming, and they’ve been the established brand since 1990. The success of the market starts with them!
Led by programmer Jeff Austin, 1080 The Fan employs many of the biggest local names in the market. Isaac Ropp and “Big Suke” Jason Scukanek are a force locally, not only dominating afternoon drive on radio, but they’re also simulcast locally on television by Comcast Northwest.
Rounding out 1080’s local lineup are “Dirt & Sprague”, which features Anthony “Dirt” Johnson and Brandon Sprague, and “Dusty & Cam” which is hosted by Dusty Harrah and former NFL Tight End Cam Cleeland. The station also features Colin Cowherd in morning drive, a show that has even larger appeal in the market given Colin’s previous local success working for The Fan!
When you look at the other two local brands, 750 The Game (KXTG-AM) and Rip City Radio 620 (KPOJ-AM), it’s a much tighter battle, and there are different parts of the story that make it compelling.
First, for “The Game”, they’ve had an interesting change in philosophy over the past few years. The station was put on to the FM dial in May 2008, and appeared primed for a big run against The Fan. After three years though, and a healthy investment in local content and play by play, the station was returned to the AM dial in May 2011, and re-branded as “750 The Game”.
In making the move back to AM, the station also elected to make some changes to its lineup. Currently the station features national talents Dan Patrick and Jim Rome, as well as local personalities John Canzano and Mike Ragz.
For Rip City Radio 620, they’re only one full year into the format, and clearly they’re banking on their association to the Trail Blazers, the market’s lone professional franchise, to help them drive larger ratings and revenue growth. Even the station’s moniker revolves around the team, which is smart, given the fan base’s affinity towards it.
It also provides the radio station with an opportunity to create strong marketing campaigns inside and outside of the Moda Center, with a brand name that people should recall.
The lineup on 620 also features a mix of local and national. Taylor Danforth, Andy Bunker and Blazers Play by Play voice Brian Wheeler host local programs on the station, and Rich Eisen and Jay Mohr’s national shows round out the remainder of the station’s programming.
In analyzing the ratings, I wanted to take a look at how the three stations matched up, and how each of their approaches were being received in the local market. The data you’re looking at is for the 2015 Spring Book (April-May-June) so the Blazers play by play advantage wasn’t as big of a factor, which means this is a time when it’s largely about the lineups, and to some extent, national and local topics. These are the Men 25-54 numbers, which is the demographic that sports radio stations covet most.
|1080 THE FAN (KFXX)||Mike & Mike 6a-7a; Colin Cowherd 7a-10a||3.7|
|750 THE GAME (KXTG)||Dan Patrick 6a-9a; Jim Rome 9a-10a||2.7|
|RIP CITY RADIO 620 (KPOJ)||Bunker & Danforth 6a-9a; Rich Eisen 9a-10a||1.2|
|1080 THE FAN (KFXX)||Dirt & Sprague; Dusty & Cam||1.7|
|750 THE GAME (KXTG)||Jim Rome 10a-12p; John Canzano 12p-3p||0.8|
|RIP CITY RADIO 620 (KPOJ)||Rich Eisen 10a-12p; Jay Mohr 12p-3p||1.2|
|1080 THE FAN (KFXX)||Primetime w/ Isaac & Suke||4.3|
|750 THE GAME (KXTG)||In The Huddle with Ragz||1.0|
|RIP CITY RADIO 620 (KPOJ)||Wheels at Work 3p-5p; JT The Brick 5p-7p||1.1|
|1080 THE FAN (KFXX)||ESPN Radio||2.6|
|750 THE GAME (KXTG)||NBC Sports Radio||1.3|
|RIP CITY RADIO 620 (KPOJ)||Fox Sports Radio; Trail Blazers Basketball||2.2|
|1080 THE FAN (KFXX)||Colin, Dirt/Sprague, Dusty/Cam, Isaac/Suke||3.1|
|750 THE GAME (KXTG)||DP, Rome, Canzano, Ragz||1.3|
|RIP CITY RADIO 620 (KPOJ)||Bunker/Danforth, Eisen, Mohr, Wheeler, JT||1.2|
|1080 THE FAN (KFXX)||All Shows, Ancillary Programs & Play by Play||2.6|
|750 THE GAME (KXTG)||All Shows, Ancillary Programs & Play by Play||1.2|
|RIP CITY RADIO 620 (KPOJ)||All Shows, Ancillary Programs & Play by Play||1.2|
As I mentioned above, 1080 The Fan clearly owns the market right now, and local fans are loyal, especially to brands who continue to do good things for a sustained period of time. Because The Fan has stayed true to their commitment, and continued to recruit and support strong local talent, the local audience has rewarded them.
Let’s take a deeper look though into what all of these numbers mean, and how each station can use them to their benefit.
In mornings, Colin Cowherd performs really well, which is probably why 1080 The Fan has had some anxiety over the past few months, when Colin was wrestling with his future at either ESPN or Fox Sports Radio. I’m sure the station is going to want to hold on to a program which delivers the second highest overall number in the market.
While that isn’t known yet, I’m assuming they’ll maintain the relationship and continue to offer Colin’s Fox show on the station, considering that Colin is making an in-market appearance later this month to promote his new beer, which just so happens to be brewed in Oregon.
Not far behind Colin though is Dan Patrick, who delivers the highest performance on The Game, and the third best overall ratings performance in the market. That’s a very good story for The Game to use to their advantage. It also demonstrates Dan’s lasting power in the Portland market.
What’s interesting here in morning drive, is that the only local program, “Bunker and Danforth“, is a distant third. However, before you jump the gun and assume that Rip City Radio has morning problems, you need to understand the morning show didn’t start until March 2015. That means this is their first full book, and you never judge a show’s performance by only three months.
If they’re performing this way in 12-18 months, then Rip City Radio executives will probably have a deeper conversation, but this is a brand new product, in a crowded marketplace, and it takes time for people to find a show, listen to it, and become loyal to it. It also takes time for the talent to gel, and build the identity of their program. Making it even harder is the fact that the audience hasn’t had a local option in morning drive for the past few years.
If you’re at 1080 The Fan, you’re loving the fact that you own morning drive, and you’re focused on retaining a successful partnership with Colin Cowherd. For The Game, you’re thrilled with Dan Patrick, and looking at ways to capitalize during the rest of the day.
For Rip City Radio, you now have actual data to measure your morning show, and you now need to further support them, coach them, and market them. The upcoming NBA season will tell you a lot about the local audience, and if they’re willing to adjust their listening patterns in morning drive.
When you shift to the mid-days, you can see that the overall listening goes down, but once again, 1080 The Fan has a solid lead. There are though a few interesting items to focus on.
First, for The Game, they’ve got to be a little disappointed because they were given a strong lead-in with Dan Patrick, and yet middays gave a lot of it away. Jim Rome and John Canzano are usually well received in the Portland market, and I’ve listened to Canzano before myself and can tell you he’s an exceptional talent, so to lose nearly two full ratings points off of morning drive is a tough blow. It could be a one time problem, a sampling issue, or something else, I’m not sure at this time, but it’s something for folks at the Game to keep an eye on.
If you’re at Rip City Radio, you’ve got to like the consistency between mornings and middays, especially when you take into account that you’re switching from local programming into national content. One way to spin this is by analyzing it from a business point of view.
While people on the programming end live for the ratings to justify their success and connection to the local market, there is also a business side to examine. Along that line of thinking, what makes more sense, spending a ton on money on local talent to be a half of a ratings point better, or coming in a half point lower, yet having no expenses due to using national programming? That’s what Rip City Radio can use to their advantage in this daypart.
For The Fan, they’re in front once again, but they too are only one full book into their new mid-day offerings. That means it’s way too early to analyze the impact of their strategy, but if you’re in their shoes, you’ve got to feel good about coming out of the gate in front. The challenge now is to build on it, and grow that lead even higher, because right now, Rip City is not far behind. When you take into account the strong number Colin Cowherd is providing as a lead-in during morning drive, there’s room for improvement.
As we shift to afternoons, this is where The Fan makes their money. “Primetime” with Isaac & Big Suke, dominates. Not only are they the highest rated show in the market, they’re local celebrities due to their years together on radio, and their visual presence on television. When you deliver 4x higher than your competition, and double the collective performance of two radio stations, that’s called making an impact. The Fan I’m sure is making a lot of money with this afternoon show crushing it the way that they do.
For The Game and Rip City in afternoons, they’re in a dead heat, but what’s worth looking at is the fact that Rip City has the advantage of utilizing Blazers Play by Play man Brian Wheeler in afternoons, however he’s only working half of the daypart. That means the other half belongs to national programming courtesy of JT The Brick.
On the positive side, Wheeler’s name value should continue to help Rip City Radio make some inroads, especially when the Blazers return. On the negative side, that momentum gained between 3p-5p will be cancelled out if JT isn’t on topics that have local appeal. I’d love to see how the Game and Rip City would rate if they were going head to head locally for the entire daypart but right now that’s not an option.
For The Game, there’s two ways to look at this. First, you’re even in the ratings with Rip City’s afternoon show, which is hosted by one of the most popular voices in the community in Wheeler. The Game’s Mike Ragz has also only been in the market since last August, so for a relative newcomer to be in the conversation with an established talent like Wheeler is a pretty solid story.
The downside of it is that while the show’s numbers are equal to Rip City, you’ve had a longer period of time operating the format, and building a connection in the market. Your competitor is also producing half local programming and half network programming, which means you have an advantage in building local connectivity due to offering four hours of local content.
In both The Game and Rip City’s cases in afternoons, the numbers are very low, and unless they can cut into Isaac and Suke’s lead, it’s going to be a rough road ahead. There is more money to be earned from advertisers in afternoons, but you need the numbers to be higher to justify getting your fair share.
For our final look we head to evenings, which for the most part were filled by three national networks. Rip City did gain some help due to the Blazers playing during the early part of the book, and it’s possible some national play by play offerings were provided by one or two of the brands, but in any case, The Fan has the lead, and they use ESPN Radio programming, while their competitors offer Fox and NBC.
If you’re on the outside looking in at the Portland market, here’s the moral of the story – The Fan owns the sports radio space, and The Game and Rip City are battling to see who will emerge as the clear number two. Given Rip City’s ties with the Blazers, and Brian Wheeler, and the addition of a new morning show, it’ll be interesting to see if the upcoming basketball season gives them the boost they need to present a bigger in-market challenge.
For The Game, they have something strong in mornings with Dan Patrick, but their other dayparts need higher performances. Adding Colin Cowherd would be excellent, and instantly create some local audience shifting, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to make that happen. That means they’re going to need to take a deeper look to figure out how they can build off their mornings, and deliver stronger in mid-days and afternoons.
For The Fan, right now it’s about protecting your turf, and that starts with retaining Colin Cowherd. You’re also looking to further develop your midday shows, let Isaac and Big Suke continue their ratings dominance, and utilize some play by play, network shows and additional local content to keep the brand on track.
Barring a major slip up by The Fan, the results should remain similar in upcoming months in the Portland market. The challenge for 750 The Game and Rip City Radio 620 is to figure out a way to make sure they aren’t.
16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming
The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets.
The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.
New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend
More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.
In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.
Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.
Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.
Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time
Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:
“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”
Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.
Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.