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Top Sports Ratings Moments of 2021

The following list counts down the biggest sports ratings highlights within the past twelve months, based on its impact on the sports television spectrum.

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During the year 2021, sports were approaching some sense of normalcy. Thanks to the available vaccines, fans returned to fill arenas and stadiums, while those at homes or elsewhere were gradually flocking back to their TV sets or mobile viewing devices. But as the calendar transitioned from 2021 to 2022, the pandemic remained a concern, with a continued impact upon the sports world.

The following list counts down the biggest sports ratings highlights within the past twelve months, based on its impact on the sports television spectrum as we all attempt to come out of the pandemic. America’s four major sports are represented, as are the WNBA, MLS, and PGA golf.

10. NHL Sees Immediate Gains Upon Returns to ESPN and ABC

After a 17-year absence, the National Hockey League returned to the cable network where it found its footing in the ’80s and ’90s, ESPN. Bolstered by its frequent mentions in ads and features throughout its studio shows (most notably, “SportsCenter”), the start of the season with marquee team Pittsburgh Penguins at defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning drew just shy of one million viewers. That was enough to have delivered the largest NHL opening night audience on cable on record (since 1993)

This is the first of three sports ratings moments on this list to have taken place at or surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. ABC’s telecast of New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins on Nov. 26 averaged 1.23 million viewers (with a peak of 1.57 million), marking the most-watched NHL Black Friday Gams since 2016.

9. Continued Growth for WNBA Finals

When the stars come out to play, fans will follow. This year’s WNBA Finals featured several notable names: Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith. The series’ peak viewership came on Oct. 12 for the Phoenix Mercury’s Game 2 overtime win (their lone Finals victory) over the Chicago Sky. It delivered 763,000 viewers, having aired on ESPN — the most-watched WNBA Finals game on any network, including ABC, in four years. That figure lifted the Finals’ average to 548,000 viewers across its four games which is the championship series’ largest since 2017.

The Finals have steadily increased in consecutive years (2019-21) for the first time since 2004-07.

8. MLS Has a Postseason to Remember

It was, no doubt, assisted by its NFL lead-in, but Major League Soccer gladly accepted the viewer boost on Thanksgiving Day. The playoffs were already in full swing, and one of its important matches featured the Colorado Rapids versus the Portland Timbers. Taking place after NFL Bears-Lions, almost 1.9 million watched MLS action — the largest audience for the league since the 2016 MLS Cup, which aired on Fox and Spanish-language broadcaster UniMas. The mark was MLS’ largest on a single network since 2004.

Adding to its banner postseason, the No. 1 TV market in the nation became home to the MLS Cup champions, NYCFC. An average of 1.1 million had watched NYCFC’s victory over Portland, the most-watched single-network MLS Cup viewership since 2018.

7. NBA Gives Its Playoffs a Jolt with Play-In Action

Emerging from a season following one that was thrown into flux in 2020, the NBA devised a new look to their playoff format. There would still be eight top seeds in each conference to qualify for the postseason, but the determinations of the 7th and 8th seeds changed. In addition, a mini-tournament that also involved the 9th and 10th seeded teams provided a Wild Card-Esque feel that the NFL, MLB, and college basketball already implement.

Of the six available Play-In games, one was the clear must-see matchup: no. 8 seed Golden State Warriors at no. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers. It was the first meaningful game between longtime rivals LeBron James and Stephen Curry in three years.

James had previously voiced his dissatisfaction with the new playoff setup. The NBA, on the other hand, could not have been more ecstatic by the monster ratings results from Warriors-Lakers. 5.6 million tuned in on May 19, cable’s top viewer mark for an NBA telecast (excluding playoffs and All-Star Games) since Christmas Day 2011.

6. The Manning Brothers Become NFL’s Newest Star Commentators

Since his retirement, TV networks have vied for Peyton Manning — a popular spokesperson for several products and companies throughout his Hall of Fame career — to join their team as a color analyst.

ESPN had especially eyed him for “Monday Night Football.” In 2021, they finally got him… but not in a conventional capacity: Peyton and his younger brother, fellow two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning as commentators on an alternate “MNF” broadcast for ESPN2.

The ManningCast caused an immediate stir. Its premiere attracted 800,000 viewers; it more than doubled to 1.9 million viewers by week two.

Their eye-opening nuts-and-bolts football talk, along with being joined by celebrities of all types like Charles Barkley, Phil Mickelson, Condoleeza Rice, and David Letterman, delivered much buzz for the casual sports fan. It even birthed a new player curse — the active football stars who made guest appearances on it wound up on the losing end of their subsequent games.

5. MLB Wild Card Sets New Milestones

At the publication time of this list, baseball owners locked out the players amidst negotiating terms for a new financial agreement. Among the ideas proposed during negotiations was an expansion of the MLB postseason to either a 12-team or 14-team format. That would lead to a larger Wild Card round, akin to the best-of-three first-round playoff structure tested out in the fall of 2020. Precipitating these discussions are the recently-agreed-to extended deals with ESPN, TBS, and Fox — the thought being that more playoff games will result in more revenue. Nonetheless, if 2021 was any indication, the higher-ups might be tempted to leave well enough alone.

The starting games of the postseason outdrawing almost every subsequent Division Series and League Championship Series game is nothing new. But in this past year, both single-game Wild Card eliminations achieved significant milestones. Of course, it helped that all four Wild Card participants were familiar teams with big fan bases.

The New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox on Oct. 5 — another chapter in their storied rivalry — averaged 7.69 million viewers across ESPN and ESPN2. It was the best viewer figure recorded by Nielsen Media Research for an MLB game on ESPN platforms since covering Mark McGwire’s now-controversial 61st home run (tying Roger Maris’ mark of 1961) back on Sep. 7, 1998.

On the following night (Oct. 6), the St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers, which concluded with a walk-off win for LA, averaged 6.67 million viewers. It was the second most-watched MLB Wild Card game in TBS history; only Cubs-Pirates from 2015 had drawn more.

4. NFL Dominates the Holidays

We’ve already mentioned Thanksgiving for the NHL and MLS on this list. But when you think of the holiday, you think of the NFL and “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys. Add into the mix the Raiders who triumphed over the Cowboys in overtime, and, with nearly 38 million viewers, you’ve got the biggest NFL regular-season telecast since the infamous 1993 Thanksgiving Dolphins-Cowboys matchup (the Leon Lett game).

Thanksgiving was not the only holiday the NFL flexed its ratings muscles. The league was the figurative bull in a china shop on Christmas Day, the perennial bastion for the NBA, with its doubleheader of Browns-Packers and Colts-Cardinals. Almost 29 million across Fox and NFL Network saw Green Bay’s close win over Cleveland from Lambeau Field, achieving the second most-watched multi-platform “Thursday Night Football” game on record (only the 3-network telecast of Patriots-Giants in 2007 when New England accomplished an undefeated regular season drew more).

3. Baseball Became a Field of Dreams Once Again

Kevin Costner was one of the biggest movie stars of the ’80s and ’90s. During the past decade, he’s been the king of the small screen from his Emmy-winning turn in the blockbuster miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” to starring in TV’s No. 1 scripted series, the cable sudser “Yellowstone.” In August 2021, Costner achieved another massive TV audience courtesy of revisiting his 1989 film classic “Field of Dreams.” MLB and the Fox network turned the magic of Hollywood into reality in the small town of Dyersville, Iowa, for a game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox.

The backdrop of the cornfields over the outfield wall, the players’ vintage uniforms, and the game concluding with a walk-off home run by the White Sox all combined for a special night to remember. 5.9 million viewers watched the contest, posting the largest amount for an MLB regular-season game on any network since 2005.

2. The Majesty of the Olympics Loses Some of Its TV Luster

The world came together once more in the spirit of competition this past summer in Tokyo, Japan.

The figurative pandemic clouds still hovered over the proceedings, from athletes disqualified by testing positive for the coronavirus to the empty arenas where events like the Opening Ceremony took place. Overall, it was an antiseptic atmosphere that we American sports fans became undesirably accustomed to in the latter half of 2020.

Nonetheless, this was, after all, the Summer Olympics. It has long been a rating juggernaut, and it always outdrew its winter Games.

But those notions got debunked in 2021, having encountered the modern trends of home viewing. We probably should have known an Olympics still labeled as “Tokyo 2020” for marketing purposes was a bad omen for business at the very start.

Relative to what else is airing on TV, the Tokyo Olympics averaging 16 million viewers per night, is a solid achievement. But the Summer Games had never before dipped below 20 million/night, on record. The Sochi Games in Feb. 2018 did 19.8 million, so surely, NBCUniversal would have sold Tokyo as better than that to advertisers. Make-goods to those same advertisers were abounded, as a result.

Just five years earlier from Rio de Janeiro did the Olympics draw 27 million in prime time. The minimal time zone difference was an important aspect to the more robust number — Rio just one hour ahead of Eastern time; Tokyo ahead by 13 hours. But another factor has majorly affected the state of television since 2016. Audiences for linear offerings have massively eroded. Younger generations have sought other entertainment options, especially streaming services. NBC’s Peacock platform was established as a vital centerpiece for its Olympic coverage. Still, the nascent outlet has a long road ahead to be a go-to streaming option like Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Disney+, or even HBO Max.

NBCUniversal may be bracing for another alarming dip for its upcoming Winter Olympics from, of all places, China.

1. Super Bowl Sets Off Domino Effect

The 2020 NFL season was a tumultuous one. The vaccine had yet to be widely available then, and multiple game postponements were a frequent occurrence. However, it all concluded on time, as Super Bowl LV was held on Feb. 7. And as a bonus, it was a battle between newfound superstar Patrick Mahomes and the GOAT himself, Tom Brady, in Brady’s first non-Patriots season of his career. With big names and known teams involved, CBS was bound for phenomenal ratings.

Or so we thought.

The following morning arrived, and no ratings were released. For what is the year’s biggest TV event since the 1970s, it was certainly an oddity that there was no early indication of how the Big Game performed. The longer the absence of such rating news, the presumption that it received not-so-great results had grown. By the morning of Feb. 9, the data was finally published, confirming the previous day’s concerns: the Big Game underwhelmed.

With over 96 million viewers (including almost 6 million on streaming platforms), the Big Game dipped to a 14-year low. It was also the lowest-rated in households since Joe Namath led the Jets to an upset win over the Colts in 1969; and the lowest adults 18-49 delivery since Washington’s win over Buffalo in 1992.

The results set the tone for the TV industry in the weeks and months that followed. NBC — despite its marquee events that were then-upcoming like the Golden Globe Awards, two Olympics, and an NFL season that culminated in their broadcast of the next Super Bowl — joined their public relations brethren of ABC, Fox, and The CW in ceasing publications of daily ratings releases.

And, in an unprecedented move, the Fox network, the broadcast home of Super Bowl LVII in Feb. 2023, began selling commercial time for that Big Game this past year to guard against any potential championship audience declines.

As 2021 came to a close, the NFL not only remained a ratings behemoth but — as noted on this very list — achieved some multi-decade highs. Perhaps the notion of erosion for the country’s biggest sport may be quickly fleeting. For the league and its TV partners, they sure hope those worries are short-lived.

Lastly, an honorary mention:

  • Mickelson’s Historic Win Lifts PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson was already among the legendary golfers of the 21st century. Back on May 23, he transcended his career even further by winning the PGA Championship. At the age of 50, he became the oldest to ever win a golf major, beating the previous mark by two years. The tournament’s final round averaged 6.6 million viewers — the largest amount in three years. A peak of 13 million was tuned in to CBS in the moments Mickelson had clinched his win. With the exception of The Masters one month prior, it delivered the largest PGA Tour golf audience since the March 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns.

Note: ratings were tabulated by Nielsen Media Research, and most of their provided context was originally complied and mentioned by Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch at sportsmediawatch.com.

BNM Writers

Dan Mandis Has Done Every Job Imaginable in Radio

Mandis has been in the news radio business for a long time, which means it presents him the opportunity to wear many hats throughout his career.

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When WWTN personality Dan Mandis was ten years old, he wanted what every other red-blooded young man wanted; to have something to do with professional baseball. 

Only one problem; he sucked as a player.  

“I played little league, but I was terrible,” Mandis said. “They stuck me out in right field. I was Lupus in Bad News Bears.”  

Wow. Lupus? He must have really sucked. But Lupus made a mean martini for coach Buttermaker. Mandis had another baseball dream.  

“I wanted to be Vin Scully,” he said. “He was the greatest play-by-play guy in history, the absolute best. He drew pictures with his words.” His love of baseball hasn’t aged well. Instead of current teams and games, Mandis said he likes to flick on YouTube and watch the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers. 

“If you grew up with baseball, it has a place in your heart,” Mandis said. “I collected baseball cards, and I was the kid who had the transistor glued to his ear listening to games.” 

There are two things I know for sure about Nashville; Minnie Pearl and the drinks are way overpriced.   

“We’re all about the free market,” Mandis said. “People from the north can come down, and we’ll take their money.” He’s been working in Nashville for eight years and just signed for another four years. According to Mandis, Nashville feels comfortable because the city embraces ‘everything that makes this country great.’ Oh, and there’s no state income tax. To avoid the exorbitant drink prices, Mandis suggests you go to a liquor store and pre-game before you go downtown. If you don’t know what that means, ask one of your kids.  

“I hate to sound like I’m pandering, but this state is ripped right out of Americana,” Mandis said. “Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are crime-ridden and have massive homeless issues. Down here, we have southern values.” He admits Nashville has its share of crime but nothing like other cities. The suburbs, he says, are second to none. 

If you find yourself in Nashville and are into presidential history, he says you have to visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. There are lots of wineries and whiskey producers. Mandis sounds like a public service announcement for Tennessee.  

He loves baseball films too, like For Love of the Game and Moneyball. 

“For me, those are comfort movies,” Mandis said. “If it has baseball and a love story, I’m hooked.”  

Mandis likes prequels more than sequels, especially the Star Wars franchise.  

“I prefer Better Call Saul to Breaking Bad. Saul is one of the more intriguing characters in history.” He said movies don’t pack the same punch they used to.  

“I was a terrible student in high school. My passions didn’t really lend themselves to do a lot of reading. With one exception, I’m fascinated by the Civil War and so much of that went on down here. If I could go back in time, I’d be in the crowd for the Gettysburg Address.” 

That seems like a wasted wish. Lincoln’s speech was only two minutes long. 

The south and things southerners love have been a target during the past few years. Mandis said he understands when folks became upset when some of the statues were taken down. “I’m against it,” he said. “If you’re going to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee, that’s a mistake. He’s an important historical figure, and many in the south appreciate his role in the Civil War.” 

Mandis said he wouldn’t think of going up to someone and tell them to tear down their statue because he didn’t agree with them. 

What would he do if he got fired after the next four years? Retire and go off into the sunset? “I work in radio, and I’m a man of modest means,” Mandis said. “My goal in radio has always been to be that morning guy who has been in the market forever.” He’s not looking for syndication, a major market, or hoping to be a top-ten radio personality. That’s not on the radar. “I’ve had a long and pleasant career.” 

You can listen to Mandis daily from 5:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. on Nashville’s Morning News on WWTN.

Working in radio for as long as he has, Mandis has become a deft interviewer. He counts his interview with Steve Perry of Journey as one of his best and favorite.  

“I was allotted 20 minutes to talk with him,” Mandis said. “We ended up talking for about an hour and twenty minutes. He found the first question I asked to be interesting, and it was golden from there.” 

He said it pays to do your research on a subject. “I cared enough to really know about him, prepped for the interview, and I could tell Perry respected that.” Mandis said rock star Perry used to clean Turkey coops for a living.  

Mandis has done it all; worked as a call-screener, board operator, producer, news anchor, a news and traffic reporter, and now host. He also worked with Dr. Laura Schlessinger for many years.   

Mandis said his favorite all-time radio gig was traffic reporting in his hometown of Los Angeles. “I loved it. It goes back to my dream of play-by-play. Back in those days, all the reports were (for the most part) live. In a region the size of Los Angeles, it was a blast to do live reports on big-time radio stations as the traffic situation evolved. Such a blast.” 

“I was an off-air PD, then became a full-time host. I believe that’s unusual, but not sure.” He has amassed a collection of awards, including the Colorado Broadcasting Award for best radio imaging. Mandis was an AP winner for best reporter in Indiana and was nominated for a Marconi last year. “I was robbed,’ he jokes.  

He said his father was a big talk radio fan, listening to KABC in Los Angeles. “Early, I hated it, but tastes change,” Mandis said. “It was always a dream of mine to host a show on KABC in honor of my dad. I kind of did. I guest-hosted Red Eye Radio, and their LA affiliate is KABC. Given my lack of success in getting an opportunity on KABC, that will have to do.” 

“I’ve never really worked in anything but talk radio,” Mandis said. “It’s the greatest and most viable format, in my opinion.” 

If the radio gigs dry up, he’ll always have Lupus’ spot in right field.  

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BNM Writers

Possible Reversal of The 1973 Roe vs. Wade Decision Dominates Network TV Coverage

“Surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2.”

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News of Justice Samuel Alito’s initial draft majority opinion that would have the Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights — immediately spread like wildfire on the evening of May 2nd.

The development, first reported by the website Politico starting within the 9 p.m. ET hour, holds monumental implications for the nation if the Court officially does overturn the law.

Yet, surprisingly, the overall cable news landscape remained relatively steady in prime time on May 2. Compared to the three prior Monday nights (averaging Apr. 11, 18 & 25), MSNBC’s flagship program “Rachel Maddow Show” slipped 4 percent to 1.94 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its lead-out “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” (1.45 million) was down 7 percent. 826,000 then tuned in to “The 11th Hour” up 3 percent.

Over at CNN, the 9 p.m. hour of “Anderson Cooper 360” (660,000 viewers) ticked up one percent. “Don Lemon Tonight” grew ten percent in the 10 p.m. hour (689,000 viewers) but fell two percent in the 11 p.m. hour (517,000 viewers).

Fox News Channel’s coverage focused on how the leak from the Supreme Court occurred. “Hannity” (2.79 million) stayed even, while the subsequent two lead-out programs on the night jumped up the most (of all cable telecasts) in raw figures — each increased by two million viewers: “The Ingraham Angle” (2.4 million; +9 percent from the 2.2 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25) and “Gutfeld!” (2.15 million; +10 percent from the 1.95 million average of Apr. 11, 18, 25).

Cable news averages for May 2-8, 2022:

Total Day (May 2-8 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.484 million viewers; 241,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.631 million viewers; 69,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.478 million viewers; 102,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.183 million viewers; 52,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.132 million viewers; 32,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.132 million viewers; 18,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.112 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.111 million viewers; 22,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (May 2-7 @ 8-11 p.m.; May 8 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.286 million viewers; 352,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.996 million viewers; 107,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.605 million viewers; 131,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.223 million viewers; 26,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.206 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.149 million viewers; 54,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.142 million viewers; 25,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.059 million viewers; 8,000 adults 25-54
  • NewsNation: 0.052 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.449 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.431 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.371 million viewers

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.284 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.220 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.188 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.182 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Fri. 5/6/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.151 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.047 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.876 million viewers

36. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.941 million viewers

159. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.870 million viewers

161. Stanley Tucci “Piedmont” (CNN, Sun. 5/8/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.859 million viewers

290. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.567 million viewers

356. The Daily Show (CMDY, Wed. 5/4/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.434 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  CNN, MSNBC, HBO and HLN programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.623 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.553 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.533 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.503 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.480 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.475 million adults 25-54

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 5/4/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.474 million adults 25-54

8. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 5/2/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.445 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Tue. 5/3/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.444 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 5/5/2022 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.441 million adults 25-54

76. Last Week Tonight (HBO, Sun. 5/8/2022 11:01 PM, 42 min.) 0.231 million adults 25-54

81. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 5/2/2022 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.228 million adults 25-54

96. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 5/2/2022 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.211 million adults 25-54

129. The Daily Show (CMDY, Tue. 5/3/2022 11:00 PM, 31 min.) 0.167 million adults 25-54

152. Real Time With Bill Maher “Episode 599” (HBO, Fri. 5/6/2022 10:01 PM, 55 min.) 0.154 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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BNM Writers

What Would a Jeff Warshaw Consortium Takeover of Cumulus Mean?

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

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On April 14, 2022, reports became public that a consortium led by Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw made an unsolicited, $1.2 billion bid (including debt) to acquire Cumulus Media.

Reuters reported that Warshaw planned to take the company private with a bid of $15 to $17 per share. As a result, Cumulus shares which traded in the $10 – $11 range over the past year, jumped to $14.21, a 40% increase and a level not seen since July 2021.

Cumulus management responded to the reports by acknowledging the indication of interest and stated it was “reviewing the letter.”

During Cumulus’s Q1 22 earnings call on May 4, President/CEO Mary Berner announced a $50 million stock buyback program and rejected the Warshaw consortium acquisition bid.

Radio companies have lagged the overall financial markets for over a decade. I have participated in conversations with groups that already own radio stations and others currently outside the industry who have considered buying radio groups.

In 2013 music streaming service Pandora bought an FM station in Rapid City, South Dakota. Upon first hearing that news, some of us thought perhaps they realized how undervalued FM signals were and would invest in the medium. Alas, Pandora thought they had found a backdoor means to lower its music royalty costs but otherwise had little interest in broadcast radio.

As somebody who has been involved in every facet of the radio industry for nearly 40 years, I was interested in far more than just the investment implications of the proposed buyout.

When the news of Warshaw’s consortium became public, some of us looking for a knight on a white horse wondered if this was what we had been waiting for. The announcement led to the question: would a Jeff Warshaw-led Cumulus be an improvement over the current management?

To answer that question, I used reviews from the website Glassdoor. Reviewers can rate the company on a one to five bases, with five the best and one the worst.

These reviews have to be taken with a grain of salt as former employees may have an ax to grind, but this caveat holds equally true for all employers.

The company Jeff Warshaw currently runs, Connoisseur Media, receives an average of 2.9 stars (out of five) on Glassdoor. This rating is based on just 32 reviews, so the low sample size is a factor to consider.

Cumulus currently has an average of 3.2 stars on Glassdoor based on over 800 reviews.

These Glassdoor reviews suggest that a new Cumulus led by Warshaw wouldn’t be an improvement over the current management. If it takes a knight on a white horse to make Cumulus a better company to work for, it will have to wait for another day.

To be fair, I don’t know Jeff Warshaw. I have never spoken with him. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk to him at the appropriate time (assuming that his attempted takeover remains ongoing). I also welcome employees of Connoisseur or Cumulus who feel the average reflected on Glassdoor is unfair to contact me (andy@andybloom.com). I will accept comments and input anonymously regardless of whether it is more positive or negative than Glassdoor poses for use in a future column.

While we’re looking at the reviews for Connoisseur and Cumulus, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see how the other major radio broadcast groups fare:

iHeart also rates a 3.2 with over 2,200 reviews.

Audacy receives a 3.5, which is misleading as it’s based on 23 reviews. Entercom had 691 reviews and rates a 3.1.

The best I can find in the industry among the majors is Cox with 4.1. Again, this may be deceiving. Apollo Global Management scores a more modest 3.1.

Hubbard has no reviews. I’m not sure why.

SiriusXM appears to have the highest current score at 3.6.

You’ll find common themes, positive and the negatives are dizzyingly familiar across the companies throughout these reviews.

The main reoccurring negative themes include:

· Low pay

· Long hours

· No chance for advancement

· Doing the work of too many people

· Management pays lip service to feedback but doesn’t do anything

The main reoccurring positive themes include:

· The people

· Fun place to work

· Perks – such as free tickets

· Glad to be working in the industry

I was curious about the differences between the companies employees rated higher and lower to work for. Listening to a couple of recent earnings calls revealed some of the variations. In next week’s column, we will examine some of the differences.

Are the pros and cons listed above familiar to you? I welcome your input and anonymous comments for next week’s follow-up column. Please reach out to me at andy@andybloom.com.

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