June 29, 2023
Nielsen recently released a report on baseball and radio. The big takeaway was that flagship stations for MLB franchises saw a tremendous spike in listening levels on Opening Day. This was not a surprise to us as we have been fortunate to work with some highly successful sports stations and have tracked the progress of many others.
Any baseball fan will tell you that the sport thrives on radio. Even though the new MLB rules have lessened the time color commentators can tell their story, the pastoral nature of the game is a natural fit for radio.
That said, baseball’s success on radio is dwarfed by football – especially the NFL. It would be safe to assume that most football fans have large-screen TVs. Even with the giant screens, we still see a tremendous spike in game day radio listening. There was a time when you could turn down the TV audio and listen to the hometown crew. Unfortunately, the variety of digital delays now in effect makes this next to impossible.
Here are a few observations on the relationship between live play-by-play programming and radio:
- While baseball and football are the biggest generators, we do often see the benefits of the other big professional leagues. The NBA and NHL can move the needle a bit. However, this is generally confined to the playoffs.
- This is very much a market-dependent outcome. Markets that are considered good-to-great sports towns (think Philadelphia or Boston) will generate more listening than less fanatical cities.
- Markets that have seen an influx of population over the recent decades (think Miami) do not seem to fare as well. This is possibly because fans generally take their sports allegiances with them as they move.
- Ratings are often the results of the local team’s success (or lack thereof). San Francisco is a good example of that. When the Giants are hot, KNBR is as well. When the local nine stink, the ratings suffer.
- Music stations that carry play-by-play (usually football) often see a ratings spike during the game. However, they rarely see that cume spread out over other dayparts.
- Conversely, sports stations do see a benefit throughout the week. Fans want to praise or pummel the local teams. Plus, ancillary programming like a coach’s show makes more sense on this type of the station. It feeds listener expectations.
- We frequently see weekend numbers for (primarily) male-focused music stations suffer a bit – especially during football season.
If you are wondering how play-by-play performs in your market, there are a couple of things you can do.
- Track the in-season cume numbers for the local flagship.
- Find out how much audience you are sharing with the home team station. This can help you weather the ratings loss you may have to endure during a season. Stay the course, as your audience will likely return to their old habits once the season has ended.
- If you are a flagship, find out how much of your game day audience recycles into your weekday programming.
- There is a way to know your precise ratings for a specific game. You can also see how that game ranked versus the rest of the market. We can show you how to do that.
As TV has discovered, live sports event programming is valuable content. This is also true for radio. If you have it – flaunt it. If you don’t have it, make sure you know how it is affecting your market and your station.
-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant