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Does Simmons Want Out of ESPN?

Jason Barrett

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Late last week, we passed on scuttlebutt that ESPN columnist/podcast/sports guy/talking head/producer Bill Simmons would be a free agent in a year.

People in tech and media believe Simmons wants to leave ESPN, where he reportedly makes more than $3 million a year.

It’s said that Simmons wants to start his own company, with investment from a platform that will help him with sales, tech, and publicity.

If so, that platform will presumably need to write Simmons quite a large check to get going.

For comparison’s sake, the news-for-millennials startup Mic raised $10 million for its second big round of financing last spring. Previously, it had raised $5 million. Bleacher Report cofounder Bryan Goldberg raised $6.5 million to launch Bustle, a news site for women.

Simmons will probably need to raise a similar amount to staff a newsroom of 20 or so. He will definitely need to raise more if wants to keep pulling a $3 million salary.

Is Simmons worth that kind of money?

Not according to one digital media CEO we spoke to.

This person pointed to the performance of the two big sites Simmons has launched for ESPN so far.

The first is Grantland, the middle-to high-brow sports site Simmons launched three years ago.

According to ComScore, Grantland reached 4.8 million people in August 2014. That’s pretty small compared with the 25 million people the Gawker Media sports website Deadspin reached in the same month. Grantland grew 19% year-over-year. Deadspin grew 303%. The audience of another competitor, Vox Media’s SB Nation, was 13 million.

The comparison is especially ugly for Grantland when you consider that it gets a lot of traffic from ESPN.com, a web giant with roughly 200 million monthly unique visitors.

The second big web brand Simmons helped launch for ESPN is FiveThirtyEight. As Grantland is built around Simmons, FiveThirtyEight is built around Nate Silver, the reporter who became famous for using polling data to accurately predict the results of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

FiveThirtyEight is supposed to be a “smart” site that tells stories based on numbers.

Supposedly, Simmons fought hard for ESPN to hire Silver, and some ESPN executives hold Simmons accountable for FiveThirtyEight’s performance.

So how is it doing?

ComScore says FiveThirtyEight has just under 2 million visitors. That’s small, but FiveThirtyEight is relatively new.

Fortunately, there’s a good site to compare FiveThirtyEight to: Vox, the politics-and-more news analysis site from Vox Media that launched around the same time and has its own star editor, former Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein.

ComScore says Vox has 10.7 million unique visitors.

Why are FiveThirtyEight and Grantland so small?

The digital-media CEO we spoke to said he had heard Grantland writers were completely shielded from traffic data and that there was little pressure on them to attract new readers.

That’s different from how things run at successful standalone digital properties, including Gawker Media, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and some of the Vox Media sites, where (with some exceptions) writers are usually aware of their traffic and sometimes see their compensation rise or fall because of it.

Because of that difference, the CEO we spoke to said he would probably stay out of any bidding war for Simmons when his contract is up next year.

Nonetheless, Simmons may well be worth what ESPN pays him.

After all, ESPN is already a web giant, so squeezing a few million extra uniques out of Simmons may not really be a priority.

ESPN may well be perfectly happy simply to have him on TV talking about basketball, coming up with ideas like the “30 for 30″ documentary series, and generally infusing the ESPN brand with the Simmons mystique — making the whole place more attractive to advertisers.

There is real value in all of that.

It’s just unlikely that a digital-only, venture-capital-funded company would be able to capture the same value.

If Simmons wants to start or partner with a company like that, his new site is going to have work differently than Grantland does.

If he doesn’t want to do that, he has two options: Stay in the world of TV-based media — perhaps joining FOX Sports or NBCSN — or go to a new-media company like Yahoo or AOL that’s willing to pay him because of his brand’s halo effect.

Credit to Business Insider who originally posted this story.

Sports Radio News

SURVEY: 16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming

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 Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.

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Streaming Radio

According to Nielsen, All 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 its 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.

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Sports Radio News

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.

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MLB Radio

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.

Radio Listeners to MLB

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.

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Sports Radio News

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”

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Jeff Dean Show

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”

Jeff Dean Facebook

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.

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