Colin Cowherd, a prominent national voice on ESPN radio since 2003, is leaving the network, multiple industry sources tell The Big Lead. While no destination is finalized, talks are progressing towards a deal with Fox Sports. The move away from the Mothership does not come as much of a surprise for anyone who follows these things closely, or has been listening to Cowherd’s show for the past few months.
But, the timing will leave a gaping hole in ESPN Radio’s weekday lineup and has broader implications about where some things are going both in Bristol — few will forget the great talent exodus of 2015 at ESPN, which has seen the network lose other outspoken voices in Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann — and in general sports media. The difference here was that ESPN did make an aggressive bid to keep Cowherd, but was upstaged by Fox, who are clearly looking to make a big splash.
“We’ve enjoyed a mutually beneficial run with Colin for over a decade,” ESPN president John Skipper told TBL in a statement. “He came to national prominence on ESPN with his unique perspective on sports and society. Endings also bring new beginnings, for ESPN and Colin, and we thank him and wish him the best.”
So why leave ESPN now?
Near the top of the list would be a reunion with Jamie Horowitz, the new President of Fox Sports, who produced SportsNation with Cowherd and Michelle Beadle, as well as Cowherd’s Sunday morning football show a couple years ago. Perhaps Fox has a multi-faceted plan that may include a Cowherd-driven Sunday morning football pregame show on Fox that airs before the Sunday NFL pregame show?
It’s not currently known what Cowherd would do for FS1. One potential idea is to put him at 6pm and attempt to better compete with SportsCenter with a talk-driven show, which Horowitz previously had a lot of success (depending on how you define the word) with at ESPN2.
At ESPN, Cowherd wanted to be simulcast on a network with better distribution than ESPNU, but there wasn’t any way he was going to supplant SportsCenter (ESPN) or First Take (ESPN2). As far as simulcasting goes, if Cowherd’s radio show lands at FS1 – industry sources say Sirius and DirecTV a la Rich Eisen are in play – will he have the same issues as Mike Francesa, who often gripes about being preempted?
Cowherd recently expressed some of his thoughts about the future of radio on the About Sports Radio podcast with Zach McCrite, which could give a hint as to where his show will land, and how it could change his pay structure: “In the next 5-10 years, I don’t even think they’ll have radios in cars. I think podcast and digital and Sirius is the future. I think terrestrial — AM especially — is done in five years.”
On that podcast, Cowherd estimated that his show makes $18-20 million a year on radio alone, but speculated within two or three years that his program would go from radio show simulcast on television to vice versa.
For Cowherd, it’s undeniable that his reach would dwindle in a move from ESPN to any radio outlet, whether it’s Direct TV, Sirius, or Premiere Networks (which distributes content to Fox). But, perhaps he’s calculated that he’d rather have a bigger piece of a smaller pie, with massive upside if podcasts are indeed better-monetized in the near future. The less-is-more move worked for Glenn Beck when he left Fox News, though he also had a website and streaming digital channel in addition to his radio show. And, all on-air radio talent has taken note of the way Howard Stern has handled business, opting for the biggest payday and unconditional freedom of speech on satellite radio rather than the biggest audience.
Credit to The Big Lead who originally published this article.
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.