Bill Simmons spent five and a half hours co-hosting with Mike Francesa on WFAN on Monday, and the experiment was enjoyable, interesting, and an example of what kind of quality programming can be created when two high profile people come together to make something good. Mutual respect was given, informed opinions were offered, and a few behind the scenes stories were shared.
Newsday had an opportunity to chat with Simmons about the experience, as well as some of his pointed comments about ESPN, his new show on HBO, and the media industry as a whole.
When he was asked how he became a fan of “Mike and the Mad Dog”, he praised the program while taking a jab at Boston sports radio. Simmons said, “I was trapped in Boston with the worst sports radio ever and I always in my head knew there was something better. I didn’t realize it until I would come back for the summers or the holidays to see my mom and stepdad. I’d listen to them, and be like, ‘Who the hell are these guys?’ “They talked like my friends talked, and I’d never heard that on talk radio before.”
When Chris Russo left the show in 2008, Simmons had been considered as a possible option by Francesa. Although the two never formed a partnership, Simmons felt the relationship could have worked if it had been explored further.
“I think it would have been easy,” said Simmons. I have a good sense of when to step up and when to lay back and Mike, you know, he talks. With him, it’s great for me because I can pick my spots, set some picks, get some rebounds, and there’s a mutual respect, which you have to have. And he loves sports. You can’t script sports radio. You have to be able to ride with where it’s going and you have to have a deep reservoir of appreciation and memory for things. That’s one of the reasons he’s great. He remembers everything.”
Now involved with HBO, his own podcast, and a brand new website “The Ringer”, Simmons is focused on the future. But, at every turn he’s asked about ESPN and his prior relationship with the company.
“ESPN succeeds because of games and ‘SportsCenter’. HBO succeeds because of the people they pick to go into business with creatively. Both sides work. Everyone is trying to write them off and say they’re on the way down. I don’t know what the future is. I do think they need to start adapting to where things have gone. Their weird campaign against social media shows me they don’t see where things are going. At the same time they have great sports and great relationships with these leagues and get to show a ton of games and people are always going to want to see games and they’re always going to have that.”
He was asked about his sharp commentaries towards his former employer, and Simmons says it’s a matter of being truthful. “I’ve always tried to talk about them honestly,” he said. “People forget I was there for 14 years, and made a lot of friends and worked with a lot of people. It’s honestly like if an athlete got traded to another team. It’s not like he’s never going to talk to players on that team. It definitely took a while to adjust to, but they’re going to be fine and obviously I’m fine.”
Simmons is launching his new television show “Any Given Wednesday” on June 22nd. Although the program will have a sports slant, and play to Simmons’ strengths, he’s also excited about venturing into new areas of discussion.
“It’s sports, pop culture and tech. I think if it was just about sports that’d be a harder task once a week. Pop culture and tech gives you a chance to audible. I have so much support. Not a lot of people have a TV show. It’s the only medium that no matter how much changes, TV still matters. I think it’s a more fun place to make an impact. Even on the Internet we would have the best story ever on Grantland, and three hours later people would move on to the next story. You look at HBO’s Sunday night lineup and that 2 1/2 hours every night week after week they have everyone’s attention. You can’t do that on the Internet.”
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.