Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Sports Hub vs. WEEI

We have a fascinating competitive battle continuing to unfold on the radio airwaves here in Boston. For many years, WEEI ruled sports radio, driving a number of competitors out of town (including ESPN radio's local station). However, The Sports Hub (98.5) has now presented a major challenge to WEEI. Here's what Boston Radio Watch has reported about recent ratings:

WEEI averaged 497,000 weekly listeners to WBZ's 397,000. However, WBZ 98.5 scored some major victories in both drivetime commute dayparts among its target male demographics. "Toucher and Rich" on 98.5 won the 18-49 male listeners demographic over "Dennis and Callahan" on 850. And, "Felger and Massaroti" bested the "Big Show" in both key male demos - 18-49 and 25-54.

What I find so interesting is HOW The Sports Hub 98.5 has chosen to compete. Michael Felger, a popular and outspoken host on The Sports Hub, has talked about openly about his strategy for targeting these various under-served niches in the sports radio market. During the winter months, The Sports Hub chose to talk hockey extensively. Over at WEEI, hockey had been a very minor topic on the radio for years. Hockey fans often complained about the lack of talk about their sport, but WEEI hosts always claimed that they didn't have any bias against hockey; they simply talked about what listeners wanted to talk about. They cited the lack of hockey calls to the station and the strong ratings associated with lots of football and baseball talk. However, The Sports Hub really focused on this hockey niche, and they brought many fans to the radio. They showed that a dedication to the sport can bring listeners, particularly if you have knowledgeable hosts and guests on the station. They seemed to have attracted those hockey fans who were frustrated with their rival.

Similarly, the Sports Hub - particularly the Felger and Massaroti show in the afternoon - talked a great deal of World Cup Soccer this summer. Again, most sports radio stations have believed that this was the kiss of death, given that baseball and football are so much more popular than soccer in the US. Yet, Felger and Massaroti took quite a few soccer calls in July, and they had strong ratings. Some of these fans may have been taken from WEEI, or perhaps they are bringing new listeners to the sports radio market. Now, just this week, I heard Felger and Massaroti talking extensively about Mixed Martial Arts, given the recent event in Boston. I've never heard discussion of this topic on sports radio in Boston until now, and sure enough, they attracted quite a few callers.

In the past, most sports radio stations trying to compete with WEEI just pursued me-too strategies. The Sports Hub seems to have taken a different path, mixing in a focus on these under-served niches with the usual talk about popular sports such as football and baseball. This novel mix seems to have found a nice audience. Now, how will WEEI respond?


Brian said...

Is there any relationship between the Hub's success and the ailing ratings over at NESN? Felger and Massaroti's strategy targeted niche markets in Boston sports, but it may have been aided by some luck (read: poor performance by the Sox due to more injuries than Mass General). If the number of viewers watching the Sox is declining, then wouldn't the number of callers talking about the Sox decline, too?

Combined with the relatively ho-hum summer for the Patriots, Boston market sports fans are looking for substitute products to watch and talk about; it seems as though Felger and Massaroti have obliged with their programming (and some opportune timing).

Of course, this assumes callers-in only want Sox-talk when the team's doing well. While the "woe is us" attitude has subsided since victories in '04 and '07, knowing the unforgiving attitude of this town, we still love to complain about our floundering ballclub.

Michael Roberto said...

Yes, the Sox have hurt WEEI. There's no question about it. I think it doesn't explain the entire situation though.

Dave Cranshaw said...

Part of the willingness of Felger and Mazz to talk hockey, I believe, stems from the fact that 98.5 is the flagship radio station for Bruins hockey. While definitely filling a niche for Boston sports fans, the station has added "cache" to its hockey talk by having regular appearances by Bruin announcers and players.

It is also important to note that the Bruins - before their epic collapse - excited people about hockey for the first time in years with their playoff success. This talk falls on deaf ears if the team's subpar performance made them irrelevant.

Moving forward, 98.5, which is also the flagship station of the Patriots, would make an even bigger dent in the WEEI armor if it was able to get Bill Belichick to be a regular, weekly guest on one of its shows. Belichick still makes a weekly appearance on WEEI and it would be interesting if listeners would change the dial if Belichick was heard weekly on 98.5.

JRS said...

Excellent post Michael. I am a little biased towards the Sports Hub as morning host Jon Wallach is our voice of the Bryant Bulldogs. Great guy who gives us some pub from time to time.

It's a tough business that depends on ratings but the Hub has proven to be a strong challenger to WEEI.

- Jason Sullivan, Bryant SID