With the Yanks’ radio deal with WCBS AM 880 expiring after the end of the 2011 season, rumors of a potential switch to another station along the dial are swirling. As Bob Raissman reported in the Daily News this weekend, the Yankee brass would like to cash in on the value of their radio rights, and other prominent media companies — including ESPN — are prepared to enter the bidding.
This isn’t the first time this winter that Raissman has broached the topic of the Yanks’ radio machinations. In November, he questioned the futures of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. If the Yankees switch frequencies, the new station managers may opt to bring in their own on-air talent. Sterling and Waldman, after all, elicit strong reactions — few positive — from Yankee fans, and fresh blood could drive up the ratings.
But before the personnel decisions are to be made, the Yanks must secure a good deal for themselves. They currently earn $13 million a year from WCBS, but as Raissman notes, the club would rather get Red Sox money — $18 million a year. In a bad market for radio, could the team cash in? If the right outlet enters a bidding war, they certainly could, but the fans might lose out.
Raissman notes that ESPN-1050 with its weak and confined signal could be a likely landing space. He writes:
ESPN-1050 will be a player for Yankees rights. It could play the role of the “desperate” outlet. Acquiring Yankee baseball would instantly fill a huge void for a station hustling for ratings, bringing it higher visibility from a vast audience that has no idea ESPN-1050 even exists. A 1050 partnership with the Yankees would instantly turn up the competitive heat on WFAN, home of the Mets, by increasing – probably significantly – 1050’s ratings.
There’s a major stumbling block for ESPN-1050 – its weak signal. Two Dixie Cups attached by a string is a powerhouse by comparison. Seriously though, Yankees brass probably doesn’t want its games airing on a station with – literally – no juice.
ESPN can alleviate the problem by purchasing a station with a strong signal. Industry sources say ESPN has shown interest in buying RXP 101.9, an FM station owned by Emmis Communications. Emmis was asking $125 million for the station, but the price has apparently dropped to $100 million. If ESPN does not acquire a station with a big-time signal, but comes in with the highest bid, would the Yankees decide to glom the money at the expense of being stuck on 1050?
The Cardinals tried a similar move in 2005, but it backfired. Fan complaints pushed them back to the KMOX powerhouse this year, and the Yanks were certainly watching that saga unfold. Meanwhile, Raissman notes that the Yanks could try to push the Mets off of WFAN or they could buy their own radio station spots by purchasing time on another network.
No matter how this ends, two off-field storylines here are worth watching. The first concerns Sterling and Waldman. Older fans seem to enjoy Sterling’s histrionics while younger fans would prefer a better broadcaster. Will the next radio broadcaster opt for traditional or change? Second, will the Yanks flip to a weaker signal? Fans in Connecticut and New Jersey simply cannot get ESPN 1050 over the air, and the Yanks would alienate a significant portion of the fan base if they do. Such a change could have far-reaching ramifications for the club looking to cash in on valuable broadcast rights.