Greater Media's out of the Sox bidding

Scott Fybush
Fri May 5 11:45:35 EDT 2006

 From a press release that just came in from Greater:

Braintree, MA: Greater Media, Inc. announces it has withdrawn from the 
bidding process for the future broadcast rights for the Boston Red Sox.

“This was a difficult decision, but at the end of the day, the deal 
didn’t make economic sense for the company," said Peter Smyth, President 
and CEO of Greater Media, Inc.


And while I hate to say "I told you so," it's interesting, at least, to 
contrast NERW this past Monday with Boston Radio Watch on Tuesday. 
Here's what Mark had to say:

"[Ed. Note : Some so-called well-known industry recap-and-speculate 
website somewhere took a shot, a zing or what have you at little BRW 
this week for rushing to declare the deal as all done. BRW still fully 
stands by its confirmation. Anyone wants to buy a mug or T-shirt : "BRW 
says it's a done deal"?  If the deal doesn't happen, it's 50% off all 
merchandise. Things I do for street cred around here. ]"

I want one of those T-shirts :-)

Here's what I wrote in NERW, for anyone who hasn't seen it yet:


We're back from Las Vegas and the big National Association of 
Broadcasters convention (about which we'll have more to say later in the 
column), and we return to the Northeast to find a bunch of unanswered 
questions that are still making headlines in eastern MASSACHUSETTS, much 
to our continued surprise.

The biggest, of course, is the issue of Red Sox radio rights for next 
year. We take a bit of pride hereabouts in being the last media outlet 
of any sort that still hasn't confidently declared that a Sox deal is 
"just about to be announced," or "all sealed up," or what have you. When 
it happens, we'll tell you, and in the meantime, here are a few reasons 
why we still believe (as of Sunday night, April 30, as we go to press 
with this week's column) that the deal could still tip either way.

* For the Sox, it's all about the money. The present Sox management has 
demonstrated repeatedly that it puts money above sentiment. (Just ask 
the Yankees' center fielder.) The years of tradition that have built up 
between the team and Entercom's WEEI (which hasn't quite had the games 
"forever," as the Herald's Inside Track claimed a few days ago) don't 
mean much in that context. Neither does whatever publicity Greater Media 
might be able to give the Sox as the central content of a new 
sports-focused WBOS, if that were to happen. The Sox know their fans 
will tune in regardless of where the team shows up on the dial, just as 
they'll sell out Fenway no matter who's on the field. This is about 
cashing in on the 2004 World Series win, plain and simple.

* For the radio groups, it's about the money, too - sort of. If you 
assume, as we do, that the Sox have a (very high) number in mind for 
their next radio deal, then the delay in reaching a deal has to mean 
that none of the would-be Sox flagships has been willing to meet that 
number. That's not especially surprising. All three of the companies 
that have been rumored as players - Greater Media, Entercom and, to a 
lesser extent, CBS Radio - keep a very close eye on the bottom line. 
They're not going to spend crazy money on an unprofitable deal just for 
the privilege of being the Red Sox flagship. (And while we're not privy 
to anyone's internal numbers, it's a pretty good bet that most of the 
expensive baseball deals being made these days aren't, in themselves, 
profitable for the stations involved.)

* WEEI may not need the Sox at all. Conventional wisdom says that the 
city's biggest sports talker needs to keep the region's biggest sports 
franchise on its airwaves. As good as the Sox have been to WEEI in the 
last few years, though, there's at least some evidence to suggest that 
the station's brand is now strong enough to survive even without being 
the home of Sox play-by-play. With no major winter pro franchise on its 
airwaves, WEEI's ratings have remained exceptionally strong for the last 
few years during the Sox' off-season. Entercom execs are probably 
looking south to Rhode Island's WEEI-FM, as well, where the absence 
(until this year) of Sox baseball hasn't kept the station from doing 
well. There's no Red Sox on WVEI in Worcester, and there won't be any 
Sox on the new WVEI-FM in Springfield, either. And if the Sox do end up 
taking an ownership interest in WBOS as a new flagship, WEEI has a 
ready-made position as the "independent voice" of the Sox fan.

* Greater Media has other issues to solve. While the rumored WBOS deal, 
in which the Sox would take an equity interest in the station, solves 
one big problem for Greater Media - meeting the team's demands without 
spending precious cash - it still leaves the company with many questions 
to answer, most of them related to the other big unanswered question, 
the still-unconsummated acquisition of WCRB. Selling a piece of WBOS 
doesn't get Greater out from the ownership-cap issues it will face by 
attempting to add a sixth FM - so the company would still be looking to 
sell another signal (presumably not WBOS) outright, probably while 
shuffling several other formats and frequencies in the process, and 
while trying to launch a new FM sports format on WBOS. That's a lot for 
any company to tackle in just a few months - especially knowing that the 
competition won't just be sitting back and watching idly.

* Two sports FMs in the Hub? It could happen, and for the model, we look 
to New Orleans, where Entercom's giant news-talker WWL (870) faces an 
impending threat from Clear Channel, which will soon flip rocker WRNO 
(99.5) to news-talk. Entercom's attempt to fend off that competition was 
to flip one of its FMs in the market to become news-talk as WWL-FM. 
Would Entercom try the same tactic in Boston to steal the thunder from 
an all-sports WBOS? The likeliest scenario would move WAAF's rock to the 
93.7 signal now occupied by adult hits "Mike," which would then give 
WEEI the huge signal at 107.3 that would more than fill the holes in the 
existing network of WEEI signals. (As another bonus, it could free up 
1440 in Worcester to help fill the coverage gaps Entercom talker WRKO 
experiences west of Boston.) Furthermore - and yes, we're deep into 
speculation territory now - all that sports and talk on FM (don't forget 
about Greater's WTKK and CBS Radio's increasingly talk-heavy WBCN) could 
well take a toll on overall AM listening in the market, which would be 
bad news for WRKO and WBZ.

* Bad news for "ESPN Boston," too. While the upstart sports signal (WAMG 
890 Dedham/WLLH 1400 Lowell) has made some early dents in the ratings, 
the launch of an FM sports signal in the Hub would not augur well for 
the other "other sports station." There's ample evidence that there's 
not room in the market for three sports stations (just look at poor WWZN 
up there at 1510, still awaiting a buyer to put it out of its misery), 
and the rumor mill is already awash with reports of poor morale and 
frequent staff turnovers at WAMG/WLLH. We're also hearing that ESPN 
Radio itself may be looking for a better signal in the market, another 
move that could spell doom for 890.

So here's the bottom line: Until we see an official press release, we're 
continuing to treat all reports of an "imminent" deal as speculative. 
(And can you imagine any other market where the negotiations over sports 
radio rights could generate this much speculative ink?)

It still looks to us - and yes, we're speculating, too - as though 
neither of the radio groups vying for the Sox rights is willing to put 
up the money the team wants. It certainly doesn't look like the team is 
at all ready to back down. By our count, there are still about 320 days 
until Opening Day 2007, and sometime between now and then, there'll be a 
deal. When there is, we'll tell you. Until then, our speculator is all 
worn we'll move on to some actual news.




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