Okay, this is… weird. Not two weeks after NBC announced it was teaming up with Dial Global – owners of the Westwood One radio network previously owned by CBS – on a sports radio network, CBS has announced it’s allying its own radio properties with those of Cumulus to form a sports radio network of its own.
For NBC (and possibly ESPN), this must be like an accelerated version of how they would feel if Fox launched an all-sports TV network. CBS is claiming that their network is instantly the “largest” and “most listened to” “major market” sports radio network, which is kind of a tall order, just given the sheer power of ESPN’s brand. But while CBS’ cable sports operations may be fast becoming the butt of the joke “your league is so small its games are on the CBS Sports Network”, there is no entity better equipped to compete in the sports radio landscape. CBS Radio owns market-leading stations in markets across the country, including the most storied sports radio station of them all, New York’s WFAN. All it would have to do is syndicate their better, more prestigious (and more nationally-focused) local shows to the rest of the country and it would have a powerhouse of a network, and a source of morning and afternoon programming for the CBS Sports Network. CBS may not be able to take the top spot right off the bat, but third place is a bare minimum for what it can do, and it could take second place away from Fox very easily, especially since most of Cumulus’ existing sports stations are currently ESPN stations.
This now means every entry in the sports TV wars has a corresponding radio operation except Turner, and an alliance between them and Yahoo Sports Radio would definitely be a mutually beneficial partnership at this point. But would it be worth much? Given the struggles Yahoo has already had finding stations, especially with stations more inclined to air local than national programming, I don’t think the market can support five sports radio networks (to say nothing of the miniscule Sports Byline and Sports USA networks) and I would expect at least one to fold by the end of 2013. Yahoo would seem to be the leader in the clubhouse for that dishonor unless it can somehow merge with one of the others.
The events of the past ten days may well be the “NBC/Comcast merger” of sports radio. Let the war begin.