SBD/August 29, 2013/Media

WEEI Facing Tougher Market With Increased Competition, Expensive Red Sox Rights

WEEI-FM was "once a Boston radio powerhouse that had the local sports market to itself," but it "already has lost many listeners" to WBZ-FM The Sports Hub since that station's '09 launch, according to a front-page piece by Callum Borchers of the BOSTON GLOBE. Though WEEI "takes in much more money than its new competitor, revenues at WEEI are down nearly 20 percent since The Sports Hub began broadcasting." WEEI also "remains saddled with an expensive contract to broadcast" the Red Sox. In addition, turnover has been high as the station "fired some of its biggest names, while others have quit." WEEI parent company Entercom Communications said that it will "continue with the current format and programming and argues WEEI’s brand remains strong." Entercom President & CEO David Field said, "We’re very pleased with the macro perspective of where WEEI is today." Borchers notes while The Sports Hub broadcasts Patriots and Bruins games, the "loss of the Celtics leaves WEEI with just the Red Sox -- a powerful draw, but an expensive one, too." The annual payment to the Red Sox "eats up much of WEEI’s revenues." Contracts with longtime morning hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan "expire next year, and critics feel the duo exemplifies the station’s problems: They are highly paid -- reportedly in the $1 million a year neighborhood -- and can be polarizing." Dennis "defended the style of his show, saying the hosts' occasionally abrasive tone prompts listeners to be more engaged." Dennis said, "If you don’t ruffle the feathers of your listeners, then you’re not doing your job." Field "downplayed the competition between WEEI and The Sports Hub, saying a sports-crazed market like Boston can easily sustain two stations." Borchers notes Entercom’s agreement in '06 to pay an average of $20M per year "made the Red Sox’ radio rights the most expensive" in MLB "by far." Field said that the Red Sox contract is "manageable for a large company like Entercom" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/29).
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