Slowly, ESPN is facing more competition in the television world. We've seen College Sports TV rebrand itself as first CBS College Sports and then CBS Sports Network. We've seen Outdoor Life Network rebrand itself as first Versus and then NBC Sports Network. Now, those two companies are building a national sports platform to compete with ESPN in another medium - radio. In the last two weeks, NBC and CBS have both announced a national partnership to build their own sports radio networks. This comes on the heels of Sporting News Radio being transformed into Yahoo! Sports Radio as well.
As of the moment, there are no talent announced for either network, but it appears both NBC and CBS have syndication commitments to get these networks off the ground. NBC Sports Radio's agreement is with Dial Global radio, who you may recognize from their work with the NCAA Tournament and Westwood One. The startup will begin in September with full length shows, news updates, and more. Interestingly, according to Bloomberg, the NBC radio network will feature both national and regional coverage.
CBS' syndication partnership is through Cumulus Media, which will make the network available on 67 of its 570 affiliates around the country to begin with according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, the announced plan has CBS Sports Radio on in 9 of the top 10 markets around the country when it launches on January 2nd, 2013. CBS Sports Radio will be a 24/7 all sports network.
The fact that NBC and CBS would enter the national sports radio field at the same time they attempt to build television networks to rival ESPN is intriguing to say the least.
On the television side, both networks lag well, well behind ESPN. NBC has been the much more ambitious of the two and their highs and lows getting off the ground as a network has been well documented. CBS Sports Network is little more than a speck of dust in the Bristol air at the moment, just read this story from Clay Travis about Jim Rome's audience being cut by 90% since moving from ESPN. However, any network that airs A-10 women's basketball replays as legitimate daytime programming IN JUNE knows it can't be taken seriously on the national stage.
The challenge for both of these companies in building a competitor to ESPN Radio is equally as tough as building a television competitor. ESPN Radio is the dominant national brand. You think it's been tough for fans to find NBC/CBS Sports Network on their television guides? What about searching for random radio affiliates from scratch? In my local market, I'm struggling to think of a station that would even consider airing NBC or CBS Sports content. There's two sports stations within range - both are ESPN affiliates.
It's going to be extremely difficult for NBC and CBS to cut into the market share in this area. The key will be acquiring talent that already has a national radio brand. Can CBS sync with Jim Rome on his radio show? Can NBC do the same with Dan Patrick? Could there even be something for a high-profile acquisition like Michelle Beadle on radio? In launching in September and January respectively, there's not too much time to get a coherent national strategy figured out. However it turns out, both CBS and NBC are making no bones about it - they're pushing every chip they have to the middle of the table to compete with ESPN. Hopefully with the increased competition, it leads to better sports products for fans across the country, although the potential level of success for these initiatives is a big question mark.