Friday Four-Pack 12.29.23
WEEI gets dominated in the fall ratings. Resisting Zappe Fever 2.0. NFL Picks!
It’s been an interesting year.
I lost a job in sports radio. A job I had in some from going back to the fall of 2002.
I started a Substack.
Got to work as a full-time handicapper for two months.
Was able to hang out with one of my good friends on his wildly popular and successful podcast.
Coached my boys in flag football and baseball.
Worked the paddock for a big day in horse racing.
Emceed some very cool events.
Had dinner with my family more in a year than I had in the last decade.
Learned how to (poorly) edit audio. And video.
Worked with some great people at the NH Lottery, NYRA, Mohegan Sun and Mad Props, among others.
Got the flu for Christmas. I don’t recommend that one.
Gained a good 10 pounds. Mostly in my face, it looks like. Again, not recommended.
Have no idea what 2024 and beyond has in store, but grateful for the experiences of this year. And certainly thankful to the folks who take time each week to read this Boston/sports betting/radio/horse racing newsletter. And thought enough to share with friends. Or who followed our action this summer at Saratoga. Or on the Derby Trail.
Your support - and subscriptions - mean a lot. Reminder - it’s FREE to subscribe.
No promises or predictions for 2024. Other than losing those 10 lbs I gained.
Diet starts Tuesday.
We’ll start the final Four-Pack of 2023 digesting the fall sports radio ratings for Boston.
It was a blowout.
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On the ratings “battle” between The Sports Hub and WEEI…
“The worst I’ve ever seen.”
That was the first comment I received from a radio veteran when I reached out to ask about the just-released ratings scorecard that shows Sports Radio WEEI trounced by rival 98.5 The Sports Hub for the Fall 2023 radio ratings period.
It was not all that close, based on the numbers first posted publicly on X.com from the Boston Radio Watch account. Full disclosure - I don’t pay for access to Nielsen Ratings so I can’t break down the numbers in full. But the Radio Watch account has had the numbers 100% in the past and the Boston Globe is using those same numbers in their published story on the ratings.
We’re focusing on the Men25-54 rating segment.
Overall, you had the Sports Hub 16.3 and WEEI 4.4. #1 and #7, respectively.
A year ago at this time, it was Sports Hub 19.6 to WEEI’s 9.0. And a year ago at this time is an important part of the timeline and ratings story.
That’s when WEEI made major changes to their lineup, which admittedly included not extending a contract extension to this Substack author and former Mut at Night host.
Lou Merloni was pushed off afternoon drive for Adam Jones and Christian Arcand. Meghan Ottolini stayed in that spot with Jones and Arcand. Christian Fauria moved from afternoon drive to middays with Andy Gresh. That sent Rich Keefe to nights.
“Scoreboard is scoreboard.” So let’s look at the year-to-year numbers.
This fall vs. last fall, using publically posted ratings.
The Hub is down 17% year-to-year.
WEEI is down over 50%.
On the three shows where WEEI made changes, the raw ratings are down about 65% from the same period last year.
Safe to say the market has roundly rejected these changes.
The published numbers are impossible to spin. Maybe WEEI is doing better in older demos. Maybe there are more Twitch viewers. Maybe the revenue is up with the jettison of salaries. Maybe the “culture” is better, as market manager Mike Thomas alluded to earlier this year.
But the ratings in the ‘money demo’ - exactly one year after major changes at the station - are just bad.
If there was a year for The Sports Hub to be vulnerable, this was it, with the Patriots having a down year and their morning show going through months of drama. But it didn’t matter. In the most important ratings book of the year, they not only won but built on their lead in three of the four dayparts.
And those three were the ones that saw changes for WEEI.
In November Thomas, who helped build the Sports Hub, projected hope for WEEI to compete.
“I’m not disillusioned that we’re going to beat The Sports Hub but I think that EEI can be competitive and there’s a lot of markets with two or three sports stations and Boston is certainly one of those markets where you can have two very successful sports stations. That’s our goal. We want to be in the race and I think that we’re getting there.”
Outside of maybe morning drive, there is no competition.
Will that change in 2024? Not without further changes at WEEI.
Full disclosure - I’ve heard nothing about any real changes coming. I don’t know with certainty the contract status of the people involved.
I do know the rumors of Rich Shertenlieb joining WEEI continue to buzz. I know that in the past, the month of March has been one of change in sports radio. And I know that talent’s early contracts with Audacy very much favor the company. If they wanted to make moves, they can. At least contractually.
But the aforementioned Audacy is facing major financial issues, with bankruptcy on the table and a reported $926 million in debt set to mature in 2024. I’m guessing that could trickle down to budgets for WEEI. Maybe that means they’re locked into this lineup for another year.
If that’s the case, I don’t see much changing for 2024. If you liked Toucher and Rich, I’m guessing you’ll like Toucher and Hardy. By all accounts, the other Hub shows aren’t going anywhere.
The station just re-upped with the Celtics. They’re headed back to the NBA Finals. The Patriots are always a draw. The Hub has them too. And the Bruins. WEEI is stuck with a mediocre Red Sox product. A good Sox season would help them a little. Not a lot.
If the goal of the lineup changes a year ago was to improve ratings Men25-54, it was a failure. Enough to force more changes in 2024? We’ll see.
The comment section is open below so you can weigh in on sports radio in Boston.
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On the resurgence of Zappe Fever…
Full disclosure, I was a Mac Guy. I have the losing receipts to prove it.
I have never been a Bailey Zappe guy. I think the fans who were buying his jersey last season and chanting for him in that Bears game are insane.
The team felt so great about Zappe this year they cut him in training camp. And at one point had him inactive so Malik Cunningham could back up Mac Jones.
So if you’re looking for someone to suggest the team should build around Zappe for 2024 and beyond, you’ve come to the wrong place.
And maybe I’ll be wrong about Zappe. I was wrong about Ezekiel Elliot - who I thought was washed up in Dallas. He’s had a solid year for the team and will probably get one more decent contract because of it.
But Zappe has looked the part of strictly a backup. And getting a competent backup in the fourth round of the draft is okay. But he can’t be considered the future.
His football card numbers are fine. He’s 2-2 as a starter. He has six touchdowns and two interceptions over the last three weeks. He looked really good Christmas Eve in a win over the Denver Broncos - a win that not only got Russell Wilson benched but also knocked the Pats out of a Top 3 draft pick in 2024.
But the advanced numbers tell a different story. The really smart football guys track a stat called “Adjusted EPA” for quarterbacks. EPA measures how well a team performs compared to their expectation on a play-by-play basis. The formula can also be used for players. In this case, it’s adjusted to put a cap on negative plays for quarterbacks.
Bailey Zappe ranks 46th of 48 QBs listed. Here are a few of his neighbors on the list:
The bottom of the NFL’s QB barrel.
Mac Jones clocks in at 37th, so he was no world-beater. I get it.
But the team (and fans) should not be caught up in any of these meaningless wins late in the year. They still need a QB in the first round. They still need more offensive help. And they should be able to address both of those issues in the offseason.
Just not with Bailey Zappe as the centerpiece.
On our Week 17 NFL Picks…
Week 11: 3-0
Week 12: 2-0-1
Week 13: 4-0
Week 14: 2-1
Week 15: 3-0
Week 16: 1-2
We were due for a bad week. Just like the good weeks, we turn the page.
RAIDERS +3.5 AT THE COLTS. (-110, FANDUEL). I did not expect to be betting the Raiders in this spot, but they have been a different team since Antonio Pierce took over. Over seven games, the defense has 24 sacks, 6 INTs, and 9 forced fumbles. They’ve allowed under 15 ppg in that same stretch. And based on DVOA, they have been a Top 8 team the last three weeks. The Colts? They have two stinkers and a win over Mitch Tribusky in their last three and look like a good home favorite to fade. Both teams need the game for playoff purposes.
CARDINALS AT THE EAGLES OVER 48. (-108, DK). Nice over setup here, with the Arizona pass defense ranked 31st. The Cardinals offense gets to square off against a unit ranked 23rd vs. the pass. Tyrod Taylor just carved up this group and Kyler Murray can do the same. Even with a lead the Eagles will pass the ball as they try and get right for a playoff run. No weather issues Sunday in Philadelphia.
NAJEE HARRIS UNDER 1.5 RECEPTIONS. (-120, DK OR ESPN BET). It’s Jaylen Warren’s backfield in Pittsburgh now. He was already the primary receiving back. And now he’s out-snapping Harris overall. And now Harris is dealing with a knee injury. And Harris has seen zero targets over the last two weeks. And and and and and. I’ll take the under.
On some year-end, loose ends….
I didn’t include them above, but the weekend ratings for Sports Hub vs WEEI are also pretty telling.
Sports Hub 19.8 (#1). WEEI 1.5 (19th).
Not shocked the Hub is #1 - The Patriots on the weekend are a huge help for cume rating. But 19th for WEEI? As someone smart suggested to me, that speaks to the station having no “core audience” during the football season. Wild.
Interesting nugget in the Herald about DraftKings and Suffolk Downs potentially teaming up for a sports betting venue near TD Garden.
Little to no buzz about a live horse racing development in Massachusetts for 2024. The City of Gardner said no thanks in September. Looking like 2025 at the earliest.
Opening Day handle at Santa Anita set a record in 2022. It was down 30% in 2023. They blamed the drop in handle on the day of the week.
A happy and healthy New Year to you all. We’ll kick off 2024 here next Friday.
Thanks for reading and subscribing in 2023.