The New York sports radio wars as we know then will end a little less than a year from now, The Post has learned.
ESPN New York will relinquish its 98.7 FM signal on Aug. 31, 2024, and focus on its digital distribution and 1050 AM for its top programming, including “The Michael Kay Show” and the Jets, Knicks and Rangers games.
The decision by Good Karma Brands, which controls ESPN New York, is a reflection of the changing business that has devalued the need for an expensive FM signal.
It will leave WFAN, with its signals on 101.9 FM and 660 AM, with a clear advantage for what became a marquee ratings fight that in its heyday featured FAN’s Mike Francesa versus Kay.
“We’re committed to serving the New York sports fan and with the combination of our AM signal, the ESPN New York App, podcasts, smart speakers, YES and other additional audio and video distribution, investing in an FM signal was not relevant in the way it was a decade ago,” Good Karma Brands CEO and founder Craig Karmazin told The Post.
The decision was Good Karma Brands’ to make and is unrelated to ESPN’s recent cutbacks.
ESPN, the mother ship, originally signed a lease with Emmis Broadcasting for 98.7 a little more than a decade ago.
ESPN paid more than $10 million per year, according to sources.
At that time, ESPN was only on 1050 AM, which was the original signal for WFAN, created and owned by Emmis Broadcasting’s Jeff Smulyan.
The lease rate is currently in the $12.5 million per year range, according to sources.
When the lease ends with ESPN New York on Aug. 31, Emmis can sell or lease the signal to someone else.
To sell it outright, Emmis is looking for an offer in the $50 million range, according to sources.
Karmazin would not detail the financials of the decisions, but he said that Good Karma data shows that 60 percent of ESPN New York’s listenership is outside of radio and, of the 40 percent who rely on the radio, eight out of 10 are expected to find the station on AM.
Kay, the Jets, Knicks and Rangers have all been informed of the decision.
All of the shows and games will move to 1050, the ESPN New York app and anywhere else the station streams.
The MSG contract with the Knicks and Rangers took into account the issue of ESPN New York no longer having the lease on 98.7, while the Jets’ contract predated the possibility so there could be some issues to work through. The Jets could look to shop their rights to Audacy or iHeart stations with FM signals.
Karmazin’s speciality is sales and, while WFAN has had Nielsen ratings dominance, he emphasized ESPN New York’s growing audience that he believes will keep its advertising business growing.