Mandel’s Musings – WFAN’s Francesa Is A Disingenuous Blowhard

Published on: 7th September, 2012

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Mandel's Musings - WFAN's Francesa Is A Disingenuous Blowhard  | read this item

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New York – The Yankees are now in the midst of a collapse approaching historical proportions. They had a commanding 10-game lead only six weeks ago but, with tonight’s loss to the Baltimore Orioles, have given up that lead entirely to fall into a tie for first place with the younger, stronger, healthier Orioles. After 84 straight days at the top of the American League’s Eastern Division, Joe Girardi’s team is dropping faster than a boulder falling off the side of a mountain.

Yet, if you are lucky enough to have access to the Mike Francesa radio program on WFAN Sports radio in New York City, called Mike’s Up, you would think his beloved team (he makes no pretense of his Yankee bias) is just in a little slump.

Yesterday, however, during his regular afternoon slot from 1 to 6pm, he spent a good portion of his on-air time screaming at what he called “stupid, ignorant callers” for having the temerity to suggest that maybe, just maybe, some of the Yankees players might want to expand their offensive repetoire to include such unusual baseball practices as bunting for a hit, bunting for a sacrifice to move runners along, hitting to the right side of the infield with a runner on second to put him into scoring position, and, depending less on the three-run homer for their run production.

Francesa, who could care less about the feelings of those holding for an hour or more on their phones for the chance to voice their opinions on-air, dismissed many his callers, hanging up on them within seconds of their voices making it to the airwaves.

Amazingly, Francesa, the ratings king in the New York market for most of the past quarter century, continues to act as if no one else is capable or entitled to express an opinion or worse, entitled to engage in a sports dialogue with Francesa, himself.

It’s been many years since Francesa has gone out into the trenches of sports, the locker rooms, the press conferences, around the batting cage hustling for a story or simply, getting to know the people he is paid to talk about. Despite the fact he never played any sport at a higher level than junior high school, Francesa has been able to continue to put one over on his listeners with his subjective rants about the technical aspects of hitting a curve ball or making a tackle. The reality is, Francesa wouldn’t know how to make a tackle if Sam Huff, the great Giants middle linebacker of the 50’s and 60’s, came out of retirement to teach him how.

No less has been the disrespect he’s shown toward his loyal listeners, most of whom generally do not call a sports talk radio station for the purpose of getting abused by a host’s misplaced ego. But, in recent years, Francesa has become more of a pontificator, the kind you would find in a bar late at night after one too many drinks, than a true expert whose opinions are based on the work he has put into his job as a radio journalist. His exposure to the teams he is supposed to be covering occurs no more often than that of the late-night bar patron’s, it seems. Instead of living up to his job description, his seven-figure salary, and doing the homework of a journalist, he has, instead, turned himself in a pompous talking head.

Suffice to say, when local New York teams who have developed enough of a personal and professional dislike for Francesa intentionally avoid sending him players for interviews, he blasts them at every chance. If the Mets lose two in a row, Francesa is all over that franchise for the “losers” they are. He uses his bully pulpit of the airwaves to create enough fan hostility towards the Mets and what he likes to call their “incompetence” for reasons that only he knows but it’s easy to guess what his motivation is. If a team dares not to cooperate with Francesa and send him interview subjects or treat him better than they treat other journalists, he gets his just revenge by ripping said team.

The Mets aren’t his only professional patsies. He does the same thing with the New York Jets. Despite once having a solid relationship with Jets general manager, Mike Tennenbaum (whom Francesa used to affectionately refer to as “Mr. T,” the Jets have corporately decided not to go out of their way to provide subjects to Francesa because he has been ripping them on-air since the Rex Ryan regime rumbled into town almost three years ago.

Jets owner Woody Johnson, he of the Johnson & Johnson corporate family, has taken umbrage to Francesa’s constant barrage of unfounded criticism of his team, one that has made it to the AFC championship game in two of the three years Ryan has been its coach. So, Francesa, since sensing Mr. Johnson would no longer make his players readily available to him, now takes every opportunity to rip the coach, the players, the general manager and Johnson, himself, without concern for what he’s actually saying. He just rips and rips because he can.

Insiders at WFAN have been talking behind Francesa’s back for years, and, according to more than one employee, that includes his bosses, as well. He’s referred to as “The Pope” at the station, the one person who’s hand is figuratively kissed by the insecure minions who work there. The reality is, most of his radio station “teammates,” for whom he has no affection, anyway, hate his guts and can’t wait for him to get out. One WFAN person told me,

“His presence is a stench at the station. No one talks to him if they can help it. All he talks about is how big his house is, how great it is to make as much money as he does, and how lucky a guy he is to have the life he has. Does this guy realize that most of us here at the FAN are grossly underpaid and underappreciated, mostly because he gets paid too much?”

Another FAN employee related, “His little circle of contacts in the sports business, which used to be substantial when Chris Russo was still his partner, is getting smaller every day. How many more times can he get Jim Nance on the air to rip Tiger Woods? No one is interested in what Mike has to say, anymore. It’s amazing he’s still getting good ratings but most of us suspect that’s more a case of bad competition than his own competence. The truth is, most of his guests are paid to go on with him.”

One well-known journalist, a person who attended St. Johns University at the same time Francesa did in the 1970s, knew the radio talker back then.

“I didn’t know him that well but I did know he wasn’t a popular guy,” said the writer, who asked for anonymity. “Nobody wanted to sit with him in social situations. He was, sort of, made fun of by people behind his back.”

Whatever Francesa’s personal reasons for distrust and disrespect towards most of his co-workers and call-in fans may be, it appears his act is growing tired for both of those groups. The ratings for his afternoon drive-time slot have fallen, significantly.

According to a media watchdog website called Bob’sBlitz.com, WFAN has been losing audience share during most time slots, with the exception of their morning drive-time team of Boomer and Carton.

“Sans the strength of WFAN’s Boomer & Carton show — New York’s #1 might be in trouble. 660 saw a surprising drop in ratings during February 2012, weighed down by Mike Francesa’s Mike’s On and the Joe and Evan show,” according the site.

WFAN’s numbers for the period were a 3.0 Arbitron rating with a cume of 1,417,400. That’s down sharply from January’s 3.4, 1,857,600.

In contrast, ESPN’s 1050 on the AM dial inched up from January’s 1.3, 906,300 to a 1.4 rating, 998,900 cume.

WFAN was able to keep a sizable lead on ESPN despite the 24% cume decrease thanks to The Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton hosted morning show. It was #1 yet again in the target demo of men 25-54…by nearly a full point over their nearest competitor. Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, the team in the 10am to 1pm slot, finished a disappointing 4th (behind Spanish competitor WXNY-FM…) while Francesa’s Mike’s On failed to excite the key demographic: Francesa, yet again, finished a disappointing third.

Things are not looking up for Francesa as the ESPN marketing machine has finally made inroads into the 25-year reign of WFAN in the New York market in the most recent Summer, 2012 Arbitron ratings.

According to Dave Roberts, ESPN Radio’s New York GM, Francesa may be losing audience in more than one demographic area.

Among the crucial male, 25-54 listeners, ESPN Radio’s 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco show has leaped from 19th to 8th place with a 4.5 rating.

Roberts says that Smith/Ruocco tandem is closing the gap with WFAN’s towering presence in the afternoon.

“That’s probably as close as anybody’s ever been to [Mike] Francesa,” Roberts says.

He adds that among men 18 to 34, Smith and Ruocco actually caught and passed Francesa (5.4/4.3).

The numbers don’t lie. Things change and evolve, especially in the media business but unless Francesa begins to look at himself in the mirror and think about ways to maintain his audience base, he will surely not be asked back by his long-time station at his current level of salary (estimated in excess of five million dollars) when his contract runs out in less than two years.

Francesa, himself, is on the record as admitting to it being a 50-50 proposition as to whether he signs a new contract or not. As his popularity begins to wane, it may not be his decision after all.

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