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Mike Francesa and Michael Kay have contentious back-and-forth after release of winter ratings book

Mike Francesa outrated Michael Kay when including WFAN streaming; but Kay finished ahead of Francesa in over-the-air audience

Mike Francesa engages sports analyst guest host Bill

Mike Francesa engages sports analyst guest host Bill Simmons (off camera) during Francesa's show on at the WFAN studios on May 16, 2016. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

New York’s afternoon sports talk radio war erupted on Monday with one of its most contentious on-air back-and-forths yet.

In the wake of a close, complicated winter report, Mike Francesa of WFAN and Michael Kay of ESPN New York offered their own conflicting interpretations of the results in harsh terms.

After ESPN celebrated what it considered a victory in the quarterly book, which covered Jan. 3 through March 27, Francesa said on the air, “I have nothing but sadness and pity for you that you would actually claim a victory that wasn’t real.”

Francesa called the station’s general manager, Tim McCarthy “the Stump Merill of local radio,” and later added, “You’re ESPN, and you get beat like a rented mule for 20 years, it’s got to hurt.”  

McCarthy declined to respond to Francesa’s comments when asked by Newsday. But when Kay got wind of Francesa’s remarks via social media and a caller asked about them, he answered Francesa by saying, “Whichever metric you want to use here, we kick your [expletive].”

He added, “We won. We celebrated. We had cake. We had a little champagne. We laughed, because finally the peashooters won. You can spin it whatever way you want. The industry knows you lost this book.”

Kay also said, “I’m going to tell you one thing, Mike, you’ve had an iconic career and now you’re embarrassing yourself. People in the industry are laughing at you . . . I feel pity for you. It’s pitiable what’s happening.”

Data from Nielsen Audio showed Francesa edging Kay among men ages 25-54, the demographic both stations focus on, if one includes both over-the-air and live streaming, which is WFAN’s preferred method, an average of 6.2 percent of the listening audience to 5.9.

Without WFAN’s stream, Kay had the edge, 5.9 to 5.5, but ESPN’s figure includes both over-the-air and streaming numbers, because unlike WFAN, it carries the same ads on both platforms.

ESPN declines to separate the two, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible, arguing that because its ads are the same on both and are sold to advertisers as one number, they properly should be counted together against WFAN’s over-the-air number.

There are other aspects of the argument from both sides, because the data does not reflect listeners/watchers on Kay’s TV simulcast or Francesa’s app, nor does it include men 55 and over or any women at all.

Francesa’s show does better than Kay’s among older men, but Kay’s show presumably has a larger audience on the YES Network than Francesa does on his app.

WFAN benefits from having two stations – one AM, one FM – count together for its rating.

A fuller picture of the stations’ audiences can be gleaned from data for all people ages 12 and over. That number, including streaming, shows Francesa at 3.7 and Kay at 3.2.

Including streaming, Francesa’s show was second overall in the market to WBLS. Without Francesa’s streaming number, Kay was No. 2 to WBLS.

Kay has been gaining on Francesa for years, and his show is the most successful at ESPN relative to WFAN. Their ratings race has generated extraordinary interest, as well as intricate strategizing. On the final day of the winter book, Kay had Francesa’s old partner, Chris Russo, on as a guest.

In addition to commenting on ratings, Francesa said that WFAN management asked him to do an interview with former morning host Craig Carton last week after Carton was sentenced to 42 months in prison, but that Francesa refused. Carton went on with Kay instead.

Francesa said he was upset with WFAN management for what he considered lying to him about being the first choice for the interview when he believed it to be Boomer Esiason, Carton’s former co-host. Esiason declined to have Carton on the morning show.

Regarding Kay having Carton on, Francesa said, “Those guys look like they have not a shred of backbone or respect for themselves, because Carton destroyed them on that station for years.”

In the autumn book, the first full one since Francesa returned on May 1 of last year, Francesa out-rated Kay, 6.4 to 5.8, with WFAN’s streaming data included and 5.9 to 5.8 without it.

Other winter ratings. Including streaming, from 6 to 10 a.m. Esiason and Gregg Giannotti had a combined 5.3 percent of the audience (fifth overall) to ESPN’s 3.6, a far closer race than is customary in that time slot.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts had a 7.2 (third overall) to ESPN’s 2.8.

From 1 to 3 p.m., Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott had a 6.8 (third overall) to ESPN’s 3.1.

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