After coming close to Mike Francesa in the last full three-month ratings book for 2018, Michael Kay overtook him in January ratings. As per Neil Best of Newsday, Kay’s afternoon show on 98.7 ESPN New York averaged 5.8 percent of men 25-54 in the New York area (the highest sports number and third overall), while Francesa’s WFAN show averaged 5.0 percent over the air during that span and another 0.7 percent via streaming. ESPN New York’s number includes streaming, as their streaming feed has the same ads, but WFAN’s streaming ads are sold separately, so their audience there is tracked separately. But even with that, Kay came out ahead of Francesa in a full month for just the third time ever.
Of course, as Andrew Marchand of the New York Post noted, Francesa could claim that he has people watching the video feed on his app that weren’t counted, but Kay would probably win there too given his show’s much larger video viewership from its YES simulcast. So any way you slice it, Kay came out ahead in January. (And hey, he’s the source to turn to for authoritative takes on why Phil Jackson screwed up by not scouting Giannis Antetokounmpo.)
On its own, that might not mean all that much. If you combine the WFAN over-the-air and streaming numbers, that’s only a single-point lead for Kay, and it’s in just one month, one-third of the traditional ratings book reporting period. If Francesa’s audience rises again in February and March and he beats Kay for the full book, there won’t be much evidence for a larger shift. But this is notable all the same for where it stands in relation to the past half-year.
When Francesa announced he was coming out of (his very short-lived) retirement back in April, Kay was notably unhappy (understandably, considering how he’d beaten Francesa drive-time replacements CMB in the Q1 2018 ratings book), comparing it to Jay Leno’s return to push out successor Conan O’Brien and calling WFAN’s actions to replace the replacements “disgraceful.” And Francesa’s first month back on the air in May saw him pull a 6.8 amongst men 25-54 in the hours he was head-to-head with Kay, not just first in sports but first overall. (Kay was second in sports but fourth overall with a 5.5.)
Some of that was about interest in Francesa’s bizarre return (and the media coverage around it), but it also wasn’t that far from his former ratings. His final fall book (Sept 14-Dec 6, 2017) saw him pull a 6.6, behind Lite FM (boosted by its shift to a holiday music channel in November) but well ahead of Kay, and while that was helped by a surge for his farewell shows, he was still a pretty good draw overall. But while that was the case again when he came back in May, things have declined since then.
The final fall book this year saw Francesa narrowly edge out Kay (5.9 to 5.8 over the air, 6.4 to 5.8 with streaming considered), and that was with Kay winning December and winning seven of the final eight weeks. So that’s a significant drop from where things were in May. And Kay’s since kept up that audience, and Francesa’s audience has fallen further. And even a month’s win for Kay is notable, as his win in January was just his third-ever over Francesa (the others came in December 2018 and June 2017).
Also, Francesa has always taken pride in beating and insulting Kay, calling the 2014 Diet Coke trash stunt from Kay and co-host Don La Greca (after Kay’s show replaced Francesa’s on YES) “a classless, loser move from two guys I have been burying in the ratings for over a decade”, and referencing Kay, ESPN, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo and others with “But if you’re gonna come after us, then you gotta bring more than pea shooters” back in 2009. Well, Kay now seems to have the bigger artillery, and Francesa’s pile of ratings ammunition is dwindling. And if that trend continues, it’s going to raise plenty of questions about just how long Francesa’s unretirement will continue, at least in its present form.