No, Michael Kay didn't "beat" Mike Francesa.

The Mike Francesa-Michael Kay New York radio ratings fights are getting tighter and tighter all the time. In the last ratings book of 2018, WFAN’s Francesa narrowly beat ESPN New York Kay (6.4 to 5.8 in the men 25-to-54 demographic with WFAN’s separate streaming factored in, 5.9 to 5.8 without it), and Kay won the months of December and January (his second and third monthly wins ever against Francesa; the January one saw Kay post a 5.8 to Francesa’s 5.7 with streaming, 5.0 without).

The two have been battling back and forth since then, with both pulling in high-profile guests on the final day of the first 2019 ratings book last month (Bill Simmons for Francesa, Francesa’s former partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo for Kay). The final ratings book data saw Francesa again win for the whole quarter as long as WFAN streaming is counted, but by even less than he did in the final 2018 book. And without WFAN streaming, Kay would be on top, which is a new development on the quarterly front. Neil Best of Newsday has more:

The local afternoon sports radio ratings wars resulted in another close, complicated battle in the quarterly winter “book,” which covers Jan. 3 to March 27 and was released by Nielsen Audio on Monday.

Mike Francesa of WFAN edged Michael Kay of ESPN New York among men ages 25-54 if one includes both over-the-air and live streaming data, which is WFAN’s preferred method, 6.2 percent of the audience to 5.9 percent.

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

However, ESPN PR then took this for much more than it’s worth, putting out a “beats” claim that included Kay’s streaming and disregarded WFAN’s:

You know, Michael, there’s only room for one New York radio host to just make things up. And what’s particularly dumb about this PR move is that there’s legitimate good news for the Kay show; Kay closed the gap from the winter book (streaming included) from six points to three points, and beat Francesa without WFAN’s streaming included (something he didn’t do in the winter book). But the “beats” narrative (included in ESPN’s release, which doesn’t even mention WFAN’s streaming numbers) is counterfactual.

As Best notes, ESPN doesn’t allow for an apples-to-apples comparison because they don’t break out what their over-the-air audience is. So their streaming+linear beats Francesa’s linear-only; great, but that’s not “beats,” especially when the WFAN streaming numbers are readily available. And yes, the combined numbers are useful for ESPN given how they sell both linear and streaming ads the same way, but that doesn’t mean that more people are listening to their show. (Of course, the Kay show may benefit more from its YES video simulcast than Francesa’s does from his simulcast on his app, but numbers aren’t easily available for either.)

And what’s unfortunate about this is that the PR overreach really misplays the good news here for Kay, which is about closing the gap. Francesa has repeatedly dunked on Kay as an unworthy opponent over the years, including “burying in the ratings” and “if you’re gonna come after us, then you gotta bring more than pea shooters.” That narrative sure doesn’t seem to still hold. But that gets lost in the discussion when you’re making a “beats” claim that the data doesn’t support.

The overall news here still isn’t great for Francesa. It’s positive for him that he recovered for an overall win after losing January to Kay, and that he improved his rating to 6.2 with streaming included from the 5.7 he had then. But the 6. is well behind the 6.8 Francesa posted early in his WFAN return. His numbers are trending down, and Kay’s are rising. But that doesn’t rise to “beats” yet, no matter what the ESPN release may say.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.