Jim Rome, Scott Ferrall to CBS: Can Sports Radio Drive Revenue?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Demographic data tells us that a considerable number of people who read TheStreet also listen to sports radio. That makes it safe to assume (I think) that you have heard of Jim Rome and Scott Ferrall.

Unlike other parts of your life, however, the sports radio habit tends to have very little impact on your investment thought processes and decisions. While you might take other everyday experiences under advisement when thinking about stocks, sports radio likely never enters as a factor.

That makes sense. It's small potatoes.

Consider some perspective.

CBS ( CBS) owns all-sports WFAN in New York City, the nation's first and biggest sports radio station. In 2011, WFAN brought in $40.5 million dollars in advertising revenue, making it the ninth largest biller in radio across formats.

In its most recent annual report, CBS reported total revenue of more than $14.2 billion. Last quarter, it generated nearly $3.5 billion in sales. That makes WFAN a big fish in the small pond of radio and an even bigger fish in the even smaller pond of sports radio. Even so, "The Fan" accounted for less than 0.3% of CBS's total revenue.

No wonder why Mike Francesa can fall asleep on the air and get away with it. Nobody at corporate likely pays much attention.

I wonder if this dynamic could begin to change.

Disney ( DIS)-owned ESPN operates a longstanding radio network alongside its other media properties, particularly television and online.

News Corp's ( NWSA) Fox does the same.

In recent months, NBCUniversal (majority owner is Comcast ( CMCSA) and CBS have put similar plans into motion. There's more still to come from both companies.

In network radio, ESPN Radio, Fox Sports Radio and NBC Sports Radio presently exist. CBS Sports Radio begins 24/7 programming on Jan. 2, 2013. Of course, all four have considerable local, regional and national presences in sports television as well as online.

As a contender to ESPN and Fox, CBS might be the most interesting case. Much of its lineup will clear the nation's top 50 radio markets thanks to CBS's properties and a partnership with Cumulus Media ( CMLS).

In recent weeks, CBS hired two of the nation's biggest sports radio personalities. Jim Rome left Clear Channel's ( CCMO) Premiere Radio Networks and Scott Ferrall will join CBS after seven years at SiriusXM ( SIRI).

Rome already hosts a show for the CBS Sports Network, a cable television entity that, relative to ESPN and the NBC Sports Network, has limited penetration. Long ago, Rome made the transition from radio guy to multimedia personality.

With Rome's role expanded across platforms, it might make sense for CBS to do the same with Ferrall. He's certainly capable -- maybe more so than Rome -- and he appeals to younger audiences that often get left on the table in both radio and television.

Remember, Ferrall was not simply on SiriusXM. He was part of the satellite radio network's Howard Stern stations, Howard 100 and Howard 101. It's one thing to have a show on Sirius XM -- they'll give one to just about anybody -- it's entirely another to win, let alone maintain, an endorsement from Stern.

I talked to Ferrall yesterday. Here's part of what he had to say:
Stern was awesome to me for seven years. He handpicked me for the gig. Could of chosen a million others but chose me -- honored and humbled by the experience . . . Howard and Tim Sabean are awesome to work for and so was Sirius.

If SiriusXM (or, more than likely, Liberty Media ( LMCA)) is smart, it'll pick up Ferrall's new show; they're not going to find an equally-as-dynamic replacement. And, clearly, he leaves on good terms.

There's little question that the future of media is cross-platform, on demand and mobile. Early adopters in these areas tend to be on the younger side. That's where guys like Rome and Ferrall crush it.

In part because they're known primarily as radio guys, incredibly talented individuals such as Rome and Ferrall can get, relatively speaking, buried.

I expect CBS to up Ferrall's profile just like Rome's. While radio has never been and never will be a significant revenue generator for companies the size of CBS, it has always acted as a breeding ground for world-class talent.

Look no further than Stern. Or, for a different example, Ryan Seacrest. Clear Channel pays Seacrest incredibly well. He got his start in radio. The rest is history.

That's not to say Ferrall can reach that level - it's only the subject matter he deals with that holds him back. But there's no question, CBS, if it plays its cards right, can turn Ferrall into a major star. This could not only help it ding ESPN, Fox and NBC, but drive meaningful revenue.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Rocco Pendola is a private investor with nearly 20 years experience in various forms of media, ranging from radio to print. His work has appeared in academic journals as well as dozens of online and offline publications. He uses his broad experience to help inform his coverage of the stock market, primarily in the technology, Internet and new media spaces. He has taken a long-term approach to investing, focusing on dividend-paying stocks, since he opened his first account as a teenager. Pendola, 37, is based in Santa Monica, Calif., where he lives with his wife and child.

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