Soon, Yahoo! will be taking a page from the playbook of The Who, and say “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
But when it comes to the company’s year-old sports radio network, the question is, will we get fooled again?
Ross Levinsohn is expected to officially be named the next chief executive officer of Yahoo! He had joined the company in the fall of 2010 and held down executive vice president positions until two months ago, when he was appointed interim CEO after the resignation of the previous chief executive, Scott Thompson. So essentially, he’ll have the interim tag removed.
As the Los Angeles Times points out, the previous two CEO’s of Yahoo! – with four CEO appointments in as many years, they’re like the Oakland Raiders of Silicon Valley – had a technical background. In addition to digital media, Levinsohn has had much prior experience not only with entertainment ventures, but with sports.
Which could mean that Yahoo! Sports Radio, which is expected to hemorrhage a great deal of its 170+ affiliates later this year when two new national sports radio networks sign on, may find a way to stave off elimination.
Here’s Levinsohn’s professional background: In the 90’s, he flourished at CBS Sportsline, where founder Mike Levy recently went on record singing praises of Levinsohn when he was nabbed as Yahoo!’s interim CEO. “He was very outspoken and did a hell of a job. He showed a lot of maturity and leadership.” Later, he was the head of Fox Sports Interactive Media from 2001 until 2005, when it was folded into Fox Interactive Media, which he would lead until 2006. The next year, he formed Velocity (later Fuse Capital) with Jonathan Miller, who was the CEO of America Online for five years until 2006, just around the time Levinsohn left Fox. (Ironically, Miller is currently the CEO of Fox Interactive Media.) Velocity/Fuse Capital provides financial support for digital projects, though it doesn’t have the juice it quite used to have under Levinsohn and Miller’s watch. I bring this up because one of the ventures they financed was a firm called Generate, whose founder and CEO is Jordan Levin – who founded the old WB television network.
You know where I’m going with this. Much like Levinsohn and Miller departed their high-profile jobs in the fall of 2006, the WB network signed off in September of that year, the same time as the UPN network – both would merge to form the current CW network.
Regular readers of this blog see additional irony in this because in the past, I’ve referred to Yahoo! Sports Radio as UPN Sports Radio, due to what I believe may be its impending demise as a result of the incoming CBS Sports Radio and NBC Sports Radio Network. It will simply be too crowded of a marketplace for five major national sports radio networks, and the one with the lowest balance of affiliates vs. name brand weight will tap out.
But with a person with a sports media background such as Levinsohn taking the reins of Yahoo!, he could be the right guy to steer the ship that is Yahoo! Sports Radio before it makes contact with two icebergs in September. If he exhibits the leadership and outspokenness that he was known for during his tenure at CBS Sportsline, and perhaps some of that Fox Sports attitude, YSR could have a fighting chance.
Of course, like most chief executives, Levinsohn could easily make the decision to discontinue the Yahoo! Sports Radio network, perhaps citing high production and maintenance costs with very little return – again, YSR has a fraction of the affiliates that ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio have, and CBS Sports Radio will be launching with perhaps the same number of stations YSR has, if not more.
And sometimes when a company names a new CEO, layoffs and restructuring are likely. We saw this just six months ago when Scott Thompson was instilled as Yahoo!’s CEO. There is a possibility that YSR’s days could be numbered before its two new competitors go on the air.
I think Levinsohn will at least try and turn YSR’s fortunes around before it assumes extinction.
Certainly, as CEO of Yahoo!, there will be more bigger fish for Ross Levinsohn to fry. But at some point, he’ll need to address the issue that is their sports radio network’s bottom line.
Yahoo! Sports Radio is on the clock. They have a couple of months to increase awareness before CBSSR and NBCSRN hit the airwaves. They’ll need to find creative ways to reach potential listeners and hold them as football season begins – and I’m sure Levinsohn might have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Looking at the big picture, of course – not so much the future of Yahoo! Sports Radio, but Yahoo! itself. There’s already chatter that the site’s days are numbered before Levinsohn is officially named their new CEO. Once the search engine of record, Google wrested that honor when its name doubled as a mundane verb. And in terms of regular websites alone, Facebook leads the pack in that department. Yahoo! Sports Radio’s situation is a microcosm of its parent company’s: competing against ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio (remember, they previously had done so for many years under Sporting News ownership), and now find themselves with two new potential threats to their audience.
Let’s face it: Yahoo! Sports Radio needs Yahoo! more than Yahoo! needs YSR.
In other words, if Yahoo! wishes to rediscover eminence, the end result could be doing away with the eminence front that is Yahoo! Sports Radio.
Just like UPN was Paramount Pictures’ eminence front.
But is it a put on? Check back in a year from now – not just to see if Ross Levinsohn is defying the odds and is still the company CEO, but to check the pulse of Yahoo! Sports Radio – or perhaps Yahoo! itself.
Till then… meet the new boss.