The NFL On AM/FM Radio: Why Sports Play-By-Play Listeners Are More Engaged Than The TV Audience, Plus The Power Of Westwood One’s NFL Audience Of 56 Million Americans

September 7, 2021 By Pierre Bouvard

Click here to view an 11-minute video of the key findings.

Click here to view or download a full copy of the NFL Listening Report.

While most play-by-play sports are available both on TV and AM/FM radio, each broadcast has a very different audience profile. The TV audience consists of casual sports fans. The AM/FM radio play-by-play audience is far more passionate and engaged. This distinction has a significant impact on advertising effectiveness.

Consider these five dimensions of sports engagement:

  • Attend sports events
  • Seek sports information on a phone
  • Friends/family ask my advice on sports
  • Considered a sports category influential consumer
  • Play fantasy sports

On each measure, GfK MRI reports the AM/FM radio play-by-play audience is more engaged with and passionate about sports than those who watch sports on TV.

Sports betting is more prevalent among AM/FM radio sports listeners versus the TV sports audience

Another key measure of passion and engagement is online sports betting. Regardless of the broadcast audience for each sport, AM/FM radio listeners are more likely to be sports bettors.

AM/FM radio’s increased sports engagement means greater advertising effectiveness and impact

If the content is more engaging and the audience is more passionate, the advertising works better. Compared to NFL TV viewers, NFL AM/FM radio listeners are more likely to agree that advertising provides them with meaningful product information and useful information about new products and services.

In the car, the AM/FM radio NFL play-by-play broadcast is the “best available screen” for employed and upscale sports fans

According to GfK MRI, the profile of the AM/FM radio NFL audience is much more upscale. Compared to average Americans, NFL AM/FM radio audiences spend 16% more and are:

  • 20% more likely to be college graduates
  • 27% more likely to be employed full time
  • 32% more likely to have a $75,000+ household income

Large portions of the NFL AM/FM radio audience listen away from home, according to Nielsen Portable People Meters

While the TV viewing audience skews older, the NFL AM/FM radio audience is equally distributed across demographics

Nielsen: The NFL on Westwood One reaches 56 million Americans

CUMULUS MEDIA | Westwood One commissioned a special Nielsen Portable People Meter analysis of NFL listening to its Monday night, Thursday night, Sunday afternoon and evening, and post season national broadcasts. Nielsen studied season-long reach of Westwood One broadcasts through a special process called “panel unification,” which only examines listening from PPM respondents who were part of the panel during the entire season. Based on the Nielsen analysis, the NFL on Westwood One reaches 56 million Americans.

This analysis is historic, reporting the season-long reach of play-by-play sports on AM/FM radio for the first time. Typically, Nielsen reports cumulative audiences for an average week. Weekly reach reporting only captures 13% of the total season-long unique audience.

The NFL on AM/FM radio is a reach machine: Each week, new different listeners tune in

NFL AM/FM radio broadcasts fit into the busy lives of Americans. Some have to go to the mall to pick up their children. Others are running errands or returning from a trip to visit relatives. In Mountain and Pacific time zones prime time games air during the drive home from work.

The NFL on Westwood One is a massive reach machine adding new and different listeners each and every week. In the first week of the season, 7 million unique consumers tune in. Over the course of September, the unique audience expands to 18 million.

Over the entire regular season, Westwood One’s NFL play-by-play reaches 46 million different Americans. What happens in the post season? Westwood One’s NFL coverage adds an additional 10 million listeners who were not reached during the regular season, lifting the season-long reach to 56 million.

NFL AM/FM radio media strategy: Buy long in the season and deep in the game

Since new listeners are tuning in each week and new listeners are tuning in each quarter of the game, a smart media plan for AM/FM radio play-by-play sports requires many ads per game and season-long commitments. Buy long in the season and deep in the game.

Buy long in the season

The greater the number of weeks in the media plan, the greater the reach. According to the Nielsen season-long campaign reach analysis, reach soars as weeks are added to the media plan. One ad in each of five weekly games reaches 8% of the season-long audience. A 16-week campaign causes reach to jump to 75% of the season-long audience.

Buy deep in the game

Ipsos audience studies reveal that on-the-go NFL AM/FM radio listeners tend to catch portions of the game rather than most of the game. Half the NFL AM/FM radio audience listens to a quarter or less of a game broadcast. To maximize reach, run ads often throughout the game as there are new, different listeners each quarter as the game progresses.

Increasing the number of ads in the game causes campaign reach to surge

Ten ads per game reaches four times the audience of one ad per game, according to Nielsen’s special analysis of the Portable People Meter audience data.

Nielsen NFL “long in the season, deep in the game” AM/FM radio campaign reach grid

The grid below is a first for AM/FM radio play-by-play sports. It reveals how to reach the NFL audience of 56 million on Westwood One. The planning tool depicts the number of ads per game down the left and the number of weeks in the campaign across the top.

The data reveals the proportion of the season-long audience of 56 million that can be reached with different mixtures of ads per game and weeks in the buy. For example, five AM/FM radio ads per game across 16 weeks of the season reaches 80% of the entire season’s audience.

“I am already invested in an NFL TV package. What incremental impact can an NFL AM/FM radio investment add?”

This is a fairly common question. To answer this, we turn to the NFL’s massive “Fan Tracker” study that the league commissions to understand how the NFL audience is exposed to its game day content. The NFL AM/FM radio platform reaches over a third of key game day audiences and over half of the hard-to-reach male 18-34 demographic.

Adding NFL AM/FM radio generates incremental reach to the NFL TV audience

Per the NFL “Fan Tracker,” among Millennial men, Westwood One NFL coverage adds +24% incremental reach to the television coverage and +18% lift in reach among full-time employed men 18-49 with a $75K+ income. Westwood One’s NFL coverage on AM/FM radio and the other audio distribution platforms reaches the NFL fan who is not exposed to NFL TV broadcasts.

Half of the Westwood One NFL audience is from AM/FM radio and the other half is from streaming/SiriusXM

Westwood One has nearly 700 local AM/FM radio station affiliates that carry our NFL Primetime and post season play-by-play broadcasts. These broadcasts are simulcast on SiriusXM satellite radio and streamed on NFL Game Pass. They can also be heard through an Amazon Echo device powered by Alexa. The satellite and streaming coverage carries our entire broadcast including all commercials. How significant is the satellite and streaming audience?

According to IPSOS, Westwood One’s NFL satellite and streaming audiences nearly double the AM/FM radio audiences. Satellite and streaming adds 79% to the AM/FM radio audience.

The Westwood One NFL Listening Report key takeaways:

  • More engaged: The sports listener is more passionate, giving audio commercials greater impact
  • Mass reach: Buy deep in a game and long in the season to capture the massive 56 million reached by Westwood One’s NFL coverage
  • Closest to the point of purchase: Reach busy on-the-go people whose “best screen” is likely their car AM/FM radio
  • Desirable consumers: Reach a younger, employed, and upscale audience with greater spending power
  • Make your TV better: The NFL on Westwood One is an effective way to amplify reach and frequency of an NFL TV campaign

Click here to view an 11-minute video of the key findings.

Download a full copy of the NFL Listening Report.

Pierre Bouvard is Chief Insights Officer at CUMULUS MEDIA | Westwood One.

Contact the Insights team at