What they’re not doing, more than likely, is causing Limbaugh any serious financial pain. The conservative radio star made $64 million last year, putting him at No. 23 on the FORBES Celebrity 100. The vast majority of that, more than $56 million, comes from his deal with Premiere Radio Networks, with the remainder coming from his online operations and book sales.
The complete details of Limbaugh’s eight-year, $400 million contract aren’t known, but much of it takes the form of guaranteed money, with Limbaugh having claimed publicly that he received at least $100 million as a signing bonus. Like some other top-tier radio stars, including Ryan Seacrest, Limbaugh does hold back some of the commercial time during his program and keep the revenues from it. Higher ad rates yielded Limbaugh an extra $6 million last year.
In that sense, then, a mass walkout of his advertisers could put a damper on his earnings. But the impact is likely to be minimal and short-lived, says Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, which monitors the talk radio business.
“We’ve seen this many times in the past,” says Harrison. “Some of the advertisers that left will come back, and some will be replaced. Life will go on.”
Moreover, for every sponsor that doesn’t want to get too close to controversy, there’s another one that looks at Limbaugh and sees a platform so powerful it’s capable of drawing a personal response from the President of the United States. “The fact that everything he utters has a potential for causing a national debate — it underscores his power as an attraction,” says Harrison.
The sponsors who’ve pulled out so far include Quicken Loans, Citrix Systems, Legal Zoom, Sleep Number, Sleep Train, Pro Flowers, Carbonite and AOL. Of those, the last three announced they were yanking their support after Limbaugh posted a public apology, though not a particularly repentant one. On his show Monday, Limbaugh criticized those advertisers who’d deserted him, saying, “They decided they don’t want you or your business anymore….No radio broadcast will succeed by putting business ahead of the needs of its loyal audience.”