NBA Free Agency began at 12:01am Friday and if you were following along on social media you could tell which brands were ready for it and which ones weren’t. Social media activity at midnight on a weeknight isn’t usually high, but the NBA’s offseason has become extremely popular, and when information breaks, fans turn first to Twitter to learn about it. If a brand is or isn’t active to pass along important news developments, it can make a huge difference in how fans engage with the brand moving forward.
As I surveyed the nation to see who was present and who wasn’t, I want to recognize two brands in particular for producing extraordinary efforts. 107.7 The Franchise in Oklahoma City and 790 The Ticket in Miami were both active socially and on the air delivering updates to their fans about the latest NBA happenings. In fact, The Ticket went live with on-air free agency coverage from midnight to 6am. They delivered in similar fashion last year too.
I was equally impressed with The Franchise’s efforts in Oklahoma City because earlier in the evening the Thunder acquired Paul George. It was easily the biggest news story in the city since Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State last year. While The Franchise took calls from local fans about the addition of George and relayed news on social media about George, Rudy Gay and other Thunder possibilities, the rest of the market relied on national content and went silent on social media after the George trade was announced. Kudos to The Franchise crew for giving a little bit extra on a night when it truly mattered.
In other cities I saw some brands excel while others missed opportunities. There were a few markets where both local brands remained plugged in. Both 95.7 The Game and KNBR did an excellent job in San Francisco. That was also the case in Boston with WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub.
In Indianapolis, 1070 The Fan, CBS Sports 1430 and FOX Sports 97.5 all relayed the news about the Paul George trade. The Fan was the only one of the three that night to relay the news about Jeff Teague leaving for Minnesota. Phoenix also was well represented by Arizona Sports, 1580 The Fanatic and FOX Sports 910. All three stations promoted different news with the focus on Blake Griffin, Paul George, Paul Millsap, Steph Curry, and Alan Williams.
Next I set my sights on the city of angels where ESPN L.A. 710 was on the air talking about NBA free agency and passing along information about Paul George, Blake Griffin and other local possibilities. At the same time, AM 570 had a Dodgers game on the air and their social efforts were focused on passing along Dodgers scoring updates. There’s nothing wrong with sharing details of the Dodgers game but isn’t it possible to provide updates on both?
That also was the case in the nation’s capital. ESPN 980 had an update on Twitter about John Wall being offered a 4 year supermax deal by the Wizards. 106.7 The Fan was airing a Nationals game and live tweeting scores. Similar to the Los Angeles situation, keeping fans updated of both local developments seems easy enough to do.
Shifting to Minneapolis, 1500 ESPN did an exceptional job passing along news about Jeff Teague signing with the Timberwolves, J.J. Reddick and Paul Millsap meeting with the team, and Ricky Rubio being dealt earlier in the day. Market leader KFAN was silent on Twitter after the late afternoon when they passed along the news of the Rubio deal.
Moving to Milwaukee, 105.7 The Fan was dialed in at midnight, passing along Adrian Wojnarowski’s stories of the Bucks re-signing Tony Snell and the Warriors signing Steph Curry to the largest contract in NBA history. The Big 920 and ESPN Milwaukee had nothing up. Their last tweets were hours earlier and involved a Big Red Day remote appearance and a host eating a cheeseburger and fries.
The same scenario played out in Cleveland where 92.3 The Fan promoted their evening show and a story about the Paul George trade and what it meant for the Cavs. ESPN Cleveland meanwhile didn’t relay any NBA information. Their last tweet was hours earlier and involved a Cleveland Browns trip to London.
Up north across the border in Toronto, SportsNet 590 The Fan posted Twitter updates about Steph Curry and Blake Griffin’s new contracts and the Raptors interest in retaining free agents Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. Local competitor TSN 1050 had nothing up about the NBA news, and only promoted that evening’s Toronto Argonauts game and the post-game show that followed it.
Turning to Chicago, 670 The Score had a story on their website and a tweet out to promote the Bulls re-signing Chris Felicio to a 4-year deal. They also tweeted the news of the Bulls waiving Rajon Rondo. ESPN 1000 had neither. The station did provide a 2-hour NBA free agency special on-air from 6p-8p CT, but their social media stopped after a retweet went out with a link to listen to Waddle and Silvy’s podcast from earlier that day.
Both WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic passed along news of the Paul George trade on Twitter, but WIP stayed active longer in the social space. The station especially did a nice job retweeting Joel Embiid’s “playoff spots are opening up” and Alshon Jeffery’s Mount Rushmore pic featuring Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric. WIP also posted a story about the Sixers hoping to sign J.J. Reddick to a one-year deal, a move that took place on Saturday.
After Patty Mills signed a four year deal in San Antonio to remain with the Spurs, The Ticket 760 had it posted. The station also retweeted news related to the Paul George trade and the Spurs meeting with Andre Iguodala. ESPN 1250 on the other hand didn’t have anything up. In fact, 1250 had only tweeted once in the previous 5 days. That’s difficult to understand given the amount of news linked to the Spurs over the past few weeks.
Also in Texas, all three local Houston sports radio brands had tweets up about the Paul George trade. George had been mentioned as a possibility for the Rockets. SportsTalk 790 and ESPN 97.5 also posted the news that evening about Nene re-signing. Sports Radio 610 didn’t have that story up until the following morning.
The final market I reviewed was Salt Lake City and the activity with both local brands wasn’t good. With Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward, and George Hill in the news, Rudy Gobert tweeting about the west becoming too unbalanced, and the Jazz acquiring Ricky Rubio earlier that day, 1280 The Zone and ESPN 700 had nothing up. Given that the Jazz are the market’s only professional team and this free agent period is critical to the team’s ability to stay strong in the western conference, you’d expect more activity from the two local market sports stations.
The purpose of this piece isn’t to throw anyone under a bus or make it appear as if certain brands have mastered the social media space. The point is to remind brands and their staffs about the importance of being present for the audience in the social space, especially when it involves topical events and important news. Some of these things can be solved with effective scheduling. Others come down to employees doing their part to look out for their brand.
Keep in mind, the majority of examples I used were locally focused. I could easily make a case that every station should’ve tweeted the news of Paul George’s trade and Steph Curry’s record breaking contract. If we’re going to own the position of being a local sports source for news, information and opinion, then we should have no issue passing along major stories, even if they’re not local. I don’t care which city you’re in, your audience knows Steph Curry and Paul George. When big stories break and they’re involved, your local fans will want to know about it.
There are still many people in our industry who view social media as an added chore with no influence on the ratings. It may be hard to see the impact social media has on our brands in the boxscore, but the question each person should be asking themselves is, does this help or hurt my brand in strengthening relationships with the audience? If anyone is going to suggest that it doesn’t help, it leaves me to believe they’re out of touch with the present state of sports media engagement.
There are times in our business when you give an extra effort because it feels like the right thing to do. That was the case last week when NBA Free Agency began. Fans of your station expect you to keep them informed, and those who provide a regular payoff for the audience stand a better chance of earning trust, respect and support. That in turn leads to additional listening.
You may think it doesn’t matter right now, but when those little wins start to add up, and the tide begins to turn in your competitor’s direction, will it matter then?
Dave Rothenberg Can’t Stand Hearing Kenny Albert Mispronounce ‘Raleigh’
“I would think a true professional, like somebody that cares about their craft, would get that kind of feedback and welcome it.”
Dave Rothenberg has a tiny bone to pick with Kenny Albert, and it’s over the way Kenny pronounces the Carolina Hurricanes’ home city.
Talking on his show on ESPN New York on Tuesday, Rothenberg, who spent three years working in Raleigh on 99.9 The Fan, said he wished someone would get in Albert’s ear and correct the way he’s been saying it adding that it has made him wish one of the top play-by-play voices in hockey wouldn’t be on the call for the playoff series between the Canes and New York Rangers.
“I would think a true professional, like somebody that cares about their craft, would get that kind of feedback and welcome it,” Rothenberg said.
Albert has been pronouncing the city’s name as “RAW-lee”. It is properly pronounced “RAH-lee”.
Co-host Rick DiPietro and the rest of the show crew thought Albert would take offense to the correction, especially since it’s such a minor thing, but Rothenberg thought that was ridiculous.
“See, no one can deal with tough love anymore,” Rothenberg said.
The New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes series shifts back to Raleigh on Thursday for Game 5. The series is tied 2-2.
NBC Sports Names Al Michaels To Emeritus Role
The partnership will keep Michaels on for the Olympics and NBC’s NFL playoff coverage.
NBC Sports, which had been the home of Al Michaels since 2006, will still feature the veteran broadcaster despite Michaels’ moving to Amazon for Thursday Night Football.
The network announced that Michaels will still be a part of NBC Sports’ high-profile broadcasting properties including the Olympics and NFL Playoffs. Michaels’ last broadcast with the network had been Super Bowl LVI in February, his eleventh Super Bowl.
NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua said in a statement, “Revered by viewers and colleagues, Al has been the soundtrack for many of the greatest moments in sports television history. We are thrilled that he’s staying in the family and raising the stature of our events for years to come.”
“I’m looking forward to continuing my longtime NBC relationship while also launching the Thursday Night Football package on Amazon this fall. A special thanks to NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua and the folks at NBCUniversal for their help in making this happen,” Michaels said.
Michaels moved to Amazon Prime Video this season for their Thursday Night Football package. He will be paired with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit. This season will mark his 37th NFL play-by-play campaign in primetime.
Following another historic broadcasting moment in which Michaels deftly demonstrated his expertise and versatility, he became just the second sportscaster in history to receive a News Emmy nomination for his coverage of the San Francisco earthquake during the 1989 World Series.
In addition to the 11 Super Bowls, Michaels has worked nine Olympics and called eight World Series.
In December 2020, Michaels was honored with the 2021 Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Michaels is one of only five distinguished broadcasters to be recognized with the baseball honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Award (Dick Enberg, Lindsey Nelson, Jack Buck, and Curt Gowdy).
One of television’s most respected journalists, Michaels has covered more major sports events than any sportscaster, including 20 years as the play-by-play voice of Monday Night Football. He is the only commentator to call the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals and host the Stanley Cup Final for network television. In addition, Michaels called the classic 1985 championship boxing match between Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler.
Among his many accolades, Michaels has captured eight Emmy Awards – seven for Outstanding Sports Personality – Play-by-Play and one in 2011 for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and has three times (1980, 1983 and 1986) received the NSSA Award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association; he was inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame in 1998. Michaels was named Sportscaster of the Year in 1996 by the American Sportscasters Association, and, in 1991, he was named Sportscaster of the Year by the Washington Journalism Review.
Thom Brennaman Continues to Search for a Second Chance
Brennaman has been searching for a broadcasting gig since he spoke a homophobic slur in August 2020 on a Cincinnati Reds broadcast.
The last time Thom Brennaman sported the microphone for a major broadcast was August 19, 2020. It was game that featured a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and the Kanasas City Royals and in between the two, Brennaman blurted a homophobic slur that has thus far kept him off radio and television.
Brennaman has struggled to find his footing since that error. Recently, Brennaman recorded an episode of Tell Me A Story I Don’t Know, a podcast hosted George Ofman. That episode was available Tuesday and in it, Ofman asks where Brennaman thinks he’ll be in six months.
Brennaman said, “I have no idea. I really don’t. There were a couple of times I thought that maybe somebody out there was going to give me a chance to broadcast again and then this same thing comes up again.”
Brennaman sounded baffled that he’s still searching for work, citing other influential local leaders and what they opined in the days after the incident. “You know what you find out George, the guy who’s considered to be the leading voice of the LGBT community here in Cincinnati, he’s a big executive with Johnson and Johnson, a guy named Ryan Messer. He had written, and I had never met Ryan Messer at this point in time, like two days after what I said, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, local paper, that Thom Brennaman should not be fired. There is room for growth here in so many areas and a great opportunity for him, for the gay community, for the Reds, for our society.”
Brennaman added that the two met as well as did Brennaman with other leaders in the LGBT community at the time. “I reached out to the guy and made contact with him and he’s the guy who’s house we went to that I made reference to earlier in listening to a bunch of the stories with some gay leaders. But anyway, I said ‘if you have people there – and I know you do – that are gay that work there, I would put up the amount of hours that I have spent in the gay community in some form or fashion over the last year against anybody you have that works in that office that’s gay’.”
Despite his efforts, the broadcasting veteran is dismayed that it’s failed to sway opinion, “it’s almost like in some cases it just falls on deaf ears.”
Regardless of where he is at now, he’s confident that eventually he’ll be afforded another opportunity. “But I ‘d like to think there’s somebody out there – and there will be and all it takes is one – is just to say ‘you know what, this was a mistake. Here’s the documentation of what the guy’s tried to do since then. We’re going to take a chance – answer some tough questions – and take a chance and get him back in the booth.”
And if another opportunity doesn’t present itself? “If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to be the end of my life.”