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Sports Radio Lessons From a Five Star Hotel

Demetri Ravanos

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If I were trying to impress you I’d say I am currently between radio gigs. If I were being more honest, I would tell you I parted ways with SB Nation Radio in July and had to find something else to fill my time and pay some bills, so I am currently working at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC.

There’s a very real chance you’ve never heard of us, but it is your loss really. The Umstead is a Forbes Five Star hotel. Conde Nast just named us the best hotel in the South and one of the top 50 hotels in the whole world. So, you should probably check us out.

Now look, as a town, Cary blows. It’s an upper-class suburb of Raleigh and the thing that it’s best known for locally is that the town requires the sign for every business to be green and white. After reading that sentence, how charming do you think Cary is? Okay, now dial that down by about 20% and that’s how charming Cary actually is.

So then how does The Umstead Hotel and Spa have such a sterling reputation? How do we make our hotel the kind of destination people will go out of their way to experience? Simple, we put a focus on service and highlight the natural attractions around us.

There are a number of lessons I have learned working in a Five Star hotel environment that can be applied to sports radio. Here are five of them.

THE GUEST COMES FIRST

If you read my piece about the radio station not being your jukebox, this will sound familiar. If you haven’t, go read it now.

I work in the reservations department of the hotel, so I deal with calls all day long. There is certain information I have to give and receive from callers. In an ideal setting, I can find out if they are celebrating anything, if they have any allergies we can help them avoid in their room, and make sure they are aware of our cancellation policies, but the one thing that I’ve learned is that sometimes callers just want to get off the phone. Real Five Star service isn’t about following all the rules to the letter. It’s about respecting the caller’s time.

In radio, we want to tell every detail of the story. We want to get in every joke. But you have to respect the listener’s time. Tell your story. Get in the relevant stats and the best jokes. Remember to make your point clear up front. We respect the listener’s time by not burying the lead, by saying “this is where I’m going with this, come with me.”

If you’re going to tell me why Papa John should get a say in the way the NFL polices player protests, you better lead with that thesis. I am not waiting through jokes and sales figures to get to a point I don’t agree with, but if you make your point up front I am more likely to stay with you. If I like you, I want to give you the chance to convince me. If I don’t like you, I want to hear your justification for such a dumb stance.

WE DO THINGS FOR A REASON

If you call a hotel to make a reservation and they ask if you have a floor preference it’s not just the agent being nice. It is something that has to be asked in order to get all of the points on the Forbes Five Star test. If the agent repeats the date that you said you want to check in and says “is that right?” It’s not because they didn’t hear you. It’s because the agent wants a record of you acknowledging your agreement multiple times to legally protect the hotel.

Yes, what we do gives a certain appearance. That appearance will either enhance or enforce the reputation of the hotel. The fact is though, that every word I say when talking to a potential guest serves a specific purpose. The same should be true of your radio show – maybe not with every single word you say, but with every segment you plan.

Why do we deliver the same bit at the same time every week? Because it creates appointment listening opportunities and those provide more chances to expand the listener’s TSL. Why do we have benchmark guests? Because we know that those guests will deliver good content and reliably good content presents sales opportunities.

LEARN WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Afternoon tea service is one of the most popular offerings at the Umstead Hotel and Spa. We usually ask guests to call for reservations at least three weeks in advance, but if you called me tomorrow and asked me to find you the first availability for afternoon tea, I would be looking well into December.

I tell you that to share a story with you. Last month I got a call from a woman in New York. She was paying for her daughter to stay at the hotel to celebrate the girl’s graduation. She bragged about our tea to her daughter and wanted her to experience it. The problem is that she was calling on the day that her daughter was checking in. She would only be at the hotel for two nights, and on one of them we weren’t serving tea. When I told the woman how popular the tea service was and that there was no availability for her daughter, she told me I single-handedly ruined the trip.

Was it really my fault? Of course it wasn’t. It was the mother’s fault for not doing her homework. She didn’t make the effort to learn what she needed to know.

In preparing for interviews, never be afraid to ask colleagues and friends what they would ask if they were conducting the interview. Maybe you’ll discover an interesting angle you were unaware of. When you move into a new market, seek out market veterans to learn the history of the rivalries and teams you’ll be covering. You won’t ever be able to fake being a local, but learning what you need to know before you ever crack a mic will earn you a lot of points with a new audience.

DON’T EXPECT OTHERS TO MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD

Did I mention our afternoon tea is very popular? Great, because here’s another story about it!

Last weekend a woman that was staying at the hotel called the reservations center. She wanted me to set up a banquet room for her to host tea for a group of 20 that were in town for a convention that day. The request would be impossible to grant. Not only was the banquet staff not working (because there was no banquet scheduled), but we do not have 20 set ups for tea.

When I told her this, the lady got pissed. She told me that her husband was the president of the company hosting this convention and our hotel embarrassed her. Not only could we not make tea work for her, but she also was told she couldn’t make 20 same day reservations in our spa, which like our tea, is quite popular.

There is only so much others can do for you. If your ratings are down, there is only so much installing a new clock can do. If listener panels come back with a negative opinion of your show, there is only so much new imaging you can do. No one has more influence on the product you are trying to deliver than you. Stay informed. If there is a vision that you are trying to execute, make sure you have done all you can to make it a reality before you start focusing on how others are not helping you.

ALWAYS BE READY TO PIVOT

Like I said earlier, I work in the reservations department. On an average day, I don’t interact face-to-face with guests. I am trained though to also work as a concierge and a front desk agent if necessary. Days where the hotel is running at 95+% occupancy can really put a strain on those two departments and if everyone decides to show up right at 3pm, which is check in time, those departments will need a lot of support. So, even though I go to work each day anticipating sitting in front of a computer, I have to be prepared to be face-to-face with guests.

Sports radio shows have to be ready for anything. Do extensive prep for every show, but know that if news breaks, you have to be ready to throw all that prep out. So while you are prepping a segment on the College Football Playoff rankings, keep an eye on what is happening in the hot stove, because if your local team makes a major move, you need to be ready to talk about it intelligently.

That is the case with any show built around current events. The key word is “current,” right? If my guests at the hotel are stuck in long lines waiting to get what they need, you can bet they will let the hotel know about their dissatisfaction. In this day of social media, all it takes is one person to make air their grievance publicly and the hotel’s reputation will suffer. All it takes is one show where you sound out of touch and you’ve created detractors.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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