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Learning from Fortnite

Demetri Ravanos

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We’ve all been watching the NCAA Tournament, right? What’s been your favorite story so far? Was it Loyola-Chicago making the Final Four on the prayers and international fame of Sister Jean? Was it any of the countless buzzer beaters? The story of the opening weekend, of course, was the UMBC Retrievers becoming the first ever 16-seed to beat a 1-seed with their 20-beat drubbing of the Tournament’s top team, Virginia.

After the game, Nolan Gerrity, a junior forward who logged all of two minutes in the game for the Retrievers, told reporters that the historic upset felt as good as beating Fortnite for the first time. Now, if you’re under a certain age, you got the reference and it made you smile. If you’re the average age of the guy that watches the NCAA Tournament though, chances are you probably had to Google “Fortnite,” and there’s a very real chance that, like me, first you Googled “Fortnight.”

Fortnite is a video game. Fortnite: Battle Royale is the version that the internet has lost its mind over. Up to 100 people playing across multiple platforms can join a battle. Leo Sepkowitz has a piece that went up on Bleacher Report over the weekend that details the devotion to the game among the NBA’s youngest players. A recent session of the game that featured rapper/professional fair-weather fan Drake drew over 600,000 views on the video game streaming site Twitch.

Being curious, I did some research to try and figure out not the why, but how Fortnite became so damn popular. The answer to that question, or at least my hypothesis, is something sports radio should pay attention to, because it starts with some good news.

First, and most importantly, the game is free. There’s a version you can pay for, but that’s not the version the world is obsessed with. This is the good news for us. The appeal begins with a given of terrestrial radio. We make it easy for listeners to be a part of what we do.

The next aspect of Fornite: Battle Royale’s rise in popularity worth noting is that for gamers, it is everywhere. You can play the game on the PS4, the Xbox One, your PC, and any iOs devices. Epic Games, the company responsible for Fortnite, doesn’t tell players where to go to be a part of the community. It has put Fortnite everywhere gamers are.

That is something I have told a couple of programmer friends lately when we discuss what the next evolution of content in our format is. Making good content is still the priority, but how we place that content matters just as much.

Your podcast, interviews, anything you feel is A+ material, needs to be everywhere. Tweet it out multiple times over the course of a 24 hour period. Post it to the show’s Facebook page, and then make sure every cast member shares it on their individual pages. Put it on the station website. If eyeballs or ear holes are there, your content should be there too. This is what “making it easy for listeners to be a part of what we do” looks like in the 21st century.

One of the most interesting things about the Fortnite phenomenon is that some of the game’s most dedicated players have never recorded a single kill, let alone actually won a battle. That’s because it is possible to make progress in Fortnite simply by staying alive. This isn’t a game with a payoff only for the most hardcore fans. It is an experience that is welcoming.

I have alluded to this in past pieces. When I wrote about the Winter Olympics last month, I talked about the importance of understanding the event’s place in your listener’s life. When I interviewed SiriusXM’s Taylor Zarzour last year, he mentioned how much impact simply thinking about sports from a casual fan’s point of view has had on the way he deliver’s his points.

The makers of Fortnite didn’t set out to create an unbeatable game or a game that requires you to beat people that play for 10-12 hours per day on to have fun. There isn’t much of a win in that. Don’t walk into your studio with the attitude that everyone listening knows what you know. Being the show for the hardcore sports fan may earn you cred in that circle, but it’s a pretty small circle.

Finally, Fortnite’s success has been the result of an appeal with some very famous people. When Drake posts a video of himself losing his mind over this game or Chance the Rapper tweets about the need to bring the game to the Nintendo Switch it opens this brand up to those celebrities’ fans.

Do you have to be the favorite show of every jock or coach in town? No, all you have to do is make sure every guest that comes on your show likes coming on your show. Involve them in your social media conversations before the interview. Thank them online after the interview. Most importantly, don’t bore them during the interview. Making fans out of people that have fans is one of the most important things you can do to grow your show’s audience.

I have never played Fortnite, and it is likely I never will. I am a very casual gamer at best, but as I did my research for this piece, it was very easy to see why the cult of Fortnite is so large and why it includes so many famous names.

The path the game followed to success can be duplicated by anyone. It’s not like any new ground was broken along the way. The success started with someone asking “how can we make sure the most people have the most fun?”. If you work everyday on answering that question, you will be in a better place than you were the day before.

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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