The thrill of victory and the agony of a defeat are two feelings that we, as sports fans, encounter on a regular basis. They’re two totally different emotions, but each one often leads us to the same destination: the radio dial.
Whether it’s immediately after the game on a post-game show or the next day on a station’s local programming, listeners crave the content from hosts, guests and callers that can match the emotion they felt from the game. But what if there was no destination for your favorite team? What if stations in the area paid way more attention to other area teams, putting the team you follow on the back burner?
On Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning scored an impressive eight goals, en route to an 8-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. The win put the Lightning at 8-2-1 on the season, which gives them the best record in the Atlantic division and second-best in the NHL. The team is rolling and the excitement is high amongst the fan base. But as fans filed out of the sold-out arena and into their cars for the drive home, there probably wasn’t a whole lot of Lightning’s coverage on the local sports radio stations. Why? Well, Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers, the Jaguars, Florida State, Florida and the rest of the SEC are the main topics in the state of Florida during this time of the year. It’s a tough reality, but one that every non-football team in the Sunshine State routinely deals.
Instead of living with that reality and battling for popularity in the state, the Lightning decided to take a proactive step to help build its brand. In October of 2014, Lightning Power Play was debuted. The idea that had been bouncing around the head of Matt Sammon for over a year, was now a reality. If it worked, it could be a trend setter, in terms of how fans enjoy their favorite team’s product. The concept was simple: put game broadcasts, replays, original content and anything else that was centered on the Lightning on a 24/7 hub that fans could enjoy at any time of the day. Like anything else, small problems were encountered at first. But eventually, they were solved and the product continues to see rapid growth.
Located on iHeartRadio, the station can easily be found by searching ‘Lightning Power Play.’ Whether it’s 6 p.m. on a game day or 2 a.m. on an off day, fans are able to stream content for free. The move proves that teams have more options than just terrestrial radio to get their product in front of the fans. With the business moving more and more digitally, Sammon and the Lightning are hoping they’re a step ahead of what’s to come.
The interesting thing, is if more teams in the NHL and other leagues across the country elect to create their own platform. It could change the way sports fans consume their favorite team’s product. Plus, each team would be able to totally control the content that’s put out to the listener.
Though the idea is already a successful one, there are still hurdles to overcome. How to monetize it correctly, getting the word out to more fans about the product and finding more original content ideas, are just a few that are on Sammon’s mind. However, Lightning Power Play has a plan. Sammon shared more on what could be a revolutionary change for the sports radio business.
TM: What was the original idea of Lightning Power Play and where did it come from?
MS: There was a general shift, not only in the industry, but in consumer habits, along the digital spectrum. IPhones and other mobile devices were becoming more plentiful and content for those devices was being produced more. There’s just that general idea of moving things forward and progressing.
Ever since I’ve been in my role, it’s trying to continue to grow our brand and product throughout the digital platform. Even that’s changed over the years. It was just trying to keep up with the times and stay ahead of the curve. Now, the other big reason, was because Tampa Bay is a very big football market.
Even if we have a very good hockey team, it’s a constant battle to get the word out on how the hockey team is doing. There’s a little bit of frustration, it’s, “okay, we need to do more than just a game broadcast,” but we also need to do it in a way so that we can create a landing zone for our fans, because we know that football is always going to be the big story around here, pro, college and high school. For hockey fans, in particular, Lightning fans, we need a destination for them and that’s really kind of became the foundation of what would become Lightning Power Play.
TM: Do listeners have to pay for the service? And where can I find it?
MS: It’s free for anybody and there’s a number of ways you can listen to it. One, is if you have the IHeart Radio app, it’s on that platform. Just search ‘Lightning Power Play’ and it’s right there. We also have a website, LightningPowerPlay.com, which, essentially, directs you to our page on the Lightning’s website. Also, we’re on the Amazon Echo and Google Home. All you do is ask your device to play Lightning Power Play and it immediately comes up. You can get it outside the market, just anywhere where you have an iHeart Radio stream.
TM: Do any other NHL teams have something similar?
MS: Well, to be honest with you, we were heavily inspired by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who no longer have Penguins 24/7. They used to run their station on an HD2 channel but it also streamed online. They took that off about 3 or 4 years ago, I have no idea why. But the late Ray Walker was such a great inspiration, a really good provider and guidance for us when we were just getting our feet wet.
In terms of 24/7 programming, the only team that’s doing it right now is the Washington Capitals. But there’s more and more teams that are opening the digital door by streaming the games online, with the intent to build content around it. The LA Kings, they’re doing that, as well as the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. The Philadelphia Flyers also do some limited ancillary programming, digitally.
Now, you’re seeing more teams get into the digital realm, starting with the games, so I think more and more teams are going to start looking it at that way. There could be more streaming of games online, maybe altering how the flagship relationship is with a team. Then, there’s building content around that to create a station or network online, as supposed to over the air.
TM: What were the biggest challenges in the early stages of Lightning Power Play?
MS: I think the biggest issue was just awareness. We’re still learning how to combat that. We’re doing some social media advertising, mostly with Facebook. We’ve found interesting interactions with our ads that have went out. We’re up for doing more things such as interviews like this, doing more in-game promotion on our terrestrial radio broadcasts, by letting people know there’s stuff out there, besides the regular game broadcast. We’ll see if that chips away a little at the lack of information or knowledge about what we do. We’ve seen our numbers go up significantly in the last several months.
The other big challenge, and thankfully we’re not dealing with this anymore, is you have to program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On a game day, that’s easy. There’s all sorts of stuff you can do before, during and after. It’s the time in-between that becomes challenging. The good thing, is when we launched this, we knew we were going to be about 80 percent replay and 20 percent of new, live and local content. The issue has turned around the other way. In fact, I’d say were around the 90-10 ratio of original, live, local, exclusive programming and just a little more of the replay content. That’s ultimately what we wanted to do and we have people knocking on our door wanting to get into the programing, anyway possible. If they have a unique idea that can fit into the programming and stand out from everything else we’re airing, we’ll certainly talk and try to make it happen.
TM: On that, how many different talents do you use?
MS: We actually have 12-14 different shows. Outside of the Lightning play-by-play, we air, when we don’t have a conflict of programming, our minor league affiliate hockey teams. When we’ve got room, we’ll incorporate them in.
Then, we have daily programming. We have a new live and local lunchtime show that airs 1-2 p.m. every weekday. We have a show in the early evening that runs from 6-7 p.m. That’s been running for three years now and it’s called Lightning Power Play Live. That runs not only Monday thru Friday, but if we have a game on Saturday or Sunday, it’s preceding our network broadcast. It’s kind of an extended pregame show. We also have, what I call, some primary programming, with a show on Monday called Game Misconduct. That runs 5 or 6 times throughout the day. We have a different show on Tuesday, a new one on Wednesday, we’ve got a whole collection of weekend shows that offer a nice, different view of the sport and just sports in general. It’s a unique juggling act to make everything work but so far we’ve found a way to manage it. Every show we have is different from the other. That’s what makes it so special.
TM: Is there a way to monetize all this? Can you incorporate ads into your content?
MS: Yeah, that’s the 64 thousand dollar question, quite literally, is how do you monetize this? That’s been a slow and steady progress. The best thing about Lightning Power Play and our organization is we knew going in that for the first 1-2 years that our goal was to not make money. We needed establish programming and establish an audience, then we’ll try to bring in some revenue.
So we attack it from a few different ways. One, is when we sell these bigger packages to companies that advertise in other platforms, within the Tampa Bay Lightning, is Lightning Power Play a part of a bigger package. That’s one way to monetize. We also boil it up to a show host hitting the pavement and trying to sell the show, or the station in general, to help bring in revenue. We found some success with that, small success, but it’s still money coming in the door.
Now, we’re looking at an OTT platform called The Identity in our organization. Do we couple The Identity along with some digital operations we’re doing with the University of South Florida? Now, if you have one big digital sales team that goes out to solve this. We’re still working on that but I’ve really been convinced over the past year or so that the tables are going to turn in the next 4-5 years. Instead of digital being a bonus buy for a terrestrial buy, I think you’re going to see more and more agencies and business buying digital first and then getting the AM and FM thrown in for no additional cost. We’re hopefully ahead of the curve on that.
TM: Do you expect to see more NHL teams come around to this idea? Especially ones in similar market situations as you, such as the Stars and Hurricanes?
MS: It’s interesting you bring up the Stars and the Hurricanes, because those teams simulcast their TV broadcast. It’s certainly up to each club what they want to do, but I think with the Kings, Devils and Islanders coming aboard, you’re dealing with new additions from major markets, good ownership groups with deep pockets and strength in numbers. As long as this continues to grow, I think you’re going to get more teams talking to one another and asking how they did it. Some of the hurdles, when we started and other teams started asking, the hurdles for them were money and man power.
Without the proper cash investment and without the proper man power investment, you can’t really pull this off. Now that you’re getting more and more teams finding ways to do it, now I think some of those hurdles get leapt over. I would guess, more and more teams are going to go this way. It’s not a big money maker for the NHL, but for individual teams it’s a new revenue stream for them. I think you’re going to see more and more teams and leagues that are fighting the NFL for popularity, to just fight through it and create a platform for their own and invite their fans to come there. Especially hockey fans, they’re passionate. If you tell them where to come, they’ll go.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.