I recently had the opportunity to talk to David Smoak of ESPN Central Texas for nearly 30 minutes. There’s something he said that I can’t get off my mind.
“I’ve never thought your market size should dictate how well you cover something. I refuse to do that. At times, management has to reign me in and say we can’t do it, but I’m sure as hell going to try.”
Maybe he learned that life lesson from his father, a US Naval Academy Graduate. Or maybe he just learned it through all the ups and downs of his many years in the business. Regardless, it’s what always has kept Smoak on top of his game and into one of the best broadcasters in the state of Texas
Smoak traveled all over the world as a kid. That’s the lifestyle when you have a father in the military. Regardless of where the family made its home, David would sit at a desk night after night and pretend to call games.
He looked up to Howard Cosell, Jim McKay and Keith Jackson, as he was often more interested in who was calling the game than the game itself. His parents thought it was cool he had taken such interest in a hobby.
Smoak thought it was all a pipe dream, something that would never come to fruition. His passion, however, continued all the way to his high school and college years. While his friends were out partying, Smoak was inside his dorm room calling games.
Three-ring binders and notebooks were filled with box scores and anything else he could use to set the scene for a game. He knew what he wanted to do and that was cover sports. After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University he immediately got the chance.
Start of a Career
Smoak’s first job came on November of 1981. Fresh out of college, he was immediately on the air and covering football. Until 1989, he would excel on the television side as a sports broadcaster in the small market he was in.
At the time, sports talk opportunities on the radio were hard to come by and had little existence. However, Smoak had a friend in TV that told him about a new sports talk station that had just opened up in Tyler, Texas. The friend urged him to inquire about a host position with the company. Smoak thought long and hard about moving from TV to radio and the risks that could come along with it. He also considered the fact he felt he had hit his peak at the position he was currently in. Finally, even though he knew very little about how to run a radio show, Smoak took a chance and started a show at KTBB.
If asked, he’ll tell you he had no idea what he was doing at first. But before he started he visited with Norm Hitzges and Randy Galloway, two prominent Dallas radio hosts at the time, to get a better feel of how things should operate. That willingness to go the extra mile and seek help, would be one of many reasons the show would become a huge success. In the year 1990, the show was off and running and on the airwaves. Smoak’s goal for the show was simple: Don’t let anyone drive down Interstate 20 and think they were listening to a small-time local radio show.
He busted his ass to get big guests on the show and pump out quality content. Soon after the start of the show, Smoak created some segments that started to generate buzz in the city.
His first stroke of luck came in the same year, when the Dallas Cowboys started to resurface. The franchise was filled with controversy after Jerry Jones had recently purchased the team. Everyone was still upset about the firing of Tom Landry and unsure of where the team was headed.
Smoak saw an opportunity to cover the team extensively. From training camp to games, to everything else in-between, Smoak was everywhere covering the Cowboys. In a town that had never any sort of resemblance of a sports talk radio show, Tyler, Texas was now home to one of the best shows in the state.
For 19 years until 2009, the show continued to grow in popularity. But as life sometimes happens, Smoak ran into a personal situation in the summer of 2009 that found him off the air and out of sports radio. For the first time in over 28 years, he was out of the sports media business.
A New Beginning
You don’t realize how much you enjoy hosting a radio show until it’s taken away from you.
Smoak was out of the business for around six months before he got a break. ESPN Dallas called and asked him to start doing shifts on the weekends. Sure, it wasn’t the daily show he did for 19 years, but it was an opportunity to get back into the business in one of the best markets in the country. For a month, Smoak busted his ass to do the best job possible. After a month, the owner from an ESPN station in Waco called. To this day, Smoak isn’t sure who recommended him, but in June of 2010, he was back doing a daily show at ESPN Central Texas.
Like the Cowboys in the early 90’s, Smoak’s second stroke of luck came when he arrived to cover the Baylor football program. A perennial cellar dweller in the Big 12 and without a bowl berth in over 15 years, the Bears now had an offense that was high-flying and scoring points.
“I was here in 2010 when they clinched a bowl berth against Kansas State,” said Smoak. “Everyone rushed the field. I was like, what in the hell are they doing? But it hadn’t happened in so long, everyone was just so excited. It was amazing. I was very lucky.”
Of course, that was only the start for Baylor, as back-to-back conference championships followed, along with berths in both the Fiesta and Peach bowl, a height most thought was impossible. During that time, Smoak doubled down on everything Baylor football. There was a commitment to attending every event and providing the best content possible. Sales and revenue ideas also were coming along great, as the glory years of doing a sports radio show in Waco had arrived.
The first bowl berth in 2010, the station had just two people in Houston for the game. But the time Baylor was playing UCF in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2013 season, the station had four people in Phoenix for a week. Baylor football was a big time story and ESPN Central Texas was cashing in.
The Dark Years
You’d never wish what happened next on your biggest competitor. Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any better for Baylor football. Just when a national title was thrown around as a realistic possibility for the program, it all came crashing down at a moment’s notice. Unspeakable acts were reportedly done by several football players at Baylor, casting a dark cloud over the program and bringing a halt to the wild success of the program. Instead of being looked at as one of college football’s best turnaround, it was now looked at as a despicable program that let terrible things happen.
“I lost sleep in 2015 and 2016,” said Smoak. “There were times were I was like, what the hell? What is going on?’ It’s really strange. There were times where I really, really struggled those years. Every day we woke up and seemed like there was something new. I lost sleep over like ‘my God, what’s next?’
Smoak never lost sleep wondering if Baylor was going to beat Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl or OU in Norman. But this affected him. Instead of covering a football team, his daily show had turned into a constant discussion about the terrible crimes committed by the football program.
“2016 was the dark year, because that’s when all hell broke loose,” said Smoak. “That was the Pepper Hamilton report, the coaching firing of Art Briles and all the other stories that came out. Our listenership went up. There’s no doubt that our online listenership, which they don’t use on Arbitron, was massive. I mean silly numbers.
“When the 2017 season started and they lost to Liberty, I realized that even though they lost the game and were staring at not winning one all year, that never affected. It got to the point where I didn’t even know who they were playing, because the story was so much about the program trying to overcome whatever actually happened.”
Though Smoak admits he’s just now getting over what happened and able to enjoy covering Baylor football again, but that is a period of his career he’ll never forget. Covering a story of that nature, especially for such a long time period, is something you’re never fully prepared to do. But Smoak stuck to his morals and what he believed was right. That’s what guided him through, quite possibly, the darkest time of his career.
Baylor football is back on its feet after becoming bowl eligible this year. Some of the wounds are still fresh to many people, but head coach Matt Rhule has done his best to try and move the program forward.
“Obviously, we’re there and doing our job whether they’re 11-1 or 1-11,” said Smoak. “But all of us would be lying if we said it wasn’t easier to cover a team that’s had success. It makes a huge difference. For example, the first time Baylor went to a bowl game they went to the Texas Bowl and we probably had two people there. When they went to the Fiesta Bowl against UCF we had four people there for a week. Winning can absolutely dictate the coverage.
“Last year wasn’t hard because they were 1-11. Our coverage doesn’t change because they only win one game. I refuse to do that. But the last 2 to 3 years? I’ve been in the business since 1981, but I lost sleep in 2015 and 2016. There were some things that I took personally because I was just so blown away by some of the stories.”
God willing, Smoak will never have to endure covering a story of that nature again. But moving forward is what’s best for both he and the station. That’s what both are attempting to do.
“We cover high school football and I feel like we do it better than any station in America,” said Smoak. “I feel like it helped us, being able to focus on that and not just the bad things happening at Baylor.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.
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