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Spring Training Is The Time To Try New Things

“What can we do to make the broadcasts interesting, when #99 with no name on the back of his jersey comes in?”

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Spring Training – the time of year every baseball team is in first place. It’s a utopia for a baseball fan, the return of their summertime heroes.

Image result for spring training arizona and florida

Spring also provides some challenges to radio stations that serve as the “flagship” for a Major League team. What can we do to make the broadcasts interesting, when #99 with no name on the back of his jersey comes in? How many games do you carry? How many games are only worthy of a “webcast”?  These are legitimate questions, when it comes to serving an audience, a team and advertisers.  I reached out to a few program directors, producers and executives to get the answers to a couple of the questions. 

Spring games tend to lend themselves to innovation and creativity. One of the teams trying some different things is the Orioles. Some may carry into the regular season. Chuck Sapienza is the Executive Producer of the team’s radio network.

Image result for chuck sapienza 1057 the fan

“We are trying many new things this season. Trying to be creative. We are working on having one of our player analysts do a few innings from different parts of the park. He was a closer, so maybe he can do a game from the bullpen. The more creativity you can bring to a broadcast the better, however you have to balance that so you don’t go overboard. People tuning in, first and foremost, want to hear the game.” 

A few teams have chosen to broadcast the first four or five innings, then turn it into a “talk show” with a baseball game going on in the background. 

That brings up another worry of some teams. Lack of interest. A few broadcasts, though, are using their team’s “situation” to hopefully help them along in Spring and in season.  “We have a heightened amount of interest in spring training games due to the team’s highly touted farm system and the signing of Manny Machado”, says Adam Klug Program Director 97.3 the Fan and the Padres Radio Network. “Padres fans want to see how these up and coming stars will perform.” In fact The Fan increased the number of Spring Training games they are airing from the original plan after the Machado signing.

Image result for manny machado padres spring training

The Orioles are also in that situation which lends itself to fans tuning in to the March games. “For the Orioles and our listeners, there is a tremendous amount of interest this spring because the team is in full re-build mode and we are introducing the fan base to the baby birds. We are trying to make the young guys household names so you can feel a buzz even though the team isn’t expended to contend”, said Sapienza. 

He sees another silver lining in covering a young team that really helps the broadcast, “most players are thrilled to be on the radio and the interviews have been great. Losing isn’t great for revenue but can be good for ratings if you do it correctly.”

Spring Training games are not handled the same way as regular season games either. Usually there are no pre or postgame shows and it’s a much more casual feel in these broadcasts. Most teams don’t have an adverse reaction to this and in many cases help to supplement a Spring game with guests that help the listener really feel what it’s like to be at a Cactus or Grapefruit League game. 

Opportunity abounds in the Spring as well. Young broadcasters get the chance to call games either on a webcast or in some cases on air. Figuring that every day announcers already call 162 regular season games, why not hear from others.

For example, The Cubs have used Double-A voice Mick Gillispie for a number of years now, he calls the webcast games alongside Cubs TV voice Len Kasper.  The Tigers are giving Dan Hasty (Single-A West Michigan) and Greg Gania (Single-A Erie Seawolves) a couple of Spring games. The Reds are using Tommy Thrall (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) for some games. Other teams are using reporters, pregame/postgame hosts and sideline reporters to cover their games. 

Image result for mick gillespie len kasper

So how many games are actually being broadcast over the air vs. on the web? A rough look across the league shows on average a radio station or team will air between 10-20 games via terrestrial radio. There are between 15-25 games available via webcasts. So in other words, if you want to listen to a game, you can probably find it in one form or fashion. 

The internet has saved the day in a several ways. First, access to games that aren’t broadcast on terrestrial radio or on TV. You can “tune in” from your home or office and listen to a game for free.  That changes during the regular season when the only way to get a game on the “net” is by paying for MLB’s “At Bat App” or subscribing to MLB.tv. They are reasonably priced but not cheap. 

Enjoy the Spring broadcasts and the players and announcers get ready for what promises to be an exciting baseball season.

BSM Writers

Dallas Cowboys: Proof That Marketing Works

“Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are.”

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Why do people still hate the Dallas Cowboys? Give me a good football reason that the Cowboys are worth your time. I get that there was an era where if the NFL was Mortal Kombat, the Cowboys were Shang Tsung, but those days ended three decades ago.

It’s 2022. There are adults in their late 20s that have never seen a Cowboys’ championship. Since 2000, the franchise has been to the playoffs fewer times than the Falcons. They have won as many playoff games in that time as the Jaguars. At this point, hating the Cowboys is about as useless as hating Luxembourg.

So why do people still have such a deep-seated disdain for the star and the players that wear it? Why was a national celebration set of on Sunday when the Cowboys lost in the stupidest way imaginable?

The answer is pretty simple really: marketing.

Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are. Great marketers can get you to behave like those products are what they say they are even when you know that isn’t true.

Jerry Jones is a great marketer.

People tune in when the Cowboys play. Maybe a good chunk of those people are hate-watching, but they’re watching. That is why the team was on in primetime six times this season. Of those other eleven games, seven of them were called by either FOX’s or CBS’s top broadcast team.

ESPN completely rebuild and rebranded First Take around the idea that Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys. That is it. The whole promo package for the show was just Smith wearing a cowboy hat and chomping on a cigar and laughing.

Shouldn’t we be doing this to the Patriots? Afterall, in the time since the Cowboy’s last Super Bowl appearance, New England has gone to the game an astounding ten times and won six titles.

It’s easy to read that sentence and say “Well, Tom Brady isn’t there anymore. The Patriots aren’t what they used to be. It isn’t as much fun to hate them.”

Uh, dawg, who in Dallas has been worth hating since Troy Aikman retired? You know, like 22 years ago!

Jerry Jones isn’t the man that coined the phrase “America’s Team, ” so he didn’t set its initial meaning. What it became, by virtue of him leaning into the branding is something that forces you to react. Either you buy into the blue and the silver and the star and you’re with America’s team or you recoil at the branding and the goofiness of the whole aesthetic and want to watch it burn.

Notre Dame football could be doing this too. The problem is they do not have the great markerter out front pushing that slogan over and over again.

Even “how bout them Cowboys?” is a solid positioning statement. It’s easily repeatable in good times or bad. The genius of Jerry Jones embracing that statement and that clip of Jimmy Johnson shouting those four now-iconic words is that it is a question that always has an answer.

Fans can celebrate with “how bout them cowboys” when the team wins. Haters can say it facetiously when they are on a losing streak. Either way, you are saying it and the Dallas Cowboys are occupying a part of your brain.

Positioning statements work. That is why so many stations tag their imaging with the same phrase or sentence every single time. That is why so many stations are called The Fan or The Game or The Ticket.

Admittedly, sometimes we need to rethink how our listeners are receiving the message. If we are all going for homogeny, nothing can stand out. Maybe that is a reason to rethink what I jokingly call “sports radio’s magic hat of five acceptable station names”, but the larger point is that you want every message you put out to point to the brand image you are trying to portray.

Jerry Jones’s message to the NFL and the media is no matter who they root for, fans care about my team. His positioning statements reflect that. Whether you think they are great marketing or goofy corporate branding, they work. The proof is everywhere.

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BSM Writers

Three Sports Marketing Trends You Need To Know

“Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.”

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#1 OTT’s RAPID EXPANSION  

Pay TV lost more than 5 million customers in 2020 and that trend is going to continue and the number is going to increase. With nearly 30% more Americans cutting the cord in 2021 and almost 87% of adults 18-24 preferring the OTT option, you’d better dive in and understand just how fast video consumption is changing; especially in sports. Platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, Peacock, Paramount+ and Facebook are diving head first into the sports rights market so that they can deliver LIVE sports where Americans are consuming video.  OTT provides that sniper riffle approach advertisers are looking for as they try to increase ROI and minimize waste. 

#2 AI … DATA-DATA-DATA

Without a doubt artificial intelligence is changing the way marketers are deciding how to go to market with their messaging and their products and/or services.  More data is available now than ever before and you’d better understand how your client is using it to help them make their buying decisions.  Most large advertisers are not only using one, but multiple vendors and are trying to obtain as much data as they possibly can so they can better recognize trends and understand their consumers behaviors and buying patterns

#3 eSports is BOOMING

Video games aren’t just for fun and entertainment at home anymore.  Gamers are now creating leagues, generating 6-figure endorsements and have multiple contests where they compete for HUGE cash and prizes.  Marketers are actively looking for ways to take advantage of this meteoric rise in popularity of eSports and that includes product placement, team sponsorships, individual gamer(s) sponsorships and tournament sponsorships.  If your station isn’t trying to create a sellable feature around eSports then you’re missing out on a huge and very sellable feature.  There are over 234 million eSports enthusiasts world wide and that number is only going to continue to climb. 

OTT, AI and eSports are rapidly changing the sports marketing landscape and these are trends that will only continue and grow over the next 5 years.  Digitalization of just about everything is changing how, where, when and on what kind of devices sports fans are consuming content.  Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists. 

Be the expert in the room when meeting with agencies and/or clients, it will set you apart from the pack.  Understanding these rapidly evolving trends will help you have better and deeper dialog with your advertisers. 

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BSM Writers

What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?

“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”

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Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.

Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.

Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.

Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”

It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.

I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.

That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.

Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?

WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.

That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.

Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.

In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.

Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.

I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.

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