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Baseball Programming Is Regional And Situational

“It’s not accurate to say that Major League Baseball has seen its popularity wane. Its popularity has simply changed.”

Demetri Ravanos

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This is a busy time of year in the sports world. I think that sentence has been written at least four times this month here on SportsRadioPD.com.

NHL and NBA playoff races are coming down to the wire. The NCAA Tournament is giving us memorable moments like Mamadi Diakite’s insane pass to keep Virginia alive. The South is talking about spring football. The NFL Draft is right around the corner. And then there is this season’s signature sporting event, Opening Day.

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It’s not accurate to say that Major League Baseball has seen its popularity wane. Its popularity has simply changed. Professional baseball is a regional phenomenon now, but in the regions where it is popular it is an obsession.

I spoke with program directors from four stations, all in different situations as it relates to Major League Baseball. I wanted to know how they approached the season and how their respective audiences prioritized Major League Baseball coverage. The participants were John Mamola of WDAE, the flagship of the Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Nahigian of 95.7 the Game, which is in a market with two teams, but is the broadcast home of neither, and Ryan Porth of 102.5 the Game and Jeff Austin of 1080 the Game. Both are in markets without a team currently, but have been identified as potential expansion homes of Major League Baseball in the future.

Despite the relative youth of the Rays, Mamola says his audience has a lot to talk about when it comes to baseball. He told me in an email that while his primary goal is to serve local fans, with the Rays being a part of the AL East, a division that features two of the sport’s most popular teams “the story lines write themselves.” 

Mamola also says that the Rays’ fanbase shows a dedication to players that makes it possible to cover the whole league. “With so many former Rays who made impacts here locally and now play in other markets, we try to make an effort to keep up with fan favorites gone away.  Joe Maddon literally lives down the street still.”

There is no shortage of Rays-themed programming on WDAE. In fact, the station sent a reporter to follow the team around the state of Florida during Spring Training.

As for the regular season, Mamola says the team’s manager Kevin Cash visits with his afternoon drive show, Ron & Ian, once a week and his morning show, Ronnie & TKras, gets a visit from someone in the front office every Monday morning with GM Erik Neander & SVP Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom rotating. With that kind of access, plus a one-hour show ahead of every game, Mamola confidently says “No one does Rays baseball better in Tampa Bay, and I’d argue no one covers baseball better than WDAE in the entire state of Florida.”

“It’s like with any team that doesn’t play football in the state of Florida,” Mamola says of how interested the average WDAE listener is in the Rays. “There is a huge passion for sports here, but with so many other elements taking up the entertainment dollar and a lot of the population not growing up with the Rays (est. 1998) or the Lightning (est. 1992)… moving the needle is a bit of a challenge sometimes.”

Matt Nahigian and 95.7 the Game are in a unique situation when it comes to baseball coverage. As mentioned above, the station isn’t the broadcast home of either of the Bay Area’s Major League Baseball teams. On top of that The Game went through a very public divorce with the Oakland A’s at the end of last season.

So does having no baseball play-by-play present a problem for 95.7 the Game? “Not much at all, Nahigian says. “With the Warriors being the best team in the (NBA) and playing into June and then football starting back up in August it works out great for us.”

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Nahigian says that when you are the flagship of the Golden State Warriors, how you cover sports in the summer is a little different. “We will have several baseball contributors joining each of the shows, but it will be based on what the Warriors do in the playoffs as to how consistent they are.”

Portland and Nashville are interesting cases when it comes to baseball. Both cities have large transplant populations, but no team of their own. So how much can you talk baseball in a place like that?

Ryan Porth of 102.5 the Game in Nashville says his hosts will talk baseball when the story is relevant to the audience. “Last year’s World Series garnered a little more local talk than usual in the middle of football season since Middle Tennessee natives Mookie Betts and David Price were such stars on that Red Sox team. If they didn’t have ties to the area, the talk likely would have been minimal.”

Without a local team, Porth says Major League Baseball isn’t going to be a daily part of summer conversations on the station. The primary outlet for The Game’s baseball talk will be its Home Plate Podcast, but that doesn’t mean the station won’t take advantage of the right opportunities on air. “Throughout the summer and off-season, we sometimes have a player of local interest (individuals that grew up or played college ball in Nashville) join our station as a guest.”

Portland, to hear 1080 the Fan program director Jeff Austin tell it, is more of a baseball town than Nashville. “As the Northwest’s only team, the Mariners have been quite popular here,” he says, but notes that the team’s support in Portland has waned. “They have suffered somewhat in the Portland area from an extended absence from the postseason. This fast-growing city brings with it many transplants with a variety of rooting interests, while a growing number of natives and longtime residents of Oregon and southwest Washington clearly want a team of their own.”

There is still room for baseball on 1080 AM and sister station ESPN 910. Austin says “we air a weekly baseball show, year-round. We also air sponsored baseball reports and home run call features, and air an extensive schedule of ESPN MLB play-by-play on our two stations, as well as Oregon Ducks Baseball.”

So what about the future for baseball in each city? Austin says that 1080 The Fan is committed to doing all it can to assist in the campaign to bring the MLB to Portland. “The Portland Diamond Project is the group working to bring MLB to Portland. We recently performed an all-day broadcast with our Prime shows, live from the Portland Diamond Project’s clubhouse store, and also air live shows from the Baseballism headquarters store, often in conjunction with the Portland Diamond Project.”

Austin says his enthusiasm and optimism reflects those of the city. Russell Wilson and Ciarra, who are part of the Portland Diamond Project, have made appearances on the station to promote the campaign.

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“It’s nothing new to have Portland in the conversation when expansion or a ‘sick’ franchise move has been considered, but this time is different. The fact that a privately-funded ownership group has so credibly stepped forward, and with a stadium site with room for an enterprise zone to boot, makes this feel different,” he says. “You’d be hard-pressed to travel around the city without seeing Baseball to Portland shirts, hats and bumper stickers. It’s everywhere. Needless to say, Portland MLB team topics are frequently discussed with our audience across all platforms – everything from whether it’s better to have an existing franchise like the A’s, or an expansion team where we get to name it and generally give it a robust Portland branding.”

What about Nashville? Just like Portland, it was on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s list of potential expansion targets.

Porth says that the population and the interest is there. He notes that the current growth and future potential of the city is what attracted the MLS, which will see its newest franchise Nashville FC begin play in 2020, and is likely also what drew MLB’s eyes.

Still though, Porth says there are a lot of questions that need answers before he will believe the city is ready, and most of them have to do with who owns a potential Nashville MLB franchise. “The biggest one, in my opinion: will an ownership group do the necessary things to put butts in seats 81 home dates a year for the long term, when there’s already a lot of entertainment options for the consumer to spend their hard-earned money on?” He adds that patience will be a virtue for the city’s baseball fans. “Color me skeptical that it would all come together in the next 6 or 7 years, but it seems inevitable MLB will come to Nashville down the road.”

MLB coverage, like fan support, is largely a regional thing, but it also seems to be a situational thing. Stations like WDAE, which is a team’s flagship, will go all in and make the most of that relationship. Stations like 95.7 the Game, which doesn’t have MLB play-by-play in a market with multiple teams, won’t sweat it. It will instead focus on making the most of the programming it does have. Non-baseball (or at least currently non-baseball) markets will do as much as their listeners will respond to.

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Very rarely does an MLB story create conversations outside of the market it is occurring in the way that people across the country have an opinion on what fair expectations for the Cleveland Browns will be in 2019. Finding local angles to exploit may be the best way to ensure that baseball talk won’t be met by your listeners with indifference.

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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