It’s finally all over and from what I gather, most people are unhappy. Look, before you read what I have written about Game of Thrones you should know I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. I’m not one of those dorks that wears that fact like some badge of honor. I just never got into it eight years ago and didn’t feel the need to catch up to be a part of the final season.
Of course, I also don’t remember the kind of hype for this show that we have seen this season ever existing before this season. Sure, back in 2016 when I was doing mornings with Mike Maniscalco and Lauren Brownlow on Buzz Sports Radio in Raleigh we would make Lauren describe the grossest thing that happened on that week’s Game of Thrones every Monday morning. There would be plenty of listener disagreement on Twitter, but I don’t remember sports radio losing its mind over this show the way it did for season eight.
Why was our format so obsessed with this show? I asked people whose fandom ran the gamut from obsessed to never having seen an episode.
“Game of Thrones sends viewers to the internet to study the same way fans prep themselves for a fantasy football weekend,” said 95.7 the Game afternoon host Damon Bruce. “We all watch Sunday, discuss what happened through Wednesday, then pivot to ‘what’s next’ by Friday. It’s just like the NFL sports talk radio schedule.”
“As my son said to me, ‘GoT is Harry Potter for adults.’ It’s like Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones – most sports radio listeners are into it!” said Mike Thomas, PD of 98.5 the Sports Hub.
When I asked him if he could remember anything that has received a similar reaction Thomas says “Seinfeld would’ve been close, but there weren’t near as many sports radio stations in the 90’s and most of the ones that were doing sports then, were doing straight sports.”
Bruce echoed that sentiment and added that social media has been the engine that helped Game of Thrones take over the world. “We probably all watched, The Wire, Sopranos, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, but we didn’t have social media driving our conversations. Game of Thrones is a great show for anytime, but perfect for our time.”
Fox Sports Radio morning man Clay Travis is known as one of sports radio’s biggest Game of Thrones fans. His Twitter commentary on the show regularly receives thousands of interactions.
“I get way more positive feedback on my Game of Thrones than I do my sports opinions,” Clay told me in an email. “I think that’s because everyone is on the same side with Game of Thrones, it’s one large fan base as opposed to 32 NFL fan bases or 100 college fan bases. Everyone is rooting for the show. So the fan base is just massive.”
The show hasn’t been every host’s idea of great material. Plenty of hosts and programmers told me that they felt their audience didn’t want to hear the show discussed on sports radio.
Mo Egger of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati told me that he isn’t averse to bringing pop culture topics to his show. He trusts that as long as he is being authentic his audience will follow him wherever he wants to take the conversation, but in a town like Cincinnati, where fans have experienced nearly three decades of playoff futility, there’s a desire to talk about the potential for a better tomorrow.
“I’ve spent way too much time sitting in front of a microphone and talking about next year, but I’m always struck by how people keep coming back,” he told me. “Maybe their financial investment in the teams isn’t what it was, as both teams have had attendance issues, but in large part because of how parochial this town is, there is still an incredible, deep passion for these franchises that not even decades of not advancing in the playoffs (28 years for the Bengals, going on 24 for the Reds) can kill. Every year, I hear someone wonder about Reds and Bengals apathy, and every year I’m struck by how many people keep coming back.”
Armen Williams, who recently took over as program director at SportsRadio 610 in Houston, told me once in a phone conversation that he feels like the NFL is always a safer content choice for his hosts than pop culture topics.
“Every market has its own content filter of what’s important to the listener,” he said when I asked him via email to elaborate. “We’re in Houston, Texas! There’s the phrase often used in our industry, ‘NFL is king.’ We’re in an NFL city with a team who made the post-season last year, and they have a franchise QB. All of those factors, and more, play into the decision of what is attractive to talk about on a daily basis.”
Ultimately, the appeal of Game of Thrones is what kind of content it can create for your show or your station. Williams even said that while he thinks the NFL is a safer content choice, he still has shows that talk about Game of Thrones and he isn’t opposed to it.
“The GOT topic is no different than any other lifestyle or off-topic conversation on the sports radio format. If the host is passionate about it and can make it engaging, then spend the amount of time on it that they feel is appropriate using the previous stated filter.”
Content can come from either an undying passion for the show or from serious apathy towards it. JOX 94.5 in Birmingham made headlines when its morning show The JOX Roundtable brought the HBO mega-hit up during an interview with Alabama coach Nick Saban, who it turns out is a huge fan.
“I was told he is a huge fan by one of his main guys,” JOX Roundtable host Lance Taylor told me in an email.
Nick Saban has a reputation as one of the best recruiters in college football. Fans of the sport have become accustomed to seeing videos on social media of the accomplished coach dancing at recruits’ homes with their parents and other relatives. The joke has always been that he won’t be caught in a situation where a mom or grandmama hits him with a dance he doesn’t know.
I asked Taylor if he thought the same might be true for Saban’s GOT knowledge. “He lit up when we started talking about it,” Taylor said. “Seemed legit to me.”
Mike Wise of WUSA in Washington, DC and The Mike Wise Show podcast has created great social media content based on not watching Game of Thrones. Every Sunday night for the last month, he has led a Twitter-based support group known as Shame of Thrones or #SOT for those not in on the cultural phenomenon.
“I was watching this really good show on PBS called Unforgotten, about this cold-case homicide unit in London that tracked down decades-old murders, and wanted to talk about it with people who might have saw it,” Wise tells me when asked how #SOT got its start. “And I think it was Sunday night about two or three weeks ago. And I couldn’t find anybody to talk about Unforgotten, because everybody’s world was frickin’ forgotten the moment Game of Thrones came on. Twitter was all ablaze with Game of Thrones Tweets. Like, everybody. Or everybody I followed anyway. I knew it was popular, but this was a whole new level. For the first time in how many years of this show, I felt left out, like the kid trying to jam his way into the circle on the playground, where everybody else is checking out Call of Duty on someone’s IPAD but you can’t catch a glimpse.”
Wise told me that one of his favorite phenomena to come out of #SOT is when his support group starts to look and sound a little like any number of 12-step programs.
“My most satisfying moment is when someone uses a recovery term — ostensibly from a genuine support group — and incorporates it in the #SOT thread. It reminds me that as big as a cultural wasteland as social media is, some people actual get my warped sense of humor.”
A few weeks ago in my column, I noted that we were watching the end of Game of Thrones play out at the same time that we were watching the end of The Avengers story. More people saw Avengers: Endgame than have seen an episode of Game of Thrones, so why has sports radio and social media gone crazier for the HBO show?
“I do think the difference here is everyone watches Game of Thrones at the same time,” Travis told me. “People are worried about spoilers for Endgame. Whereas I think most people have treated Game of Thrones as the equivalent of a sporting event. Either watch it when it airs live or that’s on you.”
That real-time reaction may explain why the sports media fell so hard for Game of Thrones this year. Whether it was live Tweeting or reaction videos, there was an element of the Game of Thrones fan experience that so closely mirrored the way we experienced Kawai Leonard’s miracle shot to send the 76ers packing – we sat in disbelief and then ran to the digital town square to fire off our best jokes, make historic comparisons, or whatever else we did just to make sure others saw it too. That is the kind of passion sports radio has always been built on.
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.