Major League Baseball made history this past weekend. For the first time ever, an MLB game was played in Europe. The New York Yankees flexed some serious offensive muscle against the Boston Red Sox in a two-game series played in London. The Yankees won both games by lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 17-13 and 12-8. The 50 combined runs mark the most runs ever scored in two consecutive games in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
The “MLB London Series” generated plenty of buzz. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were on the field for Saturday’s introductions. It isn’t every day that British royalty is on hand to check out a baseball game. The uniqueness of the series made it feel like an event. At the very least it helped break up the monotony of baseball games typically played without such a backdrop.
Not everybody viewed it the same way I did though. Some fans moaned about two home games being taken away from the Red Sox. Others complained about the 385-foot short porch in center field, or the abnormally high-scoring games.
So what? At least the critics are invested enough to complain in the first place. We generally avoid complaining about things we don’t care about. I don’t whine about what time the Bachelorette airs because I don’t watch the freakin’ show. That’s normally how it works.
The fact that MLB did something out of the ordinary to create buzz — both good and bad — is what it’s all about. This concept applies directly to sports radio as well. As a host, you not only need to differentiate yourself from the competition, you need to differentiate yourself from yourself. That’s exactly what MLB just did. They played a game in Europe for the first time ever. It benefitted the league to do something it had never done before.
Sports radio hosts don’t need to do uncharacteristic things each show. MLB doesn’t look to do things out of character every single day. Just keep it in mind and look for opportunities.
Maybe it’s a bit you generally wouldn’t do, or a guest you typically wouldn’t interview. Trying things outside your normal pattern will keep the audience guessing and help to create buzz. My friend from FOX Sports Radio, Tomm Looney, always used to say, “Take a quarter turn from the norm.” I think it makes a lot of sense to take a quarter turn from the competition as well as the way you typically do things yourself.
I can anticipate some pushback on these thoughts. “Why change things if you’re successful, Brian?”
Look, Pepsi introduced three new flavors this spring — Pepsi Berry, Lime, and Mango. Coke has more flavors than just Coke. Those companies strive to evolve. They don’t just stick with their original flavors and say, “Well, let’s just ride with this until it doesn’t work anymore.”
Successful companies evolve and successful hosts do the same. Evolving is a key ingredient in music as well. Metallica went completely outside their heavy metal norm when they released “Nothing Else Matters” way back in 1991. You might love or hate the song. It doesn’t matter in this instance. What matters is that the song got a ton of attention in large part because it was so different.
I’d also compare sports radio hosts to athletes in a way. The more skills that are developed, the more successful you become. Dwight Howard was a great defender but never reached his potential on the offensive end. When he couldn’t rely on athleticism and power as much, his game eroded.
LeBron James could be content resembling a freight train while attacking the basket. Steph Curry could be content as the greatest shooter ever. They, among many other great players, keep working to expand their game. The more techniques they master — floaters, post-up moves, lefty finishes, crossovers, hesitation dribbles, footwork — the more deadly they become.
Don’t be the Dwight Howard of radio. If you rely solely on one or two great skills, you will never expand your game to its peak. Whatever style you have — hot-take host, recall host, life-centric host, funny host — don’t be dependent on your greatest skill. Push the boundaries and look to evolve. It’ll take time. Steph Curry didn’t master the art of dribbling two basketballs at the same time on his first try. I doubt a host will master a foreign radio skill immediately either. But you’ll be better off in the long run if you just stick with it.
The London Series is a winning idea for MLB. I watched healthy chunks of both games mainly because it was such a shift from baseball’s norm. Even if I hated the end result, I would’ve still seen the value in doing things differently to generate attention. MLB shouldn’t stop here. They should push the limits.
I would make the movie Field of Dreams come to life by playing an MLB game in a cornfield. If that sounds silly to you — why? The game would get a ton of attention. It would spark conversations. The nostalgia would certainly be present. Kevin Costner could even throw out the first pitch and instead of yelling, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” he could whisper, “If you build it, he will come.”
Part of making baseball great again is making it relevant again. Getting people back in the habit of watching games and going to the ballpark involves doing things out of the ordinary.
NEWSTALK 1010 Toronto program director Mike Bendixen spoke about this concept at a radio convention once. He made a great point about telling his staff to do something different once a week. Take a different path on the drive home. Try a new restaurant. It makes all the sense in the world. If you host shows the same way, eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and watch the same shows — guess what you’ll be?
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.