College football has stumbled upon something brilliant. Whether it was a conscious effort or not, the sport has found itself being talked about off the field as much as it does on the field. That’s a win.
Credit that to the idea of the College Football Playoff Rankings Show that airs every Tuesday night from now until the end of the conference championship weekend. In college markets all across the country the conversation on sports radio stations is how the committee will react to the local team just as much as it is what they did Saturday on the field.
In Birmingham this week, the LSU-Alabama game has certainly gotten its fair share of run. But the fallout of the game and how it impacts the rankings is equally as compelling.
Cole Cubelic, host of 3 Man Front on WJOX 94.5 FM talked mostly on Monday about what happened during the game, but says the conversation shifts more to the rankings as the week goes on.
“I think Monday was probably 60 or 70 percent what happened in the game,” said Cubelic. “Obviously a lot of that shifted into playoff discussion and what might happen. Tuesday, it was much more playoff talk and probably 15-20 percent of what happened in the game. ”
James Crepea of Fox Sports Eugene has taken a similar strategy.
“On the air on a Monday after a game I really look at the game first,” Crepea said. “Then, in a subsequent break, get into, alright, that happened with Oregon, here’s some things that happened nationally and what that might mean come Tuesday when the new rankings come out.”
Beau Bishop of 97.1 The Fan in Columbus has been covering the rankings since they debuted in 2014. He’s seen Ohio State both get and not get the benefit of the doubt. But it was his first year covering the rankings that has shaped his opinion on the show.
“In the first year of the College Football Playoff in 2014, we would go over it on Monday and Tuesday with a fine tooth comb,” said Bishop. “The way we approached it was with a poll mentality, which means, if you won, you either stay or you move up. If you lose, you drop, simple as that.
“Typically, in the history of polls, both the AP and Coaches, if you don’t lose it’s really hard for teams to jump you. They’re pretty static. Our attitude was always a poll mentality, thinking you’re not going to jump teams that are ahead of you. Then in the final poll of 2014, Ohio State jumped Baylor and TCU and got to No. 4. At that point, I said ‘the rules don’t apply to the College Football Playoff Committee. They can do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want to do it.’
“This is a fun thing, week-to-week, it’s a television show they’re making. They will decide in the final poll who the four teams are and the rest of it is just fun. It’s like cake. It tastes good but there’s no substance to it week-to-week, because it’s a television show. But that hasn’t stopped me from having fun with it, I put that out there to our listeners and say, look, this doesn’t mean anything, let’s have fun for 15 minutes.”
Doing my own show in Norman, OK, another college football market, I agree with Cubelic and Crepea that Mondays should still be about what happened in the game, but as Tuesday arrives, the conversation needs to heavily sway into what the upcoming rankings will look like. Then, as Wednesday comes, reactions to what the rankings mean or what the committee is telling us, should be what you focus the most on.
But what’s the biggest day for rankings talk: the Tuesday before the release or the Wednesday after?
“After, for sure,” said Bishop. “The fans love it. They absolutely love it. There’s also the SEC/Big 10 thing that’s there. The other thing we have fun with, and we talk about it quite a bit, is the fact this is a television show. Not just the poll, but the actual College Football Playoff is a television show.”
Crepea is dealing with establishing a new show on a new station, but can already see the traction that relevant discussions around the College Football Playoff has created.
“Because of the relative newness of not only my show, but the station as a whole, but especially my show, getting more by way of callers and that in-show feedback is a bit harder because of how new we are,” Crepea said. “At the moment, I’m looking more for analytics from podcasts of the show. I know last week, for the most part, we did pretty well. Both Tuesday leading into the rankings and the day after was pretty similar, from that type of metric and measure. I think as the weeks go on, and I’m on the air as the rankings come out, I would think those days will garner most of that.”
Hosts in college football markets are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t acknowledge how listeners gravitate towards content centered on the rankings. Essentially, its bonus content for hosts that is almost guaranteed to rile up a fan base, or even in some cases, multiple fan bases in a market. One thing is for sure: Fans crave it and it plays extremely well over the radio.
“Absolutely it is,” said Cubelic. “Especially in my market, because all we say is, should Alabama be in? Or, is Alabama one of the best four teams? It’s an immediate Twitter and phone feedback. Then, you’re going to get one person call in and say why they should be in and three more are going to disagree. This College Football rankings show every Tuesday, I’ve seen people make light of it or make fun of it, saying it doesn’t matter and nobody pays attention to it. What blows my mind is that people who are actually in the sports talk radio business are dumb enough to think that these ratings don’t matter, when it’s there for us. It’s instant material for us that can really last the rest of the week, if you want it to.”
What about guests to talk about rankings? It’s common to bring on someone to talk or break down an upcoming game, so wouldn’t having a guest to talk about the rankings essentially be the same thing?
“We don’t have anybody on specifically for that,” said Cubelic. “But in the past, we’ve had Heather Dinich and Brad Edwards. Peter Burns and Tom Hart were on today (Tuesday) to talk about it. Yesterday, we had Jordan Rodgers on, we asked him about it. If you get a college football analyst on the show, you’re going to ask them their Top 4, as well as if Alabama is in or out right now. It’s a direction we go, but I think if you bring somebody on just to talk about that right now, this close to Bama-LSU being over and what that game meant, you’re limiting yourself just a little bit. But that’s not to say we won’t do it down the road.”
So yes, talk about the rankings. Especially if the team you cover is in the hunt. But even if you cover a team that’s outside the Top 25 or out of the College Football Playoff race, the rankings are still compelling enough to create interesting content.
The most interesting conversations on college football this week aren’t any of the upcoming games on Saturday or even the weekends to come. The most interesting conversations sound like this: “Why did Alabama only drop to No.5? When will undefeated Minnesota get the credit it deserves? Does the committee hate the Big 12?”
That’s what the conversations around college football are right now. And it’s because of the College Football Playoff Rankings.
Imagine If Sports Media Had To Justify Its Own Tucker Carlson
“Of course Tucker Carlson lies. Even his most dedicated fans think he lies.”
Last week, our partners in the news media department posted a story about Tucker Carlson. It was about a recent interview the FOX News host did with some guy on YouTube. In the interview, Carlson admits that there are times he blatantly lies on his show – the most popular show that is broadcast by what is ostensibly a news channel.
“I guess I would ask myself, like, I mean I lie if I’m really cornered or something. I lie,” Carlson told Dave Rubin. “I really try not to. I try never to lie on TV. I just don’t – I don’t like lying. I certainly do it, you know, out of weakness or whatever.”
When I first read this story, I just dismissed it. Of course this jackass lies. Even his most dedicated fans think he lies. There is just no way he is actually as stupid as he pretends to be when he makes that “I am shocked by what I just heard” face. You know the one. It looks like he just discovered there’s a Batman movie where the suit has nipples.
I tried to dismiss it, but then later in the week came his impassioned plea to Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend to come on TV to discuss his balls after the rapper tweeted a story about how the Covid vaccine made this guy’s testicles swell and thus ruined his potential wedding.
It is a clip that was passed around Twitter thousands of times. It showed up in my feed over and over with comments like “This is THE NEWS in 2021” and “I never want this man to stop talking about Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s balls.”
Can you imagine if Carlson’s bullshit was acceptable in sports media? I could write the same thing about FOX News in general, but let’s keep this focused on Tucker, because this past week he crossed the rubicon into a special category of absurd.
There are plenty of people in sports media that will go on TV and explain to you why a loss is actually good for a team or why undeniable greatness is actually unimpressive. This is someone going on TV and telling you that it doesn’t matter what you saw with your own two eyes on Thursday night, the Giants actually beat Washington or that the Brooklyn Nets can be dismissed as title contenders because there is no proof that anyone on their roster has even been to the All-Star Game.
I have written in the past that news commenters, be they on radio or television, do not impress me. Those people are not original or interesting at all. They aren’t even talented. I’m only bringing up that opinion to be completely transparent.
Sports Tucker Carlson would be a totally different animal. In fact, such a thing would be unacceptable.
Now, I am sure some of you are out there shouting that sports media does have a Tucker Carlson. In fact, the sports Tucker Carlson works for the same company that the real Tucker Carlson does. His name is Skip Bayless.
Look, I hear you. Skip brings no sincerity to anything, but I also don’t think Skip has any values he is trying to push. His takes are ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. ALL HAIL THEM CLICKS!
Besides, the great thing about sports broadcasting in general is that the stakes of what we are talking about are pretty low. Creativity and absurdity are welcome. None of this is important, nor is there any illusion that it may be. No one is showing up at the Capital with zip ties and bear mace demanding the Chiefs be re-instated as Super Bowl champions or screaming at doctors that the Covid vaccine is a scheme to return Miami to relevance in the college football world.
Putting on my programmer hat for a second, I just cannot imagine how to justify a Tucker Carlson. Then again, my programmer hat was not made and fitted by people trying to pass performance art off as news. So, maybe me not getting it is the strategy.
Either way, this, to me, feels like very good information to take to advertisers next time they question the desirability of a sports radio audience versus a news audience. Our listeners are passionate, intelligent people looking to be entertained and engaged by conversations about their favorite teams and they’re willing to support the people that do that for them. The most popular name in news talk admits that he lies when the facts don’t match up to the story he wants to tell. The reaction from the public is “well of course he does.” Which one would you rather have your brand associated with?
Back To Basics: Teases
“If we think about this from a very basic level, we need listeners to hold onto our signal as long as we can possibly keep them.”
I think one of the things I love about radio is how theoretical a lot of our strategies can be. We assume a lot in this business, and its largely because we have to. We assume we know what topics our listeners want to hear, we assume they know things that might actually need more explanation, and sometimes we assume they’re just going to stick around because they like us. Sure, there are metrics that you can follow, trends you can keep track of, and social growth that helps gauge your impact, but largely a lot of the content we put out, and specifically the way we put it out, we’re just hoping it lands.
I think one of the easy tactics to lose sight of when you’re going through the daily gauntlet of hours of talk time, is the good old fashioned radio tease. In an ever-increasing world of digital tracking and analytics, the value of a tease going into a commercial break can be difficult to track. And because we don’t know its true impact it can easily be forgotten or just ignored altogether. To me, this is a massive mistake and a big opportunity lost. Sometimes, we just need to let common sense prevail when determining what is and is not worth our time.
If we think about this from a very basic level, we need listeners to hold onto our signal as long as we can possibly keep them. How do we do that? Compelling conversations, debates, interesting interviews, and personality they can’t find anywhere else. All of that is great, but at some point you’ll need to go to commercial break, and no matter how likable or entertaining you think you might be, 6 minutes of commercials is likely going to take your average listener across the dial to a new location. So, how do you keep them or at least ensure they’ll find their way back? Give them something they need to know the answer to. Again, I’ll ask you to think about this logically: Which one of the examples below is more likely to keep a listener engaged through a commercial break?
Example 1: “More football talk, next!”
Example 2: “Up next, the one move that will guarantee Brady another ring, right after this!”
We all know the answer. Example 2 gives the listener something to think about. You’ve provided just enough information that you have them thinking, while creating a gap of information that they will hopefully want filled. Yet, we opt for Example 1 way more than we should. Myself included. It’s lazy and more than anything it’s a lost opportunity to keep a listener.
The most loyal/die-hard members of your audience aren’t going anywhere, so it doesn’t matter how you go to break for those individuals. The least loyal, who maybe like your show, but they are just jumping around every day in their car or online, they aren’t sticking around no matter what you say. It’s those in the middle, the one’s who are looking for, usually subconsciously, a reason to stay or comeback. That’s the audience you’re providing this tease for.
Teases are not for your most loyal listeners, teases are for people that are stopping by to see what you have going on, which is the majority of your overall CUME. If you can hook those casual listeners, even just a few, to stay through a commercial break and listen to a fertility clinic commercial, then you’ve done your job as a host.
I find the best radio tease is direct, a good description that leaves the audience hanging for an answer or your opinion on the issue. Nebulous or nondescript teases don’t give the audience enough to sink their teeth into, you want to leave them guessing but if they guessing too much they’ll probably lose interest. You want to make them think, you don’t want them to have to solve a puzzle.
Example 1: “Could Aaron Rodgers be subtly hinting where he wants to play next?”
Example 2: “A player makes it known he wants out, but where does he want to go?”
Both examples above are fine, it’s certainly a step up from the “more football, next” tease but Example 1 provides the listener with something specific enough for them to start thinking of answers in their own mind, thus creating that desire to see if their idea matches up with what you are about to tell them. Giving the listener a player or team that you know most of them care about, plus a level of mystery, equals a good/solid tease that is more likely to keep them hanging on through the break. Example 2 is good but the problem I find with those is that they’re so nebulous that you aren’t sure you care as a listener. You might want to know the answer, but without a solid description, you give the audience a chance to decide that they don’t care or you just simply miss the opportunity to elicit a response by not drawing attention to an item that they are passionate about.
The next step in all of this is making sure you follow up on what you tease. You might only get a couple opportunities to mislead a listener before your teases mean nothing to them in the future. If you say you are going to talk about Alabama’s dominance in the SEC around the corner, make sure you do it, and if you aren’t able to, I think its only fair to draw attention to the fact that you couldn’t follow up on it. Apologize and move on. It’s live radio, things happen, and I think people listening understand that but you also have to be respectful of the time they are giving you.
Bottom line is, teasing is a radio parlor trick and it’s an easy one to lose sight of. We don’t prioritize them as much as we go along in this business, whether that be for egotistical reasons, laziness, or just not prioritizing them as part of the show prep process. Treat your teases with seriousness and a level of priority, the same way you do with the topics and content you create. We all know we’re not reinventing the wheel, there’s nothing that we can say that hasn’t been said 100 times in the sports talk sphere, but portraying that to your audience is doing them and yourself a big disservice.
Athletes Are Making Their Money In Content
“Jordan’s example has led to the next generations’ emergence in entertainment, media, and sports. It is an emergence that is beyond in some ways what Jordan has accomplished.”
In many ways, the voice of athletes started its exponential growth with the introduction of social media, where every human being has access to a personal broadcast channel to express themselves, their passions, stories, and ideas. The athlete as an artist immediately expanded from highlight reel to Hollywood film and television reel as a content producer. However, it was The Players’ Tribune, founded by Derek Jeter in 2014, that jumpstarted the athlete-driven voice of content, first in writing, and later in video, polls, and podcasts.
Michael Jordan was the first international athlete that made millions in sponsorship money—selling his name or attaching his name to products for the purpose of endorsing them for a profit. He also starred in the Warner Bros. live-action/animated film Space Jam. Jordan turned those partnerships into ownership of an NBA basketball team and a partner and focus of one of the most iconic athletic brands in the world, Jordan/Jumpman (Nike). More recently, Jordan was the focus of the Emmy award-winning The Last Dance docuseries about the NBA Chicago Bulls six championships and more specifically the sixth and final trophy for Air Jordan his Bulls team. He also co-owns a NASCAR team with Joe Gibbs.
Jordan’s example has led to the next generations’ emergence in entertainment, media, and sports. It is an emergence that is beyond in some ways what Jordan has accomplished. However, that is the point—the mentee should always outperform the mentor with proper, training, guidance, and a little luck too. Where many athletes have pursued broadcasting work as color analysts during and after their professional careers in sports, Jordan did not pursue these avenues or seek to open a television or film production studio to develop entertainment, media, and sports content.
The direct-to-consumer approach of Hollywood and sports networks through streaming platforms, combined with the introduction of athlete voices through social media and podcasts has led to more opportunities. Los Angeles Laker LeBron James launched his SpringHill Company in 2020 not long after joining showtime in Tinseltown. SpringHill is a content studio that develops and looks to other studios for major production and distribution. LeBron has the sponsorship advertising prowess, but can also add documentaries and feature film content to his resume.
Kevin Durant launched a podcast titled “The Boardroom” through his company, Thirty-Five Ventures. With YouTube on par with Netflix in revenue (minus the paywall), it provides another direct-to-consumer platform for everyone and more opportunities. Steph Curry launched Unanimous Media in 2018 as a content and production studio, originally in partnership with Sony Entertainment, now the studio is partnered with Comcast owned NBCUniversal in the $10 million dollar range.
The media has deemed the Curry deal a first, which is noteworthy, but so is the faith and family focus of Curry’s programming that will span many brands in the NBCUniversal entertainment family. Curry will join the NBC broadcast for the Ryder Cup as an analyst and host and interview guests for an educational series, which does not include film projects and the second $200 million dollar basketball contract Curry signed in 2021. Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Dwayne Wade have been involved with film projects of their own. Tim Tebow is a nationwide celebrity and motivational speaker, not to mention a world-renown athlete and person with a big heart towards faith and philanthropy.
Peyton and Eli Manning also have their own broadcast for Monday Night Football. Peyton also starred in the very successful “Peyton’s Places” that will have season two launched soon on ESPN+. Both are produced by Peyton’s Omaha Productions.
Speaking of Disney brands, the company’s 30 for 30 is still one of the main catalysts for highlighting the struggles and triumphs of athletes. Hard Knocks, Ballers, and Jerry Maguire also gave insight into the world of sports beyond the field, statistics, and championships.
The growth of entertainment, media, and sports has been and continues to be exponential. Some additional areas to watch include development of series and docuseries in baseball, hockey, soccer, and in other popular, but not the big five sports in America (e.g., lacrosse, cricket, etc.). With women’s sports receiving more attention on television, there are tremendous opportunities for growth in entertainment production particularly in women’s soccer.
To date, NBA players have dominated the entertainment, media, and sports landscape for Hollywood production. However, to each their own, because some stars love developing content, others love speaking about content, and still others love to own content (particularly in the form of brands and franchises) (see Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter). Indeed, the era of athlete as Hollywood producer is upon us.
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