The landscape of sports radio and radio in general, for that matter, is constantly changing. This presents challenges for sports programmers around the country. With more ways to listen to content, you have to keep up or risk getting left behind.
With the Barrett Sports Media Summit in New York just around the corner, we’re featuring one of those sports programmers who will be in attendance. I caught up with John Mamola, the program director at WDAE in Tampa. Mamola and I discussed the Summit and how his station is facing those challenges.
Andy Masur: What are you looking forward to in the upcoming BSM Summit?
John Mamola: Just bouncing off the one I attended in Chicago, I love hearing from guys like Mitch (Rosen, PD 670 The Score in Chicago) and on a local level Mike Thomas (new GM of ESPN 1000). Just to gather their thoughts, I mean, you know, the best of the best is who I love hearing from. Especially from a local perspective. At the same time, you know, guys like Justin Craig, Scott Shapiro, who deal with syndication and affiliates, the relationships between the local affiliates and the national syndicators. Also, how they can potentially craft their programming to a local audience if at all. That’s my biggest challenge here in Tampa. We run Dan Patrick but how can we make him as much Tampa as possible? Hearing ideas and general discussions with those guys on how exactly they do that is invaluable for me. Hearing guys chime in on their own and things that they’ve tried on a local level for national syndication.
I’m looking forward to hearing things on Nielsen and ratings and percentage of the ear and that kind of stuff. How podcasting is becoming more and more a prevalent medium for people as opposed to the actual radio in the car. Anyone who’s really associated with that, that’s definitely of interest to me.
AM: You mentioned a few names, are those the guys that you’re most looking forward to hearing from at the BSM Summit?
JM: The bigger names on the local level, so guys like Mike Thomas and Mitch, and you know, Chernoff. I’m really interested to hear from him because he didn’t attend the one in Chicago. Anyone that deals with how people are consuming sports radio is of interest to me.
AM: What did you think of the first one you attended in Chicago?
JM: It was great! I’m just happy to see that the first one was a good kickoff, starting point, for the second one. Looks like the one in LA went extremely well. I’m happy to see a third one in New York.
I also like how Jason has taken these to major markets, Chicago, New York and L.A. I’d be interested to see where the fourth one goes, if he continues to do this and I hope he does. Maybe something a little more south, maybe not so top 20, maybe something top 40 just to kind of get a different spin on things, maybe a different feel on things from the people in that local market.
AM: So how long have you been at this? Give us some of your background.
JM: I didn’t have any notion of getiting involved in radio, until i found out that my pre-pharmacy credits didn’t transfer to the university of Illinois-chicago. Not happy about that. I watched Private Parts and thought “hey that looks like a fun career!”, so I looked up the Illinois Media School, took a tour the very next day and that was the start. I got my internship at The Score, worked my way up to overnight board op, then a part time board op on the weekends, and then full-time in the mornings. Then WDAE came calling. There was an opening, I thought, “okay, well I have a kid on the way, and I just got married, so I have to start thinking career as opposed to a job.” I figured something as a programmer would be a little more stable, if there even is such a thing as stable. I’ve been here since April of ’11 and the PD since about three years ago.
AM: What are some of the challenges facing local sports radio and national sports talk?
JM: The biggest challenge for me, is I don’t truly have a head-to-head competitor. It’s not a bad thing but, at the same time, it’s not a good thing. I like competition. I’m from Chicago, where it’s MVP (ESPN 1000) and The Score going head to head. It’s a little bit of a different way of approaching things and a different way of competing. It’s all about winning the ears of sports fans in the market.
We haven’t had a real true winner (sports franchise) down here in quite a while. Fans become complacent, there are beaches to go to, and a lot of fun things to do in Tampa. That’s why attendance at Rays games has been last since well before I was born probably. The Bucs have struggled, and even though the Lightning are the hottest ticket in town, they’ve had 230 straight sell-outs, the amount of platforms they’re on here locally is not near the same amount that the Bucs and Rays have.
It’s a different sports market when you come from such a die-hard city where people are raised and their dads were raised to root for certain teams. You just don’t have that down here. It’s really interesting sometimes the balancing of hyper local with Rays, Bucs, Bolts as opposed to national stuff with Patriots, Giants and Bears and all that kind of stuff. We try to do, not necessarily a 50/50 split between local and national, we try to do, probably 70/30. just because we know that there are a lot of people down here that are just not from here.
Nationally, I think the biggest challenge for every radio station around the country is “how do I become even more prevalent in every single area where people consume media?”. Younger audiences are going to YouTube, Twitch and they’re going to different streaming outlets, you know Spotify, people listen to podcasts on Spotify. How can we continue to expand our spider web to where we’re just as prevalent with a Spotify listener or a Pandora listener? How can I get a videocast on a Twitch channel where I can reach new listeners or new viewers? I think that’s the single biggest challenge because the days of just turning on the radio in the car or having a home radio where you just listen, is becoming extinct. How do I become easier to get to right away for that person who has an hour and a half to two hour drive, instead of having to search for me.
AM: So then how do you brand your station, knowing how important the on-air product is, but also realizing the other platforms need your attention?
JM: We still are content first. My main focus is, “are we providing the best content we can at that given time?”. Are we playing the hits as much as we can? That’s first and foremost, because if you’re not doing that, then they’re not going to come find you anyway. Multiple times per hour, we remind people that, on that iHeartRadio app you can listen to WDAE live, on the go, or however you may wish, headphones, smart speakers or whatever you want to do. We actually run imaging every hour to remind people they can listen to us wherever they want to. It’s just finding different ways to make sure that everybody that’s attached to every single one of our talents and our properties has full access to whatever they may need, whenever they need it, at all times.
We’ve seen the results. We had over a million MUVs (mobile user views) last year. It was with a very strong social push with all of our talent. The biggest challenge is how do we get outside of that? We’re just trying some different things, because with technology it’s all about trying and failing. Once in a while we get a hit, then it’s about trying to build off of that hit.
AM: Is there a value, even if the teams are playing poorly, to having play-by-play on your station?
JM: Absolutely because play-by-play brings cume. That brings the potential listener that may not consume you Monday through Friday, but boy do they love Rays baseball. We’re in a great spot locally here where, every franchise is with iHeartMedia. All the teams have their own individual sticks. For example, the Lightning are on our news station, the Bucs are on our rock station, we have USF football in addition to Rays baseball. We air every Rays game, all 162 plus weekend and evening Spring Training games. The value of play-by-play is still very high. It helps you brand your station as “The home of X”, but at the same time it brings in a different kind of listener where you can hopefully use the limited space you have in that play-by-play to come back to you every morning. You do have those little windows of opportunity potentially, with every single play-by-play deal that you have. If you’re not maximizing that to it’s the greatest potential, then you’re not taking full advantage of what could potentially lead to new listeners each and every day.
AM: How much do you have to talk to your talent about keeping a play-by-play partner (the Rays in your case) happy, but still speaking the truth on the air?
JM: We have great working relationships with all our partners. The general rule is “keep it on the field”. We’ve built up a lot of clout with the Rays, so when the whole announcement with the Montreal split came up, we aired the press conference in full, that was a good 65 minutes of radio. The owner of the Rays was coming up with this concept and trying to sell the media and answer a lot of questions. At the same time, we’d be lying to our audience if we were all 100 percent on board with it. The only direction I gave my talent was, at least let the man have his say first. He said his peace and our talent reacted as such. Honestly the organization wasn’t happy with the reaction, but at least they knew that we would be willing to at least give it a chance. I know there are some sports stations that you have to walk a line and you can’t go over it. For us down here there really isn’t a line. We all understand the business we’re in, and we all want to win. We may have disagreements, but we’re just talking sports.
We don’t lay off anything. It is what it is. We’re talking about sports. We’re talking about games that grown adults play, so we can all have our own opinions on things and i think the franchises understand that.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.