The BSM Summit is coming up on February 26-27, and the two day conference presents a great opportunity for the sports radio industry to share, collaborate and even steal ideas from other minds. Who better to steal from than the talent themselves, the people who are implementing new ideas on a daily basis?
On-air hosts are naturally creative and engaging. It’s what makes them successful and worthy of learning from. Creativity is a big part of staying fresh and introducing new ideas to help one grow. Engaging people helps create additional listening, whether it’s to a radio show or a speaker at a conference. Whenever you’re learning, it’s helpful to have a creative, engaging teacher.
I spoke to Maggie Gray from WFAN, Chris Carlin of 98.7 ESPN New York, SiriusXM’s Adam Schein and Brandon Tierney from CBS Sports Radio about the BSM Summit and their abilities to share ideas and industry knowledge. Four successful sports media members, each with passion for the industry and a desire to see it grow.
Brandon Contes: You’ll be speaking in two weeks at the BSM Summit, a conference which brings together a large number of industry people, especially programming executives. How important do you think it is to have talent involved in helping advance that initiative, because let’s face it, you guys are engaging personalities, and when you speak people listen.
Maggie Gray: We all have the same goal. We want radio to thrive and we realize how much potential this industry still has to give especially from the on-air side. You feel the connection you have with the audience. Keeping that connection, finding new audiences and keeping radio relevant, keeping radio part of peoples’ everyday lives, no matter if you’re on the talent side, executive, agent – we all have the same goal, serve the audience and grow the audience.
This is what we do. We entertain people. We also get a charge out of doing things in front of a live audience because for the most part we’re in a studio looking at each other. It’s great to get in front of people in the industry to talk about the future of radio. Most of us are in this business we’re radio geeks, so we all have this love for radio and audio. Getting in a room with people who share that is great.
Chris Carlin: My constant thought is to get better and when you get that level of talent in one room it’s invaluable because we don’t get exposed enough to how others think about the industry, their shows and how they attack them. I’m a guy that wants to attack his weaknesses as a talk show host and get better every day. Stealing ideas from people is not the worst thing in the world [Laughs] and when you assemble these minds in this environment to exchange ideas, it’s going to give you an opportunity to get better.
Adam Schein: I think the entire experience is going to be amazing. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve seen clips from the previous Summits and every time I watched, I learned something. The healthy exchange of ideas, how people execute and prepare, what works in different markets in sports radio in 2020 to capture people’s attention. It’s a great opportunity.
I saw clips of Colin Cowherd and Jim Rome last year and I look forward to exchanging my ideas and visions of how I execute everyday on Schein on Sports and what goes into the show, how I prepare for it. And I look forward to listening to other people, to hear how they go about their business. I’ve had this circled on my calendar for awhile now.
Brandon Tierney: It’s a great way to exchange ideas, network, build our individual brands and champion what I believe is the most intimate, absolute best medium of them all, radio and audio content.
It’s great to see different talents with different styles from different networks on the same stage simultaneously. You get an interesting cross section and exchanging of ideas, a unique template if you will. It grows our business, and it’s advantageous to everybody, not just people who program stations, but those who are deeply entrenched and mid-career. The goal is to evolve and be proactive, and from my point of view, my goal is to be better tomorrow than I was today. When you get in a room like this, you increase your chances to do that.
BC: Creativity is essential for a talent to be successful. So too is having the opportunity to collaborate. That can have a great impact on building chemistry and a great show. How important is it for people to be around others to expand their thinking?
MG: I truly believe there are no stupid questions. One of my favorite things about the job are the brainstorming sessions before our show. We call it the spitball. I love that part. I love the collaboration of ideas because you just don’t know what’s going to hit. Someone can say a word or half of an idea and then it goes from there and turns into something great. I think the more collaboration you can get the better a show is going to be.
CC: You have to take swings. It’s funny, I’m driven by a fear of failure to begin with, but when it comes to being on-air, I’m not afraid to fail. You have to be willing to evolve and take chances. There have been plenty of times where I’ve done something on-air and it didn’t work. You can tell if something needs to be tweaked or if it’s never going to work. If you’re just doing a show and talking about sports, you have to find ways to separate yourself. You have to figure out how to do something different. I want to be the guy that gives you the aspect or idea of a story that you haven’t thought about yet. Different has to be good and so does taking chances.
AS: You always want your show to be fresh, and have creative ideas provided. You try to surround yourself with incredibly bright and creative people. I love talking about the product of radio. I always like discussing ideas of what works and what fits my personality and speaking with people at SiriusXM like Steve Cohen, Eric Spitz, Steve Torre, Bill Zimmerman and Jason Dixon who is amazing when it comes to feedback and different things to try. Positive reinforcement can also go a long way, ‘this works, keep doing it!’ Those are the kinds of things that resonate and I always enjoy talking about the product, I’m a junkie for that stuff.
BC: How do you see the role of a program director? Do you want them to serve as a coach and mentor or focus on business and what time to run a contest?
AS: You always want a program director who is the ultimate sounding board. Someone you can talk to about the show, about an interview, idea, someone you can talk about life with. Being a coach and mentor in addition to everything else. I’m lucky to have that on a lot of levels at SiriusXM. We have great people and great radio people and that’s vital to our success.
Eric Spitz years ago changed my life and shaped how I do a radio show with the POKE scale on how to judge every show. Passion, Opinion, Knowledge, Entertainment and you can’t lose sight of all four in terms of criteria for a daily show. And to me, entertainment’s at the top of the charts. Being able to tell a story, keeping people engaged, it’s all part of the deal and something I take pride in.
BT: The best program directors are equal parts professional manager or coach, but also psychologist. The best talents truly care about what we put out there, and what we attach our name to for public consumption. I don’t care who you are or how good you think you are, there’s vulnerability that comes with that. The presence of somebody who knows the business, but also knows what works and what doesn’t work, you need an honest assessment. It doesn’t help anybody to just keep saying ‘great show.’
Not every show is great, not every segment is great, not every interview is effective. Some things are poorly constructed and some things are grand slams. If something doesn’t sound right or is short of the talent’s potential, they need to call you out on that. And some PD’s are married to the company more than the talent and that’s understandable, but you want to know if something takes a sideways turn, that the PD still has your back.
BC: How helpful was having a program director that was already on-air in the same market, like Spike Eskin in Philly?
CC: Having worked with Spike for just a year, I love how he thinks and I trust his instincts. I’m getting acquainted with Ryan Hurley now at ESPN and I really like talking about show philosophies with him and listening to the way he thinks.
Spike fascinated me from the first time I met him because we have the same goals, but he thinks differently than I do and gives an invaluable perspective. Eric Spitz has been that way for me in my career too. I’m always open to people who think differently because I can potentially learn from them. Constantly getting different ideas is exciting.
BC: What’s one area of weakness in the sports radio industry that you think needs to be addressed?
MG: Finding new audiences. Think about the NFL or NBA, they’re never satisfied even though they have massive audiences. I think radio stations should be the same way. There’s always a new set of ears to go after and keeping that aggressive growth mindset helps all of us. Still be true to your core audience, but find that future audience, become part of their lives and be 360 about it. It’s so important for radio stations to be where their audience is. It’s not just radio and the person in the car, it’s about being part of their everyday lives, being available online and streaming to make sure they don’t have to go searching for you.
CC: I’m still trying to figure out where we’re going to fit in the future in the digital space. Smart speakers have been a major advance, but I want to know what others think about the slice of the pie that sports media and entertainment has moving into the future. As an industry we may have had 65% of that pie before, it’s gone down a little bit and how do we get that back? It’s difficult, but not impossible and I want to know what other people think about it. I heard 15-20 years ago radio is dying, we may have taken some hits, but it’s still around, it’s still popular and it still makes waves.
AS: I think there is a wonderful place for callers in sports radio and I know there are a lot of differing opinions on that. I’m a big believer in using callers wisely in sports talk radio. Going back to when sports radio was invented, WFAN, 1987, two-way sports talk. I think a lot of places have completely lost sight of that. There’s a way for me as a solo host to be passionate, opinionated, knowledgeable, entertaining, have my own show while implementing callers that make the show better, make me better, make for entertainment. Producers and call-screening is a big part of it. I know not everyone in the industry thinks the same way which is healthy, but I’m adamant that phone calls are a big part of sports talk radio.
You have to be able to attract great telephone calls, it’s a skill. If you do it right, it enhances the nature of a sports radio show.
BT: The challenge is always growing the medium in a forward direction. Major League Baseball’s obstacle is pace of play and appealing to a younger generation and they’ve worked on addressing that. In basketball, you see the evolution of the three-point shot as the sport grows. In golf, pace of play has also permeated the conversation.
We can’t look at radio and just say there are a few national networks doing well, there are a few elite local programs doing well, it has to be bigger than that. It needs to be bigger than just CBS, ESPN, FOX, or SiriusXM. It has to be bigger than just WFAN, WEEI, KNBR or The Ticket in Dallas. It needs a true vision and there can’t be complacency because it’s evolving quickly. You need smart people to lead it in the right direction, more importantly you need passionate people.
Adam Schein, Brandon Tierney, Chris Carlin and Maggie Gray will be appearing at the 2020 BSM Summit on February 26-27 in New York City. For tickets visit BSMSummit.com.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.