Travis Demers became the full-time radio play-by-play voice of the Portland Trail Blazers at the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA season. The mother of all unforeseen circumstances caused the NBA to suspend its season on March 11 – a global pandemic. The impact of the coronavirus has been felt by the NBA as a whole — including broadcasters like Travis.
It’s a unique time for Travis to navigate through the hiatus as he has a two-year-old boy named Lincoln and another son due on July 3. While increased family time is enjoyable, Travis describes his helpless feeling in the work world. I’ve seen firsthand how Travis prepares and puts in the work. Any worker is going to feel strange while not being allowed to contribute like normal.
In addition to his play-by-play duties, Travis also hosts a weekday radio show from 3-6pm on 620 Rip City Radio. COVID-19 has affected Travis’ broadcasting schedule, which in turn impacts his current talk show responsibilities with co-host Chad Doing. One of the most interesting parts of this piece is when Travis details a feeling of guilt he experiences occasionally. It’s a strange time in the world at large. The same can be said about the sports world. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How would you describe the impact that the pandemic has had on you professionally?
Travis Demers: I’ve never really had a situation where I wasn’t working. Even when I got laid off from another radio station — I was out of work officially for about 10 months — I was still working. I still found plenty of other things to do. Yeah, I’m still working and doing the radio show at home but this is really unusual. I’ve never had a situation before where I felt helpless and I felt like there’s not a whole lot I can do.
I know a lot of other people are in this boat right now but for me it’s an unusual, quiet feeling of and almost helplessness in the work world. In terms of my home life it’s an opportunity to spend time with my wife and my son that I normally otherwise wouldn’t have, especially traveling and being on the road working as much as I do. I don’t know if and when I’m ever going to get this opportunity again to spend the time with my family so I’m making the most of it.
BN: That feeling of being helpless — has that caused you to approach your show differently at all?
TD: I don’t think it’s changed how I approach the show that much. The big difference is with not a lot of sports to talk about right now, we’re forced to come up with other things so it leads to more creativity. It leads to more reflection whether it be on past things in sports, favorite moments, trying to find a way to help the community and just having more fun. I’ve always been a little bit more uptight just in general than I’d like to be. I think in a lot of ways this has helped loosen me up because there’s no reason to be uptight right now.
BN: Outside of the obvious — not calling Blazers games — how does your schedule differ now due to the pandemic?
TD: The big difference obviously is just being at home. I’m much more involved in the family life now. Usually if it was a show day I would go in around 11 for a three o’clock show. Now I’m getting up and helping with my son. We have breakfast. We’ll watch a movie. We’ll go outside. I’ll put him down for a nap and then I’ll call Chad. We’ll get things set up for the show instead of doing that in studio and going in a couple of hours earlier.
On a game day I’m not doing prep at home. Usually I spend probably about a total of four hours of prep time per game, maybe a little bit more than that depending on the game. But I’m not doing that from home. Before when I was home I was still doing quite a bit of work in addition to when I was gone. Now there’s really not much work to do at home. When I’m home and when I’m with my family that time is focused on them.
BN: NBA players might have a tough time ramping up to play games after months off at home. On a broadcasting scale, is there some ramp-up time needed for you to get back into peak form?
TD: I’m sure there is. I’m sure there’s always going to be a little bit of rust. The first preseason game you feel like there’s a little bit of rust you want to shake off. In some ways the preseason is time for the broadcaster as much as it is for the players to get back into a rhythm. For guys who have been doing it for 10-20 years, I’m sure that turnaround time is a little bit less. But for me in my first full season after doing about half the year last year, yeah there’s a little bit of a warm-up time. Hopefully not more than just a couple of minutes or a quarter but I would imagine yeah it might take a little while.
BN: Are you doing the Joe Buck thing where you’re commentating about random things around the house?
TD: In my house, yeah. I’m not taking user submissions. I think Joe Buck proved why that’s probably not the best idea for everybody. But for me yeah I’m just doing it around the house especially with my son playing basketball, playing with his toys, and mostly that kind of stuff. I’ll do it for my wife a little bit when she’s making dinner and give her a good call when she makes a good meal. There’s definitely a little bit of that going on in the house.
BN: How do you think that first game back will feel for you when it eventually does happen?
TD: It’s tough to say because I don’t know what the situation is going to be. Is it going to be a playoff situation? Is it going to be a regular season situation? Will there be fans in the stands? Will it be the beginning of next year? Will it be sometime we pick it up this season? I think all of that plays into it.
If it is this year, do you have to pick up where you left off? If it’s next year how do you put into perspective that last year was cut short and now you’re starting new. Everybody’s going to have a different, unusual feel to a season that ended so abruptly. It’ll be different. There’s no question it’ll be different. I just don’t know exactly how different and I’m not going to know until I sit in that chair.
BN: There are some radio stations that are doing virtual games on PlayStation. It’s been mostly a baseball thing, but do you think something could work along those lines for basketball?
TD: Well we’re seeing it on TV. The NBA has this tournament with 16 players and they’re playing NBA 2K. It’s airing on ESPN. I think it’s a really cool idea because now you’re getting competition. It gives fans something to watch. It gives fans somebody to cheer for. Here in Portland, Blazers fans were cheering for Hassan Whiteside in his first-round matchup with Patrick Beverley. Unfortunately he lost, but even for a little while, it gave fans an opportunity to cheer for one of their own guys.
I think in the same context of fans looking for something to cheer for we’re watching all of these old games — the Blazers have been running a lot of them, MLB Network, NFL Network, the other night I was flipping between Super Bowl XLVII and Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. It was awesome. But watching in the ninth inning when the Twins had runners on first and second and nobody out, I knew the game went 10 innings so the drama wasn’t quite there. I think fans and people are looking for some kind of drama whether that’s on the radio or TV. I think something like that absolutely could work.
BN: Maybe that’s why marble races are popular. [Laughs]
TD: It’s something, man. People who have a serious gambling problem that look for really obscure things to bet on because they need their fix — it’s very similar.
BN: Would you enjoy a classic game if you were listening to yourself on the call?
TD: Yes and no. I would enjoy the moment. A lot of things would come back. I’ve watched some of the classic games that I’ve had a chance to call. I wasn’t on the TV call so I watched the national TV call of the four-overtime game between the Blazers and Nuggets. All of these memories keep rushing back. I’m my own biggest critic. I think if I were to watch myself in that moment call that game, I’d be picking apart everything that I had said. I could have done that better. I could have done this better. I guess I would use it more as a learning experience than just be able to sit back and enjoy it.
BN: Have you enjoyed being more present on your talk show or is there a void without play-by-play?
TD: I’m definitely enjoying it because it’s not like the games are still going on and I’m not getting to call them. Being able to be present — Chad and I have worked really hard on our show together. Being gone so often over the course of the season I feel out of touch. I feel like I’m out of the loop. Chad’s done a great job in my absence and there’s a reason why he’s in that spot. But it’s nice to be back in the mix and in the groove again every day. It can feel like it’s our show and I’m not just a guest on the program that Chad’s been working hard for. It has been good and I have enjoyed it.
BN: When you’re on the road doing Blazers games instead of your talk show, is it a feeling of guilt that you have?
TD: There is guilt. Yeah, because I feel like I’m not being there to help out my partner. Chad has been great and has done everything he can to not make me feel guilty about it, but at the same time it’s like hey, I’m on a 10-day road trip and I’m not doing my job so you’re left to pick up 100 percent of the slack. There is some guilt there.
Before Chad showed up I was doing that show by myself, so I’ve had to give up complete control. That was difficult to do at first. Now I’m just kind of going along with his program. It took me a while to accept that, but given how often I’ve been gone, sometimes I don’t feel like it’s right for me to challenge him on something or to say this or that because he’s the one that’s putting in the work every single day and I’m not.
BN: I hear you. Now that you’re back you can’t hit him with, “I don’t want to do that topic.” You’d feel bad for saying something like that, right?
TD: Yeah, exactly. It’s weird because your name is on the show and it just doesn’t feel like it’s my show sometimes. And that’s okay. That’s what it is, but Chad deserves a lot of credit because he has gone out of his way to make sure that I don’t feel that way.
BN: What does no Blazers basketball at this time mean to Portland as a community?
TD: The Blazers are Portland’s team. The Blazers are Oregon’s team. College sports are different. The MLS is different. The Blazers have been around for 50 years. That’s the team that people around here relate to and identify with. This time of year we should be in the stretch run getting ready for the playoffs. To have no sports and to not have your team that you’re used to either watching on TV, or going to the games, or making sure you plan your schedule around, for a lot of people there’s a sense of absence. There’s a sense of something missing. There’s a hole. I’ve talked to fans and I’ve read some things on social media from fans that there’s just a void right now. There’s no distraction.
Over the course of history there have been a lot of tragic things. There’s been a lot of terrible things for individual people that have things going on in their lives that are tough whether it be the loss of a family member or something like that, sports has always been a distraction. It’s always been there. This is really the only time in modern history that there is no distraction. There are no sports.
I think people now a few weeks into it have kind of gotten used to it but that void is still there. I remember living in New York on 9/11 and the NFL games were canceled that weekend. Major League Baseball was on hiatus for a little while, but it came back relatively quickly within a week or so.
That was a national tragedy. This is an international pandemic and not only is the distraction gone for a week or two or three, we have no idea when we’re going to get that distraction back and we’re going to get that entertainment back. There’s just a big void in that context.
BN: They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you apply that to the sports world, what do you think the reaction is going to be like once sports are back?
TD: I think in some ways it’ll make us appreciate things more. I would imagine the first game back for every team across America is going to be sold out regardless of the sport; especially if you have the NBA and NHL canceled the way that college sports have been. The next time the season rolls around, or if they do play later on in the summer, I’d imagine every single arena across the NBA is going to be packed.
I don’t know how long it’s going to last though because those warm feelings don’t last for a long time, but they’re there and they’re special and it makes people come together. That first couple of games, that first week, that first month, it’s going to be — in whatever arena — an incredible atmosphere. I can’t wait to see that. I can’t wait to experience that. Portland is a great atmosphere as it is, so just imagine that being notched up a few levels when people really appreciate what they didn’t have when it comes back.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.