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What Do We Do Now?

Matt Sammon offers 5 tips for programming thru sports radio chaos.

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The last time a global pandemic was this deadly, you have to go back to the 1918 influenza outbreak when there was no internet or television, and radio was in its infancy. Likewise sports was a far cry from what it is now– many athletes were looked down upon as they were considered beneath the educated businessmen and people contributing something to society other than a game. How times have changed.

Program directors and network executives have had to make hairpin turns on the content calendar before with rainouts, natural disasters, or even the September 11th terrorist attacks. But compared to Coronavirus, those were short-term breaks from the action. The sports world got back on its feet 10 days after the September 11th attacks, but the Coronavirus will likely keep things on pause for another 2 to 3 months at a minimum. So how do you work together to create something while waiting for the sports world to start up again?

I reached out to several program directors and executives while also reaching into my own bag of tricks when trying to answer the question of, “What do we do now?” The people I spoke with did so on background, but all are confronting the same issue with the unique perspective of ALL sports stopping at the same time. Here is the path they are walking down for the foreseeable future:

DON’T READ THE FINE PRINT

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and that includes the necessity of teams and broadcast partners to not bicker over contract language. Everyone I spoke with agreed that things like rights fees and trade details will all get worked out at some point in time. When it comes to content though, the key is to think “win-win” for everyone. This means teams and rights holders should be collaborating on a consistent broadcast schedule that gives everyone the right amount of air time to stay on the radar. But both sides should also try to assist one another in commercial clearances, perhaps rewriting the contractual language figuratively for the next several weeks so that all parties can clear paid or contractually obligated commercial spots to appease advertisers.

DON’T JUST REPLAY ANY OLD GAME

One of the easiest forms of content is simply re-airing old broadcasts. They can be edited down to fit a convenient time window, and fans love seeing or hearing great moments in their team’s history. But the key phrase is “great moments”– you can’t just play any regular season game unless something truly spectacular happened. Championship moments, big playoff wins, and incredible individual performances are obvious choices, but if you have the
ability to really unearth some older games, those too have value as some of your consumers may not have been around for that big pennant-clinching win in 1978 or that national championship in 1985.

And with great storylines comes great storytellers. The trend, understandably, is to cut talent and production payroll while the business world has stopped. But having that studio host or that play-by-play announcer interview people who were part of those memorable moments
makes the replay even more memorable. Going that extra mile, while costing an extra few dollars, will make your archive games stand out from everyone’s mere “reruns” to kill time.

GET CREATIVE

Necessity is the mother of invention. Replays of old games can only take you so far, and many of the outlets I spoke to are finding content that used to be on the periphery is becoming mainstream such as video game sims of a season, celebrity fantasy drafts of the upcoming NFL draft, or even old-school “shoutouts” to local businesses still open and trying to stay that way.
Unless a content idea is potentially hazardous to employees or consumers (and you shouldn’t be thinking of those stunts anyways) then basically anything is worth trying.

GOT DIGITAL?

The transition from terrestrial to digital, especially on the advertising side, has been going on for a few years now. While global advertising will take a massive hit this year, we’re now seeing where people are going for entertainment at home. For years people have bought fewer and fewer AM/FM radios or traditional cable bundles for their homes. If you don’t already have a robust digital operation providing content other than talk show replays masquerading as “podcasts”, you’ve missed the boat. Your main source of programming and ancillary content MUST be available live or on-demand on all major platforms, especially as more mobile and
digital consumption is coming from home and will likely continue to in some form once this pandemic passes.

HOW VALUABLE IS YOUR NON-LIVE EVENT CONTENT?

We’re all learning that now, aren’t we? Many executives in the past would overlook the live and local talk and reporting as play-by-play often brought in the ratings and revenue. But with no live events for the past month, and likely for the next 2 to 3 months, you’re reaping what you’ve sown in terms of talent development and investment. If you haven’t appreciated what
your on-air talent, production staff, and the underpaid and overworked engineers do for you on a daily basis, I don’t know what more evidence you need. Yes live sports will come back eventually, but now when local talent is informing people on what’s happening with the Coronavirus while also pleasantly distracting them with sports talk, this should be seen as an
opportunity to not only strengthen your hard-working broadcasters and crew but also a chance to strengthen the sometimes acrimonious bonds between teams and rights holders.

Sports teams, sports leagues, and broadcasters need to work together to not only provide content for now but to plant the seeds for what will be a whole new sports world and experience in the near future. The game is changing now, because there are no games. But will you be ready when the season resumes, whenever that is, with content and partnerships that improve upon what you’ve been creating in the past?

Matt Sammon has been in broadcasting and content creation for 24 years, and was most recently the Director of Broadcasting & Programming for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Learn more about him at SammonSez.com.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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