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The NFL Draft Is Over, Now What For Sports Radio?

“What I’m realizing is day-to-day we sort of have this blank canvas and we can paint whatever the heck we want on it!”

Demetri Ravanos

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It’s been more than a month since Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for Covid-19. The next day, March 12, was the last time we saw live sports of any sort. The NBA was the first to call off the action. Then it was the NCAA basketball tournament. The NHL, MLS, and Major League Baseball all followed suit.

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Since that happened, we have written a lot about how it was time for sports radio hosts to plunge the depths of their creativity and show listeners just how valuable they are even without games to talk about. It’s not that the sentiment was untrue, but it is easier to be creative when there’s an anchor like the NFL Draft. It is a major sports story, especially for the cities involved, that you can always come back to to avoid straying too far off the reservation.

For some shows, it doesn’t matter what else is happening in the world. Their market is a football town. Despite what sport is in season and playing live games, those hosts would still be devoting a lot of time to the NFL Draft.

Doug and Wolf is one of those shows. The morning men on Arizona Sports 98.7 say they would have certainly been working in some talk about the Diamondbacks and maybe the NCAA Tournament, but the Cardinals are the local team that drives the bus. Doug Franz told me that the only thing Covid-19 changed about his show’s draft coverage is that they didn’t have the ability to make some bits sound as polished as they’d have liked.

“We have been mostly an NFL/Cardinals show for a long, long time. It plays the hits here. It’s what this market wants, so we were all draft all the time.”

For others, deep dives on prospects and mock drafts represented welcomed new territory to mine in a sports desert. Jonathan Zaslow of 790 the Ticket says he and partner Amber Wilson have never pretended to be draft experts, and with all Miami has to offer, their show usually doesn’t spend as much time talking about the event as it did this year.

“Miami is not a college football market, and that’s reflected in our TV ratings every year. On top of that, our show is at it’s best when we’re not even talking sports. So, we wouldn’t normally spend a ton of time on the draft on Zaslow and Amber, but, this year was a legit perfect storm for draft talk in Miami. We were all stuck at home, begging for some kind of sporting event to watch…AND, the Dolphins were arguably the most unpredictable team in the draft, centered around the most polarizing player in the draft in [Alabama quarterback Tua] Tagovailoa.”

Tua Tagovailoa Stats, News, Bio | ESPN

At ESPN Cleveland, Aaron Goldhammer told me that the NFL Draft has always had a major presence. After all, most seasons are about what could happen next season for Browns fans.He described the station’s annual draft parties as “sensory overloads”. No amount of talk on a show could make up for the loss of something like that.

“When the Browns took Johnny Manziel a couple of years ago, the video from our draft party went viral,” he says. “I mean hundreds of thousands of views. It was on SportsCenter immediately after with people jumping up and down and hugging each other like the Browns had just won the Super Bowl. It was one of my favorite Cleveland football moments that I have ever been a part of.”

All of ESPN Cleveland’s shows tried to bring that excitement to the air this year. The station was blanketed in draft talk, even launching a new show at night with Tony Grossi called Countdown to the Draft.

Whatever the thinking was previously, all three stations embraced the local team and their roll in the one major, uninterrupted sporting event we knew for certain was left on the 2020 calendar.

That event is over now. So, what comes next? Is there any sports anchor stations can count on being able to come back to or wrap their arms around?

For Zaslow, he says Miami isn’t quite done talking about its new quarterback, although the story has pivoted to something with significantly shorter legs. Some fans had wondered if Tagovailoa would ask to wear 13, which is what he wore at Alabama. It has been retired by the Dolphins in honor of franchise icon Dan Marino.

“We’re all wondering what number Tua is going to wear, because fans want to buy the jersey. He said he’ll wear whatever number they give him, but he didn’t need to assure anyone he wasn’t going to ask for #13, because it’s one of just three numbers the organization has retired.”

Jonathan Zaslow | AM 790 The Ticket

Doug Franz doesn’t mince words when I ask him that question. He says you can’t point to a sports topic as safe harbor. The only way to keep the audience engaged is to have everyone on the show doing their best work. He singles out his producer Erin Maloney as the lynchpin of Doug & Wolf.

“It’s times like these where the best producers are going to shine, and our show is lucky to have one despite how young she is.”

One of the ways that Maloney has shined for Doug & Wolf is by organizing special programming weeks. The station will soon announce a “legends week,” which will see the hosts talking to some of the biggest names in Phoenix sports history. Franz says a programming event like that wouldn’t be possible without a company that has stood behind the show for so long.

“I think this is where we truly benefit from working for a company that didn’t freak out when we had a bad book or two and didn’t act like the world was going to come to an end, because we are in our 14th year together. When you have that kind of feeling for each other and that kind of relationship with the people in the city, you are able to call them up and say ‘Hey, we’re hurting. Bail us out!'”.

All three hosts I spoke with agreed on one thing. Right now, hosts have to be comfortable getting personal. Everyone listening is having a similar experience. There may never have been a better time to share personal stories and connect with your audience on a human level.

“We know our fans in this market. We know the things they find compelling and interesting, even if they’re not specifically in the realm of sports, even if they are related to things about living in this unique time,” Goldhammer says. “What I’m realizing is day-to-day we sort of have this blank canvas and we can paint whatever the heck we want on it!”

Sports isn’t a bad word for Goldhammer and his co-host on The Really Big Show, Tony Rizzo. They are happy, though, not to have the obligations of talking about games or events that may not actually be that important to the Cleveland sports fan. They also know they can offer listeners better entertainment than constantly speculating on when sports comes back.

Aaron Goldhammer of WKNR's 'The Really Big Show' hits the nail on ...

“About a week in, we came up with a mantra for how we are going to approach this time. It is an opportunity for us to have fun in new and different ways that we have never tried before. Let’s liberate ourselves and take the shackles off completely, and let’s see where that can take us.”

Zaslow says he and Amber Wilson were built for an event like this. He compared this time to summer. Miami isn’t a market where sports talk can thrive on baseball alone, so the duo has had plenty of practice with topics outside of a sports audience’s regular expectations.

“I think we’ve always thrived in that spot because we really just want to laugh and have a good time, and make lots of fun of each other,” he says. “She loves her trashy television, I love movies and wrestling. We like talking about past relationships. We even started a new segment on Friday’s called, ‘A Story From Amber’s Dating Past.’

The duo has also added a virtual happy hour for their audience on Thursday nights. Zaslow and Amber isn’t only not worried about a life without sports. They are actively using this time to strengthen their bond with the audience.

“Nothing changes. My job is to entertain people no matter what way I choose to entertain them,” says Franz. He says he told his girlfriend 25 years ago that anything that happens between them is possible fodder for a future show. She is now his wife and Franz says she is on board with the rule.

“Just because sports is gone, that doesn’t change my job. We can’t sit around as talk show hosts and blast GMs who don’t like the NFL Draft because of the new set up and then turn around and then turn around whine about the situation we’re in.”

Franz insists that there is no single story that can drive things going forward like the NFL Draft has for the past month and a half. His parting words from our conversation perfectly encapsulate that and they will be how I end this article.

doug franz (@doug987FM) | Twitter

“It’s our job to create the entertainment value. That is what we’re going to attempt to do.”

BSM Writers

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.

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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.

Quick bites

  • 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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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