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Do Sports Radio Stations Know How To Create Great Podcasts?

“Too many sports brands, even some of the very biggest, limit their digital audience by thinking of them as identical to their broadcast audience.”

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Podcasts are not radio. They may both use audio to tell a story, but they are not the same thing. That may be news to some in the sports radio world though.

Americans love podcasts. According to The Infinite Dial survey from Edison Reseach and Triton Digital, 75% of this country is familiar with podcasting and 55% of adults have listened to podcasts. That is a huge potential audience, and yet so many sports stations do not take advantage of it.

Talk to me: Local podcasts you should be listening to

When it comes to podcast offerings, most stations in this format are content with posting recordings of shows that already aired on the radio. Some post shows in their entirety. Others post condensed “best of” versions. It doesn’t matter. Neither strategy attracts any new monkeys to the circus. If all you are doing on the digital side is reposting audio that already aired, you’re likely not giving your most dedicated fans any reason to think about using your digital products.

Maybe you’re creating a show exclusively for the digital audience. Sure, it may sound exactly like a radio show, but it lives exclusively online. That means it’s totally different from what is on your broadcast platform, right?

No. It’s just more sports radio.

By the simplest of definitions, I guess what makes a piece of audio a podcast is that it originates online. So, sure, let’s call putting your mid day host and your afternoon host together to talk about the local Major League Soccer team a podcast.

Podcast audiences are very different from radio audiences. They expect to be immersed in what they are listening to. Too many sports brands, even some of the very biggest, limit their digital audience by thinking of them as identical to their broadcast audience.

You’ve probably heard this or something similar to this a lot in the last few months: “Don’t waste this time. Everyone should emerge from this pandemic with at least one new skill set.”

Translated for the sports audio business, that saying might be “there is no time like the present rethink what we are offering our digital audience.”

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Look, plenty of those “this is just sports radio on the internet” kind of shows perform well. Pardon My Take, The Lowe Post, and The Bill Simmons Podcast are all good shows, but they require that the listener be a sports fan to even give them a try. I am talking about breaking the mold and creating something focused not on opinions, but on stories.

This month, ESPN has dropped a new season of the 30 for 30 Podcast focused on Bela and Martha Karolyi. It is a seven-part series titled Heavy Medals. It is the third time the 30 for 30 Podcast has told a story in a multi-part series. Also this month, The Ringer released The Cam Chronicles, a six-part series narrated and reported by Tyler R. Tynes about the life and career of Cam Newton. It is one of the best things I have ever heard.

Step outside of the sports world for a minute and think about some popular podcasts. Up & Vanished, Serial, Dirty John, and other shows like it all take deep dives into a single story. They are event series, even if the event (usually a murder) wasn’t well-known before the podcast made them part of popular culture.

Why doesn’t sports radio take advantage of this more often?

In 2017, my friend Lauren Brownlow released a series for 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh focused on the phenomenon known amongst fans as “NC State Shit.” The idea is that for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, whatever the worst thing that can happen is will happen at the most inopportune time of the biggest games. Seriously, go look up the entire history of this athletic department. The Venn diagram of bad luck and bad coaching hires is just a circle around the NC State campus.

The series was titled NC State Stuff and it was excellent. The station, Lauren, and everyone who helped make it possible deserve a ton of credit. NC State Stuff was as good as any serialized sports podcast produced by any national outlet. Look, here is a screenshot of me telling Lauren so in 2017!

But then, there was no grand next step. 99.9 the Fan gave Lauren the chance to tell another story the way she told the one of NC State. She put together a series on the University of North Carolina’s football team and the longhand belief that it was a dynasty waiting to happen, but the station gave it little to know promotion. It let UNC Football: Sleeping Giant just sort of flat in the ether with no attention paid.

Why? It was so original and so different for local radio and was a way of letting people that don’t listen to the station or that aren’t diehard sports fans into the party.

Your station has the resources. You can even increase those resources by partnering on the production with a local TV station.

So many stations in this format are owned by companies like Cumulus or Entercom or iHeartMedia. All of those companies have massive digital audio platforms. If you create something truly compelling, your company can help you grow the audience for it.

Your listeners aren’t using terrestrial radio in the way we and they are used to using it. Pick your local story and do the multi-part deep dive. Look, here are a few examples of stories that are just waiting for the right local voice to tell.

  • Atlanta – The Braves in the 90s
  • Chicago – The 2016 Cubs
  • Cincinnati – Marge Schott’s ownership of the Reds
  • Las Vegas – The Golden Knights’ inaugural season
  • New York – James Dolan and the Knicks’ futility
  • Oklahoma City – The unfulfilled promise of the Durant/Harden/Westbrook Thunder teams
  • San Francisco – The Bash Brothers

We hear all the time that the best talent in this industry are storytellers. That’s because listeners respond to stories. Analysis and opinions are great and necessary on radio. Podcasts are not as easy to get to as the radio. There is no one listening because the podcast was already on in the car or was playing at the dry cleaner they stopped at.

Podcast listeners are always hand-picking their content and evaluating their choices. So many people are stuck at home looking to be entertained right now. Pick a story to tell and then come together as a team and create something special with your station’s name on it. P1s will finally have a reason to seek out your digital content and people that have never heard your station before will have a reason to seek out your content.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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