If real estate is all about location, location, location, then life is all about timing, timing timing. For The Athletic and Stadium’s Shams Charania, you might think the timing couldn’t be better. Thanks to COVID-19 hitting the snooze button on the NBA season, the 26 year-old Charania’s contract with both entities ends at the end of the month – smack dab in the middle of the NBA playoffs.
In any other year, “Baby Woj” would have no shortage of suitors for his services because he’s one of the most respected insiders in the business. Now, however, he could become a free agent when millions of people have lost their jobs and sports media executives have begun to examine every facet of the industry in a desperate search to save money during this crisis.
Play-by-play crews are calling games off of TV monitors in a studio. Radio shows and podcasts are being hosted from bedrooms and finished basements across the country. It may simply be a matter of time before a company decides that it can live without a high-priced “insider,” and they wouldn’t be wrong.
The entire world has already been changed forever because of Covid-19, and while its effects on the sports industry are surely the least important of all the reverberations, they will nevertheless be just as permanent. When I was at ESPN in the early 2000s, they would fly different analysts into Bristol from around the country each week, and put them up at one of the many ultra-luxurious hotels in the Bristol, Connecticut area. Why would a company continue to swallow thousands of dollars in airfare and lodging when they’ve been successfully covering sports for months with everyone working remotely?
Professional sports franchises have been paying play-by-play crews to fly around the country in order to broadcast games from the opponent’s stadium. Has the quality of play-by-play dropped off significantly since road teams were calling games from the safety of a local facility? While anyone in the trenches of putting on a show will tell you that having everyone in the same room always leads to a better product, companies the world over have always been willing to sacrifice quality in the name of saving money.
One area that has always forced networks to open their wallets, however, is talent acquisition. Outlets need analysts, and they absolutely have to have insiders. Right?
Not so fast. As technology has changed and teams and players can now communicate directly with fans via social media, the juice that national insiders once had has been squeezed. Most of the content from the big “insiders” these days is actually something a team would release itself a few minutes later. NBC’s Mike Florio has referred to it on the air as “the five minute heads up.”
Take a look at the Twitter timelines of a national insider from any sport. How many of them tweeted or wrote a story about something that a team wouldn’t want people to know about? And while there are exceptions to every rule, do those rare instances justify the cost? The most famous insiders all have salaries that feature multiple commas. How much bang for their buck are networks really getting?
One exception to my blanket statement about national insiders is FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer, who appears to hibernate for most of the year, only to emerge from his cave to break a massive story that changes the NFL season before immediately turning around again and returning to hibernation.
I also keep saying, “national insiders” because I want to draw a clear distinction between the big name people we all know and the local reporters covering a beat. The locals often reveal things teams and players would prefer the public doesn’t know, which is why they’re awesome and I would never criticize them.
Now, I know that the agents of some of these insiders would say, “My guy gets that heads up first,” but here’s a hard truth for them: the only people that care about who breaks news first are other insiders and network executives. The fans don’t care. Hell, they don’t even remember who breaks the story first. When something happens, it appears in their social media feed about eight different times because they follow all the insiders across networks so they don’t miss anything.
When George Kittle agreed to his contract extension with the 49ers last week, the story appeared on my timeline from Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, the NBC Sports Bay Area account itself, Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, Matt Barrows of The Athletic, Niners Nation, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Adam Schefter of ESPN, and a ton of other people pointing out that Pardon My Take actually had the story first. And no, I did not put those in any particular order. Furthermore, five minutes after the story hits Twitter all the other insiders confirm it via their own sources, and their networks go with a variation of, “insider X has confirmed that superstar Y has agreed to a deal with team Z.”
So if insiders are mostly passing along announcements that teams and players will make themselves, and fans don’t care or remember which insiders are passing along those announcements, what exactly are networks paying all that money for, again? Unless insiders take a much more investigatory bent towards their jobs, the market for their services could be shrinking.
Sports networks will soon realize that fan bases wouldn’t be any less informed without that five minute heads up. When that happens, executives will realize how much money they could save simply by making one fewer hire.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.