Football season is the money maker in sports radio. That’s especially in markets where college football is king and the entire local economy depends on six to seven Saturdays in the fall, which supplement the entire year.
Seeing as the Big Ten and Pac-12 can’t figure out they each want to do, several radio stations across the country have been left in a state of flux, which leaves several program directors and hosts with more questions than answers.
“It’s forced us to prepare for anything,” said Todd Markiewicz, VP and Market Manager at 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, “We’ve gathered our team together and strategized constantly, almost daily, to figure out new ways to drive revenue in case college football is not going to happen. Covid really put us in a position to be prepared.
“As important as Ohio State athletics is to us, as the flagship for Ohio State, we had to prepare for the possibility of it not being there come fall. We’ve come up with a variety of new assets and refocused, from a sales perspective, and other areas, including podcasting and digital. We’ve revamped our on-air line up. We’re in the best possible situation we could be in considering the possibility.”
From a sales aspect, not having the income that football season provides could prove to be devastating in some markets. For the hosts, the situation will be unique and difficult, because of the unclear direction of where to get content from. Sure, anytime you talk football it’s almost guaranteed to be a hit, but without having the local team to talk about, hosts may need to be more well-versed and expand their region on the teams they discuss.
“We have an advantage at the station for live games, as we’re an affiliate for both the Giants, A’s, Raiders and the 49ers,” said Christopher Gabriel, host at 940 ESPN Fresno, which is home to the Fresno State Bulldogs, one of the traditionally more consistent group of five college football teams.” We’re also an affiliate for the Lakers. We’ve been able to have our media friends at those stations, as well as people connected with the team, come on with us a number of times to keep the dialogue going. As far as college football, not having the Mountain West or the Pac-12, we’ve been focusing our attention on places like the Big 12, ACC and the SEC, who are actually playing. We’re a college football centric program here, so we’ve been keeping our eye on what’s been going on.”
Like Fresno State, the Boise State Broncos won’t be playing this fall, either. But in some markets, like Fresno, you can at least defer to the pro teams in the area, That’s not the case in Boise, seeing as the Broncos are the only major show in town. So what do you talk about when nobody in the state is playing?
“That’s a hell of a good question,” said Mike Prater, host at 93.1 KTIK The Ticket in Boise. “For today’s show, our lead today is, Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin would’ve been having his last press conference before the season begins. We came up with a fake press conference, such as what Harsin would’ve said under normal circumstances, as well as the questions from the media that would’ve been asked. We’re going to air a Game of the Week for the next 14 weeks. We may do a little bit more NBA, NHL, and of course the NFL.
“I lost my partner of 20 years, this summer, and we’re launching a brand new show that centers on the NFL. We’re going to focus on all the former Boise State players that are in the NFL. We added a Fantasy Football segment to pick it up. The voice of Boise State football is going to come on and do a full segment every single day. We’re just putting little things together, nothing great or fantastic, we’re just trying to fill our time with good content.”
For executives like Markiewicz in college markets without football, this will be one of the more challenging seasons any has encountered. Their time will be split on trying to find ways to bring in money to the station, as well as assisting their talent on what content is best. Luckily in Columbus, NFL content also plays well. Without the Big Ten is that the direction The Fan will go?
“We’re going to have to let Covid dictate that,” Markiewicz said. “The NFL is going to be very important, and yes, we have both the Browns and Bengals in Ohio. We have a 60/40 fan split between Browns and Bengals fans, so that will keep us busy. If Ohio State resumes some semblance of the season in November or December, obviously we will welcome that with open arms. The reality is, as radio professionals, we had to reinvent ourselves. Not since just Covid, but the last 5 to 10 years we had to figure out new ways to compete. I think we’re in a pretty good position with that.”
Oddly enough, this confusing time has positively affected listenership in otherwise slow times. With the Big Ten seemingly reversing it’s course every week on when or if it wants to play, Nebraska was the most outspoken school in the conference with its desire to play. That played especially well, and led to an increase in listenership in Lincoln.
“On like August 11th or 12th, there was just a major, major spike that day,” said Connor Happer, host at 93.7 The Ticket in Lincoln. “Ever since then, we’ve been kind of steady, because there’s something new that’s happening every day. Honestly I haven’t even had a plan for a show for like the past three weeks. But we’re kind of settling in for if it’s going to be three months before we start or four months. We’re ready if it gets dead around here, but for the last three weeks it definitely hasn’t been that.”
While the Big Ten has had an epic level of in-fighting between presidents, commissioners and athletic directors, the Pac-12 has seemingly been in lockstop agreement with each decision the conference has made. But that doesn’t change the fact that markets such as Portland, Tucson and Seattle, to just name a few, won’t have Pac-12 football to talk about.
“I’ve never relied on the box scores for content,” said John Canzano, host at 750 The Game in Portland and Fox Sports Eugene. “That’s a low bar. I think the listeners are smarter and more well versed than ever. They don’t come to my show to learn who won the game. They come to me to understand what it all means, what happens next, and what I think about it. Maybe to be entertained and get lost in the diversion, too.
“Ratings have been up since the pandemic started. I don’t think it’s accidental. There’s more to talk about than ever — especially with so much still up in the air for the Pac-12. I’ll continue to have the head coaches on my show, talk about compelling stories, and try to figure out if the Pac-12 made a tragic misfire by not playing or maybe if it just indicated to us all that its mission is different than some of the others who are playing.
“I keep hearing people say, ‘No sports — what will you talk about?’ Are you kidding me? We’re amid one of the most compelling and maybe controversial times in sports history. I’ll do the same high quality, entertaining show that I’ve done for the last 15 years. Some of it will be about sports. Some of it will be about homeschooling kids, working from home, and trying to keep perspective. I’ll pay attention to the other conferences. But also, the Pac-12 is knee deep in what I think is the most compelling time in its history. The audience is locked in.”
In Salt Lake CIty, the Utah Utes Should be preparing to build on it’s 11-win season in 2019. Not only are the Utes not playing, but they had to sit and watch their bitter rival just 45 miles down the road, BYU, play on primetime television and dismantle Navy. That played well on Tuesday in Salt Lake.
“There was a lot of jealousy,” said Hans Olsen, host at 1280 The Zone in Salt Lake City, “Utah fans want to discredit the schedule and the opponents BYU put together. Basically, claiming that it’s against a glorified high school team. BYU kind of returned the favor saying, well, we would’ve opened the season against you, like we were supposed to, instead of Navy, it probably would’ve been the same outcome. BYU fans also went on the offensive and said, remember, it was you that canceled and here you are talking about our opponents, when we had to reschedule because you canceled. There’s been a lot of interaction between the two fan bases.”
Like the entire pandemic, hosts will find ways to keep things entertaining without any football in the fall. Challenging, sure, but it’s almost a given. But it’s much harder to fill the sales gap, than it is to fill the content gap. That’s the No. 1 goal for every radio station that won’t be able to lean on the local team to help with sales: Find creative ways to keep money coming in the building.
“Our company is local so we have ties that go back 20 to 25 years,” said Gabriel. “While it was frustrating at first, those folks are all coming back. We have a great sales team here and they are out there, doing anything they can do, as far as sales packages, and doing a great job with it. We’ve started to put some remotes together when restaurants and bars opened back up here in California. If anything, it forced us to be creative and we’re trying to find ways we can package things to make it beneficial for the people that have always supported us. We are supporting them in every way we can.”
Keith Moreland’s Broadcasting Fills Void Left by MLB Career
“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.
Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.
Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’
So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”
It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.
“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”
Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.
“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.
Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.
While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:
“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”
Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting
The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.
As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.
For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.
While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements.
While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized.
Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.
People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.
First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.
The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues.
None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.
As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.
Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans
Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.
It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.
I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.
One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.
Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.
I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.
For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.
That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.
So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.
This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.
I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?
That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.
Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?
Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.
As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday.
Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.