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The Unknown Made Great Sports Radio in Cincinnati

“I spent the late spring wondering how we would continue to talk about Joe Burrow if there weren’t concrete things like preseason games to measure his progress.”

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Hard to believe we are already done with Week 3 of the NFL season, but here we are. By this time next week, the first quarter of the strangest, most uncertain season any of us have ever experienced will be in the books.

Sports radio in plenty of markets, whether they have a team or not, is dominated by NFL talk. I thought it might be interesting though to talk about how the NFL was discussed during the spring and summer in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The perennially underachieving Bengals had the first pick of the 2020 Draft and used it to take Joe Burrow, a can’t-miss quarterback prospect that happened to be a native Ohioan. There would be so much hype around him and this team locally, no-matter the situation. Throw in a pandemic and the challenges that come with it though, and now you’re talking about a preseason that is more about what we weren’t seeing than what we were.

To get a first-hand perspective of this, we turned to our friend Mo Egger, the host of the afternoon drive show on ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati.

In this guest column, Mo writes that the pandemic forced him to problem solve and get creative. He had to talk about a player that, for the most part, he didn’t get to see. He had to tap into the energy of his audience, some of whom let Burrow redefine the team for them without knowing what to say.

It turns out that mystery ended up being an ally in creating great radio. Enjoy!


The unknown is a blank canvas. 

That statement reads like something really profound that came from some sort of really wise philosopher or literary figure, or maybe whoever it is that’s in charge of those motivational Successories posters that seemingly every radio sales manager used to have in their offices, right? 

Adventure Dandelion Motivational Poster | Successories | Motivational  posters, Poster, Adventure

Actually, I came up with it, and until I was asked to write this free guest column, it’s not something I’d ever thought I’d be sharing with anyone or elaborating on, but here we are.

When it became abundantly clear that the Cincinnati Bengals were going to own the first pick of the 2020 NFL Draft and that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the obvious choice for a franchise in desperate need of both a fresh start on the field and a figure for fans to rally around, I was more than ready to embrace months’ worth of unknowns for both me and my audience.

Talking about the Bengals in recent seasons hasn’t been fun. With the ashes from their most recent playoff collapse in January 2016 still smoldering, the last part of the decade were filled with boring, often non-competitive teams that played its games against the backdrop of growing fan discontent and the results seeming almost pointless to bigger-picture questions about who would be its next coach and quarterback.

Zac Taylor replaced Marvin Lewis, who left after 16 seasons, in February 2019, but with the same crummy roster in place for year one of his regime, a long, losing season was inevitable long before it began. Before most people around the country even knew who Joe Burrow was, it was obvious early in Taylor’s first year that he would be coaching a different quarterback in year two.

While it’s hard to argue that the Bengals’ franchise itself didn’t deserve a player like Burrow landing on its doorstep, its fans sure did. So did those of us who’ve spent a lot of airtime trying to say different things about the same old football team.

In the initial months of the offseason, the amount and variety of Burrow/Bengals storylines were a host’s dream, from national figures wondering whether or not Burrow would refuse to come to Cincinnati a la Eli Manning, to the debate about whether a team bereft of talent would be wise to trade the top pick in exchange for more draft capital. There were skeptics of Burrow’s lack of arm strength, and suggestions that his transcendent senior season was merely a product of the offense he was playing in. The fact that Burrow hails from Ohio, originally attended Ohio State, and briefly flirted with playing at the University of Cincinnati added unique layers to the story, as did the fact that the quarterback the Bengals had from 2011 through 2019 was still under contract to the team.

Mainly, the mere prospect of the staid, stale Bengals landing a player oozing Burrow’s confidence and charisma seemed to reinvigorate a fan base that’s been beaten down by years of losing and letdowns, to the point that I had listeners, who’ve made bashing the Bengals a habit in the past, rush to the team’s defense when the narratives like “Cincinnati is a place where quarterbacks go to rot” or “Burrow should pull an Eli” would enter the conversation.

24 LSU Football Instagram Captions That Were Made For National Champions -  Women.com

I had a blast talking about Joe Burrow in January and February. And in the early weeks of the pandemic-induced sports shutdown in early March, the struggles of not having the NCAA Tournament nor the opening of the Reds’ season to talk about were eased by being able to tap into Burrow topics for weeks leading up to the draft. 

The challenge though, was after the draft since it was clear even by then that the run-up to Burrow’s rookie season would be unlike any other. NFL teams would be forced to conduct offseason training virtually. Training camp would not begin on time, and when it finally did begin, access to practice was limited. Reporters would not be allowed in the locker room, which means not nearly as many quotes about Burrow’s progress from his teammates. 

And perhaps worst of all, there would be no preseason games.

I spent the late spring wondering how we would continue to talk about Joe Burrow if there weren’t concrete things like preseason games to measure his progress. I thought about how we’d continue to make him a part of our show on a daily basis if there weren’t tangible ways of charting his first NFL season. Weirdly, although it would have been more ideal to actually watch Burrow prepare for his rookie campaign, I found that the lack of anything to actually visualize from Burrow actually made it more fun to talk about him.

The unknown added intrigue, which built right up until he played his first regular season game, which was easily the most highly-anticipated debut of any Cincinnati rookie athlete ever. It also kept alive the overwhelming sense that Joe Burrow is the heaven-sent savior of pro football in Cincinnati. He’s the one who is going to lift the city out of the malaise that becomes a part of every day life when the teams never win.

For those who haven’t been keeping score, it’s been 30 years since the Bengals have won a playoff game, and 25 seasons – as of this writing – since the Reds advanced at all in the postseason.

Cincinnati Bengals: What fans say about improved game day experience

We didn’t have a shaky Burrow rookie performance in a preseason game to douse expectations, and with not as many people at training camp workouts as usual, there wasn’t much footage of poor practice throws or tough rookie moments. 

As a host, I had fun playing off of the unknown and I found it easier than I’d believed to be able to talk about Burrow. The lack of anything tangible added layers of unknown that oddly expanded the range of ways we could talk about the player and the team. Even if there would have been tremendous interest in Burrow’s first real game regardless, the weeks leading up to the season opener were, I believe, easier to talk about because of how little we actually knew.

I know this seems odd. As hosts, we like having as much information as possible. Game results, statistics, replays and quotes are at the heart of what we need to formulate topics and engage our listeners, and for a million different reasons, I hope we never again have an NFL offseason like 2020’s, but I did enjoy the challenge of having to talk about a player and team that’s important to my audience while not having nearly as much info to go on.

It made me a more creative host. And frankly, as one who at times wrestles with the most effective and modern ways of incorporating my audience into our show, I enjoyed putting larger focus on listeners and their expectations for Burrow and the Bengals rather than the long list of experts we normally would have had on to break down preseason games or training camp practices. And it gave us an abundance of fresh things to discuss and react to that we hadn’t already beaten to death once Burrow and his teammates were finally able to take the field to play games that count. 

Will Joe Burrow Have a Successful NFL Career? - Sports Illustrated

Navigating unknowns has always been a major part of being live on air, every single day. While I spent a lot of time during the sports shutdown questioning whether or not I was up to the task of executing broadcasts amid the insanity that’s defined 2020, I’ve at least tried to use the summer of Joe Burrow’s first NFL season to learn how to effectively use uncertainty as an asset instead of a hinderance. While I’m still nowhere close to as good of an on-air performer as I’d like to be, I think I am a better radio host because of it. 

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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