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4 Lessons In 5 States Sports Radio Should Learn From The Election

“Let’s focus only on how the votes shook out from the winning side’s point of view, because every victory in every walk of life happens for a reason.”

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I am still not entirely sure how to classify this election. It’s over. The votes have been counted. Joe Biden won.

Biden wins 2020 presidential election: Live coverage

It seems like the story will continue with multiple lawsuits and at least one recount. People close to Donald Trump are worried that he will have to be dragged out of the Oval Office, so I guess that is something to look forward to?

Let’s put the future to the side for a moment. Let’s focus only on how the votes shook out from the winning side’s point of view, because every victory in every walk of life happens for a reason.

As I have digested the results of the 2020 Presidential Election, there are five states that stand out to me. All of them have something to teach us – a lesson that our industry should be paying attention to. After all, just like Joe Biden and Donald Trump, everyday we are trying to get the public to pick our programming.

GEORGIA – THERE IS NEVER A LOST CAUSE

I grew up in Alabama. It is the deepest, reddest part of the South you could imagine. There has never been a time where I thought it or any of the states surrounding it would ever vote for a Democrat. That may still be true in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, but it isn’t in Georgia.

After Stacey Abrams lost the governor’s race in 2018, she made it her mission to get every Black Georgian she could registered to vote. She wanted to show them that even in a state with an egregious history of voter suppression, they had power. Two years later, Joe Biden appears to have won that state, and both Senate races are headed to runoffs.

There is no ratings battle that is out of reach. There is no revenue goal that cannot be met. If Georgia has taught us anything, it is to first have a clear plan and goal. Next, do the groundwork. Then take care of the foundation you’ve built. Finally, have patience and execute your plan every single day.

Stacey Abrams deserves all of the credit for turning Georgia blue because she knew that her ultimate goal wasn’t just getting people to register. She had to get them to vote too.

Narrowing the ratings gap on competition is good. Incremental revenue growth is good. Do not let those things give you enough satisfaction to take your foot off the gas. Be ready to set a new goal the moment you hit the original one.

ARIZONA – POPULATIONS CHANGE

Arizona was a reliably red state for years. Why did it go blue in 2020? Well, pundits seem to give a lot of credit to the work of Cindy McCain. The widow of Senator John McCain endorsed Biden, and never let the people of her state forget how cruel President Trump was to her late husband.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. I am sure Mrs. McCain’s endorsement of Joe Biden didn’t help Donald Trump, but anyone that hasn’t been turned off by his cruelty on the macro-level isn’t going to be swayed by something against one dude.

Arizona got younger and it got browner than it was four years ago. Donald Trump pardoned a sheriff that was in prison for openly terrorizing young, brown people. Donald Trump didn’t change anything about his strategy from 2016 and it burned him in Maricopa and Pima Counties. They’re the two youngest and two most populous in the state.

If your station isn’t evolving, it is dying. Even if it is thriving right now, the longer you sit still, the tougher it is to fend off challengers.

You don’t need to go shaking up your lineup every year. You should have a plan for the future though. What has to change in order to get to the next level? What is working now compared to the competition, but not with the same level of success it was working a few years ago? Is your imaging current and relevant? That is the voice most identified with your station.

You cannot use the same strategies and liners you were using five or ten years ago. Your listener base and their needs have changed.

FLORIDA – EVERY MESSAGE DOESN’T WORK FOR EVERY AUDIENCE

If you are worried that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to open the door to unchecked socialism, I’ve got good news for you. Go check out their records. There is next to no reason to believe the redistribution of wealth starts on their watch.

It doesn’t matter if it is true though. That was Donald Trump’s line of attack and in Florida, a state that used to be the battleground key to just about every election, it worked and it worked for two reasons. First, Joe Biden just kind of ignored Trump’s accusations, and accusations of being a socialist hit very different with the Cuban and Venezuelan populations in Miami-Dade County. Dismissing them as “mularky”, or whatever other old man swears Joe Biden uses, instead of actually laying out his record and making his case cost Biden votes in a county he needed to dominate in order to win the state.

Will Cuba Tip Florida to Trump? - The New York Times

There isn’t a single message or style that works for every sports fan all the time. It’s why we do focus group testing and build lineups of shows that sound different.

Go back to the point about Arizona. It’s why imaging even exists, let alone evolves. Not everyone will respond to the same thing, so don’t bother thinking about how you can tell fans you have everything they need. You want to make it clear to the largest possible audience that you have something for them.

PENNSYLVANIA & MICHIGAN – IMPROVE ON YOUR WEAKNESSES, BUT LEAN INTO YOUR STRENGTHS

What was the narrative coming out of 2016? The Democrats had lost touch with the white working class. The party was too wrapped up in identity politics to actually address the issues that plagued that particular population, a large one that traditionally voted blue.

So going into 2020 there was a focus on winning back the factory towns across the Midwest. Pennsylvania and Michigan were key to the Democrats’ strategy of creating a “blue wall”, and they were successful. Is that because the Democrats put all their eggs in the white working class basket?

Nope. They paid attention to where they previously had a blind spot and nominated a candidate that population could see itself in, but Joe Biden ended up overtaking Donald Trump in Pennsylvania and Michigan as the results of mail in ballots came in because most of them came from Philadelphia and Detroit respectively. He won by not losing site of what Democrats always do – dominating in the country’s largest population centers.

How Joe Biden gained an edge in Michigan - ABC News

If you have a host that can thrive on access, look for places to inject some personality into his or her show, but don’t lose site on what brought the listeners in the first place. If you have the chance to secure a major play-by-play partner, go for it, but weigh what the costs will be if it means having to lose talent or support staff that make your station what it is.

Winning anything worth winning is hard. It is why it’s worth paying attention to how big victories happen, even if it didn’t go the way you hoped.

BSM Writers

Covid Is A Convenient Excuse For Lowering Our Standards

“I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show.”

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I was probably four hours deep into my all-day football binge on Saturday when I started to think about the overall quality of what I was seeing. This isn’t a column about whether college football is secretly better than the NFL. This is about our industry.

While you may not notice a difference in the presentation on CBS’s top line SEC broadcast or on FOX’s Big Noon Saturday game, it is clear how few resources are being allocated to some of the games further down the networks’ priority list. ESPN doesn’t even send live broadcasters to its Thursday night college football game for instance.

Ohio State football broadcasts go remote amid COVID-19 restrictions
Courtesy: WBNS Radio

Covid-19 was the beginning of this. It forced every business in the broadcast industry to re-evaluate budgets and figure out how to do games when travel and the traditional set up of broadcast booths simply were not on the table.

This isn’t a problem limited to game coverage either. Plenty of hosts still are not back in their radio studio. Plenty of guests on ESPN’s and FS1’s mid day debate shows are still appearing via Skype and Zoom connections. It is as if we have started counting on our audience not expecting quality any more.

I want to be perfectly clear. I get that this pandemic isn’t over. I get that in many cases, networks and stations are trying to avoid overcrowding studios and in some cases, make accommodations for top-level talent that refuse to get vaccinated. “It’s survival mode,” is the answer from corporate.

Do we still need to be in survival mode though? We are 18 months into this pandemic. The majority of Americans are vaccinated. The ones who aren’t are actively making a choice not to do what they need to in order to put on the best possible show they can.

I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show. I am sick of seeing hosts on crystal clear HD cameras in a high tech studio talk to someone on a dirty webcam that can’t be bothered to even put in headphones so they don’t sound like they are shouting down a hallway.

A good example is the late Highly Questionable. I really liked that show when it was done in studio. I liked a lot of the ESPN talent that popped up on the show even after Dan Le Batard left. I couldn’t watch any more of the show than the two minute clips that would show up on Twitter. I didn’t want to see Bomani Jones behind a giant podcast mic. The low res camera that turned Mina Kimes’s house plant into a green blob gave me a headache. The complete disregard for quality made a decent show hard to watch.

Highly Questionable 4/12/21 - Changing History? - YouTube
Courtesy: ESPN

There was a time when the accommodations we made for Covid-19 were totally necessary. Bosses and broadcasters did whatever they had to to get a show or a game on the air. At this point, I am starting to wonder how much of the concessions are necessary and how much are the result of executives that “good enough” is the new standard.

It is totally reasonable to argue that in an age where microphones and editing software are cheap, slick production doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That is true for the podcasters and TikTokers that are creating content in spare bedrooms and home offices. If you’re ESPN or FOX or SirusXM, that slick production is what sells the idea that your content is better than what people can make at home on their own.

It’s soundproof studios, 4K cameras and futuristic graphics packages that make the standard setters in the industry special. Maybe your average Joe Six-Pack can’t put it into words. He just knows that a lot of home-produced content sounds and looks like play time compared to what he sees or hears on a network.

Sure, the anchors are the signature of SportsCenter’s heyday, but it was the stage managers, producers, and other behind-the-scenes staff doing their jobs that really made the show thrive. Those people cost money. The details they took care of may be something 90% of viewers will never notice. They will just know that they are watching a really good show. Those difference makers cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities if everyone is being piped in from a different FaceTime feed.

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic we did whatever we had to. As broadcasters, we made compromises. As an audience, we accepted compromises. We were desperate for familiar entertainment and if Zoom is what it took to get it, that was just fine. There was no cure, no vaccine, things were scary and we were all anxious not knowing how long it would all last.

Anxiety and Depression From COVID-19 – San Diego – Sharp Health News
Courtesy: Nuthawut Somsuk

More than 18 months later, things may not be back to normal, but we are considerably less desperate. There are signs of normalcy in the world. Make the commitment to bring back the standard that won you so many fans in the first place.

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BSM Writers

If Netflix Wants Live Sports, F1 May Be Just The Beginning

“Netflix will shrewdly need to continue to rethink its strategy because its first-mover advantage and long-time industry leading dominance is no longer guaranteed.”

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In the past, Hollywood dealmakers and stockbrokers wondered whether another studio or streamer would catch Netflix.  Its dominance stemmed from being a first-mover and not having a serious competitor until Amazon and Disney ten or more years after their launch.  However, Netflix would eventually have to compete for content, original and licensed, other platforms that offered less expansive ad-based options, and additional content like live sports or a very popular series or movie premiere.  

Arguably, the pandemic accelerated the move to digital and it allowed competitors to gain subscribers because people were spending more time at home.  More subscribers and additional streaming options for consumers has not caused Netflix to faulter, but it has caused Netflix to rethink its sports strategy.  For years, Netflix was dead set again streaming live sports because of their cost and commercials—Netflix does not have advertisements on its platform currently.  

A sports fan's guide to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube & more after coronavirus  cancels live games | Sporting News
Courtesy: Sporting News/Getty

Netflix’s popular Drive to Survive docuseries about the Formula 1 (or “F1”) racing circuit, which was renewed for a fourth season, and the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls The Last Dance represents a golden era and renaissance of sports documentaries.  As much as fans of feature films and television series enjoy learning about actors during and off camera they similarly want to know about sports stars, their coaches, and franchises.  In other words, the business of sports is booming in valuation and behind-the-scenes content.  

Recently, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings stated that the popularity of Drive to Survive has caused the company to rethink its stance on purchasing live sports content.  The broadcast and streaming rights to Formula 1 will become available via ESPN and Sky Sports in 2022 and 2024.  Netflix, will have some competition to secure F1 rights, which will drive up the cost.  It was also reported by Front Office Sports that the Netflix CEO would require a level of exclusivity for sports rights that other platforms do not normally require.  The exclusivity is likely required because Netflix will want to justify the purchase price and to keep-in-line with what Netflix customers expect—exclusive content on the platform.  

With Premier League club Manchester United looking to secure a broadcast deal for selling its rights outside of the traditional league format, it might be the perfect acquisition for Netflix.  An exclusive team vs. an entire league would also be less expensive and more targeted.  One aspect of uncertainty for all streamers is their subscribers overseas, particularly in untapped China.  The international market is far from settled or established.  Netflix also has a large operation in India so possibly cricket via the Indian Premier League (“IPL”) could be a rights purchase to consider.

In 2018, the original content on Netflix only accounted for 8%.  This means that 92% of the content on the platform just a few years ago was all owned (at least partially) by someone else.  That statistic has changed because Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, Apple+, and many others have since been created and stocked or restocked with content.  Controlling interest in Hulu was even purchased from FOX by Disney.  Disney and Amazon now both rival Netflix in terms of subscribers.  Netflix will shrewdly need to continue to rethink its strategy because its first-mover advantage and long-time industry leading dominance is no longer guaranteed.  

As Comcast-owned NBCUniversal CEO Brian Roberts recently said, purchasing sports rights can be difficult.  Sports rights are expensive.  Exclusive sports rights are even more expensive.  Sports rights only become available every five to ten years.  Networks and streamers are highly competitive to secure those rights with the hope of landing viewers, subscribers, and advertising dollars.  

Will Netflix get into sports rights bidding?  In the past, the digital entertainment giant has been steadfast is its non-sports approach.  However, the market has changed and is flooded with more competitors now.  Netflix has to change to meet its customer and the market needs.  

Formula 1 presents an interesting scenario for Netflix as a buyer and partner.  F1 is a popular league internationally and growing in the United States.  Two new F1 races in Miami, Florida, and Austin, Texas, in addition to season four of the Drive to Survive Netflix series are sure to drive traffic, pun intended, and interest in the racing sport.  

Formula 1: Drive to Survive Season 3 Netflix Docuseries
Courtesy: Netflix

Formula 1 is a sports league that will cost less to purchase streaming rights than a traditional American “Big 4” like the NBA, NFL, or MLB.  Formula 1’s structure is also centered at the top so it would be easier to make an exclusive deal that Netflix seeks.  The remaining questions being, will Netflix pursue Formula 1 sports rights to increase its streaming platform subscribers and compete with others?  Second, will Netflix be the first to offer commercial free live sports programming—for a premium price—or offer in-screen ads and additional during-break inside looks, content, and analysis?  Or will Netflix act more like a traditional broadcaster and offer advertisements to pay down its purchase price?  One will know more after a few laps around the sun.

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BSM Writers

Manningcast Is Best Experienced As A Fan, Not As A Broadcaster

“I still would’ve watched the game had the alternate not been available, but with the Manning breakdown of each play, I was watching an otherwise meaningless game on the edge of my seat.”

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ESPN

Much has been written on this site already about the ESPN alternative to a traditional Monday Night Football broadcast, the Manningcast. Andy Masur asked if it worked and questioned the network pulling its audience in two different directions. Mark Madden said the concept undoubtedly works, but the content is poor.

Both articles are good reads. Both provide another level of insight from those in the industry and how they view this unique/high-profile concept. Industry views provide solid insight to the success and quality of the show itself, what works – what doesn’t. But if we can’t sit back and take our industry glasses off, and just look at this broadcast as sports fans, I feel we’ll never see it in clear view. 

NFL Week 1 Monday Night Football, Peyton Manning ratings - Sports  Illustrated
Courtesy: ESPN

I’ll admit, for me, it took me no more than 5 minutes of watching week 1’s Ravens vs Raiders game to say “yeah, this isn’t meant for me”. I didn’t like the non-traditional approach of the broadcast, it felt like it lacked the energy of a traditional sportscast. The stadium volume was turned way down, the excitement was more in the conversation they were having with each other, rather than the game itself. It took me out of the moment of the game, rather than allowing me to get sucked in.

Now, in fairness, I kind of went into it with a narrow mind, thinking that would be the case. I am not someone who has the desire to flip around during the College Football Playoff broadcasts and catch the coaches corner or studio chatter, I want the game. 

Bottom line is, I hated the Manningcast when I watched it in Week 1. I even went on the air the next day and trolled members of my audience that were effusive in their praise of it. In the limited sample I provided for myself, I had come to the conclusion that this broadcast wasn’t made for REAL football fans (insert caveman sound effect here) and that only the most casual viewer would want to watch this SNL wanna be of a football broadcast. 

However, week 2, I decided I was going to be more open minded to it. I made it a point to break away from the traditional Packers vs Lions broadcast and watch the Manningcast, no matter how painful. I was completely wrong in my initial opinion.

Was Peyton Manning wearing a helmet and acting a little too zany for my taste in week 1? Yes. Is the guest connection quality well below what we should find acceptable in broadcasting? Yes. But that’s where I made the mistake. I was looking at this broadcast through the eyes of a broadcaster and not as a sports fan. 

Peyton Manning’s charisma jumps off the screen, he is elite at describing what he sees on the field in a way that no one else can. Eli can be a little dry, but he’s low key funny. And they have real chemistry together, as they should. They are family after all.

The thing that hooked me the most was just how invested Peyton was in the plays on the field, he really gets into the game, truly invested in the success and failure of the quarterbacks. There was a moment in week 2 when Jared Goff threw the ball to an empty patch of grass 15 yards down the field and was subsequently called for intentional grounding. You could see Goff yelling at the referee, pleading his case. Peyton surmised, probably accurately, that Goff was telling the ref that the ball was thrown to the right place and that its not his fault the receiver didn’t run the correct route. Peyton then carried on and told stories of when this type of thing would happen to him when he played for Indianapolis and Denver. I was hooked. 

I realized that I was far more invested in week 1 as a stand alone football game, I’m from Baltimore, I have a lot of love for the Ravens. Being invested in the game itself doesn’t lend as much flexibility. As a fan, you to want to hear about anything else but the action on the field. However, when watching two teams that I have no personal interest in, the Manning broadcast took on this new life. It created a level of interest for me as a REAL football fan that I otherwise would not have had. I still would’ve watched the game had the alternate not been available, but with the Manning breakdown of each play, I was watching an otherwise meaningless game on the edge of my seat. I felt like I had a front row view to a football clinic, held by two of the most accomplished players in league history. 

Best of former NFL punter Pat McAfee with Manning bros on 'MNF' | Week 2
Courtesy: ESPN

Personally, I could live without the guests. I am not as entertained by the back and forth with Rob Gronksowski or Pat McAfee as it seems the majority of social media is, but the Manningcast does a brilliant job of bridging the gap between the hardcore football fan and the casual observer. It’s an absolute hit and I’ll be locked in for the next one.   

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