This is a weird NBA season. I wish I had a more creative way to open this column, but I mean for God’s sakes, the Toronto Raptors are playing in Tampa! There’s no better way to sum things up than “this is a weird NBA season.”
Business as usual is a wonderful goal, but not a very realistic one. At the time of this writing, we are approaching 30 games having been postponed over the course of the entire season. The league can strengthen its Covid-19 protocols, but the fact remains that Adam Silver and team owners are trying to play games in the midst of the deadliest resurgence of a pandemic that has already killed 400,000 Americans.
What does that mean for sports radio? It means staying flexible.
Don Martin is the GM and PD of AM 570 LA Sports. The station is the flagship of the Los Angeles Clippers. While there hasn’t been reason yet to switch to emergency programming on the fly, Martin says the station is ready thanks in large part to the Dodgers.
“AM 570 had a ridiculously successful dry run with Covid before the Clipper basketball season started, okay? We had to pull off an entire baseball season.”
Dodger games featured three different broadcast booths at the ballpark and another in a studio. There were a lot of moving pieces in order to get the team’s games on the air in a way that sounded good and kept the people calling and producing the action safe.
“We’re not calling the shots. Covid is,” Martin says. “We have to be flexible.”
While the Clippers have not had to be flexible yet, the station has. AM 570 is also the flagship for the UCLA Bruins. That team found out just 30 minutes before the station’s pregame show was supposed to start that a game against Oregon was being postponed. In that instance, the fix was simple. Tell Petros and Money that they aren’t getting a half day after all and keep the show on the air until 7 pm.
It isn’t lost on Don Martin how fortunate he is right now. Whether it is the Clippers or the Bruins, a cancelled or postponed game isn’t going to devastate anyone in the building, because there are enough people in the building to keep things running.
“I feel sorry for some of the smaller markets and medium markets that don’t have as many hands on deck, Martin says. “What we’re finding out, when you run into situations like this, you find out how good your folks are and you find your future talk show.”
The Sacramento Kings have also been fortunate. The team has not had any games cancelled at the time of this writing.
“Based on the way things are going it sure seems like we will see it happen soon,” says Jason Ross, play-by-play voice of the Kings and program director at the team’s flagship station, KHTK.
(Immediately after hitting publish, the Kings had to postpone two games.)
Like Martin and AM 570 though, Ross says his station has had practice with cancellations and postponements and understands the headache they create.
“We had multiple baseball games postponed with the Oakland A’s, NFL games that were moved around and UC Davis basketball that has been off for over a month,” he says. “The real challenge becomes moving around the log and keeping people flexible with air shifts, board op shifts, etc. If 2020 taught us anything it was to be fluid and that is continuing into 2021.”
Postponements and last minute cancellations are a pain in the ass, especially if you want to fill the hours reserved for a game with local programming. There’s no way around that. But Ross knows that in radio, sometimes your primary obligation is to the advertisers. He says KHTK has been fortunate to partner with companies that understand that whatever sport they are putting their money into, none of them come with guarantees. Sometimes that means management has to do a lot of shuffling of inventory to make sure the terms of ad buys can be met.
“Everyone has been very understanding,” Ross says. “We have been able to air almost everything we had missed before so we have been able to cover our basis. We would always do what we can to make sure that spots missed get played so we keep that strong relationship with our broadcast partners.
Partnerships are going to be the key to sports stations weathering the storm of another league putting its collective head down and trying to conduct businesses usual when the world is telling you that just isn’t the case. As Don Martin and Jason Ross point out, the key is to plan. Have as much crew personnel as you can and work with advertisers to understand what you can do to meet their needs even as the games they have paid to have their message on are being cancelled and postponed
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.