This is no time for political grandstanding, hypocritical amnesia and radical policy shifts. Now more than ever, sports must walk its straightest lines and think clearly while remaining true to established practices. Whoever thought the silencing of the national anthem was a good idea — why, of course, it was Mark Cuban! — isn’t someone who should be involved this year in the delicate resumption of full-bore sports, if and when that happens.
So let’s thank commissioner Adam Silver for reminding Cuban that he’s only one of 30 franchise owners and, thus, doesn’t represent the NBA’s ideologies. The anthem will — and should — continue to play inside all arenas, including Cuban’s in Dallas, “in keeping with longstanding league policy,” Silver said in a statement. This league has enough problems amid waning relevance to risk another shakeup in popularity and viewership, all because Cuban can’t decide in his flip-floppy, social-media-addled brainstream whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be played before games. Evidently, he now thinks the anthem should be tossed onto the same one-way train to oblivion as Donald Trump, forgetting a truth that all leagues and owners must embrace.
You don’t screw around with tradition when sports fans — the lifeblood of your very business existence — want normalcy in an abnormal world.
I could live without the anthem before a sports event, but that’s an intense debate for a post-pandemic day. At the moment, the sports industry is a piece of china — in the NBA’s case, in part because of controversial relationships in China — and engaging America in a showdown over the anthem is an ill-timed poison pill. After the lowest-rated Super Bowl in 15 years — which followed staggering viewer declines in major events including the NBA Finals, World Series, college football title game, Stanley Cup Final and Masters — the sole aim should be bringing back lost fans and retaining those still watching. But there was Cuban, stirring the pot as only he can, to the point he distracted a new presidential administration that should be solely focused on COVID-19.
“Well, I haven’t spoken with the president about the decision by Mark Cuban or the Dallas Mavericks,” said Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for President Biden. “But I know he’s incredibly proud to be an American, and has great respect for the anthem, and all that represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform around the world.”
That’s Biden’s way of tweaking Trump — again — when Trump should be treated as a fast-food bag blowing away in the rear-view mirror. It’s not a fray the sports world should enter. What kills me about Cuban is that he’s swerving all over the court about the anthem, like a point guard losing his handle. When Trump first admonished the Colin Kaepernick movement and warned NFL players not to kneel during the anthem, Cuban agreed that athletes shouldn’t kneel for the anthem. “This is America, and I’m proud of people who speak out civilly. That’s who we are as a country,” he said in 2017. “I’ll be standing there with my hand over my heart. I think the players will be (standing). I expect them to be.”
Then last June, as the NBA prepared for a Black Lives Matter-themed postseason in the Disney World Bubble, Cuban no longer thought players had to stand during the anthem. “If they were taking a knee and they were being respectful, I’d be proud of them. Hopefully, I’d join them,” he told ESPN.
Days later, Cuban shifted his position again, tweeting, “The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control. If you want to complain, complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.”
Flip, flop. How, in one breath, could he encourage an athlete to kneel during the anthem — then, in the next, question why the anthem is played? Cuban finally addressed the disconnect this week by doubling down — the anthem would not be played before Mavericks games at American Airlines Center, a decree that began in the preseason and has continued in the regular season. At first, the NBA agreed. Wisely, Silver changed course hours later. Naturally, so did Cuban, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a Dramamine for motion sickness. “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” Cuban said in a Wednesday statement. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been. Going forward, our hope is that people will take the same passion they have for this issue and apply the same amount of energy to listen to those who feel differently from them. Only then we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us.”
Wait, he wasn’t finished. Like a moth noticing light, Cuban attached himself to another TV camera pointing in his direction, telling ESPN’s “The Jump” that he never officially canceled the anthem, which contradicts what he confirmed to at least two news outlets earlier. “We’re always talking to our community,” he said. “In listening to the community, there were quite a few people who voiced their concerns, really their fears that the national anthem did not fully represent them, that their voices were not being heard. … We didn’t make any decision to never play the national anthem — that wasn’t the case at all. We didn’t cancel the national anthem. We still had our flag flying proud up on the wall at the American Airlines Center and everybody had the opportunity to address it and pray to it or salute to it or whatever their feelings are.”
And to think Cuban was considering a presidential bid at one point. For talking him out of it, his wife should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thankfully, the league shut down this firestorm before it gathered any more social-media flames. “Get woke, go broke,” tweeted Anthony Wright, vice president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association union. “I won’t spend another cent on @dallasmavs.”
Countered the ever-opinionated Stan Van Gundy, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans: “This should happen everywhere. If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events, then play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every work day at every business. What good reason is there to play the anthem before a game?”
Oh, because fans generally appreciate it and are used to it. And because Black athletes who have kneeled always will remember it as a sacred form of protest. Maybe the anthem sparks an important conversation between a parent and child about America. Or, maybe because it alerts people in the beer line that the game is about to start.
Anyway, why are we talking about this again?
And why now?
Sports used to teach life lessons. Now, it spins out of control when its leadership is needed most, unable to remember what it stood for an hour ago. The NFL spent Super Bowl Week patting itself on the back for completing a coronavirus season with zero game cancellations — then allowed Buccaneers fans to roam maskless as they celebrated throughout the game, even moving to different sections inside Raymond James Stadium. Commissioner Roger Goodell promised better social awareness concerning the league’s putrid record of hiring minority coaches and executives — then watched as the Kansas City Chiefs were introduced to the audio of their Tomahawk Chop war chant, which reeks of tone-deaf racism at a time when teams are purging offensive nicknames and customs.
If the NFL truly wanted to make a statement about social distancing, masks and human responsibility in the COVID era, the stadium stands would have been empty. Why did 25,000 people have to be there? Why did so many plastic cutouts have to create a perception of a boisterous sellout when it was just a deception? How many of those fans will test positive for the virus? And will we ever hear about it in a state, Florida, where the governor lies about infection numbers and was photographed without a mask at the game?
When Goodell allows thousands inside stadiums, he invites wild maskless celebrations in the Tampa streets. Just the same, when Tom Brady doesn’t wear a mask during the Bucs’ water parade while downing tequila in his new $2 million boat, he plants seeds in the impressionable heads of millions: “If Brady doesn’t need a mask while he’s partying, I don’t either.” Same goes for North Carolina basketball players who partied without masks last weekend after beating Duke, not to mention the Alabama students raging maskless in Tuscaloosa after the latest national football championship.
As the pandemic rambles on, no end in sight.
It’s not as if Cuban is bored. This week alone, he announced he’s building an $11 million drug manufacturing plant — for his Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. — and is launching a live-conversation app called Fireside. He’s front and center at every Mavericks game. He’s still the star of “Shark Tank.” But I think the man wanted to run for President.
And when he couldn’t, he decided to ditch the national anthem.
Until he didn’t.
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.
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