January offered a fully loaded month of sports content in Philadelphia, filled with topics that were tough to dream about when the pandemic put all seasons on hold last spring.
Beginning with the Eagles “tanking” on Sunday Night Football, followed by their decision to retain Doug Pederson, only to part ways with him shortly after. Debates about the future of Carson Wentz and whether his short tenure as a starting quarterback is already over. Finding the next coach, then hearing Nick Sirianni’s opening press conference. Potentially dealing Ben Simmons for James Harden, and even the Phillies got in on the action when they signed J.T. Realmuto.
It’s a lazy radio host’s dream. Let the headlines do the work and feel good about calling it a day because there was no room for creativity.
But Jon Marks and Ike Reese are focused on more than just getting through each show for 94WIP. The afternoon duo works to build a community of listeners. It’s fast paced, with moving parts that keep the show busy. Producer Jack Fritz offers an energetic third voice on standby. And the fabric of sports radio in the northeast is on full display, lots and lots of callers.
There was room for more audio, drops and clips. Audio actualities fit the show’s pace and continue it on the path of having morning sound with afternoon content. Similar to the way color makes magazines more exciting than a newspaper, sound enhances the listening experience of a radio show.
The month started off with a local topic that went national when Doug Pederson and the Eagles seemingly tanked their final game of the regular season. There weren’t many people defending Pederson’s decision to play Nate Sudfeld during the second half of the Eagles Week 17 loss to Washington. There was an even smaller percentage of former players who were defending what appeared to be a tank job.
What the Eagles did in their final game of the season was sacrilegious, yet while Marks’ anger built on-air, Reese was more sympathetic to the decision by Pederson and the Eagles to prioritize jumping three spots in the draft.
For years, Reese has been yelling ‘let the bronco buck!’ But as soon as the WIP mainstay wanted the Ferrari tucked into the garage, it showed that after nearly 15 years away from the field, Reese might be more media than former player. A former player accepting the decision to tank, rationally recognizing the long-term benefit? The surprise was refreshing.
Marks and Reese do a good job of letting conversations build, they state their opinions at the start of a topic, but their best supporting points might not come until later in the segment. Pick a talk radio host and transcribe their monologue or segment. Then convert it into an essay and you might be able to cut it in half because of repeated points with changed verbiage.
But WIP’s afternoon show stacks their points rather than repeating them. If Marks is passionate about a topic, his energy builds as the segment gets rolling. An eloquent voice of the fans, maintaining a naturally genuine sound as his frustrations snowball.
I would have liked them to dig deeper on James Harden being dealt to the Brooklyn Nets. The news broke shortly after an interview with Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer where the census was Harden would be heading to Philly. In the next segment, WIP dropped their ‘Breaking News’ sound effect, announcing the Rockets and Nets had a deal.
Marks and Reese were on opposite ends of the spectrum with what was a potentially franchise altering move for the 76ers. When the situation had finality, I was expecting a solid discussion to come out of the news, but it was brief before the focus shifted to caller opinions. If hosts have drastically different opinions on a polarizing decision, I’d delay the calls and see how the conversation can cultivate.
I understand text lines and the purpose they serve. It gives your community of listeners another avenue to contribute and get in touch with the show. But while I believe callers have the ability to enhance a show when used correctly, a host monotonously reading off a list of texts does nothing for the listener.
The chosen texts are often self-serving, providing a pat on the back for the show or host.
‘Nice job, love listening to you guys!’
But turning the bland segment into a parody by having the texts voiced over was a great idea from Marks & Reese. It made a usually boring segment into a humorous bit, combining sound and listener interaction to unveil a reimagined text line.
If a listener misses any of the show, they have plenty of content available on-demand through the RADIO.COM app. The four-hour show is generally broken up into five podcasts. Entercom doesn’t have a blanket podcast policy, they let their stations govern themselves on how they want to offer on-demand content. I like having the option to hear the entire show, but realistically, I don’t frequently take advantage of it.
If I see a list of five podcasts, each about 35 minutes long, I’m more likely to say ‘I’ll listen to it later.’ Much of sports radio is time sensitive and I’m probably not fishing through 35-minute segments to find content that’s still relevant. But if the clips are cut down to less than 10 minutes, I’m willing to invest that time to check out a rant or debate, even if at the risk of it being old news.
The interviews on Marks & Reese were fine because they were generally a side note to the show. Brian Baldinger, Eliot Shorr-Parks, Merrill Reese, Kevin O’Connor, they were predictable guests that might not do much to further the conversation, but they didn’t derail the show either. You’re not going to be surprised by a guest and the Insider impact was minimal for the casual listener, but still offered something informative for the die-hard fan.
Marks and Reese take a lot of calls, just as most northeast sports radio shows do. And there are some brutal callers. But there are also callers that become part of the show and help create that community aspect. As a listener, I prefer bad callers over boring interviews. I will never stop listening to a bad call, because I know it will be over in seconds. But I will never continue listening to a bland interview because I know it won’t be over for another 10 minutes.
Calls give listeners a chance to congratulate Marks on his minivan purchase. It’s also where you get listeners who are jealous of Chuck from Mount Airy, calling in to question his authenticity. Talking to people who are less concerned with the radio clock or speaking with inflection, and are instead only focused on an irrational point about the Eagles, makes radio relatable.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
In the wake of the NHL’s latest national television contract, Commissioner Gary Bettman has solidified the league’s broadcast future. Recent contracts dictate that the league will be appearing on ESPN and TNT/TBS next season after its relationship with NBC concludes after 10 years. Still, the key to both deals is streaming and Bettman explained how there is more work to be done.
“First and foremost whatever media package you’re going to do, particularly on a national basis, you want to make sure you’re getting the most exposure, the best possible production, the best possible promotion that you want to be able to give your fans as much access to the game as possible,” Bettman said on Episode 299 of my Sports with Friends podcast.
The deal with Turner is for seven years worth a reported $225 million. ESPN’s contract is also for seven years for more games than Turner and is reported to be more than $400 million.
The keys to these deals are the streaming apps. Both ESPN+ and HBO Max are key components to each deal that are making out-of-market games as well as exclusives available to subscribers. Still, the controversial decision made by the Regional Sports Networks to require cable subscriptions to stream the local teams is impacting cord-cutters across the US.
“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” Bettman explained. “Frankly with new technology also represents improved camera coverage. The productions are better than they’ve ever been. You have HDTV, which didn’t exist decades ago. We use more technology, whether it’s player tracking or any of the other statistics that we use. With SAP and Amazon and Apple, the opportunities to get within the game, because there are more distribution platforms have never been greater.”
My takeaway from Bettman’s statements on the subject is that both he and the broadcast people in his office are well aware of the facts presented. While some fans are expecting a quick fix, these deals are complicated. Each team has its own contract with an RSN. Bettman can’t legislate a new way to circumvent those contracts. Plus, he still believes in linear television.
“There is some cord-cutting going on, but linear television still predominates, and more people are watching on a big screen TV in a large room with a couple of other family members or friends,” Bettman said. “Or when you go to a bar sports bar, you see what’s on in the background.”
Because I’ve known Bettman for over a decade, I take him at his word. We did discuss him coming back on the podcast for episode 399 (which would be in June 2023). I’d love to see progress made on the issue then.
“I think there is an evolution going on, but I think it’s easy to over-generalize,” Bettman said.”
The deal with NBC was profitable in many ways over the 10 years. Originally, games were aired on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and now to NBC and NBC Sports Network, which be shutting down by the end of 2021.
The ESPN deal was signed in March. The Turner contract was made public in late April.
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly,” the commissioner said. “Giving more content than ever before in more places than ever before. We couldn’t be more excited to have the Walt Disney Company (ESPN) and Warner Media (Turner) working with us and the game. Our organization is excited and thrilled, and we know both of their organizations are thrilled as well. This is an exciting time for us.”
Other highlights from the 45-minute conversation had to do with competitive balance. Unlike the NBA, the NHL regularly has quality teams with records above .500 that don’t make the playoffs.
We talked about the impact that Covid-19 has had on the league. Bettman addressed the decision to create the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton as opposed to an American city.
He also discussed the fact that the NHL and NHLPA extended their collective bargaining agreement by four years while negotiating the return to play in the summer of 2020. That’s with former MLBPA head Donald Fehr at the helm. My memories of the canceled World Series made the NHL extension seemingly impossible.
Finally, Bettman addressed his legacy. He takes being the first commissioner in modern sports to be openly booed as a badge of honor, noting that nowadays all commissioners get booed. “(NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell got booed at the draft last week,” Bettman said.
Still, he knows his legacy will always be connecting to canceling the 2004-2005 season. Yet, the growth of the league is unprecedented, and he has been the architect of that.
Bettman sees no end to his tenure, or at least wouldn’t admit it to me. Maybe we can address that in two years for episode 399.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
Demetri Ravanos begins this week’s episode by looking at Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon exclusively in 2022 and what it means for future business deals with the NFL. Russ Heltman drops by next to offer his thoughts on Rob Parker and Chris Broussard’s heated discussion over Tim Tebow being the beneficiary of white privilege and his value to ESPN as a college football analyst. Seth Everett closes things out by weighing in on Gary Bettman’s legacy and the NHL’s recent deals with broadcast groups.
News & Sports Is A Perfect Marriage For Sales
“Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters.”
There are a lot of similarities in sports talk and news talk radio sales. And there are some differences, some of which are actually complementary and work to the sellers’ advantage. I was fortunate to sell news and sports talk as a combo for years.
As Jason Barrett recently announced, the Barrett Sports Media and News Media web sites have merged. Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters. One of my 2021 resolutions was to seek out the positive in most situations so let’s look at the similarities the two formats offer to a salesperson.
- Both are foreground formats. For the most part, spoken word radio listeners are seeking to focus on what is being said. They don’t listen to podcasts or talk shows so they can free their mind up to think about other things. Plenty of music listeners have their minds completely elsewhere and don’t even hear what the air person has to say. In fact, most music jocks are told to shut up and play the music. Great selling point for live liners, spots and why our commercials are worth more money.
- We have very loyal customers. The best results for any advertiser comes from the heaviest users of a station- their “P1’s”. Most news/sports talk tsl comes from a much smaller % of the cume. Listeners to Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ben Shapiro, and Colin Cowherd stay put. Music listeners tend to chase the hottest song or diary responders to music stations will flip to the station with the contest to win concert tickets. Often this can lead to fewer spots needed in a schedule to achieve a better frequency.
- We got the dough. Nothing sells luxury goods and services like a news/sports talk radio station. Look at any consumer index survey and these two formats will always score near the top. Make sure you load up on luxury car dealers, independent import car repair, jewelers, stockbrokers, realtors and home services companies.
- Sports formats can skew younger especially with stations that have guy talk driven hosts. Some sports stations have local play by play and that can cume in a younger audience. News talk radio is heavy 55+ and especially 65+. Younger buyers will carry a bias at times vs news radio and the age of the listener.
- The news talk format is conservative and mostly anti-liberal/Democrat in general. Some national advertisers would not allow their commercials to fall into the Rush Limbaugh show for example. Sometimes, buyers will not place ads on a conservative station for personal reasons. In sports, at least traditionally, that doesn’t happen as often. Historically sports have steered away from conservative or liberal positions on any politics. We have a chance to change that. See below.
- Sports talk typically has 80/20 Male to Female audience. News talk skews much more female and can be a 60/40 split Male to Female. That opens the door to what a 45–64-year-old woman may be more interested in home services, jewelry and more!
A Happy Couple
- A sports and news talk combo buy provides a great one stop shop for anything with a male skew. And, make sure you point out the earning power differences. We used to have fun with a graphic that pointed out with our combo you get customers and with the rock stations you got convicts. Get it? Customers or Convicts?
- If you are selling to male store owner and he is over 40 years old there is a good chance he listens to one of your shows. Just ask him.
- It may be time to start talking politics. If you have a conservative news talk station loaded with local news and political talk in the morning and Shapiro, Savage, and Hannity at other times, you got a conservative station. If you have a local show or two on the sports station, why not encourage them to speak up? Occasionally, the talent will not be conservative Republicans and certainly most athletes who speak out on political matters and command attention are not republican conservatives. Seems like a perfect balance for buyers who object to one lean over the other.
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