It’s the middle of February. We are as far away from actually snaps as we will be all year. Still, sports talk radio is buzzing with football chatter.
With no scouting combine in 2021, it is going to be a month before anything meaningful is scheduled to happen. Still, you flip on the Fan or the Game or the Zone or the Ticket in your city, and you’re bound to hear speculation about any number of things: potential trades of quarterbacks, potential trades of draft picks, how hot various coaching seats are.
This is sports talk radio. We all know the deal. The NFL is king and the more you talk about football, the bigger net you cast to bring in the most potential listeners.
I do wonder though, has our reliance on the NFL stifled creativity? Are we limiting what our format is in the minds of casual listeners?
Certainly in markets where other sports are king, those sports are generating conversations on air. In Columbus, hosts are no doubt talking about the Buckeyes’ stronger than expected showing in the first NCAA bracket reveal. In LA there will be talk of the Dodgers adding Trevor Bauer and the Lakers losing Anthony Davis. Elsewhere though, hypothetical trades for DeShaun Watson are dominating conversation.
Look, I am not telling you not to talk about football. I’m not telling you anything really. I am just a little concerned that conversations that used to be reserved for the dog days of summer are now showing up on air a week after the Super Bowl.
Can’t we hold off Mt. Rushmore season just a little bit longer?
The NFL’s popularity is one of the few reliable things in sports, especially in a year where television ratings and overall revenue is down across the board. It makes sense for stations to go all in on that content, but I can’t help but wonder if there is an inverse correlation between the size of staffs at the average station and the amount of NFL coverage.
Juggernauts in the format like WFAN and 670 the Score have the budgets to have large staffs that include positions like reporters and technical producers. That makes it possible to break stories and develop truly unique and funny bits. It makes it possible to mine the never-ending NBA regular season for content beyond just how a fifth place team in the Eastern Conference is closing in on fourth place.
There are stations in this format in top 50 markets with a single host in one of the drive times as the programming department’s lone full time employee. When you’re only support staff is a button pusher who spends most of his day driving for Uber or Door Dash before coming in to press buttons for three or four hours, it makes sense that headlines on ESPN.com or The Athletic take on greater importance. If those publications are looking to mine quarterback intrigue for clicks, that is where many hosts are going to follow.
I am wondering if the NFL extending its calendar in a way to make pro football relevant every month of the year has narrowed our appeal. Football is our national obsession. I love the sport just as much as anyone else, and would never tell you to do less football on the mere principal that interesting things happen in other sports too. If your best content is football content, you would be a fool not to do as much of it as you can.
But as our political divide deepens and news talk radio becomes something a segment of the population just cannot stomach there is an opportunity out there to pull in some listeners that are casual sports fans looking to be entertained. How does constantly living with the NFL make our station sound any different from the rock or hip hop stations that have eliminated local personalities in order to do more rotations of the same narrow playlist?