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What Happens To Live Broadcasts When The Pandemic Ends?

“From a sales perspective, if there is anything good that has come of the loss of live appearances, it is the creativity that gave birth to so many new ideas.”

Demetri Ravanos

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America is nearly one year into pandemic life. Like everyone else, our industry had to rethink some of how we do business back in March of 2020. Now, one year later, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we are figuring out which of the “old ways of doing business” may be gone for good.

COVID vaccines are here. What do you need to know? | NC Health News

For radio, the biggest question mark once we realized we had to deal with fewer personal interactions and more personal space was how do we do remotes?

Remotes and live broadcasts, whether they were a significant part of a station’s sales mix or not before the pandemic, were certainly a reliable way to generate revenue. Without the ability to be in front of other human beings, the industry had to think about how talent could be used to create experiences clients thought were worth investing in.

Mike Thomas, Good Karma Brands’ market manager in Chicago, didn’t let his ESPN 1000 staff fret about what it had lost. Instead, he and the team focused on what could be done under Covid lockdown conditions.

“The planning started right away, in March of last year. By April we had launched out ‘ESPN1000Chicago’ Twitch channel and had sponsors involved for The Last Dance and the NFL Draft,” he told me in an email. “We also delivered NHL Playoff prize packs to fans homes when the NHL started back up and the Blackhawks were in the playoffs. We also gave away an advertising campaign to a local small business and that was sponsored by a banking partner.”

In Ohio, Todd Markiewicz has big plans to get 97.1 the Fan back out on the streets of Columbus. Those have to wait for now though. He and his staff are still operating under Covid protocols.

“We haven’t conducted a station remote in over a year,” the station’s VP told me. “The restrictions in Ohio are starting to lift and we have plans to start doing live appearances again as soon as we are able to do so safely.  All of our talent is broadcasting from their homes and our play by play announcing team hasn’t traveled to away games.  It just isn’t smart to put our star talent in any situation that puts their health at risk.  We aren’t out of the woods just yet.”

That doesn’t mean the team at RadiOhio has been idle. Markiewicz says his air staff has created plenty of opportunities and his sales staff is turning them into revenue.

Todd J. Markiewicz (@OSUTodd) | Twitter

“We’ve conducted zoom pep rallies for clients’ employees featuring our on air talent as well as special YouTube programming content that is sponsorable. Our stable of podcasts have seen incredible growth during Covid as less listeners are commuting and choosing to listen to our shows at their convenience. We can be so creative in how we build a client into the fabric of a podcast in very creative and interesting ways.  The sale of our digital assets is making up for the lack of event and appearance revenue. Oh, and then there is that little thing called radio advertising that still delivers tangible results for our clients.”

From a sales perspective, if there is anything good that has come of the loss of live appearances, it is the creativity that gave birth to so many new ideas. Thomas says that advertisers have been paying attention and clearly are liking what they see from ESPN 1000’s digital products. The aforementioned Twitch channel along with the station’s streaming apps and social media pages are all revenue generators.

“DraftKings, Miller/Coors, White Claw, Fanduel, PointsBet have all been big sponsors over the past year. Our streaming and social channels have never been stronger,” he said.

So what happens when we can send talent out to a bar to do a show for the first afternoon of the NCAA Tournament? Do we look at all of this creativity and say “well that was fun, but now its back to what we know”?

That’s not happening on Todd Markiewicz’s watch. If this pandemic has taught him anything, it is the importance of on-demand audio. It’s where audiences turned for entertainment and that is a trend that will continue. That likely means there is going to be an opportunity to make money in that space for the foreseeable future.

“We need to continue building upon our podcasting growth, he says. “The podcasting universe has seen the biggest boost through Covid and I don’t see that dwindling after the pandemic becomes less of a factor in our decision making. This is still a business built on strong client and listener relationships. Covid has forced our industry to innovate and find new ways to generate meaningful revenue. Post pandemic we need to continue this spirit of innovation and continue to redefine our media.”

Thomas told me that whatever becomes our industry’s goto upsell when the pandemic is over, this last year has certainly given us a way of doing business that isn’t going away. Video chatting can be more productive than a phone call because of the visual element and is frankly more convenient than driving across town for a meeting.

Dollars and sense: Mike Thomas comes to ESPN 1000 with an open mind and a  new clock – The Athletic

“It saves so much time and can be just as productive as actually being in person. We use the Teams platform and it has been great for building partnerships during this time. I don’t think Teams meetings are going away, even when the pandemic does.”

When the world is fully back online, it will be interesting to learn how remotes and live broadcasts are viewed. Will sales staffs see them as a welcomed return to normalcy that they will make as attractive as possible for clients, or given all of the innovation we have seen and the success stations have had with shifting that focus to digital advertising and virtual events, do live broadcasts then become something that is priced at a premium?

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Give Me Less College GameDay, More Game

“If you cut out all of Desmond Howard’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s fake laughter, you probably only have 90 minutes of content stretched out to twice that length.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The fate of Pat McAfee, as it relates to College GameDay, is uncertain. McAfee has his pride and almost certainly didn’t enjoy being nitpicked by fans for every little thing last season. The show does not absolutely have to have him, but I do think he is more of a net positive than negative for the show. Plus, as I have written before, the network put an awful lot of effort into building rapport between him and Nick Saban last year. It’s hard to imagine ESPN doesn’t find a way to ensure they are working together this season.

McAfee’s drama is what has fans and industry types speculating on the future of College GameDay right now, but there’s something else I have been thinking about lately. Let’s give McAfee a break. Lord knows he has spent enough time as the focus of everyone’s College GameDay criticisms for the last two years.

I want to know how much longer the show intends to stay at three hours. That’s too much pregame show. If you cut out all of Desmond Howard’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s fake laughter, you probably only have 90 minutes of content stretched out to twice that length.

College football is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s an easy thing to say when Bama is your alma matter, but I don’t just watch the Crimson Tide. I watch EVERYTHING on a Saturday and I still don’t think I get enough.

So I have a radical two-part proposal. In the morning, I need less GameDay and more games. I think the average fan would be just fine with a one-hour pregame show, but I don’t expect ESPN to cut a valuable property down that severely. Instead, let’s settle on a two-hour show. The party can still start at 9 am, just stop at 11 instead of noon.

For that last hour? Start an East Coast game an hour earlier. It shouldn’t be hard for the network that controls all of the SEC and ACC inventory. Just be fair about it. Make sure all of the home teams are in the Eastern time zone and none of the visitors are from the West Coast or Rocky Mountains.

Think of the list of teams that gives you access to: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee from the SEC, the entire ACC outside of the three new additions, and Cincinnati, West Virginia and UCF in the Big 12. 

Even if ESPN wanted to accommodate playoff contenders like Georgia and Tennessee, there’s still a rich inventory of games they could offer at 11 am. Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech will probably be a top 25 matchup, but it is Power Four conference football. Plus, those are schools that should be happy to be on TV at all, so if you are offering them a spotlight time slot on ESPN, who are they to complain? You can swap those names for just about anyone in the ACC or Big 12 and it still works.

There’s a big difference between star power and mass appeal. McAfee and Saban have star power. Football has mass appeal. GameDay cannot deliver the numbers live football can.

On top of that reality, there’s the fact that it’s a decided advantage ESPN has over it’s top competitor. FOX may have the most valuable league in college sports, but they have spent years branding their coverage around the noon hour. Big Noon Kickoff, Big Noon Saturday. That network could not make the same move to 11 am kickoffs without spending huge money on a new marketing campaign. 

Now, let’s talk about part two of this idea. Take Rece Davis, Saban and Howard and give me a meaningful, insightful recap show after the final game of the night on ESPN comes to an end. That, I think, would have even more value to fans than GameDay.

The NFL is and always will be king, but there is a very large population that isn’t ready to jump into fantasy advice the second we wake up on Sunday. Pro games don’t kick off until 1 pm on the East Coast. Why can’t we keep the college conversation going until like 10 am?

College Football Final is fine, but it isn’t at all dynamic. Think of it this way, that replay that’s looped on ESPNU Sunday mornings, if you’re just flipping around, are you more likely to stop if you see Dan Mullen offering an opinion or Nick Saban?

Ultimately, I don’t expect the decision makers at ESPN will consider my idea. Maybe they will, but they’ll dismiss it. It’s always easier to stick with business as usual, and to be fair, the current way of doing things has been very profitable for them, so who the hell am I, right?

However, this is sort of a continuation of the piece I wrote last week about how the network is approaching negotiations with Stephen A. Smith. If you’re building a media company for the future, you have to focus on getting more meaningful games on TV more often. They are the only things that truly move the needle. Football will always be more valuable than football talk.

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Seller to Seller: Sales Meeting

That passion can get you meetings, it can get you sales, it can get you referrals and it can make you rich.

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Graphic for a Seller to Seller feature

C’mon in everyone. Hope your week is off to a great start and you are excited for this week’s sales meeting. Chances are, you’ve already taken advantage of our topic today, which is technology. Some of you probably took out your phone today, looked at the weather forecast to figure out what to wear, or maybe you pulled up the Starbucks app and ordered your morning coffee, which you then paid for with Apple pay.

I still marvel every time I am watching my home cable system, through my phone, with a beautifully clear picture. I am old enough to remember my family having a small television in our kitchen with rabbit ears and sometimes you would have to smack the side of it to hope the picture got better. Now, I can whip out my phone, pull up anything I want in the universe to watch and see it clearly, even on an airplane.

Technology is great. Except for when it comes to sales.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are things about technology that have helped those of us in sales greatly. No more recording the ad on a reel and driving it over to the other station or ad agency that needs it. Just get it in your email and send it on over, or you can even text it over.

The problem is, like a lot of things when it comes to electronic forms of communication, too much gets lost when you are not face-to-face, and the worst part is the person on the other end can’t tell at all if you are passionate about what it is that you are selling. And that has been a huge negative when it comes to trying to communicate with people through email and text or by sliding into their DMs.

The biggest challenge most sellers face is setting appointments with new prospects. We used to call it cold calling but somehow a lot of places let the ‘calling’ part slip away and it became a game of how many emails and LinkedIn messages you could send in a day. And as we all know, the chance you have of someone getting back to you about a first-time meeting through one of those channels is slim. So, why waste the time?

Some would argue that people do not want to be cold called any longer and they would prefer you reach out to them electronically. Of course, that is because it’s easier for them to ignore you or say no to the meeting without actually talking to you. Which, when you think about it, is the exact opposite of what we as sellers want. We want to be in front of them.

So, this is where it gets challenging, but also where we separate the good sellers and the great sellers, or more importantly, the ones who make ok money and the ones who make big money. It is clearly much, much harder today to get that yes to that first meeting. So, we have to work that much harder to get it. And if you want to be successful in this industry, you have to be putting yourself in positions to be in front of people as often as possible.

Whether it is a networking group, Chamber of Commerce event, stopping into businesses, going to games and events or any other way you can be in front of a group of people, if you aren’t doing these sorts of things on a regular basis, you are missing out on a ton of new relationship opportunities.

If you have determined that you are going to meet your financial goals by emailing and sending LinkedIn messages all day, it is going to be a short career for you, and you might want to start looking up new ways to season your Ramen noodles. This is a people business and not many people stop by the studio or office to say hello and ask if anyone is in that can sell them some advertising.

The biggest part of this is the passion with which you sell your product. I believe that you have to have that passion to really make it big in the sports media sales business, and let’s face it, that is why most of us are in the business in the first place. We love it. Many of us eat, sleep and breathe sports. That passion comes out when you talk about what you do and how you can help a local business with the tools and resources you have at your disposal using sports radio as the catalyst. That passion can get you meetings, it can get you sales, it can get you referrals and it can make you rich.

Let people see it. Make a promise to yourself that you’re going to do x number of things every month to increase your time in front of the business community in your area. That is where you will make new connections.

Sales managers, I would encourage you to ask your team weekly in one-on-ones about this time and figure out who is putting in the work to really go out and make new relationships and who is doing the equivalent of ‘sitting by the fax machine waiting for orders.’

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Suzyn Waldman and WFAN Had a Lot to Prove 37 Years Ago

When Suzyn Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN on July 1st, 1987, there weren’t too many people who thought that the radio station would have sustainability.

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Photo of New York Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman
Screengrab: Newsday TV on YouTube

On July 1st, 1987, Suzyn Waldman was about to be the first voice heard on WFAN in New York, the first all-sports radio station ever.  As she settled in to do her first update, a moment that is played back every year when WFAN celebrates its birthday, Waldman could not help but look over on the other side of the glass into another studio and see people holding hands and crying.

It was the staff of WHN, the radio station that WFAN was replacing at 1050 on the AM dial.

“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” said Waldman who has been in the Yankees radio booth since 2005. 

“I looked through the glass and all of a sudden it dawned on me that when I opened my mouth, they would cease to exist and it really hit me just by doing that.  People were crying and that picture is something that has stayed with me forever.”

Next Monday, WFAN turns 37 years old, and it all started with these words that resonated with Waldman as she drove by Yankee Stadium on her way to work that day.  The old Yankee Stadium had a message board on both sides of “The House That Ruth Built” and that day the message would become part of WFAN history.

“The sign on the message board says, ‘Vintage Guidry’”, said Waldman as she delivered the first words ever heard on WFAN.   “I think I remember what I was wearing…a white blouse with a black skirt.”

But, unfortunately, that’s not all that Waldman remembers about that day.  Her broadcasting career featured some rocky moments early on and it started with what she heard seconds after that first update.

“What I heard through the other side of the glass was get that smart-ass bitch with the Boston accent off my air in afternoon drive,” recalls Waldman.

That first horrible experience did not deter Waldman who would go on to become a pioneer for women in sports broadcasting and a resume that would land her in the Radio Hall of Fame.  There were those at WFAN who tried to move Waldman to overnights with the hope that she would quit.

She wasn’t about to quit.  Instead, she built a career doing things that many of the male employees didn’t want to do.  She covered teams like the Yankees, Knicks and Devils and with that she made a little history.

“What I had to do for that was create my own job which was the beat reporter,” said Waldman. “I was the one who did that.  I took assignments that the guys didn’t want to do.  I did not have an easy time.  I was not going to be defeated because some man thought I was stupid because I was female.”

While there were those who tried to take down Waldman and ruin her career, she did have people in her corner including her family and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

“The Boss” was initially tough on Waldman when she covered the Yankees but quickly grew into a big fan of hers.

Waldman isn’t so sure she would have enjoyed the career that she’s had without the support from Steinbrenner.

“My brother says I would have because I would have found a way,” said Waldman.  “I believed in what I was doing, and I was the one that was going to maybe make it safer for young girls to believe that they could do this or have some kind of career in sports.  George, except for my family, is the most important person in my life.”

In their early days, WFAN went through some growing pains.

They brought in a lot of on-air people from outside of New York and it really wasn’t until WFAN took over the 660 signal from WNBC on the AM dial that the station became a success.  By transforming from Sports Radio 1050 WFAN into Sports Radio 66 WFAN, the all-sports station assumed the iconic “Imus in the Morning” show from WNBC.  The station also created “Mike and the Mad Dog”, the most successful sports radio show in history, in afternoon drive and the rest, as they say, is history.

Waldman knew that WFAN could be a success before it started, but it had to be done the right way.

“Being the sports nut that I am and knowing that there were so many teams in New York,” said Waldman.  “What I did know was it was not going to work if they had national people.  Nobody in New York gives a damn about Nebraska football.”

It was during those early days doing updates at WFAN when Waldman would meet her longtime Yankees radio partner John Sterling.  One of the original hosts that WFAN had hired was legendary Cleveland sports talk host Pete Franklin to do afternoon drive.  But, Franklin’s arrival in New York was delayed because he had suffered a heart attack.

A number of people were brought into fill-in while Franklin recovered and one of them was Sterling, who retired from the Yankees radio booth earlier this season.

“I was John’s update person when he did a week at WFAN in 1987,” said Waldman.  “That’s how I met him.  We hit it off immediately.  I talk to him all the time and he’s very happy.”  

And now, as WFAN is set to turn 37 years old, Waldman is happy that the radio station continues to thrive even though the sports talk format may sound a bit different than it did in the early years.

“I’m not the demographic anymore,” said Waldman.  “It should change.  The times are very different.  I’m really glad I got to be at FAN when we were building something and I’m really proud of that.  Things change and the world changes and I have no problem with that.  It’s somebody else’s turn.”

When Suzyn Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN on July 1st, 1987, there weren’t too many people who thought that the radio station would have sustainability.  There were also people who didn’t think that Suzyn Waldman should be on the air.

WFAN and Suzyn proved a lot of people wrong.

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