The ball is tipped…
Well, at least it will be 710 days since the last NCAA Tournament, seeing as last year’s event was the first major sports casualty due to Covid-19. The Big Dance is back but it’s without familiar faces Duke and Kentucky. How much will that affect ratings? Only time will tell, but the ratings for the NCAA tournament, after missing last year, will be as interesting as a tool as we have seen in a long time for college basketball.
“I almost think it doesn’t matter,” said Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports Radio. “It’s a yearly event but I think the whole thing has created less interest in college basketball. I don’t think it’s the only reason college basketball is less interesting, but I also think the timing is not great for it to be on TV, because it’s spring and all the sudden people can start doing stuff. Whereas, when the NBA first came back, it was like, thank God there’s something back on. I almost think people forget there wasn’t an NCAA tournament last year.”
“I think there’s a bigger appetite because it’s the longest time period we’ve gone without an NCAA Tournament,” said Gary Parrish of 92.9 ESPN in Memphis and CBS Sports. “I think people are anxious for it.”
It’s been an extremely down year for the traditional blue bloods in college basketball. In a sport that’s normally centered around a handful of teams, just about every single one of the usual suspects is having a down season. Duke and Kentucky aren’t even in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina is an 8 seed, Michigan State and Syracuse are both 11s, and Kansas is 3 seed. It’s never a good thing when the most important programs are almost all down in the same season.
“Not having some of the biggest brands in the sport is not helpful,” said Parrish. “That’s my understanding based on history. I think if you could try to get the biggest rating you could get, you would have a Final Four of Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and maybe UCLA. The idea Duke and Kentucky aren’t in the NCAA Tournament, as well as Indiana and Arizona, it doesn’t mean that great stories won’t materialize or that Gonzaga being undefeated isn’t a big draw, but not having some of the big brands isn’t ideal.”
“People like to see Duke lose, as much as they like to see Duke win,” Gottlieb said. “When I was at ESPN, I was told the five schools that rate in college basketball are Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kansas. The only kind of asterisk is that some of the schools in the Big Ten do really well. The Big Ten being good helps, especially since the entire tournament is in Indianapolis.”
As a state, Kentucky easily rivals both North Carolina and Indiiana as the most college hoops crazy state. However, neither UK or Louisville made The Dance. It’s not something that happens often, so a decrease in one of the highest rated markets for the NCAA Tournament could be a big negative.
“Well it’ll be less than normal,” said Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio. “When Kentucky and Louisville are in, Louisville is often the highest rated market in the country for the tournament. I don’t think that will be true this year, but there will be a lot of people watching. I’ve talked to a lot of fans that said they were down, but when the bracket was revealed, they got excited again. It’ll be down but this place still loves basketball and people will watch.”
Even though it’s considered by some to be the biggest draw, the remaining big brands in the sport being shown an early exit by a Cinderela team would be a huge negative for the ratings. Illinois-Chicago making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament along with, say, Liberty, Utah State and San Diego State would not have a positive impact. For ratings purposes it would certainly be best if Kansas made a deep run, along with an unexpected run by North Carolina and Michigan State.
“We have this belief that everyone watches for the Cinderella team,” said Gottlieb. “They do, but they’re not going to turn on the TV the next time to watch Cinderella play. They like to see Cinderella play the big boy and they turn on the TV to watch the big boy.”
It’s truly a mystery on what the overall attention to the NCAA Tournament is going to be, and depending on who you ask, the answer might be completely different. There’s a real argument to be made that missing a year of The Dance is going to fuel a ratings spike like we haven’t seen in recent years. People of all ages still look forward to filling out brackets every year, so regardless of who’s playing, the first weekend could be a ratings bonanza. However, the popularity of college hoops isn’t exactly trending upward and the absence of the most recognizable brand the sport has to offer could really be damning.
So does a best-case scenario exist with the current field? Is it best for Gonzaga to complete the first undefeated season since Indiana in 1976?
“The ratings won’t be as high, obviously,” said Jeff Goodman at Stadium. “The casual fan may not be as interested, but I think the diehard college hoops fan may have more fun and be more locked in watching this year. The storylines are different, and you also still have more people working from home so that should help with the ratings. But they won’t be as good. That’s the reality.”
Regardless of what happens, the overall ratings easily has become one of the most intriguing storylines of the entire tournament. Sadly, this will be, quite possibly, the only week where college basketball will be the biggest thing going in sports. The NCAA Tournament has been such a big draw, but the uniqueness of that first weekend makes people feel it’s the only weekend where they have to watch the sport. Its biggest positive is almost it’s biggest detriment.
“I do think it’s a factor, but i don’t think it’s the factor,” said Parrish. “I think the biggest issue facing college basketball is that there’s almost no carryover from one year to the next, in terms of great players. Just like Zion Williamson at Duke. In college football, you see a guy like Trevor Lawrence as a freshman and you know he’s going to be there for two more years. In college basketball, Lawrence is there for one year and then he’s gone. Everyone knows the coaches, but the notable players are almost entirely new every year. No mainstream American sport has the roster turnover like college basketball has.”
Someone will be cutting down the nets on April 5th, but the number of people watching might be more intriguing than the team standing on the ladders with scissors.
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.