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You Don’t Have To Pretend You Know College Basketball

“I think the audience is smart enough to understand we have lives, families and most know we ain’t staying up studying the Mountain West.”

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The NCAA Tournament is always an interesting time for sports radio stations. This is the only sporting event that even comes close to the Super Bowl in terms of cultural awareness. Your mom may not know who the favorites are, but she knows people fill out brackets and there is something called the Final Four.

Where the NCAA Tournament and the Super Bowl diverge is in the lead up. The NFL routinely dominates TV ratings in the fall. NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the most watched show on television for more than a decade. College basketball doesn’t have that kind of pull. Ask the average American that lives outside of North Carolina, Kentucky or Indiana how much college basketball they have watched this year and more than 75% of respondents would tell you that the first games they watched were during conference tournament week.

So how does sports radio deal with this? The NCAA Tournament is a benchmark on the sports calendar. It is a local event for so many markets, but you probably aren’t an expert on every potential opponent the home team could face. Hell, in some markets, you don’t even really have to know much about the home team.

“Don’t fake it! Your listeners know you and know your show,” says Brent Axe of ESPN Syracuse. “Be honest with them about your knowledge of college basketball because here’s a little hint: It doesn’t matter! How often does it turn out someone in your pool who wouldn’t know Jim Boeheim from Jim Carrey ends up winning the thing?”

Brent covers the Syracuse Orange. That school has a basketball culture. Jim Boeheim is every bit the institution in that city that Dinosaur BBQ is. He isn’t the kind of hose that will tell you the sports world is dead between the Super Bowl and the NCAA Tournament. But he knows that he is the exception.

If you’re talking about the Tournament field with just the regular cast members of the show, Brent says to keep it light. If there is an investment in a local team, that is the only team you need to be able to give your own perspective on.

“If you want a breakdown of the 2-3 zone or why this is the year Gonzaga is going to win it all, bring on a guest who can speak to that better than you,” he says.

Hosts in large markets with major league sports teams can have wildly different experiences with college basketball throughout the season. Chuck Sapienza, program director of 105.7 the Fan in Baltimore, says basketball is part of the culture of the city. Without an NBA team in town, that means the Maryland Terrapins have a passionate following.

“Maryland Basketball is right up there with the Os and Ravens in terms of fan passion in Baltimore,” he told me in an email. “Baltimore is a huge basketball city. Some of the best High School hoops in the country is played in Baltimore. Jalen ‘Sticks’ Smith (From last season) and Darryl Morsell both went to Mount Saint Joseph in Baltimore City so people follow Maryland hoops from the beginning of the season. Then it really ramps up after football ends.”

As a state, Texas has had an amazing college basketball season. Seven teams from the Lone Star State are in the Tournament. In addition to the Longhorns, who have the state’s largest allegiance, the Houston Cougars are a two-seed. Texas Southern will be in one of the play-in games. The city of Houston should be buzzing, but Sports Radio 610 afternoon drive host, Ron “Show” Hughely told me that if he put a major focus on college basketball on his show, he wouldn’t be serving his listeners.

“This is going to be a real challenge for me because the NCAA tournament is my favorite sporting event,” the diehard Kansas Jayhawks fan told me. “But I can’t be selfish when here in Houston football is king, and the top story in the NFL has fallen right in our laps. We certainly won’t force the local teams in the tournament on our audience. We’re still going to give them what they’re thirsty for.”

I asked Ron what advice he would give a host trying to figure out the best way to cover this tournament for his audience. He said that you can’t be afraid to be honest about what you don’t know. There is no harm in that.

“I think the audience is smart enough to understand we have lives, families and most know we ain’t staying up studying the Mountain West,” he joked. “Hell I’m a college basketball guy and I can’t give you 5 players this year in the Pac 12, but I know the things people will care about and I won’t fake things don’t know.”

Having worked in sports radio in North Carolina, it was imperative to know enough about college basketball to stay in a conversation. I didn’t know the ins and outs of every team in the ACC. I don’t think I really ever knew the ins and outs of the three local teams, but I knew enough to be able to participate in a conversation with the other members of my show and let them do the heavy lifting and analysis.

Sometimes that is the best thing you can do. Whether it is a partner or a guest, let the educated do most of the talking. I asked Brent Axe how he knew when a member of the national media was talking about a team they clearly knew nothing about. He said it was knowing when that host was reading. Someone faking their way through a college basketball conversation won’t have a natural speech pattern he says “because they’ll have more information in front of them or will have to look things up on the fly.”

He then points me to a video of Mike Francesa as an example.

For The Fan in Baltimore, after the Terps, Sapienza says they will look at the tournament largely from a gambling perspective. After all, that is what the event is to most Americans.

“One of the members of the Big Bad Morning Show, Jeremy Conn, is gaining a national following for his gambling acumen,” the PD says. “He is being used by Entercom in the gambling content space on a national level. He will lead our gambling coverage throughout the tournament.”

The running theme here is you don’t have to pretend when it comes to college basketball. Yes, the Tournament is a tent pole of the US sports calendar, but we are talking about a sport featuring more than 320 teams. It is unreasonable to think a host in Denver knows as much about Abilene Christian as he does about Colorado. There’s a lot going on in Denver. Listeners probably don’t expect the host to know much more about Colorado basketball than they do.

In 2021, there are a lot of options for talking about and covering the NCAA Tournament on the radio. The best piece of advice would be to talk about the Tournament in a style that keeps you inside your comfort zone enough to create great content.

BSM Writers

Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access

“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”

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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.

Bettman says NHL must be ready to adapt, adjust in shortened season | CBC  Sports

“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.

AK Other | Oln X Nhl Hockey Sewn Jersey Versus | Poshmark

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.

NHL lockout: League cancels entire preseason schedule | The Star

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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

Twins

  • 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.  

Opposites

  • 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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