Meet The Market Managers: Scott Sutherland, Bonneville Phoenix
“There isn’t any company that I can imagine working for that would just say, “Sure, you can blow up one of the most successful music stations in our company because we want to go all in on spoken word.”
When we talk about powerhouse brands in the sports talk format, we tend to gravitate towards names like WFAN, 98.5 The Sports Hub, 97.1 The Ticket, 670 The Score and Sports Radio WIP. Some of that’s a testament to their success, but it’s fair to suggest a little bit of East Coast bias may come into play. Look, it makes sense. Most of the country’s population is in the East. So too are most media corporations, money and power. Notable brands and high profile individuals are connected to business and politics in this region, an area where radio stations begin with the letter W.
But just because the attention in our industry shifts first to the east coast, doesn’t mean Arizona Sports 98.7 doesn’t belong in the same category of the aforementioned stations. Go to Phoenix, and you’ll find the market’s sports leader routinely delivering revenue far beyond what the general anonymity of the city’s teams may lead you to believe is possible.
The man responsible for guiding Bonneville Phoenix’s building which houses two of the nation’s top sports (Arizona Sports 98.7) and news/talk brands (KTAR) is Scott Sutherland. The longtime Phoenix market manager joined me for a conversation which covered a number of topics including how his two dominant spoken word stations were once a single “super brand,” the changing demographics and dynamics of his market, and how he sets a value for his product and never wavers from it.
Demetri Ravanos: Let’s start with Arizona Sports being on the FM dial under the 98.7 frequency. I know that happened with the guidance from Nielsen and seeing greater potential to expand your audience, but at the time, the music station that you had on that frequency was previously successful. What did you uncover during that process that gave you the confidence to shift away from music and move your sports talk product on to FM?
Scott Sutherland: That was a whopper. It was the end of 2013 and the AM radio market in Phoenix was compromised. Our music station was called The Peak. It was adult hits and very successful. We were billing a lot of money, but we had already moved KTAR to FM in 2006 and subsequently at the same time launched KTAR Sports, rebranding it later in 2011 to Arizona Sports.
We were doing so well on the sports and the news side that I think we looked at the format of adult hits and not to speak ill of the music format, but it was sort of an amorphous format where we didn’t really have a position, we were just billing. And you could just see the results that we could deliver on the on the news and sports side with KTAR. There just wasn’t that that same sense with The Peak.
We then looked at the landscape and said, “You know, we’ve done some damage to the AM band by pulling KTAR off of it. Two iHeart stations were the only real AM stations at that time. We looked at it like Arizona Sports is a great store, but in a mall in a compromised area. So we thought that putting all of our chips on the table and going all in on sports alleviated some of the play-by-play issues because at that time we had everybody, Suns, Coyotes, DBacks, Cardinals, ASU. We saw it as a chance to go all in on FM and 620 is the best signal in the state, so that allowed us to put ESPN Radio there. We could put a lot of the games that run prior to 7:00 pm on 620, so it enabled us to stay in format longer.
I think, if we weren’t a small company like Bonneville, I don’t think it would happen because I remember going up to the board and saying, “We’re basically going to be financing this deal through ourselves instead of taking whatever a stick would cost. We’re just going to have less cash flow in our operations for a time,” but it’s been the best decision we’ve ever made. I think it’s been a game changer for our format. That and I would also say rebranding in 2011 from KTAR Sports.
Ryan Hatch and I took a trip to ESPN in 2011, and met with John Kosner, who ran ESPN Digital. This was at the time when ESPN was launching all of their digital sites, ESPN, Chicago, Boston, etc.. We made our case to be the first non-O-and-O and build ESPN Phoenix. That initiative obviously didn’t gain any traction, but that was sort of the impetus for us to say, “Alright, let’s rebrand it as Arizona Sports. Let’s take that model, a digital and an audio strategy to own Arizona, not just have Phoenix call letters. So I would say that was was a game changer for us in 2011. And then moving to FM at the beginning of 2014 has also been huge for us.
DR: My understanding is that the move to FM didn’t immediately pay off for the station the way you were told it might. I’ve heard a story that Ryan Hatch put on a Celine Dion song to show a Nielsen rep what was showing up as the top station in Phoenix with Men 25-54.
SS: When we launched in January of 2014, the first few books, according to Nielsen, we had less audience than we did when we were AM only. We had added FM and Nielsen said our ratings declined. We went from like 5th to 12th. I remember Rick Scott saying it was statistically impossible. Nielsen told us our cume had dropped exponentially.
Here we are landing vehicles on Mars and we’re still stuck with 1980s beeper technology. It’s unbelievable and somehow they are convinced that sampling methodology is the best that we can do. Now we’re going to have wearables where we move to, the same technology as Fitbit. Well, I don’t see people wearing Fitbit anymore.
It’s tough in Phoenix when essentially you have 200 meters that comprise basically all of our sports listening. We’re just saying nothing makes sense. We literally have millions of people on our website. We have hundreds of thousands of people on our stream. We have hundreds of thousands of downloads monthly, even in the millions on audio downloads, and Nielsen says we have a cume of below 75,000. It’s just maddening and it makes no sense.
DR: Now that KTAR and Arizona Sports are two separate brands, what differences have you noticed between the dedicated sports audience and the dedicated news/talk audience?
SS: Well, I would say a lot of similarities. We obviously have high income and high education in both audiences. I think I can make a case in Phoenix that maybe there’s a correlation with a lack of people wearing meters.
The goal is to be number one and number two in billing. It’s just a high qualitative audience and from an advertiser perspective, it just works.
DR: During the 2020 election cycle, there were a lot of news stories about Arizona as a state largely going blue because the population got younger and Browner. I wonder what you think the implications of that might be for broadcast radio.
SS: I think it’s good, frankly, and again, whether this appears in Nielsen, I think last year was a really good year for us, even in a pandemic. We stepped back, especially on the news side, and just said “Is Arizona a swing state?”. I’ve lived here for a long time, and to see that was interesting. The political money was obscene last year.
But I think, again, for our brands, it’s a couple of things, not only more diversity. We have a ton of people coming in from California with obvious tax implications, so Phoenix is booming. House prices are at record levels. We have more and more people moving here. It’s considered one of the best places to be right now. The tax situation is good. We think with all these folks moving in, it’s wonderful for our brands. We’re fortunate to work for a company where at Bonneville whether it rains or shines, we market. We’re very bullish on our brands.
DR: It’s interesting to talk about the population shift. Going back to a conversation we had before I started recording, I see a lot of people pointing this out when it comes to college football recruiting. All of the sudden, Arizona has become a destination to find a quarterback because families are moving out of California and Phoenix and Las Vegas seem to be the top two beneficiaries of it.
SS: You see, obviously, Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma. You’ve got Jack Miller at Ohio State, whether he gets the nod or not. But this was never the case before. The issue for us, frankly, it’s how can we keep some of these kids? For the top kids, there’s obviously more of an allure going to an SEC school or Big Ten school, and that’s been problematic here in the state for a while. However, seeing what its done for local kids has been fantastic.
DR: You guys have three pro teams and Arizona State on your station. You mentioned earlier that when the Suns or Diamondbacks are on the East Coast and airing in what would be afternoon drive in Arizona, those games go to 620 and regular programming remains on 98.7. Is there a part of those negotiations or an aspect of massaging those relationships to make it possible to do that? Something maybe folks that have only ever worked in the Eastern or Central time zones wouldn’t be familiar with?
SS: I think so. Our proposition is that we want our afternoon show to not be interrupted. At times we’ve had all four teams and ASU. We also carry the Phoenix Rising, which is the soccer league that we have here. When you’re dealing with local teams, everyone wants to be the highest priority. We just say to them on conflict games, the earlier game always goes to 620. That way we can put our afternoon drive in content and make sure that on the revenue side, there’s better implications for us because we’re not giving up afternoon drive revenue.
The play by play world has changed immeasurably. What makes for a good play by play deal? I always say it depends. All of our partnerships are different. I think the models are changing. There’s revenue shares out there. There’s teams which carry inventory. There’s stations that own some inventory. I think the technology has changed the right fees and the streaming implications. Hopefully the leagues are moving back to giving stations the right to stream the games. I know MLB is moving that way. It’s becoming more complicated, and I think the station’s perspective is we’re unwilling to lose one dime. The days of coughing up a big rights fee to try to take on third party sales and not break even? It’s a thing of the past.
DR: So I want to explore the idea of everybody wanting top priority. Tell me a little bit about the conversations that are had when you have the Diamondbacks playing on a Sunday afternoon as the NFL season is kicking off and one game is going to the AM dial and the other to FM. How do you make sure everybody feels like they’re getting your best?
SS: I would say the most important thing is communicating that up front to take it off the table. We write in our contracts, sort of who has precedent. The NFL obviously is king, so they regardless, would always go to the FM band.
I think the other teams appreciate all that we bring to the table. We like to talk about that it’s not just an audio rights fee, especially with our digital assets that we have, with the audience that we’re generating off of our website. So I think you have to take that question or disagreement off the table upfront or else it could be a nightmare. I think every team would like to be first priority, but I think we do a pretty good job of conveying the benefit as to why the structure we decided on is important.
I think they get it. We’ve been doing this for a long time, so I think it’s a no surprises strategy which has worked well.
DR: Is there an established priority or hierarchy among Phoenix sports fans or is it the NFL and then depending on which one is hot: Suns or Diamondback?
SS: Phoenix is tough, and it’s getting more native, if you will. It’s embarrassing. If you go to any of the teams, Diamondbacks are playing the Dodgers? There’s a lot of blue. With all the Midwest transplants, if the Cardinals are playing the Packers, there’s certainly a lot of yellow and green. But I think it’s coming around.
The Cardinals now have been here since 1988. So I think the kids now have teams to root on. The Diamondbacks since 1998. So it definitely is changing, but I think the NFL is the NFL like it is in all the markets.
The one original team that we do have are the Suns. So when the Suns are winning, and obviously this is the first year in quite some time they’re doing that, the bandwagon is very, very quick to come back as it relates to the Suns. The D-Backs, when they’re winning and doing well, then it’s hot too. It’s just when the teams records start to go south, that’s where all of the implications begin for all the teams in a way that you may not see in the other markets. It definitely is growing into a little more native and tribal as it relates to fandom.
DR: Arizona had a real rollercoaster ride with Covid-19. The state tried to reopen very quickly and become a hub for Major League Baseball. Then all of the sudden, it was one of the hottest spots in the country for outbreaks. Did that disrupt things for you just in terms of day to day operation of the station?
SS: Timing, of course, was terrible. But for a sports station, when Spring Training was rolling, it was very difficult. With Bonneville, it’s very people oriented. We told our folks to go.
Arizona was probably slower than some other states where the governor never had a mask ordinance. We did have the two stop downs. Our numbers at one time in August were the worst Covid rates in the world per cases and deaths. It was rough.
We hadn’t concluded selling our Diamondback inventory, so that was tough. Then of course, you’re going into the Cardinals season so it was a rough summer. On the content side, God bless Ryan Hatch and Rod Lakin for trying to come up with any kind of content. They did a wonderful job. I think the creativity that our guys showed was phenomenal and they just kept fighting the good fight and reminding people that sports is a good place to be in. I think that’s one thing that’s lingered probably for all the stations. Because there aren’t any fans at an NBA game, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to talk about. I will say, I think we weathered the storm better than most.
I was on one of our meetings with our corporate officers two months or so into the pandemic. They asked “what’s the biggest lesson that you learned?”. And I said, “For us, it was that it’s validated our business model”. I think when you’re based in local, original content, all about ubiquitous distribution, your sales structure is based on local solution-based sales, and four years ago we moved to a sort of account executive, account manager, a sort of hunter/farmer sales structure, those are the areas where it just validated all the work that we put in for our business model to work. We surprisingly, had a great year last year for both news and sports.
DR: How much of that do you think can be attributed to the fact that, air staff-wise, you guys haven’t had a lot of turnover? There have been years, if not decades, for many of your hosts to develop relationships with listeners and clients, and for your clients to be able to trust that they know who it is that is delivering live endorsements that connect with the audience.
SS: No question. The relationship that all of our folks have from Ryan and Rod, to the talent, to the sales team matters. At Bonneville, we talk a lot about trusted voices. Having Doug and Wolf, Bickley and Marotta, Burns and Gambo, all of our bellcow hosts, they’re trusted voices in the market. I think we we stayed away from politics as the summer went on on Arizona Sports. It wasn’t the Covid hotline. Our news station took care of that. We really focused on the community. We focused on what’s to come with sports. And I think, to your point, the trusted voices that we talk about so much, were a huge part of helping us get through until training camp opened up. That’s when the game changed for us, the third week of July.
DR: You call them bellcows, which I think is a great way to describe the nature of the lineup, because every single day, somebody been there to serve your audience and partners. But I do want to take this back to our earlier discussion of the way Arizona is diversifying. I wonder maybe not in the way that somebody ends up losing a job, but do you see a way that the station’s lineup will have to diversify at some point?
SS: For sure. There’s no question. As we work on succession planning, we’ve brought in female voices. We’ve brought in younger voices. We’re trying to bring people from Max Starks to Lorenzo Alexander, who can bring a different perspective. It’s a huge priority for us without a question.
DR: So I want to ask you about working for Bonneville. You are working for a group owned by the Mormon Church. How is that different than working for a group owned by shareholders and investors?
SS: I’ve worked for both. I came from the AMFM, Chancellor and CBS prior to when I joined here. I will tell you that I can’t imagine working elsewhere after living through different companies and the Wall Street world, not that that’s a good or bad thing, but our company is all about people. It’s about making a difference in the communities that we serve and delivering a profit. From Darrell Brown to our executive team, I think there’s more strategy from some of my experience in the Wall Street-owned world. Everything is not about re-forecasting for next week. I don’t get calls on Friday asking why do we have 16 morning drive units next Thursday? There isn’t this myopic, incessant looking at stock prices. Again, there isn’t any company that I can imagine working for that would just say, “Sure, you can blow up one of the most successful music stations we own because we want to go all in on spoken word” and they hold us accountable. The focus is always how do we recruit and retain and grow great people like the Rod Lakin’s and the Ryan Hatch’s and how do we make them feel valued?
With Bonneville, what they want us to do is make sure that we’re improving the community. Our give-a-thon for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, our two stations raised almost two million dollars, which is the largest fundraiser for a children’s hospital in the nation. That’s one where I always speak to, “Nielsen says our audience is X? Great. You know, in a day and a half, we’re raising two million dollars with almost three thousand phone calls and people donating. It’s engagement!” Engagement is what we talk about.
DR: The values of the company are always going to be important to the way you’re able to do business. One issue the Church has been pretty clear about is its stance on sports gambling. Has that affected your ability to do business with those companies? As we’re talking, Arizona is pushing a bill that would legalize sports betting in the state.
SS: That will be a category obviously, that we would not be able to participate in.
DR: As you know Scott, that is a category where revenue is rapidly growing, especially in the sports space. Do you worry that not being able to accept that type of business could have an affect on your sales staff?
SS: No, because I think there’s so many other things. Obviously, we’re not going to get that money. I get it. There’s a lot of categories here that we are penetrating though and I think it’s more important to look at the categories that we can have success in instead of the ones that we can’t touch. If we can’t get that money, it is what it is. If that’s the worst thing in my job, that we’re not going to participate in sports gambling, then life is pretty dang good.
DR: I was told a great story about the naming rights to your studio. Legend has it that years ago, you had a big client who was spending high six figures but had to move on. When big deals like that go away, pressure increases to get something back on the books to make up for the loss. Another client then made an offer for the studio rights which was significantly less. Their brand name wasn’t exactly the best fit either. Rather than run to the dollars, you passed on the deal. The way I was told the story was that Scott really understands the value of his product and cares about the integrity of his brands.
I wonder how you got to that point, believing in brands like KTAR and Arizona Sports so much that you were willing to accept nothing for a sponsorship opportunity rather than take a deal that didn’t meet your expectations. Do you ever consider what it might cost you to give up a quick and easy sale to maintain your standard?
SS: We wouldn’t even sell a studio sponsorship for news. Frankly, it wouldn’t be something we’d ever consider. We did do it on the sports studio. We had University of Phoenix, which was the Cardinals’ stadium, which is now State Farm Stadium. We had a huge sponsorship we took to them that we thought would would make sense. That was maybe a four or five year deal, and then typical in that world it went away. We established a value for it, and probably went three years before even consider doing another deal. For a lot of the music stations, it’s more of an added value play. For us, I think it’s important that it’s treated properly. It’s the Ak-Chin Community Studios. It’s one of our Native American partners that’s with us on this now.
We know the value of our studio. We had offers for 80 percent of what we set the price at, and just felt like we’d worked so hard to establish these brands that accepting less felt wrong. I was here when we launched it in 2007, and then got shipped up to Seattle for 2 years. There’s so much sweat equity that we put into building these brands, and we’re proud of the work that we’ve done. We refuse to offer key associations with our brands at discounted prices. It’s the same thing with where we are on the sales side with the pandemic, average unit rates, and sell out percentages. I think people would be shocked to learn the implications of how it can hurt you. We held very, very strong, which is why I think we had a really, really good year last year.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – C.J. Stroud by the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Bryce Young by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.