The 2021 Major League Baseball season has arrived, and with it comes questions about the way announcers, reporters, and writers will cover each team and game. Last season, media members everywhere were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing all to operate with controlled and limited access. In a normal world, professionals would engage in intimate conversations with players, coaches, and executives, allowing members of the media to gain the inside track on news, helping them create better feature stories for their brands or in the case of an announcer, being able to relay valuable information to their viewers and listeners during game broadcasts.
But unprecedented times required unprecedent adjustments. Yet as we begin the 2021 season with fans being welcomed back into stadiums, and light starting to appear at the end of the tunnel, signaling that the world could soon be headed to a return to normalcy, the question lingers, “will sports media professionals have a chance to do their jobs the way they did previously?”
During an appearance this morning on “101 ESPN’s – Karraker & Smallmon” which included midday host and St. Louis Cardinals announcer Dan McLaughlin, Fox MLB play-by-play voice, Joe Buck said not being able to have intimate conversations with people has made it harder to not only connect with players but also to share details with viewers when calling a game inside the booth.
“I think the real issue when they’re doing Zoom calls is you don’t know the person who’s the subject on the other side of that call” said Buck. “A lot of that intimacy is gone because you’re talking to a screen, and it’s a total disconnect. I would love for it to go back to the way it was. I just hope that these different sports don’t say ‘well, we got along fine during the pandemic without you guys having face to face contact with players and coaches so we’re going to do it that way going forward’.”
Buck continued, “When you don’t have that personal knowledge, and it becomes a quote machine, and nothing of substance on these Zoom calls, there’s something that’s gone that I think we as announcers can relay to an audience that cares, the information they can’t or don’t read, and it’s fresh.”
While Zoom does provide a platform that allows groups of people to come together and have a conversation, intimate discussions are difficult to have in a public setting. Forming personal relationships is significant for journalists and national broadcasters who are looking to garner information that their audience, who might be watching the team for the first time, might not be aware of.
McLaughlin mentioned towards the end of the discussion that the game of baseball is seen by some younger fans as being too slow, making it even more important for broadcasters to have access because they’re thrust into situations where they have to relay information and share stories during lags in the action, and become the conduit to educating the audience about the players. With access reduced though, it makes it much harder to do the job.
Buck responded to that point by explaining that broadcasters get to know players on a different level due to being around them at the hotel, inside the ballpark, on the plane or the bus. He said MLB is aware of the challenges with the game but the MLBPA isn’t in a rush to make major changes. Buck added that his partner John Smoltz loves the game, but is frustrated with where the game is headed, and the way it’s managed and taught. What specifically frustrates Buck is the game’s lack of logic and how it impacts results.
Entering the 2021 season, Zoom calls with players will continue. With the country receiving vaccinations at a high rate, it’ll be interesting to see whether the league makes these interactions permanent or allows broadcasters and journalists to once again have the personal interactions pre-pandemic.
16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming
The news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
According to Nielsen, sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in their latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets.
The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.
New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend
More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.
In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.
Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.
Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.
Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time
Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:
“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”
Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.
Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.