In recent months, my sports radio listening has been mostly occupied by shows that aren’t reliant on sports. But listen to Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti on Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub and you’ll instantly be reminded that there’s still room for a sports radio show dominated by sports.
20 years ago, if you asked Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, “What’s the future of sports radio?” they never would have described The Dan Le Batard Show, Carton and Roberts or Pat McAfee. They would have described something like Felger and Mazz.
Felger and Mazz stick to sports, hammer the headlines, read and react, give strong opinions, and find ways to trigger emotion. Is it the type of show that can reach a very broad audience? No. But they deliver on the expectation of what the show is meant to do: entertain Boston sports fans.
Maybe it’s their background as columnists, but Felger and Mazz bring a lot of newspaper articles to the radio. There’s no doubt many sports radio hosts use journalists’ work as fuel for their content, but Felger and Mazz actually credit the writers. They read an excerpt and cite the source whether it’s Greg Bedard, Gary Washburn, Mike Reiss or somebody else.
It’s an old-school sports radio approach that requires polarizing personalities to succeed. Read the papers, find something that prompts reaction and take it to the airwaves.
As much as they love a good sports debate, Felger and Mazz have a unique ability to be polarizing even when they agree. Many duos will move on from a topic that doesn’t feature conflicting opinions, or one host might fabricate a point to play devil’s advocate.
But Felger and Mazz never lack authenticity, and they never sound rehearsed. When Felger opens a segment with a topic, the ensuing discussion skips the phony side of sports radio, instead featuring organic debate. If the discussion was preconceived or meant to troll, their strongest takes would start at the top, but Felger and Mazz let their segments build.
More than a third voice chiming in on occasion, Jim Murray should probably have his name on the show. There are many times Murray even breaks into a segment and gives his opinion before Massarotti does. Luckily, all three voices sound very different, making it easy for a newcomer to know who is talking and when.
Mazz with a higher pitch, Murray offers a deep tone, and Felger positions autonomously in the middle. Felger pops his P’s with the best of them, he also speaks with as much or more conviction than any other sports radio host in the industry.
For years, I’ve said I’m more passionate and interested in the radio side of “sports radio” rather than the sports aspect. I’ve rooted for the same teams for more than a quarter-century, and as much as I’m invested in them, I find the conversation that surrounds the game much more worthy of attention than the score itself. If it’s debate and discussion that interests me, I’ve wondered why I gravitated to sports radio as opposed to news and political talk?
I answered the question while listening to The Sports Hub’s afternoon show somewhere around their eighth plea for Jimmy Garoppolo. And I was thrown an assist while revisiting a conversation I had with Felger last summer where he gave the following quote:
Say something. Even if it’s wrong, just say something. There’s a lot of nuance with topics, but it’s a better discussion if you’re less nuanced and sports lends itself to that. You have a scoreboard, a winner and a loser, someone makes the right play, someone makes the wrong play, and someone makes the right trade or the wrong trade. They have that scoreboard for a reason, and your commentary should reflect that.“Michael Felger Can’t Ignore the Apocalypse” by Brandon Contes June 25, 2020
“Say something, even if it’s wrong,” lends itself to less nuance when paired with sports because of the scoreboard. There’s my answer. The visible and easily accessed truth makes sports radio great. If a political talk show is having a debate, the ground rules are missing. The facts are impossible to sort.
But with sports radio, the scoreboard doesn’t lie. If Felger and Mazz debate “Alex Smith vs Marcus Mariota, they might have vastly different opinions, but the ground rules for that discussion are easily accessible.
In the political realm, a debate over global warming might see one person argue the world will end in 10 years as fact, and the other side claim climate change is a hoax. The audience is left to decipher what’s true and false, without the easily accessed scoreboard sports fans are privy to.
That doesn’t mean you have to stick to the scoreboard in sports radio, unique opinions and hot takes are more than welcome. At one point, I experienced listener-vertigo from Felger and Mazz, and struggled to decipher whether the Patriots truly are a franchise in disarray or closer to the team just two-years removed from the greatest dynasty in league history.
This is March, peak quarterback speculation season. And nobody did it better than Boston sports radio as they desperately try to recoup from watching Tom Brady win a Super Bowl for Tampa Bay.
Not so breaking news, they weren’t thrilled about Cam Newton returning to the Patriots. And they definitely were not thrilled with Bill Belichick’s aversion to place stock in the quarterback position.
The Sports Hub’s afternoon show has a unique ability to paint a dire picture, nearly putting Belichick on the hot seat. But giving in to the notion that Belichick and the Patriots earned a grace period would be an admission to the fans that it’s OK not to care. Telling fans not to care? That’s committing sports radio suicide.
The show is call heavy and interview light. Listening to a Boston, New York or Philly sports radio station, you know going in they’re taking calls. The audience wants to be heard, they want to interact, and throwing them a text line won’t suffice.
But a lot of sports-centric talk radio shows rely strongly on interviews. Felger and Mazz choose to rely on their own takes and reactions to construct segments. The interviews serve a purpose of adding to the show’s conversation rather than using a Q&A segment to fill time.
And this is a four-hour show, five days a week. There is a lot of time to fill. But don’t look for them to depend on fabricated bits to get the job done. The day Felger, Mazz or Murray tweet out “if the Patriots don’t trade for Jimmy Garoppolo by 2022, I’ll shave my eyebrows,” is the day the show hits the panic button. It’s not who they are and it’s not how they need to entertain.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.