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The Vaccine Conversation Is A Sports Conversation Now

“I am not advocating for anyone to work vaccine conversations into their show. Talking about it isn’t mandatory. I am simply telling you when these topics come up and are clearly relevant in sports, there is no reason for you to be scared.”

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Leigh Prather

It is news to no one that the COVID-19 vaccine has become another political flashpoint in the constant feud of right versus left in this country. The Venn diagram of people refusing to get the vaccine and the ones that believe the virus was a hoax designed to get Donald Trump looks exactly like the Venn diagram of people that signed up to get a vaccine as soon as they were eligible and the people that refused to ever take their masks off. They are both perfect circles.

A protester holds a placard that says 'Freedom No Lockdown Masks Tests Vaccine'.
Credit: Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

We lost some major sporting events to COVID. We saw others transformed dramatically. There was no way to do sports radio and not talk about the virus in 2020.

Now things are getting back to normal and that is good. It is nice to hear a crowd go nuts when someone scores an overtime winner in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is nice to see broadcasters on the sidelines of games again. That doesn’t mean we are entirely done with COVID.

The debate about whether various leagues should mandate their players get vaccinated has been going on for as long as the vaccine has been available. There are a variety of reasons some players are hesitant. This weekend, we saw the ultimate price of not getting vaccinated at The Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. Jon Rahm was on pace to cruise to a victory, then he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw from the final round of the event. Not getting vaccinated cost him somewhere in the area of $1.7 million.

Plenty of sports radio hosts have stuttered, stumbled and stammered their way through this topic on air. So many of the people I have heard seem to be operating from the very same place of fear: I do I talk about this thing that has become political without pissing off half my audience?

I would argue that Jon Rahm just gave you a reason to approach it purely as a sports topic. There was an on field consequence of not getting vaccinated. Golfers are just dudes. Some of your listeners may have a favorite on the tour, but very few live and die with a golfer each week. Maybe they will have trouble accepting that the vaccine discussion really can be just about wins and losses in this particular case, but what about in team sports? What happens when the football team they live and die with have to go without their starting QB for two weeks?

What happens when they start to see their favorite NFL team lose with some regularity? There are all kinds of reasons that an 11-5 NFL team can immediately drop to 6-10 the following year, but if their team is missing out on the increased freedom that the league will offer teams who reach the 85% vaccination threshold, is the vaccine not worth discussing from a sports standpoint?

I am not advocating for anyone to work vaccine conversations into their show. Talking about it isn’t mandatory. I am simply telling you when these topics come up and are clearly relevant in sports, there is no reason for you to be scared.

There are some great conversations that can be had here. Could the vaccine be the difference in who does and does not get cut in training camp? If there is a reward for reaching a certain vaccination threshold from the league, should teams not allow any unvaccinated players to serve as captains so that the team leaders are setting a tone that this is important? Because the prospect of missing games is now very real, is it selfish for a player not to get the vaccine?

You can steal any one of these you like. You don’t even have to credit me.

We cannot create interesting radio and have interesting conversations if we are constantly scared to talk about things that are happening in real life. Whether or not there is a consequence for players and teams not getting the vaccine creates debate. That doesn’t mean it is controversial. It’s not a third rail kind of topic. It isn’t even politics.

Jon Rahm waits to putt on 15 during the third round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Rahm was forced to withdraw from the tournament after a positive COVID-19 test.
Courtesy: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch

Jon Rahm isn’t going to be the last athlete that loses something of consequence because he is not vaccinated. Isn’t talking about why wins and losses happen the very core of what sports radio is?

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5 Goals

5 Goals: Rob ‘World Wide Wob’ Perez

“I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA.”

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This month’s subject of five goals is Rob Perez, better known to NBA Twitter as World Wide Wob. The content creator and producer for FanDuel shared with me five things he wants to accomplish or see happen.

1. I want to make FanDuel, my licensing partner in content creation, as happy as possible.

My goal is to drive people to their web site or app, and spread the reach of the brand. I’m sure there’s a more formal word for that, but I want to organically integrate FanDuel into everything I do.

I don’t want to just be a commercial — hey 20% off, or here’s a free bet — because people are drowning in those across various forms of communication. All the content I do is naturally involved, and if someone’s asking about who’s favored it’s a very seamless type of content integration in which I can include them and drive them to FanDuel if they’d like to put their money where their mouth is. 

I would certainly love the opportunity to continue working with them — not just because they pay me to do so, but I do find value in working with a sportsbook of that size that is turning into a content company. Of course, they’re always gonna be a sportsbook. It makes them the most money. But, giving you additional reasons to engage with that brand, if you have an itch to bet on something, is what my job is.

I want to continue to be the face of the NBA for them, having a very casual conversation about the game itself — whether that’s off the court stuff, or all the coaching departures earlier this week. Integrating the FanDuel logo into all this feels much more real than a 30-second commercial between timeouts. I want you to enjoy the experience of the show, and gamble if you so choose.

2. NBA Red Zone.

I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA. It would work best on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Sunday, when there are 8-9 concurrent games.

That’s why I’m where I am today. I’m watching every single dribble of every single game. But, I would never expect any other normal human with responsibilities outside of NBA content creation to ever keep up with what’s going on between the Kings and Pistons while there’s seven other games on, one of which is nationally televised. 

So, if the NBA ever decides to have a true commitment to their version of the Red Zone — they’ve tried versions of it on NBATV, but I’ve never seen one hopping between games every 15-20 seconds, hot switching any time there’s a play stoppage — I’d love to do it. 

You’d have a Scott Hanson type host who is as integrated with the league as it gets. I hope maybe one day I have the opportunity where what I do on my own personal timeline merges with true rights partnership from the NBA. Just based on the feedback I get on my Twitter page, there would be demand for it. 

3. Do another NBA variety show.

In the past, I had a show called Buckets that I did with Cycle and ESPN. It had sketches, pre-produced talk segments, and interviews. Think of it like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon’s shows, but applied to the NBA. 

Inside the NBA is obviously the gold standard for an NBA talk show. But, those guys are going to retire at some point. What I do on Twitter Spaces, Twitch, and Periscope — I want the ability to blow that out with some more production resources. 

Photo Credit: TNT

Right now, I’m doing everything myself, from playing DJ to directing to taking calls to actually running the show and talking basketball and researching stats — I’m doing it all on the fly. While I’m certainly happy to do that, I know what we could create with a team around me because we’ve done it in the past. I would love to do a weekly variety show based around the NBA.

4. Some more work life balance.

My entire day for 11 months out of the year revolves around the NBA. It’s my job and I’m happy to. I love following it. At some point, I feel like I’m gonna get burned out, and I don’t want to ever get to the point where doing this feels like work

It felt a little bit like work this year, and that might be because I’m on Year 8 doing this. [RG note: at this point, I mentioned how last offseason was so condensed after the bubble, and how the energy felt partially zapped out of sports with a lack of fans]. I’m gonna watch regardless because I’m a crazy person, but I think a lot of people would agree with you that the return to normalcy is helping with the engagement on a mainstream scale.

This offseason will be condensed again. We have the Olympics, which of course I’m going to watch because stars will be playing. Summer League is in August. There’s free agency and the draft. There’s barely going to be one month — September — where there probably won’t be a whole lot of NBA news or events. 

But then we’re going back to the normal schedule from before the pandemic, which means Media Week will be the first week of October. There’s one month off before it all starts again, and I’m hoping I don’t get burned out by it. 

Being on the East Coast, it’s impossible to follow the NBA 24/7. I don’t know how people with kids and families do it. Getting back to the West Coast is a personal goal of mine, which will happen this summer when I move back to Los Angeles. These hours will allow me to get back to a more normal life.

5. I want the Knicks to win a championship in my lifetime.

Just being a die hard Knicks fan and not seeing a title in my lifetime, that’s a personal goal. I’ve put so much work into watching every effing game since I was eight years old with Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the NBA playoffs. 

I was young, but I was old enough to know that I wanted to stay up for those games. I was emotionally invested. I would even get to the point where I was putting towels underneath the door so my parents couldn’t see that the TV was on. They thought I was sleeping. 

Patrick Ewing New York Knicks NBA Posters for sale | eBay
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Of course I want my team to win a championship, and I don’t want to die without seeing that mountaintop. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a Red Sox or Cubs fan and going all those years without seeing them win, then having it happen. I want to experience it once. 

Whatever it takes to get there. I have too many gray hairs on my head, and every single one of them I can attribute to a single Knicks game from the past decade. Being a fan while trying to create objective NBA content will always be a challenge, but being a Knicks fan will always take precedent over a career because it means that much to me.

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BSM Writers

Forget the Email, Just Smile & Dial

“Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam.”

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Back in August of last year, the pandemic was still front and center, acting as a roadblock for business. Retailers were in business and at the stores, but what about the advertising buyers? Where were they?

Well, the ad-buying community, corporate employees, and most white-collar workers were still at home. So were most of us in radio sales. So, when it came to prospecting for new accounts, some of us gave up, most sent emails, and a few brave souls hit the phone. Earlier this year, I wrote about the sales trainer John Barrows and how he got to the top by cold calling 400 prospects a week! That’s not cold emailing. That’s cold CALLING. And to be exact, if Barrows was working a 10 hour day on the phones Monday through Friday, he would dial at least eight prospects an hour. 

Does that send a chill down your spine?   Or does it make you want to run to your keyboard to avoid rejection and send some more cold emails? Back in August, when most of our ad buyers were at home, not near a business phone, Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino were recording a podcast about why you should hit the phone, not the email. Both sales consultants and authors thought we could improve our connect rate immensely by working the phones over email. 

Both authors agreed that we need to have conversations with people about our stations, personalities, shows, and the sports world! We can hire an automated CRM service to send emails!

Now I am all for some well-crafted custom emails sent to targets that do not answer phones or listen to voice mails but not as the first activity in a sales sequence. Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam. Our job isn’t to create awareness for buying sports radio packages; it is to make the sale!

We are consultants offering custom solutions to the unique challenges your clients have. And consider that if you pick up the phone and connect with the advertising buyer and get the appointment, you won’t need an email!  

Both consultants agree that you don’t need email to warm up a client when using the phone to get the appointment! I recently tested this theory myself and decided that with the pandemic subsiding in most metropolitan areas and more buyers going back to the office, I could start hitting the phones more. 

It worked. I got more appointments faster and wasted less time. I even got help. I had a business owner who I reached out to via email with a custom approach. I offered a few excellent ideas on how I could help him. Crickets. I let 2.5 weeks go by before I picked up the phone to dial the business and ask for him. They told me he was out on vacation and asked me if I had personal interaction with him. I explained no I was looking to connect with him on an advertising idea. The receptionist said you need to talk to Jane, the ad buyer. I was connected immediately.

Erma Scholl working the Old Forge switchboard in 1971. Photo courtesy of the Goodsell Museum.
Courtesy: Goodsell Museum

I left a voice mail. The next day I received a return call indicating interest in my idea, and we set the appointment. Now, why didn’t I try that in the first place!

If you want a custom phone pitch that I wrote out for myself, send me an email at jeffcaves54@gmail.com. Now it’s time to smile and dial! 

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 33

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It has been a busy week at BSM. Demetri Ravanos talks about Domonique Foxworth and the future of commentary on ESPN. Kate Constable stops by to discuss her column on Sarah Spain and the sometimes ugly realities of life as a woman in sports media. Finally, Brian Noe and Demetri discuss Le’veon Bell’s Twitter rant and how depressingly relevant it is in the radio business.

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