While watching the home run derby Monday Night, I started thinking about how the competition looked like the video games so many baseball fans love. The way balls were flying out of Coors Field, it was the stuff of Play Station or Nintendo. In other words, not real. It was ridiculous how strong some of these players are and what a show they put on for the fans in Denver. It reminded me of playing MLB The Show in one of its incarnations. I remember firing it up on my PSP (yes I had one) and more recently on my iPad just to see how far my player could hit a ball.
I think I started playing that particular game in 2008 and it’s amazing to me now, how much a regular normal baseball telecast looks like that game did. Could it be that the success of the franchise (MLB The Show) led to some imitation in a real broadcast? There are a lot of similarities in the presentation. There are some things that started in the video game realm and made their way into the broadcasts.
With all the new numbers in the game of baseball, I get the impression that StatCast was tested during some of the editions of the MLB video game. Launch angle, distance and exit velocity are featured in MLB Home Run Derby editions. The game helped to introduce the latest way to measure how well a ball is hit. The younger generation of fans grew up playing these games and it looks like the natural progression was to include these numbers and graphics into baseball telecasts. It’s genius. Baseball for years has been called a sport for the “older” generations. Catering to a younger audience hopefully will drum up more interest in the game.
The ways those stats come to life during games now is pretty cool. The little vignettes used to show how far an outfielder ranged to make a catch are easy on the eyes. It’s one thing to be able to say that Player X traveled 100.5 feet to make a catch that had a catch probability of 12.4 percent. To show it, increases the impact of the play. The manner in which other elements are telecast make me wonder sometimes how we survived watching a game without them?
Home run distances, launch angles, exit velocities, have become a normal part of game broadcasts. The little “vapor trails” to show the height and location of the homer, along with the distance counters remind me very much of video games. Plus, with every pitch over 95 miles an hour, the MPH indicator on the screen goes to a “fire color” to indicate the zip on the fastball.
Video games have also changed the way directors and producers bring you, the viewing audience, the game. It’s a trend that’s been going on for a few years now, especially in the NFL. New innovations like the overhead “sky cam” setting the stage after a change of possession and looking over both team’s huddles – video games did that first, especially at the start of the “e” games. There are other things that have been “leaking” into network NFL broadcasts as both the video game and telecast evolve.
A 2015 article published in “The Atlantic” featured a conversation with “Madden NFL 15’s” creative director, Mike Young, and its presentation director, Brian Murray. They’ve been making game directors and producers jealous over time, because on the video game there are no real constraints.
Murray and Young “allow” their simulated camera people and directors take more risks than they would in a broadcast. Obviously because they aren’t real. In “Madden 15”, the Steadicam operator follows the quarterback from the sidelines, then on to the field, and enters a huddle. Only as he begins to take his place on the field will the cameraman finally back off. That was supposed to be something that could only appear in the game. But now several years later we see this happening on TV.
“I’m not saying there’s any confirmation they did it [because of us], but I did it with Mike and now I’m seeing it in the broadcast,” said Murray. Just watch a game and you’ll get that actual confirmation.
Both men also said live-game producers and directors are often jealous of them based on their creative freedom when it comes to the video game.
“We’ll meet with the producer and director for Monday Night Football and they’ll ask us what we do. There’s some jealousy with our freedom to put a camera anywhere and do it cheaply,” Young said to “The Atlantic”.
Another innovated idea introduced by the gentlemen was to add a player icon. That can either be the little animated circle under the player you’re controlling, or the graphic you see on the screen that’s attached to a player. The player’s name, position and jersey number are “pinned” to him/her as they move around the field. You see that a lot now on NFL broadcasts and college football games. You also see it during baseball telecasts to indicate which runners are on base, or where the infielders are located during a shift. It’s truly amazing to think about that technology and how it aids in watching a game.
Over the years, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, Score Bugs seem to have been a biproduct of video game influence. I know that the first one here in the United States debuted in 1994 with the NFL on Fox, but it was a very basic and boring version of what it is today. It seems like several networks, including ESPN, have used their video games to “test” what graphics may look like on tv. That including the score, timeouts, teams, clock and play clock.
Thinking about other innovations from a couple of other sports that are video game-ish. Let’s not forget the 1st and 10-line, showing the viewer how far a team needs to go to gain a first down. How did we EVER survive without that? How about the glowing puck in the old Fox NHL broadcasts? It made it easier for the non-hockey fan to follow the action, but of course this was before HDTV. Also thinking about golf and it’s shot tracer technology. Your favorite golfer gets on the tee and hits, you see the shape of their shot, the apex of the ball and to the right of the screen, where it will likely land on an animated view of the golf course. Amazing stuff.
In general, things on a broadcast that were probably influenced by a video game are numerous. The overall presentation. That includes multiple replays and angles on crucial plays in a game. The sound effects you hear when going to a replay or coming out of one. The enhanced sound overall on the field with the use of skillfully placed microphones were likely instituted after someone played a video game. It’s a flashy production and presentation, which can be received differently based on how big a fan you are of the game or sport you’re watching.
These innovations and technologies make it so great to watch a game at home. It’s definitely viewer friendly these days and has everything for a casual fan or a crazed fan. While the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball love when viewership is up there could be an inherent problem. The game on your TV makes you feel like you’re at the stadium, hockey rink or ballpark, why would you even bother going to one of their games? You already have the best seat in the house and the beer is definitely cheaper.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.