A good sports talk show host, a good talk show host of any kind really, has to have some ego. He or she has to believe they are good at the job. Confidence is part of what makes a host an entertainer and not just some person talking into a microphone.
Being a great host means you know how to command an audience. It means you know how to lead a conversation and be interesting. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a grasp on what it is the audience wants to talk about today. You would be surprised how many hosts, in high profile positions, when left to their own devices, will not include major headline stories in their rundown.
You may be objecting and saying that a good entertainer can get his audience to follow them anywhere. That might be true, but is it the best way to build loyalty? Also, it’s exhausting to think that way every single day.
The best communicators in this business start by figuring out where their listeners’ brains are and then going there. It is why, in the middle of a very compelling NBA Finals, a host in Oklahoma City will lead his show with talk about a Sooners team that is still more than a month and a half from starting its season. That is what most sports fans in that city are thinking about right now.
Ego is a necessity to succeed in the media world, but strategically deployed humbleness can take the confidence generated by ego even further.
That means that a program director has to pay attention to show rundowns. If a host is making all of those decisions and those decisions don’t make sense to the PD, then the PD has to step in. That can mean empowering a producer to step in and steer the rundown. That can mean implementing a content clock that dictates something like 50% of every hour will be dedicated to a particular home team. A programmer has a lot of options getting the right conversations on air.
Sports radio is filled with former players. Plenty of hosts in large markets are also personalities on league networks or are part of certain teams’ broadcasts. It’s natural that those guys feel comfortable talking about their particular area of expertise, but if that is all they feel like they can do, you have to step in.
Guys like that have plenty of contacts across their sport of choice. A former player is a great avenue for scoring interviews with current players and coaches. There has to be a governor on the rolodex though. Some guys just like to show off their access. If the Colts aren’t playing the Raiders on Sunday, what value is there in having Jon Gruden on an Indianapolis radio station that week? No matter how big the star, if there is not obvious, immediate local relevance, it is worth asking what is in this interview for the listeners.
Having a good compass for content isn’t just about what you are talking about. It is also about how you are treating the topic. If you are on in Seattle and you hit the expansion draft once on Thursday morning’s show, did you properly serve your audience? The Kraken will finally have a roster. That will be a major conversation for local sports fans.
Picking good content is about picking out the angles to pursue. On the day of a major event like the expansion draft, you need to look at your rundown and ask if you are doing enough. Hitting on a few major, available names and then moving on to other topics just isn’t going to cut it.
This is why I advocated last week for radio guys to be at the forefront of the application stack when it comes to producers. If a host is the type that likes to fit as many topics into a show as he can, the host needs a creative partner that can get him excited about talking about a single subject in a variety of ways.
Content selection really can make or break a show. I have spoken to local hosts that in the past were looking for someone to tell them that their show would be better if they talked about the biggest national stories instead of having to talk about a local college team or a local pro team that is in the middle of another unremarkable season.
I always answer the same way. Can you do a better job with the national story than ESPN or FOX? Can you book a better guest? Can you and your one producer put together a more compelling segment with stats, opinions, and audio than a network show and its three, four, or five producers can? Maybe, but it isn’t likely. So if the other sports station in town is airing syndicated programming, isn’t the winning play to go local? Even if the national show touches on a topic in your town, they shouldn’t be able to create better content with the story than you can.
You may not like to describe yourself this way, but hosts, producers, and programmers in any radio format are artists. There is no formula for guaranteed success in what we do. All you can do is make judgement calls and hope they are right.
The difference between radio and visual art forms is there is still a game to win in our case. We all want to win, so if you are questioning your host’s judgement in terms of content, why not make it easier for them to make the right calls?
ESPN Can’t Be ESPN Without Football
“You know the saying “scared money don’t make money?” Well, ESPN knows that smart money can eliminate the need for scared money entirely.”
I saw a Tweet on Monday, just after Texas and Oklahoma made their impending exit from the Big 12 official, that interested me. Athlon’s Bryan Fischer asked how the recent investment in college football ESPN has made would affect its ability to lure more properties to the network.
Much has been made of the American television rights to the Premier League hitting the open market. ESPN, Amazon and DAZN have all expressed interest, while NBC has made it clear that it does not intend to let Britain’s top soccer league go anywhere else. All of that points to a major bidding war on the horizon.
ESPN has invested a lot in soccer recently, particularly at ESPN+. The company has the American media rights to top leagues in 9 different countries, including Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, which are both full of international stars. It also has MLS games and major national and club tournaments from Europe. Whenever that day gets here where soccer overtakes hockey and then baseball as America’s third most popular sport, ESPN is in good position.
That is kind of the point here. ESPN does a lot of betting on the future. The major investment in college football is about cashing in right now. Younger American generations really like soccer and follow it in a variety of ways. The generation with money to spend right now loves football and they are going to consume it wherever they need to.
ESPN will pony up the money to expand the College Football Playoff. It will get behind Texas & Oklahoma moving to the SEC, where it is already heavily invested. It will open up the checkbook and tell the NFL “just name the amount” in order to get a Super Bowl.
You know the saying “scared money don’t make money?” Well, ESPN knows that smart money can eliminate the need for scared money entirely.
History is on ESPN’s side when you talk about taking risks. The network has bet big and seen it payoff. It rode college basketball to national relevance in a time when that sport was a blip on most people’s radars. More recently, it got in on the World Series of Poker at the right time and pulled back when it needed to.
If ESPN views the Premier League as a necessity for its future, it isn’t hard to imagine it will have any trouble finding the necessary money. But the network knows that football, both college and the NFL, are not leaving the top of the American sports hierarchy any time soon. The goal isn’t just to have football. It is to have the very best football.
So, it does what it needs to in order to become a part of the Super Bowl rotation. It commits the resources to expanding the College Football Playoff. And right now, as the SEC is busy not just winning the college football arms race, but obliterating anyone in its path, ESPN is committing what it needs to to make its top college sports property a juggernaut.
Conservative pundits love to make a big deal of ESPN subscription numbers, pretending not to know that no one subscribes individually to cable channels. But look at the money being thrown around. Clearly Disney thinks the network is doing just fine and is worth investing in. For better or worse, it shapes most of the national sports conversation.
If Norby Williamson and Jimmy Pitaro think that conversation will include more Premier League talk in the future, they will find the money to spend. And when they find it, they will thank the SEC and the NFL for taking the network’s money and turning it into more money.
Are Media Days Good For Content Or Just Good For Networking?
“There is an ego boost for hosts attending these events and holding court with colleagues from across the country, but how does that help the people that are coming to you to be entertained before having to clock into a job they hate?”
Last week, most major college football conferences put on an event. They gathered the coaches from every team and invited media members from across the country to attend. Media Days used to really matter in college football. In 2021, I found myself skimming a lot of stations broadcasting live from Birmingham or Charlotte or Indianapolis and wondering “who even cares about this awful content?”.
Media Days are only slightly better than radio row at the Super Bowl. No one is trying to get you to put a long-retired kicker on the air for five minutes to talk about boner pills, but I am not sure a stream of coaches and players, who have spent the better part of the previous month practicing saying nothing, is that much better.
I get that there is value in these gatherings. This is usually the first chance to ask coaches the questions the media has been making content out of for the entire summer. It is a chance to reconnect with colleagues in other markets and compare some notes. They can be a lot of fun sometimes for the people in attendance. I am just not sure if the payoff is there for the listeners and so I am not sure that every station really can justify going.
There are plenty of stations to do these events right. 1010XL in Jacksonville sent two hosts to Birmingham for SEC Media Days. They were at their table all day. The hosts back in the studio in Florida would throw to them live whenever a coach worth putting on air was in the vicinity. There were no all day broadcasts and that meant no filler content. All that went on the air was the content that you had to be in Birmingham to get. 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC did something very similar, with Heath Cline being the only host there and creating smaller, more impactful content for the whole station.
For some markets, these events matter a lot. Birmingham is the single most college football obsessed market in America. JOX 94.5 probably made the right decision by being in the Wynfrey Hotel hallways all day for all four days of the event. Of course, it helps that the station has a new morning show hosted by two ESPN employees with relationships with most if not all of the conference’s coaches. Raleigh, where I live now, is the home radio market for three ACC teams. It makes sense 99.9 The Fan sent two shows to be in Charlotte for both days of the conference’s media event.
Still though, there are plenty of questions hosts at those stations and at stations in similar markets have to ask themselves. Is there anything we can get by going there that we cannot get year round? Does our audience like the sport? Does it like the conference? Or is it maybe just passionate about the home team(s)? If the answer is the latter – and I genuinely think that is the case in Raleigh, why waste the money getting the same interviews you can get for free during the season? You know, that time when there is actually something happening worth talking about.
Look, I’ve been a host and a producer. I get the appeal of these events and I understand that being live and sitting down with names like Dabo and Saban make the station sound bigger. There is some value in attending these media days.
But value to us as broadcasters and value to the audience are different things. We talk about “outside the box thinking” and “thinking like a listener” constantly. This is one of those issues where the value to the audience is the only value that matters really.
Programmers need to approach events like these with a plan. The same can really be said for any radio row. Do you send staff to do three or four hour long live shows for multiple days? Do you send your morning show to broadcast live but stick around to record interviews later in the day so that you can decide what is relevant before airing it?
One part of the programmer’s job description that isn’t often named is “listener advocate.” He or she has think outside the box while living inside of it. There is an ego boost for hosts attending these events and holding court with colleagues from across the country, but how does that help the people that are coming to you to be entertained before having to clock into a job they hate?
I can hear the pushback right now. “Demetri, do you know how much money we make from companies that want to sponsor our broadcasts from media days?”
I am sure the amount is high, but I am also positive that one broadcast or one week long events not the only reason they spend money with you. Also, I am not telling you that there is absolutely zero reason to attend these events. I am just asking you to evaluate how good the content that comes from them actually is.
There was actually an interesting story that broke in the middle of SEC Media Days, with news that Texas and Oklahoma are aggressively pursuing membership in the conference. But did that lead to any real news from the coaches in Birmingham? Not really. They all answered with platitudes and deferrals whenever they were asked about what a 16-team SEC would mean for the rest of college sports. I think most stations would have been just as well served to pull that audio off of ESPN.com.
College football is my favorite sport in the world. I love when we all get together, both at actual conventions and various radio rows that serve as pseudo-conventions. I understand and actually like media days. I just think it is important to consider whether or not there are enough people in your market that cannot live without hearing your hosts talk to Shane Beamer. If you are anywhere but Columbia, South Carolina, I am virtually positive the answer is no.
The Wins And Losses Of Gambling Twitter
“The great part of Gambling Twitter is that it’s open to everyone and anybody can prove themselves.”
Let’s face it. Twitter has changed the way we do a lot of things. For some, it’s replaced the daily newspapers. For others, it’s a means of communicating with an audience. Regardless of the way you utilize Twitter, no one can deny its impact.
In the sports world in particular, Twitter can be an interesting space. It’s a place where you can collectively live through an experience like watching a big game or reacting to news. It’s also a place where opinions can be shared and “liked” and of course, disliked. So, what happens when an open social media platform collides with the booming business of legalized sports betting? Gambling Twitter.
Gambling Twitter is an interesting term. It can describe many things. You could be talking about #GamblingTwitter, where someone likely uses the Hashtag to promote their picks or attract an audience, or you could simply be referring to the community of people on Twitter, who talk about Gambling. I prefer the latter. And Gambling Twitter can be a great place.
James Alberino, who runs @SpreadInvestor says the communal aspect, as well as the opportunity it provides, is what makes Gambling Twitter special.
“The great part of Gambling Twitter is that it’s open to everyone and anybody can prove themselves. If you’re good and know how to market yourself (or work for a company that’s good at marketing) you’ll grow a following and network with some great people along the way. There’s also nowhere better to be online during a game when you have a bet than on Twitter. The reactions and humor are some of the best live entertainment that you can get. There are a lot of smart people on here and when they work together, they help each other’s careers/businesses. It’s like one big virtual office where a lot of people in the industry can talk to one another whenever they want and collaborate on work.”
Using Gambling Twitter to help promote your career is something Pamela Maldonado (@pamelam35), Yahoo SportsBook Betting Analyst, feels strongly about from personal experience.
“Twitter being beneficial is an understatement,” she told me. “I started posting picks/analysis back in 2016 as a hobby when I was waist deep in the poker world. Looking back now, that was my resume and I was working on getting to where I am now unknowingly. I also have a background in social media marketing so I am very aware of the need to engage with users. I take the time to talk to everyone and respond to every DM. I love Twitter. It connects the world. It’s given me a space to talk about the things that are important to me. 2020, that was the political climate, in 2021, it’s Novak Djokovic and tennis.”
But not every experience is positive.
Alberino says “It can be very cutthroat especially among guys who have been in the space for a long time. There is a lot of money in this industry and everyone in it is trying to get a piece of the pie in the form of either money or media attention. There are a lot of scammers who do not care about their followers other than the dollar signs and a ton of people have bad tastes in their mouths from it. They take that baggage with them a lot of times when they do business with other cappers. Then there are the casual gamblers in the audience who think they know more than they do about betting. The scamming and ignorance has been going on forever though, it’s not just a Twitter thing. But Twitter gives these guys no barrier to entry and an open platform. A portion of broadcasters and pro bettors have figured out ways to work together but for the most part there’s a divide between “touts” and people on the media side of the industry, for understandable reasons. Some handicappers act like complete jackasses. And some media people are very good with a mic but not as much at betting. So you have two worlds colliding and some people stepping out of bounds to either gain followers or make more money.”
James is right. Everyone is trying to grab a piece of the pie. Each Sportsbook utilizes Twitter to promote itself. But are they doing it from a genuine place? How many times have you seen a Sportsbook account tweet out a winning long shot parlay? Countless times a day right? The reality of the matter is that these winning bets are extremely rare, however by tweeting and retweeting them, they hope to make the casual better feel as if they could be next. When, in reality, they just want customers to place these losing wagers so they can make money. That’s their business model.
Another negative aspect is the feedback. Some would say, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”, and they’re probably right. If you publicly make a bet, you’re opening yourself to negative reaction when that bet loses. Does that always happen?
“I’ve been fortunate to not experience any type of negativity, but I think it’s because of the way I present myself,” Maldonado says. “I never just give picks. I give a thorough reason. I post my record, I answer questions, and I try my best to differentiate what is ‘content’ and what is an actual bet. How I do that: by posting, “I am playing.” It’s fair to say that I’ve been more right, than I have been wrong, so I believe that I’ve created a loyal following of those who trust me and stand by me, even during a downswing. Has there been a change over the years? I can’t say for sure. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I have blocked and that’s because I’ve been on Twitter for a very long time. It’s a very short list of negative experiences, so far, and I think that mostly comes from me knowing my audience, knowing how to communicate, and knowing how to handle the bad days of betting – and that’s by acknowledging them, not ignoring them.”
But what about being a woman in this space? Is the experience different because its largely a male dominated audience? Ariel Epstein of SportsGrid (@ArielEpstein) shared her experience.
“Overall, it’s positive. I love interacting with everyone through the wins and losses. It’s a lot of fun to enjoy the wins and I have to say most of my followers are very understanding of the losses. I’ve always prided myself on giving out so many reasons to take my bet, that if it does lose, someone says ‘wow I can’t believe that lost.’
“There are always a few trolls who will say things like ‘I remember when you always won,’ or ‘at least you’re pretty.’ I’ve been asked on dates via direct message many times before. I usually just don’t answer. My motto is always to engage with the good people and ignore the bad. It gets less traction for the trolls on Twitter if I just don’t respond.
“I’ve always known I’d have to have thick skin as a female to make it in this business. The gambling side of things adds a whole new element because now you’re messing with people’s money. On the lighter side, I have been asked by many men if they could buy me a drink or send me money via Venmo because I won them bets. I find those types of things hilarious because I don’t know these people. I know it’s coming from a good place though. I do decline by the way.”
I think there’s an interesting case study to be done on Gambling Twitter because there are so many different aspects of it. You can talk about the handicappers, the analysts, the Sportsbooks and the audience. Each play their own role in the community.
I for one, love being a part of Gambling Twitter. Yes, I’ve had to mute a few trolls, but there’s nothing better than getting a tweet thanking you for the work you’ve done. I don’t post plays on Twitter to brag or claim victory over anyone. I post to help provide education to a larger audience craving information. If I can help people win a few bucks, that’s great. If it loses, then I take the heat. I understand the role I play. I walk a fine line because I am a member of the media, hosting several radio/tv shows, and a handicapper, because I pride myself on providing picks and analysis to the audience. Am I a social media guru? No. But I think there’s a place for me on Gambling Twitter, and I think there’s a place for you too.
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