Crafting a unique, on-air sound is something Ryan Hurley has aspired to do since starting his career at 98.7 ESPN New York. A Hofstra University graduate, Hurley was interested in radio from the time he was young, and now is an integral part of the industry that helped shape his interests.
“I grew up a control-room rat,” said Hurley. “I loved the content and creative side of radio; it’s still the most intimate form of broadcasting there is. The relationship you create with the audience keeps me motivated.”
Hurley was initially offered an entry-level marketing and promotion position at 1050 ESPN-AM out of college in 2004, something that, while it was radio-related, he had no interest in. The niche areas of sports radio programming and production were where Hurley’s interests truly lied, and after declining the initial job offer, he was afforded a second opportunity.
“After I hung up the phone, I was immediately kind of kicking myself because everyone tells you to say yes to everything no matter what the position is,” said Hurley. “I got another call a couple of days later, and they took my résumé at programming. I spoke with someone there, and got an entry level production/board operations position.”
Upon starting at 1050 ESPN New York, Hurley produced various talk shows and worked directly with on-air personalities and commentators. Eventually his responsibilities grew as he became the lead producer of The Michael Kay Show. Since his first days at the station in 2004, sports talk radio has drastically changed, something that Hurley had to embrace in order to be successful.
“The platforms have changed especially the way it’s consumed from terrestrially to streaming and digital platforms,” said Hurley. “[Smart devices] are used by many people, especially over this last year-and-a-half, and over the pandemic, we saw that usage increase a ton.”
These changes in consumption habits and platform distribution have had a consequential impact on the ratings system, a primary measurement to determine the profitability and popularity of radio stations. As a program director, Hurley has had to alter the way he qualitatively analyzes the numbers, since they are not currently reflective on all of the methods by which people immerse themselves in sports radio.
“[The] measurement [of ratings] has certainly been questioned over the last years about accuracy in how many people have meters and how much of the audience is represented,” said Hurley. “[Additionally], there is not a way to measure… [consumption] through their phones and devices… so there’s an adjustment made to how that is measured. Ratings still play a big part in our business and how we plan in terms of strategizing with the shows and our sales teams. It’s the same for everyone for now, whether or not people believe it is necessarily measuring [them] properly.”
Hurley acknowledges that sports talk radio has become based more on entertainment than it has on reporting and analyzing the latest scores, stats and news. Targeting the content to the listening audience keeps people engaged and ostensibly-indebted to the shows, institutionalizing it as an essential part of listeners’ days.
“We are here to entertain people and provide content that will keep them coming back,” affirmed Hurley. “When trying to get an audience and develop programming, you want those shows to be like hanging out with your friends every day; you don’t want to miss out on what everyone is saying.”
As a program director, one of Hurley’s jobs is to scout and cultivate air talent, a task that is done both externally and internally. In an age where the demand for quality content is higher than ever before and where people have a plethora of choices as to what to listen to, finding on-air talent that is impressionable and entertaining remains a challenge.
“I have a great deal of people who reach out to me and… send me examples of their work,” said Hurley. “We have also had people on our staff internally come up through the production side, or [do] some part-time hosting that have ended up being on our staff and doing full-time work. Entertaining people is the number one thing I look for, as well as different, unique takes and angles, and the potential to have some inside knowledge and information on things that other people can’t bring to the table.”
Some of these changes occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic, but many were catalyzed by the sudden shift in lifestyle and need for adaptation which occurred after it was declared a national emergency, causing sports, entertainment and much of the industrial world to completely shut down.
“People needed an escape or some sort of outlet from all of the reality of what was going on in the world,” reminisced Hurley. “We had to get creative in the way we programmed in what content we created and what we discussed. On the other end of that, the way we operate also changed drastically; we had to figure out a way to get everyone on-the-air basically from their homes.”
98.7 ESPN New York placed its focus on working together as a team during the pandemic in order to withstand a seminal moment in modern history altogether. It’s something that Hurley is especially appreciative of his staff for being able to do.
“It was all hands on deck during the last year and a half between engineering, production, figuring out ways to make everything work,” said Hurley. “With all that has occurred and changed, it’s been pretty impressive to see what we were able to pull off and keep together for our audience, staff and programs.”
As a result of the widespread financial hardship endured by radio stations through the COVID-19 pandemic, the presence of content driven by sports betting platforms, such as FanDuel, Bet365 and DraftKings became distinctly more prevalent through advertising.
“It’s a huge opportunity to work with different sports-betting companies and clients, as well as for on-air content,” said Hurley. “All around, it’s a big part of what’s going on in the landscape of our industry in not just radio, but television as well.”
During the extended period without sports in the early stages of the pandemic, Hurley and ESPN New York had to work to maintain relationships with professional sports teams they broadcast. Once they resumed play, they had to adapt to new guidelines mandating broadcasts.
“Relationships are key… and working with not only the P.R. staff, but as a team at the station,” said Hurley. “You have to coordinate with programming, team interviews with coaches and players, setting up potential shows, getting liners from players in the pre-season, etc.”
ESPN Radio New York is unique among its competitors, as it has both FM and AM frequencies to which it can broadcast its programming. Those assets allow them to air multiple games at a time. The station currently has relationships with the New York Jets, the New York Knicks, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.
“Certain broadcasts will take priority over others,” explained Hurley, “and the good thing is that we have 1050 ESPN that we can use as a place for people to listen if there’s a conflict. It’s crucial to have relationships with teams and people behind the scenes; it’s not just the games that air, it’s a lot of the ancillary stuff as well.”
Another unique aspect of ESPN Radio New York is that it is a part of the ESPN parent brand, something Hurley says helps the radio station attract talent and guests. Moreover, the conglomeration of distribution platforms helps the station facilely produce other sports-related content and air national games, including enticing contests throughout the M.L.B. postseason and N.B.A. playoffs.
“We have good working relationships with the television producers at the networks, and are in communication a good amount,” said Hurley. “There’s been great collaboration between the television and audio side. The ability to have… [the] resources to use and work with… [is] one great thing about our company.”
Through times of extreme challenge and unforeseen hardship, ESPN Radio has endured, and Hurley remains motivated to elevate the station to the next level, even in an age of changing audio consumption.
“I want us to be the greatest station there is,” said Hurley. “To see where we have come from as 1050-AM, to where we are now at 98.7-FM, and the way we’ve grown product, talent, programming and relationships — it’s amazing. Seeing that progress is what keeps me driven.”
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.