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Sports Radio Gears Up For The 2021 NFL Season

“The idea of an extra game in January, which will obviously stretch the playoffs more, gives you a shot in the arm to stretch out the book.”

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The 2021 NFL. season is set to kick off tonight when the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by quarterback Tom Brady, host “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys, in the Sunshine State. Around the country, sports radio stations with and without team play-by-play rights are preparing for what is sure to be an unparalleled season, including the addition of a 17th game, and the threat COVID-19 imposes on teams, potentially subjecting them to forfeiting and/or canceling games if there is an outbreak of the deadly disease.

As teams return to the gridiron, they will have to judge their opponents, making adjustments during the game in order to put themselves in the best position to win. Similarly, sports radio, in a new digital age, will have to continue evolving so it fits consumption trends and technological innovations, all while remaining committed to best serving its listening audience.

“There’s a lot more information being distributed more quickly, and because of that, it creates a greater sense of immediacy in talking football on the radio,” said Raj Sharan, program director of 104.3 The Fan and ESPN Denver 1600. “Sports talk radio is live [and] local… [it] is really well-equipped to be in the moment. [We] can really help create that immediacy and intimacy with the listener.”

According to a recent Gallup poll, football is America’s most popular sport, with 37% of respondents choosing football when asked what was their favorite sport to watch. Keeping fans engaged with new content is something radio stations will strive to do as they set to embark upon a season full of uncertainty and ambivalence amid the global pandemic. Some of the ways stations intend to do this include introducing new programming and/or making existing programming accessible across a wider variety of platforms.

“We have a [Minnesota] Vikings-related show every day of the week,” said Chad Abbott, program director of KFAN Minneapolis, which holds the broadcast rights to the Minnesota Vikings. “This year, we have a podcast made for radio as opposed to a radio show made for podcasts [, and] it will feature a handful of different Vikings players throughout the season.”

In the District of Columbia, Washington Football Team Head Coach Ron Rivera is set to join The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan as a weekly guest throughout the 2021 season. This valuable addition to the guest list should give fans unrivaled insight pertaining to the Washington Football Team, along with offering them perspective from a current NFL. head coach who is around the players for practices and during each game.

With football’s substantial popularity comes the ability to augment revenue, ratings and listener engagement ahead of the release of the fall ratings book. Program directors, such as Sharan, are cognizant of the book’s importance on determining the success of their radio stations, and value its numbers, along with growth across digital platforms.

“Every ratings book is important; that goes without saying,” expressed Sharhan. “Obviously the fall one is very special because football is very popular and it’s America’s number one sport. We count on this time of year financially because of how popular the sport is.”

Chris Kinard, operations manager at Audacy D.C. and the brand manager of the aforementioned 106.7 The Fan, in addition to 94.7 The Drive and The Team 980, the latter of which holds the broadcast rights to the Washington Football Team, carries a similar sentiment regarding the emphasis those across the industry put on fall ratings. He looks at a variety of numbers, both traditionally- and digitally-based, to get a broad sense of how the stations he manages are doing.

“In terms of measuring the audience, I think that’s a challenging thing right now,” said Kinard. “We do have more tools at our fingertips than we have ever had in terms of supplementing Nielsen data with streaming data, podcast downloads and website traffic. That helps give a better picture of how big of an impact the football season has on audience growth.”

While there are a handful of diehard football fans who will watch the games and engage with the teams on media platforms no matter how the season is going, some fans rapidly lose interest in football, even if their team is contending for that coveted Lombardi Trophy. While the NFL generally garners most of the sports headlines during this time of year, the NBA and NHL both begin in just a few weeks, and that, combined with the ongoing college football season and the imminent start of the MLB playoffs, sometimes cause the effects of this oversaturation of sports and ancillary content to be felt by sports radio stations.

“I think the NFL is the best sport for when teams are struggling because there is always a storyline that can be talked about during the week,” said Abbott. “My hope every year is that the team is as close to making the playoffs as they can by the end of the [fall ratings] book. Sometimes, it’s nicer to have a 9-7 team than a 14-1 team because you [then] don’t have the ability to live and die by each game.”

Unfortunately for Sharan, he’s had “about five years of practice” in covering a struggling football team. Ever since winning the Super Bowl in 2015, the Denver Broncos have failed to qualify for the NFL playoffs, finishing last or in second-to-last place in four of those five seasons. The key question for sports talk radio stations relates to keeping the audience intact throughout the entire season, even if the local team has a losing record and is quickly eliminated from playoff contention.

When radio stations hold the broadcast rights for a team, though, freely expressing critical opinions towards the team’s personnel and ownership is often seen as damaging to the partnership. The Denver Broncos currently broadcast their games on KOA NewsRadio, and for Sharan, he sees the prospect of obtaining the broadcast rights to the team, if it were hypothetically possible, as eschewing his station’s ability to be an extension of the fanbase.

“We’ve built our brand around personalities free to give their opinion without endangering any type of partnership,” said Sharan. “We view being a completely independent brand to where people can come to get unimpeded opinions as a positive. If we want to dig in on Broncos ownership and how that’s affected the issues going on, we can do that. If we want to hold a front office executive or coach accountable in a major way, we can do that. We don’t have the obligation that tends to come with those rights. I absolutely never want the broadcast rights [to] the Denver Broncos.”

For radio stations holding the broadcast rights to NFL teams, such as those managed by Kinard and Abbott though, they enter this season vulnerable to experience two scenarios; one of which will be a definitive occurrence, and the other which will be sought to be avoided entirely. The first is the addition of a 17th game to the NFL schedule, something that was officially added to the league schedule after the NFL and its player association inked a new collective bargaining agreement in March 2020.

As the first major change to the NFL schedule since the 1978 season, fans and broadcast affiliates alike are enthusiastic about the addition of another week of regular season football and content. From a program director’s perspective, though, there is more to be excited about than just the local team taking the field one extra time.

“Selfishly, it’s good for programmers,” Abbott elucidated. “It extends into the winter [ratings] book of the next calendar year, so this season will extend into the 2022 winter book. The idea of an extra game in January, which will obviously stretch the playoffs more, gives you a shot in the arm to stretch out the book.”

Concurrent with the seventeenth game, though, is the reality that all stakeholders — whether they be fans, broadcast partners, radio stations, or teams — would like to avoid: The threat of some scheduled games having to be canceled or forfeited because of the spread of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) of SARS-CoV-2, the direct cause of the fast-spreading, more severe form of COVID-19. If cancelation or forfeiture of matchups occurs, sports radio stations will treat it like breaking news, adjusting on the fly to continue to produce relevant football-related content.

“We haven’t discussed in detail any type of contingency plan because, just like any other storyline, that becomes the thing we talk about,” said Kinard. “We’d approach that the same way we did last year when there were changes to the schedule; we talk about the effect of that, whether it is right or wrong, who is to blame [, etc.] This is a storyline.”

Entering the 102nd season of the National Football League, where, in many marketplaces, fans will be allowed to attend the games en masse for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, sports radio stations are committed to bringing their audiences extensive coverage of all the action on and off the field. In the process, they seek to improve and/or maintain ratings, generate more revenue and increase listener engagement.

“We know that during the football season we gain new listeners and clients, and we want to find ways to maintain them throughout the rest of the year,” expressed Abbott. “It’s a marketing tool for many radio stations; the challenge is maintaining listeners throughout the season.”

It is nearly time for kickoff, and sports radio stations will attempt to put themselves in the best position to score a touchdown this football season in a dynamic media landscape. The extra point, though, will surely come from fans being able to safely enjoy the games together again under diminished restrictions.

“We all had a very difficult last year-and-a-half and have looked towards September as a time where kids are going back to school, people are returning to the office, etc.,” said Kinard. “Football is back, and [with] all of those things combined, it should make for a great fall.”

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

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. 

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