College football tapped me on the shoulder this past weekend and told me I needed an attitude adjustment. I’ve been guilty this year — as many other hosts have — of focusing too much of my attention on Alabama’s dominance. Highly ranked teams were slow out of the gate to start the season while Bama looked more like Usain Bolt sprinting down the track. After the Tide dusted Miami 44-13, I turned into a “can’t-beat-Bama” broken record. I now see how that’s the wrong message to harp on.
It wasn’t the Florida Gators that made me realize this as they made Bama sweat out a tough 31-29 win. It was actually the great atmospheres at various colleges Saturday that caused me to rethink my stance. Penn State was a madhouse as it hosted and beat No. 22 Auburn. Indiana’s home crowd was so hyped to face No. 8 Cincinnati that fans in the student section ripped out an entire bleacher. Why? Because they were fired up beyond the point of making rational decisions.
The thought finally popped into my head; it’d be really sad if fans around the country said, “We can’t beat Bama so what’s the use?” Think about that. Picture half empty stadiums as fans refused to show up until their odds of dethroning Nick Saban improved. No energy. No excitement. Just blah. No jumping around at Camp Randall. No tomahawk chop at Tallahassee. No white outs in Happy Valley. Nothing.
Passion is what makes college football so great. You can even feel the electricity in the crowd while watching at home. It would be depressing if great fan bases shrugged their shoulders and weakly accepted that Alabama is better.
If all of that would be lame, then why would harping on Bama’s dominance work in sports radio?
Look, there are certainly times for hosts to stir the pot and be the bearers of bad news, but it shouldn’t be all of the time. Nobody wants a nonstop reality check. Imagine if you grabbed the mic from the PA announcer and said, “Hey, all of you Penn State homers, don’t forget that Bama would smoke you by three touchdowns.” Think that would go over well? Nope. So why would it be much different on the air?
Hosting shows is about more than just being right. Rosie Perez once said in White Men Can’t Jump, “Sometimes when you win, you really lose.” Sometimes in sports radio when you’re right, you’re actually wrong. Instead of predicting the winning team on ESPN’s College GameDay each Saturday, picture Lee Corso saying, “Neither one of these teams is beating Bama so the heck with it.” Although Corso would probably be correct, he wouldn’t benefit from the wrong approach.
One of the things that makes the NFL so great is hope. Many fan bases have realistic hope of winning a championship. That isn’t the case in college football. Imagine if the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the first pick in each round of the NFL draft. They’d be even more dominant. Well, that’s basically what happens with Alabama as the defending champs reload with the best recruiting class each year.
Constantly reminding people of that reality is like your smartwatch saying, “You’re overweight. You’re overweight. You’re overweight.” Nobody wants that. You’d chuck that thing into the closest body of water if that were the case.
It’s not just about what hosts are saying, it’s about what they’re selling. If a host keeps saying Alabama can’t be beaten, that host is selling a reality check that most people don’t want. Instead of a vendor at a baseball game saying, “Get your popcorn here,” the host is actually saying, “Get your harsh dose of reality that you really don’t want here.” Who’s buying that?
Hosts should be mindful of how things land. Colin Cowherd once alluded to this thought on his show. I can’t remember what he was specifically talking about, but he referred to a topic and said something in the neighborhood of, “It’ll probably be clunky. It’s not going to land well.” The last part always stuck with me.
It’s a great advantage to be aware of how your comments will land with others. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, wanna take a trip somewhere? It’d be fun.” It’s completely different to yell at your partner, “I refuse to be in a relationship where we don’t go out and do things.” The goal is the same; let’s go do something. But the approach and outcome is much different. If you’re aware of how things will land, you can arrange your comments to be beneficial.
I understand that one of the core ingredients of sports radio is stirring the pot, but not all stirring works. Saying the Dallas Cowboys stink or the Los Angeles Lakers are overrated largely works because most people want that to be the case. Who wants Bama to be unstoppable? Bama fans. Anybody else? No, that’s pretty much the entire list.
By touting Bama, you are selling Bama. Hosts might not even realize they’re doing it. Heck, I didn’t until this past weekend. I was focused on being right instead how things would land. It’s always wise for hosts to ask themselves, “What am I selling?” It’s so simple yet so easy to overlook. You start thinking, “What can I talk about today? I can mention this. I can bring up that.” You forget that your stance on any topic is basically a sales pitch.
Why would you sell despair? Especially relating to college football! One of the greatest strengths of college football is the enthusiasm. Don’t throw a bucket of ice water on that excitement; tap into it. At the very least don’t beat a dead horse. If you’re going to talk about college ball, bring more to the table than, “Can’t beat ‘Bama.” All it will earn is a collective eye roll. That basic take won’t land well.
There are certainly times for hosts to go against the grain, to argue against what listeners think or want. But it’s hard to make a career out of that approach. You’re selling what they aren’t buying. Like Jalen Rose quoting The O’Jays; you got to give the people what they want. There is an excellent line from Proximo in the movie Gladiator; “I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you’ll win your freedom.” You can’t win the crowd in sports radio by selling what listeners don’t want.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.