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The Shop Isn’t Special Without LeBron James

“With no insight as to just how busy LeBron is, it is more important to say that the Shop should not do shows without him than to govern how much or how little he should work.”

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As NBA training camp is in full swing, the demands of 37-year-old LeBron James are quite high. Still, if he cannot be on his HBO show The Shop, then they shouldn’t film it without him.

LeBron James Barbershop-Set Talk Show Picked Up by HBO (Exclusive) – The  Hollywood Reporter
Courtesy: HBO

That is not to say that the show is not watchable without him. However, the key topics brought up in recent episodes would make a viewer wonder what James thinks about it.

Season 4 premiered on May 28, 2021, and James participated in that episode.  Since then, the Shop has released 3 other episodes towards the end of June, July, August, and September.  James has missed all three.

A case in point is the most recent episode. Tennis great Naomi Osaka is talking about her career, and producer Maverick Carter is asking solid follow-up questions. 

Osaka is a champion going through a personal challenge in dealing with her fame and the pressure that comes along with it. The moment that this show can become super is to have James equate it to his career. What was his mindset when he went through something similar? No one on the current panel could equate exactly with the level of Osaka than LeBron.

“I was really lucky to have Kobe [Bryant] as my mentor and I really loved everything that he passed down to me,” she said on the show, which premiered on October 1st. “I always feel like if there was a younger player that ever needed any advice from me, I would love to give it. If I were to retire from tennis,” she said.

None of the other panelists, including Cavs forward Kevin Love, could ask the kind of question that LeBron James could.

“I would want people to remember me like how I acted toward people and how I interacted. For example, Serena? Her legacy is more than being Serena,” Osaka added. “I started playing because of her, I’m sure there’s so many girls that started playing because of her. Like, she literally built champions. And I think passing it down is how the new generation gets inspired.”

How does LeBron James feel about the constant comparisons to Michael Jordan?  This show is made for those kinds of conversations.

Similarly, the June 25th 2nd episode featured another athlete in the conversation for the greatest of all time, Tom Brady.  James missed that show, and while the conversation was compelling, James’ absence spoke loudest.

DO NOT POST - Tom Brady screenshot on The Shop
Courtesy: HBO

This is not the fault of any of the other panelists, or the show’s co-creator, Maverick Carter. There is no issue with Carter being on the show, and he adds a perspective from his career that is welcomed.

Still, he knows as well as anyone, that he can’t replace LeBron, nor should he be asked to.

Carter is a longtime friend of James and is a partner in Springhill Entertainment, which is instrumental in most if not all of James’ media exploits.

I recently wrote a column about today’s athletes making so much money during their careers, that they don’t NEED to honor broadcasting commitments. Paul Pierce and Chris Webber were examples of guys who left broadcasting gigs and it did not make a dent in their wallets.

It’s easy to make the same insinuation with LeBron. However, seeing him recently on the ESPN ManningCast of Monday Night Football made me realize how much I enjoy his insight.  I find the guy fascinating, and while I do not always agree with his stance, I certainly respect the perspective he offers.

Springhill Entertainment has a contract to make The Shop. It begs me to wonder whether or not they can alter their production schedule to include James. The show needs it that much. 

With no insight as to just how busy LeBron is, it is more important to say that the Shop should not do shows without him than to govern how much or how little he should work. 

In the recent Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, it was fascinating to see how much time went into making Space Jam in 1996. When did LeBron film Space Jam 2? Or Trainwreck?  Does he have time for all these media projects?

Ever since FOX News’ Laura Ingraham told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” I’ve paid particular attention to athletes having a proper voice on issues they are passionate about. The Showtime documentary Shut Up and Dribble focused on the history of the NBA and activism.  That contact is fascinating, and the hope is that The Shop can continue to be that high-quality programming.

My favorite LeBron James story involves the Cartoon Network and the show Teen Titans Go!  During the 2015 NBA Finals, after a Lebron-lead Cleveland Cavaliers victory over the Golden State Warriors (Golden State won that series 4 games to 2), LeBron James tweeted something to the effect that he was celebrating a big Cavs win by watching a marathon of Teen Titans Go! Episodes.

The creators of the show were amazed that the superstar watched their show.  They offered to write a LeBron-centric episode if he would voice it.  Fast forward a year or so, and the episode “The Cruel Giggling Ghoul” was born.

In it, the Teen Titans visit a basketball camp that LeBron is hosting. He helps them fight crime, albeit obeying two rules.

He could not walk anywhere without dribbling the ball (that would be traveling) and every time he dribbled he said, “dribble dribble dribble dribble.”

DC All Access: Teen Titans Go! LeBron James Dribble Dribble - NerdSpan
Courtesy: Cartoon Network

My two children were both under 10 at the time. To this day, they have never seen a game LeBron James has played in. Yet, if I asked either one of them who their favorite basketball player is, they unquestionably tell me it is LeBron James.

The value of LeBron James’ voice should never be undervalued. This is why, if HBO and HBO Max are airing The Shop, Lebron James has to be in a chair getting a shave.  Make it work with his schedule and do not do the show otherwise.

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BSM Writers

Fair and Balanced Audio Research – Finally!

“Looking at audio research from something other than AM/FM radio’s exclusive perspective is excellent for transparency.”

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Recently, Cumulus Media introduced the Audio Active Group (AAG), an audio media and creative advisory group for marketers and agencies. Pierre Bouvard, the Chief Insights Officer of Cumulus Media/Westwood One, leads this sponsor-focused research and insights team. They are aiming to provide comprehensive marketing insights. The Audio Active Group will partner with clients to measure the impact of the entire audio campaign, specializing in the following areas: Audio creative, media planning, budget allocation within audio, and measurement of the whole audio spend. 

Sounds good to me. Looking at audio research from something other than AM/FM radio’s exclusive perspective is excellent for transparency. AAG uses Edison Research’s “ Share of Ear” Report, Nielsen’s Nationwide, and the Scarborough Podcast Buying Power Study data. I looked into the AAG Audio Media Planning guide and pulled out the following nuggets that could help any sports radio seller:

Don’t listen to “everybody listens to pandora” nonsense. AM/FM radio is 13 times larger than Pandora and 19 times larger than Spotify. 

Sell more than drive time. Only 40% of U.S. AM/FM radio listening occurs during mornings and afternoon drive times, and 60% of U.S. AM/FM radio listening occurs outside drive times.

Men listen more. Overall, AM/FM radio listening is more male (53%) than female (47%).

You can reach plenty of listeners via podcast. Edison Research’s Infinite Dial 2021 study said podcasts generate 41% reach each month. 

Remember to schedule wisely. At a minimum, you need to generate 200 GRPs monthly to reach half the market of, say Men 25-54. That’s a lot of spots on sports radio stations that are in the .3-.5 average rating range. Use the other stations in your cluster and add those classic rock and news/talk numbers for a balanced buy at a minimum.  Think of selling 50 spots a week, not 15! 

Sports radio listeners aren’t in the AARP. While we aren’t a Rhythmic CHR station ( 35 years old average age), at least we aren’t ALL NEWS (59 years old average age). Sports is a respectable 49-year-old average age listener. And, on average, we are younger than Classic Hits (53) or Classic Rock(51)! Damn, though, with no 18-34-year-olds, the future worries me. 

ALL SPORTS reaches 6% of all Adults 18+, is 76% Male vs. 24% Female listenership, 34% of us have kids, and we have three people on average living at home. So 2/3 of us have no kids, and we still have 3 in the house? 

ALL SPORTS folks are average when fundraising, belonging to charitable organizations and buying green products. I never thought sports radio was an excellent place for many philanthropic causes that weren’t sports-oriented. 

Sports podcasts are solid. The only genre of podcasts that reach more than 18+ Adults is, in order, Comedy, News, Society/Culture, and True Crime. Our own Seth Everett even thinks interviews are better on podcasts than radio. 

Almost 70% of sports podcast listeners will tune in to a comedy or news podcast as well. 82% of Government podcast listeners go to sports podcasts. May we be listening to Government in Sports pods soon? NFL relocation anybody? Zzzzzzzzzz.

Lastly, I will follow up on this, remember to schedule smart, buy reach, and don’t hammer a nail. Erwin Ephron is considered the father of modern media planning. He said, “most advertising usually works by reminding people about brands they know when they happen to need that product. Ads work best when the consumer is ready to buy. Remind the many. Don’t lecture the few.”

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 47

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Demetri Ravanos says he can tell Urban Meyer and the Jaguars are headed for a divorce based on the reaction of local media to the coach’s latest misstep. Brandon Kravitz stops by to talk about how much vaccine talk is too much and Andy Masur tries to make sense of the AL Wild Card Game and ARod’s time on ESPN.

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BSM Writers

Is ESPN2 Making A Comeback?

“Peyton and Eli have been revelatory on their Monday Night Football sidecast, and it would qualify as good news for the business if ESPN further rebuilds the channel as an incubator for original content.”

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Think hard. Before the Manningcast, when was the last time you watched ESPN2 for something other than a college football or basketball game that either your favorite team was playing in, or you wagered on?

What was once a vibrant breeding ground for not just future star ESPN talents but about a half-dozen programming concepts for the Mothership turned, over the last 5-6 years, into a property that was an after-afterthought. Whether that’s started to turn very meaningfully in the other direction or not remains to be seen, but for the first time in years ESPN has utilized ESPN2 to take a chance on something unique. It worked in spades. Peyton and Eli have been revelatory on their Monday Night Football sidecast, and it would qualify as good news for the business if ESPN further rebuilds the channel as an incubator for original content. 

Additionally, ESPN recently announced that they would be airing The Point, a weekly hockey show hosted by John Buccigross, Thursday afternoons on ESPN2 in conjunction with their return as hockey rights-holders. 

Until about 2015, ESPN2 featured a lot of opinion programming that was ultimately promoted to ESPN. Jim Rome Is Burning started weekly on ESPN before becoming a daily show on ESPN2. Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable (later shortened to the latter two words) started on The Deuce. ESPN2 also launched a trio of shows by Jamie Horowitz — SportsNation, First Take, and Numbers Never Lie (which later morphed into His & Hers with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith). 

In 2012, John Koblin, now a media reporter at the New York Times but then writing for Deadspin, noted that ESPN2 talk programming had so much momentum that it was actually eroding SportsCenter viewership in the morning: “In September 2011, the 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. editions of SportsCenter had 636,000 more viewers a day than the same time slot that First Take owned on ESPN2, according to data from Nielsen. Over the next six months, a period that stretched from Tebow’s emergence in Denver through his trade to New York, First Take narrowed that deficit each month. By March, when Tim Tebow was traded to the Jets, the SportsCenter lead was down to 182,000 viewers—less than a third of what its margin had been.”

At first, when talk shows would be elevated from ESPN2 to ESPN, the well would eventually be replenished. However, that stopped happening around 2015 due mainly to cord-cutting causing headcount cost cuts across the board at the company. ESPN played defense when Horowitz poached familiar talents Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless over to FS1. First Take moved to ESPN, Mike & Jemele were tabbed to host 6 pm SportsCenter, and ESPN2 ceased being a proverbial bench for the bigger network. 

To the extent ESPN has tried out experimental video content, most of it has gone to the over-the-top subscription platform ESPN+. Assuming ESPN and the NFL had the rights worked out accordingly, I would’ve bet a lot of money that Peyton and Eli would have been placed on ESPN+ based on the fact that that’s where their Places shows air and that’s the platform ESPN has been beefing up.

While Media Twitter would’ve found Peyton and Eli on ESPN+ and still loved it, it’s undeniable that the brothers have accomplished far more reach on ESPN2. ESPN+ has about 15 million subscribers, while ESPN2 is in over 80 million homes. As much as we hear about how cable is dying and streaming is the future, those trains have not nearly crossed yet as far as sports are concerned. 

Ryan Shirts

While we’re here, I want to push the idea that it would be a no-brainer for ESPN to run a nightly NBA show on ESPN2. Put it on from like 11pm to 1am ET, have a creative young panel break down the East Coast games that already ended and do Red Zone-esque live look-ins for juicy West Coast contests. They could use it to break in up-and-coming hosts, newsbreakers, feature writers, former players, and producers that could eventually land on their new daily show NBA Today (replacing The Jump) and Countdown (where there’s a shakeup every year or two). What’s the reason not to do that show?

Even as ESPN continues de-emphasizing talk programming to triple down on premium live events, it makes sense for them to replenish their TV talent bench. ESPN2 is a place where they should keep taking more swings.

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