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Can ESPN & TNT Create Latino NHL Audience With One Game?

“There is likely a significant portion of the audience that has the same relationship to hockey that most Americans do with hurling. We know it exists, we know it is a sport, and that is where our knowledge stops.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Did you enjoy the NHL’s return to ESPN on Tuesday? I will admit that it was great to hear the music again and the presentation was pretty strong. Overall though, I got more enjoyment out of the goofy things the network did leading up to the start of the new season than the games themselves.

That is pretty understandable I think. I grew up in Mobile, AL where we had an ECHL team that moved after two seasons because they could not keep the ice on the rink frozen. Being a hockey fan was never really in the cards for me. On top of that, I am way more of a sports media fan than anything else anyway.

One thing that I have seen a lot in the lead-up to the new season is that the NHL and its two new TV partners are going to make an effort to grow the league’s popularity with the Latino audience. That means getting Americans of Latin descent to watch more hockey and getting games on in Mexico.

The NHL’s Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke to ESPN’s Eric Gomez about this recently. He said that the league has its eyes on actually playing in Mexico. An expansion team in Mexico City is unlikely, but the league could build an international event game similar to its outdoor games started by the league and NBC.

“We had started hearing from our clubs that they’d love to play a game in Mexico,” said Daly. “The more we can appeal to more demographics, countries and culturally diverse areas, the better it is for us.”

I wondered how effective a move like this would actually be. Does a single game in Mexico each year raise the NHL’s profile in the Latin community in the United States? Does it even raise the profile of the NHL in Mexico more than one day, maybe one week at most, each year?

I turned to friends that have a history with hockey and are of Latin descent. They also both happen to work in the sports media. I thought they would have discerning eyes to and be able to offer perspective about what is going on here that a white dude from Alabama just wouldn’t have.

Mike Taylor’s show can be heard in afternoon drive on Ticket 760 in San Antonio and on AM 1300 The Zone in Austin. Prior to joining the San Antonio station, Taylor, who is of Mexican descent, hosted the postgame show for the Dallas Stars on WBAP in Dallas.

He gives the league credit and believes the effort to woo a Latino audience will be genuine. He has seen teams in both the NHL and AHL recognize the value of winning over those fans.

“It’s not lip service. Clubs in the South especially want to grow the game however they can,” he told me in an email. “The question is how? Dallas has done a pretty good job and before they left San Antonio, the Rampage tried to tap into the Mexican heritage of the city. And it worked. Many Latinos went to those games.”

Joe Ovies has been on the air in Raleigh, North Carolina for more than 20 years. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup Championship for 850 The Buzz and now hosts The OG in afternoon drive on the team’s flagship station, 99.9 The Fan. In fact, Ovies and his partner, Joe Giglio, made headlines earlier this year for blasting the team after it signed Tony DeAngelo, saying it proved that ownership was out of touch with the market.

Ovies, whose parents are from Cuba, has questions about how the league, along with ESPN and TNT, plan to court “the Latino audience.” It’s not something that can be done successfully by employing a single strategy. He says he has seen ESPN make that mistake every time it tries to celebrate “Latino Culture”.

“For instance, they had a vignette on Tom Flores and his impact on Mexican NFL fans. It was incredibly well done, highlighting fans who viewed Flores as an inspiration and a rare representative of Mexican heritage in the NFL. However, as someone of Cuban descent, those cultural signifiers do not resonate with my upbringing in South Florida in any way, shape, or form.

“While I appreciate Mexican culture and go out of my way to point out its influence in this country, it can’t hit me the same way ESPN’s coverage of the MLB in Cuba did. And I would expect those fans of Mexican would have a vice versa understanding of it.”

Each of the United Sates’ “big four” sports leagues have left the country in the past. That doesn’t just mean games were played in Canada, where three of the four leagues have teams. The NFL has played games in England and Mexico. Major League Baseball has gone to Cuba, Japan, and England. The NBA has visited four foreign countries for regular season games and ten others during past preseasons.

The NHL itself is no stranger to travel. The league’s Global Series games began back in 1997, but since 2000, the events have been confined to European countries where there is already some kind of hockey culture. Going to Mexico and even wooing Hispanic American fans is a different challenge entirely.

ESPN, TNT and the NHL seem to understand that success will require some education. There is likely a significant portion of the audience that has the same relationship to hockey that most Americans do with hurling. We know it exists, we know it is a sport, and that is where our knowledge stops.

If that’s a hill the three entities have to climb, Mike Taylor is adamant that anyone with a financial stake in hockey’s success needs to understand that taking a game to Mexico won’t be good enough. In fact, while it may make an impact in Mexico, Taylor doesn’t think that it will mean much of anything to Mexican-Americans.

“Mexican-Americans are who the NHL needs to focus on. It may sound silly but these teams simply need to do more Mexican-type stuff. Serve authentic Mexican food and promote the hell out of it. Do what a bunch of minor leave baseball teams have done and create an alternate team name that’s Latino-centric. Hire Latin musical stars to play concerts. Get local soccer stars to come to games. Have a low rider show in the parking lot. Some of this may sound stereotypical but if you want Mexican kids to come out, you have to do Mexican things.”

When it comes to ESPN specifically, Ovies is a little more skeptical. He doesn’t see a network that wants to bring hockey to a new audience. He sees a business that needs to make its money back and win over the audience that is already there.

“ESPN paid a lot of money for the rights and investing in NHL coverage to earn back a level of trust with hockey fans who have held a grudge against the network’s lack of coverage for over a decade. When you pay that much money, you have to get your bang for the buck. So I think they went to their binder of ideas that have worked for other leagues, like the NFL, and said ‘hey let’s try this! It’ll look cool and there’s outreach!'”

Ovies’s exposure to hockey dates back to his childhood in South Florida when the Panthers first came to the NHL. His father was a big sports fan and wanted his sons to see big names like Wayne Gretzky play before it was too late. He admits that not enough Cuban dads thought that way. That is why the Panthers left Miami for the suburbs.

Still, he says there is a lesson in that for the NHL. The key to winning over Latinos, or any new audience really, isn’t creating spectacles. It is creating personal connections and memories.

Joe’s son, Jacob, is a huge Hurricanes fan and even participates in the team’s First Goal program. Joe told me that it was possible because of a learn-to-skate program subsidized by the team. The Canes made it easy for anyone who wanted to learn to play to be able to do so.

That hasn’t just created loyalty to the team from his son. Joe told me that it strengthened three generations of his family’s bond with hockey.

“Here you have a 10-year-old kid with a Cuban dad born in the states to Cuban immigrants going through a highly subsided NHL team learn-to-skate program. That leads to house league participation in the Triangle, where he’s playing games on the weekend.

“My dad goes to his first game and is all emotional about it. Essentially tells me ‘my dad was the soccer player, your mom’s dad was the baseball player…you were a good baseball player too…but Jacob is the first Ovies to play hockey…your grandfathers would love this.'”

Taking those learn-to-skate programs and roller hockey leagues to Latino communities in the United States would be exactly like Major League Baseball’s efforts to rebuild fandom for its sport in Black communities. Equipment in both of those sports can be expensive. That is why you get teams and current and former players involved to lower the barrier to entry.

Look, the NHL absolutely should be looking at how to attract these audiences it has ignored for so long. Auston Matthews, one of the league’s biggest stars, is a Mexican-American playing for one of the league’s Original Six franchises.

I can’t stand hockey fans that tell me I don’t like the sport because I haven’t given it a chance. I have. I think it is dumb. What I like about hockey is that my kids like hockey, so we go to games together.

There are plenty of people and communities that “haven’t given it a chance” though because the NHL never gave them a chance. If the league and its partners focus on how to introduce hockey to those communities and make meaningful connections with them, it would be making a smarter investment than creating a major event that pays lip service to that community for a few days every year, thinking that will make them so grateful to be acknowledged that they run out and buy hats and hoodies.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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