The Paul Bunyan Trophy was lifted high in the air on Saturday afternoon, as the entire Michigan State football team celebrated an improbable comeback victory over its bitter rival, the Michigan Wolverines. The scene, both on the field and in the stands, was arguably unlike anything that had been witnessed before at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Smack dab in the middle of all the madness, stood Josh Pate. As he watched the four-foot high wooden statue of Paul Bunyan being hoisted with a Michigan State helmet on top of its head, he pinched himself. He couldn’t believe this was part of his job.
To understand the feeling Pate had in that moment, you first need to know how his start in sports media happened.
After graduating high school in 2004, Pate went to college without a clear vision on what he wanted to do professionally. There was no purpose or drive to find what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, so, instead of wasting money, he left school until he figured out what he wanted to do. That meant dropping out and working for a fabric warehouse in Columbus, GA. There was no air conditioning and the job requirement meant full-on manual labor in the Georgia heat. Each passing day required the same simple task of unloading a truck.
To pass the time, Pate and his co-workers would listen to sports talk radio. His love for sports had fully blossomed at a young age, but his affinity for sports talk was really beginning to take shape. It wasn’t just about the endless opinions he heard every day. He was truly appreciating the art form of the industry.
“I loved more than just the content,” said Pate. “I loved the production aspect and I loved listening to guys like Colin Cowherd, who was just getting his start at ESPN Radio. I paid attention to the way he would bring in a segment, or how he would tee up a guest, how he would toss to a break, I was fascinated by all of it.”
Pate would grind it out at the fabric warehouse for a few years, before putting himself back into school. Those years of listening to sports talk radio ignited a passion he wanted to chase. The problem was that he didn’t know how to go about finding a way into the industry. He had no contacts, no friends or family in the business, just a burning desire to try his hand at the first professional thing he was ever passionate about.
That’s when he thought of WIOL, the ESPN radio affiliate in Columbus. It was one of the stations Pate had listened to a lot during endless days of unloading trucks, so he decided to take his chance at a place he was familiar with.
“They had an afternoon drive show and I started badgering one of the hosts on Facebook Messenger,” Pate said. “I asked him if I could just meet him or come in and do anything. He said yes and let me come in to observe the show.”
Pate kept coming in and observing. Subsequently, he knew he needed to practice. The station wasn’t giving him that opportunity, so he would turn the radio down in his truck and pretend to be on the air. It was the only way he knew how to get better.
His determination paid off, because, one random day, one of the co-hosts of the afternoon drive show called in sick five minutes before the open. With no prep, and right in the middle of football season, Pate was asked to pinch hit at the last second. He knew it was his time to shine.
“We did an afternoon, caller-based show and I loved it,” Pate said. “They never took me off the air.”
For the next two years, Pate was living a new-found dream of being a sports radio host. He quickly excelled. Then he got a call from the general manager of the ABC television affiliate in Columbus. His next big break was about to come.
“He said, you’ve never met me, and you don’t know me, but I’ve been listening to you on my drive home every day,” Pate said. “He said the station wanted to start a college football TV show and wanted to know if I wanted to be in the driver’s seat. I thought about it for a fraction of a second and said yes. Then I said ‘I’ve never done TV before, does that matter?’ He said ‘probably, but we’re going to do it anyway.’”
It was a far cry from unloading trucks every day. He was now a TV anchor talking about his favorite sport. Soon after, he was promoted to sports director and even a news anchor. He was incredible story of determination. But he saw the capability of even bigger things.
“When I saw streaming on Facebook Live and Youtube Live, I knew that was my gateway,” Pate said. “That took down the barrier of overhead and distribution. The industry was revolutionized.”
The issue Pate had with all the TV shows he was doing was that he didn’t own any of the content. So when it came time to renegotiate his contract, the station offered him more money than he had ever been offered. But he wasn’t going to be able to independently produce anything on his own.
“I got down to the last day of my contract and said I wasn’t going to renew,” Pate said. “The general manager called me in with the news director and said, we don’t get it, what is your plan?”
Pate’s plan was to start a new YouTube channel. He was told by management he couldn’t make any money off it. But Pate believed in himself and his vision. Finally, the two sides reached an agreement. He would independently contract for the TV station, but for a fraction of what his previous offer was for. However, the station agreed to give Pate three nights a week of exclusive access to the TV studio to build his own YouTube channel that he independently owned. Thus, The Late Kick with Josh Pate was born.
“It took about two years to get it off the ground and running,” Pate said. “Then I got a call from Shannon Terry of 247Sports and CBS. He said he wanted me to come work for him. He wanted me to do something they didn’t have.”
Pate had heavily bet on himself and won the jackpot. In January of 2020, he joined 247Sports with Late Kick as the main feature.
“They essentially gave me the keys to the car and then they shut the door and told me to go do my thing,” Pate said. “I’ve been able to do a show here and executive produce it. I’ve essentially charted my own course here and I’m able to do it on one of the bigger media platforms in the world.”
So as he stood on the field of Spartan Stadium last Saturday in the middle of all the pandemonium, it was hard not to think of the journey that got him to that very moment. Now, The Late Kick with Josh Pate is one of the most popular college football podcasts on the internet, with a YouTube feature that has taken the show over the top.
Nobody thought the kid working at the fabric warehouse would someday be hosting a college football show with a huge audience. But that’s what determination did for Pate. The funny thing is that even though those years are in his rearview mirror, the impact it had is still felt on today’s podcast.
“Back in Columbus, there’s a place called Clearview Barbecue,” Pate said. “They accept cash only and me and two or three buddies would go there every weekday for lunch. We would obviously talk about college football, that’s what 22-year-old guys did in the south. We talked about it every single day and when I started to get an inkling of an idea that I could do this for a living, I remember thinking to myself, this is the format of my show. I always wanted to do a solo show, because I think it’s one of the hardest things in our business to do. If you can perfect it I think it can make you infinitely harder to replace. That was my strategy at my time and it still is.”
Pate grew up watching SEC football and the 247Sports office are located in the Nashville area, but that doesn’t mean he limits his content to strictly what happens in the Southeast. He wants to follow, attend and cover what the major game and storyline is every single week.
“Michigan and Michigan State is a perfect example,” Pate said. “There may not be a ton of people in Wetumpka, Alabama that woke up on Saturday morning caring about that outcome. I just view my job to go there and tell the story in a way that lets them know there is a lot to care about. I go to these games to show why these people get so worked up about a wooden statue of Paul Bunyan. But I also want to tell people in Wetumpka, Alabama how they feel about the Iron Bowl, is how these people feel about Michigan and Michigan State. It’s pure hatred in the most beautiful of ways.”
Saturday was a pinch me moment for Pate, but it was just one of many that he’s had. Among the list, was the many Late Kick signs that appeared in the crowd of ESPN College Gameday this year. For the college football nut that’s been watching the show his entire life, it meant a lot.
“I’m a part of what I grew up idolizing,” Pate said. “To be a part of it is beyond incredible. When I walk around a stadium in a state I’ve never visited and people know me by name, that’s a surreal thing I’ll never get used to.”
That passion is shown during every episode of Late Kick. To me, it’s what separates the podcast from all the others. But I also love that Pate isn’t another button-downed media member that can’t see the fun and the beauty of the sport they cover.
“When I look back, I count it as such a blessing that I did not come straight form high school to a four-year journalism school, straight off the assembly line into this business,” Pate said. “I meet people that took that route, and more power to them, they are a lot more buttoned down than I am.”
Dallas Cowboys: Proof That Marketing Works
“Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are.”
Why do people still hate the Dallas Cowboys? Give me a good football reason that the Cowboys are worth your time. I get that there was an era where if the NFL was Mortal Kombat, the Cowboys were Shang Tsung, but those days ended three decades ago.
It’s 2022. There are adults in their late 20s that have never seen a Cowboys’ championship. Since 2000, the franchise has been to the playoffs fewer times than the Falcons. They have won as many playoff games in that time as the Jaguars. At this point, hating the Cowboys is about as useless as hating Luxembourg.
So why do people still have such a deep-seated disdain for the star and the players that wear it? Why was a national celebration set of on Sunday when the Cowboys lost in the stupidest way imaginable?
The answer is pretty simple really: marketing.
Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are. Great marketers can get you to behave like those products are what they say they are even when you know that isn’t true.
Jerry Jones is a great marketer.
People tune in when the Cowboys play. Maybe a good chunk of those people are hate-watching, but they’re watching. That is why the team was on in primetime six times this season. Of those other eleven games, seven of them were called by either FOX’s or CBS’s top broadcast team.
ESPN completely rebuild and rebranded First Take around the idea that Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys. That is it. The whole promo package for the show was just Smith wearing a cowboy hat and chomping on a cigar and laughing.
Shouldn’t we be doing this to the Patriots? Afterall, in the time since the Cowboy’s last Super Bowl appearance, New England has gone to the game an astounding ten times and won six titles.
It’s easy to read that sentence and say “Well, Tom Brady isn’t there anymore. The Patriots aren’t what they used to be. It isn’t as much fun to hate them.”
Uh, dawg, who in Dallas has been worth hating since Troy Aikman retired? You know, like 22 years ago!
Jerry Jones isn’t the man that coined the phrase “America’s Team, ” so he didn’t set its initial meaning. What it became, by virtue of him leaning into the branding is something that forces you to react. Either you buy into the blue and the silver and the star and you’re with America’s team or you recoil at the branding and the goofiness of the whole aesthetic and want to watch it burn.
Notre Dame football could be doing this too. The problem is they do not have the great markerter out front pushing that slogan over and over again.
Even “how bout them Cowboys?” is a solid positioning statement. It’s easily repeatable in good times or bad. The genius of Jerry Jones embracing that statement and that clip of Jimmy Johnson shouting those four now-iconic words is that it is a question that always has an answer.
Fans can celebrate with “how bout them cowboys” when the team wins. Haters can say it facetiously when they are on a losing streak. Either way, you are saying it and the Dallas Cowboys are occupying a part of your brain.
Positioning statements work. That is why so many stations tag their imaging with the same phrase or sentence every single time. That is why so many stations are called The Fan or The Game or The Ticket.
Admittedly, sometimes we need to rethink how our listeners are receiving the message. If we are all going for homogeny, nothing can stand out. Maybe that is a reason to rethink what I jokingly call “sports radio’s magic hat of five acceptable station names”, but the larger point is that you want every message you put out to point to the brand image you are trying to portray.
Jerry Jones’s message to the NFL and the media is no matter who they root for, fans care about my team. His positioning statements reflect that. Whether you think they are great marketing or goofy corporate branding, they work. The proof is everywhere.
Three Sports Marketing Trends You Need To Know
“Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.”
#1 OTT’s RAPID EXPANSION
Pay TV lost more than 5 million customers in 2020 and that trend is going to continue and the number is going to increase. With nearly 30% more Americans cutting the cord in 2021 and almost 87% of adults 18-24 preferring the OTT option, you’d better dive in and understand just how fast video consumption is changing; especially in sports. Platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, Peacock, Paramount+ and Facebook are diving head first into the sports rights market so that they can deliver LIVE sports where Americans are consuming video. OTT provides that sniper riffle approach advertisers are looking for as they try to increase ROI and minimize waste.
#2 AI … DATA-DATA-DATA
Without a doubt artificial intelligence is changing the way marketers are deciding how to go to market with their messaging and their products and/or services. More data is available now than ever before and you’d better understand how your client is using it to help them make their buying decisions. Most large advertisers are not only using one, but multiple vendors and are trying to obtain as much data as they possibly can so they can better recognize trends and understand their consumers behaviors and buying patterns
#3 eSports is BOOMING
Video games aren’t just for fun and entertainment at home anymore. Gamers are now creating leagues, generating 6-figure endorsements and have multiple contests where they compete for HUGE cash and prizes. Marketers are actively looking for ways to take advantage of this meteoric rise in popularity of eSports and that includes product placement, team sponsorships, individual gamer(s) sponsorships and tournament sponsorships. If your station isn’t trying to create a sellable feature around eSports then you’re missing out on a huge and very sellable feature. There are over 234 million eSports enthusiasts world wide and that number is only going to continue to climb.
OTT, AI and eSports are rapidly changing the sports marketing landscape and these are trends that will only continue and grow over the next 5 years. Digitalization of just about everything is changing how, where, when and on what kind of devices sports fans are consuming content. Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.
Be the expert in the room when meeting with agencies and/or clients, it will set you apart from the pack. Understanding these rapidly evolving trends will help you have better and deeper dialog with your advertisers.
What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?
“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”
Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.
Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.
Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.
Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”
It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.
I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.
That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.
Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?
WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.
That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.
Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.
In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.
Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.
I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.
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