The Score is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this month. The iconic Chicago sports radio brand was launched on January 2, 1992. Initially, it was a daytime signal, meaning the power actually had to be shut off when the sun went down. I absolutely love this detail. Imagine if that were the case today. Think of hearing a station in Atlanta saying, “Georgia fans, what a win for the Dawgs. The 41-year championship drought is over. Well, it’s 5:28 so we’ll talk more about it at sunrise tomorrow.”
The Score has grown tremendously from those early years. It’s similar to the NFL; it’s hard to imagine when the Green Bay Packers were thumping the Kansas City Chiefs in what would eventually be called Super Bowl I, that the game would advance so much and become the spectacle it is today. There is also no way the person in charge of shutting off the power at sundown in ’92 could foresee the internet and apps and Twitch and streaming. The Score is in a much different place today.
Mitch Rosen is the operations director at 670 The Score and has been with the station for nearly 17 years. His vision and leadership have played a huge role in the overall success of the station. In addition to his duties at The Score, Mitch also oversees 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee, and Audacy’s BetQL network. We chat about all of the programming hats he wears, the it-factor when making a hire, and the evolution of the sports radio industry over the past 30 years. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Now that we’ve arrived at the 30-year anniversary of The Score, from where it was to where it is right now, how would you describe the evolution of the station?
Mitch Rosen: It’s really incredible. I’ll be here 17 years in February. This is truly, I believe, an iconic Chicago sports brand. When The Score signed on in January of 1992, it was a day-timer. Literally, the station would sign on each day at sunrise and sign off at sundown. Could you imagine a Bears-Packers Sunday, great game, you’re on the air all day Monday, then the sun goes down at 4:50 on a fall afternoon and you have to stop talking? At that time the internet wasn’t really happening and no way to interact with your audience.
The evolution of this brand — and it’s been on three frequencies. It started off at 820 AM, 1160 AM, and now for many years we’ve been on 670 AM, a 50,000-watt blowtorch. The evolution of this brand has just been incredible. All the producers and on-air personalities and sales and marketing people, just to be part of it and to see it develop over all of these years is just incredible.
Add to that the sports franchises that we’ve been partners with. We were partners with the Blackhawks, partners with the White Sox. Then one of the most iconic franchises in all of sports, the Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908. Our first year of partnering with the Cubs was 2016, and for the Cubs to win a World Series their first year on The Score, a lot of people say we’d rather be lucky than good. How about that? It was just an incredible year. To hear Pat Hughes, the voice of the Cubs, literally say on The Score, the Cubs have won the World Series, you can’t describe the feeling.
BN: When you think about some of the names throughout the years that have helped build the station to what it is today, what comes to mind?
MR: One of the most valuable people that I can think of, Russ Mitera, has literally been here minus three months of existence at the station. Russ is our creative production director. He images the station I think better than anybody else in the country. Obviously, he and I have worked together every day that I’ve been here for 17 years. He makes this station sound great from an imaging standpoint. The sound, the music beds, the imaging voice, his voice. Besides being a great human being, he’s so talented at what he does.
The founding fathers of this radio station, Mike North, Dan Jiggetts, Terry Boers, Dan McNeil, Brian Hanley, and so many others. Doug Buffone, who passed away a number of years ago. The station hiring Mike Ditka when he was still coach of the Bears. Those are things that people still remember to this day. Modern-day Score, Leila Rahimi, a great asset who co-hosts our midday show with Dan Bernstein. Danny Parkins who joined us about five years ago from outside the market and has done a fantastic job in afternoon drive. Staples like Les Grobstein who hosts our overnight show. We’re fortunate to have a live overnight show. So many great things.
BN: What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the years?
MR: There have been a lot of challenges and good challenges along the way. For me, it’s continuing to follow new technology, new ways to interact with our audience, and finding a new audience for our station. Being a standalone AM frequency where sometimes new cars that are manufactured don’t even offer an AM band, so it’s the power of our audio stream, our video stream on Twitch. Our company does a great job from a technological aspect of finding new ways to communicate with our audience on all different platforms. It’s just great. Being a standalone AM, people find great content and they find it throughout all different platforms.
BN: Over the last 30 years of sports radio in general, what do you think has been the biggest positive evolution in the industry?
MR: I think the audience has become smarter. I think when sports radio in Chicago first started, it was caller after caller. Now people interact and communicate whether it’s via text or social platforms. I think the audience and the hosts have become smarter over the years, more intelligent. I think data shows that. I think it’s a more educated audience and we reach out to an audience that interacts in different ways. I think that’s how it’s changed.
I think people want to be educated. There’s an X’s and O’s factor to it, but they also want to be entertained. I think that’s what our brand does. On a Bears Monday, we’re going to talk some X’s and O’s, but I also think we’re going to entertain our audience. I think we provide great experts to analyze games, but our hosts are entertaining, they’re informative. Whether the audience loves or doesn’t always love our hosts, they respect them and they respect our brand. At the end of the day, The Score brand is a powerful brand that our audience continues to come back to.
BN: When you’re operating three different brands, in what ways does your message differ to each of your staffs?
MR: I think you react to different markets. Chicago is different than Milwaukee, but at the end of the day, I really think we’re in the opinion business. Hosts have to be opinionated and you have to interact. People here in Chicago, they have fun with it. I like to say we play the hits. What are people talking about today? If we were at a bar today in Chicago, it’d be about the Bears. The changes they are making with the head coach and the general manager. Those are the hits today. And the Bulls. The Bulls are in first place in the East.
We play the hits, have energy, have opinions, that’s the business we’re in. I think that’s vital. That’s really in any market. Whether it’s Milwaukee or BetQL, which I’m involved with in operations, it’s wager-tainment. We entertain people and we give them data to make them better bettors. Same type of thing; we’re talking NFL, we’re talking NBA. Those are the hits in that format too.
BN: Why was Ryan Porth the right candidate for the APD position at The Score?
MR: In my 17 years it was the most dedicated time I put into that hire. It was the most important hire I’ve made. I took my time. It’s the most people I interviewed for that position ever. I wanted to find the right person. The right person that had experience, that understood the medium, that quite frankly I could learn from and that I could teach some things to. This person will help me bring our brand forward to the future. Ryan really checked all those boxes.
I had great candidates both internally and externally. After really doing a lot of research on Ryan and the success that he’s had in Nashville, I felt that he’s the right person. Like anybody, time will tell. We’ll see how things go. He is a terrific person. I love having great people that I work with, and he’s a smart person in radio and in the audio business. I think he’ll fit right into our clubhouse.
BN: When you have so many good candidates for the APD position and on-air positions, what is that it-factor where you say I think this is the person for the gig?
MR: It’s hard to describe. Sometimes you pick the right person and sometimes I’ve made mistakes along the way. You point a thumb and not a finger. It’s someone that lives and breathes, someone that’s organized, someone that’s a great communicator, and someone that works well with people.
We have a lot of people that are fairly fresh in the business, some people that have been around the business for a while. But looking for someone with fresh ideas that can help bring our brand to the next generation. Thirty years is a long time. We look to gain and bring new listeners into our brand. How do we do that? What are some ideas from a digital perspective, from a station sound perspective, from a branding perspective? Those are all things that we’re striving to take The Score to the next level.
BN: With the industry always evolving, is there a particular area where you strive to be ahead of the curve?
MR: I think every day my goal is how do we sound better? How can our shows improve? It’s not always can we get the better guests. Is there a better topic? Is everybody prepared? Are the producers, who are a vital part of our success, are they prepping our hosts in the right way? Producers are really some of the most valuable people at the station. We have tremendous producers. All do a great job.
Are our hosts prepping for their shows? I think it’s everybody working together, that’s vital to what we do. Are we giving everybody the right tools from a digital perspective? From an equipment standpoint? Is everybody working together taking our brand to the next level from a competition standpoint and from our own brand standpoint?
BN: It’s interesting, man, because it’s a lot like coaching. I think of Matt Rhule with the Carolina Panthers. Right now there are a lot of people saying he’s a micromanager. For you, if something with your staff isn’t quite as good as it could or should be, what’s your approach to handle it where you’re tightening the screws but you’re not micromanaging every little thing?
MR: I tend to pride myself to be a good communicator. A lot of my staff likes to poke fun that I over-communicate with emails and talking. But if there’s an issue, we address it, we talk about it, we fix it together and we move on. We sit down and talk. If we feel that we could do something better whether it’s ratings improvement or working the clock better, we sit down and discuss and we work together on it. That’s my way of managing.
I want people to be happy. I think when people are happy they work harder and that’s what I strive to do.
I’ve been doing this for a long time. You want people to strive to come in and enjoy their work. It’s not every day people are going to be skipping down the hallway whistling and being extremely happy, but if you give them everything they need to succeed, that’s my goal every day. I love making people happy and when you’re happy you work harder. That’s been my philosophy and I love the team that we have here. I really do.
BN: The BSM Summit is in New York City in March. Why do you think it’s important to get out and be a part of events like that?
MR: I think for our industry it continues to change and evolve. Five, 10 years ago, sports radio was callers over the air. It continues to change. You see with podcasts and different forms of media, it’s not just over the air, there are so many different forms. We see what sports wagering has done and it’s part of that DNA of our over-the-air stations. We see what it’s done from a streaming perspective. I think it’s vitally important. I think what Jason and the team has done is just incredible. I think if you can afford it, if your company supports it, I think it’s vitally important.
BN: What’s something valuable that you’ve picked up at the conference from other radio people, or from monitoring other radio stations?
MR: It’s interesting. It’s good talking to people. It’s funny, the last conference that was in person in New York, Mike Thomas was just hired as a direct competitor across the street at WMVP. We were just talking and we were competitors. Prior to that we were friendly business associates. He was running the Sports Hub in Boston and I was here at the Score, and prior to the conference he was just named station manager at WMVP. It wasn’t awkward, it was just kind of weird that all of a sudden we were competing. Most recently he came to work for Audacy and we’re on the same team now.
Just talking shop with people like him and Bruce Gilbert who’s a terrific programming genius. That’s just terrific and seeing people like that is incredible. Then monitoring when I have time, I love to listen to stations from out of town or podcasts. It’s a great way to scout talent and listen to other people. Years ago when Danny Parkins was in Kansas City and people were telling me about this guy in Kansas City, someone from Chicago, and listening to what he did, it helped get him here to Chicago.
BN: Do you have any radio pet peeves?
MR: Not really. I’m trying to think, Brian. I like honesty on the air. I love truthfulness. Once in a while tension is good in sports radio. I love for teammates to get along. That’s important to me. I love people to have fun.
We’re in radio. Sometimes it’s going to be serious. We’re going to talk about serious topics and content, but content is king. Great content wins and that’s very important.
BN: How do you manage your time between three brands to make sure everything is taken care of and operates the way that it should?
MR: I love what I do. I’m passionate. I’ve been doing this a long time. By choice, I get up crazy early in the morning. I go through emails. I live my life by lists. I cross things off as the day goes. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. I’m pretty regimented. I’m at Starbucks at the same time every day. I work out at the same time every day. I’m just very regimented. I try to do what I can every day. Bringing in someone like Ryan will really help me obviously grow our brand at The Score.
I have a great right hand person in Milwaukee, Steve “Sparky” Fifer, who is probably one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever worked with. He does five hours a day on the air. He’s the assistant brand manager. He’s incredibly helpful. Then on BetQL I work with a great team, Matt Volk and Jesse Linhares. It’s just terrific. I still love coming into work every day. I love thinking about work every day and it’s just been an incredible journey for me.
BN: By the way, what’s your favorite and your least favorite part about working out?
MR: It’s more mental for me. During the week, I try to do 30 minutes on the treadmill and then on weekends an hour. It’s a good time to listen to some podcasts or clear my head. It’s my favorite part. I don’t know, I don’t dread it. I don’t wake up and go ahh shit I’ve got to work out today. Nothing really negative.
BN: [Laughs] Got it. What ideally would you want your future to look like when it comes to your role in the sports radio industry?
MR: I don’t know. I’ve done this a long time. I think eventually an ultimate goal of mine would be to run a market, to be a market manager. I’m not sure if that window has closed for me. That would be an eventual goal of mine. Then if I ever step away from media, I’m on a couple of charity boards. To go run a charity one day would probably be the ultimate goal.
BN: Is there a certain area you’d like your charity work to be in?
MR: I’m involved with Special Olympics Chicago. I’m involved with the American Diabetes Association. I’d be open to that. Either of those, or open to others. I’m also extremely proud of our charitable efforts at The Score. It’s a big initiative for the brand. For example, in 24 hours this past July we raised over $700,000 to build a grocery store in a food desert in a challenging neighborhood in Chicago. Danny Parkins led the way for our “What About Chicago” radiothon. It really demonstrated the power of The Score.
BN: Last thing, what is it that keeps you so motivated? I know that you’re a grinder and love what you do, but is there something that you’re striving toward that gets you out of bed each day?
MR: I like competition. I love winning. I love a breaking news day. I love hearing great imaging on the air. I love seeing other people succeed. I love seeing a young producer get promoted to executive producer roles. Sometimes I love seeing people move on to other opportunities. As tough as it is, if someone has an opportunity outside of our market or into a different role, it makes me feel good. I love making people happy.
Recently we had an executive producer, Jay Zawaski, who was here for 17, 18 years. An opportunity opened up at our news station. It turned into a great opportunity. He oversees their podcast content. It was sad to see him leave The Score, but deep inside I was so happy for him that it was a great opportunity for him. That’s what really motivates me. When people can better themselves and if they can be happy, that’s really what matters to me.
Nothing Is Easy In the Cold, Not Even Broadcasting
The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end!
No matter what you may think, doing play-by-play for any sport is a difficult thing. The great ones make it look easy, but it’s not. Prep work dominates things leading up to the broadcast, getting notes, nuggets and entertaining tidbits take up time. Then once you’re prepped, some stadiums are better than others to broadcast. Some booths are easier to work than others.
Then there’s the forgotten element, the weather.
How will you handle inclement weather of any kind? Warmth, rain, snow and oh yeah, the dreaded freezing temperature. Before we get into it, here are a few of the less-than-ideal conditions my fellow broadcasters have had to deal with over the years.
THE FOG BOWL
During the 1988 playoffs between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, a dense fog rolled onto the field during the game, making it nearly impossible to play or see. Numerous players complained they couldn’t see 10 yards in front of them. Both teams were forced to use their running game because receivers couldn’t see long passes. The broadcast was called by Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw on CBS.
“We couldn’t see anything—absolutely nothing,” CBS-TV play-by-play broadcaster Verne Lundquist told the Associated Press. “We had to look at the TV just like everyone else.” Lundquist’s color man, Terry Bradshaw, told viewers the game should have been suspended.
THE FREEZER BOWL
At -9 degrees Fahrenheit, the 1982 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers proved to be the second-coldest game in NFL history. It was so cold that Bengals QB Ken Anderson suffered frost bite on his right ear. The temperature was not only -9 degrees, but the wind chill was measured at -58 degrees, by far the worst in league history.
THE ICE BOWL
The 1967 NFL Championship between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys became known as the “Ice Bowl.” It remains the coldest game ever played in the NFL, at -15 degrees with a wind chill of -48 degrees. Lambeau Field’s turf-heating system actually malfunctioned before the game, leaving the turf rock-hard. Officials actually had to resort to calling out plays and penalties because when referee Norm Schachter blew his metal whistle, it actually froze to his lips.
The last two are examples of something topical since last week’s “Super Wild Card” game in Buffalo was played in extreme temperatures. At kickoff, it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill made the temperature feel like minus-5. A far cry from the above games, but come on, it was freezing cold out there.
The CBS Sports NFL announcing team of Ian Eagle and Charles Davis said Saturday’s game between Buffalo and New England was the coldest work environment they’ve experienced during their broadcasting careers.
“We kept the windows closed in the booth until one hour before kickoff,” Eagle told The Athletic. “When we finally opened them, I had a sense that it would be manageable. I was wrong. CBS rented some industrial heaters for the night, but unfortunately, they were no match for the Western New York frigid air. It really hit me in the third quarter. I started shivering and actually had a few moments where my jaw got locked up mid-sentence. It was by far the coldest I’ve ever been calling a game.”
Davis recalled two games he called at Lambeau Field that were similar, but not as bad as it was in Buffalo.
“It helped that the evening was relatively clear, and the winds minimal, but make no mistake about it, ‘the Almighty Hawk (wind)’ made its presence felt and I kept drawing on one thought — everyone involved was cold, and they were persevering,” Davis explained to Richard Deitsch.
“In addition, we were watching history be made in front of us by the Bills offense — seven drives, seven touchdowns, something that had never been done in the NFL playoffs. Beyond impressive, and it definitely helped us maintain focus. I’m not sure anyone would choose to do a game under those conditions, but there was definitely a sense of pride among our team that we all worked to the best of our abilities on a night that would test all of us.”
Davis said that there was no way not to think about his discomfort. He gave credit to the stage crew in the booth that helped to keep him and Ian Eagle warm. There was also a jacket involved, a familiar one given to Eagle during the game, leading to an excellent exchange between he and Davis just before the third quarter started.
Charles Davis: Where did you get the jacket?
Ian Eagle: What jacket?
Eagle: Oh, this? Yes, Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, you might have noticed, wore this a few weeks ago and it hit the internet by storm. Kurt saw that we had this assignment. Kurt now runs a program “Warner’s Warmers,” he just sends the jacket out to whoever needs it. I feel like, I want Jiffy Pop Popcorn. This thing is very warm. This is the same jacket. Kurt sent this to me. Let me tell you, not all heroes wear capes, they wear “Silver Bullet Puffers.”
Davis: Let’s talk about the game for a minute. Kurt, a brother would like a jacket too…
I’ve never really experienced calling a game in that extreme weather, especially after all the years I’ve called baseball games. But being in the Midwest, even those early days in April and sometimes into May, cold temps are a factor.
I think the coldest game I ever called was a game with the Cubs where the temperature at the start was about 31 degrees with a wind coming off the lake. We debated on whether or not to open the windows in the booth. One voted no, one voted yes, so the compromise was the window near the play-by-play guy was cracked open just a bit. Games just sound different with the windows closed. It’s not as clean. It sounds like you’re doing a game in a closet. But sometimes self-preservation comes first. The same goes for extremely warm weather too.
The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your pen isn’t working all that well, and how do you score a game without taking your gloves off? In those conditions, as Eagle was saying, your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end! I know it sounds exaggerated but in the moment, its not.
People sitting at home still want you to call the game. They are looking for the same information you would have given if it were 40 degrees instead of 40 below with the wind chill. It’s a big ask, but the broadcast crew has to find a way to adjust to the conditions and do what they are there to do. It helps when everyone understands that. It’s not to say that you can’t talk about the way things are in the booth or on the field from time to time. But don’t let it dominated the airtime, as tempting as it might be to do so.
Just think, if you’re cold in the booth, what’s life like for the sideline reporter?
Ben And Woods Aren’t Doing a Show For One Person
“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show.”
There’s no confusion about where their allegiances lie. And when it comes to being relatable to the audience, there’s few things Ben and Woods do better than buying season tickets at Petco Park, wearing Padres hats and cheering for the lone professional team in San Diego.
Some hosts choose to never openly root for the teams they talk about on an everyday basis. Steven Woods and Ben Higgins strive to never hide who they are on the air. They’re Padres fans and they’re not afraid to show it.
“I was in music radio before and sometimes it was hard to hide my disdain for some of the music that I played, so I just decided not to,” said Woods. “I just let it out there. People I think appreciate authenticity and if I didn’t like a song I’d tell you. But I still had to play it, right? With the Padres, it’s why I never sit in the press box, because I can’t cheer in there. I bought season tickets so that I can go and scream at the players like I want to. I think it resonates, because there’s fans listening in the car that want to see them do well too.”
“I do believe in journalistic integrity,” said Ben. “But to me that means you have to be honest. You have to be honest in your opinions and you can’t be afraid to be critical. No one is more critical of a team than their own fans. They are the most critical people of all. I don’t wanna be the fan that constantly criticizes, but at the same time, why would you listen to a show that is just relentlessly positive and gives you a white wash version of what’s not really reality? Every team has problems and it’s our job to point them out or nobody’s going to take you seriously.”
When you think of baseball towns, New York, Chicago and St. Louis are probably the three cities that immediately come to mind. But in a football world, San Diego has emerged as a new baseball town with the Chargers recently leaving for Los Angeles.
If you have any doubt that San Diego is now a baseball city, just listen to Ben and Woods on 97.3 The Fan from 5-9 am every weekday morning. The duo has no issues with doing three-plus hours of Padres talk, even during the offseason.
That’s not a new thing. Ben and Woods have always conducted the show the way it is now. They want to talk baseball, but they also want to hit off-topic content that will give the listener a chance to laugh on their way to work.
That’s been the case since the show was at Mighty 1090. Ben and Woods were at the station as the morning show when it folded in 2019. That was an incredibly trying time for both talents.
“It was pretty heartbreaking to be honest with you,” Woods said. “I had a brand new baby and the show was going great. We were on the rise and then it went away. It was shocking. It was also scary. I think uncertain is the best word. We believed in our product and we knew there was a market for it and there was a station that just so happened to need a morning show. The timing was pretty serendipitous.”
“I had been a listener for 15 years before I ever worked at that station for the first time,” Ben said. “And then you get there and you feel like, wow, we’re here and then all the sudden it’s gone. It wasn’t overnight, at some point we lost the signal transmission then we went streaming and it was kind of a slow death over the last few weeks. Ultimately it just ended one day. It was a very strange thing. The fact we got picked up at 97.3 The Fan, got back on the air so quickly was really great.”
Things are going extremely well for Ben and Woods at 97.3 The Fan. They’re thriving in morning drive with a unique show that’s different from any other in the market. Sure, they’ll talk about sports, but their focus is more on the overall entertainment of the show.
“It’s morning drive, you’re there to entertain,” said Woods. “You do have to get really creative. We get very creative, because we have to. We take a lot of risks, more so than people would like. The way I look at it as no one remembers us talking about the NFL Playoffs. But they do remember the time we played a 17-minute Bob Dylan song in its entirety on the radio and sat through it. I remember that and always will. Nobody is ever going to say, ‘man, nobody breaks down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like you guys’. But they’ll remember, ‘holy crap, you guys literally played a 17 minute Bob Dylan song it’s entirety’.”
“When we started it was 95 percent sports and I was afraid to do anything else,” Ben said. ”We started doing segments like Ben reads raps, there was a really good response and I started to warm up on OK we can branch out a little bit. Now, if there was a day we didn’t have a non-sports topic I would say that was a weird show.”
“Rest assured, Opening Day comes, we’re blowing out every bit we have, period,” Woods said ”We’re one of the few shows in town that has no problem doing 3 1/2 hours of just Padres talk. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself a little bit. I always call it punting. It’s an easy thing to say, hey, the playoffs are this week let’s get the local beat writer on from every single team and we’ll interview them. Like anyone here gives a rats ass what the Packers beat writer has to say. There may be one guy, but I’m not doing a show for one guy.”
“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show,” laughed Ben.
One of the reasons the show has the identity that it does, is because of Woods’ background in multiple formats of radio. No, he’s not a sports radio lifer, and in a way, it’s probably greatly benefitted the show. He’s taken his creativity from the music side and perfectly blended it with his love for sports.
“I like sports radio more because there’s a lot more creativity,“ said Woods. “ I didn’t get to pick the music I got to play at all. Not even a little bit. I didn’t have a lot of chances to talk so for me, as a creative person, this is tremendous. We can do whatever we want and our bosses are pretty cool about giving us a lot of leeway. I’ve learned how audiences react. I’ve learned how to keep an audience. It’s energy, it’s being compelling, breaking balls, having fun. Guy’s driving to work in the mornings, he wants to get a snicker or a laugh, he’s not looking for breakdowns of defenses and things like that.”
Ben and Woods is much more than just the two hosts in the chair every weekday. The cool thing is that anyone that listens to the show knows that. Paul Reindl is the executive producer of the show and has a talent and relationship with the hosts that anyone would dream of.
“He’s the worst,” laughed both Ben and Woods. “Paulie is great. We were able to get away this weekend and after we drank like 40 beers and whiskeys, I was like bro, I’m so proud of you and you’re so valuable to the show. But he’s an unsung hero behind the scenes. He has an uncanny ability to bring sound drops almost intuitively. He’s got pages and pages of drops we’ve collected over the years. He’s just an awesome producer.”
Sports Are Learning To Meet Gen Z Where They Are
“The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity.”
Should sports radio be concerned about where audiences will come from in the future? It is an interesting question that we talk about here a lot. It is also something that the New York Times tackled indirectly last week.
A column from Joe Drape and Ken Belson declared this generation of kids “The eSports Generation” and went on to explain just how disconnected from traditional sports they really are.
An alarmist might ask if this is the beginning of the end of traditional sports leagues. Someone a little more level-headed, like Joe Ovies, may want to dive a little deeper to see what leagues are learning and how they are adapting.
Joe hosts The OG in afternoon drive at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. He is always interested in how changes in technology and consumption patterns effect sports and his audience. I saw him tweeting about the New York Times piece last week and asked if he would want to write a little something for us.
“Meet your audience where they are.”
How many times have you heard that phrase in the last 5 years from a consultant, manager, or any number of Barrett Media posts as content consumption trends continue to spread out over a variety of platforms? Turns out the same applies for pro sports leagues, who are fearful that an entire generation of fans will be lost and their traditional business model will crater as a result.
The New York Times recently highlighted what sports marketers are doing to win over Generation Z, which typically applies to kids born from 1997 to 2012. The Times hits the usual beats.
There’s a reference to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, an esports star who is also a traditional sports fan, who the NFL hoped would be a Pied Piper for youth fandom. There are examples of MLB, famously stingy when it came to fans using their content on social media, now working with TikTok influencers. And of course, highlighting the NBA’s wide ranging approach to online engagement and their franchise run NBA 2K esports league. Most of the article was based on a recent SSRS/Luker on Trends report, which conducts regular surveys about sports and society.
The issue for pro sports leagues isn’t that Gen Z kids aren’t “passionate” enough about sports. It’s that Gen Z is more likely to admit they simply don’t like sports.
“Only 23 percent of Generation Z said they were passionate sports fans, compared with the 42 percent of millennials (defined as 26 to 41), 33 percent of Generation X (42 to 57) and 31 percent of baby boomers (57 to 76) who identified themselves as passionate. More striking was that 27 percent of Gen Zers said they disliked sports altogether, compared with just 7 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of boomers.”The new york times, Jan. 12, 2022
Also factoring into the waning interest in sports from Gen Z is the dramatic decline of youth sports participation. There is a larger discussion to be had about the role of parents and specialization in this decline, but we can address that topic another day. As it relates to pro sports leagues today, the drop in youth participation absolutely impacts the level of interest in kids who might want to watch the best in the world of sports do their thing.
“Participation in youth sports was declining even before Covid-19: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
In June 2020, the pandemic’s early days, 19 percent of parents with kids in youth sports said their child was not interested in playing sports, according to a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. By September 2021, that figure was 28 percent.
On average, children play less than three years in a sport and quit by age 11, according to the survey. Why? Mostly, because it is not fun anymore.”the New york times, Dec. 19th 2021
The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity. Meeting up on the playground or at a friend’s backyard for a pickup game has been replaced with meeting your friends on a Discord server and deciding if you’re going to play Halo or Call or Duty after school.
If you have kids in the age range that I do, none of this should be a surprise. You see it every day and don’t even think twice about it. But if you do stop and think about how frictionless it has become to be online all day with your friends, you start to realize the impact of never being bored or getting dragged to things by your parent because there were no other options.
Watching sports and going to sporting events isn’t frictionless. It’s a pain in the ass. Older generations deal with it because we don’t know any better, it’s just what we do. But Gen Z isn’t about to stop what they’re doing just to watch a game. Why would they? They can get the highlights later.
Gen Z is about dropping in and out of entertainment options whenever they feel like it. In other words, why would they sit around waiting for their favorite song to be played on the radio when they can easily pull it up on YouTube or Spotify.
Pro sports leagues can create all the social content and tout billions of views. They can tout engagement with Gen Z because a bunch of kids bought NFL related skins in Fortnite.
Awareness of their leagues isn’t the problem. It’s getting Gen Z to care enough to watch the game. Take my kids, who are fully aware of what’s going on in the world of sports, but getting them to sit down and actually watch the game is torture. Throw in the increasing cost to attend sporting events, I’ve started leaving them at home because it’s a waste of money given my 13-year-old is just gonna play Clash Royale in that $75 seat.
To be clear — I’m OK with my kids just not being into sports. It’s not like I didn’t try. It’s simply understanding we’ve transitioned to a world of niche communities. You can still thrive within those niche communities. Just look at sports talk radio as an example, where you’re not winning with cume, but with passion around sports. That’s what great sports talk radio stations sell. Pro sports leagues will be fine doing the same.
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