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Buck Reising Isn’t Cut Out For a Normal Job

“I think I was doing some yardwork or something like that with my stepdad. He said you can either go to college or you can work on a shovel, and this beats the hell out of a shovel.”

Brian Noe

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Some radio hosts are born into a family of sports junkies. Other hosts grow into being more sports-minded later in life. For Nashville host Buck Reising, it was the latter. He majored in political science and intended to go to law school. After all, his parents both worked in politics and government. Instead, Reising took a detour and now talks more about 3-4 defenses than defense spending.

Hosting a midday show on 104.5 The Zone is just one of the many hats Reising wears. He also covers the Tennessee Titans for A to Z Sports and hosts multiple podcasts including The Install with NFL analyst Greg Cosell. Reising talks about his unconventional path in the industry, how hosts need more than just terrestrial radio, and what an unpredictable menu of options might mean for his future. Enjoy!

BN: How did you make your way from Indiana down to Tennessee?

BR: Well, I didn’t have a job at the end of college. I didn’t really get into the broadcasting type of stuff. I was a Poli Sci major, but I just kind of ended up interested at the very end of my college career in broadcasting. I got an internship down here with the other radio station, 102.5 the ESPN affiliate, while I was finishing up a summer class. I got an unpaid internship with them. That ended up turning into a part-time job, where I was working overnights for pennies the way that everybody does.

They didn’t have anybody covering the NFL team in town, the Titans. I think there was a press conference where they had two first-round picks one year with Corey Davis and Adoree’ Jackson, and we didn’t have anybody there. I was asking, like, hey, would it make sense if we had somebody to go to practice on a regular basis and get audio and video from the football players since we have an NFL team down the street? That ended up turning into me being the Titans reporter for that station with zero experience whatsoever. It was all kind of a trip and fall into different experiences that I had no business or qualifications having, but got very, very early on. It was a lot of fun.

BN: What career did you envision yourself having years ago if sports radio wasn’t in the picture?

BR: I was going to go to law school. Both of my parents worked in politics and government. My mom was at a lobbying firm for a telecommunications company. Probably something along those lines. Sports are not really a part of my background, to be honest. And certainly I had no interest in or had no idea that this was something that people could make money doing. But then I figured out, yeah, it might pay you some money at some point if you stick with it long enough. It ended up being a lot of fun.

BN: How did you go from initially not being interested in sports radio to being a sports radio host?

BR: It beat the hell out of a normal job. [Laughs] I don’t think I’m cut out for typical office settings, I guess. I don’t necessarily know that I’d have the attention span. I just don’t think it would be a good environment for me to be able to be any kind of productive, and sports radio seemed interesting. It was something that people seemed to have a lot of fun doing. Certainly, it’s more of a playground than most people’s workplaces are. I think I was doing some yardwork or something like that with my stepdad. He said you can either go to college or you can work on a shovel, and this beats the hell out of a shovel.

BN: What’s your general approach when it comes to the different shows that you’re doing?

BR: I guess that depends because they’re all different. The radio show is just more general interest. It’s NFL, it’s SEC, Tennessee Volunteers, Tennessee Titans. We have the NHL down here, but we really don’t do too much hockey unless there’s a big enough story to warrant that. A little more ability to kind of like freelance, have a little more personality because it’s just three hours. It’s me and two producers, Lucas Panzica and Robert Walsh. I think we work really, really well off one another since they hired us maybe about two years ago.

The streaming show is a lot different. It’s on YouTube, it’s on Facebook, it’s just me and a camera and commenters for 25 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour and a half because I do it on Sunday nights after games. It’s almost like playing a trivia game with audience members, just question and answer type stuff.

The podcast with Greg Cosell is super film-oriented. I’m watching a lot more of other teams beyond the Tennessee Titans. I know Greg is very, very detail-oriented and I can’t just like lob him up questions for him to take generally because he’s going to ask me for specifics. I know I’m going to have to do my homework on that. There’s just a very different kind of audience for that kind of football discussion versus general quarterback rankings and things like that. Then the other podcast is just Titans media based. It’s just other members of Titans media coming on and talking about whatever’s going on with the team that week.

BN: You had a pretty good digital thing going on, what was it about local radio or the Zone specifically that was appealing to you?

BR: It was the biggest operation in town. The streaming company is something that I’m still fortunate to have. My agent, Shaun Wyman, is a rockstar and he was able to get a deal done to where I got to keep both. 

I’d never done it before. It sounded like fun. The Zone has had a really good reputation and has the Titans, has the Vols. It’s the thing that everybody goes to here locally because they can’t get it nationally with a market size like this and a team like the Titans that doesn’t have the kind of star power that might warrant 20 minutes on NFL Live or something like that. It just made the most sense because it was the biggest platform, and if they were going to offer me a spot, I wasn’t going to say no.

BN: Listeners have compared you to Midday 180 because it’s the same time slot. What do you think of those comparisons and how did you deal with it early on, especially?

BR: Honestly, those guys are great. I still talk to [Paul] Kuharsky. Maybe not every day, but whenever we’re around Titans stuff. I asked those guys why they were leaving before I took the gig. You just want to just make sure you’re doing all your due diligence everywhere. I’m not from Nashville. Those guys are a Nashville institution. It’s nothing about them, it’s just I wasn’t consuming stuff like that. I didn’t really know how big they were to people locally, until it became a whole big deal, like, okay, I was going to replace them. I just really never thought about it that way.

They’re three dudes, I’m one. I’ve got two producers who are great. Obviously, it’s not just a solo show, it’s not Cowherd or whatever, but it’s a very different show. Those guys are probably 10, 15 years older than me. It’s not something that was necessarily going to be generationally aligned. It’s completely different stuff. I honestly respect the work that those guys do and that they did here. It’s hard to stay in any job for a decade the way that they did. But it just honestly was never a part of the issue for me.

BN: Listeners typically freak out about a new show. They’re like where’s the old show? This new one stinks. How long did it take for that tone to change and the feedback to be a lot more positive?

BR: Honestly, not to sound like a jerk, but I didn’t really get a bunch of shit. You have one or two or something like that. I think one of the first weeks I was on-air a caller told me to piss up a rope or something. I wasn’t prepared for it because I’d never done daily radio before. I didn’t know what the hell we were doing, or how to deal with callers, or that I have a tone problem sometimes or whatever. But yeah, I didn’t really have a bunch of bad feedback out the gate.

I think it might have helped that it wasn’t just midday that was moving on at the time. They had the Wake Up Zone that I think was on the air for something like 17 years. That had turned over. Everything was a transition, it wasn’t just me that was coming in new. 

We were terrible for probably the first year and a half that we were on the air. It was not a good radio show. There’s still days that I’ll walk away and be like, I don’t know what the hell I just did, but I don’t think it was good. It’s definitely a lot better now that we kind of know what we’re doing, even though we don’t really know what we’re doing.

BN: What have you gotten better at as a host and where’s the biggest growth of the show overall?

BR: The biggest growth is that I’m not just talking. I thought that if I’m going to do a solo radio show that I’m going to just have to talk the entire time. That was something that I had to figure out, okay, I can incorporate audio and stuff like that from press conferences. I’m at every game so I’ve got stuff that I can bring back and guests that I can get. But my producers are very, very involved. They are essential to making the show sound listenable at all, because otherwise it’d just be me yammering the entire time. 

That’s certainly a place that once I got more comfortable with it, then it just seemed to flow more naturally, more conversationally. I think it just got better, the more comfortable that all of us were because we all were new basically at the same time. I didn’t really know the guys that I was working with when they hired me. Then we all just sat in a room together and had to figure it out.

But definitely pacing. I talk fast. Letting things breathe was hard for me for the longest time. It’d just be me burying people. I was going 100 miles an hour; that’s how I do the streaming show because it’s internet, it’s a short attention span. I can physically see people coming in and going out of the show numerically. I just felt like I had to be talking fast to keep people’s attention. That, and interview style. I ask shorter questions now in ways that I could hear myself rambling really, really badly. I just had to get out of the way and let the guest talk.

BN: As a guy who does both terrestrial radio and podcasts, what would you say to a host that is only interested in doing terrestrial radio?

BR: You better figure out something else. I don’t think anybody’s making it just doing one thing, no matter what it is. But you’ve got to have options. You’ve got to be versatile. Whether that’s writing and radio, whether that’s podcasts and radio, whether that’s podcasts, writing, radio and streaming that I’m doing. I’ve got friends who do studio shows for the SEC Network on top of doing terrestrial radio. 

You just have to make sure that you’re capable of doing a variety of different things because you never know what is going to be presented to you and what opportunities are going to end up where. You have to make sure that you are capable of handling all those things, if you’ve at least got a toe in a variety of different places to make you more than just a radio host. I don’t think anybody can exist as just anything in our industry at this point.

BN: How about for the future, is there anything you would like to do specifically or experience over the next five or 10 years?

BR: Sure, there’s a bunch of stuff. But I just think that’s such a hard question. Not even trying to cop out, I just have no idea what the media environment is going to look like in five to 10 years. What is Netflix and Apple and Amazon Prime now building out original content going to do to things like network jobs and stuff like that. I never did radio before this gig. I love radio. I want to do this as long as humanly possible. I think it’s a ridiculous thing that people get paid money to do. It’s fun to just have three hours a day to screw around with your friends and talk sports. It’s pretty unique that way.

And with the way that everything’s becoming even more fractured in terms of talent, where you’re seeing networks and corporations being willing to talent share in a situation like I’m already doing it at a local level with A to Z Sports and Cumulus with 104.5 The Zone. How many more opportunities does that present? I just think it’s a whole different menu item of options that’s evolving right in front of us.

I wish I could give you a more direct answer. I’d like to do more NFL games, more of different teams just for the sake of variety. The Titans have been hugely compelling while they’re down here. I’ve been really lucky with it, but something that involves more football because football is the thing that people can’t get enough of. As long as there’s football, there’s jobs.

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The NBA Play-In Tournament is Simply About Money

By most estimates, the PIT has added millions of dollars in value for the league’s broadcast partners.

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Graphic for the NBA Play in Tournament

No, the NBA play-in tournament won’t save the league. But that’s not the same as saying it doesn’t matter.

In truth, the PIT, as we’ll call it, has done almost exactly what the league’s owners had hoped it would. It drives up a little interest in the NBA’s product before the playoffs proper begin this weekend. It’s sort of an appetizer for the courses to come.

It also drives a few bucks into the pockets of the league’s broadcast partners, and for Adam Silver & Co., that’s the point, of course. Aesthetics aside, if the PIT wasn’t a moneymaker, we’d never speak of it again, very happily.

This creature, after all, is a bit of a mess. It’s clearly contrived. It was hatched during the pandemic as the NBA tried to figure out how to survive its 2020 bubble summer, which tells you most of what you need to know about the motives.

And it can skew ugly. This week’s offerings featured two solidly sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams, Chicago and Atlanta. Under the NBA’s previous top-8 format, the East’s lowest-qualifying playoff team would’ve been Miami at 46-36. That’s respectable.

But the PIT isn’t about respectable; it’s about spectacle. As this year’s version got underway, there were a couple of tantalizing storylines – only a couple, but that’s all you usually need.

In the West, teams featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Zion Williamson, and De’Aaron Fox were all jockeying for their post-season survival. Why? Because their respective teams were merely okay for most of the season, never great.

But you can see why Silver and the NBA owners favored adding a few more playoff possibles in the first place. Again, going back to the top-8 grid of playoffs past, both the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings would’ve been on the outside looking in. Instead, viewers got a Warriors-Kings elimination game on Tuesday night.

The notion of seeing Curry and his crew go out in a one-game tire fire is generally going to be worth a few eyeballs – and that’s the whole ballgame here. Last year’s six PIT games, broadcast on ESPN and TNT, averaged 2.64 million viewers, a 5% increase from the year before.

That’s how this works. By most estimates, the PIT has added millions of dollars in value for the league’s broadcast partners. You can argue that, depending upon the year, the 7-8-9-10 configuration also heightens interest in the last couple of weeks of the regular season, simply because nobody wants to be relegated to the 9-10 elimination game.

It all matters to a league that, like most sports enterprises in America, is trying to figure out the viewer landscape amid a rapidly changing market. Silver acknowledged as much last fall in an interview with Yahoo Sports, saying that the decline in cable subscriptions “has disproportionately impacted the NBA” because the league’s fan demographic trends younger but the remaining cable audience is older.

“Our young audience isn’t subscribing to cable,” Silver told Yahoo, “and those fans aren’t finding our games.”

There’s no doubt the NBA is addressing that issue as it negotiates with TNT and ESPN, whose rights expire in 2025. While cable options might be cut back, the league has to find a way to expand its reach through a significant streaming partnership. It could be part of the impending ESPN/Fox/Warner platform or something else, but it needs to be easily identifiable and easily accessed.

You’d go a little crazy trying to figure out where the NBA stands in terms of viewership. Its opening night last fall was a bust, but the new in-season tournament was a ratings hit. The league got smoked by the NFL on Christmas Day, enjoyed a huge uptick on All-Star Saturday Night, then played a desultory All-Star Game only to see viewer numbers go up from the year before. (Granted, that was a rise from an all-time ratings low.)

Silver, who’s wrapping up a contract extension that will keep him in the commissioner’s job through the end of the decade, has been warily eyeing the TV numbers for years. He isn’t new to any of the concerns, and he has been forcefully behind both the in-season tournament and this PIT creation, which everyone involved has no problem labeling a blatant viewership ploy.

That’s because, for lack of a crisper phrase, it is what it is. The play-in is every bit as basic as it looks, and it was put in place for no reason other than to expand the playoff field and generate a little extra heat through the schedule’s final few weeks, along with these early days of the post-season.

And it generates millions. For Silver and Co, that’s the end of the conversation.

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Verne Lundquist Deserved All The Praise and More During Final Broadcast

Verne Lundquist might be the last of a dying breed. And for all of the fantastic moments he’s had behind the microphone, there was a missed opportunity for one final hurrah.

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A photo of Verne Lundquist
(Photo: Paul David Morris)

Verne Lundquist deserved to call the final holes of The Masters for CBS Sports on Sunday.

While celebrating his 40th time calling golf’s grandest stage, it also marked the end of his illustrious broadcasting career. Lundquist has been a fixture not only at Augusta but also on CBS Sports properties like the SEC on CBS, the Army/Navy Game, and the NCAA Tournament.

But Verne Lundquist is part of the last of a dying TV play-by-play breed.

He was never going to make his final assignment about him.

When you tuned into a broadcast being called by the 83-year-old, you were bound to witness a broadcasting masterclass. The ability to weave humor in and out of the broadcast, along with tenacious prep work, fantastic storytelling, and an intricate knowledge of letting the pictures tell the story were Lundquist’s trademarks.

Take, for instance, his call of the famous “Kick Six” in the 2013 Iron Bowl. In 25 seconds of action, the only thing he says is “On the way … No. Returned by Chris Davis. Davis goes left. Davis gets a block. Davis has another block! Chris Davis! No flags! Touchdown, Auburn! An answered prayer!”

He didn’t speak for the next 65 seconds, letting the pictures — some of which have lived on in infamy — tell the story.

It wasn’t overhyped catchphrases, screaming, or “look at me!” energy that has somewhat permeated modern television play-by-play that made Lundquist a TV legend. It was a dedication to the craft.

It was great to see so many tributes from not just fellow broadcasters but also from some of the PGA Tour players — especially Tiger Woods — for Lundquist in his final assignments.

Make no mistake about it: Verne Lundquist is a titan of the industry and deserved all of the praise that was heaped on him during his final assignment. And I’m not unreasonable, I don’t know that you could expect Jim Nantz — who gave up calling the NCAA Tournament — to step aside for Lundquist to call the final holes of The Masters, when he gave up another high-profile gig to spend more time focusing on golf’s biggest tournament.

But when a guy like Verne Lundquist — who you could argue belongs on the Mount Rushmore of TV play-by-players — is ending his career at a place that he says “means just about everything, professionally,” I think it has to enter someone’s brain to give him the chance to make the call.

Now, maybe the most likely scenario is that Nantz, or retiring CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, did invite Lundquist to wrap his career by cementing Scottie Scheffler’s place in immortality at Augusta National. But watching Verne Lundquist from afar, it’s likely he decided to not shine the spotlight on himself. A quality that took him to the top of the sports broadcasting mountaintop.

I hope Lundquist appreciates all of the admiration shown to him over the past week, from contemporaries and those who participated in the action alike. It was our honor, and our privilege, to listen to Verne Lundquist for all those years. Not only at The Masters, but the Olympics, college football and basketball, and beyond.

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Q Myers, ‘GameNight’ Places Women’s Basketball at the Forefront on ESPN Radio

“I think everything we’ve done has built up where we continue to allow ourselves to do more because of what we’ve done and our consistency.”

Derek Futterman

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GameNight – ESPN Radio
(Illustration) Q Myers – Courtesy: Allen Kee, ESPN Images | Tara Sledjeski, Rachael Robinson – Courtesy: Mike Urrunaga, ESPN | Madison Booker – Courtesy: Stephen Spielman, Texas Athletics | Kiki Iriafen – Courtesy: Karen Amrbose Hickey, Stanford Athletics | Sonia Citron – Courtesy: Notre Dame Athletics | Audi Crooks; Addy Brown; Anna Miller – Courtesy: Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Des Moines Register | Ellie Mitchell – Courtesy: Princeton Athletics | Emme Shearer – Courtesy: Portland Athletics | Lauren Jensen – Courtesy: Creighton Athletics | Carly Thibault-DuDonis – Courtesy: Fairfield Athletics | Lindsay Gottlieb – Courtesy: USC Athletics | Joddie Gleason – Courtesy: Eastern Washington Athletics | Tamara Inoue – Courtesy: UCI Athletics | Lindy La Rocque – Courtesy: UNLV Athletics | Megan Griffith – Courtesy: Columbia Athletics | Katie Meier – Courtesy: Katie Meier Hurricane Basketball Camp | Karl Smesko – Courtesy: Brady Young Photo, FGCU Athletics | Vic Schaefer – Courtesy: Texas Athletics | J.R. Payne – Courtesy: Southern Utah Athletics | Jeff Mittie – Courtesy: The Topeka Capital-Journal | Additional Images – Courtesy: Facebook, Instagram

It all started with an idea and aspiration that the momentum would persist and continue to move in the right direction. Qiant Myers, a longtime radio veteran who works as the program director for the Las Vegas Sports Network and hosts several programs centered on the Las Vegas Raiders, was looking to do something different on ESPN Radio GameNight leading up to the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. With March Madness rapidly approaching, the program devised a strategy to implement discussion about the teams and players within the bracket, diligently preparing by booking guests to be interviewed and contribute to the discussion.

Myers and his colleagues take part in a weekly listening session in which they review different parts of GameNight and discuss both strengths and weaknesses. ESPN Radio afternoon program director Mike Urrunaga often joins in these calls to provide his insights and analysis, looking to bolster the quality of the on-air product. The program utilizes a rotation of several hosts, including Myers, Emmett Golden and Jonathan Zaslow, all of whom bring a consistent approach to serve as a source of information and entertainment while inviting listener opinions.

Being based in Las Vegas, Nev., Myers can evince the presence of women’s sports and perceives its rapid proliferation in the marketplace. The Las Vegas Aces have won the WNBA championship in the last two seasons, while the University of Las Vegas is widely considered to have one of the strongest women’s basketball programs in the country.

At the same time, he recognized the success of new teams in establishing fanbases over time, including the Vegas Golden Knights. The defending Stanley Cup champions frequently fill T-Mobile Arena to standing-room capacity, embedded within the zeitgeist and sports renaissance taking place in the city. Concurrently, the Aces averaged at the top of the WNBA in average attendance last season and have leveraged on-court play and stars to help expand its fanbase. With the possibility of more professional sports leagues considering the city for relocation and/or expansion, Las Vegas is among the quintessential examples of sustaining and thriving with both women’s and men’s sports organizations.

“I felt like I already had a foot in the door because I’m paying attention to what’s going on,” Myers said. “I’ve been watching women’s basketball for a long time and really appreciate it.”

When Myers demonstrated his avidity for women’s basketball prior to the start of March Madness, his co-workers recognized that predilection and capitalized on it. In essence, GameNight worked to become the radio home of the tournament by crafting a distinctive sound and disseminating it en masse. The initiative was not only about introducing the athletes to listeners, but also showcasing their personalities and establishing an interpersonal connection.

“I’m a big believer in if the hosts are passionate about something, that passion will carry and it will draw listeners in,” show producer Tara Sledjeski said. “Anything you do – if your hosts are into it – I think you can sell it to the audience because they’re going to be interested in it if the hosts are into it.”

There were several coaches that appeared on the program whose husbands are members of the coaching staff. Additionally, some of the players presented anecdotes about how they would watch and attend women’s basketball games when they were younger and became inspired to pursue the career themselves. By humanizing the guests on GameNight, the interviews were able to more readily appeal to listeners, especially those who are either unfamiliar with or unwilling to accept the burgeoning pantheon of women’s sports.

“I think it is about finding those personal things of why you should be interested in these people, and I think with all sports, it always comes down to the stars, which we’ve especially learned with women’s basketball,” Sledjeski said. “Caitlin Clark – everyone cares about Caitlin Clark, so I think it’s just finding things that will make people resonate with these girls.”

Clark in particular has stood out among the pack of incoming WNBA players, catapulting to become one of the most eminent athletes in the world. Clark was recently drafted No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever and became the top-selling draft pick in Fanatics history, garnering demand for her jersey from basketball fans around the world.

Nielsen measured the rematch of last year’s National Championship Game between Iowa and LSU to amass an average of 12.3 million viewers. Peaking at 16.1 million, the game marked the most-watched college basketball game to be presented on ESPN platforms before the Final Four.

ESPN went on to break that record two more times in the next five days, beginning with the Final Four game featuring Iowa and UConn that averaged 14.4 million viewers. Although Iowa did not win the National Championship Game, it posted a valiant effort against South Carolina in a game that attained 18.9 million viewers, ending tournament coverage that was up 121% year-over-year.

The metric was significant for Sledjeski, who grew up watching men’s sports and playing softball. When the sport was removed from the Olympic Games in 2008, she wondered what encapsulated the acme of the game, and the fact that these athletes could no longer win gold medals in the games was disheartening and perplexing. Watching the women’s National Championship game outdraw the men’s iteration for the first time in the history of March Madness represented a monumental achievement and step towards further prosperity.

While it can be difficult to attribute a direct correlation, those involved believe that GameNight had an effect on interest in women’s basketball based on observation and logic. Associate producer Rachael Robinson, who also works on the evening program Amber & Ian, enjoyed taking part in the tournament-specific endeavor, during which she learned about personnel within the sport and their indelible impact on its growth.

“Looking back, that was a fantastic idea,” Robinson said. “It’s kind of fun to be ahead of the game. I always enjoy it. People might question you in the moment, but once it blows up, because you know it’s going to eventually, you look like a genius.”

Since GameNight is under the ESPN company umbrella, the program is able to leverage the deep roster of multiplatform talent and have them on for segments during the show. For example, basketball analysts Andraya Carter and Carolyn Peck appeared on the show to discuss the tournament. Following the Final Four games, analyst Jimmy Dikes and reporter Holly Rowe also joined the program to provide their expertise within the overall discussion. ESPN recently reached a new, eight-year media rights agreement with the NCAA that grants the network rights to 40 championships, including all rounds of the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.

“It’s great that ESPN has the rights to all this,” Sledjeski explained, “because it helps us then to bring in our analysts and bring in people that were there and people that were on the call to give that insight of what’s going on.”

“They did such a fantastic job that it made ESPN, really truly the home not only on radio, but on TV,” Myers added. “….I felt like we were the voices leading into the tournament on the radio. I feel like it all worked together.”

Before the tournament began, the GameNight team worked to secure and feature several key figures from women’s basketball, such as Notre Dame guard and ACC defensive player of the year Hannah Hidalgo. Big 12 Conference co-player of the year Madison Booker, Pac-12 Conference most improved player of the year Kiki Iriafen and MAAC coach of the year Carly Thibault-DuDonis were also among the guests at this time. Aside from discussing the games themselves, the program also found ways to engage in storytelling that would effectuate a comprehensive synopsis as to their personas both on and off the court.

“We’re going to do all the research, [and] we’re going to get all the fun facts,” Myers said. “Tara does a great job of that, and obviously I’m going to do my research at the same time…. We did the show before the show because we were just so busy grinding, but that’s the beauty of it.”

As the producer of GameNight, Sledjeski knows that it made the program a more compelling listen in going beyond the action on the court. Certain answers and details stood out within its coverage pertaining to a variety of topics, one of which was a joint interview with Iowa State freshman center Audi Crooks and freshman forward Addy Brown. The teammates became close friends throughout the season and discussed the camaraderie between them and the rest of the team. Furthermore, the program welcomed UNLV head coach Lindy La Rocue who shed light on balancing her personal and professional responsibilities.

“My mind is still blown by her story because last year, she literally had her first child in early November and she was back on the sidelines coaching a week later,” Sledjeski said. “That is mind-blowing, and she gave a great answer about her daughter always being around the team and how she can’t separate things.”

Amid the tournament, GameNight had a plethora of athletes and coaches on the airwaves for interviews, including Oklahoma forward Skylar Vann, Oregon State guard Talia von Oelhoffen and North Carolina guard Alyssa Ustby. Sledjeski informed members of the show to tag the specific universities and basketball programs who the players were representing, which led to several subsequent posts and additional engagement. Robinson was responsible for posting audio from these conversations, and she hopes to augment the breadth of digital distribution accompanying the national radio exposure.

“I really enjoyed it because it was different, because a lot of shows were paying attention to it because it was an initiative and it was going so well,” Robinson said, “but they were very good at getting the lesser-known stories out of the tournament and really pushing them and becoming the home of the tournament.”

In addition to guest interviews and discussion on the air, GameNight also cultivated a social media campaign where it ranked and created a bracket to determine the best Division I basketball program in the country. Women’s and men’s programs engaged in head-to-head battles determined by fan votes on social media about who would win each matchup. Sledjeski presented the concept and seeded the teams for the six-round competition situated similar to March Madness. There were 16 teams within each division (East; Midwest; South; West), narrowing the bracket from 64 to the Final Four.

“That was a whole lot of work to put that bracket together,” Myers said. “Just by her wanting to put that together got me excited about it. It made me want to be like, ‘Yeah, let’s lean into this. Let’s do this. If she’s willing to put in that work, let’s lean into it, let’s have some fun with it and let’s talk about it.’”

Visualizing the competition in a bracket format tied into the theme surrounding March Madness, but determining the exact theme of the venture took several iterations. As she continued to ruminate on how such an effort could surface and elicit broad interest, she began to weigh teams experiencing current success and those who had been perennial champions of yore.

“The more you think about it, it’s really tough with all sports and if you’re trying to cover all pros and programs,” Sledjeski said. “I was trying to narrow it down, and I really don’t know what popped into my head, but I thought it’d be really cool when you think about, ‘Okay, we know the UConn women are doing really good; also then how do they compare to the Duke men?’”

ESPN Radio shared polls on X with two basketball teams and asked users to vote on which one was the stronger all-time program. After 60 rounds of voting, the championship matchup came down to the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball program against the UConn Huskies women’s basketball program. In the end, the UConn women’s team garnered just over 92% of the final vote, taking home the championship in the bracket competition. Monitoring the engagement and interaction on social media, Robinson noticed that there was palpable enthusiasm towards the project. In fact, many programs from around the country recognized the campaign and implored their fanbase to vote in an effort to capture the title.

“It was a very interesting way to look at it because it wasn’t the same, ‘Oh, here’s this; here’s this,’” Robinson said. “It was, ‘Look at the history of these two sports and pick the best one.’”

With the book on this year’s edition of March Madness closed, it does not indicate the end of covering women’s sports on GameNight and ESPN Radio. As teams across the WNBA prepare for opening night next month, collegiate stars including Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso aim to make an impact and assimilate into the league. Building off the momentum from the tournament, ESPN Radio intends to feature a WNBA player every week of the season, an effort that will likely coincide with games on television.

Viewership of the league last season reached a 17-year high with an average of 440,000 people watching games presented on ESPN, ABC and ESPN2. With national media rights for both the WNBA and NBA expiring after next season, respective league commissioners Cathy Engelbert and Adam Silver have addressed the growth of both entities. ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery are currently in an exclusive negotiating window with the NBA that runs through next Monday, April 22. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro believes that the WNBA will be included in a potential renewal with the NBA, a league that is reportedly aiming to implement a regular streaming element into its portfolio.

For now, GameNight is focused on utilizing its resources and platform to drive awareness of and interest in women’s sports through storytelling and regular discussion. The shifting paradigm within athletics has placed women’s sports at the center of conversations rather than it being disregarded or considered an afterthought.

“I think that it’s continuing to get better and growing, and obviously the star power is always going to help because now there’s people in this tournament obviously that watch the game because Caitlin Clark was fantastic,” Myers said. “Now hopefully, now there’s sticking power [and] now hopefully they come back and say, ‘Oh man, let me see it again…’ Now I feel like I can feature more as well, and it’s appreciated instead of, ‘Oh, they’re trying to force feed it because they’re trying to play nice with the ladies.’”

Deloitte projects women’s sports to generate more than $1 billion in revenue for the first time this year, coverage of which comes from ESPN through its radio, television and digital platforms. The team at GameNight and ESPN Radio have discerned and witnessed audience interest in various leagues, teams and games themselves that comprise women’s sports. These discussions are not derivative or contrived in nature; rather, they are genuine opinions that emanate from keen focus on implications and outcomes therein. GameNight intends to continue shattering glass ceilings while not allowing prejudicial, misogynistic commentaries to impede the progress towards equality.

“I think everything we’ve done has built up where we continue to allow ourselves to do more because of what we’ve done and our consistency,” Myers said. “…We’ve earned the right to continue to build up what we’ve already started and see how far it can go.”

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