Meet The Market Managers: Natalie Marsh, Lotus Communications, Las Vegas
“We pride ourselves on who we are as a group and why the sports teams want to be affiliated with us.”
Las Vegas is a beast unto itself. No one knows that better than Natalie Marsh. She has been with Lotus Communications in Sin City for 24 years, and has seen the market completely transform in that time.
In a city where there is always something new to do, how innovative do your sellers need to be? How much do the old ways of doing business still work with clients?
Forget the sales side for a second. How do Marsh and her programmers keep up with the ever expanding roster of sports offerings in town to make sure both the teams and local listeners are getting what they expect from the company’s five sports stations?
Natalie answers all of these questions and more in the latest Meet the Market Managers column presented by Point-to-Point Marketing. Enjoy!
Demetri Ravanos: Since we’re focused on sports radio, I think the best place to start is the way Las Vegas has exploded as a home for major league professional sports. How have the expectations of your staff, both programing and sales, changed as those teams have come to town?
Natalie Marsh: I would say it has changed pretty dramatically and it’s been a real learning experience. Fortunately, we had two support stations prior to even the Golden Knights being here. So, we had a team of sellers that were invested in selling the passion and the loyalty of the sports fan.
That’s just grown and expanded, and now we’re teaching them how to take that to the next level. Now, we have five sports radio stations.
From a programming standpoint, it’s really been about finding the right people. They have to be engaged. It’s different when you have the teams here. The expectations change.
There is nothing more amazing and maybe a little bit frightening than the owners and executives of the teams listening to your stations. It’s super flattering, but take Raider Nation Radio for an example. Mark Davis listens to that station every day. There’s a different level of expectation or engagement or knowledge that has to come into play.
Are our guys going to the practices? Are they seen at the games?
It’s more than just watching it on TV, which is really what it was prior to us having any professional teams. The game changes when you have to go from having minor league baseball and university sports to having an NHL team, a WNBA team who just won the championship, and an NFL team.
We pride ourselves on who we are as a group and why the sports teams want to be affiliated with us. There’s a lot of pressure internally to make sure that we’re keeping up to that standard.
DR: I do want to talk about Raider Nation Radio. Is that something other stations and ownership groups have come to you with questions about the way the relationship works with the Raiders? Because certainly there are teams in other markets across the country with fan bases that would respond to a station like that. How much of a resource have you been for other stations around the country?
NM: I would have to ask my PD. I’ve never personally had another group reach out to me on, how this came to be.
For me, it’s about what can we do, and analyzing what we can make from a sales perspective. Also, what can we do that is a different way to monetize the affiliation with the team but also makes the team realize how much of a partner you really are. That’s really where Raider Nation Radio came from.
Mark Davis or even his dad prior to him had always been second best in the Bay area. That’s the way they’ve always been treated. It was always the 49ers first and Raiders second. So we made a promise as we were presenting as to why we would be the right choice as the flagship radio partner. We were going to have a station that was dedicated to the Raiders. That’s really where Raider Nation Radio was born.
DR: So I want to ask you about that and the Golden Knights as well because you guys have put a priority on being the flagship stations of the teams in town. I wonder what sort of conversations you are having in the lead-up to those pitches, both with your bosses and also with your staff, about the importance of getting those play-by-play rights.
NM: So we’ll go back to the Knights, because I’m going to tell you that prior to the Knights, we had rights for our minor league baseball team and UNLV.
There were certainly times during my 24 years at Lotus Broadcasting that UNLV helped us make some money, people wanted to be on the games. But they’ve had their struggles. And so we were pretty naive about what this was going to look like.
I was a sales manager when we went to pitch for the Vegas Golden Knights, and I went to my GM right away and said, “Do we want to pitch for these rights? What do we want to do? What what does it look like?” We made some calls, we did some digging, and I met with my sales team, and said, “Here’s what I’m going to need from you guys. Do you think you can deliver it?” I’m lucky because I had a couple of salespeople that really embraced it.
Everybody thought “Hockey in the desert? This is going to be terrible. Nobody is going to want to do it.” But I had a couple salespeople that would talk to advertisers and say, “Look, you’ve got to get in this the first year or you’re not going to be able to get in next year. We’re going to sell it out. It’s going to be first come, first serve, and if you don’t get in now the prices will be higher and you won’t be able to get in.”
These are all things that we talked and strategized about, but I had a couple that actually did it right. We sold it out. The team obviously did its part and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals that first year. So the premise that we sold became a reality.
We expanded our coverage because part of our presentation to the Golden Knights was that we would do a game a week in Spanish. I had done some research and realized a couple of markets had sort of played around with Spanish broadcasting in the NHL. Nobody had really given it their all. Our station became the first Spanish broadcast of a Stanley Cup Finals game, which exploded and became viral.
So from that, we thought, “Hey, we’re going to do every home game.” And that’s how we moved forward. And I was able to expand what we had available on the Hispanic side and what we had available on the general market side, amending that contract to include these extra Spanish home games that we were carrying. It’s really been fantastic!
When you teach a sales staff how to sell probably the hardest of the four, sports it becomes very easy to sell the Raiders right after that because the NFL is the easiest.
We’re a little crazy. I heard the WNBA was coming in and said, “We owe it to female athletes and fans to become a partner for them. I don’t know if we’ll ever make money on it.” I said to my boss at the time “I’m going to do my best. I’ll at least make sure it’s a wash for you, but I think we need to do it. It’s the right thing to do.”
We started carrying all of their home games because a lot of these facilities aren’t set up to have the away team there with a radio broadcast. The Aces won the championship last year, which we were able to sell strongly. Now that demand is even higher.
It’s been fun to watch not only the sales team grow in how they understand it, and how they sell the passion of it. We don’t sit in a market where those sports stations get a lot of ratings. The market size just isn’t there. We only have 800 to 900 meters in the market. So unless they get lucky and one just happened to fall on a sports fan, you just don’t see the movement that you might elsewhere. So we don’t sell on ratings. The sales team has really embraced it.
DR: So am I right to assume that businesses in a market like Las Vegas, which is built on experience and entertainment, understand the value in sports radio? Because you hit on it, right? It is not a ratings play. There have to be businesses that understand the value of a dedicated audience, even if it is smaller, they are more apt to hear the message than just a straight numbers buy.
NM: Absolutely. We have been very fortunate in being able to prove that to them. You’ve got to get that trust first. You tell them the story and then you show them.
We have car dealerships and hotel/casinos on there, We have every kind of business, but those are big businesses with ad agencies that we’ve still been able to convince this isn’t about the numbers. That’s quite a feat in 2023.
That’s why I’m really proud of my sales team because it’s hard sometimes to convince people this isn’t about the numbers. A lot of clients want to talk about numbers because the other groups want to talk about the numbers. It’s a competitive marketplace for those ad dollars, especially in the last three years.
You had COVID, then things started coming back, and everybody was so nervous about that. Then last year was a political year, and now this year everybody’s worried about the economy. There’s just a lot of competition in the space. Even as the teams come to town they sort of take money out of the market because of their sponsorship dollars. So then that space becomes even more competitive.
Our programming team is fantastic. They go out on calls with the salespeople and they’re super engaged with our clients and our partners. The whole building getting behind a sales effort makes all the difference in the world.
DR: So given that connection that the audience has with these stations, with the local personalities, what is the process like on pitching a new client on the benefits of paying that premium for things like endorsements and live events, to really take advantage of an audience that wants to do what these people are telling them to do?
NM: I think there’s a couple of ways that you can make an impact. If you’ve done your CNA properly and you understand which on-air talent is going to mesh best with the client, you bring the talent to them and let that personality express their passion. Then the client can see it and know that same passion exists with our listeners.
The other thing that is really successful is taking the client to an event. We do a lot of viewing parties. Not only do we have five sports stations, but I have two rock stations, and rock sets us up really well to do the viewing parties because it’s another male-based audience. So, it’s easy to get a prospective client to a sports viewing party. Last year was the first time we did away game viewing parties for the Aces. This is before they were winning the championship, but we had started taking clients to the games.
That’s the other thing — take them to a game and let them see the excitement of the fans. The WNBA, that’s not an easy sell, but if you go to a game, you are sold that it is a really, really good game of basketball. Take a female manager or owner and show them, “Look at these women! You’ve got to support the sport.” And they see the excitement and the passion of the fans.
Utilizing those three things: Meet our personality and see their passion, come see the passion of the fans at away game parties, or come and see the passion of the fans at the game. They kind of get it and then they’re willing to take a chance. Then when they start getting results, they’re in.
DR: When you are looking for sellers, whether you’re actively recruiting or somebody’s resume just comes across your desk, how specialized is your search? Is it easy to get someone up to speed on doing business with things like casinos and clubs or are those the kind of accounts that you really need market knowledge and institutional knowledge of those businesses in order to be successful?
NM: I think it would depend. There’s sports betting everywhere now so that changes things a little bit and makes it a little easier if I’m going out of the market.
I’m a little spoiled because we have huge longevity here in my group. I’ve been here 24 years and I have sellers that have been here longer than me. That comes with pros and cons, but for the most part, they are pros. We tend to be the group in town that people want to work for, so it makes it easy to recruit in the market.
I think if I was looking at somebody that wanted to come here from out of town, there would be a conversation of “Tell me what it’s like in your market when you have to sell events because Vegas is different.” I know everybody thinks that their town is different. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it’s actually true here.
We get inundated with messages and so you have to be ready to explain to a new business that opens. People have a lot of options here. More than they have anywhere else. Every day there’s something else coming and it just it doesn’t seem to slow down.
I’ve never worried about if somebody knows how to sell to a casino or not, because if you know how to sell any kind of on-site activation, then it’s probably pretty easy to turn that into what it could look like if done at a casino.
DR: So I want to flip to the other big side of radio, which is programming. Q Myers is an interesting guy. I personally like him a lot. You have him leading multiple brands. At the same time, his own profile is rising as a host. Tell me a bit about the conversations you guys have about balancing those two sides of this job and how they each serve Lotus in Las Vegas.
NM: So our sports product is the only product that has a PD and an assistant PD for exactly that reason. So we knew that. We had that in place prior to Q coming here.
We knew that we wanted a personality as a PD — someone that was going to do both. Once I met Q, it was just a given. There was no way that I wasn’t going to have him be on the air. He’s really just too good at it. It really helped that we already had an assistant PD in place.
Now, what I did not know about Q is, he doesn’t stop! I will be driving home at 7:00 at night and I’ll have ESPN on and I’m like, “Oh. Q is filling in for Freddie Coleman again.” And then I’ll be listening on the weekends and he’s got his weekend show. I often joke with his wife like, “You know, this isn’t me, right?”. She’s like, “I know. I was married to him prior to you.” I’ve given her bottles of wine before to be like, “I’m so sorry that your husband works all the time.”
But his passion and energy are contagious. That’s what’s so special about Q because it’s really hard not to want to laugh and smile and have fun at your job, but also work really hard when your boss is laughing and smiling and working his butt off. Even though I tell him to slow down and he doesn’t listen to me, it’s okay. It’s the pot calling the kettle black a little bit because he would probably tell me the same thing.
DR: So I want to end by asking sort of a bigger question. You’ve noticed that our discussion has been about sales and programming. When people think about the radio business, it’s easy to divide it into those two categories. But I wonder if we look at the other aspects of the business, how healthy is the pool of capable, experienced candidates in your experience when you are looking to fill a role like, say, promotions or engineering or production? Any of those behind-the-scenes roles that do not fall into the sales or programming categories?
NM: I’ve been really lucky. I sit with a lot of different business leaders on a regular basis, and their biggest complaint is not being able to find talent. I’ve had multiple times that I’ve had to find talent since COVID or even during COVID and have always been able to find the right person. Whether it was an engineer, a board op or a remote tech.
Again, that longevity does come into play to protect me a little bit, just because I haven’t had maybe the volume that other people have had. So maybe, just by pure numbers, I would start to have more of an issue if I was having to hire more people but when I look at who we have had to hire in those areas, we just have been really fortunate.
I try to have a really good relationship with UNLV and their broadcast school and school of journalism. I’ve had some candidates come from there in those positions. We also do a work-study program with a job and college preparatory school that we have here in town. We’ve actually hired one person from that school, and have been involved from the beginning. They have their first graduating class this year.
So we have another kid in mind. He is interested in coming on board to learn how to run play-by-play while he goes to college, so we’ll likely have a second person that we hire from that school.
I think it just depends on how innovative you get when you’re looking for talent. The last person that I hired, I looked at my engineering department a little bit differently. I realized we needed help in the department but I didn’t think we needed an RF engineer anymore because so much of what radio does is digital and IT. We were redoing all of the studios, and some of that is about computer stuff, not RF.
You can get an RF contractor if you need one out here, but I need somebody in the building that understands all of the aspects of this new digital world that I just hopped into because we were a little bit behind. I think it’s kind of opening up and expanding your thoughts on what does that new person’s skillset need to look like? You have to think a little bit outside of the box in my experience.
Look at our sellers. Every single person that worked in some sort of traditional advertising lost a chunk of our business to digital advertising. That’s just the thing, and so you have to have that component that you can offer so that you can get back some of that budget that you’ve lost going back to like 2008 or 2009.
You just have to be open-minded. And if somebody comes to you and they have a passion for your business and they have a passion to learn, even if they maybe don’t have the experience, then that’s almost worth it to take that chance on that person versus trying to find somebody that has the experience.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
As Media Changes, Bob Costas Hopes Standards Remain
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me.”
Growing up in New York, Bob Costas frequently listened to broadcasters such as Red Barber, Mel Allen and Marv Albert call games on the radio. To him, their voices were inseparable from the players. Although he idolized Mickey Mantle, Costas knew the only way he would pass through the Yankee Stadium gates without charge would be by working in the press box. Recognizing that many national broadcasters began their careers by working in radio, he searched for an esteemed college program to accentuate his pursuit of a media career. Once Costas picked up a New York Knicks yearbook and learned that Glickman and Albert had both attended Syracuse University, his mind was, somewhat consequentially, made up.
“When I got there, I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to be a writer or a broadcaster,” Costas said. “Almost as soon as I got there as a freshman, I started getting airshifts doing sports reports and whatnot on the campus radio station. I felt like this was something that I enjoyed and I might have a knack for.”
Costas on the Air
Costas was fond of a specific type of sports broadcasting early in his career, one promulgated by Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wherein an announcer is more than just someone who documents the game. It led Costas to espouse a multifaceted approach with shades of humor, journalistic elements and some historical references.
“[They] were essayists and at times journalists,” Costas said. “Not just announcers, but journalists with a respect for and a command of language with the occasional literate touch [and] I admired those people. I think I was influenced by them in that they showed me that was an avenue [and] that not every good broadcaster had to be generic.”
When Costas graduated from college, he was hired at KMOX radio by general manager Rob Hyland. He was assigned to be the new play-by-play announcer for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Spirit of St. Louis, and later called Missouri Tigers college basketball.
In 1976, Al Michaels was slated to be a regional football play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, but ended up signing a contract with ABC less than one week before the regular season. It left the network with no one to call an opening week game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers from historic Lambeau Field, resulting in CBS Sports calling Hyland to inquire about a potential replacement.
“Mr. Hyland said, ‘We’ve got a young guy here. We think he’s pretty good. He’s 24 and looks like he’s 15,’” Costas recalled. “They said, ‘Send him to Green Bay,’ and I signed a one-game contract for $500 to go to Green Bay.”
Costas continued calling regional games for CBS Sports while working at KMOX, being used every so often on football and basketball coverage. It gave him additional exposure in various marketplaces around the United States, and ultimately prepared him to join NBC Sports. By the end of 1981 though, Bryant Gumbel departed the sports division to join Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace as a co-host on TODAY. As a result, Costas was elevated to become a more visible part of NBC’s football coverage. He eventually started hosting the pregame show for the NFL on NBC, and had to learn the mechanics of the studio and how to read from a teleprompter.
“For the first several years that I did it, I didn’t use a teleprompter at all,” Costas said. “I just had notes and ad-libbed around those notes, but then as the production became more sophisticated, they’d want a specific cue to roll in B-roll or whatever, and I began using the prompter for that. I still ad-libbed in and around it because I felt more comfortable doing that.”
Costas on America’s Pastime
Costas continued hosting studio coverage for football, but had also impressed network executives when hosting NBC’s coverage of the 1983 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier that season, he had started broadcasting games with Tony Kubek on Game of the Week, a partner to which he credits accentuating his development. Kubek introduced Costas to key figures around the sport, such as players, general managers and scouts, implicitly communicating the trust he garnered in his abilities.
Throughout his career, the composition and expectations of the audience have altered, requiring Costas to adapt the way in which he calls a game. Research departments compile tedious amounts of information for broadcasters to consider, and it is in their purview to determine what deserves emphasis. When sabermetrics first began to pervade into the everyday vernacular of the sport, Costas had Bill James on KMOX to discuss his theories and baseball abstract, and he considers himself an early adopter of the metrics.
Costas is familiar with postseason baseball as a fan and broadcaster, appearing on World Series broadcasts five different times either as a host or play-by-play announcer. Through his lifetime, he has seen and embraced the evolution of the sport. Yet he is frequently labeled as a “traditionalist.” That led to extensive criticism regarding how he called last year’s American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on TBS.
“If it ever gets to the point in a broadcast where the statistician eclipses the storyteller, then some of the elements of romance and legend that are part of baseball are lost,” Costas expressed. “What you’re looking to do is strike a balance between those two things. They all have their purpose, but it’s a matter of balance.”
In addition to baseball, Costas also covered basketball with NBC, helping further cement the Association into the collective awareness of the viewing public. He was elevated to lead play-by-play announcer for the 1997-98 season and called three NBA Finals, including one of the most consequential shots in the history of the game. Costas, who announced games locally for the Bulls on WGN-TV during the 1979-80 season, punctuated Michael Jordan’s championship-winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Although he no longer calls basketball, Costas is a fan of the game and regularly tunes into the NBA Finals while staying aware of ratings.
“A good portion of it is on cable,” Costas said of league broadcasts. “There are very large rights fees paid, so that explains the league’s willingness to go in that direction, and the quality of the broadcasts are generally very, very high. There’s no criticism of the way the games are presented, but it’s less present in the minds of the casual fan than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”
Costas on Reporting
When Costas was at NBC, he was presented with a proposal from producer Dick Ebersol about starting his own late-night talk show, entering a space where sportscasters had not often frequented. While he looks back at that stage of his career with a sense of appreciation, he turned down the program multiple times. Once he reluctantly agreed to host the show, Costas welcomed guests including Paul McCartney, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks among others for longform, insightful interviews.
“It wasn’t confined to five minutes or a quick soundbite,” Costas said. “I think I was well-suited to that format, and once I got my footing after the first few months of doing it, I realized that even though I hadn’t planned anything in that area, it was something that I was suited to do.”
As a journalist, Costas affirms that it is his responsibility to address uncomfortable subjects with his audience in an objective manner. Through this approach, people feel empowered to formulate their own opinions and contribute to the discourse, especially since they do not have to start the entire conversation. In working as the prime-time host of the Olympic Games on NBC for 24 years, Costas had to balance highlighting the competition with bringing light to international affairs and global issues.
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me,” Costas said. “But I hope that I’ve had a healthy skepticism, and I’ve never thought there was any contradiction between embracing the drama; the theater; the human interest [and] the occasionally and genuinely moving and touching things that can happen in sports… and then turning a journalistic eye towards what’s happening within those same events or those same sports.”
Before Costas took over the hosting role from Jim McKay in 1992, they had a lengthy conversation about the duty of the host and how integral the person is in the network’s coverage. It requires being familiar with notable athletes while also having the dexterity to seamlessly pivot, take a briefing and discuss unexpected occurrences. For example, during Costas’ second Summer Olympics in 1996, he had to cover the Centennial Park bombing. At the same time, he needed to know about the competitions and the significance of certain milestones the athletes achieved.
When Costas inked his final contract with NBC in 2012, he insisted that a stipulation be placed that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the final time he would host the games on the network. At the time, Costas was also hosting Football Night in America on NBC, which led into Sunday Night Football broadcasts with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The network suggested he take on an emeritus role similar to what Tom Brokaw did as a newscaster, a proposal to which Costas obliged.
Costas has hosted two different nationally syndicated radio programs during his career – Costas Coast to Coast (1986-1996) and Costas on the Radio (2006-2009) it’s a parallel path to the ones takes by some of the biggest names to follow in his footsteps in sports media.
Stephen A. Smith, for example, is a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, broadcasts an alternate telecast for select NBA matchups, appears on NBA Countdown and hosts his own podcast titled The Stephen A. Smith Show. He does all of this while building his own production company, occasionally guest starring on television shows and ensuring he is well-positioned for the future. Smith has not been shy about his desire to expand beyond sports, pondering trying to host a late-night talk show of his own. Costas, it should be noted, is the only person to ever win Emmy awards in news, sports and entertainment. He has amassed a total of 28 throughout his illustrious career, the most wins in the history of sports media. Nonetheless, he believes discussing more than sports takes a specific archetype and is not a route all personalities are inclined to forge.
“You could name a lot of people that do one thing, but they do it extraordinarily well,” Costas said. “They don’t have to check every box…. I just had varied interests, and I guess people identified that I had varying abilities, and so I was able to do that.”
Costas has been on MLB Network since its launch in 2009. This followed an eight-year run with HBO as the host of On the Record, which was later revamped into Costas NOW, but he departed the premium television network when they insisted he grant them “cable exclusivity.” He desperately wanted to join MLB Network because of his passion and interest in the game – and ultimately ended up doing so – but not before making a monumental decision about his future.
“It was a really difficult choice because HBO was the gold standard when it came to sports journalism,” Costas said. “But given my love of baseball and given the fact that NBC hadn’t had it since 2000, I went with the baseball network.”
Costas on the Gridiron
Costas’ infatuation with baseball was contrasted with a perceived indignation towards football, although Costas affirms that was not the case. He had generally been allowed to express his opinions about different topics on radio programs or television shows, but there was a point where it became too much.
After he went on CNN to discuss the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following remarks he made at the University of Maryland about football having adverse mental effects, Costas was removed from the NBC’s Super Bowl LII broadcast. The decision did not bother him, as he had been assigned to host the Super Bowl without any prior knowledge before it was publicly announced. In fact, he was somewhat apathetic towards the proceedings.
“What I did suggest was I could make a more significant contribution if, during the course of a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show, you carved out 15 to 20 minutes for a real journalistic interview with Roger Goodell,” Costas shared. “That would be good programming, and it would be solid journalistically, but Goodell declined. So then that left me with no role that I was interested in for the Super Bowl.”
The ambivalent feelings Costas had towards the sport precipitated his exit from the network, officially parting ways in January 2019 and moving to the next stage of his career. Upon his exit though, Costas knew his previous roles were in good hands with Mike Tirico at the helm. The plan from the beginning was to have Tirico assume the host role of both prime-time Olympics coverage and Football Night in America. Once Al Michaels left NBC Sports to join the incipient Thursday Night Football property at Amazon Prime Video, Tirico was duly named the new play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football. It was one transaction in a deluge of broadcast movement in the final offseason before the start of the NFL’s new national media rights deal, reportedly worth over $110 billion over 11 years.
“The NFL doesn’t just reign over sports TV; it reigns over all of television and over all of American entertainment,” Costas said. “It’s the only thing that consistently aggregates audiences of that size, and therefore it isn’t just valuable to the networks; it’s indispensable to the networks.”
With these sizable media rights agreements comes substantial compensation for on-air talent. ESPN is reportedly paying Joe Buck and Troy Aikman a combined $33 million to serve as the Monday Night Football broadcast tandem, a figure some people would consider overpaying. Costas does not view it that way, instead perceiving broadcasters as harbingers of credibility.
“When you think about a company spending billions and billions of dollars for a property like they do with football, and then add on all the production costs, why should it surprise anybody that they’re willing to pay a very high premium to get Joe Buck or to retain Jim Nantz or to retain Tony Romo?,” Costas articulated. “Not doing so would be the equivalent of, ‘You spend $5,000 on a suit, but now you’re not going to splurge for the tie or the belt.’ These are accessories to a larger investment, and they’re important accessories.”
ESPN announced it was signing Pat McAfee to a multiyear, multi-million dollar contract to bring his eponymous show to its linear and digital platforms. McAfee conducted the negotiations independently and will still retain full creative control over the show in its new phase. The move, however, received considerable backlash from those inside and outside of ESPN since it occurred amid Disney CEO Bob Iger’s directive to lay off 7,000 employees across all divisions of the company. On several occasions, sports media pundits and personalities alike have expressed that ESPN concentrates its attention on a small sector of talent while neglecting everyone else. While FOX Corporation, Paramount Global and various other companies have engaged in layoffs this year, none made a hire with the star appeal, gravitas, and price tag of McAfee.
“Someone like McAfee; he moves the needle,” Costas said. “He moves it, I guess, [on] various platforms – YouTube, as well as ESPN now, so he can make a difference so that’s what they’re paying for.”
Costas on Modern Media
An existential question those in the media industry are grappling with is how to offset the effects felt by cord-cutting. In the first quarter of 2023, cable, satellite and internet providers experienced a loss of 2.3 million customers, and the latest Nielsen Media Research Total Audience Report says 34% of consumption derives from streaming services. With digital forms of media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms taking precedence in the marketplace, companies must establish alternate revenue streams while continuing to innovate.
CNN laid off employees last year, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will reportedly be laying off additional employees during the summer months. Costas joined the company in 2020 as a correspondent for CNN. Earlier this week, Costas appeared on the network to talk about the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which marked a seminal moment in the history of the game.
Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav recently relieved CNN chief executive officer Chris Licht of his duties as CEO following a pernicious feature in The Atlantic. It only worsened a dwindling company morale predicated by several controversial decisions regarding coverage, casting and the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity.
While Costas expressed that he had a “cordial, but not deep relationship” with Licht and did not have shrewd insight into the decision to part ways with the embattled CEO, he does understand the shifts in news viewership and how its subject matter can penetrate into sports media.
For years, consumers regarded MSNBC as being biased to left-leaning politics, FOX News having bias towards right-leaning politics and CNN as nonpartisan, although that sentiment has somewhat changed.
“There’s a battle for viewership, and there’s some thought that people only want to go to the places that reinforce what they already believe,” Costas said. “‘Feed me the same meal every time over and over,’ and now CNN is trying to chart a different course more down the middle. Maybe you have to be more partisan in order to attract a larger cable audience; I underline ‘maybe’ because my insight into this is not as valuable as a lot of other people who are closer to it.”
The fractionalized media landscape, whether it be pertaining to news coverage, morning sports debate shows or afternoon drive programs, has, perhaps, engendered more disparate audiences than ever before. People tend to stick with outlets they know will provide them with information and coverage more favorable to their own points of view, and there is somewhat of an implicit chilling effect associated with channel surfing in certain scenarios. Viewers are obstinate towards programs that reinforce their points of view and hesitant to change, sometimes creating misinformation or, worse, disinformation.
“I think one of the most important courses that should be taught beginning fairly early – probably at the junior high school level and certainly continuing through college – is media literacy,” Costas opined, “which is not telling you what to think, but helping you to navigate this crazy jigsaw puzzle that’s out there.”
There are many people following the business of sports media, but a smaller group of people who tend to break news and report on the beat itself. While there are reporters specialized in different niches of the industry, there are others who indolently parse stories and/or spin aspects of it to render it compatible with their platform.
Established reporters and outlets certainly engage in some level of repurposing; however, these entities safeguard what they are disseminating is true and take accountability for their mistakes. Conversely, there are perpetrators who transmogrify things into engrossing headlines designed to attract traffic. It is disheartening for journalists such as Costas.
“Many sites now, and this is true in sports perhaps especially, [are] just aggregators,” Costas said. “They do no reporting; there doesn’t appear to be any editor overseeing any of it. They just look for stuff wherever it might appear, and then they repurpose it, and almost always, the context, the tone [and] the nuance is lost. At best, it’s reduced to primary colors. At worst, it’s totally misrepresented for clicks.”
In the past, Costas remembers genuine local programming which was exclusive to certain geographical areas. Because of the advent of the internet and social media though, nothing is truly local since people from around the world can consume content live or on demand. While this has brought many people together and improved cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism persists and has hindered accurate comprehension.
“If what you say is inevitably going to some extent be distorted where ‘A’ won’t just become ‘B,’ but it might become ‘X,’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ by the time it’s gone through all of its iterations, you sort of say to yourself, ‘What’s the point?,’” Costas elucidated. “Sports is not brain surgery – but you can make a more or less thoughtful point when asked a question, but if it’s then going to be seen, heard or read by more people than heard it initially, and if it’s going to be mangled in the process, it’s almost like a fool’s game to be part of that.”
Costas on the Future
The term ‘pretentious’ is wholly inaccurate in describing Costas. He does not view himself as a visionary and knows that he will not be an “active participant” in the industry that much longer, but is reassured regarding the direction of sports broadcasting. He looks at revered announcers such as Jim Nantz and is able to effectively identify similarities with Curt Gowdy. Although the degree of information available to people has certainly shifted, play-by-play announcing, at its core, remains similar to the on-air product people first heard in 1929, although the lexicon and flow of a broadcast are somewhat different.
“The essentials of the craft remain the same,” Costas said. “If you’re talking about sports talk radio; if you’re talking about the internet’s coverage of sports, that in some cases bears no resemblance to the notions that people of my generation had about credibility and quality of presentation. No one’s saying that sports coverage is masterpiece theater or something that should be taught at a Ph.D. class at Princeton [University], but it can be done more or less thoughtfully. It can be done more or less credibly, and we see wide variations now in how it’s done.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
There is Nothing Old School About a Human Touch in Radio Sales
“Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway.”
We are not dumb or dumber when it comes to buying radio advertising. Being a radio ad sales rep is old school to some advertising buyers. To others, we write the book on how to get advertising done. Find those clients!
The digital automated ad buying platform AudioGo described selling radio ads as old school and wrote that automated buying is smarter. I am sure that is true for some buyers who have grown up with tech and automation, namely programmatic buying, and have changed their view of a radio salesperson. They don’t see the unique value radio sales reps bring to the process.
Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway. Plenty of other local direct clients are not ready for algorithms to automate ad buys. They want a human touch, a helping hand, and the kind of expertise that no algorithm can replace. YOU. Radio salespeople add value to these types of clients. Here is why we do and how we are not the “dumb and dumber” of media of buying.
ONE-ON-ONE PERSONALIZED CONSULT
A radio salesperson offers specific solutions to meet a client’s goals with the right target audience and within their budget. We allow real-time interaction to understand the client’s business better, so we can match up the perfect advertising strategy. We are the ultimate live FAQs page. Building strong client relationships is critical. How can trust, collaboration, and a long-term partnership be created based on algorithms?
EXPERTISE AND INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
Most successful Radio salespeople have invaluable expertise and industry knowledge they picked up through years of experience. Twenty percent of the reps do eighty percent of the business. The vets know all about 6a-8a, 4p-6p, and live endorsement spots.
We get the nuances of radio advertising, like shifting audience demographics, programming trends, and effective messaging strategies. We can advise a client to make a much more informed (and time-saving) decision that can maximize the impact of their ad campaigns. No algorithm can see that.
Automated programmatic buying may offer convenience, but it isn’t too custom of a solution. We tailor advertising campaigns to meet the unique needs of each client. We take in specific target audience preferences, locations, and competitive market trends to produce effective strategies. We listen to real-time feedback and get results. Algorithms rely on predefined parameters and can’t customize.
Buying advertising can be complex, with regulations, industry standards, and market trends constantly changing. Radio salespeople have the experience to anticipate roadblocks and offer proactive solutions. Additionally, we can provide insight into budgeting, negotiation, and buying other media. Algorithms lack intuition and can’t maneuver fast enough to handle the unknown.
While automation and algorithms have their place with certain buyers, remind yourself of the value you offer clients. You provide personalized consultation, industry expertise, customized solutions, and the ability to navigate. You are indispensable to the right buyers. Now find them!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
Vic Lombardi Turns Nuggets Disrespect into Great Content
“I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.”
There was a feeling of Denver vs. Everyone during the 10 days that separated the end of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The word “boring” was being used to describe what it was going to be like watching the Nuggets play for an NBA title. It didn’t sit well with Denver media and sports fans, as the unfair tag was being consistently referenced by certain members of the national sports media.
Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, along with several of his co-workers, decided to fight against a narrative they found uneducated and unfair. In their eyes, all you had to do this season was to actually watch the Nuggets to find them interesting.
“We assume everyone else knows what we know,” said Lombardi. “We assume that the rest of the country is watching. And all this has done, to be honest with you, has proven that a lot of national folks don’t watch as carefully as they say they do. Because if they watched they wouldn’t be as surprised as they are right now.”
There was even an on-air spat with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated on the Altitude Sports Radio airwaves. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Mannix said there weren’t any compelling or interesting storylines surrounding the Nuggets first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
Lombardi, along with other hosts at Altitude Sports Radio took exception to the comment and fired back with their thoughts. A few days later, Mannix appeared on the station to defend his position and stick up for what he thought was accurate. Though the tensions were high during the back-and-forth it was incredible content for the station.
But Lombardi says he doesn’t take the spats, whether they’re public or private, all that seriously when other fellow media members.
“The arguments, if they’re anything, they’re all in fun,” said Lombardi. “I don’t take this stuff personally. We had a little back and forth with Chris Mannix. That was fun. I actually saw him in Denver when he came out for media. I respect anyone who’s willing to make their point on the air. It’s not the media’s job, it’s not your job as a host or a writer to tell me what I find compelling or interesting. We’re all from different parts with different needs and you can’t tell me what I desire. Let me pick that. Chase a story because the public may learn something. We’re curious by nature, that’s why we got into this business. All I ask is be more curious.”
The entire team at Altitude Sports Radio did an incredible job of sticking up for their own market and creating memorable content out of it. That should be celebrated inside the station’s walls. None of the outrage was forced; it was all genuine. But what’s the lesson to learn here from media folks, both local and national with this story?
“I think the takeaway is number one, it’s a business,” said Lombardi. “I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.
“Well, you start selling when you start winning. They’ve got to sort of earn their way into that club. I think with what the Nuggets have done recently, and hopefully with what they’re about to do, they’re at the adult table. The media business is not unlike anything else. The biggest common denominator is what sells. I get that. I just don’t understand why a team like this, with the most unique player most people have ever seen, why wouldn’t that sell?”
Maybe it’s still not selling nationally, but locally in Denver, Nuggets talk is on fire. For years, the Denver market has been seen as one where the Broncos and NFL rule. The Nuggets have not been close to the top of Denver sports fans’ interests and have probably fallen routinely behind the Avalanche.
But there’s been a real craving for Nuggets talk during this historic run. Granted, it didn’t just start two weeks ago, there’s been momentum building for the team ever since Nikola Jokic started asserting himself as one of the best players in the NBA. But there’s more than just an appetite for the Broncos in the city and the past few years have shown it.
“I think it’s just proven to people in the city that the town is much different than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Lombardi. “The Broncos continue to rule this town and will do so because the NFL is the NFL. But I can tell you this. There are sports fans outside the NFL. I’m born and raised in Denver and I always believed, what’s so wrong about being an ardent fan of every sport? If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. There’s nothing I hate more than territorializing sports. Like, ‘oh I’m just a football fan’. Or, ‘oh I’m just a hockey fan’. Why? Sports crosses all borders and boundaries.”
Lombardi and Altitude Sports Radio have settled into local coverage of the NBA Finals, rather than fighting with a national narrative. The payoff for the entire ride has been very rewarding for the station. It included what Lombardi called the “highest of highs” when the Nuggets beat the Lakers on their own floor. It even included one of the biggest events the city has seen in the last five years, when the Nuggets hosted its first-ever NBA Finals game last week.
The last few weeks could even be considered one of the most rewarding times in station history for Altitude Sports Radio.
“Our ratings have never been higher,” said Lombardi. “It’s a great display of, sometimes in the media, we think we know what the listener wants. We think we do and we try to force feed them. I think the national folks do that, but so do the local folks. You think they know, but if you give them a nice diet, they’ll choose what they want. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.