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Meet the Market Managers: Greg Alexander, iHeartMedia Minneapolis

“The general sports fan that wants to be entertained and wants sports. That’s the the sweet sauce with KFAN.”

Demetri Ravanos

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MTMM Alexander

KFAN is a unique brand in the sports radio world. Sure, there are plenty of stations that approach sports as part of pop culture, but as Greg Alexander points out in our conversation: How many of those stations have had the same air staff in place for virtually two decades?

It’s a legendary brand, and yet it still flies under the radar nationally. Let’s change that.

Alexander is the market manager of iHeart Minneapolis. He is also the subject of today’s Meet the Market Managers column, presented by Point-To-Point Marketing.

In our conversation, he talks about this unpredictable economy, how the prioritization of on demand content effects radio advertisers, and what the barrier is to adding more play-by-play content on his station. Enjoy!

Demetri Ravanos: You have a really diverse cluster in terms of formats and audiences. I would imagine, given the way that KFAN talks about sports, it sets itself up really well for joint buys, whether that is with one other station or the entire cluster. Is there good opportunity for audience crossover?

Greg Alexander: Yes, for sure. KFAN’s audience is diverse because of the personalities that we have and the topics they go after every day. It’s not hardcore sports and that’s where we have the success with KFAN that we’ve had. So that attracts people from our country stations and our classic hits station and our CHR station. There is real cross-pollination between the stations in our cluster. 

DR: I know as a market manager, your focus is always going to be on how the station and the personalities are perceived by the market. Nationally though, I do wonder if you guys feel like you get enough credit for the kind of brand KFAN is. It’s a powerhouse in terms of ratings, influence and revenue. Sometimes our format gets laser-focused on New York, Philadelphia and Boston. We don’t always give everybody outside of I-95 the credit they deserve, and your station may be at the very top of that list.

GA: Yeah, KFAN is incredibly healthy. You probably have the history on that. It’s built through many years. We just celebrated Eric Nordquist’s tenth year with the station, and he’s our youngest tenured personality and producer on the air. The next closest one is like 19 years, I think.            

It’s just an established brand with established personalities who are very creative and they’re very entertaining. With that formula, people in Minnesota grow up on the station. People want to find out the takes or the how someone’s going to handle something. They tune in on a daily, weekly, monthly basis for that. This is where I give credit to (KFAN PD) Chad Abbott and (iHeart Minneapolis VP of Programming) Gregg Swedberg. They’ve created four different shows and Chad will tell you, we’ve got four morning shows. That’s how powerful these different dayparts are. In the morning it’s, ‘Hey, what are these guys doing? I want to be part of that club to P.A. from 9 to noon,’ which is ‘What will his take be with the Vikings today?’ Then we go to Common’s bits and then a hard hitting show with Barreiro. Listeners want to know what is his take on some major news story that may be taking place in the market or nationally and that’s the scope that he has. 

DR: How do you sort of convey that to advertisers, be it new partners or long established? I mean, to your point, you have had people on that station for decades and you have had listeners experience life events with them from dealing with their own illnesses to spouses’ illnesses. You had a member of your morning show come out on air recently. How do you even begin to convey to a business what the value is of the fact that the audience cares about the people they hear on KFAN in this way? 

GA: Well, I think it truly goes back to our personalities, the engagement that they can create and the realness of who they are. Making big announcements, personal announcements like that; that just makes them human beings as well as entertainers. Listeners are engaged in that. They feel as they’re driving into work, there’s someone next to them that’s their partner and that’s their friend, and they want to find out what their friend is up to – good, bad or indifferent. When they’re driving home or listening at work, they want to know what these these personalities are up to because they’re part of their friend group.                 

These people are entertaining and they’re engaging and you want to know more about them because they’re human beings. You follow them on Twitter, so you find out what they’re doing on weekends. Social media has been a huge part of their success because you can continue that conversation outside of the three or three-and-a-half hours that they may be on. 

DR: Your company was kind of at the forefront, at least among the national brands, of recognizing that radio stations should be investing in digital content as well. So tell me about the changes you’ve seen in how – again, I’ll ask about the clients – because I would imagine going from when KFAN first started recognizing the value of digital to now you are talking with advertisers that are much more savvy about the value of that space. 

GA: I just was on a panel and I talked about this. It’s really the thirst that the audience has for our station and our personalities. It’s just bellowing out, and so that leads into social media. So, you know, what we saw first initially was our streaming numbers being massive, and that’s because people wanted to know what our personalities were doing with the shows we’re doing when they left the market or just were outside of our market in terms of Minneapolis. Then the thirst for the personalities led to podcasting and, ‘Let’s do an extra show and just sit there and BS for a little bit longer.’ Well, those numbers are massive. The Power Trip, our morning show, is the 33rd-ranked podcast within iHeart. I mean, that’s massive. That doesn’t happen in a market this size.                    

Obviously, Twitter grew up and that’s where it really exploded. These guys jumped on Twitter. Our station jumped on Twitter over some of the other social media and that has blown up. You can see what these numbers are: over 200,000 followers.                

It’s just for that thirst of, ‘What is P.A. going to say and who’s he going to talk about and what’s his take on something?’ You can get that for three hours each day from 9 to noon, but then, ‘Hey, I see he’s at the horse track on Friday nights or Saturdays’ in the off-season or, ‘What rumors is he talking about?’ In social media and different media platforms, we just continue to extend the brand and what our guys are. 

DR: You’ve been in the iHeart system for a long time. I think you predate the name iHeart. So, tell me a little bit about how you have seen that shift in terms of the importance of the broadcast product. Is it still what the company puts out front when discussing itself or pitching to advertisers? How has that shifted over the time you’ve been there? 

GA: The broadcast is still the foundation of who we are. I always look at it as how you’re obtaining the content. So I tell people I used to go on a run and I’d have a Walkman and I’d be listening to KFAN. Well, nowadays I go on a run and I put my phone on and I’m still capturing the same show; I’m just doing it through a stream. Technological advances allow us to do that, but it’s still the entertainment and that engagement that I have with the shows. Our listeners do the same thing. It’s just a technological change and access.               

Again, this panel I was on – I told 200 people just last week that social media is the greatest thing that’s happened to our personalities because you couldn’t interact with a personality other than maybe getting through on a phone call, which we don’t even do a ton of phone calls anymore. Now I know what he’s doing on a Friday night. I know what Barreiro is doing on a Saturday. Chris Hawkey – I know what band he’s performing with and what location on a Saturday night. And so now I’m closer and can be more engaged with our personalities than ever before, so social media has been a fantastic thing for our personalities. 

DR: Forget the the hierarchy of broadcast versus digital for a second. For so long we wondered what the best way to go about monetizing our digital products was. Now, I wonder if you’ve ever encountered a situation where you have an advertiser that sees more value in being on those on-demand products over the live feed – over-the-air; the stream; whatever the case that may be. As a society, we kind of crave on-demand more than working on any network’s or station’s schedule these days. 

GA: I think clients will look at the extension products, a rebroadcast of a podcast or an additional podcast. They may look at that as a new audience for them. We talk to clients all the time about, ‘Hey, you want to be on the broadcast, advertise there live,’ but then also the rebroadcast because people aren’t listening to the broadcast and then they’re going to go back and listen to the rebroadcast. So you’ve got to capture that entire audience. They know the best way to do that is advertise on both mediums. 

DR: Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. Tell me a little bit about your play-by-play goals and strategy for KFAN, because you had the Vikings, the Gophers and the Wild and in my mind, obviously as a lifelong Southerner, so I might be stereotyping here, but you have the Vikings and you have hockey in Minnesota. You’re pretty well covered, right? Is there a desire to add more if the opportunity became available or given what you have, is the bar set so high that maybe you don’t need more right now? 

GA: It comes down to time, honestly. You know, we love to be the sports leader. We’d love to have a lot of sports teams. We’re really happy with the Vikings, Wild and Gophers. We also have the St. Paul Saints. We play a couple of their games on the weekends. It’s on FAN Plus the rest of the time, but if we can get creative and we can have more of that sports audience and ability to work with the franchises, that would be fantastic. We just have to work through the amount of time that stuff is on the air and conflicts that could arise from that. 

DR: We are trying to forecast the economy right now and it is tricky, but are there any sectors that you look at as sort of a microcosm for the big picture? Is there any sector you can look at and say, ‘If that’s okay, we’re okay,’ or, ‘If that’s off, that could spell trouble down the road’?

GA: It’s a good question. The uncertainty is is everywhere. You talk to one company, and they’re struggling. You talk to another company; they’re doing great. That’s what’s so weird about what we’re dealing with from an economic standpoint.                 

You’ve been around. We’ve both seen economic uncertainty in the market before. I was in New York when 9/11 happened. I was there in Miami when the housing bubble burst and Miami was just destroyed. I was obviously here for the pandemic. Every one of those is a little bit different, but this one is probably the most different because we are getting a positive and a negative on the same day and it counteracts. I mean, we raise our our interest to 7% and boom, unemployment goes down. How is that supposed to happen? 

DR: I heard an economics professor speak after he put out a paper basically saying, ‘Hey, by definition, we’re not in a recession. People are spending like we’re not in a recession.’ So on and so forth. The rebuttal actually, I thought was very poignant, which was, ‘Okay, if we’re not technically in a recession, but we believe we’re in a recession or the the general feeling is we’re in a recession, is that any different than being in a recession?’ I guess it goes to your point, like we don’t know what information we’re getting right now. 

GA: You’ve got housing that’s still going up and you got interest rates that just went up today or yesterday. It’s wild.               

We’ve got car dealers that are doing well, but then you’ve got car dealers who aren’t getting cars because of the the slowdown there. So, I mean, every day; every client we talk to, it’s one thing or the other. It’s just it’s so wild because everyone’s like, ‘It’s going to change,’ you know? But we’ve been saying that for probably 12 months now. 

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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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