I used to love baseball. I played in high school. I never missed a Yankees/Red Sox matchup. I drowned myself in news about the hot stove and the playoffs, even when my favorite teams weren’t involved. Hell, my son is named after Hank Aaron.
Now though, I might watch two games a season. What happened? Well, I had kids. My wife works a lot, so I am sort of the alpha parent in our house. That means I really have to prioritize what sports I want to watch uninterrupted. Plus, the game just doesn’t hold my attention the way it used to. When I am prioritizing now, baseball will always fall below college football and the NBA and probably the NFL too depending on who’s playing.
That’s not baseball’s fault. That’s just a matter of changing taste.
Baseball, though, does have a bad habit of getting in its own way. Everyone involved with the sport from team owners all the way down to the fans that sit in the cheap seats sometimes don’t do a very good job of thinking through the messages their decisions send to the rest of the sports viewing public. It is a sport that too often gives off the vibe that it doesn’t want any new fans.
I want to take a look at two different instances of that today, and I hope it makes you think about where you are making easily correctable mistakes. What are you doing that may send casual listeners the message that your show or station is an exclusive club? How do you amend that without alienating your core audience?
Let’s start with a promotion on the minor league level. Have you ever been to Montgomery, Alabama? If no, do all you can to keep it that way. My mom used to live in Montgomery and I am telling you, fair reader, it is awful. When ESPN announced they were putting a bowl game there a few years ago, I assumed it was as punishment for teams caught breaking NCAA rules.
Anyway, the city is also home to the Tampa Bay Rays double-a affiliate the Montgomery Biscuits. Because of their fun name and goofy logo, that team’s gear has gained popularity outside of the Deep South. You would think that a team with that kind of marketability would be better at welcoming younger, casual fans to the ballpark, right?
Well, the message their Millennial Night promotion sent this past Saturday was one that screamed “this isn’t for you” to that same group that buys Montgomery Biscuit hats and t-shirts despite living nowhere near Alabama.
A Millennial Night promotion on its own seems harmless, I guess if you’re in your 50s and hate the idea of people coming to the ballpark to have a beer and meet up with friends. If you’re in the marketing game however, or if you have a stake in the team, it should have sent up red flags right away.
Baseball’s most dedicated fans, “the seam-heads” as they fondly refer to themselves, aren’t getting any younger. The sport may be doing fine in local television ratings, but it is struggling to attract the same young audience that loves the NBA. Mike Trout being only as recognizable as Kenneth Faried isn’t Mike Trout’s fault. It’s the fault of a league office that doesn’t know how to market its biggest stars.
So how do you attract millennial fans? I don’t have the definitive answer, but I can tell you that it starts with NOT hosting an evening at your ballpark featuring participation ribbons and napping areas. Get it? Because your whole generation is lazy and stupid? LOL! Give us your money you pieces of crap!
The second event I want to talk about also happened on Saturday. Josh Hader’s stats out of the Brewers’ bullpen would indicate that he is having a very good season. He just played in his very first All Star Game.
Unfortunately for Josh, just before that All Star Game, some old tweets he sent as a teenager resurfaced. What he posted was pretty awful. It was at varying points racist, homophobic, and misogynistic. What Hader posted to the Internet as a 17-year-old was incendiary enough that Major League Baseball felt the need to give the family members he invited to attend the All Star Game in DC jerseys with no name on the back so they wouldn’t be heckled.
Now, look, none of us should be judged solely on the way we thought and acted when we were teenagers, and Hader has since apologized and deleted his Twitter account. It still doesn’t excuse or change the fact that Hader did post this stuff. The whole affair was problematic enough for Major League Baseball before Saturday night.
That was the night that Hader made his first appearance at home since the controversial tweets first resurfaced. It’s not a surprise that the Milwaukee crowd showed one of its players support. It was kind of surprising that the guy got an enthusiastic standing ovation.
This reaction to Josh Hader entering the game last night, his first in Milwaukee since his awful old tweets emerged during the All-Star Game might be just as ridiculous as his tweets themselves pic.twitter.com/3fTE692WCo
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 22, 2018
That’s a problem for Major League Baseball. I’ll be fair and say this wasn’t created by the league or the team, but look at that reaction. Look at all those white guys clapping, pumping their fists and taking photos of this guy that was just in the middle of a firestorm that exposed some pretty bigoted views he once held. You don’t think that sends a message to gays, black people, or women that maybe baseball fans are okay with those kinds of statements or feelings?
I don’t know what I would do to fix that if I were MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Honestly, I don’t know what you can do, but you have to be uncomfortable with it.
It wasn’t that long ago that my colleague Matt Fishman wrote an excellent piece about the misogyny we sometimes subject our female listeners to in sports radio. He used “babe of the day” sections of station websites as an example of how we sometimes get in our own way. Perhaps his strongest indictment was reserved for WCKG, a sports station that just launched on 1530 AM in Chicago and used the line “Men Welcome” as their slogan.
With this type of marketing WCKG alienates and loses women before they’ve even had a chance to listen. “Men Welcome”? Imagine if the sign had said “Whites Welcome”? It’s so appalling to see this in 2018. The sign immediately alienates potential female listeners by saying—we don’t want you here. This is a huge problem for a brand new station facing two strong and entrenched sports radio properties in The Score and ESPN 1000. It also puts the high profile hosts on the station—Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen, Clay Travis, and Colin Cowherd in an awkward spot.
What are you doing on air and online that inadvertently sends the message that your station or your show is an exclusive club? It may be boys only. It may be cool kids only. Whatever the case, a listener has to be “worthy” to be a part of the community.
How can you correct it without overhauling what is working for you? How do you make a positive change for the larger audience without alienating that smaller P1 group? Again, I don’t have the answer, but Fish is right about the messages some of these old promotions and positioning statements send.
This is the 21st century. Everything lives forever online. When developing new imaging or contesting, be creative but be aware. Everything you do or say has the station’s unofficial seal of approval in your audience’s eyes. Falling back on old jokes that are built on exclusionary themes is inexcusable.
More than any offense you may cause, clinging to these old ideas of what sports radio is or who should be listening is just plain lazy. Whoever you are that is reading this, you’re talented. You didn’t get to where you are purely by dumb luck or on accident. You can do better.
Admittedly, I am a pretty liberal guy both socially and politically. Whatever variation of “snowflake” you want to call me is pretty accurate. My mommy says I am a special boy and I believe her.
But I encourage you not to dismiss this as the rantings of another social justice warrior. Really let what I wrote here sink in. My concern for our format isn’t about a moral stance. It is about making our tent bigger and moving beyond the idea that sports is a niche format and can’t change the minds of companies that consider our format not worth investing in. That perception won’t change as long as we send the message that we don’t want it to change.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.