I’ll argue with anyone the NCAA Tournament is the most entertaining post season in all of sports. The buzzer beaters, the occasional Cinderella teams, nothing can top the one-and-done format March Madness bring us every year. But what if you could take what college basketball has mastered and use it as an opportunity for your station?
Sure, many stations across the country did some form of a 68-team giveaway the Monday following Selection Sunday at a local restaurant or bar, but what about an outside the box idea or event that draws in new listeners while capturing the magic of the one-and-done format?
Not only did 101 ESPN in St. Louis find a unique way to grow its brand, it may have also cut down the nets for best original idea this year. On March 1st inside a local Dave and Busters, gamers from in and around the St. Louis area flooded in for an all-day eSports event hosted by 101 ESPN. Two 64-team brackets were created, one for Xbox One players and the other for PS4, as gamers on each device played FIFA 19 with an NCAA Tournament style bracket creating the matchups in each round.
The games were broadcast by 101 ESPN on Twitch, and each show host was live and on-location for the event, putting off a vibe and energy that was unique to any eSports event the city had seen before. With the popularity of eSports continuing to rapidly grow across the country, 101 ESPN program director Chris ‘Hoss’ Neupert saw an opportunity for his station to capitalize.
“I’m a geeky gamer from way back,” said Neupert. “I love video games and it’s the fabric of our station. We have video games in our offices and we play. For us it’s competition and a little bit of a break from reality. You hear a lot about the growth of eSports and it’s hard to ignore. Being a gamer, myself, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the space. I think the competition and entertainment surrounding these events appeals to sports fans. On a personal level, it’s been exciting to see it grow, but there’s still much more we have to learn going forward.”
Many show hosts take pride in being able to adapt to any on-air situation, but that becomes difficult when you have limited knowledge of the subject at hand. Though eSports is growing, it’s still a relative unknown aside from the people who haven’t immersed themselves in it. When trying to find hosts that are capable of hosting an eSports event, your regular show hosts, who may be unfamiliar with the medium, may not always be fit for the task.
To make sure 101 ESPN’s talent were speaking the right language, Neupert wanted the right combination hosting the event. One host was already inside his building, but to find a second, he took to Twitch. That led to finding a local gamer by the name of FOXE, who had a strong, local presence with gamers and was outgoing and entertaining on her stream.
Though she didn’t have any previous experiences hosting a radio station event, Neupert decided to give Foxe a shot, and came away impressed. Not only did he find someone suitable for the job, but she already had built a local following on Twitch which helped get the word out to other gamers.
A sports radio station hosting an eSports event is still uncommon, even if many in the format are now aware of the space gaining momentum. There’s a lot of curiosity of how to create and promote events that may not appeal to a radio station’s everyday audience. Neupert said that the targeted audience for the event were young millennial and gen z sports fans. He didn’t expect the older sports fan who’s grown up on the St. Louis Cardinals to show up for the event.
“In terms of promotion, we did a little bit of everything,” added Neupert. “We promoted the event on-air, on our eSports show, and on Facebook, Twitter and Twitch. We sprinkled it all over the place.”
He continued, “It was definitely a different audience. Much younger and diverse than we normally see at station events. Most of the crowd were in the 18-35 demo which was cool to see. St. Louis has a big Bosnian base, so we had a lot of Bosnian players, a lot of African American players, a lot of Caucasians, too. In addition to the gamers that were competing, they brought friends and family to watch. It was a good 9-hour day and people were hanging out the entire time.”
101 ESPN’s eSports event took place on a Friday, resulting in a number of people taking off work to be there, and spending the entire day inside the venue. That was uncharacteristic for Dave and Busters who told Neupert afterwards that the turnout helped them enjoy a great business day. The feeling all around was that the event surpassed everyone’s expectations, including attendees who wanted to know when the next gaming event was taking place.
All the credit for the event’s success goes to Neupert and his staff at 101 ESPN, because they took a chance to try something new, and explored different avenues to make sure it was a success. The station even arranged quality prizes for the winners, a grand prize of 1,000 dollars, 750 dollars for second place and 250 dollars for third.
But how did sales factor into the event? It generated great pub, and brought new people to the radio station, but since this was a new unproven concept, I was curious if making money off the event was a primary focus.
“Sales wasn’t the key focus for this event,” said Neupert. “It was about putting together a great product and entering a new untapped space. The idea was to set ourselves up for long-term success, not just produce a one-and-done. We needed to educate ourselves on air, as well as in sales about what these events are capable of, understanding that it’s not conventional. Moving forward, we now have one successful event under our belts and can take what we learned from it to create future opportunities for our sales team.”
What will be interesting to keep an eye on in the future is if the event produces a ratings lift for 101 ESPN with listeners 18-35. The increased exposure could also lead to more listening to Checkpoint XP, the nationally syndicated eSports program offered by Westwood One which 101 ESPN carries on Friday night from 10pm to midnight. But one thing is for sure: 101 ESPN will be increasing their activity on the eSports front.
“We’ll absolutely do another event in 2019, likely towards the end of the year,” said Neupert. “We would do more, but we have a new flagship deal with the St. Louis Blues and that’s a top priority. It’s very important for us to start next season sounding like we’ve been airing their games for years. Long term though we’d like to do more with eSports because it’s a space that is generating a lot of excitement and we see a lot of opportunities in it.”
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.