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Sports Radio Wins When The Games Become Pop Culture

“Anytime a team that has a history of underachieving makes a deep playoff run, civic pride tends to experience a spike. Every media outlet and business in town wants to be a part of that.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Lately we have bared witness to a pair of pop culture phenomenons. Avengers: Endgame brought an end to a ten-year, 23-movie journey, and made more than a billion dollars worldwide in its first week of release. We are also in the middle of the final season of Game of Thrones. That is a phenomenon that my colleague Tyler McComas covered extensively here.

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We know that there’s room to cover those kinds of pop culture phenomena on our airwaves, but how do we protect our territory when the pop culture phenomena is a sports story? That is happening right now where I live.

The Carolina Hurricanes are in the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the most success the team has had in a long time. They haven’t been in the playoffs in a decade. In a market that is so fiercely divided by its college sports loyalties, the Carolina Hurricanes are the one team that all of Raleigh can rally behind. That has made their playoff success a story that transcends the sports local sports page.

Back in February, legendary hockey analyst Don Cherry called the Hurricanes “a bunch of jerks” for their postgame celebrations. The whole Carolina fanbase embraced the label. People who hadn’t been to a game at the PNC Arena in years embraced the label. The team built a whole marketing campaign around it. Now, two rounds deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you can’t go anywhere in this city without seeing “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts.

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Raleigh isn’t the first city to deal with something like this. Anytime a team that has a history of underachieving makes a deep playoff run, civic pride tends to experience a spike. Every media outlet and business in town wants to be a part of that. As a local sports radio station, how do you, to quote the Wu-Tang Clan, “protect ya neck”? What can you do to capitalize on the new audience and continue to super serve the people that have you on one of their preset buttons?

1. EMBRACE THE NEW FANS IN A WAY THAT ACKNOWLEDGES THE LIFERS

You are going to have people in your audience that are annoyed that there are new faces in the stands and that they are seeing more jerseys and caps in the streets than ever before. Those people can be toxic in terms of growing a fanbase, but for a sports station they are likely amongst your P1s.

It also makes sense to embrace the new fans. Make them feel like part of your community and they’re more likely to stick around after the communal playoff high has passed.

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How do you embrace both groups? I have three ideas that combine the promotions and programming departments.

First, consider doing some contesting that gives new fans a prize and allows long-time fans to laugh. Work with an advertiser to put together new fan packs. They can include a t-shirt, cap, and tickets to a game. Give them out by asking new fans the most basic trivia questions about the rules of the sport, history of the team, or players on the roster. For extra impact, get custom shirts made in the home team’s colors that acknowledge these are bandwagon fans with a slogan like “Just here for the playoffs” or “I’m a fan of winning.” I promise, they will be so popular that even people that have been season ticket holders for years will want one.

Next, send an intern or a producer out to games to record audio of fans telling their stories. How did they become a fan of the team in the first place? What does this run mean to them? Use that audio in new imaging to run throughout the playoff run and even after. Get a wide variety of answers and you will have these great audio pieces that represent the team and the town.

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Finally, set up dual watch parties for road playoff games. Have a party at one sports bar for hardcore lifers. Maybe you can work with the establishment to people that bring proof they are season ticket holders. Have a party at another one that is more focused on the social experience. Neither one is more important than the other. They are both official watch parties. They just allow the fans to experience the games exactly how they want.

2. OWN THE SPORTS ANGLE

2006 was the first year I was on air here in Raleigh. I was co-host of the morning show on 96 Rock. It also happened to be the year that the Hurricanes won their only Stanley Cup.

Like everyone else in town, we draped ourselves in red and black for that run. We had t-shirts made up with the O in our name replaced with the Canes’ logo. We changed our name to 96-1 the Cup. We were talking about the games every morning on our show. We reflected the excitement of the city.

But here’s the thing, when we were talking about the games, we weren’t usually talking about the play or the players. We were talking about things that happened in and around the arena. When we had players on we were goofing around with them. It was all very light.

If playoff success is something that rarely comes to your market, stations outside of our format are going to embrace it. Maybe they change the colors of their logo to match the team. Maybe they add liners supporting the team.

Whatever they do, it is less than what you can do. You’re the station talking in depth about the game the night before. You’re the station that is in the locker room after every game and practice that can bring exclusive audio and interviews to the air.

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Sports talk goes to where pop culture is all the time. That is why Clay Travis does Game of Thrones recaps on Twitter and Tony Kornheiser has made movies and politics a part of his show going all the way back to his very first days on the radio. As long as you are genuinely interested and interesting, you aren’t at a disadvantage to anyone when talking about pop culture.

When pop culture comes to where sports talk is though, everyone else should be at a disadvantage to you. You can give perspective and get access others cannot. You can entertain both the hardcores and the bandwagon fans.

I was at the mall earlier today and the elevators were decorated with Carolina Hurricanes logos. Stores used team jerseys in their window displays. I counted at least a dozen hats and t-shirts on other shoppers. That usually isn’t the case. This market’s hockey interest usually falls somewhere between apathy and mild curiosity. But what is happening in Raleigh right now isn’t about hockey. It’s our community pop culture.

A sports story doesn’t overtake a community’s water cooler conversations everyday. Media outlets of all sorts will rush to embrace that story when it does. That presents a tremendous opportunity for sports stations. Think strategically and creatively. It is possible to super serve your core audience and build a new one at the same time.

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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