The first person I spoke to on September 11, 2001 was Scott Linn. He woke me up and told me to turn on the television. Not long after, a plane crashed into the Pentagon, it was the third or fourth (I can’t remember) terrorist hijacking of the morning.
It’s probably more coincidence than anything that Scott was the one who alerted me to the news and not a family member. Yet today, I feel like it’s a reminder of what my role should be in the midst of the first pandemic of our lifetime, a virus that in the short term will make our jobs very difficult. Scott Linn was my co-worker at the original sports radio station the market, then Sportstalk 980, and remains one of the most well known voices on the airwaves in our city. He was, and remains my friend.
I don’t remember much of what I said on the air at the time. I do recall being sad, angry, proud of my country, and a bunch of other emotions that I don’t have the adjectives for right now. It was a long time ago, but that call I received from Scott is one that I’ve never forgotten.
Scott reaching out to make sure I was aware of 9/11 is my personal reminder of what I owe my audience over the next period of days, weeks, months. Who knows how long it will take before we can be normal again. Those incredibly entertaining but non essential questions like whether the Redskins should select Chase Young with the second overall pick or if beating the Astros in this past World Series makes the Nationals one of the most unlikely champs in baseball history, aren’t as relevant right now.
Today, we need to be voices our audiences count on. On September 11, 2001, Scott was one for me, and there was something comforting in hearing him deliver me that news. Like all of you, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to talk about for the next few weeks with no sports to speak of. For me, trying to make up segments that have some kind of sports tangent even if it doesn’t make any logical sense is not appealing. I’m not that kind of host anyway. A large percentage of my show ends up on non sports topics, and most of my understanding program directors have been cool with it.
My show like many others in local markets is sponsored by local businesses. Bars have us out for watch parties. Mortgage companies, window installers, car dealers ask me to personally endorse them. I’ve played a lot of free rounds of golf, had a ton of free meals, and been treated like I matter in my community, and so today, I’m going to pay that forward. My show will be open to my community to discuss how my supporters and business owners intend to keep their businesses afloat, and what needs to happen to help each other through what will be a massive health and economic disruption. I want those who sponsor my show, and the ones who don’t, to know that my show is only here because of the vibrancy of my city. If my show can help people through whatever is about to happen, then that’s the best service I can provide.
One thing I don’t do is fill time. There are a lot of people on social media asking how we intend to “fill time.” I’ve never done that. At least not on purpose. Sure I’ve done plenty of segments I’d like to have back, but I’ve never treated my show as something meant to kill space. This has always been a very personal role, never just a job. If someone tells me they listen, it’s a great compliment. I hope that when they say it that they know I’m just being me on air. Which is exactly who I’m going to be now.
The executives of our companies remind us that we’re there for diversion and not to be the CDC. Stick to Sports. I agree, somewhat. They’ll offer ideas to help guide us to stay in our lanes and be what the audience wants, but we’re more than just sports talk show hosts. I do agree though that our shows can’t stray too far from sports otherwise they could become unrecognizable. That’s why I believe we as talent and producers need to help each other as we navigate the difficult task of providing a diversion from the daily news.
We’re all part of different networks, and we all have our own shows to be concerned about, but over the next few months, we’re going to need each other. Can we reciprocate by appearing on each other’s shows regularly so that sports remains a key dynamic of the programming at large? I’d love to talk about the teams in every market if the hosts are willing to be part of my show. In exchange, I’ll go on anyone’s program who wants a sports perspective from DC. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is another opportunity for us during this time without sports. Can we collectively start thinking about creative ways to help our industry modernize? Have you thought about a new show that could double as a podcast that you never had time for or weren’t getting internal support to create? All ideas are good ideas right now. When things return to normal, maybe we’ll have an entire new arsenal of programming that didn’t exist thanks to this chance to reset. As a host and media entrepreneur (and many of you are as well) let’s talk, ideate and create. New partnerships and ideas are the lifeblood of our longevity.
Lastly, a note to the media executives who allow us to perform our craft: we know this disruption is going to affect the already fragile bottom line. Please try to work with us to navigate through it and lean on us to help you with clients. Our audiences are expecting us to be there when tip-off, kickoff, the puck drop and all the other sports return.
I’ve long felt privileged that my audience has stuck with me for 25 years, even after I left them to take a national opportunity, only to come home and ask them to give me another shot to be part of their lives. It’s a role I take very seriously and never for granted. I intend to prove that with your help now.
Sports Are Learning To Meet Gen Z Where They Are
“The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity.”
Should sports radio be concerned about where audiences will come from in the future? It is an interesting question that we talk about here a lot. It is also something that the New York Times tackled indirectly last week.
A column from Joe Drape and Ken Belson declared this generation of kids “The eSports Generation” and went on to explain just how disconnected from traditional sports they really are.
An alarmist might ask if this is the beginning of the end of traditional sports leagues. Someone a little more level-headed, like Joe Ovies, may want to dive a little deeper to see what leagues are learning and how they are adapting.
Joe hosts The OG in afternoon drive at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. He is always interested in how changes in technology and consumption patterns effect sports and his audience. I saw him tweeting about the New York Times piece last week and asked if he would want to write a little something for us.
“Meet your audience where they are.”
How many times have you heard that phrase in the last 5 years from a consultant, manager, or any number of Barrett Media posts as content consumption trends continue to spread out over a variety of platforms? Turns out the same applies for pro sports leagues, who are fearful that an entire generation of fans will be lost and their traditional business model will crater as a result.
The New York Times recently highlighted what sports marketers are doing to win over Generation Z, which typically applies to kids born from 1997 to 2012. The Times hits the usual beats.
There’s a reference to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, an esports star who is also a traditional sports fan, who the NFL hoped would be a Pied Piper for youth fandom. There are examples of MLB, famously stingy when it came to fans using their content on social media, now working with TikTok influencers. And of course, highlighting the NBA’s wide ranging approach to online engagement and their franchise run NBA 2K esports league. Most of the article was based on a recent SSRS/Luker on Trends report, which conducts regular surveys about sports and society.
The issue for pro sports leagues isn’t that Gen Z kids aren’t “passionate” enough about sports. It’s that Gen Z is more likely to admit they simply don’t like sports.
“Only 23 percent of Generation Z said they were passionate sports fans, compared with the 42 percent of millennials (defined as 26 to 41), 33 percent of Generation X (42 to 57) and 31 percent of baby boomers (57 to 76) who identified themselves as passionate. More striking was that 27 percent of Gen Zers said they disliked sports altogether, compared with just 7 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of boomers.”The new york times, Jan. 12, 2022
Also factoring into the waning interest in sports from Gen Z is the dramatic decline of youth sports participation. There is a larger discussion to be had about the role of parents and specialization in this decline, but we can address that topic another day. As it relates to pro sports leagues today, the drop in youth participation absolutely impacts the level of interest in kids who might want to watch the best in the world of sports do their thing.
“Participation in youth sports was declining even before Covid-19: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
In June 2020, the pandemic’s early days, 19 percent of parents with kids in youth sports said their child was not interested in playing sports, according to a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. By September 2021, that figure was 28 percent.
On average, children play less than three years in a sport and quit by age 11, according to the survey. Why? Mostly, because it is not fun anymore.”the New york times, Dec. 19th 2021
The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity. Meeting up on the playground or at a friend’s backyard for a pickup game has been replaced with meeting your friends on a Discord server and deciding if you’re going to play Halo or Call or Duty after school.
If you have kids in the age range that I do, none of this should be a surprise. You see it every day and don’t even think twice about it. But if you do stop and think about how frictionless it has become to be online all day with your friends, you start to realize the impact of never being bored or getting dragged to things by your parent because there were no other options.
Watching sports and going to sporting events isn’t frictionless. It’s a pain in the ass. Older generations deal with it because we don’t know any better, it’s just what we do. But Gen Z isn’t about to stop what they’re doing just to watch a game. Why would they? They can get the highlights later.
Gen Z is about dropping in and out of entertainment options whenever they feel like it. In other words, why would they sit around waiting for their favorite song to be played on the radio when they can easily pull it up on YouTube or Spotify.
Pro sports leagues can create all the social content and tout billions of views. They can tout engagement with Gen Z because a bunch of kids bought NFL related skins in Fortnite.
Awareness of their leagues isn’t the problem. It’s getting Gen Z to care enough to watch the game. Take my kids, who are fully aware of what’s going on in the world of sports, but getting them to sit down and actually watch the game is torture. Throw in the increasing cost to attend sporting events, I’ve started leaving them at home because it’s a waste of money given my 13-year-old is just gonna play Clash Royale in that $75 seat.
To be clear — I’m OK with my kids just not being into sports. It’s not like I didn’t try. It’s simply understanding we’ve transitioned to a world of niche communities. You can still thrive within those niche communities. Just look at sports talk radio as an example, where you’re not winning with cume, but with passion around sports. That’s what great sports talk radio stations sell. Pro sports leagues will be fine doing the same.
How Soon Is Too Soon To Lean Into The NFL Draft?
“I think there will be even more hype and content leading up to Draft than last year.”
For sports talk hosts, nothing generates content quite like the NFL Playoffs. The country’s most popular sport inches closer each week to crowning a champion. Each game produces an unlikely hero, a questionable call or some other storyline that can generate an entire show’s worth of conversation. Around the country, most stations talking about football are talking about the playoffs.
There is a select group of markets though where it makes sense for the football conversation to be driven by something else. Sure, the playoffs are on the radar, but if you are in a market with a top five draft pick, it makes sense that prospects and potential trades will draw significant interest.
Houston is not completely ignoring the playoffs. Landry Locker, co-host of In The Loop on Sports Radio 610 says that just like everywhere else in the country, NFL football is the headliner.
“We cover the NFL Playoffs top-to-bottom whether the Texans are in or not,” he told me. “However, just like all of our content we try to localize it as much as possible and try to respect the fact that we are a local show. Why do Houstonians care about what happened in each Wild Card game? What are the local ties?”
And what about the NFL Draft? The Texans have the third pick. That means there are plenty of discussions worth having on air, especially with the local team being so quarterback-needy.
I asked Landry if the lack of a Trevor Lawrence or Joe Burrow has dulled interest in the draft for Texans fans compared to what it could have been.
“I think there will be even more hype and content leading up to Draft than last year. While this QB class isn’t as good as last year’s the speculation about Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson make up for that void because if any of those three are traded it will likely be before the Draft. The NFL offseason has become the most active in sports and this year’s will be as wild as ever, especially here in Houston with the Watson drama.”
Ryan Green, better known to Jacksonville sports fans as Hacker on 1010XL, is in a familiar position. Just last year, he and his colleagues on XL Primetime were talking about the Jaguars welcoming a new coach to town and holding the first pick in the draft. By the time the NFL Draft gets here in April, the Jaguars will be holding the first pick as they welcome a new coach to town. So how does Hacker ensure that this year’s conversations don’t sound like 2021’s conversations on air?
“We will discuss what went wrong last year and how not to duplicate that this time around,” he said. “Why did last year fail? What could have been done differently and what needs to be different this time around. Also the history of back-to-back No. 1 picks for teams isn’t good, how can the Jaguars succeed when so many others have failed.”
Having the first pick of draft is great when you have the chance to grab the quarterback that can change your franchise’s fortunes. But the Jaguars experienced that last year and they have the top pick again.
Hacker said it perfectly. Last year was a failure for the Jaguars. Does that make his listeners a little less enthusiastic this time around?
Yes, he says. Last year was such a let down that there is a whole series of conversations fans want to have before they are ready to start breaking down prospects.
“Jaguar fans want the coaching and gm hires to be correct or the picks won’t matter anyway. Coaching matters and the Jaguar fans have had to endure a lot of bad coaching over the past decade. They want the right coach, then they will focus on the top pick”
Draft talk is fun. As Brandon Kravitz pointed out in his column earlier this week, it is a chance for fans of bad teams to feel real hope. Hope is the word right now in Houston too.
Locker says that there are so many factors that make this offseason one that Texans fans have been waiting three years for. His plan is to devote as much time to draft talk as possible.
“Obviously that’s fluid depending on what happens with the Stros and Rockets,” he says, “but this is going to be the wildest offseason in Texans franchise history. This will be the first time the Texans have had a first round selection in three drafts and with the possibility of getting even more compensation for Watson and a new coach it’s going to be nuts around here.”
It seems weird to type this, but Jacksonvillians know it is true. Hope can get old sometimes. When it is all you have ever been served, hope just doesn’t hit the same.
Hacker jokes that he and his co-workers know their way around a show rundown this time of year because this time of year never seems to end for the Jags.
“Draft talk for Jacksonville always starts around Thanksgiving, so we are already a month into draft talk before the playoffs even get here.”
Your Only Focus Should Be On What You Can Control
“We can’t press a Staples easy button and automatically make the audience more active, the sales team more diligent, or the editors gather every piece of sound.”
The crybaby Cowboys are at it again. After Dallas lost its Wild Card playoff game to the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 on Sunday, there was plenty of blame and finger pointing. Big D’s fingers weren’t pointed at themselves and their ugly run defense, shaky quarterback play, and inability to avoid committing stupid penalties, right?
No no, it’s far easier to just blame the officials. Let’s shine a light on those guys instead!
The controversy occurred at the very end of the game. As the Cowboys trailed by six points with 14 seconds remaining, quarterback Dak Prescott rushed up the middle of the field for 17 yards. As Chris Berman would say, “Tick, tick tick tick tick.” Precious seconds were ticking away as umpire Ramon George rushed over to spot the football. Once Prescott spiked the ball to stop the clock, the final seconds had ticked away and the Cowboys lost the game.
Prescott said in his postgame press conference that the official “needs to be closer to the ball” to spot it more quickly, and the result of that not happening was “tough to accept.” When asked about fans throwing beer bottles and trash at the officiating crew, Prescott said, “Credit to them then. Credit to them.”
Wow, dude. Really? Hooray for assault? Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy chimed in by saying, “We shouldn’t have had any problem getting the ball spotted there.”
This might be news to the Cowboys, but not every NFL official is going to have blazing speed mixed with the agility of a ballet dancer. The offense needs to allow enough time just in case the umpire doesn’t resemble a Cirque du Soleil performer. The Cowboys failed to do that.
The Cowboys also made a huge mistake in the final two minutes. Defensive end Randy Gregory drew a defensive holding penalty for bear hugging and tackling a 49ers offensive lineman. That stupid penalty directly impacted the limited time the Cowboys had at the end of the game. Prescott also had an awful 69.3 passer rating. For context, Dak’s 69.3 passer rating against the Niners was actually lower than the abysmal 69.7 passer rating New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson produced this season. Yuck.
But it’s someone else’s fault. Right, Cowboys? That’s what losers do; they point the finger at others.
For the Cowboys to make the loss about the officials is flat-out embarrassing. They spent more time whining about things they can’t control (officiating) compared to what they can control (their own performance).
The same thing happens in sports radio. A lot. Many people in the industry are consumed by what they can’t control rather than what they can. Several hosts focus on the time slot they want or the job they think they should have. News flash: that isn’t controllable. It’s also easy to complain about a lack of advertisers or sponsors, why listener engagement isn’t better with more calls and tweets, or why some postgame sound is missing on the cut sheet.
“We don’t have the sound? How do we not have the sound? Everybody else has it. How are we missing the same sound that all of the other shows have?”
MacGyver it, dude. Find another way. Focus on what you can control instead of what you can’t. As Patriots head coach Bill Belichick says, “Do your job.”
The truth is that there are a lot of things in sports radio that workers want to control, might even think they should control, but don’t actually dictate. We can’t press a Staples easy button and automatically make the audience more active, the sales team more diligent, or the editors gather every piece of sound. But we can focus our attention on many things we do have control over.
Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden once gave some great advice. Before he was known for his emailing ways, Gruden hosted the successful QB camp series on ESPN. I’ll never forget an episode with former Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya. The QB told Gruden, “It’s tough when each week you’re thinking, ‘Man, if I don’t play well, if I don’t throw for this many yards, if we don’t win, my coach might not be here the very next week.’ It’s tough on me ‘cause you spend time around these coaches, you meet the families, meet the kids, coach [Al] Golden recruited me. You grow close to him.”
Gruden stopped Kaaya and said, “Make this note here; worry about what you can control. Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Because if you do start worrying about things that are out of your control, you’re going to become a freakin’ basket case like me.”
I love this advice. It’s so easy to get off track by focusing our energy in the wrong areas. The funny thing is that our thoughts might start in a good place but lead to a bad outcome. Kaaya was worried about his coach’s job status and family. That’s reasonable, but by doing so it added unnecessary pressure to the situation and shifted the QB’s focus to things he can’t control. That isn’t a good result.
I think it’s smart to constantly be aware of whether something is helping or hurting your ability to perform.
A lot of people in the sports radio industry are competitive maniacs. That isn’t automatically a bad thing at all. Being super competitive can fuel a great work ethic and provide a valuable edge. However, it can evolve into a roadblock once you become a bitter, competitive maniac. That’s a different story. The bitter competitive maniac becomes jaded, frustrated, and hung up on what other people have. How is any of that helpful? It’s much better to stay focused on things that help you do a good job, not get in the way of it happening.
The Cowboys couldn’t control whether the official spotted the ball faster or not, but they could’ve allowed more time in case the umpire wasn’t Usain Bolt 2.0. They had plenty of control over surrendering fewer than 169 yards rushing to San Fran and Prescott having a much better day. But the crybaby Cowboys will whine and whine instead of being more accountable.
Don’t be like them. Instead of focusing on what you can’t control, take a closer look at what you actually can control.
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