Football season is the money maker in sports radio. That’s especially in markets where college football is king and the entire local economy depends on six to seven Saturdays in the fall, which supplement the entire year.
Seeing as the Big Ten and Pac-12 can’t figure out they each want to do, several radio stations across the country have been left in a state of flux, which leaves several program directors and hosts with more questions than answers.
“It’s forced us to prepare for anything,” said Todd Markiewicz, VP and Market Manager at 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, “We’ve gathered our team together and strategized constantly, almost daily, to figure out new ways to drive revenue in case college football is not going to happen. Covid really put us in a position to be prepared.
“As important as Ohio State athletics is to us, as the flagship for Ohio State, we had to prepare for the possibility of it not being there come fall. We’ve come up with a variety of new assets and refocused, from a sales perspective, and other areas, including podcasting and digital. We’ve revamped our on-air line up. We’re in the best possible situation we could be in considering the possibility.”
From a sales aspect, not having the income that football season provides could prove to be devastating in some markets. For the hosts, the situation will be unique and difficult, because of the unclear direction of where to get content from. Sure, anytime you talk football it’s almost guaranteed to be a hit, but without having the local team to talk about, hosts may need to be more well-versed and expand their region on the teams they discuss.
“We have an advantage at the station for live games, as we’re an affiliate for both the Giants, A’s, Raiders and the 49ers,” said Christopher Gabriel, host at 940 ESPN Fresno, which is home to the Fresno State Bulldogs, one of the traditionally more consistent group of five college football teams.” We’re also an affiliate for the Lakers. We’ve been able to have our media friends at those stations, as well as people connected with the team, come on with us a number of times to keep the dialogue going. As far as college football, not having the Mountain West or the Pac-12, we’ve been focusing our attention on places like the Big 12, ACC and the SEC, who are actually playing. We’re a college football centric program here, so we’ve been keeping our eye on what’s been going on.”
Like Fresno State, the Boise State Broncos won’t be playing this fall, either. But in some markets, like Fresno, you can at least defer to the pro teams in the area, That’s not the case in Boise, seeing as the Broncos are the only major show in town. So what do you talk about when nobody in the state is playing?
“That’s a hell of a good question,” said Mike Prater, host at 93.1 KTIK The Ticket in Boise. “For today’s show, our lead today is, Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin would’ve been having his last press conference before the season begins. We came up with a fake press conference, such as what Harsin would’ve said under normal circumstances, as well as the questions from the media that would’ve been asked. We’re going to air a Game of the Week for the next 14 weeks. We may do a little bit more NBA, NHL, and of course the NFL.
“I lost my partner of 20 years, this summer, and we’re launching a brand new show that centers on the NFL. We’re going to focus on all the former Boise State players that are in the NFL. We added a Fantasy Football segment to pick it up. The voice of Boise State football is going to come on and do a full segment every single day. We’re just putting little things together, nothing great or fantastic, we’re just trying to fill our time with good content.”
For executives like Markiewicz in college markets without football, this will be one of the more challenging seasons any has encountered. Their time will be split on trying to find ways to bring in money to the station, as well as assisting their talent on what content is best. Luckily in Columbus, NFL content also plays well. Without the Big Ten is that the direction The Fan will go?
“We’re going to have to let Covid dictate that,” Markiewicz said. “The NFL is going to be very important, and yes, we have both the Browns and Bengals in Ohio. We have a 60/40 fan split between Browns and Bengals fans, so that will keep us busy. If Ohio State resumes some semblance of the season in November or December, obviously we will welcome that with open arms. The reality is, as radio professionals, we had to reinvent ourselves. Not since just Covid, but the last 5 to 10 years we had to figure out new ways to compete. I think we’re in a pretty good position with that.”
Oddly enough, this confusing time has positively affected listenership in otherwise slow times. With the Big Ten seemingly reversing it’s course every week on when or if it wants to play, Nebraska was the most outspoken school in the conference with its desire to play. That played especially well, and led to an increase in listenership in Lincoln.
“On like August 11th or 12th, there was just a major, major spike that day,” said Connor Happer, host at 93.7 The Ticket in Lincoln. “Ever since then, we’ve been kind of steady, because there’s something new that’s happening every day. Honestly I haven’t even had a plan for a show for like the past three weeks. But we’re kind of settling in for if it’s going to be three months before we start or four months. We’re ready if it gets dead around here, but for the last three weeks it definitely hasn’t been that.”
While the Big Ten has had an epic level of in-fighting between presidents, commissioners and athletic directors, the Pac-12 has seemingly been in lockstop agreement with each decision the conference has made. But that doesn’t change the fact that markets such as Portland, Tucson and Seattle, to just name a few, won’t have Pac-12 football to talk about.
“I’ve never relied on the box scores for content,” said John Canzano, host at 750 The Game in Portland and Fox Sports Eugene. “That’s a low bar. I think the listeners are smarter and more well versed than ever. They don’t come to my show to learn who won the game. They come to me to understand what it all means, what happens next, and what I think about it. Maybe to be entertained and get lost in the diversion, too.
“Ratings have been up since the pandemic started. I don’t think it’s accidental. There’s more to talk about than ever — especially with so much still up in the air for the Pac-12. I’ll continue to have the head coaches on my show, talk about compelling stories, and try to figure out if the Pac-12 made a tragic misfire by not playing or maybe if it just indicated to us all that its mission is different than some of the others who are playing.
“I keep hearing people say, ‘No sports — what will you talk about?’ Are you kidding me? We’re amid one of the most compelling and maybe controversial times in sports history. I’ll do the same high quality, entertaining show that I’ve done for the last 15 years. Some of it will be about sports. Some of it will be about homeschooling kids, working from home, and trying to keep perspective. I’ll pay attention to the other conferences. But also, the Pac-12 is knee deep in what I think is the most compelling time in its history. The audience is locked in.”
In Salt Lake CIty, the Utah Utes Should be preparing to build on it’s 11-win season in 2019. Not only are the Utes not playing, but they had to sit and watch their bitter rival just 45 miles down the road, BYU, play on primetime television and dismantle Navy. That played well on Tuesday in Salt Lake.
“There was a lot of jealousy,” said Hans Olsen, host at 1280 The Zone in Salt Lake City, “Utah fans want to discredit the schedule and the opponents BYU put together. Basically, claiming that it’s against a glorified high school team. BYU kind of returned the favor saying, well, we would’ve opened the season against you, like we were supposed to, instead of Navy, it probably would’ve been the same outcome. BYU fans also went on the offensive and said, remember, it was you that canceled and here you are talking about our opponents, when we had to reschedule because you canceled. There’s been a lot of interaction between the two fan bases.”
Like the entire pandemic, hosts will find ways to keep things entertaining without any football in the fall. Challenging, sure, but it’s almost a given. But it’s much harder to fill the sales gap, than it is to fill the content gap. That’s the No. 1 goal for every radio station that won’t be able to lean on the local team to help with sales: Find creative ways to keep money coming in the building.
“Our company is local so we have ties that go back 20 to 25 years,” said Gabriel. “While it was frustrating at first, those folks are all coming back. We have a great sales team here and they are out there, doing anything they can do, as far as sales packages, and doing a great job with it. We’ve started to put some remotes together when restaurants and bars opened back up here in California. If anything, it forced us to be creative and we’re trying to find ways we can package things to make it beneficial for the people that have always supported us. We are supporting them in every way we can.”
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.