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You Don’t Have To Pretend You Know College Basketball

“I think the audience is smart enough to understand we have lives, families and most know we ain’t staying up studying the Mountain West.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The NCAA Tournament is always an interesting time for sports radio stations. This is the only sporting event that even comes close to the Super Bowl in terms of cultural awareness. Your mom may not know who the favorites are, but she knows people fill out brackets and there is something called the Final Four.

Where the NCAA Tournament and the Super Bowl diverge is in the lead up. The NFL routinely dominates TV ratings in the fall. NBC’s Sunday Night Football has been the most watched show on television for more than a decade. College basketball doesn’t have that kind of pull. Ask the average American that lives outside of North Carolina, Kentucky or Indiana how much college basketball they have watched this year and more than 75% of respondents would tell you that the first games they watched were during conference tournament week.

So how does sports radio deal with this? The NCAA Tournament is a benchmark on the sports calendar. It is a local event for so many markets, but you probably aren’t an expert on every potential opponent the home team could face. Hell, in some markets, you don’t even really have to know much about the home team.

“Don’t fake it! Your listeners know you and know your show,” says Brent Axe of ESPN Syracuse. “Be honest with them about your knowledge of college basketball because here’s a little hint: It doesn’t matter! How often does it turn out someone in your pool who wouldn’t know Jim Boeheim from Jim Carrey ends up winning the thing?”

Brent covers the Syracuse Orange. That school has a basketball culture. Jim Boeheim is every bit the institution in that city that Dinosaur BBQ is. He isn’t the kind of hose that will tell you the sports world is dead between the Super Bowl and the NCAA Tournament. But he knows that he is the exception.

If you’re talking about the Tournament field with just the regular cast members of the show, Brent says to keep it light. If there is an investment in a local team, that is the only team you need to be able to give your own perspective on.

“If you want a breakdown of the 2-3 zone or why this is the year Gonzaga is going to win it all, bring on a guest who can speak to that better than you,” he says.

Hosts in large markets with major league sports teams can have wildly different experiences with college basketball throughout the season. Chuck Sapienza, program director of 105.7 the Fan in Baltimore, says basketball is part of the culture of the city. Without an NBA team in town, that means the Maryland Terrapins have a passionate following.

“Maryland Basketball is right up there with the Os and Ravens in terms of fan passion in Baltimore,” he told me in an email. “Baltimore is a huge basketball city. Some of the best High School hoops in the country is played in Baltimore. Jalen ‘Sticks’ Smith (From last season) and Darryl Morsell both went to Mount Saint Joseph in Baltimore City so people follow Maryland hoops from the beginning of the season. Then it really ramps up after football ends.”

As a state, Texas has had an amazing college basketball season. Seven teams from the Lone Star State are in the Tournament. In addition to the Longhorns, who have the state’s largest allegiance, the Houston Cougars are a two-seed. Texas Southern will be in one of the play-in games. The city of Houston should be buzzing, but Sports Radio 610 afternoon drive host, Ron “Show” Hughely told me that if he put a major focus on college basketball on his show, he wouldn’t be serving his listeners.

“This is going to be a real challenge for me because the NCAA tournament is my favorite sporting event,” the diehard Kansas Jayhawks fan told me. “But I can’t be selfish when here in Houston football is king, and the top story in the NFL has fallen right in our laps. We certainly won’t force the local teams in the tournament on our audience. We’re still going to give them what they’re thirsty for.”

I asked Ron what advice he would give a host trying to figure out the best way to cover this tournament for his audience. He said that you can’t be afraid to be honest about what you don’t know. There is no harm in that.

“I think the audience is smart enough to understand we have lives, families and most know we ain’t staying up studying the Mountain West,” he joked. “Hell I’m a college basketball guy and I can’t give you 5 players this year in the Pac 12, but I know the things people will care about and I won’t fake things don’t know.”

Having worked in sports radio in North Carolina, it was imperative to know enough about college basketball to stay in a conversation. I didn’t know the ins and outs of every team in the ACC. I don’t think I really ever knew the ins and outs of the three local teams, but I knew enough to be able to participate in a conversation with the other members of my show and let them do the heavy lifting and analysis.

Sometimes that is the best thing you can do. Whether it is a partner or a guest, let the educated do most of the talking. I asked Brent Axe how he knew when a member of the national media was talking about a team they clearly knew nothing about. He said it was knowing when that host was reading. Someone faking their way through a college basketball conversation won’t have a natural speech pattern he says “because they’ll have more information in front of them or will have to look things up on the fly.”

He then points me to a video of Mike Francesa as an example.

For The Fan in Baltimore, after the Terps, Sapienza says they will look at the tournament largely from a gambling perspective. After all, that is what the event is to most Americans.

“One of the members of the Big Bad Morning Show, Jeremy Conn, is gaining a national following for his gambling acumen,” the PD says. “He is being used by Entercom in the gambling content space on a national level. He will lead our gambling coverage throughout the tournament.”

The running theme here is you don’t have to pretend when it comes to college basketball. Yes, the Tournament is a tent pole of the US sports calendar, but we are talking about a sport featuring more than 320 teams. It is unreasonable to think a host in Denver knows as much about Abilene Christian as he does about Colorado. There’s a lot going on in Denver. Listeners probably don’t expect the host to know much more about Colorado basketball than they do.

In 2021, there are a lot of options for talking about and covering the NCAA Tournament on the radio. The best piece of advice would be to talk about the Tournament in a style that keeps you inside your comfort zone enough to create great content.

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BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

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Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

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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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

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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