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Merchandising Fandom: Sports Radio’s Untapped Revenue

More stations are getting the message and taking the plunge. But not enough are.

Demetri Ravanos

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Have you attended a BSM Summit? Be it in Chicago, LA, or New York, if the answer is yes, you have heard JB go on and on about merchandising. There’s a reason he talks about it so often. It is a revenue source that too few radio groups take advantage of.

Jason Barrett (@sportsradiopd) | Twitter

In recent years, we have seen iconic brands like 98.5 the Sports Hub do limited runs of t-shirts inspired by their talent and their shows. Recently, WFAN launched a full online store. More stations are getting the message and taking the plunge. But not enough are.

Maybe you need dominant names in the ratings in order to convince management to take the plunge with show and station themed products. This entire format though is built on the love people have for their favorite teams. Any brand can make money with merch inspired by iconic players and moments every fan can recognize.

Take SKOR North in Minneapolis. Phil Mackey, the director of content for the station, values creativity. His station may not have play-by-play rights to the Twins, but that didn’t stop him from rolling out a series of shirts in 2019 inspired by Eddie Rosario, who played in the outfield for the team at the time.

Rosario would say that he “hit bomba” whenever he hit a home run. So, Mackey and the SKOR North crew plastered the word “bomba” on a number of different shirts and hit the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. The Twins didn’t own a trademark on the phrase. That meant SKOR North could act quickly.

“The State Fair is a huge merchandise-moving event for all of our Hubbard MSP brands, including SKOR North, and it can be a great way to draw people to our broadcast booths,” Mackey told me.

He wouldn’t give me any hard numbers, but he said that embracing bombas and tying it so heavily to the way the station talked about the Twins did have a payoff.

SKOR North on Twitter: "Which shirt is your favorite?! Stop by our booth at  the #mnstatefair to grab one of these!… "

“The Bombasota buzz is hard to quantify, but the entirety of it all — the shirts, the hashtags and social messaging, the special videos, all led to record podcast numbers for our daily SKOR North Twins Show. You can only do so much to lure people to AM radio, so anytime we are able to create fun concepts like Bombasota and generate digital buzz, it acts as a gateway into the SKOR North brand.”

Mackey says the Bombas campaign isn’t the first time SKOR North has used fandom to generate revenue and it won’t be the last. Right now, selling hats and shirts is something the station only does at the Minnesota State Fair, but he hopes it won’t be that way forever.

“We do have some systems set up for online merch stores, but we’ve yet to truly go all-in on that front,” he told me in an email. “I’d love to in the future.”

What are the rules though when you are the flagship partner of the local team? Steve Griffin is the GM and President of 1010XL 92.5 FM in Jacksonville. The station is the flagship of the Jaguars. That team’s fans are primed to spend money right now. Between Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville football fans have never been more optimistic. Hell, plenty of people are convinced this is the beginning of Tim Tebow’s hall of fame tight end career too.

Can Steve and his team dive into the merchandising game without getting a thumbs up from the team?Even if they want to put out a t-shirt that uses no official logos or other trademarks, does the flagship relationship mean that there are tightropes that need to be walked?

“As long as there’s no perceived association between what we’re merchandising, our sponsor of that merchandising and an official Jaguars partnership, they have been great to us,” he told me. “If there is ever a question, we will pass it by their sales and marketing folks to be certain before moving forward.”

The station has taken advantage of the excitement to generate revenue. It hasn’t all been about selling tangible things fans can take home. Griffin and his staff have instead focused on longer advertising and marketing campaigns that include merchandising as just one element of the entire strategy.

“We’re wrapping up a 3-month station promotion/merchandising event centered around Welcome to Trevor Town!  It included a sponsored 13-episode TrevorCast podcast and a series of six live remote broadcasts of our show XL Prime Time at a sponsor location giving away 1000 Trevor Town headbands.”

Griffin’s station is live and local every weekday from 6 am until 10 pm. That means there are plenty of shows and personalities for listeners to connect with. Still, I wondered if it was smarter to forgo a merchandising campaign centered on the station and its staff for one focused on the Jags. After all, there are people that may have never turned the station on that would still buy a Trevor Town shirt.

1010 XL 92.5 FM tends to focus most of its merchandising on events. Griffin says he doesn’t really know how to project what a merchandising campaign centered on the station’s personalities could do.

“We’ve merchandised our hosts/shows on a limited basis, mostly Jaguars Today and Helmets & Heels, so it’s difficult to determine the bigger value until we do more host/show merchandising,” he says.

There are multiple approaches for generating a little revenue using fan passion. As every station and company around the country looks to increase its bottom line, no idea should be considered off limits. Just ask the right questions and make a plan. Don’t leave money on the table just because it isn’t something you have pursued before.

BSM Writers

Mike Tirico Has ‘Never Pretended to Be Friends’ With Athletes

“I like having a healthy relationship where if I need something, I can ask whether it’s for on-air or for background and build trust.”

Ricky Keeler

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Mike Tirico has been covering sports on network television for 32 years. Over those 3+ decades, he has made it a point to not be so close with the athletes he covers in whichever sport he is broadcasting.

Tirico was a guest on the most recent episode of the GOLF’s Subpar podcast with Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz. While Tirico knows he is not doing extensive journalism work, he wants to make sure that he can be able to ask the hard questions if he has to any athlete.

“I never pretend to be friends with the athletes I cover. I like having a healthy relationship where if I need something, I can ask whether it’s for on-air or for background and build trust. I’m not in a position where I’m working for Outside the Lines at my old place, ESPN. It’s not a knock. It’s just you’re not in a position where you have to do these journalistic-type interviews all the time, but there are times you have to ask hard questions. I always try to keep a little bit of a buffer or a distance.”

The context of that question came when Tirico was asked about how good of a relationship he has with Tiger Woods.

“It’s good….If I reach out, he will usually get back to me. He’s been really good and really nice along the way.”

As for broadcasting sports in this day and age of social media, Tirico believes that it can make a broadcaster better whether or not the complaint from someone on Twitter is real or not.

“It makes us better because you know that people are going to catch you. If something is artificial or not, real or not, embraced or not, it forces you to be better at what you do.”

For that same reason, Tirico thinks that LIV Golf is going to make the PGA Tour have to be better going forward because now they have another tour to go up against.

“I think LIV Golf, and we all have our own opinions on it, is going to force the PGA Tour to be better. Competition is good. Checks and balances are really good.”

Even though Tirico doesn’t feel nervous about many broadcasts anymore, there was one event in the last decade where the nerves kicked in when he was hosting his first Olympics at NBC.

“The only time in the last 10 years that I’ve been nervous was coming on for the first time hosting the Olympics because Bob Costas has done that since most of us have been alive and most people had never seen anyone but Bob Costas host the Olympics in primetime…2 minutes before, I’m like ‘should I be this? Should I have fun?’ and then the minute before, I cracked a joke in the studio.”

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BSM Writers

Kyle Brandt’s Rant a Reminder to Consider the Messenger

This doesn’t mean Brandt is wrong or even that he is being told to echo the NFL’s position, it’s to note that he took a very powerful stance on a very powerful platform and they both matter.

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Kyle Brandt

This week, a massive announcement was made in the National Football League regarding the immediate future of Deshaun Watson. Judge Sue L. Robinson recommended a six -game suspension with no additional monetary fine for the quarterback. While the NFL mulls what it will say further, most others didn’t, including a really prominent personality: Kyle Brandt.

Brandt, a co-host on Good Morning Football, reacted like a lot of people did upon hearing the decision: forcefully. On Monday, Brandt denounced the decision to limit Watson’s suspension to six games, saying in part, “…I look at six and I find it very light. I hope it doesn’t stay that way personally. I think that Deshaun Watson leveraged his status as an NFL player against women. In my opinion. And I think it happened more than one time and I think it was was in closed doors in small rooms against women who were probably intimidated. And it pisses me off to even talk about it. And frankly it pisses me off to see the number six. And I don’t think it’s going to stay that way and I hope it doesn’t.”

Those words resonated. Once they were said, the clip was grabbed from the show and then distributed on Brandt’s Twitter account which reaches 333,000+ followers and on his Instagram which speaks to 96,000+ followers. That video has been seen over two million times. Viral, they say. Here it is if you did happen to miss it. Passionate stuff from Brandt.

If you believe in the message, it’s an easy to like, retweet or share idea. It’s not a hot take, frankly, because there is a large section of those that have been following this story that agree. Deshaun Watson is settling cases because people believe he did something bad. Something bad enough that judge did seem fit to point it out and recommend what is generally speaking, a strong suspension. The only problem here is the platform hosting the message.

This is not a Kyle Brandt-bashing piece. He isn’t the platform. If anything, he’s the vessel of this message he wants out. He also, very likely, feels exactly the way he said he did in the above tweeted video. In fact, the next day, Tuesday, Brandt doubled down on his opinion. The newer video was viewed over 400,000 times. You can check it out right below these words.

The distinction needs to be noted that the message Brandt is delivering, is the NFL’s message. It is what Roger Goodell wants to be the prevailing wisdom regarding how we feel about the current state of Watson’s suspension. That message is being amplified by a very popular co-host, on a very popular morning television show that is seen by a lot of people and that is owned by the National Football League.

Again, I am here waving to you wildly to say that I have no reason to believe that Brandt is being told this particular messaging needs to be voiced. But, I do know that the NFL has until Thursday to appeal the decision. Three days is a lot of time to gather data on whether or not the public might support you appealing for more games, something that the league most certainly will look into judging by their statement released shortly after the ruling.

I also know that the NFL was seeking a much longer suspension as well as a hefty fine to be issued to Watson. The NFL has taken a lot of hits for how it has handled players violating league rules and the player conduct policy. No matter which case you look at, comparing it to the one previous or the one right after is an exercise is madness. The one common theme seems to be is that when the NFL feels like it is delving out punishment, it wants to be severe, no matter the consistency. Remember, Tom Brady was a short ‘yes’ answer away from appealing his case to the Supreme Court. The NFL isn’t particularly interested in just letting things go.

It is well within the realm of possibility that the NFL is getting what it rarely gets: an overwhelming opinion that actually sides with it in terms of punishment. For the majority of the modern cases I can remember, more fans than not disagreed with the NFL’s stance on a case. This time, they might have the court of public opinion on their side. I hear far more ‘kick him outs’ in reference to Watson than I do ‘no suspensions’.

We might have the perfect storm for the NFL in terms of support and Kyle Brandt’s message lines up exactly with the leagues desires, no matter how they may have gotten there. Both want more punishment for the Cleveland quarterback. Brandt can hope, the NFL can fight.

This doesn’t mean Brandt is wrong or even that he is being told to echo the NFL’s position, it’s to note that he took a very powerful stance on a very powerful platform and they both matter.

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BSM Writers

Producers Podcast Episode 6: Jackson Safon, The Volume

Brady Farkas

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Jackson Safon has produced for a number of high profile digital networks. Now, as a freelancer, The Volume has put its faith in him to get the most out of Draymond Green, and CC Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco have trusted him to make R2C2 the best it can be.

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-producers-podcast/id1630978079

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2XBTp3PnrBvGv2n4Y19tCE?si=c84eee71512e49a5

iHeart: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-the-producers-podcast-98564690/

Google: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5ibHVicnJ5LmNvbS9mZWVkcy9wcm9kdWNlcnNwb2QueG1s?sa=X&ved=0CAMQ4aUDahcKEwiQpvak__P4AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQRw

Amazon: https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/241160ba-ad26-4297-a37a-107dfb10b462/the-producers-podcast 

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