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Ramie Makhlouf Knows Sports Radio, Like Comedy, Is About Authenticity

“I think they fit into each because with stand-up, you get that immediate reaction of your material.”

Tyler McComas

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Searching for compelling content or the next great bit is never far from the mind of Ramie Makhlouf. And it really can’t be, seeing as if he’s not thinking about his weekday afternoon drive radio show at Sactown Sports in Sacramento, he’s likely thinking about his next stand-up comedy routine. 

Makhlouf’s comedy skill is one of the things that separates him from others in the sports radio industry. He has the unique ability to bring out a more fun and light side to his co-host, all while being the funny guy on the show. There’s no question that doing stand-up has made him a better sports talk radio host over the years, but in what ways has Makhlouf seen the benefit over the air? 

“I think they fit into each because with stand-up, you get that immediate reaction of your material,” said Makhlouf. “From that, you can get a sense of what works, you can practice your ability to grab and hold an audience. When you’re talking about radio and not having that immediate reaction and knowing how people are receiving your material and your content, that’s a lot like the writing process in comedy, where you sit down and you’re thinking of a joke and you don’t have an audience to react to it, so I think you’re working that muscle, too, of working to a blank slate and seeing how it will be received.”

Whereas his stand-up career has benefitted his sports radio journey, Makhlouf isn’t willing to say the opposite is as true. Granted, sharing his stories of stand-up has resulted in listeners attending his comedy shows, but there hasn’t been a direct effect on how it’s helped his skill set. 

“Maybe one or two jokes that I’ll do here or there, or if it comes up naturally, like if there’s a listener in the audience, that presents a funny in the moment sort of thing,” said Makhlouf. “But my stand-up is something really different from what I do in sports talk. I will say this, there are times where we’ll be talking about something on the air and I’ll stumble into something where I say, this could be a bit. This is something I could do in stand-up. I take that and flesh it out, build on it and make a joke out of it. But it never really works the other way, where I’m putting my job into my routine. It’s a completely different thing.”

On the air, Makhlouf has never shied away from who he is; an unabashed Chicago sports fan that wants to have fun on the air. Whether it’s hosting at The Score in Chicago, SKOR North in Minneapolis, or 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee, he’s never changed his identity on the air. There’s something to be said about that, especially when you consider that the Bears, Bulls, and Cubs aren’t the most beloved teams in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.  

“I was lucky enough to live out the dream of working in Chicago at The Score during some shifts at night and on weekends and sitting in a few times with Danny Parkins in the afternoons,” Makhlouf said. “If you’re in sports talk radio you want to grow up and talk about your teams, but the majority of my career was an out-in-the-open Chicago fan. Bears, Cubs, Bulls, working in Milwaukee and my approach has always been to just be real. If something is bad, say it’s bad. If something is good, say it’s good. Overall, just create good, entertaining content. Even if people don’t buy in at first, because you’re the Chicago guy, or you came from Milwaukee, you’ll win them over eventually, as long as you’re not trying too hard or trying to be something you’re not. That’s never been the approach I’ve taken. Most of my career has been outside of the markets of the teams I grew up rooting for. That’s not a new thing to me.”

Makhlouf isn’t in the Midwest anymore. He’s two time zones away on the west coast in Sacramento. But his approach on the air has stayed the same as it was in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. The story of how he got to Sactown Sports is almost one of fate, seeing as the seed was planted for his new show just before the pandemic hit. It was two years in the making, but Makhlouf has found a co-host he fits perfectly with. 

“It’s kind of a funny story,” laughed Makhlouf. “When I was in Minneapolis just before the pandemic and all the layoffs to SKOR North I was doing a 10-2 show solo. They were looking to hire a co-host for me and we were auditioning people. Nick Cattles was one of the guys we auditioned and I thought he had the best audition and that we had some natural chemistry. And then obviously everything hit the fan and they basically shut down the station. They didn’t hire a co-host and they laid me off. And then two years later, Nick texted me out of nowhere and said, hey man, I’m the PD out here in Sacramento and I’m looking for a new co-host and you’re the first person I thought of. We started talking and I kind of knew already we had that chemistry from that audition but also they brought me out here and showed me what the game plan was and that they were going to be putting some resources into rebuilding this brand. I saw a group of guys that I wanted to work with and a plan I thought was pretty good. I took it. It seemed like a good fit.”

Makhlouf joined Sactown Sports in late June and Cattles and Ramie have already created plenty of buzz in the market. But as well as the show may be going, his move to Sacramento has been a little more difficult. 

“Honestly, we’ve made a bit out of it on the air, it’s been a nightmare,” laughed Makhlouf. “I got scammed by a shady moving company. I’ve been living on an air mattress with a TV and a kitchen table and a desk since I got here.”

“Doing stand-up comedy you try to find the joke and the content in everything you do. The funny thing is, before I even knew I was being scammed, they had recorded a bumper coming back for the show that said, “one of these guys is likely to throw furniture, and the other one is still looking for his.” It actually played out that way, which is kind of ironic.”

As much of a pain and hassle that Makhlouf’s moving process has been, there’s always the thought of making it into a bit on the show. It’s content that’s brought out the lighter side of the show and possibly has even made him more relatable to the new listeners in the new market he’s in. 

If that hasn’t done it, the yin and yang nature of the show with Makhlouf and Cattles probably is. It’s the perfect mix of strong opinions, mixed with laughter, and fun. 

“I always try to look for the more entertaining and funny angle of things and Nick is more of the I have takes guy,” joked Makhlouf. “He told me that when he brought me into the show that he wanted me to bring the fun to the show, bring some more fun out of him and work that yin and yang chemistry that we have. I just think it works. He reminds me of guys that I’ve worked with in other radio stops in the past and the type of person that plays very well off of me. I don’t know if you want to call it the straight man vs. the funny guy, I don’t know if you want to put labels on it but there’s definitely a yin and yang there.”

Certain markets across the country tend to be apprehensive about new hosts that come from outside their city. Sacramento doesn’t feel like a market that’s tough on outsiders, but Makhlouf says he’s not certain that’s the case. Regardless, that’s not something that’s ever bothered or intimidated him. He’s more concerned with finding out what Sacramento truly cares about and the teams it roots for. 

“The Raiders probably lost a lot of fans out this way, but it’s mostly 49’ers and football is king,” said Makhlouf. “You go to cities that are nowhere near an NFL market and football is still king a lot of times. I think the 49’ers have grabbed the Sacramento market. I don’t know what it was like before I got here, but the Raiders probably lost some fans around here when they moved to Vegas.”

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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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