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Sports Radio Lessons From a Five Star Hotel

Demetri Ravanos

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If I were trying to impress you I’d say I am currently between radio gigs. If I were being more honest, I would tell you I parted ways with SB Nation Radio in July and had to find something else to fill my time and pay some bills, so I am currently working at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC.

There’s a very real chance you’ve never heard of us, but it is your loss really. The Umstead is a Forbes Five Star hotel. Conde Nast just named us the best hotel in the South and one of the top 50 hotels in the whole world. So, you should probably check us out.

Now look, as a town, Cary blows. It’s an upper-class suburb of Raleigh and the thing that it’s best known for locally is that the town requires the sign for every business to be green and white. After reading that sentence, how charming do you think Cary is? Okay, now dial that down by about 20% and that’s how charming Cary actually is.

So then how does The Umstead Hotel and Spa have such a sterling reputation? How do we make our hotel the kind of destination people will go out of their way to experience? Simple, we put a focus on service and highlight the natural attractions around us.

There are a number of lessons I have learned working in a Five Star hotel environment that can be applied to sports radio. Here are five of them.

THE GUEST COMES FIRST

If you read my piece about the radio station not being your jukebox, this will sound familiar. If you haven’t, go read it now.

I work in the reservations department of the hotel, so I deal with calls all day long. There is certain information I have to give and receive from callers. In an ideal setting, I can find out if they are celebrating anything, if they have any allergies we can help them avoid in their room, and make sure they are aware of our cancellation policies, but the one thing that I’ve learned is that sometimes callers just want to get off the phone. Real Five Star service isn’t about following all the rules to the letter. It’s about respecting the caller’s time.

In radio, we want to tell every detail of the story. We want to get in every joke. But you have to respect the listener’s time. Tell your story. Get in the relevant stats and the best jokes. Remember to make your point clear up front. We respect the listener’s time by not burying the lead, by saying “this is where I’m going with this, come with me.”

If you’re going to tell me why Papa John should get a say in the way the NFL polices player protests, you better lead with that thesis. I am not waiting through jokes and sales figures to get to a point I don’t agree with, but if you make your point up front I am more likely to stay with you. If I like you, I want to give you the chance to convince me. If I don’t like you, I want to hear your justification for such a dumb stance.

WE DO THINGS FOR A REASON

If you call a hotel to make a reservation and they ask if you have a floor preference it’s not just the agent being nice. It is something that has to be asked in order to get all of the points on the Forbes Five Star test. If the agent repeats the date that you said you want to check in and says “is that right?” It’s not because they didn’t hear you. It’s because the agent wants a record of you acknowledging your agreement multiple times to legally protect the hotel.

Yes, what we do gives a certain appearance. That appearance will either enhance or enforce the reputation of the hotel. The fact is though, that every word I say when talking to a potential guest serves a specific purpose. The same should be true of your radio show – maybe not with every single word you say, but with every segment you plan.

Why do we deliver the same bit at the same time every week? Because it creates appointment listening opportunities and those provide more chances to expand the listener’s TSL. Why do we have benchmark guests? Because we know that those guests will deliver good content and reliably good content presents sales opportunities.

LEARN WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Afternoon tea service is one of the most popular offerings at the Umstead Hotel and Spa. We usually ask guests to call for reservations at least three weeks in advance, but if you called me tomorrow and asked me to find you the first availability for afternoon tea, I would be looking well into December.

I tell you that to share a story with you. Last month I got a call from a woman in New York. She was paying for her daughter to stay at the hotel to celebrate the girl’s graduation. She bragged about our tea to her daughter and wanted her to experience it. The problem is that she was calling on the day that her daughter was checking in. She would only be at the hotel for two nights, and on one of them we weren’t serving tea. When I told the woman how popular the tea service was and that there was no availability for her daughter, she told me I single-handedly ruined the trip.

Was it really my fault? Of course it wasn’t. It was the mother’s fault for not doing her homework. She didn’t make the effort to learn what she needed to know.

In preparing for interviews, never be afraid to ask colleagues and friends what they would ask if they were conducting the interview. Maybe you’ll discover an interesting angle you were unaware of. When you move into a new market, seek out market veterans to learn the history of the rivalries and teams you’ll be covering. You won’t ever be able to fake being a local, but learning what you need to know before you ever crack a mic will earn you a lot of points with a new audience.

DON’T EXPECT OTHERS TO MAKE YOU LOOK GOOD

Did I mention our afternoon tea is very popular? Great, because here’s another story about it!

Last weekend a woman that was staying at the hotel called the reservations center. She wanted me to set up a banquet room for her to host tea for a group of 20 that were in town for a convention that day. The request would be impossible to grant. Not only was the banquet staff not working (because there was no banquet scheduled), but we do not have 20 set ups for tea.

When I told her this, the lady got pissed. She told me that her husband was the president of the company hosting this convention and our hotel embarrassed her. Not only could we not make tea work for her, but she also was told she couldn’t make 20 same day reservations in our spa, which like our tea, is quite popular.

There is only so much others can do for you. If your ratings are down, there is only so much installing a new clock can do. If listener panels come back with a negative opinion of your show, there is only so much new imaging you can do. No one has more influence on the product you are trying to deliver than you. Stay informed. If there is a vision that you are trying to execute, make sure you have done all you can to make it a reality before you start focusing on how others are not helping you.

ALWAYS BE READY TO PIVOT

Like I said earlier, I work in the reservations department. On an average day, I don’t interact face-to-face with guests. I am trained though to also work as a concierge and a front desk agent if necessary. Days where the hotel is running at 95+% occupancy can really put a strain on those two departments and if everyone decides to show up right at 3pm, which is check in time, those departments will need a lot of support. So, even though I go to work each day anticipating sitting in front of a computer, I have to be prepared to be face-to-face with guests.

Sports radio shows have to be ready for anything. Do extensive prep for every show, but know that if news breaks, you have to be ready to throw all that prep out. So while you are prepping a segment on the College Football Playoff rankings, keep an eye on what is happening in the hot stove, because if your local team makes a major move, you need to be ready to talk about it intelligently.

That is the case with any show built around current events. The key word is “current,” right? If my guests at the hotel are stuck in long lines waiting to get what they need, you can bet they will let the hotel know about their dissatisfaction. In this day of social media, all it takes is one person to make air their grievance publicly and the hotel’s reputation will suffer. All it takes is one show where you sound out of touch and you’ve created detractors.

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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