My sister isn’t the biggest sports fan. I love her to death. She’s an amazing person, but her indifference toward sports makes me wonder if there was a mix-up at the hospital when we were born. A few years ago we went to a Ravens-Lions game in Detroit. We had an awesome time. When we sat down my sister said, “The Ravens are from…?” I calmly said Baltimore while frantically thinking, “How are we related?!”
Due to my sister’s lack of interest in sports, along with her husband’s own detachment, my two nephews have grown up weird. I’m kidding. Mini Matt (14) and Ty (12) have grown up fine. However, they aren’t exactly oozing with sports knowledge either. When Matthew was younger I asked him if he wanted to watch SportsCenter with me. He eagerly said, “Yeah! Is it on the History or the Discovery Channel?” I jokingly looked at my sister like, “YOU did this.”
Christie actually checked the score of the Notre Dame football game this past weekend. Hey, baby steps. She told Ty there were 11 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. He asked if there were two innings total in a game. My poor nephew. He knows some rules about baseball after playing in the backyard with me, but he doesn’t know the difference between quarters and innings. I have lots of work to do.
My sister’s beautiful yet dysfunctional sports family got me thinking about sports talk. While my sister and nephews wouldn’t qualify as plugged in, hosts should never take for granted that each listener is. They might not be fully aware of everything happening in sports. People have lives. They have families, projects, hobbies, work, and interests outside of sports headlines. Don’t assume they automatically know everything — or even anything — about what you’re referencing.
I was able to see Notre Dame host Navy a couple of weeks ago in South Bend, IN. My dad was in the Navy. We hadn’t seen an Irish home game in a long time. Plus, my dad had a serious heart attack a few years ago. I always worried that we wouldn’t see another ND game together, so this was a special time for us. My dad, his wife, and my girlfriend, Christina, all froze in the wind and rain that day. I absolutely loved being there though.
I drove to Indianapolis on Sunday with Christina for my morning show on FOX Sports Radio. While sampling some sports talk on the way, I was amazed how some hosts just dove into topics without explaining what was going on. I didn’t need a thesis, but I needed more to go on. I was at a stadium most of the day, went out for pizza afterward, then played Mario Kart with my nephews before bed. Sidenote — there’s nothing worse than getting blue shelled just before the finish line.
It dawned on me that I was in the same boat Sunday morning as a lot of listeners. Refreshing my news feed wasn’t the only thing I did on Saturday. I was playing catch-up with the stories of the day. I wasn’t plugged in. I was in the process of getting plugged in. Hosts need to know that all of the details and opinions within a topic don’t register if the premise isn’t understood. Before getting too far in the weeds of a topic, the base of a thought needs to be easy enough to follow so everybody is on the same page.
Back in my Fresno radio days, a buddy of mine would bring me on his station to talk sports on Fridays. Greg Hoffman, aka G, was the program director at a hip-hop station named B95. Although there were some listeners who knew what was going on in sports, a lot of the audience didn’t even follow it. They had no reference point.
After a few appearances, I finally understood that it wasn’t good enough to say, “Aww, man! That play was crazy!” If that’s all I said in my explanation, a portion of the audience was thinking, “What play? What was crazy? What’s going on?” The same thing happens in sports talk if a host doesn’t do a good job of simply setting up a topic. It’d be like reading a book by immediately diving into Chapter 5. You’d be lost. Don’t assume your audience is incapable of getting lost also.
Think of setting up topics like Twitter. You have limited space. Don’t give me every little detail, but give me enough so I know what’s going on. Otherwise, your opinions will be confusing. If you put all of your effort into shaping a topic, but don’t lay out a few important details first, it’s like preparing a huge meal without telling your guests what time to come over. It’s pointless.
The thought of making sure the audience understands a story is simple, but the importance goes much deeper. Nobody likes feeling stupid. Nobody likes asking a stupid question, admitting they don’t understand, or being viewed as dumb. We fear and try to avoid all of those things. One of the easiest ways to make listeners feel stupid is to assume they know the details of a story when they actually don’t. If the audience feels ignorant, what do you think will happen? They’ll get discouraged and leave.
To me, this is the most fascinating aspect of sports talk — we have to appeal to as many people as possible, and those people are completely different in many ways. There is the 21-year-old kid who can consume sports for hours each day. There’s also the 45-year-old father of three who has a mortgage, a full-time job, and a wife who likes to go for walks and hikes during gameday.
A host can’t be so simplistic that the hardcore sports consumer is bored, or too detail-oriented that the bits-and-pieces sports fan is swimming in a sea of unknown information. It’s a challenge to find that middle ground, but it’s necessary.
You can talk about a zero blitz, just make sure the people who don’t know what the heck a zero blitz is, now do. Jon Gruden did a great job of this recently during the Falcons-Seahawks game. He explained that it’s man-to-man coverage without a deep safety, and the defense is rushing more people at the quarterback than the offense can block. It was concise, and it made many viewers smarter.
I’m not suggesting that you can never have an advanced discussion with complex ideas. Just make sure the details of the conversation are easy to follow. Pretend that your listeners recently got back from a two-week vacation in Yugoslavia. Whatever works for you. Just don’t fall into the trap of assuming your audience is fully aware of each topic you lay out.
A teacher once told me that assuming can make an ass out of you and me. In terms of sports talk, assuming can make an ass out of you and your ratings.
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.