I doubt there will ever be a full-blown debate about the greatest alpine skier on sports radio. We won’t shove aside Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana to debate the greatest figure skater ever or which snowboarder you trust the most in crunch time. Discussing the Olympics on sports radio isn’t exactly a pot of gold. However, if you want to make your radio show better, apply the techniques NBC uses while covering the Winter Games.
Storytelling is an enormous ingredient. NBC broadcasters never say, “Okay, up next in ski jumping is Bob. We really don’t know anything about Bob, but let’s see how he does here.” They always provide a detailed backstory of the athletes. We gravitate toward their path, not just what they’re trying to accomplish. Where they’re from — when they started competing — the injuries and hardships they overcame — it always makes the competition more captivating.
Of course we all know how important storytelling is in sports radio. The best hosts paint vivid pictures, yet many of those gifted storytellers gloss over the most important subject — themselves. It shouldn’t be the life and times of a host each time the mic is on, but little things go a long way. The concert you saw over the weekend — the new pair of shoes you just bought — the funny conversation you had at a fast food drive thru — it all provides information about who the host is. It lets the audience in.
I’ll never forget one of the first shows I hosted on FOX Sports Radio. A listener called in from Miami and said, “Like, who are you?” He didn’t mean it in a demeaning way. He just actually wanted to know who I am. The audience wants to know. If we are glued to the TV when the backstory of an Olympic athlete is told, why would it be different with a sports talk host? It’s the same concept.
Something else to mimic is the pacing of Olympic coverage. Unless something huge is happening in one event, the coverage shifts. It’ll change from one sport to the next, back to the studio for a preview, or to an interview. It doesn’t get stuck. It keeps moving. This is the same goal when presenting radio topics. Unless there is a big topic that day, keep it moving. Transition to a new topic and then reset the initial topic later. Find the middle ground between sticking with a topic that’s working and preventing it from lingering too long.
The third concept is the trickiest but the most important. Have you ever watched a bobsledding event that didn’t occur in the Olympics? How about speed skating? Luge? I can’t recall even seeing a single commercial that promoted non-Olympic coverage of any of those events. What does that tell you? It tells me that we don’t actually care about the events themselves. If we really don’t care about the events, then why do millions of Americans care to watch the Olympics so intently?
The stakes are incredibly high. Sure, the storytelling and pacing enhance the coverage, but the stakes are what initially get the audience through the door. Athletes compete against the very best while representing their countries. Good luck recreating that with your morning show host who hails from Amarillo, TX. There just isn’t a way to duplicate the stakes of the Olympics on a radio show. What can be duplicated though, are finding ways to get the audience to care.
I call this broadening and narrowing. If I’m doing a national show, I want to broaden topics that lack a wide appeal on their own. Derrick Rose was recently released by the Cavs. Okay, not the biggest topic. If you broaden it to the athlete that would’ve been the most accomplished if not for injuries, now you’re talking. You’ve got football included with Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. Baseball and basketball are in the mix. You now have a much better chance of your audience caring about this topic.
If I’m doing a local show, I want to narrow topics — I want to relate them back to the local teams. I wouldn’t talk about the 49ers signing Jimmy Garoppolo to a monster contract and leave it at that if I’m hosting in Denver. I’d touch on how much it impacts the Broncos pursuit of Kirk Cousins. I’d talk about whether the Broncos would be in better shape if they somehow signed Garoppolo to the same contract before San Francisco did, or if another quarterback will work out better.
The easiest way to approach topics is to always remember what your audience cares about. They care about their teams and their lives. Include both.
My fiancée recently asked me what the equivalent of flowers for women, is for men. I had no idea. I still have no idea. I’m not sure what gift would cause the same excited feeling for a guy. I brought it up during a fill-in show I hosted in Denver. People texted in with answers that ranged from concert tickets and cologne to a six pack of beer. It was a fun topic in between Broncos talk because it involved life.
Imagine if NBC didn’t air the Olympic events we enjoy most and instead just showed the biathlon. Envision the coverage being completely void of good storytelling and the backstories of athletes. Our interest wouldn’t be nearly as high. It works the same way with sports talk. Include the teams that matter most to the audience, and find ways to incorporate life. Share stories about yourself so the audience will care about you, not just the topics you talk about.
The irony about the Olympics is that although it’s generally very boring to discuss the Winter Games on sports radio, the way the Olympics are covered should be followed very closely. If a host has a great feel for what the audience will care about, and mixes in good storytelling and pacing, you have some of the vital ingredients of great ratings success — just like the Olympics.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coaches & News Conferences Don’t Have To Be So Boring
“It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring.”
I couldn’t possibly count how many news conferences I have watched or attended in my career. It would be like counting each individual pine tree you pass while driving a two lane country road. Eventually, every tree and news conference looks the same. You would just end up losing count and interest.
Most news conferences contain ten times the recommended daily amount of cliches and safe answers. There’s the occasional oasis in the desert of “one game at a time” answers that restores faith in the existence of a non-cookie cutter news conference. Often, those hopes are quickly reeled back in by the coach that would rather have his teeth pulled out one by one than show even an iota of personality in an answer.
I get that the purpose of a news conference is to get the answers to the pertinent questions facing a coach or his team at that given moment. The view inside a news conference that the general public is given is rare. It is like a live look-in at the accounting firm’s weekly staff meeting (and, often just as exciting).
It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring. The fan of the team gets to see how the quote of their coach is edited down from the 90 second soliloquy to the 20 second “money quote”.
Here’s the thing; there is no law mandating every question has to be the boring, run of the mill roster spot question. The reason they are is that most of these news conferences are a race against time by media members that cover the team on a daily basis to gather as much information as possible. It is a race against time because the head coach will not stand at the podium all day. He’d rather be anywhere else.
It is in that environment that a member of the media risks raising the ire of their colleagues by asking a coach if they could be one movie character in all of history, who would they choose? Can you imagine Bill Belichick, unlikely as it may be, explaining why he’d choose to be Michale Corleone from The Godfather? Instead, he is mumbling a non-answer on any variety of positional battles in Patriots practice.
Last week in the news conferences leading up to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament game against Providence, Wildcats coach John Calipari was asked about not taking the North Carolina State job because of bad Raleigh, North Carolina pizza. The story, originally told by former Calipari assistant Josh Pastner, was relayed by WSJS’s Josh Graham. The ensuing answer, far from a knee slapper, showed some personality from Calipari. He informed the reporter the pizza was from Mellow Mushroom and it was not why he passed on the Wolfpack.
Calipari is a guy not afraid to show a little personality, in fact, he is a very big personality. It is not uncommon to see a news conference clip from him that is beyond the normally mind numbing coach speak. This is the guy that had a press conference interrupted once by Temple coach John Chaney trying to fist fight him. It would be nice to randomly see that from other coaches across sports.
Imagine if we discovered most coaches were actually funny people who didn’t mind not being robots 24/7? It would be like dropping a rock in your driveway only to have it break into pieces revealing gold dust on the inside. We could inadvertently stumble into a whole new realm of news conferences. I mean, the breakdown down of the two deep at the offensive guard spots might not get discussed in excruciating detail but, maybe, we find Andy Reid’s go to burger patty seasoning.
What we may discover is that our audience actually likes that kind of thing. It doesn’t mean Reid, or any other coach, never gets to tell us it is one week at a time and they’ve moved on from last week’s game. There will be plenty of that kind of talk, it is in their DNA. We could only hope the fun stuff gets seasoned in.
It will take a member of the media that doesn’t mind ruffling the feathers of some of the old school writers who wear mustard stained shirts and Sansabelt slacks. Those guys devour the coach speak of the week one two deep. They’ll ostracize the media member who “doesn’t take this seriously enough”. Deep down inside, though, I think they’ll give it a laugh, heck they may even use it in their content. When that day comes, you’ll thank me for this idea. Then you can go right back to the battle for the back-up spot at the left corner.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
RSNs’ Demise Could Make Baseball Even Less Competitive
How many fans would have to buy a $20/month package to equal $60 million/year in local TV revenue?
Baseball fans should consider being careful what they wish for regarding the seemingly inevitable demise of regional sports networks (RSNs).
Yes, Diamond Sports Group’s recent filing for bankruptcy puts the television broadcast agreements that Bally Sports Networks have with 14 Major League Baseball teams in possible jeopardy. Many fans of those 14 clubs — which include the St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins — are hoping this development frees up local TV rights to be picked up by a streaming platform.
Currently, fans in those 14 markets who cut the cord with cable and satellite providers have been unable to watch their favorite teams locally because of Diamond’s failure to work out carriage deals with popular streaming outlets like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV. And many of them aren’t interested in subscribing to Bally Sports’ own streaming package for $19.99 per month. Especially if they just want to watch baseball for six months and have no use for local NBA and NHL coverage. (A few of those markets don’t have a local NBA or NHL team, either.)
Amid the bankruptcy proceedings, Diamond is attempting to get out of broadcast agreements with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, and Cleveland Guardians. Those four clubs cost Diamond more in rights fees than they generate in cable contracts and ad revenues. MLB intends to pick up the broadcast packages for those teams and stream those games for free if that happens.
Fans of the other 10 teams tied to Bally Sports deals are hoping for a similar outcome. Though that would be highly unlikely, Diamond apparently is not close to an agreement with MLB that would help the company get out of bankruptcy, as it has with the NBA and NHL. Furthermore, Diamond is arguing that MLB has no interest in such a deal, preferring to take back streaming rights for those 14 teams.
Yet would that really be the best development for MLB in terms of competitive balance? Baseball has long struggled with a significant financial disparity between large-market teams and those in mid-sized or small markets. According to Spotrac, the New York Mets will have the highest payroll for the 2023 season at $355 million. At the very bottom of the league, the Oakland Athletics’ payroll is a fraction (11 percent, to be exact) of the Mets’ at $40 million.
But the gap between teams playing in large media markets (and thus getting significant revenue from local TV contracts) versus small market clubs is nearly as vast. The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly earn $239 million per year from their local TV contract, while the Pittsburgh Pirates get $60 million.
The Pirates are also one of three MLB teams who have a TV deal with AT&T SportsNet. Warner Bros. Discovery recently announced its intentions to transfer ownership of those RSNs to their respective teams and leagues. If a deal can’t be made, WBD will likely enter bankruptcy proceedings for the RSNs. So add the Pirates, Colorado Rockies, and Houston Astros to the team whose local broadcasts could be taken over by MLB.
But would the Pirates still get $60 million in local TV revenue under such an arrangement? Teams with local cable contracts were able to draw enormous fees by being part of a larger overall package in which even non-sports fans were paying fees for RSNs.
However, if these networks are no longer part of a cable bundle, can their broadcasts come anywhere close to matching those revenues from streaming packages? As The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis asked on The Press Box podcast, how many Pirates fans would have to pay $20 a month (or more) to generate $60 million per year? Even if RSNs began to feature sports betting broadcasts, would that draw enough revenue to make up the shortfall?
The Pirates aren’t competitive as it is, finishing last in the National League Central division in 2022 with a 62-100 record (31 games behind the first-place Cardinals). Pittsburgh also had the lowest payroll in the NL at $59 million. How does taking away $60 million — which essentially covers the Pirates’ player payroll — improve any chance of contending?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the Wall Street Journal, “I think we can get into a mode where we are better able to say to fans: You can watch baseball on whatever platform you want to watch it.”
Manfred and MLB will also have to address the sport’s restrictive local market blackout rules to make game broadcasts as accessible as the commissioner envisions. Many baseball fans and observers likely know that Iowa, for example, is blacked out from six teams (Cubs, Twins, Brewers, White Sox, Royals, and Cardinals) locally. An MLB.TV subscription isn’t of much use in that region.
Reportedly, MLB is working on that very goal. But current TV contracts and local media rights deals create a ball of yarn that could take years to untangle. In the meantime, baseball’s elite teams could separate themselves even further from those less fortunate — or without lucrative local TV rights deals.
Having local broadcasts liberated from RSNs sounds appealing to fans who ditched cable and currently can’t watch their teams on streaming platforms. But losing those revenues could prevent their favorite teams from funding competitive — or even respectable — payrolls. Be careful what you wish for, baseball fans. The team you get to watch may not be nearly as good.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Disney Has One Logical Choice For The Future – Jimmy Pitaro
“If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.”
Bob Iger’s latest tenure atop the Walt Disney Company fascinates me. The company begged him to come back to clean up the mess made by his handpicked successor, but it was made clear from the get-go that he has a very limited window to get this right and then go home. That is why, less than six months after Iger returned to Burbank, we are already hearing about who will be the next CEO of Disney.
There is reportedly a shortlist of candidates for the job and it is sports-heavy. Two of the four spots are occupied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. I see the value both men could bring to the job, but I think there is a clear frontrunner and obvious choice.
Jimmy Pitaro is already inside the Disney walls. He has already learned to operate within the Disney hierarchy. He has had to answer investors’ tough questions about budget and direction. If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.
Adam Silver’s tenure as NBA Commissioner is the target of all sorts of criticism, mostly from people that don’t watch the NBA anyway. For all of the pissing and moaning about load management and player empowerment, people are still watching and the league is still as profitable as ever. By the metrics that matter to the people that matter (team owners), he is doing an excellent job.
On a recent episode of Meadowlark Media’s Sports Business, John Skipper made it clear that he loves Silver and thinks he would make an excellent CEO for the Walt Disney Company, but that is a totally different world from the one Silver is currently thriving in.
“My advice would be to stay at the NBA,” the Meadowlark Media boss said. “It’s not a public company. You don’t have to face shareholders. You do have to face 30 NBA owners, but you don’t have activist shareholders. And I think Adam is a committed NBA commissioner. He’s been for a long time.”
The public posturing of Ron DeSantis will always get attention, but it doesn’t always have to be taken seriously. The moment he threatened to dissolve the special district in Central Florida that Walt Disney World operates out of, legal scholars were quick to point out that the proposal would create a major burden on the state and its citizens that no politician wants to be responsible for.
DeSantis wanted his culture war. Disney wanted the problem to go away. The two sides quietly found a compromise that made it look like the governor didn’t lose while Disney got to go on basically with business as usual. That is the kind of corporate policy war whoever takes over for Bob Iger will have to be ready to wage.
Disney needs a salvager in that chair, someone who knows how to diagnose the problems of business relationships and find fixes that hurt each side just enough that both can say the other really took it on the chin. Pitaro is that guy.
Look at ESPN’s relationship with the NFL when he arrived versus where it is now. The company needs someone that makes stars and creators feel like this company is one that it can trust and one that they want to be in business with. Look at what Pitaro has done to bring the Manning Brothers, Pat McAfee, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman under the Disney umbrella while simultaneously finding ways to keep stars like Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones happy with non-exclusive deals that allow them to grow their profile with new opportunities outside of the company walls.
Most importantly, no segment of the Walt Disney Company and arguably, no network on basic cable, has had to answer as many questions about the future of distribution as often as ESPN. Jimmy Pitaro has been asked about a future where entertainment is driven solely by the needs of the audience so many times that he has undoubtedly thought about the ups and downs of the streaming landscape more than just about anyone else on Earth.
Bob Iger will be atop Disney through the end of the year and into 2024. This isn’t a decision that is being made tomorrow. Even when it is made, Iger doesn’t just get to write a name down on a piece of paper, slam down an “APPROVED” stamp and go home.
Everyone on that reported shortlist will be vetted by Iger, his confidants, members of the Disney board, and shareholders. Some may wince at the fact they have no idea how Jimmy Pitaro envisions running theme parks and a cruise line, but the reality is that no one checks all the boxes for any job as big as this one until they have been in it for a while.
When you know the perfect fit for a job doesn’t exist, you go looking for the person that is the best fit. I think Bob Iger and Disney have already found him in Bristol, CT.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.