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Don’t You Want More Listeners?

Demetri Ravanos

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I used to love baseball. I played in high school. I never missed a Yankees/Red Sox matchup. I drowned myself in news about the hot stove and the playoffs, even when my favorite teams weren’t involved. Hell, my son is named after Hank Aaron.

Now though, I might watch two games a season. What happened? Well, I had kids. My wife works a lot, so I am sort of the alpha parent in our house. That means I really have to prioritize what sports I want to watch uninterrupted. Plus, the game just doesn’t hold my attention the way it used to. When I am prioritizing now, baseball will always fall below college football and the NBA and probably the NFL too depending on who’s playing.

That’s not baseball’s fault. That’s just a matter of changing taste.

Baseball, though, does have a bad habit of getting in its own way. Everyone involved with the sport from team owners all the way down to the fans that sit in the cheap seats sometimes don’t do a very good job of thinking through the messages their decisions send to the rest of the sports viewing public. It is a sport that too often gives off the vibe that it doesn’t want any new fans.

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I want to take a look at two different instances of that today, and I hope it makes you think about where you are making easily correctable mistakes. What are you doing that may send casual listeners the message that your show or station is an exclusive club? How do you amend that without alienating your core audience?

Let’s start with a promotion on the minor league level. Have you ever been to Montgomery, Alabama? If no, do all you can to keep it that way. My mom used to live in Montgomery and I am telling you, fair reader, it is awful. When ESPN announced they were putting a bowl game there a few years ago, I assumed it was as punishment for teams caught breaking NCAA rules.

Anyway, the city is also home to the Tampa Bay Rays double-a affiliate the Montgomery Biscuits. Because of their fun name and goofy logo, that team’s gear has gained popularity outside of the Deep South. You would think that a team with that kind of marketability would be better at welcoming younger, casual fans to the ballpark, right?

Well, the message their Millennial Night promotion sent this past Saturday was one that screamed “this isn’t for you” to that same group that buys Montgomery Biscuit hats and t-shirts despite living nowhere near Alabama.

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A Millennial Night promotion on its own seems harmless, I guess if you’re in your 50s and hate the idea of people coming to the ballpark to have a beer and meet up with friends. If you’re in the marketing game however, or if you have a stake in the team, it should have sent up red flags right away.

Baseball’s most dedicated fans, “the seam-heads” as they fondly refer to themselves, aren’t getting any younger. The sport may be doing fine in local television ratings, but it is struggling to attract the same young audience that loves the NBA. Mike Trout being only as recognizable as Kenneth Faried isn’t Mike Trout’s fault. It’s the fault of a league office that doesn’t know how to market its biggest stars.

So how do you attract millennial fans? I don’t have the definitive answer, but I can tell you that it starts with NOT hosting an evening at your ballpark featuring participation ribbons and napping areas. Get it? Because your whole generation is lazy and stupid? LOL! Give us your money you pieces of crap!

The second event I want to talk about also happened on Saturday. Josh Hader’s stats out of the Brewers’ bullpen would indicate that he is having a very good season. He just played in his very first All Star Game.

Unfortunately for Josh, just before that All Star Game, some old tweets he sent as a teenager resurfaced. What he posted was pretty awful. It was at varying points racist, homophobic, and misogynistic. What Hader posted to the Internet as a 17-year-old was incendiary enough that Major League Baseball felt the need to give the family members he invited to attend the All Star Game in DC jerseys with no name on the back so they wouldn’t be heckled.

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Now, look, none of us should be judged solely on the way we thought and acted when we were teenagers, and Hader has since apologized and deleted his Twitter account. It still doesn’t excuse or change the fact that Hader did post this stuff. The whole affair was problematic enough for Major League Baseball before Saturday night.

That was the night that Hader made his first appearance at home since the controversial tweets first resurfaced. It’s not a surprise that the Milwaukee crowd showed one of its players support. It was kind of surprising that the guy got an enthusiastic standing ovation.

That’s a problem for Major League Baseball. I’ll be fair and say this wasn’t created by the league or the team, but look at that reaction. Look at all those white guys clapping, pumping their fists and taking photos of this guy that was just in the middle of a firestorm that exposed some pretty bigoted views he once held. You don’t think that sends a message to gays, black people, or women that maybe baseball fans are okay with those kinds of statements or feelings?

I don’t know what I would do to fix that if I were MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Honestly, I don’t know what you can do, but you have to be uncomfortable with it.

It wasn’t that long ago that my colleague Matt Fishman wrote an excellent piece about the misogyny we sometimes subject our female listeners to in sports radio. He used “babe of the day” sections of station websites as an example of how we sometimes get in our own way. Perhaps his strongest indictment was reserved for WCKG, a sports station that just launched on 1530 AM in Chicago and used the line “Men Welcome” as their slogan.

With this type of marketing WCKG alienates and loses women before they’ve even had a chance to listen. “Men Welcome”? Imagine if the sign had said “Whites Welcome”? It’s so appalling to see this in 2018. The sign immediately alienates potential female listeners by saying—we don’t want you here. This  is a huge problem for a brand new station facing two strong and entrenched sports radio properties in The Score and ESPN 1000. It also puts the high profile hosts on the station—Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen, Clay Travis, and Colin Cowherd in an awkward spot.

What are you doing on air and online that inadvertently sends the message that your station or your show is an exclusive club? It may be boys only. It may be cool kids only. Whatever the case, a listener has to be “worthy” to be a part of the community.

How can you correct it without overhauling what is working for you? How do you make a positive change for the larger audience without alienating that smaller P1 group? Again, I don’t have the answer, but Fish is right about the messages some of these old promotions and positioning statements send.

This is the 21st century. Everything lives forever online. When developing new imaging or contesting, be creative but be aware. Everything you do or say has the station’s unofficial seal of approval in your audience’s eyes. Falling back on old jokes that are built on exclusionary themes is inexcusable.

More than any offense you may cause, clinging to these old ideas of what sports radio is or who should be listening is just plain lazy. Whoever you are that is reading this, you’re talented. You didn’t get to where you are purely by dumb luck or on accident. You can do better.

Admittedly, I am a pretty liberal guy both socially and politically. Whatever variation of “snowflake” you want to call me is pretty accurate. My mommy says I am a special boy and I believe her.

But I encourage you not to dismiss this as the rantings of another social justice warrior. Really let what I wrote here sink in. My concern for our format isn’t about a moral stance. It is about making our tent bigger and moving beyond the idea that sports is a niche format and can’t change the minds of companies that consider our format not worth investing in. That perception won’t change as long as we send the message that we don’t want it to change.

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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