It’s currently a pretty special time in Toronto for sports radio. The Maple Leafs have the best record in the NHL and the NBA season is underway, with, quite possibly, the biggest superstar the Raptors have had since Vince Carter. Stations such as Sportsnet 590 The Fan are sure to enjoy the payoff, as the excitement in the city will more than likely reflect the ratings for the next several months.
This is a dream situation for Dave Cadeau, the program director for 590 The Fan. The man who once held a psychology degree out of college, knows the importance of capturing the excitement of the fans over the airwaves on a daily basis. Both the Maple Leafs and Raptors have a realistic chance to be in a Finals series, come seasons end, which would surely turn the city of Toronto into a frenzy come next June.
Though the expectations are high for both teams, there seems to be a different level of connect from the fans between the two teams. For instance, hockey is always going to be the biggest sport in Toronto. That means the Maple Leafs are more likely to receive the greater amount of coverage. But on its roster, the Leafs have two players who were born in Toronto, five others who grew up in Ontario, and several others scattered throughout Canada.
There’s also a familiarity and appreciation for the players, seeing as the fans probably knew the names of most of the players, way before they donned a Maple Leafs sweater for the first time. That includes a player such as John Tavares, who signed a 7-year $77 million deal in the offseason. The former No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NHL draft is now playing for the team he grew up cheering for. The fans loved him before he ever stepped foot on the ice. And most importantly, he loves them back.
The Raptors on the other hand, have just one Canadian born player. Their big offseason acquisition also provided the opposite feel of Tavares coming home to join the Leafs. Kawhi Leonard has previously expressed his desire to play in Los Angeles. When Leonard was, instead, shipped to Toronto, the frustration on his face and in his voice was clearly visible.
So, on one hand, the Maple Leafs and Raptors did their due diligence to land big offseason pieces. However, one seems to have always wanted to be here, and the other seems to be counting the days until the end of the regular season. It’s an odd situation, but one that all Toronto sports fans will likely have a strong opinion on.
Cadeau knows the landscape of Toronto and what works in sports radio. His station at 590 The Fan could probably survive and still have high ratings if they dedicated every single minute to covering the Maple Leafs, but there’s still a draw in the city for the Raptors and the NBA. Especially considering the franchise has enjoyed recent success and has built, quite possibly, the best roster it’s ever had. Sometimes, there can be so many big stories happening in a city that it’s tough to balance them out and give each their due diligence.
Cadeau highlights just what works in Toronto sports radio, as well as balancing two athletes with two totally different mentalities.
TM: Just how much more popular are the Maple Leafs compared to the others sports teams in town (Raptors, Blue Jays, etc.)?
DC: I would say that it’s all about hockey and baseball in Toronto, and basketball. When it comes to football, I think the NFL is bigger than the Argonauts.
The Argonauts are definitely a legacy sport and they have a long tradition with a fan base, but it’s a very competitive market. If you look it, the last two championships that have been won in the city are by the Argonauts and Toronto FC. In the seasons that have followed, they haven’t been major players on the sports landscape radar. In part, because their performance in the following season hasn’t been tremendous.
But to answer your question directly, the Leafs are absolutely big in Toronto. We went through a period, a few years ago, where they had surprisingly become somewhat irrelevant, just because they were in this mode of where the roster only consisted of a couple players on the roster that you hoped were long-term players with the franchise. Most of the players were either playing out contracts or hoping to be traded at the deadline. With Mike Babcock coming in and Auston Matthews being drafted to the team and other excellent young players joining, such as John Tavares, the team is absolutely at the top of the pile. They’re miles above the other teams in the city. When you say that, the Raptors have, quite arguably, the best roster in the entire history of the team. They’re going to be a big deal this year, but the Leafs will tower over them.
TM: There’s a fascinating dynamic with two superstars in Toronto this year. For the Leafs, John Tavares is a local kid that’s always wanted to play for the team. He loves the city and it loves him. However, the Raptors have Kawhi Leonard and it seems like he doesn’t want to be in Toronto at all. How have listeners received two guys that are stars, but seem to have complete interest or disinterest in Toronto?
Not everyday you can live a childhood dream pic.twitter.com/YUTKdfMALl
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018
DC: I think Raptors fans have typically had players on the roster they assume or feel, rightly or wrongly, that the players don’t want to really be here. You get a lot of players that come through the city and come to love it when they’re here, but Toronto has challenges in that league. It’s the only team where, every time you go on the road, you’re going through customs. That’s a challenge.
Many years ago, we had Antonio Davis here who was a celebrated player on a team that was built to win. When he grew tired of being here, he was saying things like, well, it’s difficult having my children learn the metric system. I mean, c’mon, that’s pretty weak. Or when Vince Carter said he couldn’t find any good soul food in Toronto, even though it’s one of the most diverse cities in North America with a huge Caribbean festival. It’s just one of those things where players tend to lay down excuses. We had an athlete in town a few years back that was upset because he couldn’t watch as much college football as he wanted. We look at these athletes and think, since they make so much money, they can find their comforts, but sometimes there’s just things you need.
Kawhi Leonard is an enigma. I don’t claim to know anything about him on a personal level. I sure hope he can come in and perform like a star and whatever he’s going to do next year is whatever he’s going to do next year. I think the fan base, when it comes to the Raptors, they want the players to come in and love the city, because that’s a personal thing. It feels amplified, because the vast majority of the players in the NBA aren’t from Canada. It makes it very different from hockey. The fan base kind of always feel like its hosting.
TM: So all the teams the Raptors are playing are inside the United States. Same for the Blue Jays, seeing as the rest of the AL East is in the northeast. Do your listener’s interest in sports teams extend into the U.S. since that’s who the teams in the cities are competing with? Or do they want to keep it local to Canadian sports?
DC: So when you look at our three markets, Vancouver is hyper-local, Calgary is hyper-local and Toronto is very local, but also there’s also a lot of people living in Toronto that aren’t from here. So, there’s of a demand for sports talk that ranges outside of Toronto. I think the best example of that would be the NFL.
We don’t have a team in Toronto, but we carry the Buffalo Bills’ games. They actually used to have an agreement where they played a home game every season in Toronto. The challenge they ran in to, and it’s only two hours away, but they’d play the Steelers and the place would be half full of Pittsburgh fans. It’d be the same with the Cowboys. All of those big NFL teams that have a legacy, also have a lot of fans in Toronto, and the Bills never got any kind of home field advantage. When it comes to the NFL, our audience really has a numerous amount of teams they want to know about.
But we do talk about the NHL in a national sense with a Toronto bent. We will talk a lot this year about the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins, because we expect them to be the beasts in the east. There’s a huge rivalry with both the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal. Montreal because of pure legacy, Buffalo because of proximity and Ottawa because of the history in the early 2000’s. Like any other sports radio format, we focus local in Toronto but we also branch out quite a bit.
TM: Like we discussed, the Leafs are often the biggest story in town. But is there room for a clear No. 2? For instance, the Raptors have a great year and Kawhi decides to stay, is it possible they could be the clear second option in town?
DC: Of course so, there’s a lot of room. The Blue Jays even took the spotlight for a short period of time during 2015 and 2016. The Blue Jays are likely to remain at No. 2 for some time, partly because of legacy. We’ve had the Raptors for 20 years, but we’ve had the Blue Jays for 40 years. Right there, the fan base just has more depth for baseball. Plus, they’re different sports on the radio.
If you’re talking to me about broadcast audience of the actual games, baseball is just a different animal when it comes to radio, it was just built for it. The other things about the Blue Jays and the Raptors is that they’re seasonal and offsetting with each other. We will talk about the Maple Leafs all year long. We’ll talk about the Blue Jays, deeply during the season, and the Raptors, deeply during the season. But we need notable storylines to talk about them in the offseason. One of the real beauties about being in the city, is that we have so many teams to talk about. We’re not in a situation, like Montreal, where there’s only one local team that everyone cares about.
TM: In terms of most influential athletes in Toronto history, could John Tavares make a run at that? If he does, what is the payoff for your station going to look like?
DC: Well, I’m not going to sit here and tell you he can’t be. The potential is there, being from the city and choosing the city in a sport that always has superstars moving. He’s very engaging and aware as an athlete with the fan base. The potential is there and he’s a superstar in his prime on a team that’s a contender. Everything is there for that to happen.
As far as the payoff on sports radio, sure. There’s huge potential, but what you really need to do is look at this roster, it’s loaded with young and exciting talent. John Tavares added so much more momentum to the excitement about the Leafs, but Auston Matthews is really lighting it up to start the season.
What’s been amazing about this team, is that a decade ago, the argument was that there was too much pressure for Toronto raised kids to come back and play for the Leafs. So rarely do you see that happen and now this team is loaded with local kids. It’s amazing and they’re really important players on the roster. What will John Tavares’ impact be on sports radio? Well, it’ll be big, but it’ll also be a big part of something that’s amidst. I wouldn’t peg it all on him, you look down the roster and it’s what this entire team can do for sports radio that’s exciting.
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.