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Wes McElroy Writes So That You Will Hear Him

“I get an entire paper that’s titled ‘Sunday’s with Wes.’ My column is there, along with the Q&A of my favorite interview from that week. It’s great exposure for the show and the station.”

Tyler McComas

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Too much exposure in the sports media industry is something that doesn’t exist. Whether it’s being a guest for the local sportscaster on a Sunday night TV show, being featured on a national sports radio show or even appearing on a popular Facebook Live show, you should always be looking for other avenues to help promote your brand. 

Wes McElroy of 910 the Fan in Richmond, VA has figured this out. Outside of his weekday show from 3-6 p.m. McElroy also serves as the pregame host for Virginia Tech football as well as the pregame, halftime and postgame studio host for VCU basketball. Then, there’s his writing gig with the Richmond Times Dispatch, in which he writes a column for every Sunday paper. Needless to say, the guy has a lot on his plate. 

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“I really think it gives you credibility and a connection with the fan bases,” said McElroy. “In Virginia we always have this running joke, I moved from Pennsylvania and my first two years in Virginia were in Charlottesville. So when I got the Richmond job, the town is known for having one of the biggest Virginia Tech affiliates, and there was always this back-and-forth from UVA fans saying I was turning into a hokie. Then the Virginia Tech fans didn’t like the hire because they said I was just a UVA guy coming to town. None of that is true, I call it how I see it and that’s always been my motto for 12, 13 years living in Virginia. But it does give me credibility with the fan bases and that certainly helps.”

“Sunday’s with Wes” is the name of McElroy’s weekly column in the Richmond Times Dispatch. He writes mostly about sports, but also writes about life, such as his Father’s Day column two years ago that was a big hit. He even published a letter to his unborn daughter, the most sentimental piece he’s ever written.

The big payoff for McElroy’s writing gig, outside of the fact he loves to do it, is that it enables him to connect with the reader in a unique way. One week they may read his thoughts on Virginia Tech football, whereas the next week could be all about an important life lesson he recently learned. Regardless, it casts a wide net over several people in the area, which can only help with the growth of his radio show. 

“There are some people in this market that don’t know I do a radio show,” said McElroy. “And there’s some people that listen to my radio show, even though I might say it three times on a Friday, that don’t know I write a column. It’s just a different avenue for people to find you. It’s nice the paper posts under my column what time and where I do my radio show.”

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By putting himself on more than one platform, McElroy’s chances for continued growth in the industry are exponentially better. He can host a radio show, write and even do a studio show. Talk about being versatile. In every market McElroy’s ever been in, he’s had a writing job. But when he first arrived in Richmond, that wasn’t the case. That is, until a moment on the biggest day of his life happened. 

“I wrote a column to my wife on our wedding day instead of writing vows,” said McElroy. “I actually got a standing ovation. My buddies actually joked and said, who the hell gets an ovation on their column? One of my buddies then told me I should start writing again so I contacted the Richmond Times Dispatch and they said they could pay me as a freelance or a stringer. I told them it wasn’t about the money it’s just I wanted to do it.

Lucky at the time, the publisher was a listener of my show and he loved the idea of crossover. I do a column and then I take one of my radio show interviews from the week and transcribe it for the paper. I get an entire paper that’s titled ‘Sunday’s with Wes.’ My column is there, along with the Q&A of my favorite interview from that week. It’s great exposure for the show and the station.”

I don’t have to tell you married men about how his idea of writing a column could have went one of two ways with his wife, Luckily for McElroy, not only did his wife Katie approve, she’s also his most loyal reader.

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“She actually loved it and she was happy I was back writing again,” said McElroy. “I started out in newspapers and she knows it’s a passion of mine. I love writing and even have a newspaper delivered every day. We joke that she’s my first editor, because I still let her read my column every Saturday before I send it in.” 

Being the history nerd I am, I randomly read a book last year titled City Under Siege. Basically, it’s an entire book on what happened during Richmond in the Civil War. Seeing as I have no affiliations or connections to the city, I still have no idea why I decided to spend an entire week reading it, even though I came away pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, while reading it I was always surprised that the Confederate capitol in Richmond was just 108 miles away from Washington D.C. Obviously, there were strategic decisions for this, but in a sports radio sense, it would be an interesting balance of giving time to local stories, while also acknowledging what’s going on in a major market just 90 minutes up the road. 

“You know, doing a show in Richmond I learned rather quickly it’s really a mixed bag of sports fans,” said McElroy. “You have a very heavy DC sports contingent but there’s a lot of new corporations and business in Richmond, which, over the years, means you can do a Redskins topic, but there’s also a lot of Dallas fans, Giants fans and a lot of Philly fans. So, you don’t have to just focus on the Redskins, you can focus on the entire NFC East.

“Richmond is also a really big college market. You have Virginia Tech and UVA for football and basketball, as well as VCU and Richmond who both have passionate fans. When you do a show in Richmond, it’s almost in a lot of ways both a regional and statewide talk show.”

If you think about it, Richmond might be a hidden gem of a market, in the sense that every major sport warrants its own time. The show can almost write itself in football season with the two in-state schools and the huge Redskins fan base in the area. And while a lot of hosts in the South struggle for summer topics, there’s Nationals talk or the developing story lines in the NFC East.  

“I’ve always loved the diversity I can do with my show,” said McElroy. “I love college football and it’s the reason I left the Philadelphia area. I love watching Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Brent Musberger and Keith Jackson or whoever else was on. At WIP in Philadelphia, you’re not going to talk Penn State or Temple football. It’s just not going to fly.

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“Richmond gives the balance to talk college football, NFL, Washington Nationals or even the biggest national sports story of the day. You go further north into DC, you’re going to talk Redskins, Nationals, Capitals and Wizards. You go further south into SEC territory, you’re only talking Alabama and Georgia football. I love having so many things to go to on a daily basis. That’s what I’ve always loved about Richmond and it’s really why I’ve stayed here.”

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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