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Coronavirus, The Economy, And Sports Radio

“These are unchartered waters, create together and help service the community that they are in. People still need goods and services. It’s our job to convey that to our listeners.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the world. People are stuck in their homes. Some have lost loved ones. Others will. The worldwide pandemic is bigger than dollars and cents to be sure, but the dollars and cents are important to talk about here too.

In an effort to limit the spread of the disease, the CDC has recommended limiting gathering to ten people or fewer. That means a lot of movie theaters, bars and restaurants are out of business for the time being. That is going to effect the bottom lines of people in all walks of life.

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Barrett Sports Media is a sight focused on the sports media world though, and while we have empathy and sympathy for everyone trying to figure out how to make ends meet right now, we want to put the spotlight on sports radio.

I spoke to a number of people around the business to understand what their plans are and what they expect during this time. Many expect that losing clients, even if only temporarily, is likely. All of them though, do have a plan and good reasons for their clients to stay the course.

“There is going to be a hit, and if you don’t think so, you are lying to yourself. Just like with your clients, you need to be honest with yourself,” one sales rep in the Northeast who wished to remain anonymous told me.

“So far, I’ve broken it into 3 buckets. First, there are certain categories of business that should absolutely stay on or start up, even during these first few weeks of uncertainty (mortgage, banks, financial planners, lawyers, insurance, healthcare/hospitals, etc.). Consumers have a lot of questions, these experts can help and we give them the platform to do so.

“Second, categories that may need to take a short hiatus. Due to the fact that most cities are in a full or partial lockdown, customers of some businesses can’t even take action on their messaging. If you are a true partner you need to help them through this time. Categories that violate social distancing such as automotive, retail except for grocery, food/drink, events, home improvement that requires in home visits, etc. Hopefully this is a temporary hiatus and we will start to get some better news in the coming weeks.

“Lastly, are the clients who have purchased a play-by-play or direct sports entitlement. The passion and inclusion you sold them was genuine (or it better have been). For you to turn around and try to reallocate those dollars to your sports station or a sister station in your cluster can come off a little desperate. This is where the hit will be inevitable as seasons hang in the balance for NBA, NHL, etc. and are delayed for MLB and potentially NFL. In this case if your clients are not on your core sports station, definitely a good time to bring it up, not to replace their sponsorship, but to help them reach their clients during these tough times if they are in a category that I listed above.”

Sandy Cohen, Vice President and Director of Sales for Union Broadcasting in Kansas City and Louisville, told me that his staff started reaching out to clients “by phone, email and texting” as quickly as they could. “However we can help, we are.”

“Clearly we are contacting the sponsors who are actively advertising with us at this moment, then we are reaching out to sponsors who we actively work with, but may not be active at this moment. I am fortunate to have a veteran group who average 17 years on the team. They know what to do and have been a tremendous help with handling all our sponsor needs.”

Chadd Scott, who programs 1010XL in Jacksonville told me his sales manager has been proactive with the sales staff, reminding them that there is still content on the station advertisers would be happy with.

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“Seeing as how this news is so fresh, there’s still plenty to talk about. I did send an email today to all programming staff letting them know that I did not want to hear anyone saying on air anything along the lines of ‘there’s nothing to talk about.’ During my weekly meetings with all talk shows next week I’ll begin to discuss with everyone ideas for creating content that is not reliant on games or daily news.”

“Our guys are very talented and creative. They’re entertainers. More importantly, they are serious guys that live in the community, and care about the community,” Don Martin of Fox Sports Radio and AM 570 LA told me. “They will give you the facts, and then entertain you. We’re not going to go back and do something on last year’s greatest game. Why do that? Stay in the moment!”

Whether content is there or not though, Don isn’t blind to reality. Business owners are scared. Many of them are re-evaluating budgets and what costs are and aren’t necessary right now. That’s why Don advocates for being honest and putting the client’s needs at the forefront right now.

“They are our partners, and we have to take care of each other. You hear them out, they are afraid. Together you come up with a plan to help them keep business moving forward. These are uncharted waters. Create together and help service the community that they’re in. People still need goods and services. It’s our job to convey that to our listeners.”

Sam Pines, the Vice President of Good Karma Brands’ ESPN Cleveland, is having his staff reach out via video conference to as many clients as possible. The company isn’t changing the consultative process. Pines just wants to make sure his clients have the right messaging for the moment. That is the way he is having his staff approach both small businesses and large agency clients.

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“I don’t see a reason to have a difference in approach. Our team should be building deep relationships whether the advertising partner is a huge national agency or a small business owner who measures their revenue in thousands. We should always be listening first, understanding their needs, challenges, and business objectives, and then strategizing a way we can help them reach and exceed their goals – that process should never change.”

Finally, I spoke with David DuBose of Townsquare Media in Tuscaloosa, AL. He posted an open letter to his clients with advice on what they should be doing right now when it comes to advertising. He noted that this is a potential opportunity for some businesses, pointing to past clients that grew their market share after the 2008 financial crisis by keeping their messaging consistent while competitors abandoned advertising entirely.

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“We have had a few cancellations for event related marketing, but not a significant number,” David told me in an email.

“Our sports listeners are loyal,” he says of the cluster’s sports station Tide 100.9. “We are using the talk format for live interviews with the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce President, Live press conferences, and pertinent information.”

There is no right way to go about servicing clients right now. There might be a blueprint in how our industry dealt with advertisers after the 2008 financial crisis or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but this isn’t a singular event. What we are dealing with right now is a continuing disruption to daily life in America, and who knows when that ends?

Good sales reps always put the client first. They think about the needs of the people that are their customers. Keeping their business is an understandable goal, but it is only an attainable one if you start from a place of empathy. What are they going through in their business? Can advertising or new, relevant messaging make a realistic difference?

Right now, sales staffs are trying to save business, but they are also planting the seeds for future business. Any money lost right now will only return if those businesses remember that you prioritized them and treated them as a partner in a time of hardship.

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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