Opening day in baseball is usually such a great day, so great that it should be deemed a national holiday. Schools should be closed, as should so many businesses to allow people to head out to the ballpark or watch or listen to their favorite team’s first game of the season. Well, be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes.
The Coronavirus pandemic has already caused part of that equation to come to life. Schools are closed, businesses are closed, and much of our day-to-day lives have skidded to a halt. The spread of the virus has put the baseball season on hold, meaning no Opening Day, at least not yet.
Fans are searching for things to do to keep busy during quarantine time. They are craving sports. Radio and TV programmers are looking for ways to fill this enormous void in their ‘on air’ schedules. What do you do? How can you possibly provide a sports fan with he/she needs at a time like this? Especially on opening day in Major League Baseball.
Some stations and websites tried to give fans the Opening Day “experience” in different ways. To me, as a hard-core baseball fan, who has attended his fair share of openers as a fan and broadcaster, this a tough sell. It’s hard to replicate the true feeling and emotion one might have without the real thing, but I give these outlets a little credit for their outward thinking.
In Phoenix, Arizona Sports 98.7 featured a full day of what they called “Opening Day Dreaming”. The station promoted it by saying just because opening day is postponed, fans should still enjoy the nostalgia of America’s Pastime. How did they do that? Well, every hour from 6am until 6pm the weekday lineup of hosts also featured former Diamondbacks players and broadcasters to offer up some Opening Day memories. The Opening Day Dreaming finished up with a broadcast of the 2001 World Series Game 7 in which the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees to win the title. Not a bad way to wrap up a day if you’re a D-Backs fan.
680 The Fan in Atlanta took a different approach. The station figured since there would be no Opening Day game, they’d play one anyway. How? The station turned to eSports and streamed the game between the Braves and Diamondbacks played on MLB The Show 20. The game was simulated on the PS4 console, with the station calling it, “Digital Opening Day.” Fans were invited to follow the “action” on 680 The Fan’s website and on YouTube. Station hosts were interacting with fans and adding commentary. It’s an interesting take, certainly a more millennial-friendly approach, but hey you’ve got to try something to entertain your baseball audience, right?
MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM was supposed to air Opening Day games, but now the channel will air five classic games from Opening Days this century. The games were chosen by a listener poll on Twitter. A good way to keep the audience as a part of the decision-making process, but classic games don’t necessarily fill the void of no live baseball.
The fact is, Opening Day is just a small portion of what the stations that normally carry games have to fill. Many are leaning on rebroadcasts of vintage games. An easier proposition in some markets than in others based on the franchises the stations are associated with. Will listeners tune in? Do listeners want to hear games in which they already know the outcome? In other words, is this a satisfying alternative for a listener/viewer?
Here in Chicago, TV and radio stations have aired White Sox games from the 2005 World Series season. Some have vintage 2010 Chicago Blackhawks games being aired while the NHL season is suspended. Another has 2016 Cubs broadcasts and NBC Sports Chicago is airing 1996 Bulls post season games. It’s all popular here, but can the same strategy work in other markets?
Around the country RSN’s (Regional Sports Networks) are doing what they can. In Toronto, TSN and Sportsnet is let fans travel the road to the Toronto Raptors first NBA title in franchise history. In New York, MSG Networks is airing NBA and NHL replays from the 2019-20 season, as well as showing classics dating back to the ‘80s.
With no NCAA Tournament this year, CBS has been showing classic championship games every weekend. The tourney’s radio partner, Westwood One, is re-airing some of the most iconic games in NCAA Tournament history, including championship games, upsets, and buzzer beating moments. Fun to relive? Sure, but if I have no dog in the fight, I’d probably tune in for the end of the game and that’s probably about it.
I’d rather hear or see a vintage game than watch one simulated on a computer gaming platform. Realistically though, neither option replace the real thing a live broadcast with unpredictability. With drama on every pitch. The outcome is in doubt.
I will admit I can sucked in by nostalgia. Even knowing the outcome of some of the games I sit down to watch, I feel the adrenalin pumping, waiting for that moment. A big goal, a three pointer, a home run or a long touchdown pass. It was thrilling then and it can be thrilling now. It has to be, because it’s all we have right now. It’s all the sports media has to give right now. As sports junkies, we are aware that every little bit can feed that hunger we all have for the real thing.
The events of the world and this insidious virus rightfully have taken the forefront while sports wait it’s turn in the background. With every passing day, it is missed as the distraction that we all need right now.
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.