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How Much Can Sports Radio Lean On Football Right Now?

“It’s kind of funny, we’ve actually figured out some things because of this pandemic to do that we might do in the future if there is no pandemic.”

Tyler McComas

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I get the question, you get the question, we’ve all been getting the same question from people outside the radio business: “What are you talking about since there’s no sports going on?”

Has any show host in America been asked that less than 100 times in the past two months? Probably not. Heck, North Carolina basketball head coach Roy Williams even said “you guys are bored stiff, because there’s no games to talk about,” while on an interview Monday with 610 Sports’ Carrington Harrison and Sean Levine in Kansas City. 

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I’ve found my answer to be somewhat interesting when I reply back to that constant question. 

Doing a show in Norman, OK means a whole lot of college football talk. We talk predominately about the sport, no matter the month, so the past two months of my show has been business as usual. That’s the exact response I give when someone is shocked a sports radio show can exist without live sports.

So that had me pondering a question: With the ability to preview a season, constant recruiting news, schedule news, NFL Free Agency, the NFL Draft and more, have the past two months been significantly easier to manage for hosts in football heavy markets?

Darren McKee of 104.3 The Fan in Denver thinks it’s absolutely true. In an NFL hungry market like Denver, Broncos talk is almost always the most relevant topic of the day. So, in a big way, McKee has been structuring his show the same way he always has during this part of the year. 

 “At the end of the day, yes, I think it’s easier to do this in an NFL market,” McKee said. “In 2010 there was a lockout in the NFL and we didn’t have spring football. This is very similar to that. What you have to get your head around is how you do it. The last thing we want to do is sit there and whine and complain about something that we can’t control. So for us, you know what, it actually hasn’t been that difficult. Everything is difficult, right? The whole world is difficult. But because we we’re focused on doing things a certain way, we’re alright, in terms of topic choice. I can’t tell you the last time we struggled.”

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The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a win in the Super Bowl, which means KC is hot right now for content centered on its championship team. Hosts in the city, such as Harrison of 610 Sports, are certainly giving the Chiefs the attention it deserves, but does that necessarily mean it’s been ‘business as usual’ for Harrison’s afternoon drive show? 

“I would say up until the NFL Draft it was that way,” Harrison said. “I didn’t really think the show was that much different. Now it’s different because we also have the Royals and KU was going to be the No. 1 overall seed and would’ve been a big story. Once those things got taken away and we had five weeks until the draft it wasn’t as difficult.

“Now, we probably did more draft stuff because the Chiefs had the No. 32 overall pick. In a normal year we probably would’ve done Royals or some college basketball and some other things. It wasn’t that hard to come up with football content and we did more national stuff than we normally would during free agency. The NFL is a big deal and if that’s the only sports news, the audience isn’t going to say, hey, talk about the Chiefs when the Cowboys just made a big signing.”

The LSU Tigers are coming off a football championship of their own and Matt Moscona of ESPN Baton Rouge has been at the center of it. Like Denver and Kansas City, football talk, be it the Tigers or the Saints, is always going to resonate well with the audience. But again, does that mean it’s been business as usual for sports radio in Baton Rouge? 

“The off-season has gone kind of like the normal off-season,” Moscona said. “LSU has gained a few transfers, so we’ve been able to talk about how that impacts the roster. Recruiting has actually been easier for coaches than ever, because kids are at home all day. Those storylines have been there every day. Content has not been hard to come by. I haven’t found, anyway.”

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As you can see, the responses to the original question differ from host to host. Some agree it’s business as usual with heavy football talk and much more manageable than a basketball heavy market, and others think that might not be the best representation of how their show has carried on. Though the responses differ, there is one thing all three hosts have in common: None of them are struggling for content. 

All of McKee’s creative ideas for content are centered on the Broncos. For instance, Denver hired Pat Shurmur in the offseason as an offensive coordinator, so McKee and his co-host, Tyler Polumbus, have watched every single game from the 2019 New York Giants season to better familiarize both themselves and the audience with the new coach. The duo is now going through the 2017 Minnesota Vikings season, where Shurmur’s offense looked much better, and relating what transpired that year to what could happen with the Broncos. 

“It’s kind of funny, we’ve actually figured out some things because of this pandemic to do that we might do in the future if there is no pandemic,” said McKee. “That’s kind of been our trick, we figured out more benchmark topics that we can land on every single day. That’s not by accident.”

Good content can even come from big-name guests. 

“Quite honestly, because most people are just sitting at home, it’s never been easier to get guests,” said Moscona. “If you want to get coaches or players, current or former, that’s never been easier, either.”

McKee’s creative ideas don’t stop with deep dives into new coordinators on the staff. For instance, for the next 16 weeks, McKee and Polumbus will spend a week previewing each team on the Broncos schedule

“So last week we had Titans week,” McKee said. “We looked at the Titans, such as what they did in the off-season, who the free agents are and who we can get on as a guest from Nashville. This week is Pittsburgh week so we’re looking at the storylines that we can figure out as if what we would do during the fall.

“We’re not doing four hour shows about it, but we’re doing two or three segments about it. We’re using it as a creative jumping off point, to say, what about this guest or this topic? We’ve used some Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner sound, so for us, we have a heightened awareness of who our team is and what we’re talking about. As far as we can tell it’s worked out OK. “

So, does heavy football talk help get you through a long period with no sports? Absolutely. But is it the best strategy? Well, that all depends on your market, and most importantly, the identity of your show. 

Stats and Superlatives: Sack attack continues

“I mean I’m doing my show the same that I always have,” said Moscona. “Our conversations, instead of maybe breaking down games, have been discussing how the COVID-19 shut down is affecting sports. There have been no shortage of storylines there and I think even in some instances, there’s even more interest, because there’s a giant curiosity level of people wondering if there’s going to be a season and if there is, how does it look, it’s all the different topics that come from that.”

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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