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We Have To Be Smart About Not Sticking To Sports

“Information often changes on high-stakes stories like these, so it pays to stick to the facts. It’s okay to widen the story into a larger topic, but avoid speaking broadly about groups of people or their beliefs.”

Rob Guerrera

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Back when I was learning how to produce a radio show in the early 2000s, I was taught that there were three topics you should steer clear of on the air: race, religion, and politics.

Those topics were so divisie that they would send listeners away in droves, or worse, complaining to advertisers. At the time, it wasn’t difficult to avoid those particular pitfalls because the same policy applied to players in clubhouses and locker rooms as well. Fast forward twenty years, and athletes are marching in the streets and the President of the United States is firing off tweets about a biracial NASCAR driver initially thought to be the victim of a hate crime.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1280117571874951170

Clearly, the old rules no longer apply, and shows across the country need to decide how they want to navigate the waters of this brave new world.

The stories that present the most opportunities for missteps are the ones that transcend the world of sports and penetrate the national news shows. Athletes marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage, for example, all recently dominated the headlines across the country. The audience for these stories is massive, as are the stakes when addressing each one. With the President of the United States constantly sharing his opinion on sports headlines and an election in the fall, these types of stories will happen more and more frequently.

The first and most important job for any show that addresses a tweet that is meant to stir the pot where the worlds of sports and politics collide is to explicitly point out any factual inaccuracies and correct them immediately. As more and more people outside of sports begin to tweet about athletes that may have taken a stance they disagree with, there will be more instances of facts getting misconstrued or distorted. Your platform necessitates informing the audience accurately about what is happening.

In the case of Donald Trump’s NASCAR tweet, Bubba wasn’t the person who brought the noose to the attention of the authorities, so he has nothing for which to apologize. The hoax accusation isn’t true because neither the noose nor the incident overall were staged, and NASCAR ratings on Fox and NBC are up since the ban on the Confederate flag.

NASCAR Releases Image of Noose Found in Bubba Wallace's Garage ...

Once you’re prepared to establish reality, you can concentrate on what you want to say about the situation. A producer or a programmer should remind the talent to speak only about what we know for sure. Speculation is deadly – especially when a story is new.

Information often changes on high-stakes stories like these, so it pays to stick to the facts. It’s okay to widen the story into a larger topic, but avoid speaking broadly about groups of people or their beliefs.

Also, it’s important for hosts to anticipate how their comments will be received by the public. My criteria always comes down to a cost-benefit analysis.  What do we stand to gain by saying what we’re about to say versus what do we stand to lose? If you’re Mike Greenberg or Colin Cowherd, your words will be dissected and examined far more than John Rutabaga on WGAF in the middle of nowhere.

When in doubt, you may want to tweak your message a little bit just to avoid becoming part of the story yourself. If you are Mr. Rutabaga, however, you may be a little more willing to walk the razor’s edge. Just remember that no matter where you are or how big your show is, you still represent the station you’re on and the company for which you work. Make sure what you say holds true to their values as well, or you may be quickly looking for a new job.

Program directors are going to need to develop a thick(er) skin when it comes to complaints about a show. They can’t be frightened by a bunch of, “I’ll never listen to this show again” comments on social media. Fifteen years in this business has taught me that some of the most frequent feedback on a show comes from people who claim to like the program the least. It is also important to keep in mind that the vast majority of people who listen to a show never write emails or post about it to social media. People will vote with their feet, so to speak. Let the ratings dictate your actions rather than a negative comment sent in the heat of the moment. 

After everything that’s happened in 2020, “stick to sports” is officially dead. Show units are going to need a plan to address the intermingling of sports and society more than ever before.

RIP Stick to Sports - The Draw Play

The resumption of play amidst the COVID-19 pandemic will provide a sort of soft opening for this new era because the cross-pollination between sports and life will be inescapable. Medical testing and quarantine procedures will be a huge topic for every sport that resumes play for at least the rest of the year. Protests against police brutality and systemic racism will continue, and athletes will continue to share their beliefs on social justice during interactions with the media – especially in a presidential election year. As athletes continue to decompartmentalize themselves, our coverage of sports should also expand to include the larger world in which athletic competition exists.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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