It sure helps to have a “gamer” on your sports radio team.
Alex Rajaniemi is the digital coordinator and Colorado Avalanche postgame show host on Altitude Sports 92.5 in Denver. Not bashful about it at all, he admitted to Barrett Sports Media recently that he “enjoys playing video games,” and he’ll jump on the live streaming platform Twitch and watch people play video games (yes, that’s a thing nowadays…).
“I’ll watch them, try and get a little bit better so I’m not getting killed out of every lobby by every 13-year-old in America,” Rajaniemi said.
But he soon realized that in the Electronic Arts video games’ live streams, there was so much back-and-forth commentary from people on sports topics, namely fantasy sports.
Boom! The idea then hit Rajaniemi right in the face. After a quick confirmation from a few pals that it would work, he raced to his managers at Altitude Sports and told them that the station should invest into getting its shows live-streamed on Twitch.
“I just thought that there was an untapped market (on Twitch) for sports talk, especially with how many people watch and listen to those programs religiously,” Rajaniemi told BSM.
By April 20, 2020, Altitude Sports 92.5 FM was on Twitch.
Twitch is quickly becoming a “must-have” for sports radio stations across the U.S. Unlike YouTube, it’s a platform that is dominated by the Gen Z crowd, as half of its users are between ages 18-34. Twenty-one percent of its users are between ages 13-17, according to Twitchadvertising.tv statistics. Twitch rose to prominence thanks to famous “gamers” who, basically, play video games for all to watch and comment. Some of the most popular games are Fortnite, League of Legends, and Minecraft. Twitch is owned by mega-company Amazon, and so far, no one can come close to the space of which Twitter dominates.
When Rajaniemi told Altitude Sports 92.5 program director Dave Tepper about his grand idea, turns out that Tepper had already heard about some sports stations that were experimenting with Twitch. But he needed the younger Rajaniemi, who was Tepper’s first hire after becoming PD of the station in 2018, to make 92.5’s Twitch unlike any other.
“He took that challenge,” Tepper said of Rajaniemi. “He’s really taken the interactive part of it to a new level. He’s made it his own, a production for sports radio on Twitch that’s not your common Twitch sports radio broadcast.”
There are multiple cameras that sit right next to each host, so that everyone can feel as though the host is talking directly to them — not that camera that’s “stuck up there in the corner of a room.” He and the hosts also interact directly with those who are commenting during the shows on Twitch. “It makes listeners feel valued, that they have a place in the show. A sense of community and a sense of loyalty,” Rajaniemi told BSM.
Tepper is excited about the success that his station is having with Twitch. “As you grow a brand, you want to try to have milestone goals for guys to show some wins,” and in Denver, they’re winning the Twitch game. “Our younger audience is growing, and the younger demos are good places where you start to build a good foundation for the future.”
Altitude Sports 92.5, owned by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, the same entity that owns the Nuggets and Avalanche in town (among other teams and ventures across the country and the U.K.), is a relative newcomer to the competitive sports radio landscape in the Mile High City. 104.3 The Fan is the longtime leader in the Nielsen ratings in town, and Tepper said during “these patient journeys of growing success in Nielsen,” it doesn’t hurt to have a vehicle like Twitch which could turn passive listeners into P1s.
The intimacy of Twitch isn’t lost on Cumulus’ 104.5 The Zone, the sports radio ratings juggernaut in Nashville. Its program director, Paul Mason, told BSM: “Our industry and technology is always evolving. It is important that we give our listeners different options to consume 104-5 The Zone that fits their lifestyle, preference, and schedule. Video has been one of our strongest forms of listener engagement over the years and creating 104-5 The Zone TV allows WGFX talent to reach their listeners on multiple video platforms each day. It also opens up many other opportunities for our clients, sales team, and promotions team.”
If you’re looking for some good ole’ Kansas City Chiefs talk, Josh Brisco provides it not only on 810 WHB in KC, but he live-streams his show, called “(Almost) Entirely Sports,” on Twitch, too.
“We still live-stream video to Facebook and YouTube as well, but Twitch is by far the most involved and loyal part of our audience, which translates to them asking some of the best questions and really ‘getting the show’ the highest percentage of the time,” Brisco told BSM. “I’ve never really liked taking phone calls, so our audience is pretty well-accustomed to the fact that if they want to ask a question or leave a comment, going to our chat is the best way to do it. I imagine that less-online listeners understand that it serves a similar purpose to a basic text line. You certainly don’t have to watch the show on Twitch to engage with us or to understand what’s going on, but it’s probably the most fun way to follow along and interact.”
Brisco, whose show airs on 810 WHB most weeknights at 7 local time, said it wasn’t hard for Union Broadcasting management to jump on board with Twitch.
And as for the higher-ups at Audacy, they’ve already taken the Olympic dive into the Twitch pool. Last July, the company (known as Entercom then) entered a distribution partnership agreement with Twitch. Originally, six sports stations were involved (WEEI-Boston, WFAN-New York, 105.3 The Fan-Dallas, 670 The Score-Chicago, 92.9 The Game-Atlanta, and 97.1 The Ticket-Detroit.) BSM, at press time, couldn’t verify if the partnership deal to broadcast content from the company’s sports stations in 29 different cities is active. But that’s the plan.
As for Tepper, Twitch is not only winning on the programming side, but it’s making money for the station that loves to break down every nook and cranny about the city’s beloved Broncos. “We do get a small revenue stream off it,” he said. “In the end, the most important thing is revenue. This has generated us a revenue that we would not have if we were not on this platform.”
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.