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10 Ways Sports Radio Can Secure Its Future

“Every year someone is predicting the demise of broadcast radio. Every year we point out that said prediction is wrong, but there are plenty of stations, companies, and talents that are stuck. That makes them vulnerable.”

Demetri Ravanos




A belated Happy National Radio Day to you all! I enjoyed your pictures and memories across all of social media. Some of you shared photos in rinky dink studios from their past, others shared photos with former co-hosts, and then there were some of you that shared memories from your time in an entirely different format all together. They were all great, and it was fun to learn a little more about you and this business’s past.

But now that photo sharing and back slapping is in the rearview mirror, we need to focus on the future. Every year someone is predicting the demise of broadcast radio. Every year we point out that said prediction is wrong, but there are plenty of stations, companies, and talents that are stuck. That makes them vulnerable.

In the media business, if you are not evolving, you are dying. A powerful stick, a spot on the FM dial, and strong talent can still take a station far, but consumption patterns were changing long before anyone knew the words “Covid-19” and since they have become something we say daily, most of what we thought we could count on has been turned on its ear.

So with that in mind, and with the desire to see future National Radio Days celebrated with smiles as opposed to blank, melancholy stares into the void, I started making a list. What can stations do and what can leaders in the industry prioritize in order to see radio continuing to succeed in the next decade?

Here are ten suggestions.


Of course you want to maximize the success of your biggest properties and stars. That is how you maximize profits. But in order for this business to remain healthy, you have to lay the ground work for the future.

Invest some of your time in educating and helping the part-timers improve. Make sure your producers know how to book guests and can command the talents’ respect so that they can truly steer a ship. This is how a ratings win can turn into prolonged dominance.


Jeff Caves has opened my eyes to all the things I didn’t know about the sales side of the radio business. One thing that has become clear in reading his work is that too often, young sellers are hired and thrown into the fire, told to figure it out. While there is a certain amount of the sales game that just has to be learned on the job, no one should be left flying blind. A great manager knows that an employee that learns more can earn more, so give your earners every opportunity to learn!


Across this industry, marketing budgets are either shrinking or they are a thing of the past entirely. There are so many options for consuming our content now. Marketing is more important than ever. Does that mean old school billboards? Does it mean creating audiograms and paying for a social push? Does it mean guerrilla campaigns like slapping stickers on light poles around town? Yes. Anything you can think of and can afford is on the table.


Play-by-play is expensive. We are talking about price tags in the tens of millions depending on the team and league. For some markets and stations, that price can be right. There is tremendous value for KFAN in being the home of the Vikings in Minneapolis and for WEEI being home to the Red Sox in Boston.

In a lot of markets though, the asking price is not based on reality. If you’re in Charlotte, does it make sense to spend big money to carry the Panthers, a team that still sells more tickets to fans of the away team than its own fans in some weeks? Does it make sense to shell out a single dime to carry the Florida Panthers if no one is going to the games? Sometimes, the smarter use of that money is investing in the day-to-day on air product.


I have written about this before. We swim in a pool of fanaticism. It isn’t just our P1s and their dedication to our stations. It is all listeners and their devotion to the local teams. Take advantage of that like WFAN does in its store. Sell some t-shirts, koozies, stickers, and other stuff with the kind of images and messages that fans will support but teams don’t sell.


Every station in a college football-crazy market counts down its own preseason top 25. Every station in an NFL market previews every team in the 32 days before the first game kicks off. Why? Maybe gambling has changed the equation a little bit, but these segments always feel like an ego stroke to me. I lived in Birmingham long enough to know that the overwhelming majority of listeners there do not care if Wisconsin is #17 in your preseason poll. If you’re going to talk about it for ten minutes, that is ten minutes they are tuning out, because you aren’t talking about the SEC. Let the networks preview the nation. As a local host, it is the local audience that matters most. That is who you have to serve.


Is your station owned by Audacy? Is it safe to assume your imaging is a lot of jingles? Is your station an ESPN affiliate? I’ll bet every penny I have that it is called “ESPN (insert frequency and/or name of market here)”. Is your station owned by Cumulus? I’ll go ahead and assume that your logo works in elements of either the CBS Sports logo or the one for The Ticket in Dallas.

When a major corporation owns a whole lot of sports stations, it makes sense that there is a standard ownership wants to see each of those stations live up to. When that standard beats all of the local identity out of a brand though, you don’t have a standard, you have a cookie cutter. The push back is that listeners aren’t familiar with brands in other markets, and that is true, but your talent is. Your programmer is. Sucking creativity out of a creative field guarantees a substandard product.


There will always be room for seasoned pros in sports radio. Talking for somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes is not easy. Neither is having a conversation for the entertainment of someone outside of the conversation. If you are only listening to demos and looking at a list of stations on resumes when you have an opening to fill, you are excluding a lot of qualified candidates.

YouTube, podcasts, and apps like Greenroom have made it possible for people to work on their craft and in same cases, build real followings. The next time you have an opening, ask for resumes and demos, but check these platforms too and see if you can find a future sports radio star that is just waiting to be discovered.


There are some very successful stations that have fostered an environment of competition inside its own studio. That is fine. If it works for them, then let it keep working. More often than not though, it is smarter to follow the advice of Minnesota’s PJ Fleck and get everyone rowing the boat in the same direction.

Cross talk, repurposing audio and using hosts from other day parts in guest segments can open up the station’s entire world to listeners that only tune in during the same time window every day. Remember, consumption patterns and habits have changed. Just because someone isn’t near a radio during the mid day doesn’t mean they wouldn’t download a podcast later.


If all of the pictures from National Radio Day make anything clear, it is that we are in a cool business that used see plenty hosts and stations forge their own path. We can point fingers at what corporate ownership has done to the business all day long, but in a lot of cases, it is laziness and complacency that has set in and convinced otherwise talented content creators that there show has to sound a certain way or the station has to do certain things to sound legitimate.

Why? This isn’t a format that was built by analytics or by playing it safe. People thought Jeff Smulyan was nuts when he and his partners flipped the switch on WFAN in the 80s, but look at where the format is now. Every step forward we have made has started with someone saying “well, why can’t I do it this way?”.

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




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.






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