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Is Anyone Concerned About The Athletes?

“Through wildfire smoke, protest backlash, Covid uncertainty, collegiate mind-changing and in-game silence, the players deserve praise — salaries and all — for how they’re handling the heavy challenges of 2020.”

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We should worry about firefighters, Covid-19 frontliners, the homeless, the maskless. We should worry about police encounters on the streets and what could happen next. We should worry about the long-term economy, climate change, the air that has me dry-heaving in California. We should worry about young people, parents, teachers and what kind of life a 20-year-old is looking at in America The Pitiful no matter who is president.

Athletes? We’re not supposed to worry about them, especially those who’ve resumed making one-percenter salaries. Clippers fans might argue that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are worthy of voodoo pins after their Game 7 washout, but, please, this is much bigger than outcomes and so-called curses. I cover sports, have for a long time. And I’m stunned by what the players are dealing with as leagues across the landscape, hellbent to complete seasons, begin to recoup the ample revenues once thought lost.

Imagine being a Black athlete and thinking 2020 finally has brought measures of truth and justice to social inequality — only to hear the White face of Old Man Football, Mike Ditka, ordering you to leave the country if you protest racism and police brutality during the national anthem. “You don’t like the game, get out of it. It’s not for protesting one way or the other. What color you are, what you think, this or that. You play football. That’s it. You’re privileged,’’ said Ditka, who turns 81 next month and has lost touch. “I would tell those players: Go to another country and play football there. You don’t have to come out if you go to another country. You can’t! Because the game’s only played in this country. And if you can’t respect this country, get the hell out of it.”

Sigh.

Imagine being on a baseball team forced to play a doubleheader in the city with the world’s worst air, Seattle, where it’s surprising none of the Mariners or A’s didn’t suffocate in the smoky haze hanging over the field. Check back to see how many suffered lung damage. “I’m a healthy 22-year-old. I shouldn’t be gasping for air or missing oxygen when I’m getting to the line. I’ll leave it at that,’’ said A’s pitcher Jesus Luzardo, among many asking why the games proceeded, under the retractable sort-of-roof of an outdoor/indoor ballpark, when air quality was measured at a “very unhealthy’’ 233. Why is Major League Baseball unfazed by the historic wildfires that left a freakish orange glaze over both Bay Area ballparks and impacted all teams based on the West Coast? Oh, because commissioner Rob Manfred is a madman who will risk the health of others — but not his — to bum-rush a regular season that leads to a nearly $1-billion TV payout in October. Never mind that the postseason would include a Bubble in southern California and possibly four of the state’s five teams.

Cough, hack, wheeze.

Imagine being a professional athlete tested regularly for the coronavirus yet wondering if the leagues have been transparent and forthright about the results. The NFL is swabbing daily and insists the players are Covid-free, but with teams operating outside a single isolated Bubble and traveling to road games, isn’t an MLB-like outbreak inevitable? How serious is the NFL when Rams coach Sean McVay is allowed to work the sideline most of a game with a mask worn under his chin? Why did the league wait until the next day to admonish him? And when Manfred mentions having fans at postseason games and a World Series in Texas, isn’t he, uh, defeating the purpose of finally placing players in a Bubble setting starting next week, when playoff contenders are quarantined in hotels for seven days? In the sport in which players have most often flouted protocols, you’re inviting fans who might not obey protocols themselves, some after traveling long distances from other places? And mixing them all together?

WTF?

Imagine being a college football player, unpaid and impressionable, having to trust power freaks who run the biggest programs and university presidents thirsting to reap the financial bonanzas. Ed Orgeron, coach of defending national champion LSU, isn’t considering the long-range health dangers that accompany Covid. Sounding uninformed and almost diabolical, he actually hopes his team achieves herd immunity — though he clearly doesn’t understand what that may or may not mean. “Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it. I think that hopefully they won’t catch it again, and hopefully they’re not out for games,’’ he said. “Hopefully that once you catch it, you don’t get it again. I’m not a doctor.’’ Then why is he trying to play one? Know how many college football coaches are playing hocus-pocus with players’ lives? And their loved ones? And the students they associate with — and party with — on Covid-ravaged campuses? The Big Ten had been one of the two wise conferences not playing, yet there were those presidents, voting to return in October, kids be damned.

Help.

And imagine being a player in the NBA or NHL, sequestered in restrictive environments since July. Covid has been kept out of the Bubbles and Igloos, infection-free so far as family members visit the (Adam) Silverdome, but it will take a grounded soul to survive isolation and lead a team to a title. Is it any wonder LeBron James is best equipped mentally to hoist a trophy with the Lakers next month? “Meditating helps a lot for me personally with taking a lot of deep breaths, closing my eyes and just centering myself and listening to my inner self,’’ he said. “That definitely is something that keeps me sane in the Bubble.” As opposed to George, who lost himself inside the Bubble, as have others not as willing to discuss it.

Aummmmm.

Through it all, the athletes are expected to perform at optimum levels and entertain us as we sit in the relative safety of our homes. And they’re doing so in front of only smatterings of spectators, if any, in stadiums and Bubbles. We shouldn’t feel sorry for them because they work in silence; consider the daunting plights of the aforementioned. But it’s another stark departure from normalcy that requires them to find inspiration from within in spooky surroundings. Sports Business Journal provided a rundown of comments after Week 1.

“There’s just no excitement. There’s just no energy from an outside source,’’ Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said.

“ “You definitely could hear the defense and hear what they’re calling,’’ Ravens receiver Marquise Brown said.

“It felt like a scrimmage out there,’’ said Tom Brady, who wished the game hadn’t mattered.

“Even that little buzz in the stadium that they create in between plays, it just feels like a whisper compared to what it normally is,’’ said Drew Brees, who had enough Superdome familiarity to beat Brady and Tompa Bay.

The eerie stillness was best captured by Bill Belichick, who said of the fan-less atmosphere in New England: “Practice. It’s like scrimmaging the Titans, or scrimmaging Detroit, or scrimmaging the teams we scrimmage. I mean there were a few fans there, but basically there are no fans there and it’s just competition. There’s some energy from your teammates and your own energy. It is what is. That’s what it’s like out there in practice.’’

The game-day experience is formidable, starting with the pre-game decisions about protests. Who’s kneeling? Who’s standing? Who’s staying back in the locker room? What is Colin Kaepernick going to tweet next? What other advocate of President Trump will lash out like DItka? What are they saying on TV? Kaepernick’s latest tweet condemning commissioner Roger Goodell — “… the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black life …’’ — was followed by a tweet from his former kneeling partner, Eric Reid, who wrote this about the league’s treatment of Kaepernick: “What the @NFL is doing is half-hearted at best. @nflcommish has gotten comfortable saying he “was wrong” as if his mere acknowledgement reconciles his admitted wrongdoing. He hasn’t even called Colin to apologize, let alone reconcile, proving this is only PR for the current business climate. As such, Roger Goodell uses video of Colin courageously kneeling to legitimize their disingenuous PR while simultaneously perpetuating systemic oppression, that the video he’s using fights against, by continuing to rob Colin of his career. It’s diabolical.’’

Thus, the protests remain front and center on the NFL stage, as the first presidential debate nears. On the day Ditka’s tirade went viral, another fixture of Old Man Chicago culture, Dan McNeil, was fired for a noxious tweet. He compared the outfit of ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who is Black, to that of a host for an adult film awards show. Proud day for Chicago, Chicago, that doddering town. How would you like to be a Black athlete in that racially polarized, kid-murdering city?

At least the games are being watched by home viewers. But other than the Brees-Brady game, ratings are down in the NFL, where prime-time metrics from the initial Sunday and Thursday nights — featuring Patrick Mahomes, the Cowboys and the vast Los Angeles market — is causing anxiety at NBC. At ESPN, the “Monday Night Football’’ doubleheader was a ratings disaster. This follows lower numbers for NBA games and staples such as U.S. Open tennis and the Kentucky Derby. Is Trump right when he says most Americans are weary of pre-game protests? Are the games just too ragged and sloppy? It’s too early to make sweeping judgments, but two weeks into Sportsapalooza — the 10-week cornucopia of championship events and meaningful games unlike any stretch in American history — our national depression clearly has seeped into sports.

Something is lost when the Heat win a thriller — Jimmy Butler hits a shot, followed by Bam Adebayo’s soaring rejection of Jayson Tatum’s flying dunk attempt — and there is no visceral reaction from spectators. It was Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, but it felt like a Summer League thing, players walking off the floor to a minimum of sound. To quote two troubadours from the past, silence like a cancer grows.

You don’t have to feel sorry for athletes. But I do.

BSM Writers

Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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BSM Writers

Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks

“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”

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CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.

“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”

You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.

John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.

One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.

“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.

He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.

With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.

BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.

Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.

CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.

In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.

Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.

Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.

The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.

Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?

I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.

CBS aims to grow Sports HQ within its network of streaming channels -  Digiday
Courtesy: CBS

CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.

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BSM Writers

Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?

“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”

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A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!

Disney+ Day: Kareem Daniel Says “Momentum Building” At Streamer After 2  Years – Deadline

Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.

The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.

I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?

This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?

Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.

One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.

You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.

Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.

Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.

Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.

Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.

As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.

The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.

Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?

The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.

The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?

Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.

Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.

Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.

Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.

Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.

What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.

Valentine Day Digital Ads on Behance

Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.

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