It isn’t every day that you bump into a 27-year-old program director in a top-30 market. Ryan Porth is a name to know in the sports talk radio business. He’s the PD of ESPN Radio 102.5 The Game and 94.9 Game 2 in Nashville, TN.
Ryan’s career path is uncommon. He earned a big promotion in the span of 10 days, one which typically takes years to achieve. I had a chance to connect with him and discuss his unique career path, future goals and his thoughts on the best and worst parts of sports talk radio.
Q: What was it about the sports talk radio business that initially interested you in pursuing it?
RP: When I was born and raised in Cincinnati, the voice of the Cincinnati Reds, Marty Brennaman, was an idol of mine. I used to play imaginary baseball in the backyard and act like I was Marty Brennaman. So as a little kid, I always wanted to be the radio voice of the Cincinnati Reds and that desire to work in sports broadcasting stayed with me through middle school and high school. I always knew it was what I wanted to do.
A few years after high school, I got a part-time job here at ESPN 102.5 The Game. That was July of 2012. Five years later I’m the damn Program Director of this thing. It’s crazy to think about. To have a job like this at my age, I pinch myself every day. To be working in the industry that I’ve dreamed of working in my entire life is a real blessing.
Q: Having started at The Game and worked your way up, does that impact the way you look at talent? For example, do you prefer seeing homegrown talent get a promotion rather than taking a look at options outside of your market?
RP: Being here for so long, I’ve seen many people move up the ranks — and it’s mostly been with producers — but I do believe in the theory of promoting from within if you can. You know their strengths. You know their weaknesses. You know everything about them. You can put them in the best position possible to maximize their strengths. That’s one risk with someone out of the market – you don’t know them as well on a personal level.
I’m very fortunate that since I was hired as Program Director, in the last 10+ months I haven’t had to make a change on the air with our lineup. All the guys that I inherited for the live shows from the morning show to the midday show to the afternoon show offer something a little different, and it’s been a pleasure working with them.
I think promoting from within is a trendy way to go. That isn’t to suggest that I won’t consider someone out of the market, but with your on-air talent, you want them to have the backstory knowledge of the Titans, and the Preds, and the Vols and everything that’s a hot-button issue in this town. In Nashville, it’s important to know the history of sports in this town. That goes with any town and radio station. I’m lucky to have a really good staff on board.
Q: It was crazy with the Preds last year. I went to a couple of those watch parties. Broadway street was completely shut down. It was a really, really cool thing. Could you see an MLB or NBA team in Nashville? How big of an impact do you think it’d make in the city and on the sports talk radio scene?
RP: If Major League Baseball or the NBA were to come here, it would only benefit our business in terms of having even more things to talk about. For where the city of Nashville is right now, I think having two pro sports teams with the Titans and the Preds, plus Nashville SC and the Nashville Sounds, is kind of a perfect mix. But with 80 to 100 people moving to Nashville every day, I can see in a decade or two it expanding to meeting a Philadelphia or Detroit in terms of having all the pro sports teams in town and being a hotbed for sports even more than it is now.
Q: Knowing the dynamics of this city, which do you think would make a bigger impact here, the NBA or MLB?
RP: I think Major League Baseball would make a bigger impact because of the timing in which the sport is played. The NBA would be going up against the Preds and I don’t know how successful a team would be here especially with Memphis right down the road. The Grizzlies are kind of viewed as Tennessee’s NBA team.
However, with Major League Baseball — while you do have the Braves, and the Reds, and the Cardinals within a stone’s throw of Nashville — I can envision an American League team working here in the future when the city grows more. I think Nashville in 10 to 20 years will be in a much better position for MLB than it is now.
Q: I hear a lot of negativity about sports talk radio. With all of the bellyaching of ‘this sucks’ and ‘they talk too much this’ and ‘they do too much that,’ what do you think is really, really good about sports talk radio right now?
RP: Whether it’s a negative topic or a positive one, connecting with fans is the most important thing in sports talk radio in my mind. Whether Butch Jones is on the hot seat or the Nashville Predators are going to the Stanley Cup Final, you want to have that connection with the fans.
You’re not going to make everyone happy in this industry, and a listener doesn’t have to agree with everything that a host has to say. But if a host can connect with the listener and make them understand where they’re coming from with their opinions, it makes for great radio. We’re also fortunate at ESPN 102.5 The Game to have two popular former Titans figures – wideout Derrick Mason and GM Floyd Reese – who can take fans behind the curtain on their experiences in the NFL and provide unique insight the listener can’t get elsewhere.
In the social media world that we live in now, it’s a different world than it was 10-15 years ago. You can get a lot of people’s opinions right there on Twitter and Facebook, but the medium of radio is still powerful. The mic that our hosts turn on every day is still powerful and the way that sports talk radio hosts can connect with listeners as they drive to work or lunch, with hosts wearing their emotions on their sleeves as if they’re a fan themselves, is one of many positive things about sports radio right now.
Q: What do you think could be better about sports talk radio?
RP: The one thing that I think people can fall victim to is hot-take radio. I think it only works for so long. Not only in sports talk radio but with TV, it can be a little overbearing at times. That’s something that a lot of listeners or viewers would appreciate seeing or hearing less of. We’ve got an afternoon host, Jared Stillman, that has a lot of opinions about everything in Nashville, but I wouldn’t consider him among the hot-take sports talk radio hosts. He’s just a Nashvillian that wears his emotions on his sleeve. I think those are the type of things that make sports talk radio great. Having a hot take just to have a hot take on something in the sports world, and doing that too much over time, can wear on the consumer.
Q: When you target new talent or hear a host for the first time, what characteristics appeal to you most?
RP: I’m a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. I remember turning on ESPN 1530 after Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series. Mo Egger, who’s one of my favorites in this country in terms of talking sports, said something along the lines of, “I’m paid to know what to say, but I don’t know what to say right now.” It was real emotion, expressing exactly what the entire Reds fanbase was feeling at that time. If a sports talk radio host can connect with listeners and fans in that way, that is one of the best qualities in a host.
You have to be compelling and discuss topics that will make the listeners think, whether they agree or disagree. I think likability is another really good quality for radio hosts. Especially in the south where Southern hospitality is a real thing. Nashville is a different market from anywhere up north where it’s a heritage sports town. Everything is a little bit more laid back in Nashville and having some likability is an important trait in radio hosts. You don’t necessarily need them to like you, but you need them to like listening to you, and enjoy listening to you, because you obviously want to keep them listening. You don’t want to scare listeners away, because they may not come back.
Q: Likability and relatability are important everywhere, but might be even more important in Nashville. Do you think that what separates a good host from an excellent host can range based on the region they’re working in?
RP: I think so. A good host can handle the x’s and o’s of sports talk radio well. They can tease well. They can set up topics well. They can interact with callers well, but an excellent host has to have those intangibles of connecting and forming a relationship with the listeners without actually knowing them on a personal level. Making a listener feel like they’re in the studio with them, or sitting at the bar with them listening to your hosts share what they’re passionate about – those things help put you over the top as an on-air personality in my opinion.
Q: Some topics these days can be divisive. That can damage a host’s likability and relatability. Whether it’s the anthem protests or the sign at the Red Sox game, “racism is as American as baseball,” do you have a certain tactic or approach with your on-air staff about do’s and don’ts when addressing those subjects?
RP: I’m pretty lucky to have a lineup of hosts that know the right and wrong of what to say in those situations. When it comes to political stuff like that, no radio station wants their hosts to say something that will hurt the credibility or likability of a host or the radio station as a whole. But at the same time, giving hosts that freedom of speech when it’s necessary, when it’s valid, I think is important as a Program Director.
A lot of people use sports to escape from some of the crazy happenings going on in our country. There’s a good chance they have no desire to hear about politics when flipping on a sports radio station. So that’s what we try to offer our listener in times like those – talking about the Preds or Titans, or sports in general, to provide that escape.
Q: How do you balance big national stories with your local content? Is there a specific message you relay to your staff?
RP: In the last year, we’ve had the the Chicago Cubs win a World Series. That was a huge national story that our hosts talked about. Maybe not at length, but they talked about them winning it all. While there are Cubs fans in Nashville, they’re not considered a local team at all. But that was a huge story in sports and when those things happen, I think it’s important to talk about them.
At the same time, if there are other storylines going on nationally that we can relate to locally — for instance, if Jon Gruden says that Jameis Winston should be an NFL MVP candidate. Having our hosts take that and frame it in a way where they’re saying, “Jameis Winston, if he’s an NFL MVP candidate, then why isn’t Marcus Mariota?” Just doing things like that — finding that local connection where it can still be a good listen for the people who are tuning in just for local news or local sports talk.
There are so many outlets now where you can get national talk. We’ve got 102.5 The Game, but we’ve also got 94.9 Game 2, and 94.9 Game 2 is mostly the ESPN Radio syndicated lineup. So, we’ve got Mike & Mike in the Morning, and Russillo, and Le Batard, and Paul Finebaum in the afternoon. All of them talk about national storylines. Finding a way to connect the two — local and national — to bridge that gap, is an important thing for our local hosts to do.
Q: In Nashville, you’re up against 104.5 The Zone. Some view it as a huge challenge or a mountain that you’ve got to climb. What are the opportunities that it presents from where you guys are and how you’re going head-to-head with an opponent in the same town?
RP: I think the opportunity for us is the fact that we have a little bit of a different strategy in terms of on air. 104.5 The Zone, while they do talk their fair share of sports, they also like to dip into pop culture, entertainment, and things of that nature. For the listener that wants deep sports talk, they know they can come to 102.5 and we’re going to be talking about the local teams. We’re going to be talking about the Preds. We’re going to be talking about the Titans. We’re going to be talking about the Vols and anything else that is hot in this town. That’s our identity.
We don’t pump ourselves as Nashville’s Best Sports Talk just because it’s a catchy line. It’s something that we all believe in. We truly believe we deliver the best sports talk in this town. When it’s Preds, we have the best Preds talk. When it’s the Titans, we have the best Titans talk. When it’s the Vols, we have the best Vols talk. That’s something that we pride ourselves on. Their model has been successful for them and I respect them for that. At the same time, there are many listeners out there that just want sports talk and that’s what we try to deliver to them on a daily basis.
Q: Having transitioned from APD to PD, when you look back, what’s the biggest area of your personal growth that you’re most proud of?
RP: Well, it was a very quick transition. August 15th last year was my first day as Assistant Program Director. Then on August 26th, I became the interim Program Director. So, I had a grand total of 10 days under my belt as an Assistant Program Director. We were going through a lineup change at that time and I was the EP of our afternoon show, Jared & The GM. During those 10 days I didn’t have any time to learn how to be an Assistant Program Director.
I was put in a position where I went from Executive Producer of the afternoon show, and within two weeks I was steering the ship. It was a scary few weeks stepping into a role where I was learning everything on the fly. Fortunately, I had a great support staff and still do to this day. As a 27-year-old Program Director, I still learn things every single day. Hopefully, a year from now, I’m in an even better position in terms of knowing little nuances of how to be a PD. I feel like I’m light years ahead of where I was at this time last year when I was just worried about keeping us on the air.
I’d say the biggest thing in transition that I’ve had to learn is how to interact with each of our talent. Every single cat is skinned a different way. Learning how to handle the on-air talent, push their buttons and try to get the best out of them is something that I’ve had to learn very quickly. Luckily, as someone who was in the building for 4+ years before the change, I think I benefited because I knew most of our on-air talent already. I wasn’t a brand new PD at a brand new station. I’d say talent coaching and interaction are the biggest things for a Program Director to tackle and I’ve tried to make that a big focus of mine over the past year.
Q: What are your future goals in sports talk radio?
RP: The dream of being the radio voice of the Cincinnati Reds will always be there. If I’m 60 years old and haven’t been the radio voice of the Reds, I think I would still love to do that. Obviously the path that I’ve gone down in radio may not lead to that and I’m okay with it.
To be honest, I have no idea where this whole thing is gonna take me. I’ve been appreciative just to have 5+ years in this business in this building — to develop relationships and friendships that I’ll have forever. If something comes up nationally in the future, then I’m sure I’d consider it. If something suited my strengths well outside of radio, maybe I’d consider that too. But I love Nashville. I may be biased, but it’s the best city in the country to live in. It’s home and I don’t really want to change that.
I just take it day by day and see where each one takes me. Hopefully I can continue to add to what I’ve built during my last five years in this business.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.
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