The Philadelphia Eagles almost pulled off another stunner on Sunday. They trailed the New Orleans Saints 20-14 with 2:01 remaining. Quarterback Nick Foles threw a nice pass to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. It hit him in a bad place — the hands. The ball went right through Jeffery’s fingers and into the arms of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. New Orleans ran out the clock to earn a spot in the NFC Championship Game while the Eagles Super Bowl hopes died.
When Jeffery reached the sideline, he was greeted with a hug from his head coach Doug Pederson. Foles also consoled him. There wasn’t any finger-pointing. Jeffery wasn’t called out, criticized, or exposed by his teammates. It was the opposite. The team helped cover up his gigantic miscue with positive words and actions.
It got me thinking about sports radio and how this dynamic is lacking far too often. Instead of covering for a co-host and making that person look good, there is a tendency for the other host to shine a spotlight on mistakes and flaws. The thought becomes, “Let me expose you to make myself look better.” That isn’t how it works though. It actually makes the show as a whole look worse.
Sports radio hosts are very competitive by nature. We want to excel and shine the brightest, but wanting the limelight can often cloud your judgment. There is a popular quote — “Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine any brighter.” Man, that is so true. Sports radio hosts should recite this wise saying over and over again like a scene from the movie Fight Club. “His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson.”
Foles shared an interesting thought after the Eagles beat the Bears two Sundays ago. “Everyone wants to know the secret of a great team and everyone wants to make it about rah rah and x’s and o’s and all that stuff,” Foles said. “From my experience, it’s the team that has the best relationships. The team that trusts each other the most are the teams that are usually successful. There are some anomalies out there, but the team’s I’ve been a part of, you go into that locker room — it’s a cohesive group that genuinely cares about one another. My philosophy always is in the 4th quarter when the game’s on the line, when you trust the men next to you, you’re going to get it done more times than not.”
Why should sports radio be any different? The foundation of strong teams in sports — trust, respect, selflessness — is the same dynamic that exists within strong sports radio shows. We see how selfish teams crack. Think about all of the problems the dysfunctional Pittsburgh Steelers had this season. Many teammates publicly called out Le’Veon Bell for sitting out over a contract dispute. Ben Roethlisberger criticized two wide receivers following a loss to the Broncos. Antonio Brown left the team in the final week of the season because he felt under-appreciated. Insert eye-roll emoji here.
Goodness, it’s no wonder the uber-talented yet extremely selfish Steelers missed the playoffs. If the people on a radio show care more about themselves than their team as a whole like the Steelers, the results will eventually reflect it. Make no mistake — whichever show you work on is a team. They don’t split the ratings between two hosts on a two-person show. Mike Greenberg never got a 5.7 while Mike Golic got a 5.1 during the Mike & Mike years. It’s one show with one rating, so treat it as such.
Back when I played grade school football, there was a high school football team that practiced on a nearby field. They all wore t-shirts during conditioning drills. On top it said, “Team.” Underneath it said, “I.” At the time I thought, “What in the world does Team I mean? That doesn’t sound like a team that would win many games.” Somebody explained it to me that the team matters more than you — team over I.
Think of the two NFL teams in the state of Pennsylvania. The Eagles have displayed their team-first mentality on many occasions. They exude the team-over-I philosophy. The Steelers? Not so much. If the Steelers wore t-shirts for conditioning drills the “I” would be a huge letter that was bold, underlined, highlighted, and practically bedazzled. Below would be “Team” in itty-bitty microscopic writing like the letters at the bottom of an eye test chart. The disparity of results between these teams is no coincidence.
The Ravens lost a heartbreaker in the 2011 AFC Championship Game to the Patriots. Wide receiver Lee Evans had a near touchdown catch batted away. Kicker Billy Cundiff then missed a 32-yard field goal that would’ve tied the game with 11 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. After the loss, Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis didn’t call out his teammates. He gathered everybody together and lifted them up.
“We fought as a team,” Lewis said. “The fact is we got to come back and go to work to make sure we finish it next time. That’s all we got to do. We done came too far to drop our head. Joe [Flacco], you played your ass off. You hear me, man? I’m telling you, man. Don’t ever drop your head when it comes to a loss, dogg. This right here makes us stronger. Let’s be stronger as a team, man.”
The very next year the Ravens faced the same team on the same field and beat the Patriots in the 2012 AFC Championship Game. Joe Flacco was named Super Bowl MVP after a win over the 49ers the next game. If Lewis trashed his teammates following that painful loss the previous season, the odds of the Ravens rebounding to win a Super Bowl the next year would’ve been significantly longer. It pays to think beyond yourself.
That’s really the heart of this message — think of your show as a team and think beyond yourself. It’s okay to tease a co-worker about a prediction they got wrong or challenge one of their points as long as everybody is having fun. The minute it becomes about exposing your teammate in an effort to make yourself look better is the minute you’ve lost. We aren’t on opposite sidelines. We’re on the same team.
Be like the Eagles — look for ways to pick up your teammates instead of casting them in a poor light. It would’ve been a horrible approach for Foles to roast Jeffery by saying, “Hey, I can’t catch the ball for him. We had the Saints right where we wanted them and that bum completely blew it.” If you agree that roasting a teammate like that would be bad, then why would you think that doing the same thing on your sports radio show would be good?
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.