Spring Training – the time of year every baseball team is in first place. It’s a utopia for a baseball fan, the return of their summertime heroes.
Spring also provides some challenges to radio stations that serve as the “flagship” for a Major League team. What can we do to make the broadcasts interesting, when #99 with no name on the back of his jersey comes in? How many games do you carry? How many games are only worthy of a “webcast”? These are legitimate questions, when it comes to serving an audience, a team and advertisers. I reached out to a few program directors, producers and executives to get the answers to a couple of the questions.
Spring games tend to lend themselves to innovation and creativity. One of the teams trying some different things is the Orioles. Some may carry into the regular season. Chuck Sapienza is the Executive Producer of the team’s radio network.
“We are trying many new things this season. Trying to be creative. We are working on having one of our player analysts do a few innings from different parts of the park. He was a closer, so maybe he can do a game from the bullpen. The more creativity you can bring to a broadcast the better, however you have to balance that so you don’t go overboard. People tuning in, first and foremost, want to hear the game.”
A few teams have chosen to broadcast the first four or five innings, then turn it into a “talk show” with a baseball game going on in the background.
That brings up another worry of some teams. Lack of interest. A few broadcasts, though, are using their team’s “situation” to hopefully help them along in Spring and in season. “We have a heightened amount of interest in spring training games due to the team’s highly touted farm system and the signing of Manny Machado”, says Adam Klug Program Director 97.3 the Fan and the Padres Radio Network. “Padres fans want to see how these up and coming stars will perform.” In fact The Fan increased the number of Spring Training games they are airing from the original plan after the Machado signing.
The Orioles are also in that situation which lends itself to fans tuning in to the March games. “For the Orioles and our listeners, there is a tremendous amount of interest this spring because the team is in full re-build mode and we are introducing the fan base to the baby birds. We are trying to make the young guys household names so you can feel a buzz even though the team isn’t expended to contend”, said Sapienza.
He sees another silver lining in covering a young team that really helps the broadcast, “most players are thrilled to be on the radio and the interviews have been great. Losing isn’t great for revenue but can be good for ratings if you do it correctly.”
Spring Training games are not handled the same way as regular season games either. Usually there are no pre or postgame shows and it’s a much more casual feel in these broadcasts. Most teams don’t have an adverse reaction to this and in many cases help to supplement a Spring game with guests that help the listener really feel what it’s like to be at a Cactus or Grapefruit League game.
Opportunity abounds in the Spring as well. Young broadcasters get the chance to call games either on a webcast or in some cases on air. Figuring that every day announcers already call 162 regular season games, why not hear from others.
For example, The Cubs have used Double-A voice Mick Gillispie for a number of years now, he calls the webcast games alongside Cubs TV voice Len Kasper. The Tigers are giving Dan Hasty (Single-A West Michigan) and Greg Gania (Single-A Erie Seawolves) a couple of Spring games. The Reds are using Tommy Thrall (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) for some games. Other teams are using reporters, pregame/postgame hosts and sideline reporters to cover their games.
So how many games are actually being broadcast over the air vs. on the web? A rough look across the league shows on average a radio station or team will air between 10-20 games via terrestrial radio. There are between 15-25 games available via webcasts. So in other words, if you want to listen to a game, you can probably find it in one form or fashion.
The internet has saved the day in a several ways. First, access to games that aren’t broadcast on terrestrial radio or on TV. You can “tune in” from your home or office and listen to a game for free. That changes during the regular season when the only way to get a game on the “net” is by paying for MLB’s “At Bat App” or subscribing to MLB.tv. They are reasonably priced but not cheap.
Enjoy the Spring broadcasts and the players and announcers get ready for what promises to be an exciting baseball season.
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.