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The BSM 64: 16 Station Bracket Ideas

“As long as you get your bracket on the air by Thursday, there is plenty of time left to put something together that excites the listeners.”

Demetri Ravanos

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This week, Barrett Sports Media presents a series of articles featuring advice, lessons, and observations for the sports media industry. Between now and Thursday we will present these articles in a way inspired by the NCAA Tournament.

Today, I will take on something every station should be thinking about this week: how to capture the excitement of the Tournament in an interactive way for both the radio and digital audience.

If you haven’t already thought about what sort of nonsensical bracket your station will put together for listeners to follow, you’re a little behind. The good news though is that it isn’t too late to put something together. As long as you get your bracket on the air by Thursday, there is plenty of time left to put something together that excites the listeners.

Here are 16 ideas for your station’s interactive bracket.

1. SNL Characters

This will become a battle of generations. I am 37-years-old. For me, it is hard to imagine that there could ever be a funnier character on the show than Chris Farley’s Matt Foley. Maybe younger hosts and listeners will rally for Stefon or the older end of the demo will Stan hard for Eddie Murphy as Mr. Robinson.

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Whoever the favorite going in is or whoever the winner may be, everyone has a frame of reference for SNL. A topic that reaches across generations is important for engaging as much of the audience as possible.

2. Local Dogs

The Internet really loves dogs. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.

This idea gets listeners involved in multiple ways. First, it asks them to submit their animals. Then, like all brackets, it asks them to be involved in choosing a winner. There could also be a good sales tie-in here, by creating a prize that allows your sales staff to go out and pitch potential clients whose business is focused on animals.

3. Past Local Teams

Stations in markets that pay little-to-no attention to college basketball often still participate in these bracket promotions. If the subject those stations choose for their bracket isn’t sports-related though, it can feel like a real departure from what the audience wants for the “stick to sports” crowd.

There’s no reason that you can’t pull the market’s sports obsession into these brackets. Imagine a bracket to determine the best Lakers team ever for ESPN710 in LA. A bracket that celebrates futility could be fun too. If the Fan in Cleveland hasn’t already done a Browns QB bracket, it certainly should!

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4. Idiots In The News

There are plenty of divisive characters in politics. As Operation Varsity Blues has reminded us, Hollywood is full of objectionable celebrities. Why not build a bracket to highlight the worst of the worst?

You don’t even have to focus only on celebrities. Imagine crowning the biggest dummy from stories that have gone viral. You could even frame it in a positive way. It’s hard not to laugh at the idea of a bracket that ends in a battle between this lady banned from Wal-Mart and that guy that fell out of the ceiling in an Alabama Waffle House with the winner being crowned “King of The Common Man”.

5. Convenience Stores

Here’s something I only learned recently: people are as passionate about their local convenience stores as they are about sports and religion. Try telling someone from the Philadelphia area that there is a better store on Earth than Wawa. You will be the recipient of a lengthy rant. The same may be true if you try to tell a Southerner than there is nothing special about a QT.

6. Apps

Aside from that friend that uses a flip phone specifically to show you how much better he is than the rest of society, everyone has a smartphone these days. And all those people with smartphones have their go to app for killing time or being productive or whatever.

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They all also have an app they just don’t see the appeal of. For the life of me, I’ll never understand the non-sexting appeal of SnapChat. Hell, throw your station app in there and see how it fares.

7. Ways To Die

Stupidity goes a long way on sports radio. A “worst/best ways to die” bracket will create some entertaining stupidity as you try to formulate an argument for why being burned alive is more preferable than drowning.

Admittedly, this is a little dark. But dark humor is still humor and as long as you’re not debating the deaths of specific people, the people that will object to a “ways to die” bracket are the same people that get upset when holding isn’t called on every play or a referee doesn’t blow his whistle when Zion Williamson takes a fourth step before throwing down an amazing dunk. Sure those people!

8. Starter Jackets

Whether your listeners will admit it or not, sports fans love fashion. New helmet designs, suits worn on draft night, and basketball shoes will always elicit strong opinions.

The Starter jacket is one of the most iconic pieces of fashion in sports, and now they are back on the market. Those majestic satin garments not only kept us warm in the 90s, they made a statement. This would be a nostalgia-filled bracket for sure, but it seems like a forgone conclusion that the teal Charlotte Hornets jacket would win.

9. Food

There are so many directions you could go with food. Head-to-head fast food matchups always generate buzz. You could also add the local element of matching up local restaurants or those restaurant’s signature dishes. You can get very specific with something like a bracket of pizza toppings.

There is also the prepackaged angle. You could make a whole bracket out of Little Debbie snacks cakes!

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10. Music

Again, so many different directions you can go with music. You can go with individual musicians. You can do albums or songs.

There are options for going genre-specific. The middle of our demo grew up on grunge and 90s hip hop. Boy bands and the peak of country’s popularity were on their periphery. It is a generation with strong opinions on music.

11. Station Stuff

Make your bracket out of yourself. Pit personalities against each other. Maybe put drops or benchmarks in a bracket to pick the greatest of all. Make regular guests and show contributors compete for the title of audience favorite.

You are appointment listening for your P1s. They’re the ones most likely to participate in something like that. Why not shoot fish in a barrel and build your bracket around something you already know the audience is passionate about?

12. The Media

It doesn’t matter which side of the political divide your listeners fall on. Everyone has an opinion about the people we see on TV or hear on the radio everyday. There are a lot of ways you can go with a media-inspired bracket.

Everyone has play-by-play broadcasters and game analysts they are passionate about. We all grew up on SportsCenter. Put together a bracket to crown the greatest anchor in that show’s history. There are plenty of bloviating gas bags across the media landscape. Surely you can put together a field of 16 (even 64 shouldn’t be a challenge) of these people to crown the dumbest of the dumb.

13. Sexy Women

Okay, this is dangerous ground to tread on. Remember the blowback 103.7 the Buzz faced in Little Rock for their bracket of local female journalists last year? Haven’t we evolved past this? Absolutely, but sex still sells, so if you’re tempted to go this route I think I have figured out two ways to put together one of these types of brackets.

Your first option is to make it goofy. Forget about rating and ranking actual human beings. Every guy in your audience has a female cartoon character they think is sexy – human or otherwise (hello Lola Bunny!). Put cartoon ladies in a bracket.

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The other way to do this is to have women put themselves in the bracket. Plenty of stations have a group of promotions models. They have names like the Fan Fatales or the Game Girls. Take that same concept and put it in bracket form. Look for local women that want to compete in that kind of contest and then let your listeners vote.

14. Listeners

There are a lot of ways to put listeners into a bracket. You can match up regular callers. You can crown the best caller hot take and build a bracket of individual calls. You could even set up a special phone line for listeners to call in and deliver their hot take just for this contest. A funny twist on that idea would be to have people submit hot takes from their kids.

15. Movies

Movies, like music offer a lot of opportunities to get as specific or general as you want. Avengers: End Game is right around the corner. Put together a bracket of movies from the MCU. Do you want to do a bracket of nothing but movies starring the Rock? You can do that!

Get character-specific! Is Crash Davis the ultimate movie athlete or is it Adam Banks? What is the ultimate dinosaur from the Jurassic Park franchise?

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16. Total Nonsense

Does the audience prefer ramen noodles to roller disco? Who would win in a matchup between Val Kilmer as Batman versus braided goatees? There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason to your bracket.

A station I worked for once did something like this. We called it March Blandness. The final was the state of South Carolina versus being the only one of your friends with a pick up truck. It’s the only radio bracket contest that I distinctly remember the result of because it was so much fun.

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

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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.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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