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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.”

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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

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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