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Baseball Programming Is Regional And Situational

“It’s not accurate to say that Major League Baseball has seen its popularity wane. Its popularity has simply changed.”

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This is a busy time of year in the sports world. I think that sentence has been written at least four times this month here on SportsRadioPD.com.

NHL and NBA playoff races are coming down to the wire. The NCAA Tournament is giving us memorable moments like Mamadi Diakite’s insane pass to keep Virginia alive. The South is talking about spring football. The NFL Draft is right around the corner. And then there is this season’s signature sporting event, Opening Day.

Image result for major league baseball opening day 2019

It’s not accurate to say that Major League Baseball has seen its popularity wane. Its popularity has simply changed. Professional baseball is a regional phenomenon now, but in the regions where it is popular it is an obsession.

I spoke with program directors from four stations, all in different situations as it relates to Major League Baseball. I wanted to know how they approached the season and how their respective audiences prioritized Major League Baseball coverage. The participants were John Mamola of WDAE, the flagship of the Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Nahigian of 95.7 the Game, which is in a market with two teams, but is the broadcast home of neither, and Ryan Porth of 102.5 the Game and Jeff Austin of 1080 the Game. Both are in markets without a team currently, but have been identified as potential expansion homes of Major League Baseball in the future.

Despite the relative youth of the Rays, Mamola says his audience has a lot to talk about when it comes to baseball. He told me in an email that while his primary goal is to serve local fans, with the Rays being a part of the AL East, a division that features two of the sport’s most popular teams “the story lines write themselves.” 

Mamola also says that the Rays’ fanbase shows a dedication to players that makes it possible to cover the whole league. “With so many former Rays who made impacts here locally and now play in other markets, we try to make an effort to keep up with fan favorites gone away.  Joe Maddon literally lives down the street still.”

There is no shortage of Rays-themed programming on WDAE. In fact, the station sent a reporter to follow the team around the state of Florida during Spring Training.

As for the regular season, Mamola says the team’s manager Kevin Cash visits with his afternoon drive show, Ron & Ian, once a week and his morning show, Ronnie & TKras, gets a visit from someone in the front office every Monday morning with GM Erik Neander & SVP Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom rotating. With that kind of access, plus a one-hour show ahead of every game, Mamola confidently says “No one does Rays baseball better in Tampa Bay, and I’d argue no one covers baseball better than WDAE in the entire state of Florida.”

“It’s like with any team that doesn’t play football in the state of Florida,” Mamola says of how interested the average WDAE listener is in the Rays. “There is a huge passion for sports here, but with so many other elements taking up the entertainment dollar and a lot of the population not growing up with the Rays (est. 1998) or the Lightning (est. 1992)… moving the needle is a bit of a challenge sometimes.”

Matt Nahigian and 95.7 the Game are in a unique situation when it comes to baseball coverage. As mentioned above, the station isn’t the broadcast home of either of the Bay Area’s Major League Baseball teams. On top of that The Game went through a very public divorce with the Oakland A’s at the end of last season.

So does having no baseball play-by-play present a problem for 95.7 the Game? “Not much at all, Nahigian says. “With the Warriors being the best team in the (NBA) and playing into June and then football starting back up in August it works out great for us.”

Image result for warriors 2018 champions

Nahigian says that when you are the flagship of the Golden State Warriors, how you cover sports in the summer is a little different. “We will have several baseball contributors joining each of the shows, but it will be based on what the Warriors do in the playoffs as to how consistent they are.”

Portland and Nashville are interesting cases when it comes to baseball. Both cities have large transplant populations, but no team of their own. So how much can you talk baseball in a place like that?

Ryan Porth of 102.5 the Game in Nashville says his hosts will talk baseball when the story is relevant to the audience. “Last year’s World Series garnered a little more local talk than usual in the middle of football season since Middle Tennessee natives Mookie Betts and David Price were such stars on that Red Sox team. If they didn’t have ties to the area, the talk likely would have been minimal.”

Without a local team, Porth says Major League Baseball isn’t going to be a daily part of summer conversations on the station. The primary outlet for The Game’s baseball talk will be its Home Plate Podcast, but that doesn’t mean the station won’t take advantage of the right opportunities on air. “Throughout the summer and off-season, we sometimes have a player of local interest (individuals that grew up or played college ball in Nashville) join our station as a guest.”

Portland, to hear 1080 the Fan program director Jeff Austin tell it, is more of a baseball town than Nashville. “As the Northwest’s only team, the Mariners have been quite popular here,” he says, but notes that the team’s support in Portland has waned. “They have suffered somewhat in the Portland area from an extended absence from the postseason. This fast-growing city brings with it many transplants with a variety of rooting interests, while a growing number of natives and longtime residents of Oregon and southwest Washington clearly want a team of their own.”

There is still room for baseball on 1080 AM and sister station ESPN 910. Austin says “we air a weekly baseball show, year-round. We also air sponsored baseball reports and home run call features, and air an extensive schedule of ESPN MLB play-by-play on our two stations, as well as Oregon Ducks Baseball.”

So what about the future for baseball in each city? Austin says that 1080 The Fan is committed to doing all it can to assist in the campaign to bring the MLB to Portland. “The Portland Diamond Project is the group working to bring MLB to Portland. We recently performed an all-day broadcast with our Prime shows, live from the Portland Diamond Project’s clubhouse store, and also air live shows from the Baseballism headquarters store, often in conjunction with the Portland Diamond Project.”

Austin says his enthusiasm and optimism reflects those of the city. Russell Wilson and Ciarra, who are part of the Portland Diamond Project, have made appearances on the station to promote the campaign.

Image result for portland baseball russell wilson

“It’s nothing new to have Portland in the conversation when expansion or a ‘sick’ franchise move has been considered, but this time is different. The fact that a privately-funded ownership group has so credibly stepped forward, and with a stadium site with room for an enterprise zone to boot, makes this feel different,” he says. “You’d be hard-pressed to travel around the city without seeing Baseball to Portland shirts, hats and bumper stickers. It’s everywhere. Needless to say, Portland MLB team topics are frequently discussed with our audience across all platforms – everything from whether it’s better to have an existing franchise like the A’s, or an expansion team where we get to name it and generally give it a robust Portland branding.”

What about Nashville? Just like Portland, it was on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s list of potential expansion targets.

Porth says that the population and the interest is there. He notes that the current growth and future potential of the city is what attracted the MLS, which will see its newest franchise Nashville FC begin play in 2020, and is likely also what drew MLB’s eyes.

Still though, Porth says there are a lot of questions that need answers before he will believe the city is ready, and most of them have to do with who owns a potential Nashville MLB franchise. “The biggest one, in my opinion: will an ownership group do the necessary things to put butts in seats 81 home dates a year for the long term, when there’s already a lot of entertainment options for the consumer to spend their hard-earned money on?” He adds that patience will be a virtue for the city’s baseball fans. “Color me skeptical that it would all come together in the next 6 or 7 years, but it seems inevitable MLB will come to Nashville down the road.”

MLB coverage, like fan support, is largely a regional thing, but it also seems to be a situational thing. Stations like WDAE, which is a team’s flagship, will go all in and make the most of that relationship. Stations like 95.7 the Game, which doesn’t have MLB play-by-play in a market with multiple teams, won’t sweat it. It will instead focus on making the most of the programming it does have. Non-baseball (or at least currently non-baseball) markets will do as much as their listeners will respond to.

Image result for bryce harper

Very rarely does an MLB story create conversations outside of the market it is occurring in the way that people across the country have an opinion on what fair expectations for the Cleveland Browns will be in 2019. Finding local angles to exploit may be the best way to ensure that baseball talk won’t be met by your listeners with indifference.

BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

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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