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101 ESPN Is All In On eSports

“101 ESPN’s eSports event took place on a Friday, resulting in a number of people taking off work to be there, and spending the entire day inside the venue.”

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I’ll argue with anyone the NCAA Tournament is the most entertaining post season in all of sports. The buzzer beaters, the occasional Cinderella teams, nothing can top the one-and-done format March Madness bring us every year. But what if you could take what college basketball has mastered and use it as an opportunity for your station?

Sure, many stations across the country did some form of a 68-team giveaway the Monday following Selection Sunday at a local restaurant or bar, but what about an outside the box idea or event that draws in new listeners while capturing the magic of the one-and-done format?

Not only did 101 ESPN in St. Louis find a unique way to grow its brand, it may have also cut down the nets for best original idea this year. On March 1st inside a local Dave and Busters, gamers from in and around the St. Louis area flooded in for an all-day eSports event hosted by 101 ESPN. Two 64-team brackets were created, one for Xbox One players and the other for PS4, as gamers on each device played FIFA 19 with an NCAA Tournament style bracket creating the matchups in each round.

The games were broadcast by 101 ESPN on Twitch, and each show host was live and on-location for the event, putting off a vibe and energy that was unique to any eSports event the city had seen before. With the popularity of eSports continuing to rapidly grow across the country, 101 ESPN program director Chris ‘Hoss’ Neupert saw an opportunity for his station to capitalize.

“I’m a geeky gamer from way back,” said Neupert. “I love video games and it’s the fabric of our station. We have video games in our offices and we play. For us it’s competition and a little bit of a break from reality. You hear a lot about the growth of eSports and it’s hard to ignore. Being a gamer, myself, I’ve enjoyed learning more about the space. I think the competition and entertainment surrounding these events appeals to sports fans. On a personal level, it’s been exciting to see it grow, but there’s still much more we have to learn going forward.”

Many show hosts take pride in being able to adapt to any on-air situation, but that becomes difficult when you have limited knowledge of the subject at hand. Though eSports is growing, it’s still a relative unknown aside from the people who haven’t immersed themselves in it. When trying to find hosts that are capable of hosting an eSports event, your regular show hosts, who may be unfamiliar with the medium, may not always be fit for the task.

To make sure 101 ESPN’s talent were speaking the right language, Neupert wanted the right combination hosting the event. One host was already inside his building, but to find a second, he took to Twitch. That led to finding a local gamer by the name of FOXE, who had a strong, local presence with gamers and was outgoing and entertaining on her stream.

Though she didn’t have any previous experiences hosting a radio station event, Neupert decided to give Foxe a shot, and came away impressed. Not only did he find someone suitable for the job, but she already had built a local following on Twitch which helped get the word out to other gamers.

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A sports radio station hosting an eSports event is still uncommon, even if many in the format are now aware of the space gaining momentum. There’s a lot of curiosity of how to create and promote events that may not appeal to a radio station’s everyday audience. Neupert said that the targeted audience for the event were young millennial and gen z sports fans. He didn’t expect the older sports fan who’s grown up on the St. Louis Cardinals to show up for the event.

“In terms of promotion, we did a little bit of everything,” added Neupert. “We promoted the event on-air, on our eSports show, and on Facebook, Twitter and Twitch. We sprinkled it all over the place.”

He continued, “It was definitely a different audience. Much younger and diverse than we normally see at station events. Most of the crowd were in the 18-35 demo which was cool to see. St. Louis has a big Bosnian base, so we had a lot of Bosnian players, a lot of African American players, a lot of Caucasians, too. In addition to the gamers that were competing, they brought friends and family to watch. It was a good 9-hour day and people were hanging out the entire time.”

101 ESPN’s eSports event took place on a Friday, resulting in a number of people taking off work to be there, and spending the entire day inside the venue. That was uncharacteristic for Dave and Busters who told Neupert afterwards that the turnout helped them enjoy a great business day. The feeling all around was that the event surpassed everyone’s expectations, including attendees who wanted to know when the next gaming event was taking place.

All the credit for the event’s success goes to Neupert and his staff at 101 ESPN, because they took a chance to try something new, and explored different avenues to make sure it was a success. The station even arranged quality prizes for the winners, a grand prize of 1,000 dollars, 750 dollars for second place and 250 dollars for third.

But how did sales factor into the event? It generated great pub, and brought new people to the radio station, but since this was a new unproven concept, I was curious if making money off the event was a primary focus.

“Sales wasn’t the key focus for this event,” said Neupert. “It was about putting together a great product and entering a new untapped space. The idea was to set ourselves up for long-term success, not just produce a one-and-done. We needed to educate ourselves on air, as well as in sales about what these events are capable of, understanding that it’s not conventional. Moving forward, we now have one successful event under our belts and can take what we learned from it to create future opportunities for our sales team.”

What will be interesting to keep an eye on in the future is if the event produces a ratings lift for 101 ESPN with listeners 18-35. The increased exposure could also lead to more listening to Checkpoint XP, the nationally syndicated eSports program offered by Westwood One which 101 ESPN carries on Friday night from 10pm to midnight. But one thing is for sure: 101 ESPN will be increasing their activity on the eSports front.

“We’ll absolutely do another event in 2019, likely towards the end of the year,” said Neupert. “We would do more, but we have a new flagship deal with the St. Louis Blues and that’s a top priority. It’s very important for us to start next season sounding like we’ve been airing their games for years. Long term though we’d like to do more with eSports because it’s a space that is generating a lot of excitement and we see a lot of opportunities in it.”

BSM Writers

Don’t Make Assumptions to Fit Your Sports Opinions

Curiosity leads to asking questions instead of making assumptions.

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I also thought San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was white.

Maybe “assumed” is the better term, given the saying of what that does to you and me.

But I — like this guy Sean Beckwith — saw those videos from McDaniel’s press conference last week on Twitter. I legit thought it was a comedy bit at first. When I realized he was, in fact, the offensive coordinator, I thought it made sense that the NFL’s first flat-brimmer of a head coach would have a super-chill OC who sounded like a dude accustomed to microwaving burritos at 3 a.m.

I also learned McDaniel was childhood friends with Dan Soder, a comedian whom I enjoy on Billions. I was informed by people who know better than me that McDaniel is a well-regarded young coach in the league and that’s about where my opinions on the phenomenon of Mike McDaniel stopped.

If only Sean Beckwith had done the same, he might have avoided a major embarrassment. He might still have a Twitter account. Instead, he took even less information than I had, shook vigorously, and poured it out into a story published on Deadspin that warned McDaniel was about to become the next white guy to jump the line.

Except McDaniel is not white. Yeah. This fact is painfully embarrassing for the author, the website that published it, the people who own that website, and just about everyone concerned with equity in the hiring practices of NFL coaches.

I’ll include myself in that latter category, and I’ve cringed at how this story has been used as an example of the problems that come with including race in the discussion of sports, though. This is actually an example of the problems with including race in the discussion of sports when your head is firmly wedged in your hindparts as Beckwith’s seems to have been.

That was the real issue here, and while mislabeling McDaniel as white is an inexcusable and unconscionable mistake, it wasn’t the only problem with this particular story. Brandon Staley was included as one of the young white men hired to be a head coach because of his offensive pedigree. Staley is a defensive coach. Matt Rhule was cited as an example of a young white man hired to be a head coach because of his offensive pedigree. Rhule is not particularly young and as a former college head coach at Temple and Baylor, he certainly doesn’t fit the hiring pattern Beckwith was describing.

The problem at the root of Beckwith’s approach was that he wrote that story with a confidence both unearned and unwarranted, and while it’s easy to write him off for being unbelievably careless, it should give anyone who talks or writes about sports for a living a moment’s pause to consider the number of assumptions that are made in formulating content.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I try not to assume:

1. Whether a woman is — in fact — pregnant. A friend of mine said her rule was that she wouldn’t mention pregnancy until she actually saw evidence of the baby, at which point the question of pregnancy would actually be moot.

2. Someone’s mental health. But I covered that earlier this year with regard to Antonio Brown, who — by the way — said to Bryant Gumbel this week that he has “mental wealth.”

Race should probably be on this list, too, but it’s usually not. Most of us go off what we see, and I include myself in that category. Like I said, I thought McDaniel was white, and I initially didn’t realize David Culley was Black when the Texans announced him as their next head coach. Of course, I didn’t go out and formulate a story based on my assumptions, but like I said, Beckwith’s error provided a reminder of the dangers in just assuming what I think is true.

Now, I’m not recommending that we go and ask each and every person we talk about to fill out a census form. I am stating that we should be very careful about taking what we see — or what we think we see — and then cramming it with both hands into a storyline that we’ve heard or even one we believe. Each person we talk about has their own unique story, their own personal background, and the more we assume to know about that without actually having done the research, the more liable we are to make a career-changing mistake like this one.

Be curious. The character Ted Lasso said that in one of the better scenes from the first season of that show, though I’m somewhat reluctant to mention it for fear I’ll come off like one of those fans of this particular show who I’ve found just will not shut up about it. (For the record: I liked the show. Thoroughly enjoyed the first season. Haven’t watched the second season and somehow I’m doing just fine, thanks.)

Curiosity leads to asking questions instead of making assumptions. Curiosity might lead you to look up more about the coach in particular or hiring trends in general. Curiosity is what keeps us searching for a more complete understanding of the sports figures we’re writing about and the trends we’re discussing instead of adopting a smarmy tone of the know-it-all, which is especially dangerous if you’re not even a know-it-some.

In this case, being curious might have led Beckwith to search for more about McDaniel and find the story from Matt Maiocco — a great reporter for NBC Sports Bay Area — in which McDaniel discussed his background. Being curious would have led Beckwith to find out who Andrew Hawkins is instead of using ignorance of the former NFL wide receiver to dismiss his praise of McDaniel’s coaching acumen as an example of Internet groupthink.

Now, I’m not sure if being curious would have kept Beckwith from believing he had a better handle than Hawkins on how race might impact the promotion and hiring of NFL coaches. Curiosity almost certainly wouldn’t have prevented Beckwith from snidely referencing the quote regarding racial justice that is in Hawkins’s Twitter profile.

But that gets back to the root of the problem in Beckwith’s column, which is the confidence with which he presided over a subject of which he was regrettably ignorant.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 59: Paul Finebaum

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How much Alabama can we pack into one podcast? Demetri Ravanos talks to Paul Finebaum about Finebaum’s rise in radio, how he feels about his callers being used for content by other hosts, and college football’s year-round spot in the national sports conversation.

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BSM Writers

10 Ways to Make Sales Work From Home Productive

Create a home workspace that is pure business. Post quotes and keep track of your sales. Let this be your workplace and concentration zone.

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Do you need the energy of others around you to work harder or smarter? Are you the type who struggles to contribute to Zoom meetings? Do you lose focus quickly? Then maybe you need a check=up from the neck up about how you work from home.

For me, the challenges of working from home mainly stem from interruptions from pets, spouses, delivery people, and home chores. I need more discipline to stay on track to hit sales goals and not get distracted.

Here are 10 ideas for radio sellers adapted from Dan Disney of LinkedIn fame.

1. To-Do List

You need a plan for your day, just as you would at work. But building in some household chores would be wise. Remember, you are trading in the morning rush out the door and afternoon drive home for a walk to your computer and then to the TV at the end of the day.

For most of us, that’s at least an hour a day saved by staying home. Spend it as you wish but make sure you schedule it outside your prime selling hours.

2. Stay in Touch

This shouldn’t be hard for most of us with a corporate CRM tracking our moves. But don’t forget to plan social time with people from work who you enjoy.

3. Be Self-Employed

We are who we are when nobody is watching. This is your opportunity to have your own business and work independently. A promotion from work could be next if you conquer this stage.

4. Take a Break

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You took them when you were AT work, so why change? Don’t forget the internet surfing you did, the errands you ran, and the time you wasted hearing about your workmate’s problems. Try to make those breaks more productive by cleaning, paying bills, or playing with the dog. It’s good for your mental health.

5. Get Help

If you need help keeping things quiet for client calls, negotiate with anybody you have at home to help you. If you live alone and have a pet who interrupts things, consider taking your dog to daycare once a week so you can schedule your calls on that day and help guarantee you won’t be distracted.

6. Create an Office

Create a home workspace that is pure business. Post quotes and keep track of your sales. Let this be your workplace and concentration zone. If you pick up a paper, book, or report, don’t put it down in any other place but where it belongs! Please keep it clean each day you are done and all business.

7. Let Your Hair Down

If you have a good client who you have known for a long time but has never been to your home, here is your chance. Show ’em around! Take a Zoom call on the phone and show them your backyard, BBQ, or home theatre room. Let your dog bark at them or have your partner say hello.

8. Take Rewards

You are home and it will be easier than ever to achieve some personal goals by focusing on some self-care. Eat better. Exercise more. Be calmer. Maybe even consider the gas you are not buying as savings for a big night out.

9. Be Positive

Let positive quotes, blogging, and motivating YouTube hits be your distractions. You need positive reinforcement and will have to work at getting some.

10. Train

Study Zoom, social media, and other forms of prospecting. Dig into this new reality and see if you can make it work for you AT HOME.

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