Lately we have bared witness to a pair of pop culture phenomenons. Avengers: Endgame brought an end to a ten-year, 23-movie journey, and made more than a billion dollars worldwide in its first week of release. We are also in the middle of the final season of Game of Thrones. That is a phenomenon that my colleague Tyler McComas covered extensively here.
We know that there’s room to cover those kinds of pop culture phenomena on our airwaves, but how do we protect our territory when the pop culture phenomena is a sports story? That is happening right now where I live.
The Carolina Hurricanes are in the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is the most success the team has had in a long time. They haven’t been in the playoffs in a decade. In a market that is so fiercely divided by its college sports loyalties, the Carolina Hurricanes are the one team that all of Raleigh can rally behind. That has made their playoff success a story that transcends the sports local sports page.
Back in February, legendary hockey analyst Don Cherry called the Hurricanes “a bunch of jerks” for their postgame celebrations. The whole Carolina fanbase embraced the label. People who hadn’t been to a game at the PNC Arena in years embraced the label. The team built a whole marketing campaign around it. Now, two rounds deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you can’t go anywhere in this city without seeing “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts.
Raleigh isn’t the first city to deal with something like this. Anytime a team that has a history of underachieving makes a deep playoff run, civic pride tends to experience a spike. Every media outlet and business in town wants to be a part of that. As a local sports radio station, how do you, to quote the Wu-Tang Clan, “protect ya neck”? What can you do to capitalize on the new audience and continue to super serve the people that have you on one of their preset buttons?
1. EMBRACE THE NEW FANS IN A WAY THAT ACKNOWLEDGES THE LIFERS
You are going to have people in your audience that are annoyed that there are new faces in the stands and that they are seeing more jerseys and caps in the streets than ever before. Those people can be toxic in terms of growing a fanbase, but for a sports station they are likely amongst your P1s.
It also makes sense to embrace the new fans. Make them feel like part of your community and they’re more likely to stick around after the communal playoff high has passed.
How do you embrace both groups? I have three ideas that combine the promotions and programming departments.
First, consider doing some contesting that gives new fans a prize and allows long-time fans to laugh. Work with an advertiser to put together new fan packs. They can include a t-shirt, cap, and tickets to a game. Give them out by asking new fans the most basic trivia questions about the rules of the sport, history of the team, or players on the roster. For extra impact, get custom shirts made in the home team’s colors that acknowledge these are bandwagon fans with a slogan like “Just here for the playoffs” or “I’m a fan of winning.” I promise, they will be so popular that even people that have been season ticket holders for years will want one.
Next, send an intern or a producer out to games to record audio of fans telling their stories. How did they become a fan of the team in the first place? What does this run mean to them? Use that audio in new imaging to run throughout the playoff run and even after. Get a wide variety of answers and you will have these great audio pieces that represent the team and the town.
Finally, set up dual watch parties for road playoff games. Have a party at one sports bar for hardcore lifers. Maybe you can work with the establishment to people that bring proof they are season ticket holders. Have a party at another one that is more focused on the social experience. Neither one is more important than the other. They are both official watch parties. They just allow the fans to experience the games exactly how they want.
2. OWN THE SPORTS ANGLE
2006 was the first year I was on air here in Raleigh. I was co-host of the morning show on 96 Rock. It also happened to be the year that the Hurricanes won their only Stanley Cup.
Like everyone else in town, we draped ourselves in red and black for that run. We had t-shirts made up with the O in our name replaced with the Canes’ logo. We changed our name to 96-1 the Cup. We were talking about the games every morning on our show. We reflected the excitement of the city.
But here’s the thing, when we were talking about the games, we weren’t usually talking about the play or the players. We were talking about things that happened in and around the arena. When we had players on we were goofing around with them. It was all very light.
If playoff success is something that rarely comes to your market, stations outside of our format are going to embrace it. Maybe they change the colors of their logo to match the team. Maybe they add liners supporting the team.
Whatever they do, it is less than what you can do. You’re the station talking in depth about the game the night before. You’re the station that is in the locker room after every game and practice that can bring exclusive audio and interviews to the air.
Sports talk goes to where pop culture is all the time. That is why Clay Travis does Game of Thrones recaps on Twitter and Tony Kornheiser has made movies and politics a part of his show going all the way back to his very first days on the radio. As long as you are genuinely interested and interesting, you aren’t at a disadvantage to anyone when talking about pop culture.
When pop culture comes to where sports talk is though, everyone else should be at a disadvantage to you. You can give perspective and get access others cannot. You can entertain both the hardcores and the bandwagon fans.
I was at the mall earlier today and the elevators were decorated with Carolina Hurricanes logos. Stores used team jerseys in their window displays. I counted at least a dozen hats and t-shirts on other shoppers. That usually isn’t the case. This market’s hockey interest usually falls somewhere between apathy and mild curiosity. But what is happening in Raleigh right now isn’t about hockey. It’s our community pop culture.
A sports story doesn’t overtake a community’s water cooler conversations everyday. Media outlets of all sorts will rush to embrace that story when it does. That presents a tremendous opportunity for sports stations. Think strategically and creatively. It is possible to super serve your core audience and build a new one at the same time.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.