You got that first baseball job! Congratulations, you’re working for a team doing play-by-play for every game, home and road. You’ll be traveling with the team on their bus or plane as well. Sounds like all fun and games right?
It is a fun job, but it is a job and you have some responsibilities to consider. The biggest, of course, is presenting a great broadcast every night. Your other huge task is to establish a relationship and trust with the players, coaches and front office members of the team you’re working for.
I don’t believe that there is one exact way to go about this, but a few things have worked for me over the years.
1. Talk to people as a human being, not a media member
There is nothing more frustrating for an athlete or coach than a media member talking to them only when needing an interview. Some players have told me over the years that nobody ever just tries to talk to them as human beings, not as a baseball player.
To me, one of the worst things you can do, is always approach a player with the microphone extended and recorder ready to go. He’s going to see you as using him for just your benefit. Well he’s right in one respect, you need him to do your job, but you don’t always have to make it a job for him to talk to you for your pregame show.
Listen, you should always be talking to the players and you should always be visible to them. It never hurts to just ask a question about a situation in a game without your recorder going. Approach them during good times and bad times for them on the field. Don’t get a reputation of being a “front runner”.
I had a player I covered while with the Cubs who had a difficult season. I always walked up to him to say hello and would ask him questions so that I could learn about what he was going through. So, after he had a big game, I asked to interview him for the pregame show. He agreed to do it. One of his teammates who had a locker next to this player said, “oh yeah now you want to talk to him,” and shook his head, basically accusing me of being that front runner. The player quickly came to my defense and said, “it’s all good, he talks to me every day no matter what.” Man did I appreciate that. It gave me some good credibility in the clubhouse as well.
You have access to these players, use that time to learn about them and the game. Players and coaches can be valuable resources for your own knowledge and to make your broadcast sound better.
2. Do not betray trusts
You are going to find yourself in a unique position. Once you’ve built up the relationships and trust you have to be very careful not to betray the person who gave you the information. If you do, they’ll likely never trust you again.
In San Diego a front office member would come into the radio booth a day before the trade deadline and tell us all the moves the team was looking to make. He did this so we’d have time to research some of the players and learn about any minor leaguers that may be dealt. We so appreciated the heads up on things because then we sounded knowledgeable once the moves were made. In effect, we could script our ad libs for the next day.
If we would have blabbed about that information before we got the go-ahead, can you imagine what the repercussions would have been? Since my broadcast partner and I worked for the team, we would have had some trouble on our hands.
Now my partner had been with the organization for a long time, but I was relatively new. I made sure I developed the relationship with this front office person early in my tenure, during Spring Training as a matter of fact.
If there is trust, the information given to you early can make you look/sound like a genius on radio or TV.
On occasion you’ll have someone that no matter what you do, doesn’t trust you and won’t tell you anything. I had such an experience with a college basketball coach. I was hired to do some TV games and replaced someone that he liked and had known for many years.
Several times I tried to just have a conversation with him to get to know the person. He was uninterested. I finally gave up. There had to be another way to get information and there was. I had developed a good relationship with an assistant coach on his staff. That person knew of me from some previous work and at least gave me a chance.
You can’t take this personally. You have to remain focused on the job at hand and try to work around your obstacles.
3. Get out ahead of any issues
I had one such event happen while I was working in San Diego. While in the midst of the broadcast, I had a slip of the tongue and something I said, didn’t come out right. After thinking about it, I concluded that what I said could have been taken badly by the player or his family.
I felt horrible about it. This was a player I’d already established a great relationship with. In this day and age of social media word travels fast. Whether the information conveyed to the player is actually what I said is another story.
With that in mind, as soon as the game ended, I headed to the clubhouse. I waited out the media that had been gathered around the player for postgame interviews, then I approached. Being straight up with him was my approach. Telling him what I said and what I meant to say was extremely important to me.
He listened and was smiling in appreciation of me being there to talk to him face-to-face. The player knew me and knew that I would never have intentionally gone down that road. He shared with me that his wife had already heard from a few family members via text and of course the information the family shared was not even close to what I inadvertently said.
Long story short, I’m very glad I went straight to him and avoided any future issues and put out whatever fire was burning.
4. Be professional
Bottom line here, be a professional. Use your common sense and trust in your ability to make the right decisions. Oh yeah, have fun too.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.