Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Clippers added not one, but two superstars. We are living in a world where NBA free agents want to play in New York, just not for the Knicks.
Two franchises that have existed largely to give divorced dads something fun to do with their kids on Wednesday nights are now the two franchises with the NBA’s brightest futures. How did that happen? More importantly, what can we learn from it in sports radio?
How many markets are there in the country with more than one sports radio station? I mean, most of them right? In most, if not all of those markets, one station has a significant lead on the other in the ratings. The number two station in those situations are capable of flipping that script and changing their fortune. The Nets and Clippers gave them a road map to make it happen.
First, it should be pointed out that both the Lakers and Knicks missed the playoffs last season. The Clippers and Nets, on the other hand, were in the postseason. The sports station in second place does have strengths over the market leader. PDs and GMs have to be aware of what those strengths are and use them to build.
Maybe there is one day part where the ratings gap narrows. Find times and ways to introduce your other hosts to the audience of your highest rated shows. Maybe your audience is considerably younger than your competition’s, or maybe your talent is considerably younger than theirs. Make that the centerpiece of your positioning.
Next, notice that the Clippers and Nets didn’t pull their moves off by trying to compete just with the Lakers and Knicks respectively. The Nets recognized an opportunity with Kawhi Leonard considering leaving Toronto, discord between the two stars in Philly, and the Celtics failing to ever really come together as a super team. The door was left ajar for some team to step up as the challenger to Milwaukee in the East.
As for the Clippers, a lot has been reported about their fear of sharing the Staples Center with a new super team version of the Lakers, but when you consider that the Warriors are in their division, the steps taken by Denver and Portland last year, and that Houston can’t be counted out until they are firmly out, the Clippers made the moves they had to in order to remain a viable playoff team.
Your competition isn’t only the other stations in your format. It isn’t even just the other talk stations in town. An extra ratings point or ad buy can come from anywhere. That’s why management needs to be constantly evaluating the station lineup.
You win ratings wars with strong, entertaining programming and strategic promotion. Even if the dominant sports station stays flat in ratings and revenue you still have the opportunity to gain ground on them. Pulling a tenth of a ratings point away from the classic rock station or convincing an advertiser to buy your station instead of a country station is still new listeners and revenue you didn’t have before. If you can attract more ears and more money just by focusing on improving your brand, it doesn’t really have to matter what the other sports station in town in doing.
Finally, the Nets and Clippers proved that good managers can do the job they were hired to when given the tools they need to win. Seth Marks had the cap space and wasn’t met by Nets ownership with any demands to keep D’Angelo Russell after a breakout season. He was free to spend the team’s cap space how he saw fit and focused on attracting the very best players he could.
Lawrence Frank and Doc Rivers were told in no uncertain terms that Kawhi Leonard wasn’t signing with the Clippers without a second star in the mix. He even did some recruiting and handpicked Paul George to be that superstar. Frank and Rivers embraced a “win now” mentality and gave up five draft picks along with two of their three leading scorers to get a deal done with Oklahoma City and bring George to SoCal.
These are two staffs that began recruiting their targets long before they were supposed to. How long have we been hearing the Clippers as Kawhi’s preferred destination? Doc Rivers even got fined $50,000 for tampering because he favorably compared Kawhi to Michael Jordan. Kyrie and KD signed in Brooklyn the moment free agency opened. Do you think that happens in the conviction those two players had about Brooklyn came from the one week window between negotiations and player meetings opening and contracts becoming official?
Good managers are aware of who the stars in their industry are. Great managers are always evaluating their ability to lure those stars to their organization. Great ownership or upper management values and supports those plans.
Whether the star your station desires is the competition’s morning host with a contract that’s about to expire, or it’s a host in another market that you think is well-equipped to take on the market leader, you have to have a plan to get them into your building. What is your strongest pitch? How do you frame your current position? Can you clearly articulate why coming to the lower rated sports station is the right move for your target?
Positions change. The market’s heritage sports station won’t be on top forever. The Fan became DC’s top sports station despite WTEM’s 17 year head start. We’re watching a ratings shuffle happen right now between the three sports brands in Milwaukee. The Fan in DC and ESPN Milwaukee’s gains came because smart managers recognized opportunities and weaknesses and attacked them. That’s the only way to overtake a dominate foe. It is a long process in the radio business, but it works.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.