Simple question — why do you watch sports? There might be a number of things you point to. The entertainment value is a big draw. It could be the storylines that athletes provide. Maybe you connect with family members and friends through sports. Whatever your exact reasons are I’d bet a significant amount of money that the unpredictability of sports has to rank highly on your list. How exciting would sporting events be if they were completely predictable? Yeah, not too thrilling.
Think about some of the wild outcomes of recent games. The Seahawks-49ers game on Monday Night Football was dingbat crazy. Seattle ended up winning in overtime 27-24. I jotted down a note after Russell Wilson threw a key interception that read, “BRUTAL loss for the Seahawks.” After 49ers rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin badly missed a 47-yard field goal, that note was quickly replaced with, “HUGE win for the Seahawks.” Talk about a turn of events.
Wilson said it was probably the craziest game he’s ever played in. I think it was the most exciting game of the NFL season so far. Not because the execution was spectacular — there were several dropped passes, bad throws, and seven total turnovers — but because the result was so unforeseen. Speaking of unpredictable, the awful Falcons had a six-game losing streak, but won 26-9 against a strong Saints team that was riding a six-game winning streak. Go figure. LSU and Alabama are known for many low-scoring games against one another, but both teams combined for 87 points — the most in the history of the matchup — as LSU won a Big-XII-style game 46-41.
Former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter once made a great point on NFL Network’s America’s Game. He was talking about his team suffering an epic upset loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. Carter said, “The unpredictability of team sports. That’s why we go to the game and that’s why we turn on the game. Because there is no sure winner ever.”
All of these things tie in directly with sports radio. If unpredictability is such a big draw in sports, it stands to reason that a steady diet of predictability in sports radio isn’t ideal. A sports radio host shouldn’t do a radically different show each day. There needs to be some continuity and familiarity for the audience, but finding new and unique ways to provide fresh content is very important.
Comedian Chris Rock said something very funny during his 1999 television special Bigger & Blacker. “Relationships — easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? ‘Cause at some point you just stop talking. Why do you stop talking? ‘Cause at some point you have heard everything this person has to say and it makes you sick to your stomach. You know what they’re going to say before it even comes out of their mouth and you just want to stab them in the neck with a pencil. Stop telling me the same shit over and over again. Why don’t you go out and get kidnapped and have some new shit happen to you.”
That’s hilarious. Consider though how important this thought is regarding sports radio. If a host repeats the same angles and views constantly, the audience will be sharpening its No. 2 pencils in case the host is seen in public with an exposed neck. Being too predictable is boring. It’s smart to find the middle ground of being unpredictable at times while being true to your sports radio style.
Think of unpredictability as a surprise. We all love good surprises. It’s nice when your car is washed or someone else fills up your gas tank unexpectedly. We all enjoy getting some extra money back at tax time that we weren’t expecting to have.
There are plenty of bad surprises too. If your rent goes up, your transmission goes kaput, or your health is suddenly in decline, those things are completely unwanted. Work to give your audience good surprises. Push your own boundaries to generate fresh ideas that will surprise your listeners in appealing ways. Don’t try to be something your aren’t. Stick to your own style; just look for creative ways to disrupt predictability.
Today when I go to work, I’ll say things like, “Man, that Seahawks game was crazy.” I’ve never said, “Man, that sports radio show was so typical and uneventful.” If unpredictable games produce a huge reaction and great ratings, that’s a formula worth duplicating during a sports radio show. It’s been said thousands of times that the NFL is a copycat league. Well, you can also copy some of the things that make the NFL successful in your own line of work — like unpredictability.
Sporting events would be a lot less interesting if you could pick the winning team with 100 percent accuracy. What if it didn’t end there? Imagine if you could also forecast exactly how the game was going to play out. I doubt you’d watch nearly as much sports if that happened to be the case. It works the same way in sports radio. Being too predictable just isn’t very exciting. My friend and former FOX Sports Radio co-worker, Tomm Looney, always used to say, “Take a quarter turn from the norm.” That’s exactly it! Always be on the lookout for ways to keep the audience guessing.
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.