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Navigating Uncharted Territory

“We’re all part of different networks, and have our own shows to be concerned about, but over the next few months, we’re going to need each other.”

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The first person I spoke to on September 11, 2001 was Scott Linn. He woke me up and told me to turn on the television. Not long after, a plane crashed into the Pentagon, it was the third or fourth (I can’t remember) terrorist hijacking of the morning.

It’s probably more coincidence than anything that Scott was the one who alerted me to the news and not a family member. Yet today, I feel like it’s a reminder of what my role should be in the midst of the first pandemic of our lifetime, a virus that in the short term will make our jobs very difficult. Scott Linn was my co-worker at the original sports radio station the market, then Sportstalk 980, and remains one of the most well known voices on the airwaves in our city. He was, and remains my friend.

I don’t remember much of what I said on the air at the time. I do recall being sad, angry, proud of my country, and a bunch of other emotions that I don’t have the adjectives for right now. It was a long time ago, but that call I received from Scott is one that I’ve never forgotten.

Scott reaching out to make sure I was aware of 9/11 is my personal reminder of what I owe my audience over the next period of days, weeks, months. Who knows how long it will take before we can be normal again. Those incredibly entertaining but non essential questions like whether the Redskins should select Chase Young with the second overall pick or if beating the Astros in this past World Series makes the Nationals one of the most unlikely champs in baseball history, aren’t as relevant right now.

Today, we need to be voices our audiences count on. On September 11, 2001, Scott was one for me, and there was something comforting in hearing him deliver me that news. Like all of you, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to talk about for the next few weeks with no sports to speak of. For me, trying to make up segments that have some kind of sports tangent even if it doesn’t make any logical sense is not appealing. I’m not that kind of host anyway. A large percentage of my show ends up on non sports topics, and most of my understanding program directors have been cool with it. 

My show like many others in local markets is sponsored by local businesses. Bars have us out for watch parties. Mortgage companies, window installers, car dealers ask me to personally endorse them. I’ve played a lot of free rounds of golf, had a ton of free meals, and been treated like I matter in my community, and so today, I’m going to pay that forward. My show will be open to my community to discuss how my supporters and business owners intend to keep their businesses afloat, and what needs to happen to help each other through what will be a massive health and economic disruption. I want those who sponsor my show, and the ones who don’t, to know that my show is only here because of the vibrancy of my city. If my show can help people through whatever is about to happen, then that’s the best service I can provide. 

One thing I don’t do is fill time. There are a lot of people on social media asking how we intend to “fill time.” I’ve never done that. At least not on purpose. Sure I’ve done plenty of segments I’d like to have back, but I’ve never treated my show as something meant to kill space. This has always been a very personal role, never just a job. If someone tells me they listen, it’s a great compliment. I hope that when they say it that they know I’m just being me on air. Which is exactly who I’m going to be now. 

The executives of our companies remind us that we’re there for diversion and not to be the CDC. Stick to Sports. I agree, somewhat. They’ll offer ideas to help guide us to stay in our lanes and be what the audience wants, but we’re more than just sports talk show hosts. I do agree though that our shows can’t stray too far from sports otherwise they could become unrecognizable. That’s why I believe we as talent and producers need to help each other as we navigate the difficult task of providing a diversion from the daily news.

We’re all part of different networks, and we all have our own shows to be concerned about, but over the next few months, we’re going to need each other. Can we reciprocate by appearing on each other’s shows regularly so that sports remains a key dynamic of the programming at large? I’d love to talk about the teams in every market if the hosts are willing to be part of my show. In exchange, I’ll go on anyone’s program who wants a sports perspective from DC. My email is bram@ampiremedia.com.

There is another opportunity for us during this time without sports. Can we collectively start thinking about creative ways to help our industry modernize? Have you thought about a new show that could double as a podcast that you never had time for or weren’t getting internal support to create? All ideas are good ideas right now. When things return to normal, maybe we’ll have an entire new arsenal of programming that didn’t exist thanks to this chance to reset. As a host and media entrepreneur (and many of you are as well) let’s talk, ideate and create. New partnerships and ideas are the lifeblood of our longevity. 

Lastly, a note to the media executives who allow us to perform our craft: we know this disruption is going to affect the already fragile bottom line. Please try to work with us to navigate through it and lean on us to help you with clients. Our audiences are expecting us to be there when tip-off, kickoff, the puck drop and all the other sports return. 

I’ve long felt privileged that my audience has stuck with me for 25 years, even after I left them to take a national opportunity, only to come home and ask them to give me another shot to be part of their lives. It’s a role I take very seriously and never for granted. I intend to prove that with your help now.

Bram Weinstein hosts afternoon drive on ESPN 630 The Sports Capitol in Washington DC. You can follow him on Twitter @RealBramW or reach him by email at bram@ampiremedia.com.

BSM Writers

Dallas Cowboys: Proof That Marketing Works

“Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are.”

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Why do people still hate the Dallas Cowboys? Give me a good football reason that the Cowboys are worth your time. I get that there was an era where if the NFL was Mortal Kombat, the Cowboys were Shang Tsung, but those days ended three decades ago.

It’s 2022. There are adults in their late 20s that have never seen a Cowboys’ championship. Since 2000, the franchise has been to the playoffs fewer times than the Falcons. They have won as many playoff games in that time as the Jaguars. At this point, hating the Cowboys is about as useless as hating Luxembourg.

So why do people still have such a deep-seated disdain for the star and the players that wear it? Why was a national celebration set of on Sunday when the Cowboys lost in the stupidest way imaginable?

The answer is pretty simple really: marketing.

Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are. Great marketers can get you to behave like those products are what they say they are even when you know that isn’t true.

Jerry Jones is a great marketer.

People tune in when the Cowboys play. Maybe a good chunk of those people are hate-watching, but they’re watching. That is why the team was on in primetime six times this season. Of those other eleven games, seven of them were called by either FOX’s or CBS’s top broadcast team.

ESPN completely rebuild and rebranded First Take around the idea that Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys. That is it. The whole promo package for the show was just Smith wearing a cowboy hat and chomping on a cigar and laughing.

Shouldn’t we be doing this to the Patriots? Afterall, in the time since the Cowboy’s last Super Bowl appearance, New England has gone to the game an astounding ten times and won six titles.

It’s easy to read that sentence and say “Well, Tom Brady isn’t there anymore. The Patriots aren’t what they used to be. It isn’t as much fun to hate them.”

Uh, dawg, who in Dallas has been worth hating since Troy Aikman retired? You know, like 22 years ago!

Jerry Jones isn’t the man that coined the phrase “America’s Team, ” so he didn’t set its initial meaning. What it became, by virtue of him leaning into the branding is something that forces you to react. Either you buy into the blue and the silver and the star and you’re with America’s team or you recoil at the branding and the goofiness of the whole aesthetic and want to watch it burn.

Notre Dame football could be doing this too. The problem is they do not have the great markerter out front pushing that slogan over and over again.

Even “how bout them Cowboys?” is a solid positioning statement. It’s easily repeatable in good times or bad. The genius of Jerry Jones embracing that statement and that clip of Jimmy Johnson shouting those four now-iconic words is that it is a question that always has an answer.

Fans can celebrate with “how bout them cowboys” when the team wins. Haters can say it facetiously when they are on a losing streak. Either way, you are saying it and the Dallas Cowboys are occupying a part of your brain.

Positioning statements work. That is why so many stations tag their imaging with the same phrase or sentence every single time. That is why so many stations are called The Fan or The Game or The Ticket.

Admittedly, sometimes we need to rethink how our listeners are receiving the message. If we are all going for homogeny, nothing can stand out. Maybe that is a reason to rethink what I jokingly call “sports radio’s magic hat of five acceptable station names”, but the larger point is that you want every message you put out to point to the brand image you are trying to portray.

Jerry Jones’s message to the NFL and the media is no matter who they root for, fans care about my team. His positioning statements reflect that. Whether you think they are great marketing or goofy corporate branding, they work. The proof is everywhere.

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BSM Writers

Three Sports Marketing Trends You Need To Know

“Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.”

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#1 OTT’s RAPID EXPANSION  

Pay TV lost more than 5 million customers in 2020 and that trend is going to continue and the number is going to increase. With nearly 30% more Americans cutting the cord in 2021 and almost 87% of adults 18-24 preferring the OTT option, you’d better dive in and understand just how fast video consumption is changing; especially in sports. Platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, Peacock, Paramount+ and Facebook are diving head first into the sports rights market so that they can deliver LIVE sports where Americans are consuming video.  OTT provides that sniper riffle approach advertisers are looking for as they try to increase ROI and minimize waste. 

#2 AI … DATA-DATA-DATA

Without a doubt artificial intelligence is changing the way marketers are deciding how to go to market with their messaging and their products and/or services.  More data is available now than ever before and you’d better understand how your client is using it to help them make their buying decisions.  Most large advertisers are not only using one, but multiple vendors and are trying to obtain as much data as they possibly can so they can better recognize trends and understand their consumers behaviors and buying patterns

#3 eSports is BOOMING

Video games aren’t just for fun and entertainment at home anymore.  Gamers are now creating leagues, generating 6-figure endorsements and have multiple contests where they compete for HUGE cash and prizes.  Marketers are actively looking for ways to take advantage of this meteoric rise in popularity of eSports and that includes product placement, team sponsorships, individual gamer(s) sponsorships and tournament sponsorships.  If your station isn’t trying to create a sellable feature around eSports then you’re missing out on a huge and very sellable feature.  There are over 234 million eSports enthusiasts world wide and that number is only going to continue to climb. 

OTT, AI and eSports are rapidly changing the sports marketing landscape and these are trends that will only continue and grow over the next 5 years.  Digitalization of just about everything is changing how, where, when and on what kind of devices sports fans are consuming content.  Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists. 

Be the expert in the room when meeting with agencies and/or clients, it will set you apart from the pack.  Understanding these rapidly evolving trends will help you have better and deeper dialog with your advertisers. 

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BSM Writers

What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?

“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”

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Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.

Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.

Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.

Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”

It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.

I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.

That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.

Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?

WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.

That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.

Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.

In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.

Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.

I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.

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