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The Broadcast World Remembers 3/12/2020

“On an off day in Arizona the news came down: no baseball for a while. Wow, this is really happening! A virus that seemed so far away several weeks ago came close to home.”

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I will always remember March 12, 2020. It started off simply as my mom’s birthday, a normal day in Arizona covering the White Sox. What it turned into was the day sports went silent.

You can actually trace it back to the night before, when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19. The NBA acted quickly in suspending its season and the NHL soon followed. The NCAA canceled conference tournaments and then in a stunning turn of events, called off March Madness.

Image result for rudy gobert coronavirus

On an off day in Arizona the news came down: no baseball for a while. Wow, this is really happening! A virus that seemed so far away several weeks ago came close to home. There was a feeling of “ok, what now?”. I scrambled to get a flight back to Chicago and when I got home, it already felt like the off-season.

I was curious about what some of my fellow broadcasters, beat writers and even a few media relations folks were thinking about that day. What was their initial reaction to finding out your season was either postponed or cancelled? Here are some of their reactions.

Brian Anderson, play-by-play, Milwaukee Brewers TV, Turner Sports:  I worked an NBA game on a Tuesday in front of a sellout crowd. Wednesday, I was shocked to learn about NBA players testing positive for COVID19, then expected the NBA to postpone games. Postponing the season surprised me and it was sobering to grasp what this virus was doing to our way of life.

Thursday morning, I was sitting court side ready to call the Big Ten Tournament in front of no fans. Minutes before tip, they cancelled the tournament. A few hours after that the NCAA Tournament was cancelled, then MLB suspended play and delayed opening of the season. In a flash, everything I do was no longer. My only thought was to get home and get to my family. 

Wayne Randazzo, play-by-play, New York Mets:  To me, it was the worst day as a baseball fan since the beginning of the 1994 strike and eventual cancellation of that year’s World Series (I was 10). I understand all the reasons for this, and safety is obviously the most important thing, but it still hurts to see baseball, which has always endured, not being played right now.

It’s wild how quickly things turned. I don’t even think Howie (Rose, Randazzo’s partner on Mets’ broadcasts) and I really discussed the virus on the air. It went from being something to sort of keep an eye on to a monster problem with extreme speed. I also broadcast a decent amount of Big East and Big Ten basketball over the winter, and I’m sad to see a bunch of great stories from those two conferences won’t ever get to be completed.

Mike Ferrin, pre/post game and play-by-play, Arizona Diamondbacks, co-host MLB Network Radio “Power Alley”: I follow the news pretty closely, and, even while the league and players association worked to come up with concepts of what “might” happen early in the week, with no recommendations of a shut down, it certainly felt inevitable. My professional passion is baseball, so while it was a disappointment to see college leagues, then MLB, then Minor League Baseball shutdown in rapid succession, I also knew that it was 100% the right thing to do. Listening to the NIH and CDC talk about what we need to get through this, the idea of continuing to play in front of crowds of people was dangerous.

Image result for baseball coronavirus

Joe Brand, play-by-play Kane County Cougars (Class A), sportscaster WGN Radio Chicago: I didn’t take it seriously at first. Once the NBA season was suspended, I came to an understanding it was only a matter of time before the NHL, MLB (along with MiLB) would follow.  That day I felt disbelief, helplessness, awkwardness and misunderstanding. 

The past couple of days have just opened my eyes to what type of global experience we are dealing with. Aside from rain during baseball season, it’s very difficult to suspend/cancel any games at the professional level, let alone multiple sports’ entire seasons.  This is definitely a historic time we’re living and working in.  I’m trying to soak in the responsibility of being in the media during this time.

I’ve been searching for things to try and keep me sharp and ready to go during this hiatus. I wanted to see what these guys are doing to keep their minds in it. 

Anderson: I call 150 games per year and spend half of every year on the road. I am not thinking about staying sharp. I am using this time to rest and spend time with my wife and daughter. To be fully present with them. 

Randazzo: I am voicing over some things including a passion project that will probably never see the light of day, so I suppose that’s my way of staying sharp. I have a bunch of books, baseball and otherwise, that I want to read or reread so this will give me some time to do that. Perhaps I’ll do something for WCBS or WFAN in the meantime, but that hasn’t been determined yet. 

Ferrin: Well, fortunately I still work every day, though it’s with our programming being altered to ensure the safety of our studio staff, so that makes it easier. Hosting a baseball talk show with no baseball is a challenge, but, a fun one. Jim Duquette and our producers, Hunter Reiser & Brady Gardiner, have some ideas on what we want to do. Deeper player breakdowns, a few goofy things to lighten the mood, maybe looking at some random baseball games or matchups to create some fun baseball-reference inspired worm holes.

We realize we have to cover the news as it pertains to COVID-19 and how it impacts baseball, but we also need to give people a distraction. Something they can get lost in for 30-45 minutes at a time that give them a mental release. 

Brand: Clearly, I can’t call any games, so I’m planning on updating my reel and website.  One fun thing I’ve done to make light of the situation is ask Chicagoland coaches and PE teachers to share their scores from games on Friday or student athletes to recognize.  I’ve been using them in my weekend sports updates.  We’ve had people texting in YMCA basketball scores, kindergarten gym class stories, and plenty spotlights on HS seniors that had abrupt endings to their seasons.

Something most of us have in common now is a little downtime. What are you actually doing with this unexpected time to yourself?

Anderson: I’ve been doing a few projects around the house every day. I cleaned out the garage, cleaned up the floors, ran some Cat5 cable to various spots from the router, cooked a bunch of meals, worked out, read, and organized some accounting projects. But mostly I’ve been hanging with my family doing all the things I can’t do when I’m on the road.

Randazzo: It is always nice to spend as much time with my 6-year old daughter as possible, and she’s off school too so this will give us more time than usual. Even during the season, I’ll fly home on off days to be with her as close to 100% of my free time as I can. That’s certainly a great thing even under these dubious circumstances. Otherwise, I’ll do a few things around the house and constantly check the news for updates on flattening the curve and when I can call the curve again. 

Ferrin: Cooking. Lots of cooking. My wife is working from home too, so, we’ll cook, walk the dogs, I’ll ride my Peloton and just try to weather the storm. Our hatches are battened, so we’re ready for it. I assure you though, I’ll be ready when baseball is back. I miss it, but, it ain’t going away. It’ll be back and I’m excited for that.

(Writer’s Note: Mike is a very good cook, grilling out is a specialty of his. He forced me to eat lots of BBQ one night recently in Arizona.)

Brand: Making sure my mom is okay.  Cleaning my apartment.  Catching up on some shows/movies.  Updating my website will be a big one.  I’m comfortable with the free time now, but I know I’ll get pretty restless eventually.  So, keeping my mentality in check will definitely be something to keep in mind too.

Image result for bored adult window

Things of this nature really put sports into perspective. There are bigger things to worry about like the health and safety of family, friends and strangers around the world. The only down side to there being no sports is we can’t provide a much-needed escape from all that is going on today.

I’m reminded about how sports can bring people together in a time of need as well. This is a time of need. Right now, as the diamonds, courts and links are empty let’s think of better days to come, that should be helpful in getting as all through this awful time. 

BSM Writers

Now Is The Time To Build Your Bench

“There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention.”

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As we crawl towards the Thanksgiving holiday week, many content managers are likely in the middle of figuring out what they’re going to put on the air.

The Power Of Dead Air
Courtesy: Jacobs Media

Since most marquee talent take the entire week off, this can present scheduling headaches.

Some stations (who can) will pick up more syndicated programming. Hey, why not? It’s a cheap, easy solution that’s justified by the fact that business is slow in Q4, and your GM doesn’t want you spending any more money than what you have to.

Other stations will hand the microphones over to whoever happens to be available. This usually ends up being the same array of C and D listers who aren’t that great, but they can cover when needed and usually tend to be affordable.

Both of these decisions, while usually made out of convenience, are terrible mistakes. Quite frankly, it’s one of the many frustrations I have with spoken word media. 

Content Directors should be using the holidays as an excellent opportunity for them to answer a particularly important question: DO I HAVE A BENCH???

One of the most common refrains I hear from other content managers is that they have no talent depth. Everyone constantly is searching for the “next great thing,” yet I find that very few people in management that take the time or the effort to seriously explore that question.

My response to them is always, “Well, how do you know? Have you given anyone in your building a chance yet?”

Often, the answer is sitting in their own backyard, and they don’t even know it.

Years ago, Gregg Giannotti was a producer at WFAN. Then Head of Programming Mark Chernoff gave him a chance to host a show because of how Giannotti sparred off-air with other hosts and producers in the building. Chernoff liked what he heard and gave his producer a shot. Now, he’s hosting mornings on WFAN with Boomer Esiason in what is considered one of the best local sports-talk shows in the country. 

Carrington Harrison was an intern for us at 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He worked behind the scenes on Nick Wright’s afternoon show and had a fairly quiet demeanor. It was rare that we ever spoke to each other. On one of his off-days, Nick was talking about Kansas State Football and Carrington called in to talk to him about it. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Not only was his take on the Wildcats enlightening, but he was funny as hell. Soon after, we started working Carrington’s voice into Nick’s show more and eventually made C-Dot a full-time host. He’s been doing afternoons on the station for several years now with different co-hosts and (in my opinion) is one of the best young voices in the format. 

There’s a good chance you have a producer, production person, or even a salesperson who has a big enough personality that they can hold your attention. Why not give them the opportunity to see what they can do? Honestly, what’s the risk of giving someone you think might have potential, a few at-bats to show you what they can do? If your instincts are proven wrong and they aren’t as good as you thought they’d be, all you did is put a bad show on the air during a time when radio listening tends to be down, anyways.

If you go this route, make sure you set them up for success. Take the time to be involved in planning their shows. Don’t leave them out on an island. Give them a producer/sidekick that can keep them from drowning. Be sure to listen and give constructive feedback. Make sure that these people know that you’re not just doing them a favor. Show them that you are just as invested in this opportunity as they are.

Drowning

I understand that most Content Directors are overseeing multiple brands (and in some cases, multiple brands in multiple markets). Honestly though, using the holidays to make a potential investment in your brand’s future is worth the extra time and effort. 

Treat holidays for what they are; a chance to explore your brand’s future. Don’t waste it.

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BSM Writers

Digital Platforms Should Signal The End Of Niche Linear Networks

“Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.”

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CBS Sports Network just isn’t built to last. It seems obvious, but it was really hammered home for me on Friday when Jim Rome went off on the network for preempting the simulcast of his radio show for coverage of swimming.

“You idiots are going to preempt this show for swimming?” Rome said. “Stupid.”

You don’t even have to watch the video, right? You can just read the quote and his voice is immediately what you hear in your head.

John Skipper went off on a number of topics during Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovators Conference last week. Some dismissed it as sour grapes. Others said his comments were those of a man that is completely unencumbered by rights deals and corporate interests.

One thing the Meadowlark Media leader said that was dead on was that there are only a few properties in sports television that truly matter.

“Until you can get the NFL, or the SEC, or the NBA on a streaming service, it’s going to be marginal in this country,” Skipper said in a conversation with John Ourand.

He was answering a question about the relevance of streaming services, but the fact is, he could have been talking about any outlet in the world of sports television.

With that being said, it isn’t just CBS Sports Network that isn’t built to last. Comcast got this message last year. That is why NBCSN is about to go dark. Sure, every niche sport has its fan base, but can you build a profitable and powerful brand on swimming, lacrosse and 3-on-3 basketball? You probably can’t.

BSM’s Jeremy Evans recently wrote about life in the metaverse and what it means to sports media. So much happens digitally now. Think about the last time you felt like you HAD to have a physical copy of a movie or album. It always made sense that television networks would get to this place.

Peacock, ESPN+, CBS Sports HQ and Paramount+ all have plenty to offer. Whether it is niche sports or exclusive shows, the streaming platforms have proven to be valuable catch-alls. They haved turned hard-to-sell programming into part of what you get when you are motivated to subscribe by Premier League Soccer or UFC.

CBS Sports Network isn’t the only cable sports network whose existence may be on borrowed time. You know about FS1. Did you know there is an FS2? Did you know beIN Sports still exists? Don’t worry. It seems most major cable operators don’t know it either. The same can be said for networks with names like Eleven Sports, Maverick, and Pursuit.

In fact, when you look at that group of channels, CBS Sports Network is probably in the best shape. It may carry the low end of college football and basketball, but it at least has sports with large, national followings.

Radio simulcasts have always been cheap programming. Once the production costs are recouped, there is a straight-line path to profit. Sports networks on this level will always be interested in carrying radio simulcasts, and that is a good thing. It means better studios and more exposure for the hosts involved. When the suits can have a legitimate debate whether the live sports their network carries will draw as many viewers as the simulcast of a radio show, it may be time to rethink the path forward.

Streaming platforms weren’t built exclusively for niche sports. ESPN+ launched with college football and college basketball at its core. Now that streaming platforms are here to stay though, it should start a conversation and migration.

The cable sports network was never anything more than a prestige play. It was a way to show that a broadcast network was so serious about sports that the few hours it could devote to games would never do. The problem is that ESPN got that memo decades earlier and established a juggernaut.

Even FS1, which has major talent and rights to major college football and basketball and Major League Baseball, is behind the eight ball compared to ESPN. They got a 34 year head start in Bristol! CBS Sports Network is behind FS1 and it has college football, basketball and hockey. It also has the WNBA and the NWSL. Still, it seems like it is on borrowed time. What does that mean for networks that can’t get a league comissioners to take their call?

I like some of the programming on CBS Sports HQ. I think Paramount+ has been a valuable tool this college football season. There would be nothing wrong with CBS shuttering CBS Sports Network. It is just the reality of where we are headed.

CBS aims to grow Sports HQ within its network of streaming channels -  Digiday
Courtesy: CBS

CBS is run by smart people. I have faith they will see the forest thru the trees in sports media and find the right solution before they start losing money. Streaming means consolidation and unfortunately, that means there may not be room for the FS2s, Mavericks, Pursuits, and Eleven Sports of the world. That doesn’t mean the sports those networks carry cannot find a new home. They may even find a home that makes more sense for them and their fans.

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BSM Writers

Can Your Station Create Its Own Holiday?

“Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape.”

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A belated happy Disney+ Day to us all!

Disney+ Day: Kareem Daniel Says “Momentum Building” At Streamer After 2  Years – Deadline

Did you see social media on Friday? Did you see any media at all leading up to Friday? Disney created a 24-hour commercial you could not escape. The best part, from a marketing standpoint, is fans were captivated by it. They either didn’t realize it was a commercial or they just didn’t care.

The execution was masterful. Granted, we Star Wars fans were left wanting a bit, but Disney dropped teasers for series and movies we didn’t know were coming and showed the first footage from one we have been anticipating for more than a year now.

I started thinking how a radio station could do this. How could it go out and create its own holiday? How for one day, can we make our fanbase excited and glued to social media eagerly anticipating announcements about what is coming next?

This is going to take some creativity. Disney+ is a platform full of multiple brands with multiple fanbases buying in. A sports talk station is one brand. It has varying levels of fanbases, but largely, your dedicated audience are the people that not only love sports, but also like your programming enough to be called P1s. Is that enough people to build an event like this around?

Who cares if it is or not! Go for it.

One thing that Disney did masterfully on November 12 is it brought partners into the fold and made them a key part of Disney+ Day. Fortnite announced that Boba Fett was coming to its game. TikTok announced Disney character voice changers would be available on the platform. Disney found the kind of partnerships that could spread its holiday to even the Disney+ Day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge.

You can do the same. Surely you have a local brewery as a partner. Can they brew a one day only beer for you? Partner with a restaurant. Can they put your station’s name on the day’s special? Would other partners offer discounts and promotions for celebrating the day? There are a lot of options here.

Now, what are YOU doing on your holiday? Disney has a deep well of franchises. It could squeeze Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, its own studio and more for content and announcements. Again, you are just one brand, but there is still a lot you can do.

Build the day around announcing your special contributors for the football season. Drop new podcasts and play an extended clip on air. Announce new podcasts, the kind of things that will only be available digitally.

Look at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio have created great, multi-episode series that are events for their audience. Like any narrative podcasts, those don’t come together overnight. As long as you have enough audio to build a solid 90 second to 2 minute long preview, you have something worth bringing to the air as part of the celebration.

Do you have a contract you are waiting to expire to make a change in a prime day part? Make your station’s holiday the day that the new talent or show hits the air for the first time. You can do the same for new weekend programs. Whether it is someone new coming to the station or just a new pairing, put them on air for your prime time audience to meet and have your weekday hosts help create some buzz for them.

As for the shows that are on every weekday, you have to make them special that day. Give away a big cash prize. Make the guest list epic – I mean everyone that is on air that day has to be a home run.

The other thing that Disney did so well was work to get all of its divisions involved. Check out this tweet from the Disney Parks account. Every single park around the world lit their iconic building up blue in celebration of the streaming platform’s holiday.

Can you work with other stations in your building? Maybe they won’t give you full on promotion, but between songs, if a DJ brings up a sports topic, would the PD be willing to have them mention that their sister station is celebrating all day? Would a news/talk PD let your talent pop on air to talk sports with their hosts and promote what is happening on your airwaves today?

The answer to these questions could be no. You don’t know if you don’t ask though. Also, if the answer is no, there is nothing wrong with asking for a little backup from your market manager. A station holiday is a major sales initiative after all.

The final piece of this puzzle to take away from Disney is you have to be everywhere. Any local show you air from 6 am until midnight needs to be on location. Fans should have easy access to them. How can they celebrate you if they are not allowed to be where you are?

Use the broadcasts however the sales department sees fit. Take them first to long-established clients to celebrate their loyalty on the station’s holiday. Use them to draw in new clients. Show off what your station can create with its fanbase.

Money has a way of motivating everyone. So, even if your hosts don’t like leaving the studio, these would be remote broadcasts priced at a premium and should have larger-than-usual talent fees attached.

Finally, let’s do something Disney didn’t. I was shocked that a company with this many iconic characters at its disposal and with a CEO that came from the consumer products division, didn’t have a line of merchandise ready to go. Don’t make that same mistake.

Create cool station shirts (not the cheap giveaway crap). Throw the logo on unexpected things like water bottles, bottle openers, facemasks, whatever! Have a merch tent wherever you go. Maybe set up a site to sell it for the day. Make the people come to you to get this stuff.

Twitter is a huge part of promoting what you do. Constantly show off what you are offering and what you have created. That is how Disney sold their event to its most dedicated fans as something not to be missed.

What were we celebrating with Disney+ Day? Nothing. Disney wasn’t even really celebrating anything. It was just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging. Actually, there are a lot of holidays that are just a series of commercials wrapped up in fun packaging.

Valentine Day Digital Ads on Behance

Not every holiday has to celebrate something once in a lifetime. Not every holiday has to even be real. Building your own will take a long lead time, but it is doable. Get sales, promotions and programming in a room and build a plan together. If Disney+ Day taught us anything, it is a valuable way to motivate your fans to spread your message too.

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