Thank God for Tiger King. Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and yes, even you, Jeff Lowe. Without your efforts and sacrifices, who knows what sports radio would have been like without you last week.
I bet nobody felt bad for talking about the Neftlix show for a full week, and they shouldn’t. But it does bear the question: How much play would it have gotten if we had a normal sports schedule that was happening?
That question leads to an even bigger one: How much have you thrown your regular content rules out the window during the Coronavirus?
Let’s answer the first one.
“I think initially it still would have still been pretty big,” said Jay Recher of 95.3 WDAE in Tampa. “But instead of a shelf life of where it’s currently 4 to 7 days, it would’ve been 2 to 3 days. There would’ve been so many other stories. There’d be Rays baseball and the Lightning getting ready for the NHL Playoffs. Outside of that, we would’ve had the first two weeks of March Madness here, WrestleMania was supposed to be this Sunday right here in Tampa, then there was the Valspar Championship and the St. Pete Grand Prix.”
Recher could probably get away with talking about Tiger King more than most, seeing as there was a local connection in the documentary to Tampa. But does that mean he’s thrown his regular content rules out the window? Not necessarily, especially with guests.
“We’ll run through our weekly guests for all the seasons,” Recher said. “Even though it’s out of season, we’ll check in with our football guests, hockey guests and even our baseball guests. We’ll make it once every couple of weeks with those guys.”
Trey Elling of 104.9 The Horn says, for the most part, it’s business as usual. When it comes to guests, he’d be willing to have on a local mayor or the governor to talk about the current situation in Austin, but his show hasn’t explored that route just yet.
What’s unique about Elling’s situation is that he was given a new co-host almost exactly a month ago. That may sound incredibly challenging, but it could be the best way to establish chemistry with your new partner.
“In a way, it’s beneficial to us as a new show, because there’s always a certain time period of trial and error, experimentation and risk-taking,” Elling said. “This has allowed us to maybe do even more of that to see what works and what gets a decent audience response. I actually look at that as a positive.”
If there’s no major sports news out there, coming up with material for top of hours becomes rather interesting and even difficult. Granted, it doesn’t mean you have to go about them any differently, but your big show of the day has likely had a much more national feel to it compared to the local topics you’re used to having.
Elling is a fan of having guests on at the top of the hour, as long as it’s not the opening segment of the show. He won’t have a guest on to open every single hour, but he’s not afraid, especially during this time, to bring someone on when he thinks his audience is at its peak for the day.
Recher, on the other hand, has tried a couple of new segment ideas to kick up the back part of the show.
“At 6 o’clock we do This Day in Sports History,” Recher said. “Basically it’s a look back on all the dates and historical moments, each guy picks two, they do some research and then tie it into Tampa or something that’s happening today. After that, we’re kicking back-and-forth the answers that people are texting and tweeting. Those you can do anytime of the day and anytime of the year, but I feel that addition really pushes our show from the third hour to the fourth.”
It’s tough to gauge what the majority of listeners want, given that these are unprecedented times. Do you they want to be informed about the current happenings of Coronavirus? Do they want a sports show to be an escape from the reality around them? Maybe they want both. Regardless, you better be mindful of how you address this ongoing situation.
“Like anything, it has to be a happy medium,” said Recher. “I think you just have to be real. You don’t want to just sit there and read off statistics that are printed out on a piece of paper or something that you saw on TV. If people want that information they know where to get it. They are coming to us for an escape, but if there’s breaking news stories or if it impact sports in some way, yes, we’ll delve into it.
“We’re not going to hit you over the head with numbers and the logistics of everything. When you do, you go down that rabbit hole and 16 minutes later the listener says, ‘wait, that’s not why am here.’ I don’t want to try over-educate someone, you know what I mean? That’s not why they’re coming to us.”
It’s been said multiple times over the past three weeks that a host should revel in this opportunity, because it allows you to showcase your creativity. Elling has welcomed it with open arms, because he’s always believed that off-topic conversations are super critical to a show’s success.
“What we’re going through is beneficial to someone like me, that doesn’t oversaturate themselves with sports, because now, you really get to show just how capable you are with the radio part of the sports radio equation.”
That’s such a good line.
You can tell who the best in this business are when the normal gameplan is thrown out the window and you’re tasked with being entertaining despite the world not being normal. Yeah, knowing sports is important, but understanding the ‘true radio’ side of things is even more critical. This is where that shows.
I love to see the ideas of how different stations are helping out local restaurants. Creatively, there’s more you can do besides having a burger joint owner come on for eight minutes and tell everyone about their curbside service. Recher has toyed with his own version of how to help out and it’s already gained a ton of traction in the local Tampa area.
“We started on Friday at 5:45 what’s called our local look out,” Recher said. “What we do, is we have local businesses that are still in business for either delivery or take out, they call, text and tweet us with the hashtag #LocalLookOutDAE and they tell us what’s open. We talk about it on the airwaves and we podcast it. We just keep the word out those business are open.”
The decision of how much or how little to alter your show with no sports going on is entirely your own. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to go about things, but it is important to make sure you’re as genuine and informative as possible.
In fact, Elling said it best when he closed with, “a part of all of this is the human element that’s involved. If you try to ignore it you’re going to come across as insincere and something that people choose to turn away from.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Jason Barrett Podcast: Rich Eisen, NFL Network
Rich Eisen reveals how he ended up partnering with Stuart Scott, the moment he knew he made the right move joining the NFL Network, and the influence standup comedy had on his broadcast career.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Does FOX Need West Coast College Football Success?
“I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
Don’t believe them. Don’t believe those people that try to sell you on the idea that a given sport is better if a given team in said sport is good. You know, college football is better when Notre Dame is good. Maybe they tell you college basketball is better when UCLA is good. Might they say the NFL is better when the Dallas Cowboys are good? Let me tell you, whoever the they is saying those things, they are wrong. FOX isn’t living or dying on it?
I am not here to tell you college football is better when USC is good. The Trojans are ninth all-time in FBS wins with 866 victories, they claim 11 National Championships and 39 conference championships. There is zero doubt they are among the elite, blue blooded programs of the college football world. With all of that said, USC hasn’t contributed to college football’s national championship discussion in more than 15 years. But, now Southern California is back and in College Football Playoff contention.
With only Notre Dame and a PAC 12 Conference Championship left to play, 10-1 USC is in excellent position to earn the first College Football Playoff bid in school history. The Trojans would be the third west coast team in the playoffs, 2014 Oregon played in the inaugural edition and 2016 Washington was the only other PAC 12 participant. It has now been five playoffs since a PAC 12 team has been in the top four.
That brings up the obvious question, how important is it for the health of the College Football Playoff to have west coast teams involved, especially one based in Los Angeles? L.A is, of course, the second largest media market in the nation. College football is well down the list of priorities in the City of Angels but having a team in the mix might help the overall national rating.
College Football has long been criticized for becoming too regional of a sport. The results thus far do lend themselves to that belief, the only team from outside the South to win a national championship was 2014 Ohio State. The SEC has twice had two teams among the four playoff teams and two of eight championship games matched Alabama and Georgia from the SEC.
So, does the College Football Playoff need West Coast teams for long term health? FOX is one of the rights holders for PAC 12 football and the main FOX college analyst, Joel Klatt, doesn’t think it is necessary. “I don’t know if it matters this year. This is like the last two years in an eight year term for a president,” Klatt told me on my show, The Next Round, “I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
To Klatt’s point, the College Football Playoff seems to be screeching towards that twelve team format and a bigger media rights deal. That deal will almost certainly include multiple networks, not just ESPN/ABC, and will be worth significantly more money than the current deal. So, it is not as if the lack of a presence west of the Rockies has hurt the attractiveness of the College Football Playoff to the networks.
On the other hand, the playoffs have never reached the lofty ratings they had year one. Was the 2014 edition just ratings lightning in a bottle or has the regional nature of the product hurt those ratings? The 2014 semi finals did fall on New Year’s Day which meant the games were played in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl which has proven to be the most successful schedule in terms of ratings success.
The college football lover in me couldn’t get enough of FOX’s Saturday night USC-UCLA telecast. There’s something about both teams wearing those classic home colors and playing in that historic stadium under the lights. They put on a great show, the show also would go on without them.
I want as many people as possible exposed to college football; it only makes the sport healthier. If that means more West Coast teams need to be in the playoffs, I hope they earn their way in. An expanded playoff will only make it easier. Until then, just keep telling people college football is better when your team is good
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
HBO’s ‘Shaq’ Docuseries Tells Shaquille O’Neal’s Story With Style, Personality
What ‘Shaq’ wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts.
From the very beginning of HBO’s Shaq docuseries, Shaquille O’Neal tells us how important storytelling is to him. Just recapping a sequence of events isn’t enough for the Hall of Famer. As the man puts it himself, “sometimes when you tell a story, you wanna add a little barbecue sauce.”
Director Robert Alexander (The Shop, A Man Named Scott) adds plenty of barbecue sauce to O’Neal’s life story, especially in the first two parts of the docuseries. (Shaq runs four episodes, with the opener debuting Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Each of the following three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday.)
Nothing less should be expected from a gigantic personality like O’Neal. This isn’t a dry documentary that simply chronicles a series of events. Alexander mixes in stock, news, and archival sports footage to add embellishment and punctuation to many stories and important points. Music, creative set design, and animation also play key roles in keeping the narrative moving and the audience engaged.
Each episode has a visual theme to it. Part 1 emulates a music video. Several comic book elements are incorporated into Part 2. Part 3 is meant to invoke a classic stage drama, a Shakespearean tragedy. Unfortunately, Part 4 is less focused in that regard, though some fun video game graphics are produced. Editors Freddie DeLaVega, Lenny Messina, and Ted Feldman deserve significant credit for making all the pieces fit together into a cohesive visual trip that gives the documentary an energy not seen in many projects like this.
Much like The Last Dance did for Michael Jordan, Shaq helps define a basketball icon for newer generations more familiar with the athletic giant from being part of TNT’s Inside the NBA panel and his many, many commercial endorsements.
The documentary begins with an adolescent O’Neal growing faster than his body and mind could handle. He wasn’t a phenom who was a superstar from the very moment he took the court, despite his obvious size advantages. And his path to major college basketball didn’t take the typical route.
Eventually, however, viewers see what those of us old enough to have watched O’Neal play at LSU remember. He looked like an adult among boys. His dunks were ferocious, raising his knees as he bent the rim to his will. And, as you might recall, young Shaq was much thinner than the diesel he became late in his professional career.
The first two episodes of Shaq chronicle O’Neal’s rise to superstardom, from college sensation at LSU to No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick by the Orlando Magic, developing into a force for whom there was no match on the court on the way to NBA championships. O’Neal was so dominant that the game had to adapt to him. Rival teams stocked their rosters with three to four big men that could each spare six fouls roughing O’Neal up and sending him to the free throw line. The NBA’s defensive rules changed to allow more double-teaming.
Parts 3 and 4 of the docuseries are less fun, as the second pair of episodes follow O’Neal’s fall from the ultimate heights of his career and difficulties in his personal life. His relationship with Kobe Bryant deteriorated and took a championship dynasty down with it. A major factor in those tensions developing was O’Neal’s reluctance to stay in shape during the offseason, continuing to put on weight, and eventually having toe surgery right before the 2002-03 season.
This is where O’Neal’s involvement and cooperation probably hurt Shaq the most. Unlike the first two episodes, when everything was going well for him, the big man doesn’t offer as much insight into his shortcomings. Particularly frustrating is his lack of accountability. At one point, O’Neal flat-out says he’s not talking about what went wrong with the Lakers.
Looking right into the camera and accepting responsibility for his role in the demise of two championship teams (later including the Miami Heat) would have been riveting. Instead, others are left to try and explain O’Neal’s actions, which feels dishonest as teammates like Rick Fox and longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti try to cover for him.
What Shaq wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts. Basketball did not come easily to him as a youth, nor did championship success in college or the NBA as he grew up. But like so many great athletes do, O’Neal channeled criticism from the media and slights from opponents including Dikembe Mutombo into major aggression on the court. (His words for the 1999-2000 NBA MVP voter who prevented him from the league’s first unanimous win are profanely hilarious.)
O’Neal makes it clear that strong figures in his life provided discipline and guidance — beginning with the military-influenced upbringing of his stepfather, then coaches who could teach him how to be a great player like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley — made him who he is. He has always been a personality and time has been kinder to some of the behavior that was once considered brash. Now he’s a worldwide brand known even to non-sports fans. Those viewers, along with diehard basketball fans, will enjoy getting to know him better in this docuseries.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Part 1 of Shaq premieres Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Each of the three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday, through Dec. 14. The docuseries will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, with repeat airings on HBO networks.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.