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Independent Nation: ESPN Honolulu

“At a time like this, if you’re not trying to throw something out on the table, if you’re using this pandemic as an excuse to stop being creative, I’m not sure what you’re doing.”

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“Hey, I’m sorry,” Matt Apana apologizes – unnecessarily.

It’s half past 9 am on a weekday on Oahu and the General Manager of ESPN Honolulu was late to answer my call because he was already knee deep in his other job.

“I was just getting my little guy to focus on some school work.  We’re working on the letter ‘W.’”

Ws are nothing new in the Apana household.  Neither is wearing a lot of different hats.  KKEA, otherwise known as “The Fan’s Voice,” has been the standard bearer for sports on the islands for nearly two decades.  This year, under Matt’s guidance, the station was well on it’s way to achieving 100% of it’s revenue goals.

Unfortunately – we all know the rest of the story.  As COVID-19 cases grew, live events were cancelled, restaurants were forced to shut their doors and on and on the dominos fell.  Like so many other stations on the mainland, Apana and his staff began taking calls from concerned partners from all industries.  Through it all, ESPN Honolulu has been focused on one commodity over all others – and it isn’t money.

“My philosophy comes from the culture of Hawaii,” Apana explains. “Everything comes from respect. Respect and relationship building.  We knew everyone would be affected one way or another, and we just had to have those tough conversations.”

Owned by Blow Up, LLC – a parent company based in Hawaii – Apana has the freedom to make decisions and implement them quickly and efficiently.  In doing so, he does everything in his power to make sure everyone in the company is on the same page as to why those decisions are being made.  That might sound like a small task for a small company, but there’s nothing more valuable in these uncertain times.

“I’ve always felt it’s important to let everyone know what is going on.  Everyone should be in the know, everyone should know what’s going on and why.”

One message Apana made clear to his staff was that he was all ears when it came to ideas – from anyone – to create new revenue.  Free from the weight of bureaucracy holding down so many other stations, ESPN Honolulu was able to move quickly and with a purpose.

“Usually the packages we put together for clients take about 6-8 weeks to roll out.  Some of the ideas we’re coming up with right now – there’s just no time.  We gotta start almost immediately, and fortunately for the most part we’re able to.”

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Very soon, the station will launch it’s “Fan Cave,” campaign.  Listeners are encouraged to transform rooms, basements or any other space in their house to the ultimate University of Hawaii lair.  Pictures and videos will then be shared on the station’s website, social media platforms and discussed on the air.  A fun and safe competition within the community is sure to grab a lot of attention.  

Venture over to ESPNHonolulu.com and you’ll also find a consistently updated “Food Status” page, in which dozens of local restaurants are listed with service and delivery options along with new operating hours.  The heading of the page is simple and powerful:

“We at ESPN Honolulu love food as much as (maybe more) than we love sports. During these tough times, it could be daunting just thinking about what to prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday now that restaurants and bars have been mandated to cease dine-in services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Every industry has been forced to invest more and more in their digital space over the last few weeks – it’s a byproduct Apana has been happy to explore.

“It helps with overall content and creates another opportunity for revenue.   Being able to figure out how to incorporate both traditional radio and digital really helps broaden our efforts in covering a story or a fun promotion.”

In addition to branching out online – Apana points to this time as an opportunity for people to rise up and distinguish themselves in their roles.  One such employee has been Program Director Josh Pacheco.  

Image may contain: 2 people, including Josh Pacheco, people smiling, people sitting

“Josh is someone who is always taking a step back, looking at the big picture and thinking about things that will help us out both in the short term and the long run,” expresses Apana.

When confronted with the praise, Pacheco is quick to shrug it off.

“At a time like this, if you’re not trying to throw something out on the table, if you’re using this pandemic as an excuse to stop being creative,” the PD pauses. “I’m not sure what you’re doing.”

2020 should be a big year for Josh.  June marks the 1 year anniversary of his Program Director title.  It would also mark his 2nd full season as the radio voice for Hawaii baseball and softball.  Like so many others across the world – he’s felt the direct economic impact of the virus – but he’s not making excuses.

“Nearly 40% of the state’s workforce has filed for unemployment, which is staggering.  It’s going to be interesting to see how we bounce back from it.”

One of Pacheco’s ideas over the past few weeks has been to partner up with WarriorCast – the University’s self produced podcast.

“With WarriorCast, we’re just exploring how we can be mutually beneficial to each other.  What that means exactly?  There’s a few different possibilities and we’re open to all of them.”

Understanding the impact their personalities have on the community, Pacheco and Apana have both stressed the importance of being positive role models on air.  Shows have been done remotely for well over a month with the talent, including Pacheco, focused on feel-good anecdotes to share with the community.

Pacheco’s latest idea is very much still in the works, with a few loose ends to tie down before an official announcement is made.  As a tease – he offered that it does address the unceremonious end to school schedules and kids who didn’t get to experience their full senior year.

Oahu Travel Guide - Expert Picks for your Vacation | Fodor's Travel

When you think “Hawaii,” generally the first thing you think of is tourism, and rightfully so.  The state’s unemployment rate is a sobering reminder of how much the communities on the island rely on vacationers.  However – ESPN Honolulu finds itself in an interesting position. 

Their demographic is almost exclusively local, making their business quite unique in the state. Sure, a number of their partners are greatly affected by the steep decline of tourism, and as Apana laid out, they’re set on dealing with each challenge as it presents itself.  With that said, it’s abundantly clear that the key to getting through these tough times for ESPN Honolulu is to keep the trust and respect of their listeners they’ve earned over the years.  

That task seems to be taking care of itself.

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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