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Alfred Williams Wants To Make Denver Laugh, Cry, and Think

“My biggest strength is I tell the truth. The truth is painful most of the time in sports.”

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Dane Brugler is an NFL Draft Analyst for The Athletic. “When scouting 300-pound defensive linemen, some show explosiveness in their lower body while others explode with their upper body,” Brugler once wrote. “The rare ones do both.” The observation made me think of sports radio. Some hosts make you laugh. Other hosts make you think. The rare ones do both consistently.

Alfred Williams is one of the rare hybrid hosts in sports radio. He can make you think with his wide-ranging opinions on sports, politics, and beyond. The former Denver Broncos two-time Super Bowl champion can absolutely crack you up as well. I went out to dinner with Alfred and his former co-host Darren “DMac” McKee roughly two years ago. Alfred’s laugh is infectious. It’s a laugh that not only lights up the room or building, it lights up the entire block of your general location.

Alfred Williams keeps making magic in Colorado – The Denver Post

A sports radio veteran of more than 16 years, the Colorado Buffaloes product now has a new gig alongside JoJo Turnbeaugh on KOA NewsRadio 850 AM & 94.1 FM in Denver. Alfred talks about the transition from his decade-long partner DMac to his current role on Big Al & JoJo. The Houston native also talks about his past experience with Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy and the best advice he’s received throughout his radio career. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: You were off the air for six months during the transition from The Fan to KOA. What was that time like for you?

Alfred Williams: It was absolutely bittersweet. It really was. I kind of wanted a break. I needed a break. I had been going for about 15 years in a row. To have a little break was good, but my mom was dying. I got to spend that time with her. She ended up dying in July. I started back in September last year. It wasn’t as sweet as I thought it was going to be because my mom passed away, but it was a good break. It was needed.

BN: Has getting back to work helped you get your mind off things a little bit?

AW: It helped me with my grieving process. I’m thankful I have a good partner because he kind of talked me through it. He lost his father and he could kind of walk me through some of my internal rifts. When I’m talking, it just builds up frustration and anger — a lot of questioning why. You learn to hate things like the word cancer. All of the emotions, they come in waves. You just never get used to it. You just never get used to not being able to hear her voice.

BN: What has it been like for you to transition from DMac to your new partner JoJo?

AW: It’s been actually great. I still talk to DMac maybe once a week or so. But I love working with JoJo. He was the guy that I picked to work with. He was the number one guy. I had heard JoJo on 102.3 ESPN years ago and I liked the way that he handled the gravity of the show. I was a fan of it. He was not doing radio. For about six or seven years he was in management. They kept asking me who do I want and I just said give me JoJo because I just liked his vibe. That was an obvious choice for me.

BN: What was his reaction when he found out that you wanted him to be your partner?

AW: He was like no way. [Laughs] They told me I could pick anybody in the city that’s not under contract, or anybody in any one of our stations in Denver, or nationally if we wanted to go pick somebody up. We could get it done and try to make a go of it. I had JoJo in mind and he was like oh you got to be kidding me. You’re kidding me. I was like nah man. I heard him and he’s just got this great laugh. He’s got this fantastic laugh and his demeanor is in line with mine. It’s a good mix for me.

BN: You’ve got a great laugh yourself, man. When you guys start laughing together they probably hear you in Nebraska.

AW: [Laughs] I’m telling you, man. I’m telling you. I’m not going to lie; I’ve had moments on the show when I was in tears. We’ve had plenty of moments when we’ve laughed and it’s just been — man, what a roller coaster of a year for people who are in this business. Not everybody can handle all the things that are going on right now or they choose not to touch on it because maybe that’s not their format or maybe it’s not their expertise and they just ignore it. I’m so happy that I’m able to talk about the things that make us laugh, that make us cry, that make us think twice about situations.

BN: Have you been doing the show remotely at all during the pandemic?

AW: We started off and I think we did like 16 shows, but because we’re a news station we had essential workers permits. That gave me the opportunity to travel back and forth to the studio.

We were together when it was the beginning of coronavirus. We went to the Super Bowl together and then we went to the country music radio awards. Since we were together at the Super Bowl and 10 days later we were together, we were just like hey man, we’ll just do the show from the studio. We’ll put our masks on and go in and just do it from the studio. It’s not the same energy when you can’t see the person or talk in the breaks. All radio people understand it’s just smoother when you’re in person.

BN: How did you initially get into sports radio?

AW: When I was a player we had a one-hour show when The Fan first started up. I was playing for the Broncos. They wanted to do a one-hour show and I was okay with it so we just did that one-hour show. After football was over, Tim Spence, who was my boss who hired me, asked me to come do radio. At the time I had a technology company that was growing. I told him I couldn’t do it. That went on for four years. Then I came back and said okay I’m ready to do sports radio. He was like you’re not serious. [Laughs]

So I had this two-hour show with Scott Hastings. We had a blast, bro. We had a blast. Every day was silly and funny and we talked about sports and life and locker rooms. It was great. Then they wanted to move me and Scotty in the drive-time position, but Scotty was gone with the Nuggets. They put me with this shock jock DMac.

Big Al and D-Mac's Darren McKee Interview About 104.3 The Fan ...

I’ll never forget, man, I got married on May 23rd. It was Memorial Day weekend. I got married on Saturday. I go in on Monday. I was 40 years old and I’ll never forget what my partner said to me. He said why did you get married? They’re going to make another 25-year-old next year.

At that moment I wanted to kick his ass all over that studio. I told them there was no way I was going to work with this guy. I told them no way. He started to court me, bringing BBQ and sandwiches, and just making sure everything was smooth. Eventually we worked it out and it was a good really run, man. We had a 10-year run. I worked with Scotty for five years, and then DMac for 10, and now JoJo for a year.

BN: Was it hard to move away from The Fan and DMac after you’d been working together for a decade?

AW: Yes, it was really tough because I was comfortable and familiar with everybody. When you change radio stations or you change jobs the grass looks greener on the other side. I had overtures, I’ve had at least three or four overtures in the past but this one felt like it was right because it was also the home of the Broncos, the home of the Rockies, and we can talk about anything. Not just sports, but anything that is hot and topical, whether it’s finances, weather, politics, or COVID-19.

BN: What would you say is the general vibe of doing a show in the Denver market?

AW: I’m going to be totally honest with you, man, it’s really uplifting. I am on a station that was a Republican station and still leans hard to the Republican side. We were the home of Rush Limbaugh for 25 years or more, so my audience wasn’t necessarily aligned with me politically, but what I found is there can be a middle ground. Conversations can be had and we can agree to disagree without being nasty, which is always preferable.

When you start talking about things that affect somebody and their political party’s ideas and you’re not on the same page, trust me it can be three or four hours of rough conversation. It’s okay that you have them as long as you can say okay I can understand your point. You can get to a middle ground. Maybe you won’t always agree but we can agree to be gentlemen with each other.

BN: What do you think is your biggest strength as a sports radio host? 

AW: My biggest strength is I tell the truth. The truth is painful most of the time in sports. Especially if you’re from the home of the team that you’re covering. Maybe this is because I played for the team and I’m good friends with most of the guys that are over there with the Broncos in particular or with my CU Buffs, they know I’m coming from a good place.

If I say that they didn’t play a good game because of coaching or players, and I can say that’s not going to cut it, it’s not what we need to win, most of the time it’s a hard lesson if you are over in that building and you’re coaching one of the teams that I’m talking about. There have been some coaches in the past that didn’t appreciate it. I tell them to pound sand because I know what I’m looking at.

The problem with football is that it’s really complicated and it takes time to explain why somebody is good or why somebody is bad. You just have to keep telling people every day that this is why they are good, this is why they aren’t good. You have to do that every single day if you’re not on the popular side. I remember the conversations I was having about Tim Tebow. I was saying he’s not a good quarterback. You can’t even imagine how popular Tim Tebow was. After they won that game against the Steelers I was like, well this was the best win of his life. John is not going to have him back here as quarterback. 

Sure enough I got, oh man, you’re talking about vitriol. You’re talking about people who just did not understand what I was saying and they just wanted Tim Tebow for other reasons. It had nothing to do with football. I think it was because of his religious beliefs that people we’re clinging to him. But as a broadcaster you just have to tell people what’s going on. If he’s making a good play or making a bad play you’ve got to be able to explain why he is good or why he is not.

BN: What type of feedback have you gotten after the story resurfaced of Mike Gundy calling you the N-word [in a game back in 1989]?

AW: You know it was weird. The best part about Twitter is that you get a national and international field. I’m not just talking to people in Colorado. I had some people who started following me and say “Way to jump on the bandwagon now, Alfred, after 30 years you’re bringing this up.”

They don’t know the context. They don’t know that I brought it up 30 years ago. I just learned not to argue with people that don’t leave their name. If you’re bold enough to leave your name and you can be found easily, then I’ll respond to you. But if you won’t leave your name, then I think it’s just not a good deal for me to even respond to you.

I was really pissed off that people looked at it like I was piling on. Shannon Sharpe called me about this incident at Oklahoma State 31 years ago. He said he got a phone call from somebody from Oklahoma State that said that Gundy was not a gentleman with me. I said you got that right. I told him what happened. He went on TV the next day and he started the conversation about Mike Gundy and what happened. I’ve been doing radio a long time. If I wanted to bring that up I would have brought that up years ago.

I didn’t bring it up because I brought it up 31 years ago and nothing happened, what would make me think that bringing it up today would make anything else happen? He hasn’t apologized yet so I guess he’s not going to apologize.

BN: Did that sort of thing happen a lot on the football field to you?

AW: First and only time. In all of my football career — high school, college — it happened once with him. In the pros, never once.

BN: Have you experienced any racism as a sports radio host?

AW: No, and that’s one of the reasons that I say it’s been uplifting. It’s different when you text in because when you text in your phone number is there, right? You can actually pick the phone up and call the person who texted you if they say something nasty. If they’re bold enough to call, then maybe they have something that they want to get off their heart.

Maybe I haven’t thought of a perspective that was different. I love people to call in. We read the text messages whether they’re good or bad. We read them because I think the audience is judge and jury when it comes to what should be talked about and what shouldn’t be talked about. I don’t back down and I don’t back away from it. We’re just talking. Let’s talk it out.

BN: What’s an area that you would like to be better in as a host? 

AW: I’d like to be a better driver. I’ve driven well over 300 shows but I’d like to be a better driver. Every show has a feel and the driver is the person that gives that show that feel. I was told by Tim Spence years ago that I could be the John Madden of the show and look at it like this guy opens up and I give the perspective. I thought that was a great way to describe how impactful not driving can be. John Madden never drove and he worked with a lot of different guys over the years. He was a professional broadcaster. I kind of look at it like that. I just want to be the John Madden of my show, but I’d like to be able to have the skill set to set us back to the original sound when the co-host isn’t there.

BN: What’s some other advice you’ve gotten that has made a big difference for you as a broadcaster?

AW: This is the best advice I’ve ever gotten and it came from Tim Spence. This was at a time when I was doing TV and doing radio. He said either you’re a radioman or you’re not. At that time it was such a strong statement that I just stopped doing all the color analyst stuff and just stuck with doing radio. It’s made my life. I can have a sharper focus and it’s made my life more compartmentalized so I can just put things in the right place. I’m a radioman.

BN: I like it. That could be your nickname — Alfred “The Radioman” Williams.

AW: [Laughs] You know what? All people who are in radio that do this get pumped up every day so that they can have a good time to talk with their audience, and greet them, and bring some interesting points. The people who are not excited about having their show every day, man they’ve got to get the hell out of radio.

Alfred Williams on alleged Mike Gundy racial slur: "Why would I ...

BN: Is there anything that you would like to do before your broadcasting career is over?

AW: No, I just want to talk to the people in Colorado and thank them every single day for giving me a chance. Every day I want to thank them for giving me a chance to be me. I want to thank them every day and tell them how proud I am to call myself a Coloradan.

BSM Writers

Nothing Is Easy In the Cold, Not Even Broadcasting

The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end!

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No matter what you may think, doing play-by-play for any sport is a difficult thing. The great ones make it look easy, but it’s not. Prep work dominates things leading up to the broadcast, getting notes, nuggets and entertaining tidbits take up time. Then once you’re prepped, some stadiums are better than others to broadcast. Some booths are easier to work than others.

Then there’s the forgotten element, the weather.

How will you handle inclement weather of any kind? Warmth, rain, snow and oh yeah, the dreaded freezing temperature. Before we get into it, here are a few of the less-than-ideal conditions my fellow broadcasters have had to deal with over the years. 

THE FOG BOWL

During the 1988 playoffs between the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, a dense fog rolled onto the field during the game, making it nearly impossible to play or see. Numerous players complained they couldn’t see 10 yards in front of them. Both teams were forced to use their running game because receivers couldn’t see long passes. The broadcast was called by Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw on CBS. 

“We couldn’t see anything—absolutely nothing,” CBS-TV play-by-play broadcaster Verne Lundquist told the Associated Press. “We had to look at the TV just like everyone else.” Lundquist’s color man, Terry Bradshaw, told viewers the game should have been suspended.

THE FREEZER BOWL

At -9 degrees Fahrenheit, the 1982 AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers proved to be the second-coldest game in NFL history. It was so cold that Bengals QB Ken Anderson suffered frost bite on his right ear. The temperature was not only -9 degrees, but the wind chill was measured at -58 degrees, by far the worst in league history.

THE ICE BOWL

The 1967 NFL Championship between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys became known as the “Ice Bowl.” It remains the coldest game ever played in the NFL, at -15 degrees with a wind chill of -48 degrees. Lambeau Field’s turf-heating system actually malfunctioned before the game, leaving the turf rock-hard. Officials actually had to resort to calling out plays and penalties because when referee Norm Schachter blew his metal whistle, it actually froze to his lips.

The last two are examples of something topical since last week’s “Super Wild Card” game in Buffalo was played in extreme temperatures. At kickoff, it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill made the temperature feel like minus-5. A far cry from the above games, but come on, it was freezing cold out there. 

The CBS Sports NFL announcing team of Ian Eagle and Charles Davis said Saturday’s game between Buffalo and New England was the coldest work environment they’ve experienced during their broadcasting careers. 

“We kept the windows closed in the booth until one hour before kickoff,” Eagle told The Athletic. “When we finally opened them, I had a sense that it would be manageable. I was wrong. CBS rented some industrial heaters for the night, but unfortunately, they were no match for the Western New York frigid air. It really hit me in the third quarter. I started shivering and actually had a few moments where my jaw got locked up mid-sentence. It was by far the coldest I’ve ever been calling a game.”

Davis recalled two games he called at Lambeau Field that were similar, but not as bad as it was in Buffalo.

“It helped that the evening was relatively clear, and the winds minimal, but make no mistake about it, ‘the Almighty Hawk (wind)’ made its presence felt and I kept drawing on one thought — everyone involved was cold, and they were persevering,” Davis explained to Richard Deitsch.

“In addition, we were watching history be made in front of us by the Bills offense — seven drives, seven touchdowns, something that had never been done in the NFL playoffs. Beyond impressive, and it definitely helped us maintain focus. I’m not sure anyone would choose to do a game under those conditions, but there was definitely a sense of pride among our team that we all worked to the best of our abilities on a night that would test all of us.”

Davis said that there was no way not to think about his discomfort. He gave credit to the stage crew in the booth that helped to keep him and Ian Eagle warm. There was also a jacket involved, a familiar one given to Eagle during the game, leading to an excellent exchange between he and Davis just before the third quarter started. 

Charles Davis: Where did you get the jacket?

Ian Eagle: What jacket?

Davis: That!

Eagle: Oh, this? Yes, Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, you might have noticed, wore this a few weeks ago and it hit the internet by storm. Kurt saw that we had this assignment. Kurt now runs a program “Warner’s Warmers,” he just sends the jacket out to whoever needs it. I feel like, I want Jiffy Pop Popcorn. This thing is very warm. This is the same jacket. Kurt sent this to me. Let me tell you, not all heroes wear capes, they wear “Silver Bullet Puffers.”

Davis: Let’s talk about the game for a minute. Kurt, a brother would like a jacket too…

I’ve never really experienced calling a game in that extreme weather, especially after all the years I’ve called baseball games. But being in the Midwest, even those early days in April and sometimes into May, cold temps are a factor.

I think the coldest game I ever called was a game with the Cubs where the temperature at the start was about 31 degrees with a wind coming off the lake. We debated on whether or not to open the windows in the booth. One voted no, one voted yes, so the compromise was the window near the play-by-play guy was cracked open just a bit. Games just sound different with the windows closed. It’s not as clean. It sounds like you’re doing a game in a closet. But sometimes self-preservation comes first. The same goes for extremely warm weather too. 

The elements can wreak havoc with the way you call a game. Your pen isn’t working all that well, and how do you score a game without taking your gloves off?  In those conditions, as Eagle was saying, your mouth isn’t in sync with your brain and you wonder if the torture will ever end! I know it sounds exaggerated but in the moment, its not. 

People sitting at home still want you to call the game. They are looking for the same information you would have given if it were 40 degrees instead of 40 below with the wind chill. It’s a big ask, but the broadcast crew has to find a way to adjust to the conditions and do what they are there to do. It helps when everyone understands that. It’s not to say that you can’t talk about the way things are in the booth or on the field from time to time. But don’t let it dominated the airtime, as tempting as it might be to do so. 

Just think, if you’re cold in the booth, what’s life like for the sideline reporter?

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BSM Writers

Ben And Woods Aren’t Doing a Show For One Person

“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show.”

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There’s no confusion about where their allegiances lie. And when it comes to being relatable to the audience, there’s few things Ben and Woods do better than buying season tickets at Petco Park, wearing Padres hats and cheering for the lone professional team in San Diego. 

Some hosts choose to never openly root for the teams they talk about on an everyday basis. Steven Woods and Ben Higgins strive to never hide who they are on the air. They’re Padres fans and they’re not afraid to show it. 

“I was in music radio before and sometimes it was hard to hide my disdain for some of the music that I played, so I just decided not to,” said Woods. “I just let it out there. People I think appreciate authenticity and if I didn’t like a song I’d tell you. But I still had to play it, right? With the Padres, it’s why I never sit in the press box, because I can’t cheer in there. I bought season tickets so that I can go and scream at the players like I want to. I think it resonates, because there’s fans listening in the car that want to see them do well too.”

“I do believe in journalistic integrity,” said Ben. “But to me that means you have to be honest. You have to be honest in your opinions and you can’t be afraid to be critical. No one is more critical of a team than their own fans. They are the most critical people of all. I don’t wanna be the fan that constantly criticizes, but at the same time, why would you listen to a show that is just relentlessly positive and gives you a white wash version of what’s not really reality? Every team has problems and it’s our job to point them out or nobody’s going to take you seriously.”

When you think of baseball towns, New York, Chicago and St. Louis are probably the three cities that immediately come to mind. But in a football world, San Diego has emerged as a new baseball town with the Chargers recently leaving for Los Angeles.

If you have any doubt that San Diego is now a baseball city, just listen to Ben and Woods on 97.3 The Fan from 5-9 am every weekday morning. The duo has no issues with doing three-plus hours of Padres talk, even during the offseason.

That’s not a new thing. Ben and Woods have always conducted the show the way it is now. They want to talk baseball, but they also want to hit off-topic content that will give the listener a chance to laugh on their way to work. 

That’s been the case since the show was at Mighty 1090. Ben and Woods were at the station as the morning show when it folded in 2019. That was an incredibly trying time for both talents. 

“It was pretty heartbreaking to be honest with you,” Woods said. “I had a brand new baby and the show was going great. We were on the rise and then it went away. It was shocking. It was also scary.  I think uncertain is the best word. We believed in our product and we knew there was a market for it and there was a station that just so happened to need a morning show. The timing was pretty serendipitous.”

“I had been a listener for 15 years before I ever worked at that station for the first time,” Ben said. “And then you get there and you feel like, wow, we’re here and then all the sudden it’s gone. It wasn’t overnight, at some point we lost the signal transmission then we went streaming and it was kind of a slow death over the last few weeks. Ultimately it just ended one day. It was a very strange thing. The fact we got picked up at 97.3 The Fan, got back on the air so quickly was really great.”

Sports radio show 'Ben and Woods' heads to 97.3 The Fan

Things are going extremely well for Ben and Woods at 97.3 The Fan. They’re thriving in morning drive with a unique show that’s different from any other in the market. Sure, they’ll talk about sports, but their focus is more on the overall entertainment of the show. 

“It’s morning drive, you’re there to entertain,” said Woods. “You do have to get really creative. We get very creative, because we have to. We take a lot of risks, more so than people would like. The way I look at it as no one remembers us talking about the NFL Playoffs. But they do remember the time we played a 17-minute Bob Dylan song in its entirety on the radio and sat through it. I remember that and always will. Nobody is ever going to say, ‘man, nobody breaks down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like you guys’. But they’ll remember, ‘holy crap, you guys literally played a 17 minute Bob Dylan song it’s entirety’.”

“When we started it was 95 percent sports and I was afraid to do anything else,” Ben said. ”We started doing segments like Ben reads raps, there was a really good response and I started to warm up on OK we can branch out a little bit. Now, if there was a day we didn’t have a non-sports topic I would say that was a weird show.”

“Rest assured, Opening Day comes, we’re blowing out every bit we have, period,” Woods said ”We’re one of the few shows in town that has no problem doing 3 1/2 hours of just Padres talk. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself a little bit. I always call it punting. It’s an easy thing to say, hey, the playoffs are this week let’s get the local beat writer on from every single team and we’ll interview them. Like anyone here gives a rats ass what the Packers beat writer has to say. There may be one guy, but I’m not doing a show for one guy.”

“I guarantee you I’m the only sports talk radio show host in America that gets made fun of regularly for talking Sports on the show,” laughed Ben. 

One of the reasons the show has the identity that it does, is because of Woods’ background in multiple formats of radio. No, he’s not a sports radio lifer, and in a way, it’s probably greatly benefitted the show. He’s taken his creativity from the music side and perfectly blended it with his love for sports. 

“I like sports radio more because there’s a lot more creativity,“ said Woods. “ I didn’t get to pick the music I got to play at all. Not even a little bit. I didn’t have a lot of chances to talk so for me, as a creative person, this is tremendous. We can do whatever we want and our bosses are pretty cool about giving us a lot of leeway. I’ve learned how audiences react. I’ve learned how to keep an audience. It’s energy, it’s being compelling, breaking balls, having fun. Guy’s driving to work in the mornings, he wants to get a snicker or a laugh, he’s not looking for breakdowns of defenses and things like that.”

Ben and Woods is much more than just the two hosts in the chair every weekday. The cool thing is that anyone that listens to the show knows that. Paul Reindl is the executive producer of the show and has a talent and relationship with the hosts that anyone would dream of. 

“He’s the worst,” laughed both Ben and Woods. “Paulie is great. We were able to get away this weekend and after we drank like 40 beers and whiskeys, I was like bro, I’m so proud of you and you’re so valuable to the show. But he’s an unsung hero behind the scenes. He has an uncanny ability to bring sound drops almost intuitively. He’s got pages and pages of drops we’ve collected over the years. He’s just an awesome producer.”

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BSM Writers

Sports Are Learning To Meet Gen Z Where They Are

“The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity.”

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Should sports radio be concerned about where audiences will come from in the future? It is an interesting question that we talk about here a lot. It is also something that the New York Times tackled indirectly last week.

A column from Joe Drape and Ken Belson declared this generation of kids “The eSports Generation” and went on to explain just how disconnected from traditional sports they really are.

An alarmist might ask if this is the beginning of the end of traditional sports leagues. Someone a little more level-headed, like Joe Ovies, may want to dive a little deeper to see what leagues are learning and how they are adapting.

Joe hosts The OG in afternoon drive at 99.9 The Fan in Raleigh. He is always interested in how changes in technology and consumption patterns effect sports and his audience. I saw him tweeting about the New York Times piece last week and asked if he would want to write a little something for us.

Enjoy!

Demetri Ravanos


“Meet your audience where they are.”

How many times have you heard that phrase in the last 5 years from a consultant, manager, or any number of Barrett Media posts as content consumption trends continue to spread out over a variety of platforms? Turns out the same applies for pro sports leagues, who are fearful that an entire generation of fans will be lost and their traditional business model will crater as a result.

The New York Times recently highlighted what sports marketers are doing to win over Generation Z, which typically applies to kids born from 1997 to 2012. The Times hits the usual beats.

There’s a reference to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, an esports star who is also a traditional sports fan, who the NFL hoped would be a Pied Piper for youth fandom. There are examples of MLB, famously stingy when it came to fans using their content on social media, now working with TikTok influencers. And of course, highlighting the NBA’s wide ranging approach to online engagement and their franchise run NBA 2K esports league. Most of the article was based on a recent SSRS/Luker on Trends report, which conducts regular surveys about sports and society.

The issue for pro sports leagues isn’t that Gen Z kids aren’t “passionate” enough about sports. It’s that Gen Z is more likely to admit they simply don’t like sports.

“Only 23 percent of Generation Z said they were passionate sports fans, compared with the 42 percent of millennials (defined as 26 to 41), 33 percent of Generation X (42 to 57) and 31 percent of baby boomers (57 to 76) who identified themselves as passionate. More striking was that 27 percent of Gen Zers said they disliked sports altogether, compared with just 7 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Gen Xers and 6 percent of boomers.”

The new york times, Jan. 12, 2022

Also factoring into the waning interest in sports from Gen Z is the dramatic decline of youth sports participation. There is a larger discussion to be had about the role of parents and specialization in this decline, but we can address that topic another day. As it relates to pro sports leagues today, the drop in youth participation absolutely impacts the level of interest in kids who might want to watch the best in the world of sports do their thing.

“Participation in youth sports was declining even before Covid-19: In 2018, only 38 percent of children ages 6 to 12 played team sports on a regular basis, down from 45 percent in 2008, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

In June 2020, the pandemic’s early days, 19 percent of parents with kids in youth sports said their child was not interested in playing sports, according to a survey conducted by The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. By September 2021, that figure was 28 percent.

On average, children play less than three years in a sport and quit by age 11, according to the survey. Why? Mostly, because it is not fun anymore.”

the New york times, Dec. 19th 2021

The crux of the issue is that Gen Z is the first generation of kids who are truly free to find their “thing” in a way previous generations never could thanks to modern connectivity. Meeting up on the playground or at a friend’s backyard for a pickup game has been replaced with meeting your friends on a Discord server and deciding if you’re going to play Halo or Call or Duty after school.

If you have kids in the age range that I do, none of this should be a surprise. You see it every day and don’t even think twice about it. But if you do stop and think about how frictionless it has become to be online all day with your friends, you start to realize the impact of never being bored or getting dragged to things by your parent because there were no other options.

Watching sports and going to sporting events isn’t frictionless. It’s a pain in the ass. Older generations deal with it because we don’t know any better, it’s just what we do. But Gen Z isn’t about to stop what they’re doing just to watch a game. Why would they? They can get the highlights later.

Gen Z is about dropping in and out of entertainment options whenever they feel like it. In other words, why would they sit around waiting for their favorite song to be played on the radio when they can easily pull it up on YouTube or Spotify.

Pro sports leagues can create all the social content and tout billions of views. They can tout engagement with Gen Z because a bunch of kids bought NFL related skins in Fortnite.

Awareness of their leagues isn’t the problem. It’s getting Gen Z to care enough to watch the game. Take my kids, who are fully aware of what’s going on in the world of sports, but getting them to sit down and actually watch the game is torture. Throw in the increasing cost to attend sporting events, I’ve started leaving them at home because it’s a waste of money given my 13-year-old is just gonna play Clash Royale in that $75 seat.

To be clear — I’m OK with my kids just not being into sports. It’s not like I didn’t try. It’s simply understanding we’ve transitioned to a world of niche communities. You can still thrive within those niche communities. Just look at sports talk radio as an example, where you’re not winning with cume, but with passion around sports. That’s what great sports talk radio stations sell. Pro sports leagues will be fine doing the same.

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