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The Producer’s Playbook: Relationship Maintenance

“Chalking something up to ‘miscommunication’ while working in the business of communications is unacceptable.”

Chrissy Paradis

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In the first volume of the Playbook, we heard from Jon Goulet, Roy Bellamy and Dustin Swedelson about the significance of building relationships in the sports media world. This is a concept that clearly extends to your contact list, and requires a tenacious commitment to the maintenance, development and management of these relationships.

Relationship Maintenance 📕 David Spates video diary # 36 - YouTube

What is your show/station’s routine for submitting guest requests or targets for the near future? How are the confirmed guests communicated to other shows on the station so they can effectively cross-promote? Are the digital and management folks being kept in the loop?

If you have not evaluated these areas in a while, a very easy solution is creating a ‘Guest Requests’ & ‘Guest Targets’ spreadsheet in the user-friendly Google Docs format. It is a wonderful tool where updates can be logged, dated, time stamped, and everyone’s intentions are clear, not to mention, you’re saving everyone the headache associated with multiple requests from the same station being sent to the same individual.

The easiest way to prevent this scenario? Communication.

Streamlined, efficient communication makes a significant difference in day-to-day and long-term lives of producers, especially as it pertains to the handling of interview inquiries. The time investment in correctly, effectively communicating with potential guests can be significant, but it’s definitely worth it compared to the time involved in doing damage control to mitigate the damage done to the station’s reputation following a barrage of requests from multiple producers under one roof. Chalking something up to ‘miscommunication’ while working in the business of communications is unacceptable. The entire concept can be prevented, avoided and rectified virtually in the implementation of a formatting system similar to the template below. 

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The option of also including an email chain when updates, additions, confirmations and other changes have been made to help loop in other shows, the digital team, and management about upcoming guest spots. This is an easy way to encourage promotion across the station’s live programming and social media accounts to maximize exposure across dayparts and platforms.

Additionally, keep a rolling list of guests that you hope to have on the show within the next month, regular guests, and guests for holidays, special occasions and local events for your show. This way, you’ve covered all of your bases and kept everyone in the loop about your plans in the near future.

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In terms of how to book guests or how to improve your guest booking, I wanted to provide some input from two experts as to include their tips, advice and strategies.

Joshua Drew, talent producer with ESPN working on shows like Mike & Mike, Get Up, First Take and NFL Live, offers some amazing insight on guest booking in his philosophy on relationships with guests.

“Very rarely is it about a one time hit with a guest. It’s important for me to foster relationships overtime with guests, especially those that I feel will be useful over and over again. I always like to check in with the guest after the interview. Their comfort level through the experience has to be the top priority.”

From Ice Cream to ESPN Radio, the Journey of Joshua Drew - Front ...

I asked Drew, what role his uncanny guest booking ability and deep contact list has played in his long run with ESPN: 

For me, guest booking is like working in sales. It’s growing and maintaining the relationship long after the interview is over. It helped to have two huge names in the sports business in Greeny and Golic, but making sure guests are happy and not feeling used is huge.”

The ESPN talent producer has advice for his fellow producers in building or expanding their contacts too.

“I would say it starts with brainstorming and pitching and broadening your shows horizon on as many guests as you can get them to say yes to. From there, it’s figuring out how to get the guest on. There is always a way and the internet is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. Once you get your contact, dive into the relationship whether it be with an agent, PR person or the guest directly. There are a lot of fake people in this business and being authentic can be a breath of fresh air to a guest and help you stick out in their minds moving forward.”

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Dave Druda, the executive producer for The Tim Brando Show taught me firsthand about the importance of building relationships with guests. Druda shares his ‘golden rule’ for guest booking for the Playbook:

“Try to put yourself in their shoes. Here is someone coming out of the blue and asking for a favor. That’s what I did, a dozen times every day. I asked strangers for favors. The guests I was seeking out owed me nothing, so I had to give them a reason to want to do it. At the very least I had to make it pleasant to appear on the show and minimize the inconvenience.

“I know it’s inconvenient to stop what you’re doing for a 20-minute phone call. I tried to be very respectful of their time and appreciated the generosity that they expressed by joining our show. Also, be prepared to reciprocate if asked. They may ask for a plug, or for the host to ask about something specific, or a copy of the audio afterward. It’s the producer’s responsibility to see that the needs of the host and guest are fully met.”

Dave Druda (@DaveDruda) | Twitter

The guest booking needs can vary depending on the host you’re working with. Similarly, there will be some differences when booking on a local terrestrial program and a nationally syndicated radio/television simulcast. Through all of these dynamics, there are many constants. Druda gleaned wisdom from every area of his career in order to establish his Rolodex. I asked him whether his contact list and guest booking skills played a role in his amazing run with The Tim Brando Show.

“It was a learned skill! In local radio, I mostly leaned on ‘friends of the court’ to be guests. People my hosts already had relationships with, or that I was already connected to. It was rare to seek out a new contact unless there was a special event that needed a specific person to give comments. Once I got to Sporting News Radio, I was made aware very quickly that new big-name guests would be consistently needed. Todd Wright was very helpful in explaining the differences between the needs of a local and national show. Todd had a great policy: ‘I’ll tell you what I want, and you deliver it.’ The pressure was on, but expectations were so simple and clear.

“I took that philosophy into working with Tim Brando who required about four times the number of guests. Many of them were recurring guests that were expecting to speak with Tim at some point, but Tim also wanted more. Namely, head coaches of top 25 schools that had a big game that week.

“When I joined Tim, I had only spoken to a few Sports Information Directors. By the end of my first month on the Brando Show, I had made contact with at least 40 new SID’s. It was a crash course! Just as Todd was clear with me, I was clear with Tim. I asked Tim to tell me exactly what he wanted, and I would deliver. It worked great! Tim was happy, and I was relieved when I confirmed someone that Tim wanted.”

Druda has an acronym to accompany his advice for those looking to build and strengthen their contacts going forward in their careers and shares his experience to illustrate why using a form request is a big no-no.

“Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. The 5 P’s (maybe that should be the P5.) I learned this the hard way when I asked a West Virginia SID for their basketball coach to join our show to talk about the football teams’ big win last week. It was terribly embarrassing to get an email back that said, ‘I think you mean Coach Stewart. I’m sure Coach Huggins would be happy to join you though.’

WVU hoops routs Madrid All-Stars; Huggins sees lots to be desired ...

“Thank goodness WVU’s Sports Information office had mercy on a rookie because my job as a guest booker could have been very brief. I was unprepared. I had a form email request that I was filling out, Googled ‘WVU Head Coach’ and just pasted in the first name I saw. Please, do not use form email requests! Learn from my mistakes! 

“Take the time to research your guest before asking for them to appear on the show. It’s the least you can do. It will also help you toward building a positive relationship with the SIDs and media relations people you’ll speak with over the years. There will come a time when you’ll have to ask them for a favor. Give them a reason to grant your request.”

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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