Why bother with formal names anymore? Let’s just refer to Alabama as the University of Saban, LSU as Coach O State, Clemson as Swinney and Texas A&M as Jimbo Station. Here we’ve thought the purpose of a college campus was to serve America’s future leaders with daily doses of higher education and social direction, but this autumn, don’t be stunned if that precept is crushed by the real objective of university life.
It is, first and foremost, a place of football worship.
And don’t you ever forget it, dadgummit, even if it means protecting Lord Football at the expense of academia: ordering the student body out of classrooms, shifting to online instruction and forcing kids to return home — yeah, scram, all you future scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers — so these sacred players can be isolated from grubby COVID-19 outbreaks and still generate tens of millions in revenues for, say, the University of Mack Brown at Chapel Hill. That school formerly was known as North Carolina, until the administration saw 130 students test positive for the coronavirus last week and seized a sleazy opportunity amid a global health crisis. Hey, why not declare the campus unsafe and send everyone back where they came from?
Except the athletes!
“Even with not going to classrooms, that helps us create a better seal around our program and a better bubble,” said Brown, thinking only of his program and the money it produces. “The NBA model is working. They’ve had very few distractions, and what we’re trying to do is make sure our players and our staff understand that we’ve got three months here where we cannot go outside for social reasons or to eat or anything else if we want to have our season.”
This is abhorrent in so many ways, I might need three vomit bags to get through this column and three baths afterward. The NBA, NHL and other professional leagues created restrictive environments for athletes — people who are paid handsome salaries for their labor — in an attempt to complete seasons. College football is trying to create the same Bubble experience for unpaid athletes to play entire seasons, while, just as despicably, shooing away students who’ve paid tuition to learn a life skill, make friends, have a romance, build a bridge to adulthood and earn a full degree so, you know, they stand a chance to survive in a murky America and eventually pay off their college loans.
Be certain that every program in the three Power Five conferences still plotting to play games — Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big 12 — is eyeing the Chapel Hill experiment like bank robbers studying a heist. As students were urged to leave campus, athletes have been allowed to stay, with the Tar Heels resuming football practice Monday for a looming Sept. 12 season opener against Syracuse. If the positive momentum from power players and donors is worth absorbing the outcry from parents, faculty and media, you can be damned sure every major football factory with a virus outbreak will banish scholars to Make Football Safe Again. And when top programs pull in more than $100 million annually, if not closer to $200 million, well, they’ll simply clean the mess with a few paper towels — the quicker picker-upper — and ignore the indignation.
It doesn’t require a conspiratorial mind to snuff out the grand scheme. Universities are voicing alarm, as they should be, about virus outbreaks among party-obsessed, irresponsible COVID-iots on campuses in at least three dozen states. But many schools sound faux-shocked about these inevitable cases, obviously with football riches in mind. At Notre Dame, home of legends and fables, the school president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, canceled in-person classes and closed public spaces for two weeks after 336 students tested positive. Then he issued a warning: “If these steps are not successful, we’ll have to send students home as we did last spring.’’
That way, the Fighting Irish can Bubble-Up the football players, maintain the financial funnel from NBC to Touchdown Jesus and share in their new ACC wealth. Notre Dame has shifted to a 10-game ACC pandemic schedule and is following not only its own money but windfalls produced by Dabo Swinney, whose Clemson cult cash-grabs annual College Football Playoff revenues for all league members and would be favored again to reach any Final Four this season. This explains why the ACC, which plans to launch its schedule two weeks before the SEC and Big 12, is particularly loud at the administrative level about soaring COVID-19 numbers. After a horde of freshmen gathered on the Syracuse campus — remember, on Sept. 12, Dino Babers University battles the University of Mack Brown at Chapel Hill — vice chancellor J. Michael Haynie lashed out at the kids’ lack of social distancing and mask-protocol, saying, “Make no mistake, there is not a single student who gathered on the Quad last night who did not know and understand that it was wrong to do so. … I want you to understand right now and very clearly that we have one shot to make this happen. The world is watching, and they expect you to fail. Prove them wrong. Be better. Be adults.’’ By laying down the law publicly, a university greases the skids for an incremental progression toward the end goal: a campus shutdown and football Bubble.
Of course, no one in power is addressing a disturbing truth: Football players remain vulnerable to virus outbreaks even without the student body on campus. They engage in COVID-19 mosh pits for almost four hours on Saturdays and during practices all week. They travel to games on other campuses and stay in hotels. Oh, and do you think all players suddenly will stop partying responsibly off campus? I agree, send all students home if the transmission rates are out of control.
But send the athletes home, too. Or else you are exploiting them, now more than ever, as servants who are taking monumental health risks that pose potential long-term damage for themselves and their families.
As Chapel Hill basketball player Garrison Brooks tweeted, “So what’s the difference in student athletes and regular students? Are we immune to this virus because we play a sport?”
No. But you are expected to suck it up as a guinea pig at the University of Roy Williams, who also is allowed to resume practice in a sport, college basketball, that should clean up its widespread corruption cesspool before it contemplates a Bubble-based season.
At this rate, with North Carolina State students the latest to depart residence halls, the entire ACC will be Bubble-ized before we know it. While typical revenues cannot be anticipated in abnormal times, the conference schools (and Notre Dame) would be looking at about $32 million each for a full regular schedule and a bit less if they complete the 2020 season. See why they’d all sell their souls to Lord Football? Even a leading American academic institution, Duke, has been suspiciously quiet as it awaits its ACC season opener — at Notre Dame! — on Sept. 12. “The health and safety of our student-athletes is our unconditional priority,” chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement after N.C. State — er, Dave Doeren State — moved to online classes. “We will continue to hold practices and workouts for our teams under the previously established protocols by our University, Athletics Department and local health officials.” The expectation, the school reiterated, is “to compete this Fall.’’
All of which defies infectious disease experts who say college football should go away, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 have wisely determined. In the defining quote, Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University said, “I feel like the Titanic. We have hit the iceberg, and we’re trying to make decisions on what time we should have the band play. What’s important right now is we need to control this virus. Not having fall sports this year, in controlling this virus, would be, to me, the No. 1 priority.’’
Del Rio serves on the NCAA’s advisory panel. Remember, the NCAA does not control a college football machine all but owned and operated by ESPN, which shares its cooperative treasures — along with CBS, Fox Sports and NBC — with five dozen or so campus factories. Almost unanimously painted as a scoundrel by critics including pay-for-play crusader LeBron James, NCAA president Mark Emmert made sense in May when he said, “All of the Division I commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus. … So if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.’’ Seems the commissioners and school officials have been struck by amnesia, including Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who told Sports Illustrated last spring that football couldn’t be played without a functioning classroom paradigm on campus: “I hate talking in absolutes, but I can’t see doing it. The students have to be on campus.’’ There are no absolutes when big money is at stake. If Jenkins shuts down the campus, I dare him to send home the football players.
Over Knute Rockne’s dead body, he won’t.
Yes, universities need those lucrative football revenues to help stay afloat financially and avoid cutting athletic programs. The more honorable approach: Prioritize the health and safety of the general enrollment instead of sending students home AND pocketing their money, with some schools refusing at this point to lower tuition for online-only classes. At least the students urged to flee the University of Mack Brown will be reimbursed for meals and allowed to void housing contracts. But what about those who live off-campus? And Mack and Roy still expect students to pay the normal fees — $279 for athletics, $400 for student health, $200-plus for campus transportation, $160 for the student union — even when they’re studying at kitchen tables in Gastonia and Asheville.
The universities will say they’re dutifully obeying the instructions of the Trump-muzzled rock star, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told CNN, “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall. If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
They are taking him at face value when Fauci, blunt when he has to be, would tell them to stop this Bubble farce at once. Besides, if the NFL is having trouble with authenticating virus tests — at least 10 teams are concerned about a slew of reported false positives from the same New Jersey labs — how can anyone be sure about the efficacy of collegiate testing programs? As del Rio told the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, “What are universities about, football or educating students? It seems to me we’re twisting everything to accommodate football instead of doing what we need to do to control the pandemic.”
Pandemic? What’s a pandemic when the University of Manny Diaz, formerly Miami of Florida, hosts Alabama-Birmingham to kick off the season in just 17 days, baby?
What Can Programmers Learn From A Social Media Following?
“A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure.”
I first began using Twitter in 2009 when I was a reporter at The Seattle Times. Jim Mora was the Seattle Seahawks coach and I had a smart phone made by Palm. The Twitter app was so wonky I posted live updates from Seahawks press conferences via TwitPic, sending a picture of the person speaking with the news item included as a caption. We’ve all come a long way since then.
I like Twitter. Over the past 12-plus years, I’ve found that my sarcasm and sense of humor (if you can call it that) translated better on Twitter than it ever did in print or later as a radio host at 710 ESPN Seattle. I’ve made friends on Twitter, picked fights with other reporters and generally found it a good place to test out ideas and arguments and an increasingly terrible place to discuss anything important. I have more than 40,000 followers, which is not insignificant nor is it at all exceptional given the market I worked in. None of this gives you any idea about how well I’ve done my job in sports media, though.
Yet an individual’s Twitter following has become part of our industry scoreboard. It’s certainly not the final score and it definitely doesn’t decide the outcome, but it is the best way I know to gain a quick assessment of someone’s reach and/or significance. It’s a data point that is readily accessible. It’s the thing I check first when I encounter someone who’s part of the sports-media industry.
But what does it really tell us? More specifically, how much does it tell us about that person’s ability to do their actual job whether it is reporting news, writing stories or being part of a show? Because as important as Twitter has become in sports-media, no one is making money from Twitter and social media specialists are the only people who are really being paid to Tweet.
For most of us, Twitter is not a job, it is a tool. For a radio host, it’s a way to interact with listeners outside the footprint and time slot of the show. It also is a powerful opportunity to deepen audience engagement through two-way, real-time communication. These things may help a host’s job performance, but they should not be mistaken for the actual job itself. A radio host is not valuable because he or she was right on Twitter or because they were first on Twitter or because they had a viral Tweet. A radio host is valuable because of the ability to attract, entertain and retain an audience during a specific slot of time. Twitter may help you prepare to do that, but it does not actually accomplish the task.
Programmers need to understand this, too. A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure. Just look at what book publishers have found.
An article last month in the New York Times showed how publishers have used social media followings as a weathervane of sorts for books sales. The number of followers an author has is influencing everything from what authors are paid to which books get published. This is especially true when it comes to non-fiction books. The rationale is pretty straightforward when you look under hood of that particular industry.
A publisher is the business that buys a certain book from the author, essentially making a bet that the sales of this book the author is writing or has written will more than cover the money paid to the author as well as the cost of publication and promotion of the book. A publisher wants as much assurance as possible that this book will sell sufficient copies to not just make its money back, but insure a profit. This is where the author’s social media audience comes in. The follower count is being looked to as an indicator of just how many people can be expected to buy this book. After all, someone following the author is certainly a sign they’re interested in what that author has to say. Some percentage of those followers can reasonably be expected to buy a book by this person. Except social media followings turn out to be a fairly terrible tool of forecasting book sales.
Billie Eilish has 99 million Instagram followers. Her book — released last year — sold 64,000 copies. If I was being catty, I would point out that is one book sold for every 1,546 Instagram followers.
“Even having one of the biggest social media followings in the world is not a guarantee,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris.
So we should all just stop paying attention to Twitter followings, right? Hardly. First of all, it is a data point, and anyone waiting for social media followings to become LESS important probably thinks the Internet is just a fad. More importantly, having a following is certainly better than not having one as it does indicate the ability to attract an audience.
The issue isn’t whether it’s good to have a large following. Of course it is. The issue is how reliable that is in predicting an individual’s interest or appeal outside of that specific social platform.
What programmers need to do is get smarter about how they evaluate social media followings by answering two questions:
- Why are people following this particular talent? Content is the catch-all answer here. Go beyond that. What sort of content is this person providing that none of his or her peers are? Will that type of content be valuable as part of my lineup whether it’s terrestrial radio, a podcast or other format? Someone who’s funny on Twitter may be funny in other formats. They may also just be funny on Twitter. Are there examples of how this kind of content has worked in the past or reasons to think it will work in the future?
- How likely is this talent’s social media following to migrate to my medium? This is one of the trickier ones. One of the reasons for acquiring a talent with a large social media following is the hope that some of their followers will become your customers. While this is always possible, the more important question is whether it’s likely.
Remember, that example of Eilish, who had 99 million Instagram followers and sold 64,000 books? Well, that number of books is actually not a bad result. In fact, it’s absolutely solid for book sales. The problem was the publishing house didn’t expect a solid sales performance. It expected incredibly strong sales because it paid a significant amount of money to Eilish in the form of an advance.
It’s clear the publishing house made a bad bet, but the principal mistake was not about Eilish’s ability — or lack thereof — to produce a book. She did produce one that was 336 pages long, loaded with family photos never seen before and while there wasn’t as much text as you might expect, the sales were solid. The mistake the publishing house made was overestimating how many of Eilish’s fans would become customers in an entirely different medium, and I think that’s a lesson worth noting in this industry.
Unless you’re hiring someone to do social media for your company, Twitter is not going to be their job. It’s just a tool. An important tool, a useful one, but just a tool.
How Good Can iHeart’s AdBuilder Solution Be?
“It was slick, I admit.”
Do it yourself radio has come to a new client you will never meet. These clients are ready to do it themselves. All they want is to buy a radio campaign. And iHeart AdBuilder is all they need.
Let’s figure this out.
In 2019, iHeart started beta testing a do-it-yourself online platform for small businesses to battle Facebook and Google.
I went to the website to see how it worked. It was slick, I admit. It would be a great topic to add to the BSM Summit.
The first piece of info. the site wants to establish is your campaign goal. The four choices were “Get website traffic”, “Have listeners know my address”, “Get phone calls”, and “Announce an event”.
When was the last time you wrote a new business order with any of those four goals as the single reason for the campaign? Wouldn’t that be easier for the copywriter and the client to track results? TRY IT!
I inputted that I wanted to announce an event and proceeded to the following prompt. My business name, address, website, and industry were the following choices. So far, so good. The only tricky part were the industry choices.
I can see how specific business categories are not precisely represented, like counter service restaurants. They are not fast food because there is no drive-through, but they aren’t a full-service restaurant either due to no waiters being used and many other factors. It isn’t confusing for me, but you know how clients can be!
Selecting the market I wanted my customers to come from was easy, and it allowed iHeart to choose the closest radio stations. Identifying the ONE type of customer I wanted was fantastic. I can see how it focuses the client on a primary target. Parents with young kids or teens, foodies, married couples, single adults, or an option to select my demo all seemed easy enough.
The demos offered weren’t Men 18-34, but men, women or adults, young adults, seniors, adults, or the dreaded all ages. Next was selecting when I wanted to run and how much I wanted to spend. It wasn’t a challenge because you choose your dates, and then you’re given three choices for a weekly budget. In my case, it was $500, $750, or $1,000 per week. iHeart AdBuilder bills you less if the whole week isn’t used.
Impressions, frequency, and reach were highlighted, and they showed the logos of the two stations my $500 was going to be spent on. I noticed there was no information on when the ads would air, how many times per day, or any of that! “You give us $500, and we will spend it over the week on these two stations when and where we want! And it will work!”
The pages dedicated to creating copy are straight forward and, as salespeople, we have filled those types of forms out plenty of times. iHeart is highlighting that they are waiving the $100 production fee. Maybe, that will change in the future. After going to the checkout, your credit card is given a temporary authorization (which will be reversed), and you are told your ad will be emailed to you in a few days. You won’t be billed until your ads air.
What are the odds this $500 campaign over two stations in a few days will work? Who knows, but I bet the automated emails and follow-up calls will be relentless. I think it’s a great platform and can see a decent percentage of smaller new business deals go this direction. Some clients may even prefer to never “deal” with a salesperson again, kind of like most of our agency buyers. That leaves us with a whole lotta middle ground. For now.
Media Noise – Episode 58
Demetri welcomes Brandon Kravitz and Derek Futterman to the show this week. They talk about Hub Arkush, Aaron Rodgers, Michelle Tafoya, and Pete Thamel.
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