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4 Lessons In 5 States Sports Radio Should Learn From The Election

“Let’s focus only on how the votes shook out from the winning side’s point of view, because every victory in every walk of life happens for a reason.”

Demetri Ravanos

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I am still not entirely sure how to classify this election. It’s over. The votes have been counted. Joe Biden won.

Biden wins 2020 presidential election: Live coverage

It seems like the story will continue with multiple lawsuits and at least one recount. People close to Donald Trump are worried that he will have to be dragged out of the Oval Office, so I guess that is something to look forward to?

Let’s put the future to the side for a moment. Let’s focus only on how the votes shook out from the winning side’s point of view, because every victory in every walk of life happens for a reason.

As I have digested the results of the 2020 Presidential Election, there are five states that stand out to me. All of them have something to teach us – a lesson that our industry should be paying attention to. After all, just like Joe Biden and Donald Trump, everyday we are trying to get the public to pick our programming.

GEORGIA – THERE IS NEVER A LOST CAUSE

I grew up in Alabama. It is the deepest, reddest part of the South you could imagine. There has never been a time where I thought it or any of the states surrounding it would ever vote for a Democrat. That may still be true in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, but it isn’t in Georgia.

After Stacey Abrams lost the governor’s race in 2018, she made it her mission to get every Black Georgian she could registered to vote. She wanted to show them that even in a state with an egregious history of voter suppression, they had power. Two years later, Joe Biden appears to have won that state, and both Senate races are headed to runoffs.

There is no ratings battle that is out of reach. There is no revenue goal that cannot be met. If Georgia has taught us anything, it is to first have a clear plan and goal. Next, do the groundwork. Then take care of the foundation you’ve built. Finally, have patience and execute your plan every single day.

Stacey Abrams deserves all of the credit for turning Georgia blue because she knew that her ultimate goal wasn’t just getting people to register. She had to get them to vote too.

Narrowing the ratings gap on competition is good. Incremental revenue growth is good. Do not let those things give you enough satisfaction to take your foot off the gas. Be ready to set a new goal the moment you hit the original one.

ARIZONA – POPULATIONS CHANGE

Arizona was a reliably red state for years. Why did it go blue in 2020? Well, pundits seem to give a lot of credit to the work of Cindy McCain. The widow of Senator John McCain endorsed Biden, and never let the people of her state forget how cruel President Trump was to her late husband.

Sorry, I don’t buy that. I am sure Mrs. McCain’s endorsement of Joe Biden didn’t help Donald Trump, but anyone that hasn’t been turned off by his cruelty on the macro-level isn’t going to be swayed by something against one dude.

Arizona got younger and it got browner than it was four years ago. Donald Trump pardoned a sheriff that was in prison for openly terrorizing young, brown people. Donald Trump didn’t change anything about his strategy from 2016 and it burned him in Maricopa and Pima Counties. They’re the two youngest and two most populous in the state.

If your station isn’t evolving, it is dying. Even if it is thriving right now, the longer you sit still, the tougher it is to fend off challengers.

You don’t need to go shaking up your lineup every year. You should have a plan for the future though. What has to change in order to get to the next level? What is working now compared to the competition, but not with the same level of success it was working a few years ago? Is your imaging current and relevant? That is the voice most identified with your station.

You cannot use the same strategies and liners you were using five or ten years ago. Your listener base and their needs have changed.

FLORIDA – EVERY MESSAGE DOESN’T WORK FOR EVERY AUDIENCE

If you are worried that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to open the door to unchecked socialism, I’ve got good news for you. Go check out their records. There is next to no reason to believe the redistribution of wealth starts on their watch.

It doesn’t matter if it is true though. That was Donald Trump’s line of attack and in Florida, a state that used to be the battleground key to just about every election, it worked and it worked for two reasons. First, Joe Biden just kind of ignored Trump’s accusations, and accusations of being a socialist hit very different with the Cuban and Venezuelan populations in Miami-Dade County. Dismissing them as “mularky”, or whatever other old man swears Joe Biden uses, instead of actually laying out his record and making his case cost Biden votes in a county he needed to dominate in order to win the state.

Will Cuba Tip Florida to Trump? - The New York Times

There isn’t a single message or style that works for every sports fan all the time. It’s why we do focus group testing and build lineups of shows that sound different.

Go back to the point about Arizona. It’s why imaging even exists, let alone evolves. Not everyone will respond to the same thing, so don’t bother thinking about how you can tell fans you have everything they need. You want to make it clear to the largest possible audience that you have something for them.

PENNSYLVANIA & MICHIGAN – IMPROVE ON YOUR WEAKNESSES, BUT LEAN INTO YOUR STRENGTHS

What was the narrative coming out of 2016? The Democrats had lost touch with the white working class. The party was too wrapped up in identity politics to actually address the issues that plagued that particular population, a large one that traditionally voted blue.

So going into 2020 there was a focus on winning back the factory towns across the Midwest. Pennsylvania and Michigan were key to the Democrats’ strategy of creating a “blue wall”, and they were successful. Is that because the Democrats put all their eggs in the white working class basket?

Nope. They paid attention to where they previously had a blind spot and nominated a candidate that population could see itself in, but Joe Biden ended up overtaking Donald Trump in Pennsylvania and Michigan as the results of mail in ballots came in because most of them came from Philadelphia and Detroit respectively. He won by not losing site of what Democrats always do – dominating in the country’s largest population centers.

How Joe Biden gained an edge in Michigan - ABC News

If you have a host that can thrive on access, look for places to inject some personality into his or her show, but don’t lose site on what brought the listeners in the first place. If you have the chance to secure a major play-by-play partner, go for it, but weigh what the costs will be if it means having to lose talent or support staff that make your station what it is.

Winning anything worth winning is hard. It is why it’s worth paying attention to how big victories happen, even if it didn’t go the way you hoped.

BSM Writers

Bobby Marks Found The Media And ESPN Found Him

“I guess I found the media and the media found me where, after about a month, I got the itch right around the draft and around free agency.”

Brady Farkas

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Bobby Marks

Back in the day, I used to love playing the Madden NFL and the NCAA Football franchise video games. They were so good because you could do everything. You could control action on the field and/or you could control action off the field with several different off-season modes.

Now, I always loved playing the actual games and maneuvering through seasons, but I had a friend who I could have sworn liked the recruiting part of the college game better than the actual playing and he liked the setting ticket prices part better than the actual playing of the pro game.

I kind of feel that’s where we’re at with the NBA. For some people, the actual season and on-court play is the fun part, and for some people, the offseason drama and transactions is the fun part.

To discuss that and more, including his rise in media, I caught up with ESPN NBA Front Office Insider and former Nets General Manager Bobby Marks.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some questions and answers have been shortened or edited for clarity.

BSM: When you got out of the NBA, you had been in it for 20 years. Why did you not want to stay in the NBA? Why did you want to transition into something else?

Bobby Marks: When you have two young boys at home, you basically have to reinvent yourself. Your options are somewhat limited. I was under the impression that I would I’d take a year off because I still had some salary coming in and then I would kind of figure things out next offseason, in the offseason of 2016.

I guess I found the media and the media found me where, after about a month, I got the itch right around the draft and around free agency. I really just started going on social media and going on Twitter and just commenting on how free agency works and how contracts work and how it impacts teams when a trade happens and that’s really how the media part started for me. There was nothing beforehand. And I just built a following from there, in 180 characters or 240 or however many, and in however long I went from 250 followers to 10,000 to 20,000. And it just kind of built from there.

I had known Woj (Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) for a while because when I worked in New Jersey, he worked for the Bergen Record. And I saw him on the concourse of NBA Summer League in Vegas and he was like, ‘Hey, I really like what you’re doing on Twitter and stuff. And we’re thinking of branching off at Yahoo (when Woj worked there) and starting a basketball division here. And we’ll have people with specialties, newsbreakers, people who do sneakers, and the draft and featured writers. We’re interested in someone doing a front office section.” He asked if I’d have interest and I said yeah…

BSM: Considering you had a goal of getting back into the NBA, were you ever leery of saying too much or giving away secrets and how it might impact you?

BM: I think I was warned about three times from the Nets when I got into the media part of it. They were like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to pull back a little bit here….’ And that’s the balancing act for me. I need to give the perspective of when a team like Minnesota trades four first-round picks and they’re getting crushed in the media, and I’ve been there. I was in Brooklyn, we did it with (Paul) Pierce and (Kevin) Garnett, I know the perspective here… I’ve followed Jon Gruden and Jeff Van Gundy, guys who have coached, and then were in the media, and I always wondered, ‘When would they ever go back?

For me, this was always going to be a stepping stone and then I was going to be back in the league in a year. And I think as the years go by and you get a comfort level with what you’re doing here, it makes it more challenging to go back to the league, unless of course the perfect opportunity is going to be there.

BSM: Did you ever realize how much of a grind the media circuit is?

BM: No, I didn’t…it’s a different grind. Like it’s a different grind because I feel like I’m working for all 30 teams. I have no bias for the Lakers or the Nets or the Milwaukee Bucks, but it’s more staying on top of things, where as in Brooklyn and New Jersey, I was just focused on that team. I’m focused on 15 players.

I’m focused on the employees within our department here. And certainly you’re still calling teams and you’re checking in on teams here, but for this, I feel like I’m working for all 30 teams and for all 30 teams fan bases, as far as giving that perspective.

BSM: How do you simplify some of the front office stuff? Some of the contract stuff is like deciphering hieroglyphics. How do you simplify it for us?

BM: I’m my own researcher. That’s how it is. I’m starting to work on things for next off season right now. So when I go on TV or I go on radio, or I write my own articles, it’s not like somebody’s feeding me the information and I’m just going off that. And for me, I have a knowledge of the CBA and how the rules work just by trial and error. I’ve lived through a lot of different experiences. When the Sixers are getting investigated by the league for salary cap circumvention, or tampering for James Harden, I can give my perspective because I’ve been there with Brooklyn when we did it with (Andrei) Kirilenko…

BSM: Like the video game analogy that I wrote above… do you think we’re at the point where for some people the NBA offseason is more interesting than the regular season?

BM: …Yeah. I think what goes on in the court is extremely important, but there is that element to the transaction business. Whether it be the draft, whether it be trades, whether it be roster building — people crave that. People want to know how Kyrie Irving can make his way to the Lakers. Or, how does DeAndre Ayton get to Indiana with cap space? There’s a thirst for that… When I started with the Nets, we had a system called Lotus Notes. It was a computerized system that was located in an empty office. That was the transaction wire.

So every morning, you would go in there and it would be a spit out of like 10 different papers. ‘John Smith just signed in New Jersey, Joe Smith just signed in New York and Mike Smith was waived by the Knicks.’ That’s how you found out about transactions. It wasn’t Woj. It wasn’t (Brian) Windhorst. It wasn’t Zach Lowe. It was by a piece of paper that you would check in the
morning, in the middle of the afternoon, and at night. And now, 27 years later, it’s incredible.

BSM: I know that you are not, but how many times per day are you asked if you are related to Sean Marks, the current GM of the Nets?

BM: So I’m in Hawaii a few weeks ago and a guy came up to me and says “Sean Marks!” And I looked at him and he says, “I’m sorry, Bobby Marks!” And I said, “Yeah, Bobby Marks.” And he says “When is Kyrie getting traded?” When Sean got hired in Brooklyn, I think it was in 2016, when the AP reported, it originally came down as Bobby Marks, so people were calling me like “are you back in?” And I was like “No, no, I’m not. Trust me. I’m not back in.” He’s tall. He’s from New Zealand. I’m 5’10 from Northern New Jersey.

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Adam Hawk Knew Life Outside Radio Was Possible

The funny thing about radio is you may leave it but it takes time for it to leave you. Meaning, your daily routines in the business don’t just go away the day after you walk out of the studio for the final time.

Tyler McComas

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Waking up at a normal time the day after the Super Bowl was another pleasant reminder to Adam Hawk that his life wasn’t consumed by the grind of radio. For the previous 15 years, watching the Super Bowl meant the stress of constantly taking notes, and trying to create content for everything that was happening, all while facing the inevitability of waking up at 4 a.m. the next day to prep for the biggest The Jim Rome Show of the year. 

But not this year. Instead, Hawk spent the night with family and friends and even indulged in a few drinks, all while watching a classic finish between the Rams and Bengals. It was his first Super Bowl in several years where he wasn’t an executive producer of a nationally syndicated radio show. And he loved the change of pace.

However, that feeling is in no way indicative of what his time on The Jim Rome Show was like. It’s just the opposite. Hawk left the show in late July of 2021 because he wanted a different lifestyle than what radio could offer. He was always passionate about creating the best show possible daily and doing it with a group of coworkers he calls close friends, but he wanted a less demanding lifestyle. 

“I feel like I’ve lived a couple of lifetimes since leaving The Jim Rome Show and radio in general,” said Hawk. “It’s just been a completely different lifestyle. I’ve been super busy with my own business, working another job for a golf association, and then two kids. I filled up my schedule and I felt a sense of freedom that I hadn’t felt in a long time before. That’s not necessarily indicative of The Jim Rome Show, that’s just radio. You’re always chasing content and glued to your phone and TV. Just to have that away from me, it’s felt like five years, in a good way, not a bad way.”

The funny thing about radio is you may leave it but it takes time for it to leave you. Your daily routines in the business don’t just go away the day after you walk out of the studio for the final time. If you’re used to waking up at 4 a.m. like Hawk was every weekday, you’re bound to find yourself waking up at the same time for several days after. 

“The two things I couldn’t shake right away were, my body clock was still waking me up at 4 in the morning,” laughed Hawk. “The show started at 9 a.m. but we were showing up at 5 a.m. I also couldn’t shake the feeling of whenever I would see sports on television, the idea that I needed to form an opinion about what I’m seeing and then turn it into content. When it sunk in that I didn’t have to do that anymore, it was a massive relief.”

Deleting Twitter has also been a massive relief for Hawk. Like so many others in radio, it used to consume his everyday life. It never allowed him to leave work at his actual workplace. Work was always on the screen of his iPhone even at home. So when he decided to leave radio, he couldn’t wait to delete Twitter. Sure, it was odd at first, but he swears by a lifestyle that isn’t controlled by an app. 

July 25th marked one year since leaving the radio business. On that day, some reflection likely happened with Hawk on his decision. Though he’s still happy with the way he decided to take his professional career, you can bet there was a moment when he looked back at the great times he had on The Jim Rome Show. Those good memories that popped into his mind were the camaraderie he had with the rest of the staff. The days were everyone pulled together to accomplish something great. That happened a lot as an executive producer and those are the days he looks most fondly at over his 15-year career.

“I’ve also missed the invitation to be creative every day,” Hawk said. “Radio affords you the opportunity to be creative because every day you have to build a sandcastle, a wave is going to knock it down and you start all over again. The content changes and you have to start over every single day. There aren’t a lot of jobs where you start from zero every day.”

Hawk will always have a special legacy with The Jim Rome Show, seeing as he was the executive producer at the time Rome was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame in 2019. Not only was he there at the time of the highest honor in show history, but he pushed to make it happen. Hawk was even mentioned in Rome’s speech, which was one of the most surreal moments of his entire career. 

“Jim had to stump for votes, which was kind of demeaning for a guy of his skill set, talent, and importance to the industry,” said Hawk. “But I can see how the Hall of Fame, in order to get some buzz going, would want to have these hosts ask their listeners to vote for them because at the very least it gets the hosts talking about it. We had to ask our listeners to vote and find a way to entice them to do so. We created this thing called The Box of Chaos, where we threw a bunch of things into this box, like, we’re going to do these things if we beat the hosts we were up against.”

“We were up against some conservative talk radio guys, where we had no shot, because they had this built-in fan base that’s so much bigger than even Jim Rome’s, but we ended up thanking the listeners and pulling some of that stuff out because they went so hard for us. The box of chaos was super, super fun and it ended with my good friend James Kelly, who works on the show, reading mean tweets about the size of his forehead and it was one of the funniest payoffs and one of the most fun couple of weeks. I got to work really hard on something I really believed in, which was Jim getting into The Hall of Fame. Ultimately it didn’t work, but he got in the next year on his own merit. I got name-checked by Jim Rome in his hall of fame speech which, as a kid, that’s something I would have never imagined. Radio was some of the best times of my life.”

There’s also the thrill and excitement of producing Smack-Off which is one of the most well-known sports radio features the business has ever seen. It’s a huge time for the show and likely a stressful time, as well. 

“Every Smack-Off was a proud moment because there’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes in terms of producing that show,” said Hawk. “That show, in my opinion, is still the most important radio show of the year for our genre, because it’s been around for 30 years and it trends on Twitter and people take it very seriously. It was always a proud moment to produce those.”

Those memories were undoubtedly on Hawk’s mind when he started to consider leaving radio in 2020. He didn’t leave the business until 2021, but the pandemic contributed heavily to his decision. Hawk watched as so many people around him transitioned into a work life from home, where they could set their hours. He was envious of their ability to work remotely and reconnect with family and friends on a different level. 

“I know people have Comrex setups and things like that, but you can’t do The Jim Rome Show from home,” Hawk said. “That’s not possible. I realized that I was in this business where it’s incredibly hard to get time off because content never stops. I think anyone in radio can attest to this. It’s stressful around Thanksgiving and Christmas to think about taking time off because everyone wants it but someone has to be on the air. There’s a lot of games during the holidays. It’s not a normal life. After 15 years of this, I finally thought, I want to trade this in for a normal life. Everyone is thinking, with us, this is the greatest gig in the world. And in some respects it is, but it’s not what the general public thinks. It’s not sitting courtside at Laker games. It’s not flying on private jets to the Super Bowl or being best friends with Odell Beckham Jr. it’s a lot of work and that content doesn’t produce itself.”

If Hawk was going to leave sports radio, he wanted to chase something he was passionate about. He found that in 2020 with a company that specializes in preserving the swanky style of a well-dressed golfer. Nation Golf is a clothing brand for golfers and a style that Hawk believes in wholeheartedly. He was immediately drawn to the business and knew it was a venture he wanted to chase.

“I’ve always been drawn to the timeless, aesthetic of yesteryear,” said Hawk. “You look at these old timers that are wearing these clean pressed shirts and slacks, you’re just like wow, they look as good today, as they did 50 or 60 years ago. It’s the pure definition of timeless. You turn on TV and watch the PGA Tour, nobody is dressing like that, they’re like NASCAR drivers covered in logos or clowns like Ricky Fowler in his bright Orange. There’s no style, charisma, or charm and I think when those guys see photos of themselves in 10 years they’re going to be embarrassed.

“I started looking immediately for vintage golf clothes and Zuckerberg is listening to everything you’re thinking so he put Nation Golf in front of me. I was like, holy s***, I can’t believe someone is doing this and I can buy it new, I don’t have to go to a thrift store. I can buy it new. I just got immediately sucked into it.”

Hawk noticed the Instagram following for Nation Golf was much lower than he thought it should be for a brand so cool. Something clicked for him at that moment. As the executive producer of a Hall of Fame radio show, he had confidence in his abilities to operate promotions and social media on a big-time level. He was curious if he could apply those skills and apply it to the business. He was out to see if he could do just that with Nation Golf so he reached out to founder and CEO Ryan Engle.

“I loved the logo, I loved the name, I loved the clothes and I ended up loving the guy,” Hawk said. “He told me he had taken it as far as it could possibly go on his own and it was the perfect time for me to come down and pitch him. He said, hey, Let’s play 18 holes together, if you’re not a serial killer, we can do this. And we did.”

Business for Nation Golf has gotten progressively better to the point it’s grown exponentially. But he never wanted to rely on The Jim Rome Show to help with the growth of the company, even when he was balancing both jobs daily. Rome was fully supportive of Hawk’s side hustle and only reminded him to ‘keep the main thing, the main thing.’

“I take a lot of pride in the fact I never used Jim’s platform to sell the company,” said Hawk. “I didn’t feed callers to him that were going to talk about it. I didn’t put emails in front of him that were going to talk about it. I tried to keep it as separate as possible. Even on my last day when Jim asked me on the air what was next, I did say ‘Hey, I don’t want to turn this into a commercial for what I’m doing next, but I am going to run my own business’. Didn’t even mention Nation Golf by name, because I felt like he had been sailing that giant yacht of a radio show for 30 years and I didn’t want to be the clown who’s about to jump off and pulling the parachute that has a giant logo of the company on it. That just wasn’t my thing.”

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Sports Talkers Podcast – Tim Kurkjian

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