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Kate Scott is Grateful, But Wants to Kick Some Ass

“It is assumed if you are a man that you know sports. Period. It is assumed if you are a woman, there’s a chance you might, but I’m going to listen really closely for you to prove to me that you actually don’t.”



Kate Scott

Most people in sports radio feel pressure to do a good job. But there are added layers of pressure that many hosts don’t have to face. The pressure of knowing that your performance could greatly impact future opportunities for other people. The pressure from others that are expecting you to falter because of your gender. The stress of wanting to prove that the people who took an unconventional chance on you made the right decision. Not everybody faces those obstacles. It’s something that Kate Scott has successfully dealt with throughout her career.

Kate doesn’t back down from a challenge. Be the first woman to call an NFL game on radio? No problem. Be the first woman to call a football game on Pac-12 Network? All good. How about calling an NHL game for a nationwide audience? Roger that. Can you host The Morning Roast in a top 5 market? On it. Kate clears barriers like an Olympic hurdler. She’s basically the Lolo Jones of sports radio.

Joe Shasky and Bonta Hill are Kate’s radio partners at 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. Together they host a three-person morning show that began just a few months ago on October 12. In our conversation below, Kate talks about the new gig and what it was like coming over from crosstown rival KNBR, a place she worked at for six years. She also talks about helping people see things differently, a double standard for women, being competitive as hell, kicking ass, a pit bull, and naps. Enjoy.

BN: How’s the new show going?

KS: Well I’m having a blast. But I think as far as how it’s going it really depends on the day. Launching a three-person radio show, not in the midst of a global pandemic, where you actually are in studio together and able to more easily build chemistry and figure out timing and mannerisms, that’s hard enough in person. We knew each other a bit beforehand, but we’re still definitely figuring each other out in that sense. So you add on a layer of we’re doing it from three different locations over video call. I can’t tell you how many power outages we had in the first couple of weeks because that was when the fires were really intense here in the Bay Area. One of us was cutting out. The next day another person would lose power.

I had to go into San Francisco a few days because we did not have power whatsoever over in Oakland where I live and had to broadcast from a studio by myself in the city. It has been a lot. I’ll say that. But I’m still having a great time getting to slowly but surely know my partners in Joe and Bonta and be back on the radio getting to talk about the teams that I grew up cheering for and have loved since I was a little girl. I love working with Bonta and Joe and am stoked about what we’re building. It’s really exciting, but I would be lying if I said it’s been easy and smooth sailing so far.

BN: How would you describe joining The Game after working for the competition at KNBR?

KS: I think it’s been a good break since I’ve been on KNBR here in the Bay Area. We left everything on really good terms. I know that I wouldn’t be here being able to host a show in one of the top markets in the country if it wasn’t for the support and opportunities that I got because of my six years at KNBR.

The first couple of days were a little weird. I remember having a giant note right on top of my computer with The Game closeout because you just get so used to saying we’ll be right back on KNBR The Sports Leader. I just told myself the number one thing you cannot do is say that even though it’s second nature because I was there for so long.

The main reason I left KNBR was because I had been at the Pac-12 Network for about a year and a half doing play-by-play and it just became really difficult to function while trying to wake up at four in the morning, work a morning show, and then call games at night while I was supposed to be watching other games that I then needed to talk about the next morning at six. Just the stress of trying to do those two things at once caught up to me. I also told management there, who had always been so supportive, “You know guys I’m ready for more. I want more. I feel like I’m much more than an update anchor on the show that I’m on right now. I’ve called a couple of 49ers preseason games for you. I just called football on the Pac-12 Network. I want more”. They said “We know that you do and we think you’re ready for it; we just don’t have a spot for you right now”. I completely understood that.

That’s how we left it. I said “I love you guys. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am right now with the Pac-12 and everything without you, so thank you for everything”. Who knows what the future holds, but best of luck. That’s how we kind of left it. Now at The Game I just feel like because of what they gave me, I want to do my best and prove to them I am worthy of this hosting position and this slot. A lot of it is in large part because of you. Now we hope to kick your ass in a couple years [laughs] because I’m competitive as hell and I don’t think you last in sports radio if you don’t have really thick skin and if you also don’t really want to win.

There’s the added layer of going up against the show that I was on for the six full years I was at KNBR. I love those guys to death. I sent them Christmas cards a couple of weeks ago. All of my old KNBR co-workers — on-air, producers, executives — reached out after The Game announced I was joining their squad to say congrats and wish me luck. But at the same time, just like I’m sure they want to kick my ass, I want to kick their ass. That’s one of the layers of fun for me being at The Game now. 

BN: When you talked about not saying the wrong station, the first thing I thought of was what the negativity and criticism is like being a female sports radio host. Knowing how some listeners will lash out if you make a mistake, does that cause you to go about your business any differently?

KS: I think so, yes. I think that for everything I do whether it’s prepping for my show or calling a game, I over prep because I know that there is a double standard when it comes to being a woman and being a man in this industry. It is assumed if you are a man that you know sports. Period. It is assumed if you are a woman, there’s a chance you might, but I’m going to listen really closely for you to prove to me that you actually don’t. So I over prep for everything.

A large part of that is because I feel a massive responsibility to my gender because I know how rare it is to hear a woman on a football game, or a hockey game, or on a morning show like I’m hosting in San Francisco. One of the most important things for me is that I am successful so that other women who want to do this can get the opportunity. That’s the big thing for me. And not just women, other non-white men, just people who aren’t the usual person who you’ve either heard call a game or heard on a radio show. I think that whatever I can do to help those who are doing the hiring start to think a little bit outside the box and say “Wow, I was terrified to give Kate this opportunity, but she’s doing okay and the feedback seems to be great. Maybe I need to continue to think outside the box when it comes to hiring other roles”. If I can help push that idea forward just a little bit then I’ll consider my career a success.

BN: When you have broken barriers as the first woman to call an NFL game on radio or the first to call a football game on the Pac-12 Network, what does that mean to you, and what do you think it means to other females?

KS: It means that I’m doing something right; that the prep and all the hard work that I have been doing behind the scenes for years is paying off. It means that I’m very fortunate to have crossed paths with a number of men and leaders who have been willing to take a risk and put themselves on the line to try something new. Whether that was Lee Hammer and Jenn Violet at KNBR. Whether that was Bob Sargent and the 49ers, the leadership of the Pac-12; I wouldn’t have gotten those opportunities without them being willing to take a risk. That means something to me as well and I have taken that responsibility very seriously and wanted to — similar to what I said about KNBR and Murph & Mac — prove to them that I was worthy of this opportunity and let them know just how much it means to be given the opportunity by doing really well on those games.

I’ve heard from a number of women after the football and hockey that it gives them hope and it motivates them and inspires them to maybe think that they could do something that they didn’t think they were capable of before. That means everything to me. I don’t do this for the notoriety. You know that I didn’t want to talk to you about myself today. I was hoping that you were calling to maybe have me opine about one of the great people I’ve worked with over the years. But that’s been one of the cool things for me; women who have done sidelines for years who have reached out and said, “Man Kate, play-by-play just sounds terrifying to me, but hearing you on that hockey game, you got me thinking maybe I should start looking at giving play-by-play a try in the sport that I’ve covered for so long”.

I’ve gotten messages from other women who were watching the game with their kids and said “My son thought you were awesome and now you have given my son this idea that hey, it’s not just men who call a sport, women can do it too, and now he might look at his sister in a different way”.

I’m sure that there are some women out there who hated it [laughs] and think I sound awful, but I try to focus on the positive. It seems like it’s been pretty well received by other women in this industry and even women who aren’t in this industry but who are just looking for something that’s outside the box, somebody taking a risk. Hopefully that has motivated and inspired them in whatever they do too.

BN: Some athletes say the losses hurt more than the wins feel good. But when you have people saying, “Hey my daughter is inspired by you and now thinks something is possible that she didn’t before”, I would imagine that means way more than Twitter trolls writing something crazy.

KS: Well I mean Brian, you know, the one negative comment you get about a show is always the one that sticks in your side and keeps you up at night. But over the years I have learned what you just said, focus on the good because that is truly what matters. If you can inspire one little girl or open up the eyes and minds of one young boy or one grown man, then it’s worth it to me.

It is a lot of work and I do put a lot of pressure on myself. I do take on a lot of responsibility when maybe I don’t have to but I just feel like it’s so important to help people see things just a little bit differently while doing what I love.

I’ve never taken any of these opportunities because I wanted to be the first or wanted to be considered a trailblazer. I’ve just done it because I’m always looking for that next challenge and how to get better and how to continually just be relentlessly self-critical and help get myself through that next challenge. If in the process that can inspire a couple of people along the way, yeah, just like you said, I have held onto those tweets and emails and when I’m having a bad day, you know for sure I look back and use those to remind myself that even though a lot of people on the text line today said that “you suck” and “you shouldn’t be on the radio”, there are a number of people that disagree. So remember that and keep going.

BN: What has been your favorite broadcasting experience over the years and what was your most frightening experience?

KS: Can they be one in the same?

BN: Yeah.

KS: [Laughs] I think it was calling the NHL game for NBC back in March. It was utterly terrifying. I had never called a hockey game before. I grew up watching the sport, attending minor league hockey where I grew up, falling in love with the San Jose Sharks when they were the expansion franchise that launched and followed them. I knew the sport but there’s a massive difference between knowing a sport as a fan and sounding intelligent enough about a sport to call it for a worldwide audience of really well-versed hockey fans.

I only had two months to prep for it and it was in the midst of me also calling four different basketball leagues last year. I got the call in January while I’m calling Pac-12 men’s and women’s basketball, WCC men’s basketball, A-10 women’s basketball on the East Coast, and “Hey by the way in the middle of all of that, we’re going to need you to prep to call Blues-Blackhawks in two and a half months on national television. Are you interested?”.

Because of the previous experiences I had, I remember having a lot of fear when I called the 49ers’ games, having a lot of fear when I called football in the Pac-12, and all that experience had helped me realize you’re ready for this. You can do this. You know this sport. Have confidence today and just let go. Just really lean in and enjoy this. You have two analysts who are Olympic gold medalist who know the sport like the back of their hand. You have an incredible crew in the truck. Just be yourself and have fun.

I think it was the first time that I really just relaxed on a broadcast as crazy as it sounds and because of that just had a really great time. NBC was incredibly happy. Surprisingly to all of us the feedback on social media was incredibly positive. It was a heck of a way to start my hockey play-by-play career but I’m really hoping it’s not the last time I get to call it because it was a ton of fun and I love that sport.

BN: What do you do to just relax?

KS: [Laughs] What do you do, Brian? Do you have any recommendations?

BN: [Laughs] There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of pressure. What do you do to just unwind and, for lack of a better word, escape that type of pressure?

KS: I really struggle to do that if I’m being honest. I suck at relaxing. I try to be really good at everything I can, but my friends tell me I suck at relaxing. I did purposefully adopt a dog a year and a half ago — Piper the pit bull — because I needed something that would force me to put the phone down, force me to stop looking at the computer, and force me to get outside because that really is the one thing that relaxes me. 

I love being outside whether it’s just a mile walk around my block, whether it’s going down to the park and playing fetch, whether it’s going for a long hike or going camping for a few days. There’s just something about being outside because I think most of our profession is being in little closet-sized studios, being in arenas, being inside that there’s something about being outside and just being in fresh air that really helps bring a little calmness and relaxation to my soul. The dog has really helped with that and if you have any other suggestions I’m all ears because I’m still working on perfecting that skill.

BN: Well I think you’re on the right track with naps.

KS: Yes, okay naps, scotch, and cigars. I do like to sit out on my back deck from time to time and have a little nip of scotch and a good cigar and just take some deep breaths and remind myself that I’m only 37 years old and to be where I am in my career, I’m doing okay. So it’s okay to take a deep breath and sit in that for a little while.

BN: Are there any goals you would like to cross off the list in the years to come?

KS: There are two for me. I’m aware that this could change because my goal coming out of college was to get to ESPN. I’m 37 and I still haven’t done anything for them. As I said a moment ago I’m starting to realize things have gone all right so far without reaching that goal. But I would love to call something at the Olympics. Being a kid born in the ‘80s — I know for some youngsters these days the Olympics don’t have the same cache — but every couple of years I just want to watch every sport that I can even if I have no idea what the rules are. There is just something about rooting for your country, getting to know the stories of people from other countries. Calling the Olympics in any event, I will teach myself the rules and I will learn how to call it. That’s what I told NBC after doing hockey for them in March. That’s something I would really love to do.

The sport I played more than anything growing up was soccer. I was a competitive soccer player and was planning to actually go and do that in college until I tore my meniscus my junior year of high school, which set my broadcasting career in motion.

Men’s or women’s World Cup would be an absolute dream. Getting to call matches, host a show, be a sideline reporter, or getting to be involved in any aspect of a World Cup would be a dream come true for me.

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!



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. 


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.


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 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.”



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.”



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.


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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