I am not a guy that has stern opinions on the world of fashion. I know what I like and that is really where my eye kind of stops.
One company that I have discovered in recent years is Homefield Apparel. If you are a college football fan, you can’t do much better for vintage designs and comfortable hoodies and t-shirts. My wardrobe is stacked with their stuff, even some for teams I have no strong feeling for. Look, below is everything I own from the company laid out on my bedroom floor.
Homefield would not have been something I even knew about if it weren’t for me devotion to college football podcasts, particularly The Shutdown Fullcast and Split Zone Duo. The hosts were loyal customers of Homefield and Homefield was a loyal advertiser on both shows.
In fact, those podcast sponsorships are a huge part of the story of the company’s growth and success. CEO Connor Hitchcock told me they are partnerships his company could not survive without.
“They do things really well,” he says of The Shutdown Fullcast. “Yeah, they joke about audio and all of that, but they put a lot of time into what they do and they created a community of general college football, right? I mean it is a community and it is strong and we see that time and time again.”
That made me wonder about the advertising strategy of Homefield and companies like it, companies that are all over digital shows, but rarely if ever heard on terrestrial radio. What is the aversion those brands have to sports radio?
It seems like if you are looking for an audience with a deep connection to the person they are listening to and loves sports the way a brand like Homefield needs its customers to, sports radio would be an ideal space to spend money.
Connor says the answer lies in the dedication of the audience. Sports radio listeners are loyal to their teams. They might be loyal to their station. That doesn’t help Homefield the way a podcaster’s connection to his or her audience does.
“A lot of the podcasts I’ve found, people typically come for the people, for the hosts, not because ‘oh they’re talking about this, I want to hear it’ whereas with sports radio there is definitely more of that.”
Homefield is based in Indianapolis. Hitchcock uses the local sports talk landscape as an example, saying that if you want to listen to sports radio and you’re in that city, you’re going to listen to Dan Dakich no matter how you feel about the guy. Advertising to an audience like that isn’t part of what has made Homefield a success.
“For us, you have to walk that line really carefully, because if you see that connection [between an audience and a podcaster], you’re like ‘Cool. If they advocate for us, people will feel that connection to us.’ You don’t want to manipulate a relationship so people buy more from you. That’s not what we are.
“However, there is a deeper connection. So when they feel more connected to podcast hosts, they know if they buy from the companies that are advertising there, they are helping those people do what they want to do.”
I asked Connor if the issue was one of demographic. The median age of any podcast’s listeners will almost certainly be lower than the age of the average sports radio listener. Are younger people more into what Homefield is doing?
He says there is a difference in the audience, but it isn’t in the demographics. It is the psychographics.
“Yeah, and again it may not be age for us. It may be more of a connection,” he says and offers an example of what he means. “I got an email this morning saying that it is cool to see the brand where it is. A guy bought a shirt back in 2018 and has been following us ever since. They are a part of the story and I think part of that is podcasts are more informal. There are podcast communities.”
What Connor is describing sounds like a failure by those of us in the industry at telling sports radio’s story. Plenty of hosts and shows do have that kind of connection with their audience. It’s why we talk about a two-year window when launching a show and finding its audience. It’s why social media sites are filled with messages from fans saying they will never listen to a station again when a show comes to an end.
That is something that I have noticed in the past working with sales staffs in multiple formats. Ad reps are eager to introduce their talent to potential clients. They show off ratings, past guest lists, anything to make the talent look like someone a client would want to spend money with. The audience is almost an afterthought at times.
Selling the host is important. You do want a potential client to recognize the value in who is spreading his or her message, but maybe stations aren’t always doing it in the right way.
A business owner like Connor doesn’t care how the talent sounds or even how many people he or she has listening. He wants to know how the listeners react to the talent.
“It’s more about the people than it is the medium,” he says when I ask point blank why he hasn’t spent more money on sports radio.
The good news for sports radio sellers is that it sounds like Connor Hitchcock’s mind can be changed. He and business owners like him, who all value connection between the messenger and his or her audience, have seen promising returns by investing in smaller, closer knit communities. He doesn’t think it is entirely impossible to find that in radio.
I asked Connor if he could ever see Homefield ads airing on stations in places that would make sense. Atlanta and Nashville are college football hotbeds. Homefield has licensing deals with the University of Utah, BYU, and Utah State, all within the Salt Lake City market. Do either of those sound like appealing scenarios for buying radio advertising?
“I mean, we could. We’ve had talks with different radio shows before and we’ve done little trials. In fact, we have one we’re gonna try out here in a bit,” he says.
Axios recently ran a piece that showed a projection of the money spent in advertising on podcasts growing by nearly 1500% from 2015 to 2024. Still, that would only put the industry around $1.7 billion. Compare that to print media advertising, which is expected to fall during the same time span by 27%, leaving the industry at a mere $40.3 billion.
That same piece also showed how listenership is distributed and it paints a perfect picture of Connor Hitchcock’s approach to advertising Homefield Apparel.
The top 1% of podcasts get around 35,000 downloads per episode. That is Joe Rogan, Adam Carolla, and ESPN. The top 2% get around 20,000 downloads per episode. Still a big number for podcasts, but a significant drop.
If you scroll down to look at what puts a podcast in the top 20% amongst all of the hundreds of thousands of its peers, it is a mere 1000 downloads per episode. Radio spends so much time focused on the numbers and not the reaction.
Connor doesn’t put a lot of effort into finding ways to advertise with the Joe Rogans and ESPNs of the world. The bigger the audience, the bigger percentage of passive listeners there are.
This is a guy that built a business with his wife in their spare time. They grew it from a company that made shirts featuring messages of Indiana pride into one of the coolest licensed apparel companies on the Internet. That doesn’t happen by focusing on the number of eyeballs or ears that will receive the message. It is the result of getting in front of the right eyes and ears, the ones that want to support the people singing the praises of Homefield.
Is Connor’s approach crazy? Is it just ahead of its time? Whichever the case, there are going to be more and more people in the coming years that think the same way Connor Hitchcock does and sports radio needs to be ready to answer that.
“With a podcast, you’re scrappy,” Connor says when I ask why it is that listeners are more apt to respond to ads on a podcast than on the radio. “You’re doing everything. You’re responding to every tweet that comes in. It feels like podcasts just allow you to have more interaction with people.”
Every business is a people business. Radio is a story telling business. When reps hit the streets to tell the story of their people, what people are they talking about? For so long the focus has been on how popular personalities are or how good they are at commanding attention.
An advertiser like Connor Hitchcock is viewing advertising through a different lens. He doesn’t want to know about the number of people listening to a show or a host. He wants to know about the number that hang on that host’s every word and want to support advertisers because those advertisers support the host they love.
When reps “tell the story of our people,” it has to include how our people have created their own people. That is why the advertisers that choose podcasts are choosing podcasts.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.