The ball is tipped…
Well, at least it will be 710 days since the last NCAA Tournament, seeing as last year’s event was the first major sports casualty due to Covid-19. The Big Dance is back but it’s without familiar faces Duke and Kentucky. How much will that affect ratings? Only time will tell, but the ratings for the NCAA tournament, after missing last year, will be as interesting as a tool as we have seen in a long time for college basketball.
“I almost think it doesn’t matter,” said Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports Radio. “It’s a yearly event but I think the whole thing has created less interest in college basketball. I don’t think it’s the only reason college basketball is less interesting, but I also think the timing is not great for it to be on TV, because it’s spring and all the sudden people can start doing stuff. Whereas, when the NBA first came back, it was like, thank God there’s something back on. I almost think people forget there wasn’t an NCAA tournament last year.”
“I think there’s a bigger appetite because it’s the longest time period we’ve gone without an NCAA Tournament,” said Gary Parrish of 92.9 ESPN in Memphis and CBS Sports. “I think people are anxious for it.”
It’s been an extremely down year for the traditional blue bloods in college basketball. In a sport that’s normally centered around a handful of teams, just about every single one of the usual suspects is having a down season. Duke and Kentucky aren’t even in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina is an 8 seed, Michigan State and Syracuse are both 11s, and Kansas is 3 seed. It’s never a good thing when the most important programs are almost all down in the same season.
“Not having some of the biggest brands in the sport is not helpful,” said Parrish. “That’s my understanding based on history. I think if you could try to get the biggest rating you could get, you would have a Final Four of Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and maybe UCLA. The idea Duke and Kentucky aren’t in the NCAA Tournament, as well as Indiana and Arizona, it doesn’t mean that great stories won’t materialize or that Gonzaga being undefeated isn’t a big draw, but not having some of the big brands isn’t ideal.”
“People like to see Duke lose, as much as they like to see Duke win,” Gottlieb said. “When I was at ESPN, I was told the five schools that rate in college basketball are Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kansas. The only kind of asterisk is that some of the schools in the Big Ten do really well. The Big Ten being good helps, especially since the entire tournament is in Indianapolis.”
As a state, Kentucky easily rivals both North Carolina and Indiiana as the most college hoops crazy state. However, neither UK or Louisville made The Dance. It’s not something that happens often, so a decrease in one of the highest rated markets for the NCAA Tournament could be a big negative.
“Well it’ll be less than normal,” said Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio. “When Kentucky and Louisville are in, Louisville is often the highest rated market in the country for the tournament. I don’t think that will be true this year, but there will be a lot of people watching. I’ve talked to a lot of fans that said they were down, but when the bracket was revealed, they got excited again. It’ll be down but this place still loves basketball and people will watch.”
Even though it’s considered by some to be the biggest draw, the remaining big brands in the sport being shown an early exit by a Cinderela team would be a huge negative for the ratings. Illinois-Chicago making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament along with, say, Liberty, Utah State and San Diego State would not have a positive impact. For ratings purposes it would certainly be best if Kansas made a deep run, along with an unexpected run by North Carolina and Michigan State.
“We have this belief that everyone watches for the Cinderella team,” said Gottlieb. “They do, but they’re not going to turn on the TV the next time to watch Cinderella play. They like to see Cinderella play the big boy and they turn on the TV to watch the big boy.”
It’s truly a mystery on what the overall attention to the NCAA Tournament is going to be, and depending on who you ask, the answer might be completely different. There’s a real argument to be made that missing a year of The Dance is going to fuel a ratings spike like we haven’t seen in recent years. People of all ages still look forward to filling out brackets every year, so regardless of who’s playing, the first weekend could be a ratings bonanza. However, the popularity of college hoops isn’t exactly trending upward and the absence of the most recognizable brand the sport has to offer could really be damning.
So does a best-case scenario exist with the current field? Is it best for Gonzaga to complete the first undefeated season since Indiana in 1976?
“The ratings won’t be as high, obviously,” said Jeff Goodman at Stadium. “The casual fan may not be as interested, but I think the diehard college hoops fan may have more fun and be more locked in watching this year. The storylines are different, and you also still have more people working from home so that should help with the ratings. But they won’t be as good. That’s the reality.”
Regardless of what happens, the overall ratings easily has become one of the most intriguing storylines of the entire tournament. Sadly, this will be, quite possibly, the only week where college basketball will be the biggest thing going in sports. The NCAA Tournament has been such a big draw, but the uniqueness of that first weekend makes people feel it’s the only weekend where they have to watch the sport. Its biggest positive is almost it’s biggest detriment.
“I do think it’s a factor, but i don’t think it’s the factor,” said Parrish. “I think the biggest issue facing college basketball is that there’s almost no carryover from one year to the next, in terms of great players. Just like Zion Williamson at Duke. In college football, you see a guy like Trevor Lawrence as a freshman and you know he’s going to be there for two more years. In college basketball, Lawrence is there for one year and then he’s gone. Everyone knows the coaches, but the notable players are almost entirely new every year. No mainstream American sport has the roster turnover like college basketball has.”
Someone will be cutting down the nets on April 5th, but the number of people watching might be more intriguing than the team standing on the ladders with scissors.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.