In recent months, my sports radio listening has been mostly occupied by shows that aren’t reliant on sports. But listen to Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti on Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub and you’ll instantly be reminded that there’s still room for a sports radio show dominated by sports.
20 years ago, if you asked Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, “What’s the future of sports radio?” they never would have described The Dan Le Batard Show, Carton and Roberts or Pat McAfee. They would have described something like Felger and Mazz.
Felger and Mazz stick to sports, hammer the headlines, read and react, give strong opinions, and find ways to trigger emotion. Is it the type of show that can reach a very broad audience? No. But they deliver on the expectation of what the show is meant to do: entertain Boston sports fans.
Maybe it’s their background as columnists, but Felger and Mazz bring a lot of newspaper articles to the radio. There’s no doubt many sports radio hosts use journalists’ work as fuel for their content, but Felger and Mazz actually credit the writers. They read an excerpt and cite the source whether it’s Greg Bedard, Gary Washburn, Mike Reiss or somebody else.
It’s an old-school sports radio approach that requires polarizing personalities to succeed. Read the papers, find something that prompts reaction and take it to the airwaves.
As much as they love a good sports debate, Felger and Mazz have a unique ability to be polarizing even when they agree. Many duos will move on from a topic that doesn’t feature conflicting opinions, or one host might fabricate a point to play devil’s advocate.
But Felger and Mazz never lack authenticity, and they never sound rehearsed. When Felger opens a segment with a topic, the ensuing discussion skips the phony side of sports radio, instead featuring organic debate. If the discussion was preconceived or meant to troll, their strongest takes would start at the top, but Felger and Mazz let their segments build.
More than a third voice chiming in on occasion, Jim Murray should probably have his name on the show. There are many times Murray even breaks into a segment and gives his opinion before Massarotti does. Luckily, all three voices sound very different, making it easy for a newcomer to know who is talking and when.
Mazz with a higher pitch, Murray offers a deep tone, and Felger positions autonomously in the middle. Felger pops his P’s with the best of them, he also speaks with as much or more conviction than any other sports radio host in the industry.
For years, I’ve said I’m more passionate and interested in the radio side of “sports radio” rather than the sports aspect. I’ve rooted for the same teams for more than a quarter-century, and as much as I’m invested in them, I find the conversation that surrounds the game much more worthy of attention than the score itself. If it’s debate and discussion that interests me, I’ve wondered why I gravitated to sports radio as opposed to news and political talk?
I answered the question while listening to The Sports Hub’s afternoon show somewhere around their eighth plea for Jimmy Garoppolo. And I was thrown an assist while revisiting a conversation I had with Felger last summer where he gave the following quote:
Say something. Even if it’s wrong, just say something. There’s a lot of nuance with topics, but it’s a better discussion if you’re less nuanced and sports lends itself to that. You have a scoreboard, a winner and a loser, someone makes the right play, someone makes the wrong play, and someone makes the right trade or the wrong trade. They have that scoreboard for a reason, and your commentary should reflect that.“Michael Felger Can’t Ignore the Apocalypse” by Brandon Contes June 25, 2020
“Say something, even if it’s wrong,” lends itself to less nuance when paired with sports because of the scoreboard. There’s my answer. The visible and easily accessed truth makes sports radio great. If a political talk show is having a debate, the ground rules are missing. The facts are impossible to sort.
But with sports radio, the scoreboard doesn’t lie. If Felger and Mazz debate “Alex Smith vs Marcus Mariota, they might have vastly different opinions, but the ground rules for that discussion are easily accessible.
In the political realm, a debate over global warming might see one person argue the world will end in 10 years as fact, and the other side claim climate change is a hoax. The audience is left to decipher what’s true and false, without the easily accessed scoreboard sports fans are privy to.
That doesn’t mean you have to stick to the scoreboard in sports radio, unique opinions and hot takes are more than welcome. At one point, I experienced listener-vertigo from Felger and Mazz, and struggled to decipher whether the Patriots truly are a franchise in disarray or closer to the team just two-years removed from the greatest dynasty in league history.
This is March, peak quarterback speculation season. And nobody did it better than Boston sports radio as they desperately try to recoup from watching Tom Brady win a Super Bowl for Tampa Bay.
Not so breaking news, they weren’t thrilled about Cam Newton returning to the Patriots. And they definitely were not thrilled with Bill Belichick’s aversion to place stock in the quarterback position.
The Sports Hub’s afternoon show has a unique ability to paint a dire picture, nearly putting Belichick on the hot seat. But giving in to the notion that Belichick and the Patriots earned a grace period would be an admission to the fans that it’s OK not to care. Telling fans not to care? That’s committing sports radio suicide.
The show is call heavy and interview light. Listening to a Boston, New York or Philly sports radio station, you know going in they’re taking calls. The audience wants to be heard, they want to interact, and throwing them a text line won’t suffice.
But a lot of sports-centric talk radio shows rely strongly on interviews. Felger and Mazz choose to rely on their own takes and reactions to construct segments. The interviews serve a purpose of adding to the show’s conversation rather than using a Q&A segment to fill time.
And this is a four-hour show, five days a week. There is a lot of time to fill. But don’t look for them to depend on fabricated bits to get the job done. The day Felger, Mazz or Murray tweet out “if the Patriots don’t trade for Jimmy Garoppolo by 2022, I’ll shave my eyebrows,” is the day the show hits the panic button. It’s not who they are and it’s not how they need to entertain.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.