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What Do Fans Think A Sports Talk Host’s Job Is?

“When it comes to local media, fans expect to hear why their optimism isn’t unfounded or why following their team isn’t time wasted.”

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Last Friday, Seth Everett posted a column that I thought was a fair critique of where baseball is as a sport. He pointed out that the public seemingly only pays attention when the sport is in a PR mess, and lately, that seems to be happening a little too frequently.

Seth made points that are hard to argue with. The move from Atlanta to Denver for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game seems less about benefitting Denver and punishing Georgia than it does about making Major League Baseball feel good. The lack of balls in play is definitely a problem. Baseball may not be dying, but I, for one, can’t see how anyone can feel good about the sport right now. Later in the day, a tweet popped up on my timeline from my pal Brady Farkas.

Now, call me cold or an opportunist or unfair or whatever, but why does the media need to save baseball? Doesn’t it seem like that should be baseball’s job to figure how to change public perception? I’m not sure any of us in this business owe any league or team anything other than than to be fair, which I thought Seth was. “Hit piece” feels a little strong. But this comment started my wheels turning.

I know Brady loves baseball. He hosts a show on WDEV in Vermont, so he has to be locked in on the Red Sox, but at the drop of a hat he can tell you all of the problems with the Mariners’ farm system.

Brady is a more traditional sports fan than I am. He lives and dies with his teams and will put on any game at any time and can find himself locked in. I love college football, I love the Celtics, other than that, I just want to be entertained. I grew up rooting for the Buccaneers, and so I was happy to see them win the Super Bowl, but I am not positive that I didn’t get just as much joy out of Tom Brady being drunk on a boat later that week.

Does loving the absurdity and weirdness of sports blind me to what it is fans of teams and listeners to our shows think our job description is? Is there a widely held belief that we need to protect or only talk positively about the teams and sports we cover?

Heath Cline is one of my closest friends in this business. He hosts the afternoon show at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The city is the home of the South Carolina Gamecocks. The school’s football, basketball and baseball games play on his station. Heath says that definitely shades the way his listeners think about his job.

“There’s definitely a belief among some portion of the audience that being ‘the home of the Gamecocks’ means we’re supposed to be rah rah at all times,” he says. “What’s funny is that we’re supposed to back them to the hilt, until the minute the fans get mad and want to fire someone at which point unless we agree with them we’re homers and shills for the athletic department.”

Heath Cline | WNKT-FM

I called Gary Parrish, because I thought he might have a unique perspective. Gary has a local audience in Memphis, where he can be heard on 92.9 ESPN. He also has a national audience thanks to his work for CBS. He covers college basketball both on television and on CBSSports.com.

Gary says there are times he has found himself wondering if he has colleagues that feel like they are supposed to protect and talk up the sports they cover.

“Even friends of mine will say things and type things like ‘college basketball is the greatest sport in the world’. And the truth is, it’s just not,” Parrish says. “It’s, at this point, kind of a niche sport. It’s kind of, for most people, a six week sport, maybe a five week sport, maybe even a three week sport. So, I don’t feel like it’s my obligation to lie to anybody. I love college basketball. It is my job to to cover college basketball, but I don’t pretend that it’s not without issues and I think some real serious issues that that need to be addressed.”

I am not making a comment on anyone’s professionalism here. Two people can choose to do the same job in very different ways. Different outlets can even come with different expectations in how you do your job and what you owe the people and organizations you cover. That can mean you can talk about the same thing the same way on two different platforms and the audiences can have opposite opinions of you. Parrish says he deals with that every basketball season.

“The perception of me inside of Memphis versus outside of Memphis is pretty drastically different, specifically in the way that I talk about the University of Memphis,” he says. “I think I think non-Memphians think that I am too positive about the Tigers and talk too much about Memphis, more than it deserves. In the market, I’m like the guy that Memphis fans think hates on Memphis. They genuinely believe that I despise Memphis, which is just not true.”

Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) | Twitter

Carrington Harrison hosts the afternoon drive show on 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He told me that any discussion about baseball and the idea that it is a dying sport is not easy. The answer is nuanced and listeners aren’t always here for nuance. How do you succinctly say that baseball is dying except for the places where it isn’t?

“We don’t have national conversations about baseball anymore,” Harrison explains. “The only way we have national conversations about baseball is when there are historic single game feats. Tomorrow, if someone pitched a perfect game, we would talk about it, of course, or a fight happens. Those are the only times we talk. Or a big contract is given out. Tomorrow, if they gave a player 400 million dollars, everybody in sports would be talking about it.”

Occasionally, I’ll exchange Twitter messages with Sports Map Radio mid day host Jake Asman. He hosts a show with a national perspective. I wanted to get his take.

Asman echoes Harrison’s idea that baseball doesn’t have the popularity problems on the local level that the sport does nationally, but he also thinks there are some real problems in terms of the sport’s ability to build a new generation of fans.

“The pace of play and lack of action besides strikeouts and homers is a major turnoff to a lot of fans. I also think every team going all in on analytics is not a great way to attract fans to your sport.”

So what if he were to say that on air? Is there anything special a host has to do or anything special that he/she needs to consider if he/she is planning to be critical of a league? What about if he/she is being critical of a team as an entity rather than sounding off on their on-field performance?

“I would treat criticism of a team or league as I would treat criticizing a player or coach during a segment. I would make sure that I am well informed on the topic I am going to be critical of and I would never make things personal,” Jake says in a DM.

Jake Asman Moves To Mid Days On SB Nation Radio | Barrett Sports Media

That seems like basic advice, right? It does answer my question though. No, there is nothing special you have to do, nothing more you owe to the audience if you are talking about an institutional problem with a sport or any other non-human entity.

Cline tells me that the idea of being unfair to a team is something that exclusively lives with fans. He worked in markets across Florida before moving to South Carolina. In the entire time covering college football, the only people that have ever accused him of having an agenda are fans.

“I have never gotten a single call from an athletic department person at either Florida or South Carolina complaining about anything I’ve ever said,” he texted. “It’s possible my bosses have and kept it from me, but I think if you’re honest, can back what you say up with facts and don’t make things personal there’s really no way they can complain too much.”

According to Harrison, the audience wants to be told they are right or that they have a good idea. When it comes to local media, fans expect to hear why their optimism isn’t unfounded or why following their team isn’t time wasted.

“I think in really any form of media, and I think we see it in sports, we also see it in news, there’s some implied confirmation bias,” Harrison says. “Like, you want to hear people that agree with your point of view. And if you’re listening to local radio, you want to hear the conversations come from a local perspective.”

That is an interesting idea and one with a lot of merit. There will always be a segment of the audience that believes a local perspective means one that sings the praises of the home team. There might even be a segment of the audience that believes a sports media perspective should always be deferential to sports and teams when we aren’t addressing issues on the field. I can see how someone could get there. I don’t think it is right, but we’re dealing with a fan brain, and you can connect those dots.

When it comes to the concept of “fan brain,” Parrish is a little less eloquent and a little more blunt.

“It’s just that fans, and this is something you have to always remind yourself, they don’t often want to hear the truth.”

BSM Writers

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.

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USA Today

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.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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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.

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