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Merchandising Fandom: Sports Radio’s Untapped Revenue

More stations are getting the message and taking the plunge. But not enough are.

Demetri Ravanos

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Have you attended a BSM Summit? Be it in Chicago, LA, or New York, if the answer is yes, you have heard JB go on and on about merchandising. There’s a reason he talks about it so often. It is a revenue source that too few radio groups take advantage of.

Jason Barrett (@sportsradiopd) | Twitter

In recent years, we have seen iconic brands like 98.5 the Sports Hub do limited runs of t-shirts inspired by their talent and their shows. Recently, WFAN launched a full online store. More stations are getting the message and taking the plunge. But not enough are.

Maybe you need dominant names in the ratings in order to convince management to take the plunge with show and station themed products. This entire format though is built on the love people have for their favorite teams. Any brand can make money with merch inspired by iconic players and moments every fan can recognize.

Take SKOR North in Minneapolis. Phil Mackey, the director of content for the station, values creativity. His station may not have play-by-play rights to the Twins, but that didn’t stop him from rolling out a series of shirts in 2019 inspired by Eddie Rosario, who played in the outfield for the team at the time.

Rosario would say that he “hit bomba” whenever he hit a home run. So, Mackey and the SKOR North crew plastered the word “bomba” on a number of different shirts and hit the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. The Twins didn’t own a trademark on the phrase. That meant SKOR North could act quickly.

“The State Fair is a huge merchandise-moving event for all of our Hubbard MSP brands, including SKOR North, and it can be a great way to draw people to our broadcast booths,” Mackey told me.

He wouldn’t give me any hard numbers, but he said that embracing bombas and tying it so heavily to the way the station talked about the Twins did have a payoff.

SKOR North on Twitter: "Which shirt is your favorite?! Stop by our booth at  the #mnstatefair to grab one of these!… "

“The Bombasota buzz is hard to quantify, but the entirety of it all — the shirts, the hashtags and social messaging, the special videos, all led to record podcast numbers for our daily SKOR North Twins Show. You can only do so much to lure people to AM radio, so anytime we are able to create fun concepts like Bombasota and generate digital buzz, it acts as a gateway into the SKOR North brand.”

Mackey says the Bombas campaign isn’t the first time SKOR North has used fandom to generate revenue and it won’t be the last. Right now, selling hats and shirts is something the station only does at the Minnesota State Fair, but he hopes it won’t be that way forever.

“We do have some systems set up for online merch stores, but we’ve yet to truly go all-in on that front,” he told me in an email. “I’d love to in the future.”

What are the rules though when you are the flagship partner of the local team? Steve Griffin is the GM and President of 1010XL 92.5 FM in Jacksonville. The station is the flagship of the Jaguars. That team’s fans are primed to spend money right now. Between Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville football fans have never been more optimistic. Hell, plenty of people are convinced this is the beginning of Tim Tebow’s hall of fame tight end career too.

Can Steve and his team dive into the merchandising game without getting a thumbs up from the team?Even if they want to put out a t-shirt that uses no official logos or other trademarks, does the flagship relationship mean that there are tightropes that need to be walked?

“As long as there’s no perceived association between what we’re merchandising, our sponsor of that merchandising and an official Jaguars partnership, they have been great to us,” he told me. “If there is ever a question, we will pass it by their sales and marketing folks to be certain before moving forward.”

The station has taken advantage of the excitement to generate revenue. It hasn’t all been about selling tangible things fans can take home. Griffin and his staff have instead focused on longer advertising and marketing campaigns that include merchandising as just one element of the entire strategy.

“We’re wrapping up a 3-month station promotion/merchandising event centered around Welcome to Trevor Town!  It included a sponsored 13-episode TrevorCast podcast and a series of six live remote broadcasts of our show XL Prime Time at a sponsor location giving away 1000 Trevor Town headbands.”

Griffin’s station is live and local every weekday from 6 am until 10 pm. That means there are plenty of shows and personalities for listeners to connect with. Still, I wondered if it was smarter to forgo a merchandising campaign centered on the station and its staff for one focused on the Jags. After all, there are people that may have never turned the station on that would still buy a Trevor Town shirt.

1010 XL 92.5 FM tends to focus most of its merchandising on events. Griffin says he doesn’t really know how to project what a merchandising campaign centered on the station’s personalities could do.

“We’ve merchandised our hosts/shows on a limited basis, mostly Jaguars Today and Helmets & Heels, so it’s difficult to determine the bigger value until we do more host/show merchandising,” he says.

There are multiple approaches for generating a little revenue using fan passion. As every station and company around the country looks to increase its bottom line, no idea should be considered off limits. Just ask the right questions and make a plan. Don’t leave money on the table just because it isn’t something you have pursued before.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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