It is news to no one that the COVID-19 vaccine has become another political flashpoint in the constant feud of right versus left in this country. The Venn diagram of people refusing to get the vaccine and the ones that believe the virus was a hoax designed to get Donald Trump looks exactly like the Venn diagram of people that signed up to get a vaccine as soon as they were eligible and the people that refused to ever take their masks off. They are both perfect circles.
We lost some major sporting events to COVID. We saw others transformed dramatically. There was no way to do sports radio and not talk about the virus in 2020.
Now things are getting back to normal and that is good. It is nice to hear a crowd go nuts when someone scores an overtime winner in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is nice to see broadcasters on the sidelines of games again. That doesn’t mean we are entirely done with COVID.
The debate about whether various leagues should mandate their players get vaccinated has been going on for as long as the vaccine has been available. There are a variety of reasons some players are hesitant. This weekend, we saw the ultimate price of not getting vaccinated at The Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. Jon Rahm was on pace to cruise to a victory, then he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw from the final round of the event. Not getting vaccinated cost him somewhere in the area of $1.7 million.
Plenty of sports radio hosts have stuttered, stumbled and stammered their way through this topic on air. So many of the people I have heard seem to be operating from the very same place of fear: I do I talk about this thing that has become political without pissing off half my audience?
I would argue that Jon Rahm just gave you a reason to approach it purely as a sports topic. There was an on field consequence of not getting vaccinated. Golfers are just dudes. Some of your listeners may have a favorite on the tour, but very few live and die with a golfer each week. Maybe they will have trouble accepting that the vaccine discussion really can be just about wins and losses in this particular case, but what about in team sports? What happens when the football team they live and die with have to go without their starting QB for two weeks?
What happens when they start to see their favorite NFL team lose with some regularity? There are all kinds of reasons that an 11-5 NFL team can immediately drop to 6-10 the following year, but if their team is missing out on the increased freedom that the league will offer teams who reach the 85% vaccination threshold, is the vaccine not worth discussing from a sports standpoint?
I am not advocating for anyone to work vaccine conversations into their show. Talking about it isn’t mandatory. I am simply telling you when these topics come up and are clearly relevant in sports, there is no reason for you to be scared.
There are some great conversations that can be had here. Could the vaccine be the difference in who does and does not get cut in training camp? If there is a reward for reaching a certain vaccination threshold from the league, should teams not allow any unvaccinated players to serve as captains so that the team leaders are setting a tone that this is important? Because the prospect of missing games is now very real, is it selfish for a player not to get the vaccine?
You can steal any one of these you like. You don’t even have to credit me.
We cannot create interesting radio and have interesting conversations if we are constantly scared to talk about things that are happening in real life. Whether or not there is a consequence for players and teams not getting the vaccine creates debate. That doesn’t mean it is controversial. It’s not a third rail kind of topic. It isn’t even politics.
Jon Rahm isn’t going to be the last athlete that loses something of consequence because he is not vaccinated. Isn’t talking about why wins and losses happen the very core of what sports radio is?
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.