A few months back, we posted a story on Barrett Sports Media about a rant 99.9 The Fan’s Joe Ovies delivered on the state of sports media. The gist of Joe’s message was that sports radio is doing just fine. The proof is that every recent “innovation” in the digital world seems to be created with the intent of offering users an experience they can already get on sports radio.
While I really enjoyed Joe’s rant and thought he made good points, there were two things I thought he missed. First, it isn’t just digital media that has turned into sports radio. All media has turned into sports radio. Whether it is cable news or YouTube toy reviews, everyone’s goal is clearly to “have a take and don’t suck”.
The other thing I thought Joe missed is what does this mean for radio? How and where can sports radio plant its flag in a world where everything is sports radio?
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not naive. I know that there isn’t someone at FOX News or CNN or wherever that sat down for months listening to WEEI, WFAN, The Ticket and others to make notes about what worked and what they wanted to bring to air.
Sports radio is special because so many of the elements are appealing to content creators in a variety of roles. The format offers real fluidity. It plays on passion and elicits passionate responses, and a blowhard can have just as much value as thought-provoking conversations. Think about how different each of the shows on your station sound. That is successful programming and what any network on TV, radio, or the Internet should be striving for.
So if the format is thriving in a way that what we do and the style we work in has become ubiquitous, how do we prevent people from leaving? How do we make our content the only option for them in a world with too many options?
The honest answer is that we can’t, right? There is so much to consume that no one brand will ever enjoy the loyalty a favorite station did fifteen to twenty years ago. The goal is to keep them coming back.
Local media offers so many options for connectivity. That is the key. It isn’t just that listeners can pick up the phone and call or send a text. It is that you are a part of their community. Sure, we’re here to talk about the home team, but connectivity is about so much more than that.
Maybe your listeners watch road games at the same bar you do. Maybe that Halloween party your kids begged you to take them to was in their neighborhood. The internet made the world figuratively smaller, but when it comes to sports radio, leaning into the literal smallness is what makes us different.
Dan Patrick talked about this in his Radio Hall of Fame induction speech. Real connectivity is about how much you let the listeners into your daily life. In local sports radio, it is also about showing them how much your daily life overlaps with theirs.
It does not matter what side of the political aisle you are on. Turn on FOX News or MSNBC or go online to The Young Turks or The Daily Caller and everything is presented from the same point of view: pissed off.
Also, look at how disconnected those hosts and writers are from your day-to-day life. They are based in New York or DC or LA or wherever and respond to the biggest headlines. Those stories cast wide nets and guarantee the most interest, but they also can become background noise real quick if no creativity is applied to the presentation.
Every generation, there is a new normal for media consumption. At least, that used to be the case. Now, between new platforms, new consumer demands, and different generations having different ideas of what is and isn’t entertainment, it seems like there is a new normal twice each year. Through all of that upheaval though, sports radio still has a place. It still has influence.
I can’t help but think that for all of the effort to find former players and coaches to join station staffs, for all of the hours producers put into land big name guests, there is real power to the idea that you are just like your listeners. There may be too many entertainment options in the world to keep sports fans from ever straying, but leaning into that connection is how sports radio keeps them coming back.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Jason Barrett Podcast: Rich Eisen, NFL Network
Rich Eisen reveals how he ended up partnering with Stuart Scott, the moment he knew he made the right move joining the NFL Network, and the influence standup comedy had on his broadcast career.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Does FOX Need West Coast College Football Success?
“I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
Don’t believe them. Don’t believe those people that try to sell you on the idea that a given sport is better if a given team in said sport is good. You know, college football is better when Notre Dame is good. Maybe they tell you college basketball is better when UCLA is good. Might they say the NFL is better when the Dallas Cowboys are good? Let me tell you, whoever the they is saying those things, they are wrong. FOX isn’t living or dying on it?
I am not here to tell you college football is better when USC is good. The Trojans are ninth all-time in FBS wins with 866 victories, they claim 11 National Championships and 39 conference championships. There is zero doubt they are among the elite, blue blooded programs of the college football world. With all of that said, USC hasn’t contributed to college football’s national championship discussion in more than 15 years. But, now Southern California is back and in College Football Playoff contention.
With only Notre Dame and a PAC 12 Conference Championship left to play, 10-1 USC is in excellent position to earn the first College Football Playoff bid in school history. The Trojans would be the third west coast team in the playoffs, 2014 Oregon played in the inaugural edition and 2016 Washington was the only other PAC 12 participant. It has now been five playoffs since a PAC 12 team has been in the top four.
That brings up the obvious question, how important is it for the health of the College Football Playoff to have west coast teams involved, especially one based in Los Angeles? L.A is, of course, the second largest media market in the nation. College football is well down the list of priorities in the City of Angels but having a team in the mix might help the overall national rating.
College Football has long been criticized for becoming too regional of a sport. The results thus far do lend themselves to that belief, the only team from outside the South to win a national championship was 2014 Ohio State. The SEC has twice had two teams among the four playoff teams and two of eight championship games matched Alabama and Georgia from the SEC.
So, does the College Football Playoff need West Coast teams for long term health? FOX is one of the rights holders for PAC 12 football and the main FOX college analyst, Joel Klatt, doesn’t think it is necessary. “I don’t know if it matters this year. This is like the last two years in an eight year term for a president,” Klatt told me on my show, The Next Round, “I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
To Klatt’s point, the College Football Playoff seems to be screeching towards that twelve team format and a bigger media rights deal. That deal will almost certainly include multiple networks, not just ESPN/ABC, and will be worth significantly more money than the current deal. So, it is not as if the lack of a presence west of the Rockies has hurt the attractiveness of the College Football Playoff to the networks.
On the other hand, the playoffs have never reached the lofty ratings they had year one. Was the 2014 edition just ratings lightning in a bottle or has the regional nature of the product hurt those ratings? The 2014 semi finals did fall on New Year’s Day which meant the games were played in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl which has proven to be the most successful schedule in terms of ratings success.
The college football lover in me couldn’t get enough of FOX’s Saturday night USC-UCLA telecast. There’s something about both teams wearing those classic home colors and playing in that historic stadium under the lights. They put on a great show, the show also would go on without them.
I want as many people as possible exposed to college football; it only makes the sport healthier. If that means more West Coast teams need to be in the playoffs, I hope they earn their way in. An expanded playoff will only make it easier. Until then, just keep telling people college football is better when your team is good
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
HBO’s ‘Shaq’ Docuseries Tells Shaquille O’Neal’s Story With Style, Personality
What ‘Shaq’ wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts.
From the very beginning of HBO’s Shaq docuseries, Shaquille O’Neal tells us how important storytelling is to him. Just recapping a sequence of events isn’t enough for the Hall of Famer. As the man puts it himself, “sometimes when you tell a story, you wanna add a little barbecue sauce.”
Director Robert Alexander (The Shop, A Man Named Scott) adds plenty of barbecue sauce to O’Neal’s life story, especially in the first two parts of the docuseries. (Shaq runs four episodes, with the opener debuting Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Each of the following three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday.)
Nothing less should be expected from a gigantic personality like O’Neal. This isn’t a dry documentary that simply chronicles a series of events. Alexander mixes in stock, news, and archival sports footage to add embellishment and punctuation to many stories and important points. Music, creative set design, and animation also play key roles in keeping the narrative moving and the audience engaged.
Each episode has a visual theme to it. Part 1 emulates a music video. Several comic book elements are incorporated into Part 2. Part 3 is meant to invoke a classic stage drama, a Shakespearean tragedy. Unfortunately, Part 4 is less focused in that regard, though some fun video game graphics are produced. Editors Freddie DeLaVega, Lenny Messina, and Ted Feldman deserve significant credit for making all the pieces fit together into a cohesive visual trip that gives the documentary an energy not seen in many projects like this.
Much like The Last Dance did for Michael Jordan, Shaq helps define a basketball icon for newer generations more familiar with the athletic giant from being part of TNT’s Inside the NBA panel and his many, many commercial endorsements.
The documentary begins with an adolescent O’Neal growing faster than his body and mind could handle. He wasn’t a phenom who was a superstar from the very moment he took the court, despite his obvious size advantages. And his path to major college basketball didn’t take the typical route.
Eventually, however, viewers see what those of us old enough to have watched O’Neal play at LSU remember. He looked like an adult among boys. His dunks were ferocious, raising his knees as he bent the rim to his will. And, as you might recall, young Shaq was much thinner than the diesel he became late in his professional career.
The first two episodes of Shaq chronicle O’Neal’s rise to superstardom, from college sensation at LSU to No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick by the Orlando Magic, developing into a force for whom there was no match on the court on the way to NBA championships. O’Neal was so dominant that the game had to adapt to him. Rival teams stocked their rosters with three to four big men that could each spare six fouls roughing O’Neal up and sending him to the free throw line. The NBA’s defensive rules changed to allow more double-teaming.
Parts 3 and 4 of the docuseries are less fun, as the second pair of episodes follow O’Neal’s fall from the ultimate heights of his career and difficulties in his personal life. His relationship with Kobe Bryant deteriorated and took a championship dynasty down with it. A major factor in those tensions developing was O’Neal’s reluctance to stay in shape during the offseason, continuing to put on weight, and eventually having toe surgery right before the 2002-03 season.
This is where O’Neal’s involvement and cooperation probably hurt Shaq the most. Unlike the first two episodes, when everything was going well for him, the big man doesn’t offer as much insight into his shortcomings. Particularly frustrating is his lack of accountability. At one point, O’Neal flat-out says he’s not talking about what went wrong with the Lakers.
Looking right into the camera and accepting responsibility for his role in the demise of two championship teams (later including the Miami Heat) would have been riveting. Instead, others are left to try and explain O’Neal’s actions, which feels dishonest as teammates like Rick Fox and longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti try to cover for him.
What Shaq wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts. Basketball did not come easily to him as a youth, nor did championship success in college or the NBA as he grew up. But like so many great athletes do, O’Neal channeled criticism from the media and slights from opponents including Dikembe Mutombo into major aggression on the court. (His words for the 1999-2000 NBA MVP voter who prevented him from the league’s first unanimous win are profanely hilarious.)
O’Neal makes it clear that strong figures in his life provided discipline and guidance — beginning with the military-influenced upbringing of his stepfather, then coaches who could teach him how to be a great player like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley — made him who he is. He has always been a personality and time has been kinder to some of the behavior that was once considered brash. Now he’s a worldwide brand known even to non-sports fans. Those viewers, along with diehard basketball fans, will enjoy getting to know him better in this docuseries.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Part 1 of Shaq premieres Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Each of the three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday, through Dec. 14. The docuseries will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, with repeat airings on HBO networks.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.