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AM Radio Has Little Appeal to 97.3 The Game’s Steve Czaban

And obviously then being on AM really hurts in the year 2022… I just couldn’t stand being on AM radio for another year in my career. It’s not what’s happening now in terms of radio and media and everything else.

Brian Noe

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Steve Czaban

Considering this is the first year that 97.3 The Game in Milwaukee is carrying Green Bay Packers football, it seemed like a good time to catch up with America’s host, Steve Czaban. He’s been at The Game for three years now and signed a contract extension with the station back in April. Czaban has some interesting views about how the season might play out for the Packers and, in turn, what it would mean for The Game.

Czaban also weighed in on local competitor 1250 The Fan’s recent decision to eliminate local programming. It got him thinking about one of the main reasons he chose to leave The Team 980 in Washington, D.C. Czabe also explains what qualifies as a wow moment for him at this stage of his distinguished career, and answered questions without skipping a beat as the skies opened up during a good ol’ Midwest torrential downpour. That’s a pro’s pro. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: This is the first year that your station is carrying the Packers. What do you think it’s going to do for the station as a whole?

Steve Czaban: Well, it’s huge obviously. I’ve always said that sports radio in general rises and falls in most markets with the NFL team, period, full stop. No offense to any other sport or league, it just is the fact of the matter. So when you have the play-by-play, and you’re the home of an iconic team like the Packers, and a team that is, thank God, knock on wood really good right now, and hopefully that continues, that’s a huge, huge boost for the station.

They say it’s going to bring in a whole new wave of audience that otherwise doesn’t listen to our station or doesn’t know our station. I will leave that to the experts in the business offices about that. I don’t disagree with it, but my M.O., Brian, has always been just put the best show you can on every day, get people to come, and get them to come back, and then get them to come back for even more the day after that. But having the Packers is huge and they’ve been great to us so far, which is nice.

BN: With [former Packers wide receiver] Davante Adams being gone, the Week 1 disaster against the Vikings last Sunday just feels different than the Week 1 disaster last year. Could you make the argument that for what you do, the Packers might be more interesting with the unknown of where are they right now?

SC: Yes, they are definitely more interesting. I don’t know if it’s better for us. I’d rather them just be good because good teams get good ratings in various sports radio markets. I had too many years of quote: interesting Redskin teams, full of plotlines and absurdities. They definitely filled up hours and hours and hours of programming. But the casual fan, they just tune out when the team is bad. What’s funny is that our guy, John Kuhn, former Packer fullback, he thinks that last year’s loss in Week 1 was way worse than this year’s loss. He went through all the different reasons why, a lot of those being injuries.

BN: Do you notice any difference with listener interaction?

SC: Well, with our regular listeners, no. But I will say that our postgame guy, Billy Schmid, said that a couple of callers to the postgame show chided him and Drew Olson, his co-host, for being too condescending to callers. And I’m like well, you know, this is what sports radio is. [Laughs] If you don’t like somebody’s take, you’re going to mock it, yell at it, be condescending, or maybe refute it with some facts, or a little bit of all of the above. That’s just how it is.

But I said to Billy, you have to realize there are some listeners now that you’re going to interact with that literally the only sports they watch are the Green Bay Packers. That’s it. They don’t listen to sports radio. They don’t know who Giannis Antetokounmpo is. They are hardworking dairy farmers, upstate, that work dawn to dusk seven days a week, never take a vacation, but they love the Packers and this is their one thing. So they’re not sort of used to the normal, bare-knuckle sports radio brawling that sometimes goes on.

BN: When you covered Washington for so many years, they had some brutal seasons. Do you find yourself thinking or saying that Packer fans have it good and that many other teams would kill to win 13 games?

SC: All the time, would be the answer to that. All the time. But I try to tread lightly because nobody wants to hear an outsider lecture them about their team. Because they’re like, hey pal, you’ve been here for three years, calm down. I get it, but as I will say from time to time, Packer fans have had a 30-year vacation from history basically, from the requisite journey into the woods to try to find a quarterback that just about every team has to go through except for the ones that find that guy.

BN: As a host in the same market, what’s your reaction to 1250 The Fan across town slashing local programming?

SC: Well, you never like to see guys in the business lose their jobs, number one. Even if they’re a quote-unquote competitor. But you have to wonder how many sports stations can a market truly accommodate? Sometimes I’m amazed, Brian, at cities like Atlanta that has like four sports stations. Or Phoenix, and I’m like these are not hardcore sports cities. How do they have four goddamn sports stations? But with, I guess, the right blend of we’re going pay this guy, we’re not going to do this, we’ll take some national programming, we got a sponsor or two, they can make it work I guess. 

And obviously then being on AM really hurts in the year 2022. It’s just hard. That’s kind of why in D.C., the company there Audacy, same company, wanted me to continue on 980, which is the station I’d been on for 20 years. A big part of my decision to say, you know what, no thanks, is that I just couldn’t stand being on AM radio for another year in my career. It’s not what’s happening now in terms of radio and media and everything else.

BN: I know you signed your contract extension [back in April], but is there a radio part of you that when you see a station slashing payroll, you think oh no, what’s the next thing to happen? Or are you just like, you know, man, I’m riding the wave, whatever happens I’ll react to it if that does unfold?

SC: Yeah, I trained myself to not think about that in catastrophic terms. You can’t worry about what’s going to happen next, and layoffs, whatever. I think you have to always just be thoughtful of your trajectory and your career and possible next opportunities. Not that I’m looking for that next opportunity at this time, but just to always be mindful of that. I like to tell young guys I work with, I say look, radio is not a gold watch business. Okay, just realize that. You want gold watches at the end of your 25 years, 40 years, 50 years? Sell insurance.

BN: [Laughs] Absolutely, man. I’m curious, Czabe, for a guy like you that’s had a distinguished career, what is a wow moment for you now? Like, wow, this is cool. What wows you at this point that isn’t mundane anymore?

SC: I think what I’m doing now is a wow thing. It’s really energized me because people get too hung up on market size. Oh, you used to be in D.C., now you’re in Milwaukee, oh my God. But it’s about what you’re doing with the medium and with the people you’re working with. I spent training camp up at Lambeau Field in a house that we rented right next to Lambeau Field that had been the subject of this budget movie called The 60 Yard Line. It was like a week of being in a fraternity.

We did our shows from there. We hung out in Green Bay and it was beautiful weather and it’s the iconic Green Bay Packers. We have such a good group of guys at the station including former Packer players, former Badger players like Brian Butch. It was a lot of fun. I’m like this is great. I love doing this. The other thing is next Sunday, I’m going to be doing an hour pregame show during the Packer run-up from this converted sort of trailer that we retrofitted to make look like a Packer living room den from the 1970s complete with the wood paneling and the vintage TV set. It’s just so cool. It’s like I love it.

It’s not the most important show we have. It’s an hour long, three and a half hours before the game, but it’s going to be fun. And other guys at the station will use that. So that’s cool as well. It’s about doing fun things with good people and having success, which the station is, and doing the kind of sports radio that is not so traditional and narrow and God, you were talking about something other than sports for 10 minutes, how dare you. Get back to box scores.

BN: With the addition of Tim Allen to your station, he broke the news on your show, did he not? 

SC: I was gone and I have not met Tim. All I know about Tim is that as soon as 1250 kind of went under, and there was a chance we could get him, all of our guys were like, oh my God, this would be great, Tim’s great. I really didn’t have any idea what his deal was and then I came to learn that he was kind of a Brewers postgame show host specialist that has a real passion and knowledge for the team, and people really like him. I’m like, all right, cool, that’s great. That’s the kind of guy that we’d love to add to the mix. I’ve not had a chance to meet him yet, but I know I will soon and everybody in the building has great things to say about him.

BN: In Milwaukee, instead of having separate timeslots like I’m the morning guy, you’re the afternoon guy, you’re middays, do you try to weave everything together where hosts are part of each other’s show? 

SC: We certainly do cross over with other shows a lot. We cross over and we cross-pollinate probably as much as if not more than any station I’ve been on. I think it’s great. Obviously, people have to hold down their daypart and create their audience that comes to them for when they can listen to their show. Guys that are working in construction and whatnot, maybe in certain hours. Guys that are in the office are more drive time. There’s different segments of the listening population that are going to be caught by the different shows.

The fun thing about going on other guy’s shows is that you’re basically just getting to play pickup hoops with some other guys and have some fun with it. I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think one of our best segments we do is our so called 5 Wide when we cross over with our next show, our show crosses over with Nine 2 Noon. We’ve got five guys on the mics and we actually make a coherent segment of it, where it’s not just guys yelling over each other.

BN: I think it makes all the sense in the world, man, especially if you have a new hire just to get them in the mix. Are you surprised other stations don’t do the same thing?

SC: It’s not that I’m surprised. I think a lot of other stations become very fortified in their host territories, and very territorial. Especially the more established stations. Egos can run pretty big in our business. A lot times I think guys feel like why should I talk to him? He’s got his own show. He’s middays. I’m the guy here. Like, I don’t want to talk to that guy. I think that’s probably the case in more markets. And it might be the case if guys just are like yeah, I don’t want to do any more radio than I have to.

BN: If you could write the script — within reason — for how the Packers season plays out and in turn what it would mean for your station, what would be the script?

SC: Oh man, I would say team struggles early, gets a foothold, starts playing great. Wins a bunch of games in a row, then, like any good movie, Brian, complication. Rodgers gets hurt. Not season-ending hurt, but like four-to-six games hurt. In comes Jordan Love the heir apparent, who lights it up and is great. But not so great that you’re going to tell Rodgers okay, you lost your job.

Rodgers comes back from injury, resumes being Rodgers. Team goes on to win the Super Bowl. Rodgers in a hallucinogenic mushroom type experience decides, hey man, what a perfect way to go out, and pulls an Elway and retires handing off the team to Jordan Love who proved in Rodgers absence that he’s the real deal. And the beat continues. That would be the perfect script.

BN: Wow, man. That absolutely would be. I don’t know if this damages the great walk-off you just did, but what do you think the script will be in actuality?

SC: Well, you always got to be careful. Because as a host, there’s a feeling that sports radio hosts should always be kind of homers. And shouldn’t entertain thoughts of dark outcomes, even when those dark outcomes are staring you in the face. So with that said as a caveat, I fear a somewhat, not messy, but an awkward and perhaps uninspiring sort of conclusion to this year and maybe the Rodgers era. Something that smells like 11-6 and a Wild Card loss. Then either Rodgers retires or lets it be known, I want to be traded. They do the same thing with him they did with Davante and they trade him for picks. And you push the big reset plunger and hope that things are okay next year.

BN: Man, isn’t it crazy that the gap between those two outcomes is so wide, but both are possible?

SC: Well, I’d say the gap is even wider if you say this team could be 6-11. This team could be 6-11 with Rodgers playing the whole time. That’s not out of the realm of possibility. In McCarthy’s last year, I think they went 6-9-1 and Rodgers played all 16. It’s possible. But yeah, the worst would be if they’re bad, Rodgers gets hurt, Jordan Love comes in and Jordan Love’s bad. [Laughs] Now it’s really bad because you’ll be getting out of the Rodgers business, the bottom will have fallen out, and you’ll have a replacement in Love who definitely does not look like he’s the guy. But that’s why the NFL, Brian, is like crack. It’s the greatest reality show ever invented. And we don’t know until it plays out in front of our eyes on our high definition TVs.

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BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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