As the sports radio business grows and revenues for the format increase, the same can’t be said for the commitment of radio stations to broadcast LIVE from big events. I’m not talking about individual games or personality driven agendas that don’t move the ratings needle. I’m talking about the moments in sports that a broadcaster is supposed to live for being at. You know, the events that your audience plan their day or week around because they can’t miss it!
From the Super Bowl to the World Series to the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup, those are major events. The College Football Playoff and NCAA Tournament qualify as well. Certainly others could invade that conversation too such as a popular player from a local market going into the Hall of Fame, Mayweather fighting Pacquiao (if it ever happens) or depending on your market, a trip to Spring Training or NFL Training Camp to cover a popular local team.
So if these events matter to your hosts as well as to your audience, then why would sports stations not be broadcasting from them? The answer is simple – costs!
I’ve watched the amount of stations at radio row during the Super Bowl decrease every year and it baffles me. The one thing worth talking about on a sports radio station in late January/early February is the Super Bowl and yet radio operators have to be talked into heading to the host city to broadcast from it. Is there a lack of interest from the audience? No. What it comes down to is operators wanting to save money rather than thinking about the benefit for the audience, the impression it gives of the brand and challenging their sales departments to step up and activate sponsors.
Is it easy to turn a profit in one week? No. But there are certain things in sports radio that you do for profit and certain things you do to build credibility, trust and loyalty with your audience. Depending on a station’s approach, five to fifteen thousand dollars is a small expense for something as big as the Super Bowl, especially when it will cost you a lot more than that if you don’t have access to great content during an otherwise dead week. It’s even worse if your competitor goes and you don’t.
Secondly, rather than waving the white flag and assuming your clients won’t spend additional money, how about having some confidence in the fact that they’ll want to have a bigger presence during the hottest event of the year, one which your brand has incredible access to. Business owners make irrational decisions when they are passionate and emotionally connected to big events and there’s no better time to test that theory than when your station commits to broadcasting from them. You’d be amazed at what some advertisers do to make sure they own the branding around a signature sporting event.
I raise this point not because I want to get ahead on discussion about the Super Bowl but rather because we’re in the midst of the World Series and it’s an event that sports radio should be all over yet isn’t. I’m fortunate to work for a company that gets it. We could sit back, not send anyone and just rely on local people being interested in the story since the Giants are in it but rather than do that, we’re sending our afternoon show to Kansas City to broadcast LIVE from it. We’re also adding post-game shows with our host Damon Bruce as well as created post-game shows after each home game from a local venue.
Why do we do that? Because stations are expected to step up their game and treat the situation with the proper respect that it deserves and when a World Series takes place, it’s the biggest event in baseball for the year and you rally around it. Many of my guys probably get tired of me asking them to spend 2-3 hours hosting watch parties at local bars, taking photos with fans and heading to games to track down interviews but I believe that the bigger the moment, the bigger your station should look, feel and sound.
Today, many of the biggest events in sports have turned into great television productions but radio has been losing sight of what made it special. Being live and local and around teams, players and the key people of interest, is what keeps our format important to our audience. Why would we provide less coverage when bigger opportunities arise? That makes no sense.
Sure it might require spending a few extra dollars or shifting things around in your budget but those sacrifices are needed when big situations pop up because it’s what the audience deserves. Staying in your studio and hamstringing your talent and audience by providing little to no special access or coverage is not worth the praise you’ll get for winning the battle on paper with your higher ups.
I do recognize that this is a business and certain bottom lines must be met. While we may want to send our crews everywhere, that isn’t reality but I also don’t think that it’s acceptable to be absent from the key sports events of the year, especially if the team in your own backyard is involved. For national networks, it makes sense to be at a lot more locations than local stations since they serve more people. For local stations though, if a team from your town is in the World Series or NBA Finals, you should be there. A case could be made for the Stanley Cup and College Football Playoff too but it depends on your market’s appetite for those stories.
One event that should not require a battle is the Super Bowl. First of all, the #1 piece of content that moves our entire format is football. Secondly, audiences today are not split 90%/10% in favor of local team content. There are TONS of people in your respective areas who have interest in the entire NFL. That includes transplants who move to your town and continue following their hometown teams. Add to that increased interest in fantasy football and sports betting and it’s baffling to me why any programmer or host would have to make a case for being present at the biggest event in professional sports.
I’ve heard the argument in the past that it’s the same people doing interviews all over the place, it turns into a guest-fest, if the local team isn’t involved then it’s not important and I’m sure in some cases there’s a degree of relevance to it. I still though don’t buy that having too many high profile quality people on your radio station is a bad thing or that two teams which are playing for the ultimate prize in all of sports are any less of a story because they don’t happen to share the same zip code as my current radio station. Peyton Manning vs. Russell Wilson, Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers vs. Ben Roethlisberger – those are storylines local people will be talking about all week long and the next few days after the Super Bowl has been played. If they care enough about it, you should too.
Funny enough I had this debate two years ago with a former colleague and he asked me why I felt a station needed to be there and I explained the points above that I’ve already laid out but he still didn’t agree. I then reminded him that my brand’s slogan for 4 months had been “Fueled by Football” and nowhere in that position did it say “Fueled by Local Football” or “Fueled by Football…until the biggest football event of the year occurs and we bail on it“. That seemed to connect with him because he saw the value in being consistent with the approach and hitching a brand’s wagon to the NFL, the most powerful brand in sports.
One final note on this subject. If you’re a talent and you don’t want to be there for these kind of events, shame on you. We are fortunate to do what we do and have the access that we have. If you don’t have the personal joy to talk about these events and get emotionally invested in them, then why are you on the air doing this brand of talk? Sports is fun and it provides emotional highs and lows for the audience and ourselves and being a storyteller who can take people on the journey through key events is something you should live for. If talking about the biggest events that matter to our listeners and being present and interacting with the key people involved in these storylines doesn’t appeal to you, it might be time to do a self-analysis and ask yourself whether or not this is the right format for you.
Some PD’s and Hosts will agree with me on this and others won’t. I’m sure everyone has valid reasons for why they do it the way they do and I respect that. I do believe that our industry can do a much better job of investing in the moments that matter most and rather than boxing ourselves in with the same negative views, we’ve got to start asking “how can we do it better, how can we own it and how can we give our audience a memorable content experience“?
Sure, you can choose not to cover big events and that’ll help your brand save some money. It may also help you win a short-term budget battle and make you look good on paper. I just wonder if that’s worth it, when the next piece of paper shows your ratings down during a time when they should easily go up. When that happens, is winning the battle still worth it if it means losing the war?