Before you know it, opening day will be here. And when it arrives, listeners will return in full force to hear their favorite local teams games on the radio, and to listen to talk show hosts offer up their perspectives and opinions on the season.
It’s easy to dismiss baseball as a thought until April, but if you’re looking to capitalize on the sport for the entire season, it benefits you to brainstorm and develop a strategy prior to the season’s first pitch.
Too often in sports radio we fly by the seat of our pants. We don’t lay out game plans for an entire season, instead we implement new ideas when they come to us. The focus is on each day’s show, except sometimes when you’re reliant on the day’s top stories, you don’t get handed a lot to work with. That’s especially true during the dog days of summer.
But if you venture into other media worlds, whether it be digital, television or advertising, they have a calendar in place to take advantage of annual opportunities and to develop sustainable campaigns which consumers can rally around. This is something every media executive and talk show host should have at their disposal as well.
So what do you do?
It starts with the brand manager having a vision for how they want to attack the baseball season. By the way, what I’m suggesting can also work for a station entering the football, hockey or basketball season.
The first question that needs to be answered is “how important is the team to the local audience”? Do they care only about the game or are there topics, features, guests and other interesting elements worthy of exploration around the club that the local audience will want to hear about on your talk shows? Knowing how relevant and important the franchise is to your on-air content strategy is necessary. This is how you determine whether it’s a daily hit or a sporadic conversation.
From there you start reviewing your assets and how to best take advantage of them. If your station is carrying a local team’s games, how often are promos, liners and creative themes emphasized to make them sound important? Are you simply announcing the matchup and game time or adding some intrigue to the game that will make people want to tune in? Is there a theme song used to drive the season long campaign that sounds cool and connects to the game, team or biggest storyline?
Then you determine if there are personalities on the team who would be attractive on a regular basis to your audience, advertisers and talk show hosts. If there are, you work with the player, their agent, and/or the team to structure an agreement to have them appear on your brand for the duration of the season.
My advice, if you’re going to compensate someone for making the time commitment, make sure you have a working agreement that calls for a weekly appearance. It’s hard to build listening occasions when things don’t take place consistently, and most audiences don’t remember and respond favorably to bi-weekly or monthly guest visits.
The second suggestion I’ll pass along, if you’re going to add the expense to your station’s budget for a player to appear weekly, make sure you get something back beyond the weekly 10-15 minute conversation. It’s very hard for a station’s sales department to maximize your investment when all they have to work with are commercials and a :05-:10 tag for the weekly phone call sponsorship.
Whether it’s an on the field meet and greet with your listeners, a player voicing a free commercial for one of your key sponsors, arranging a private luncheon or round table chat with the player and your key clients and listeners, having the player take over your Twitter or Facebook Live account, developing an in market autograph signing with the player at one of your key advertisers’ place of business or creating a charity event which they participate in, there needs to be more on the table than fifteen minutes of time each week.
From a promotion standpoint I’d also be sure to have an updated weekly appointment promo on the station (content promo built around the guest which highlights the day and time they appear) and social media posts scheduled so they run on the day of the guest’s appearance. Don’t waste your time promoting it 4-5 days before the guest appears. Your audience won’t remember it. Focus on when they’re available to be reached (the day of), and hammer it home so they give your station an extra quarter hour of listening.
Next, start taking a look at how your brand’s relationship with a team can strengthen the loyalty you receive from your audience. For example, tickets are always a huge attraction. When you have an opportunity to reward your audience for spending time with your brand, they appreciate it. Are you able to schedule regular ticket giveaways, trip giveaways, stadium tours, meet and greets or create a few other cool and unique experiences? All of those things matter.
From there, you have to examine your on the street game plan. Are you scheduling live remotes or appearances for your brand at or near the stadium? How are you dressing up those broadcasts to make them attractive to the audience? If you’re going to sit inside a gas station with a small table, station banner and your engineer’s equipment sitting on the table, I’m not sure I see the value. If though you can put the show in a highly visible location and turn it into an actual event which helps your station increase its connection to local fans and influence their ability to help you deliver bigger ratings then it’s worth pursuing.
Depending on your station’s business relationship with the organization, maybe there’s a possibility of promoting your brand inside the stadium either through remotes, video placement on the scoreboard, digital LED signage, ad space in the team’s program guide, or thru sponsoring an in between innings feature. You may even be able to create synergies with the team’s television partner to promote your brand on their airwaves, and them on yours.
If you add up all of those assets it’s a pretty impressive list, but even then there’s still an opportunity to do more.
What’s your strategy on social media? Do you have someone dedicated to posting key updates before, during and after the game? Are your personalities conducting chats during or after the game on Facebook Live? What original content videos and podcasts are you developing regularly to showcase the brand’s commitment to covering the local team in strong fashion? Maybe your digital team has someone with personality who can record on the street bits and turn them around for your morning show.
Whatever the case, being active, focused, and creative in the social space is paramount to reaching your audience.
Spring training is often a dead zone for sports radio. February and March traditionally rate lower, which means it’s the perfect time to take advantage of the airwaves to create a unique week or day and generate listener buzz while also making the product more attractive to advertisers.
Let’s say for example you were in Cincinnati and the next big opportunity to drive a larger audience to your shows occurs when the Reds return to the field, if you created a “Reds Celebration Week” or “State of the Reds” in March, and during that week the station secured big interviews with current and former members of the organization, gave away tickets, ran vignettes featuring some of the best moments in franchise history, dressed up the station’s website and social media pages to reflect the mood of the week, created a public town hall event, and all callers that week to your station’s shows were involved in discussions about various Reds topics, you’d have the audience more engaged, interested, and excited about your content. The alternative is to approach the calendar with your normal enthusiasm and rely on the news of the day which doesn’t generate as much enthusiasm or urgency from the audience.
The other way to capitalize in March if you’re a brand manager is to use the slower period to sit down with your talk show hosts and producers and get their brains racing with ideas for the upcoming season. Challenge them to come up with their next big promotion or appointment setting weekly feature. Review the team’s calendar and look at what you can deliver consistently and what key match ups will generate buzz that you might be able to build something creative around.
Sometimes hosts come out of the room with something simple such as a feature which is fun for them but not as sexy for advertisers or listeners. Other times they come away by adding something new and beneficial such as a Flashback Friday conversation (weekly interview for 26 weeks with 26 former high profile players/coaches), a Hall of Fame Report (26 weekly interviews with 26 members of the HOF) or a special Baseball Hour featuring two former members of the team who live in your local area appearing in studio with one of your local shows.
Regardless of what you come up with, the point is to get everyone in your building thinking of how to attack the airwaves for 6 months delivering baseball content that matters. By putting into affect creative imaging, unique benchmarks, promotions, a social media strategy and exploring ideas that will excite your audience, give your advertisers a reason to want to open up their checkbooks, and generating natural enthusiasm from your hosts, you’ll put yourself and your brand in a position to win the game that really matters most, the ratings and revenue game!