Aaron Judge’s home run display on Monday night during the HR Derby was impressive but despite the slugger treating sports fans to his power display, the week of the MLB All Star game is often very uneventful. It’s a week where MLB action is less significant, NBA news is lighter, NFL training camps are two to three weeks away from opening, and the enthusiasm of sports fans is reduced. People use the time to mentally disconnect from sports, and in the process spend less time listening and interacting with sports radio.
If the audience’s appetite for your brand’s content isn’t strong this week, that poses a short-term problem. Hosts still have the same amount of hours to fill, programmers have the same responsibilities to execute, and advertisers are still purchasing ads and sponsorships and expecting a return on their investments. Your bosses are also expecting the ratings to remain high, regardless of the challenges that exist in the sports calendar.
So what do you do?
From the vantage point of a former brand manager, this is the perfect time to create something fun or do something different on your airwaves. It’s why ESPN Radio holds the V-Foundation auction this time of the year, and why ESPN television presents the ESPYS and a new episode of 30for30.
Audience interest naturally declines during this week. There’s no getting around that. We can’t expect people who love to watch athletic competition and debate and discuss news from the world of sports to be as fired up during a time when activity is minimal. It’s the same reason why most sports stations see their audience numbers dip in February and March. You can try to manufacture content but if the audience doesn’t care, you’re in a tough spot.
If you entered this week expecting to rely on the topics of the day to fuel your on-air conversations, you didn’t help yourself. Many hosts and programmers feel stuck this week because they’re at the mercy of the sports calendar. This time of year doesn’t give you much to work with. We can make excuses but that doesn’t solve our problem, nor does it convince the audience to turn on our radio stations during a time when they’re less interested.
In order to be successful during slow periods, you need to prepare in advance. It starts with tapping into your creativity, brainstorming ideas, setting a vision that you feel confident in, selling it to the audience, and then executing it in grand fashion. Some things you try will be home runs. Others will fall flat. But if you don’t try something, you’ve done yourself and your brand a disservice.
It’s not a question of whether or not you’ll generate decent on-air conversation during All-Star week. If your hosts are good, they’re not going to fill the air with bad content. The reality though is that it’s not about your personalities being gifted content generators as much as it is about creating interest in the programming during a time when the audience cares less about it.
A radio station is tasked with creating excitement for its fans. The daily challenge is to make them want to listen and feel like they’ll miss something if they don’t. But we both know, there’s not a lot to miss during All-Star week. Think about your own level of interest and enthusiasm in the stories you’re given to work with this week. If you’re less excited, what do you think the audience is feeling?
Do you think ESPN just decided at the last minute to feature the ESPYS, V-Foundation Auction and Mike and the Mad Dog 30 for 30 this week? Of course not. They strategically prepared for it. It’s the exact reason why Dana White scheduled the Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor press conference this week. He knew the fight would gain a ton of air time because the media were starving for content, and fans had little to hold their interest.
From the creative side, personalities should welcome risk taking, especially during this week. It’s an opportunity to stretch your legs and do something different. It allows you to explore areas that you might not otherwise get to and develop a daily plan you’re excited about instead of trying to create 4-5 angles on the All-Star game, a HR Derby and an ESPYS awards show.
Sure, those conversations will become part of your show too, but are they strong enough to warrant 3-4 hours of conversation? Better yet, does your audience care enough to hear about them for longer than 15 minutes? I think you already know the answer.
When I programmed in St. Louis, I used the All-Star week to create Flashback Week. On Monday’s we presented an all 70’s theme, Tuesday featured the 80’s, Wednesday the 90’s, Thursday the 00’s and Friday the 10’s. All of the music beds leading into our shows were from those various eras, popular actualities and historical sports moments from each decade were inserted into the imaging, the guests booked on every show reflected those various times and the talent were given free reign to discuss their favorite television shows, movies, sporting events, fashion styles, etc. It was fun and it’s a tradition that continues today. It was also successfully executed in San Francisco.
If you’re in a host’s position, this makes the job easier and more enjoyable. When you can enter a week knowing that you have the freedom to tap into things that were part of your childhood, and have on-air conversations with people you’d likely never have a chance to talk to, it becomes exciting. That carries over to the audience. I remember numerous personalities having a blast on the air talking to Lou Brock and Ted Nugent, Whitey Herzog and Nina Blackwood, Brett Hull and Biz Markie, and so on and so forth.
The goal with creating weeks like this during dead periods isn’t to spike the ratings. If that happens, even better. The point was to simply not lose ground. You can lose momentum during slow periods not because you weren’t doing quality work on the air, but because it was falling on deaf ears. If you can stay on course when people feel it’s less important to pay attention, you’ve already helped yourself in your next ratings book.
Allow me to make one final point. This isn’t a plea to tell you to roll out a Flashback Week. It’s simply to challenge you to think ahead of how to be creative to better help yourself, your station and your audience during a period of disconnect. The issues of the day may appeal to the audience most of the time but if the drama available to discuss doesn’t exist or is of far lesser value, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Maybe you build the week around a popular local team, former player, historical event, or something important in your community. Maybe you partner with one of your local franchise and have a few of their players host shows on your station all week. There are so many possibilities to explore, and it starts inside your building, months in advance, and all that it requires is a little bit of brainstorming and creativity.
Without trying something, the fate of your monthly ratings are reliant on less important stories generating emotional interest from an audience which has already mentally checked out. That’s not exactly a formula you want to depend on when trying to retain a solid ratings position in the local marketplace.