The author George Leonard once said “competition is the spice of sports; but if you make spice the whole meal, you’ll be sick.” It is a great quote to keep in mind for today’s column.
Some of you have the luxury of working in a market that isn’t rich with competition. Maybe your station is the only sports entity in town or maybe in your show’s day-part the competition is running a syndicated show. Many of you know the reality of a ratings war all too well.
The question I want to ask today is how much does your competition really matter?
I’m not advocating for operating in a bubble. Certainly if there is another player on the court, you should pay attention to the moves they make. What I want you to think about is how much is there to gain from your whole strategy being built around anticipating and responding to those moves.
Always take note of the way your competition builds their show. Do they put entertainment or information first? Who is in their driver’s seat – the host(s) or callers? Never make major structural decisions based on what your competition is or is not doing, but understand that any decision they make creates a hole in the market that you may have the chance to fill.
That being said, your goal should always be to highlight your host’s strengths. If your competition puts an emphasis on being the most informed and connected and your host’s strength is also as an insider, you have to ask yourself two questions:
- Do I have the right guy for this fight?
- Can my guy do this job better than their guy?
The answer to both questions has to be yes if you want to win this battle. Repositioning a host and casting them in a role that doesn’t fit them will spell doom. Your station won’t be putting out its best product and you’ve ceded the strongest position to your competition.
Remember a while back I said that I will always advocate for less callers? If your competition is a caller-driven show, make it clear to the listeners how little the guy they are listening to actually offers an opinion or even speaks for that matter. Then, be prepared to have a strong opinion on everything. If this is your strategy, you don’t have to be right. You just have to be interesting.
One place that you can build a “counter attack” strategy is in the way you deal with local teams. Obviously this can be tricky, since there is an element of playing politics that you have to be prepared for, but if your competition has the reputation of being a cheerleader, there is some strength in positioning your station as the one that will tell it like it is. Not only does it create a distinct identity for you, but it paints the competition in a negative light.
Look at what happened in Detroit sports radio in the early 2000s. WXYT had the broadcast rights to the Lions, the Red Wings and the Tigers. It was a big obstacle for the then-Clear Channel owned WDFN to overcome. Fortunately the Lions hand-delivered an opportunity with their ineptitude. As the home station of the Lions, WXYT was an easy target for WDFN to brand as homers that were unrealistic about the direction of the team under its GM Matt Millen. WDFN changed its slogan to “not bought and paid for by the home team” and would eventually organize the Millen Man March to give the angriest Detroit sports fans a voice. It was a new brand identity that both responded to the competition and gave WDFN a real position of strength in the market.
Anywhere there is competition there is bound to be an arms race. It doesn’t hurt to have more weapons, but in a ratings war “more” doesn’t guarantee victory. You win by deploying the right weapons the right way. Keep tabs on your opponent. If you see a weakness, exploit it. But don’t let another station dictate what goes out over your airwaves.