There have been a number of things happening in sports and media that have captured my attention lately. Rather than writing a normal column which focuses on one particular issue, I’m going to use my platform today to cover a few topics in rapid fire fashion. Fasten your seat belt.
FACING THE MUSIC AFTER A MISTAKE IS ALWAYS A WISE DECISION
Like many of you, I screamed my head off at the television when watching the final play in the Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans playoff game. I was shocked by what happened and questioned Saints safety Marcus Williams’ judgment along with the rest of the nation.
But it’s what happened afterwards that gained my attention and respect.
Rather than ignoring the media, which most would’ve done in that moment and for good reason, Williams stood tall handling the heat. He knew he screwed up and let down every fan of the Who Dat nation, and felt a responsibility to acknowledge his mistake and pledge to learn from it. As furious as fans were and as emotional as we become over wins and losses, it’s harder to want to kick a guy when he’s down when he has the decency to look you in the eye and say “I’m sorry. I screwed up. This is my fault.”
Why does that matter? Because it applies to many of us in the sports radio business.
If you’re a host or program director and your ratings are down, your market manager and corporate bosses don’t want to hear excuses. They want to know that you’re accountable and prepared with an informed explanation of what happened and a solution to avoid future missteps. If they sense that you care, have a game plan, and understand the situation, they’re more likely to support you during the tough times.
If you’re producing a show and the topic you pitched falls flat or the guest you booked doesn’t show up, own it. It’s live radio. Things don’t always go according to plan. All you can do is develop the angle, talk to the guest, confirm that they’re on schedule, and have a backup plan ready in case something doesn’t work. Your show unit and program director are going to ask questions when something you promised doesn’t come to fruition. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their job, keeping you honest, and letting you know they expect better.
There are many daily situations that take place in our business which put us in position to either fall flat on our face or rise above the tide. Remember, everyone has a bad moment. It’s how you respond that determines whether people remain confident in your abilities or not. Judging from Marcus Williams’ performance throughout the season and how he conducted himself after the lowest moment of his professional career, I’m sure many in New Orleans are going to have his back going forward.
THE VIKINGS RADIO FINAL CALL PLEASED FANS, NOT MEDIA FOLKS
From that same Vikings-Saints game came another issue. The final call heard on KFAN in Minneapolis by the voice of the Vikings, Paul Allen.
Nobody expected the Vikings to walk off the field with a victory on the final play. It was something that had never happened during the course of NFL playoff history. So when Stefon Diggs took a Case Keenum pass 61 yards into the end zone to send the Vikings past the Saints and into the NFC title game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, the entire broadcast team got caught up in the moment.
If you were listening to the final play and judging the execution of Allen and Vikings color analyst Pete Bercich by normal broadcasting standards, you’d probably tear it to shreds. It was not the way broadcasting schools instruct you to call a play. In fact, Bercich stepped all over Allen and the excitement felt by both men contributed to them becoming fans with microphones for a few minutes.
But here’s the thing about local sports that makes it different. A local team’s broadcast crew is there to be the eyes and ears of the fan who isn’t. They’re invested in the team’s success and they live the highs and convey the lows of each developing situation. In Allen’s case he’s called Vikings games for 16 seasons. Bercich on the other hand has spent 11 years in the booth after spending years wearing the purple as a player and coach. Given the team’s track record of being on the wrong side of history, what Allen and Bercich experienced Sunday was unfamiliar and they let their true emotions pour onto the radio airwaves.
Depending on your preference for a sports broadcast, you may have hated the final radio call of the Vikings game, or played it ten times. My guess is that many who didn’t like the execution, are probably not living in Minneapolis or rooting for the Vikings.
Whether you enjoyed the call or not, I think it’s important to remember that the real art of broadcasting a game is having the ability to paint a picture with words and let the audience feel and hear the moment in its purest form. Maybe it wasn’t what the radio gods would have preferred or executed the way broadcast trainers have taught it but it was exactly what Minnesota sports fans needed during that moment in time. Taking that into account, Allen and Bercich increased their hero status with Vikings fans this past Sunday.
WOULDN’T BARSTOOL SPORTS HAVE MADE SENSE FOR TERRESTRIAL RADIO?
On Wednesday, Barstool Sports launches a 24-hour radio channel on SiriusXM. To sports radio traditionalists that might not mean much. After all, there are many channels on SiriusXM, so who cares about another one right?
Well, you may want to pay attention. Barstool has built an army of fans. They’ve also earned their fair share of critics. The company’s content isn’t for everyone, but for those who do enjoy it, they are rabid, loyal and invested in the company’s success. Given the company’s impact online and on social, they’re throwing punches with the heavyweights and proving they’re a force to be reckoned with. They’ve also struck a chord with younger fans, an audience which terrestrial radio has a tougher time reaching.
For the past two decades, the national sports radio space has been dominated by ESPN and FOX. Others such as CBS, NBC and SB Nation have operated networks too, but they’re far behind the top two networks. One could easily make the case that SiriusXM has created much more buzz and interest in its national programming than those other brands, despite not being on terrestrial channels and requiring a fee to listen.
What’s interesting to me about this partnership is why a brand like Barstool was not pursued more aggressively and given a bigger national platform by one of those terrestrial networks. One would assume the Barstool brand and personalities working for the company would have created a lot more interest. A few sources I spoke to mentioned that Barstool’s use of foul language and the negative press received over the years provided some concern. I get that they’re not squeaky clean but if the ultimate goal is to increase ratings, revenue and brand relevance, then just as ESPN figured out how to create a TV show with the company, I’m sure the same could have been done by a terrestrial radio partner.
What I find ironic is that some of the issues that concerned traditional broadcasters about Barstool were the same ones they embraced when giving Howard Stern a larger platform a few decades earlier. All Stern did for them was produce big ratings and revenue, despite creating edgy content and negative headlines.
It’s also interesting that SiriusXM is the company which took the plunge. That would be the same group which was smart enough to recognize Stern’s power and lure him away to satellite radio thus building a thriving company in the process. That left a moon sized crater in morning drive on FM radio stations and now SiriusXM is taking a page out of the same playbook by pledging their support to Dave Portnoy’s band of misfits.
I believe that Barstool will help Sirius increase subscribers but I can’t imagine the company having a Stern like effect on business. However, if they produce even a tenth or twentieth of the impact that Stern did, that would be a huge victory for the suits at SiriusXM. That leaves me to wonder, why wasn’t that enough to excite even one terrestrial radio group?
FACEBOOK SENDS THE MEDIA INDUSTRY BACK TO PANIC STATION
Last week’s announcement from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg that the world’s largest social media platform would soon begin favoring posts from friends and family and decreasing the material you see from media outlets, has created a tidal wave of concern among broadcasters. As many inside offices throw darts at the Facebook czar’s image and offer four-letter expletives to describe how they feel about his recent decision, that won’t change the fact that Facebook is adjusting its strategy and execution.
Although the impact has yet to be seen or felt, many media brands anticipate being forced to spend more money to have their content reach audiences which use Facebook for daily reading and conversation. The social company feels its platform has become a playground for fake news, even contributing to the outcome of the prior election. Zuckerberg said Facebook feels a responsibility to make sure its services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being, and he’s willing to accept that people will spend less time on the platform if it means it their time spent on it becomes more valuable.
Take off your business cap for a second and listen closely to what I’m about to tell you. Facebook has ZERO obligation to help your brand create or sustain success. King Zuckerberg didn’t make his fortune by looking out for everyone else’s interests. He did it by building a must-have brand with worldwide appeal and utilized it to increase his own company’s worth and bottom line.
We forget that our brands have little control over the audience developed on Facebook. We use our airwaves, email newsletters, text alerts, billboards, live events and marketing campaigns to promote our product’s benefits and remind the audience of how they can learn more by following us on Facebook, but lose sight of the fact that while we may be able to target our content to specific audiences on the platform, those people actually belong to Facebook, not us.
Some will say that it feels like a one-sided relationship. There’s some truth to that. But, the reality is that Facebook has the audience that our brands need to drive ratings, web traffic, increase brand awareness, attend events, and support advertisers. You can label them as evil, but they’re a necessary evil.
In sports radio, we often preach about the importance of staying fresh, relevant and ahead of the curve. That’s what Facebook is doing. We may not like it because we’ve become creatures of comfort with a preference to continue with ‘business as usual’, but the reason they’ve become a global entity is because they continue to take risks, evolve, lead the charge and react when necessary.
It reminds me of that scene in Moneyball when the scouts are all in the room telling Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) that the problem they need to solve is finding a way to replace Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen who are leaving via free agency. Beane counters that they’re not looking at the big picture which shows that the A’s are a low budget team faced with a competitive disadvantage and unless they reinvent their approach they’ll wind up in the exact same position in the future.
I cautioned folks 10 months ago about a lack of social activity and why being invisible to our most passionate fans was a bad recipe. “Social Media” is meant to be a form of communication where two sides engage in dialogue. It’s not meant to be a place where brands push content at engaged audiences who express their points of view about the material they’re receiving only to not even earn a response from the brand which created it.
Ironically, that’s what radio, television and print have done to audiences for decades. Some of that approach is warranted, but building a relationship with an audience requires time, effort, interest and forming a personal relationship. To expect three industries to execute differently when the way they know is different than how social companies think and operate is asking a lot. Except these social groups are making the rules now. Not traditional media.
It’s too late to blame ourselves for breathing too much life into Facebook. My fear is that some groups will take this news and run now towards Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, assuming they’ll solve the problem. But, they won’t. They reach smaller audiences and want the same thing that Zuckerberg has. If you think they won’t do to your brand what Facebook has, you’re extremely naive. These platforms are led by sharks who want to use their access to the audience and their personal information to take a much bigger bite out of your corporate bank account. It’s that simple.
Allow me to leave you with six takeaways which I hope will serve you well going forward.
- Educate yourself on Facebook’s adjustments to best take advantage of reaching your audience
- Further invest in additional ways to gain more access and control of your audience’s information
- Develop a plan for engaging more with your fans on social media and analyze what is/isn’t working
- Create a brand that’s so important/successful that you too can make major changes and not miss a beat
- Understand that the rules will continue to change in social spaces and you either adapt or risk extinction
- Stay alert, informed and open minded about emerging social channels which may look to challenge Facebook