Historically, the period from the end of the NFL season until March Madness has been a ”Dead Zone” for sports radio stations. NFL and College Football are kings, and they bring big ratings, and give stations lots to dissect and discuss. Once the Super Bowl ends you’re practically starting a sports radio station from scratch.
Understanding that different markets have different strengths and weaknesses during this period, there are a number of strategies and ideas to help your station perform during this period.
The biggest challenge during this time period is talent that sees this as a dead period and does not give the show the same preparation, energy, and attention it gets during the football season–while the exact opposite is necessary.
An intuitive PD knows talent inside and out, what their hot buttons are, and ideas that will be dead on arrival. Talent must be part of the “Dead Zone” discussion. We all know that hosts are most enthusiastic about their own ideas or at least ideas that they think are their own! With that in mind, develop a station strategy for that month and communicate it to the talent and then the producers.
Strategy #1: Here We Are Now, Entertain Us
What can shows do from an entertainment standpoint? Guy topics, bits, games, etc. Emphasize the fun! People love to laugh and forget that it is winter or that they hate their job.
What are some ideas you’re hamstrung by during the football season? Proven favorites are organic weekly segments that develop from comments made by players and coaches. In Chicago we had “Who Ya Crappin’” for 25 years after then Bears Coach Mike Ditka uttered the now infamous phrase during his show on the Score in Chicago. It became a weekly and creative call-in segment about sports figures that had lied over the past week.
Similarly, at 610 Sports in Kansas City there was a Royals player who responded to Doug Franz’s question by saying, “It kinda chaps me that you would say that.” And boom—“It Chaps Me” was born. Listeners had a chance to get their current grievances off their chest.
Producers booking guests during the ”Dead Zone” should ask themselves, “What is the entertainment value of this guest?” There are some men and women who may not be the biggest names but are 100% hilarious. Recognize who they are. At the Score in Chicago, we had some hilarious guests (Patrick Reusse, Norman Chad, Hubert Mizell, George Michael) but perhaps the funniest, most ball-busting guest was local ABC Sports Anchor Mark Giangreco. It didn’t matter where the conversation would start, you just knew you’d be laughing for 15-20 minutes. 20 years later I’m still laughing at some of those memories.
Strategy #2: Special Coverage
There are a number of specialized sporting events happening during this ”Dead Zone” period that may not be for everyone, but events you can make a big deal about and cover in a way that reflects your station’s strengths and audience interest. Here’s a brief list:
Friday February 9-February 25th: Winter Olympics in PyeongChang
Sunday February 18th: Daytona 500
Various Mid-late February Reporting Dates: MLB Spring Training
Tuesday February 27th-Monday March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine
Take these events one at a time. You know your audience.
Winter Olympics in PyeongChang
To be honest, the Olympics are a struggle on sports radio. While the TV ratings are big and the promotion is huge, the Olympics resonate more with female viewers than male viewers. Additionally, outside of a major controversy or superstar performance, Olympics talk tends to fall flat on sports talk stations.
Tread carefully into this event. The Winter Olympics have a lot of events (Biathalon?) and the audience may have a hard time relating to them. From a news standpoint, carry Westwood One’s coverage of the Olympics. From a talk standpoint find the funniest, most entertaining person covering the Olympics and set up daily call-ins with him or her. What are the funny behind the scenes stories? What really goes on in the Olympic Village? Get someone who paints a picture but is truly funny. This will make your “Olympic Updates” must listens. NBC is sending SNL’s Leslie Jones for a reason.
The Daytona 500
NASCAR’s biggest event starts the season rather than ending it! It’s surprising in northern big cities how many NASCAR fans there are. This is a great time to give them some deserving coverage. Find the true NASCAR fans on staff and let them create programming plans for coverage of the race and the weeks leading up to it.
MLB Spring Training
This is a tough one to generalize about because each market is vastly different. Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Yankees along with some other teams, will eat up any news they can get from spring training. How do the young players look? What’s the injury situation? How will the new acquisitions fit in? Boots on the ground are needed to cover this one well. It can be a local reporter or if affordable and if you have the access, send your shows.
NFL Scouting Combine
What used to be a secretive event where rumors filled the day, is now a made for media event. Even better, for markets whose NFL teams struggled in 2017—this is where their hope for the future begins. Report on it, talk about it, have experts on from Indianapolis and start speculating about your team’s first round pick.
The point of any strategy during this period is to get outside of your comfort zone and bring the audience with you. Plan, communicate, execute and have fun!