A decision looms in the NBA that could change the landscape of the league for several years to come. That’s to be expected when the greatest basketball player of all-time (yeah, I said it) has an open run of where he can play next season. But if you think Lebron James’ decision just affects the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rest of the Eastern Conference or even his legacy, you’re sadly mistaken.
Lebron’s decision affects the economy of northern Ohio, the growth of basketball around the area and certainly from a media perspective – the popularity of sports radio in Cleveland. Sure, hosts will still be able to rely on topics centered on the Cavs, as well as the Indians and Browns, but there’s no denying that losing the biggest star in the NBA would have a considerable effect on sports radio stations in the city.
Though that seems grim, there’s actually a big silver lining for everyone associated with sports radio in Cleveland. Name any market in the country and you’ll find sports radio stations bracing for lower ratings in the summer. It’s natural and happens every year.
Cleveland, however, may be preparing for its biggest ratings push of the year in the months of June and July, which is something that’s usually unprecedented in a major city Why? Well, there’s no bigger story in sports today than where Lebron is going to play next season.
Most hosts across the country might be scrambling for topics to fill a show during the summer months, but hosts in Cleveland have the luxury of covering one of the biggest sports stories in the history of the city. Though the NBA Finals are over, Clevelanders haven’t tuned out sports radio. They’re locked in as ever to hear the latest reports and rumors on where King James is leaning. If Lebron does leave Cleveland, he won’t do so without giving sports radio a huge ratings boost.
However, there’s certainly a lot to be gained for stations in Cleveland if Lebron decides to stay in town. Yes, it keeps the Cavaliers as a national brand in the NBA, but it also keeps the market held in high regard. As Nicholas Wilson of 92.3 The Fan told me, young talent from across the country have flocked to Cleveland to cover the best basketball player on the planet. If Lebron does leave, would that same talent stay in the city? Would Cleveland still be on the radar for talented, up and comers in the business?
As the decision looms, Wilson shares insight on how much is at stake in the next month for local stations like 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland.
TM: Would you say this the biggest sports story in the history of Cleveland?
NW: It’s up there. I’ll honestly say that the Cavs’ title two years ago is probably the biggest story in recent history. Lebron owns the biggest stories of the last 5-10 years along with the Indians World Series run. But if you look at the way this thing is going to build, seeing as we’re a month out, I think the optics of this are different than the decision to leave in 2010 and the decision to return in 2014. I think the average Clevelander knows that there’s a lot of speculation on Lebron’s future.
I think it’s still going to be a Top 5-10 story in Cavaliers history, but I think it’s minimized a bit because the championship has already been won. People in Cleveland still want Lebron to be back, but the stakes don’t feel as big as they were in 2010.
TM: You just alluded to the frustration level not being as high as 2010 if he leaves. But as a show host, are you rooting for the outbursts if he decides to leave town again?
NW: I’m not so foolish to not show self-interest, absolutely. Lebron is the ever-ripened fruit on the evergreen tree. He always gives you content.
Selfishly, I want him to be back because he makes the Cavs more interesting, but I don’t know if there’s going to be the outburst. There’s always going to one or two guys that try to make their name by giving the take Lebron James let Cleveland down by going. There always will be. That probably holds true with fans as well, there’s people who have still not forgiven Lebron James for leaving in the first place.
I don’t think you’re going to see the mass hysteria like when he left in 2010, or when he came back in 2014, but I still think even though there isn’t going to be the anger, even though those coals don’t burn as hot, I still do think, that for sports radio in the next month, we’ve got you there. People are more calm and rational this time around, but I still think they really want to see where he goes.
TM: Do you consider this the biggest month of the past year for Cleveland sports radio?
NW: It’s pretty up there. Look, it’s a Browns town so their season is always a big time for us. I would say the NFL Draft was huge for us as well as the NBA Finals. But I think Lebron’s future in Cleveland is a cottage industry, because it touches all aspects of the NBA offseason.
It touches the NBA Draft, because the Cavs have the No. 8 pick. It touches the trade market because of Kevin Love and the questions of his trade value. It touches free agency, because Lebron is a free agent and the Cavs are going to have to go about that two different ways, depending where he ends up. From a sports radio perspective, you could not set up the next four weeks any more perfect than how they’re set up.
TM: There are rumors that have already come out about Lebron’s next destination and others will come out in the next month. As a host, how do you sort through what’s worth bringing up on the air versus what doesn’t?
NW: This is the million dollar question. For me, I just always try to consider the source. Like, I love Gary Payton and he’s the one who originally said that Lebron James Jr. was going to enroll at a Los Angeles high school next year, but that dude talks as much as any human being in NBA history. Not that I refuse to believe the report, but there’s a part of me that can laugh about it a little more that Gary Payton would be the guy to break this kind of news.
Having seen Lebron for so long, I think everything is automatically something that you can take a little skeptically, which I think makes it a little more fun. But I actually think that’s part of the on-air stuff. I think some of the best conversations that I’ve heard on Lebron James and his future, are do you trust this report? You cannot get two Clevelanders who trust the same source of information the exact same amount. It leads itself into a battle royale over things like where Lebron’s kid will go to high school.
TM: Aside from Lebron himself, what kind of guests are you looking for in the next month to add insight to this story?
NW: I really love the Cavs beat. Dave McMenamin, Jason Lloyd, Joe Vardon from the reporter perspective. I like all those guys. From the current player perspective, give me Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye. From Lebron’s camp, I would say it’s probably be Rich Paul. From Cavaliers historical, it’s Mark Price. It depends on the way you look at it, but I love listening to those number of perspectives for different reasons. Each one can give you an insight into Lebron that are so fascinating and so singular in terms of how they view him and the pursuit of his legacy.
TM: Let’s say Lebron doesn’t sign in Cleveland. Are they now on the back burner in terms of your topic list?
NW: I don’t know way less Cavs, it’s interesting, because when Lebron left in 2010, there was still a lot of talk on the team because it galvanized people in a direction. The Cavs had been kind of listless, near the top of the Eastern Conference but never able to get over the hump or able to get another great player to town.
So Lebron leaving that first time, there was an intense amount of interest for the first 16-18 months of the Cavaliers. Then, of course as rebuilding processes do, people fell by the wayside and the feeling toward Lebron lessened and lessened. I do think that any decision that he makes, for the first year, is going to galvanize people in one direction or the other.
TM: In terms of capturing your audience, are the Browns poised to pick up where the Cavs fall of if Lebron leaves?
NW: The Browns have been poised to pick off anybody from any audience, no matter Lebron James, the Indians, any national story, they’ve been poised to pick this thing off since they came back in 1999. As a matter of fact, it took Lebron coming back in 2014 to really kick the Browns off their mantle. Even though the Browns have lost an asinine amount of their fan base, for what’s happened the last three years, I still think the Browns are going to be king of this town if they start winning.
What I will say, is if Lebron stays along with the championship expectations, I don’t think it’s going to be a clean victory by the Browns. At that point, it will probably be a similar ratio as to what it is now, but if Lebron leaves and Baker Mayfield turns out to be a nice quarterback and the Browns start to win, you could just say a prayer for the Indians and the Cavs because I may not get to talk about them for the next 5-6 years.
TM: Does the allure of a sports radio job in Cleveland hinge on Lebron being in town? Especially with people that aren’t from the area?
NW: Oh absolutely. Cleveland is an interesting market because it’s very insulated and there’s a lot of people that have been doing it for several years. I do think for a lot of the younger guys, Lebron holds a lot of the intrigue. Some younger have to ask themselves, I’m going to follow the old trend of staying in Cleveland for your career, or are there other places where there might be more interesting teams or just as interesting cities as Cleveland without Lebron.
Any young guy making his name in radio in Cleveland, has to think about that, because from the external standpoint, I get a lot of publicity just off the fact I’m in Cleveland and know a few people in radio. When they need someone to talk Cavs, boom, I’m on CBS or I’m on in Portland with my boy Chad. Just for me, who’s someone that’s broken through the Cleveland market in the last 5-7 years, if I’m getting attention like that I can only imagine what someone who’s been here longer or in any of the drive shifts is getting, publicity wise.
I do think the intrigue factor with Lebron has been something that’s incalculable the last four years. I guarantee you, a young kid who just graduated college from Syracuse, who’s looking at two similar jobs, is saying, oh man, it would be cool to go and talk about Lebron. But if he leaves and we become Browns centric, it will be interesting to see what that does for the young professionals.