“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” –Vince Lombardi
When I first started in Sports Radio, a local team losing was thought of as good for the station. Losing created conflict between players, coaches, administration and led to all sorts of great potential content. Probably the best example of this was the first year of the Score in Chicago–1992. It was the perfect storm. The Bears were having a terrible season. For this brand spanking new sports station, this created endless content.
Additionally, The Score had a weekly luncheon/interview with Coach Ditka. Ditka was so done with dealing with the media; he would only talk on his weekly radio show on this brand new radio station. The beat reporters, tv stations, and columnists covering the Bears had to attend the shows or listen, to get their quotes from “Da Coach” for their stories. This was radio gold. Especially for a brand new station during the infancy of the Sports Talk format. As long time host Terry Boers said, “It would be fair to say that Ditka did more for the Score in its first year than anyone. I will never ever underestimate his impact on the first year of the Score. Nobody could have done more for the Score at that time than he did.”
Over the past 26 years, the format has evolved, matured, and been taken over by corporations with shareholders to answer to. Additionally, as verbal attacks became a regular part of the format, something changed. Winning was no longer seen as boring to the format, but instead an incredible springboard for success. Higher ratings, greater interest in the format, increased marketing and sales opportunities and that all important “buzz”.
Right now that is all happening in Washington DC and Las Vegas as their teams battle in the Stanley Cup Final. Vegas is the Cinderella story of an expansion team making it through the Western Conference to the final, while Washington has not been to the Stanley Cup Final in 20 years and features one of the NHL’s biggest stars in Alexander Ovechkin.
106.7 The Fan is the FM DC rights holder for the Capitals. Caps programming has dominated the station in addition to the typical flagship Play-by-play and pre and post-game shows. The Fan’s PD Chris Kinard notes, “We’re seeing sustained audience engagement unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We’ve had days with bigger overall ratings, higher streaming numbers, etc., usually focused around Redskins content. But the meter counts, cume influx, streaming spikes, and social media engagement have been consistently near record-levels since the Caps beat Pittsburgh to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals….We’re moving fast to create opportunities for our clients to be involved in the party. We’re on the streets marketing the station and capturing the scene on social media. And I think, while all of this is happening, we all have to keep in mind the lasting impact that a championship can have on a radio station. Listeners will remember how they experienced the Cup run, and our station can and should be a part of those memories if we create compelling content and experiences.”
Across town, Chris Johnson, Program Director of the DC’s The Team 980 says “We’ve seen a tremendous surge of audience. Specifically starting with the day after the Caps eliminated the Pens. That morning we did a special show bringing in Caps TV announcers Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin. The show had a huge response on-air and on social media. We’ve also added special pre and post games shows along with Caps and NHL guests over the past 3 weeks. Steve Czaban is broadcasting live from Vegas and we’ll be live from the Capital One Arena as well.”
In Las Vegas, where this improbable team and story has taken hold, ESPN Las Vegas afternoon drive host Steve Cofield talks about the Knights run to the finals and their impact on the local community, “Since I got here in 1996, Vegas has mostly been a disjointed community amongst the locals. Many work on the Strip where you get tired of personal interaction and just want to escape to your house in the suburbs 15 minutes away. In the past, they’d drive home, pull in their garages and hardly speak with their neighbors. Now VGK game nights are a massive meet up at local bars where sports and non-sports fans bond. Those bars, dominated by the video poker machines, used to be quiet. Now there’s a buzz before, during and after the games.”
From a sales standpoint timing and quick-turnaround are key during a winning run. So says Dave Greene, General Sales Manager for 610 Sports in Kansas City and fellow BSM columnist, “Momentum can come from a lot of places and sometimes even completely unexpectedly. Earlier this year when Kansas State made their run in the NCAA tournament that was something we clearly weren’t expecting. We knew if we acted quickly we could capitalize on the success of the team from a sales standpoint and we were able to. Our format thrives on passion and the fan base is never more passionate than after postseason success.”
In conclusion, over the past 20+ years things have changed. A winner in town is a huge opportunity for local sports radio stations, but it also takes the PDs, Hosts, Sales Managers, and Marketing directors to act quickly to take advantage of the opportunities. If they do so, the teams aren’t the only winners at the end of the day.