Wed. Sep 19th, 2018

Damon Bruce Talks Sports Radio in the Warriors Era

Think of three cities where the NBA has historically been the most relevant. The first places that pop in your head are likely Los Angeles, Boston and even New York City. There’s a rich history of the NBA in all three of those towns, even if you have to be an older Knicks fan to remember the last time they were relevant. 

However, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of an NBA dynasty that doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down anytime soon. Winners of three of the last four championships, the Golden State Warriors are already on the road to one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the NBA. Though the free agency period isn’t even over, it’s almost a foregone conclusion the Warriors will repeat once again as NBA champions. Today, they dominate every single headline and continue to be one the hottest stories in all of sports.

 

Now, ask yourself again. What three cities in America have historically been the most relevant?

Once again, the Bay Area doesn’t come to mind. And to be fair, it shouldn’t. Whether it’s the Oakland A’s or the Raiders, the San Francisco Giants or the 49ers, the Warriors have, historically, always been overshadowed by the MLB and NFL teams in the area. In turn, sports radio talk in the Bay Area focused way more heavily on football and baseball, instead of the small interest the Warriors and the NBA brought along. 

But just a few years ago, the game started to change. That’s probably to be expected when you’re talking about arguably the hottest professional franchise in all of American sports. The Warriors’ rocket ship to the top of the NBA, complete with four-straight Finals appearances, three championships and the title of most regular season wins in NBA history, has brought an appetite for the Warriors in the Bay Area that’s never been seen or even thought possible. That’s left show hosts such as Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, an opportunity they never previously thought would exist. 

Whereas the Giants’ three World Series titles in five years was captivating, as well as the 49ers’ success with Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh, Bay Area sports radio has never seen a transformation like the one it’s seen with the Warriors. Heck, if you think about it; it may be unlike anything we’ve ever seen in sports radio across the country. To see a team rise from routine mediocrity and low interest to the lead story in an MLB and NFL heavy town is a pretty rare sight. But that’s the case with Warriors talk on stations such as 95.7 The Game. Not only has winning fueled the need to spend the most critical segments of the day on Warriors talk, but Golden State’s ability to stay relevant after the end of the season, such as signing Kevin Durant and Boogie Cousins in free agency, has kept their relevance across the entire sports calendar. 

Truly, though it’s never been thought of one, the Bay Area has been turned into a hotbed for the NBA. For stations in the area, a huge blessing comes with it, as well as other challenges. What’s to be gained from covering a team that’s found local, national and world-wide fame? Damon Bruce, host of the Damon Bruce Show, helped portray just how healthy sports radio in The Bay really is in today’s setting. 

TM: Historically, where do the Warriors fall alongside the Raiders, A’s, Giants and 49ers?

DB: They always had a great fan base. Warriors fans always showed up and were almost never really held accountable to the horrifying standards they were held under for so many years. The fans were great, but they were never a significant enough entity to really be recognized by anything other than, hey, for people who have routinely been kicked in the nuts, they’re relatively fanatical.

Obviously now so much has changed. We’re watching something that is unique to any moment to time in sports history. We’re at a dynasty with a group of owners, players and coaching that I don’t think you trade to any other franchise. I think the Warriors are beating every single NBA team from the ownership suite, the coaching box, GM’s office, player for player, it’s really amazing. They’re even building a new arena that’s going to be the Taj Mahal of arenas in the NBA. To have the Warriors and to have them on our station has just been an unbelievable development in Bay Area Sports. 

TM: When you started doing radio in the area (2005) did you expect at that time to be talking a lot about the Warriors? 

DB: I was always a big basketball fan, so I was going to talk a little bit more about it than maybe the next host would have, but I don’t think anyone could have expected this. It’s like nobody predicting they’d be talking about hockey in Las Vegas. Nobody could have predicted this on this level for the completely absent minded, historically bumbling Golden State Warriors. They’re now one of the most glamorous franchises in the NBA and that was a dream that no Warrior fan even bothered dreaming. We stumbled onto an NBA unicorn, it’s amazing. 

TM: Do you think it was tough for some hosts in the area to transition from talking little about the Warriors, to, bam, they’re relevant and the big story most days?  

DB: I can’t imagine it really would be, because as a host, this is a sending from heaven. Don’t you host radio shows to finally get a team like this to talk about? I’ve always said, give me greatness or give me a team that sucks, because a .500 ball club inspires no passion. We are so tipped to the side that we could never believe this level of greatness with this franchise, and they just keep chugging along. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s staggering to see that it’s happened, to see it up close, to see the steps that have kept it together, it’s been amazing.

I got to cover three World Series with the San Francisco Giants which was absolutely amazing. To be in Kansas City, to be at Kauffman Stadium the night Madison Bumgarner became Paul Bunyan…it was unbelievable! This, with the Warriors, has dwarfed that in terms of true domination with a dynasty and changing the way the game is played. The Warriors changed the game of basketball forever. This isn’t just a good team, it’s an evolutionary step for the entire sport and we got to watch it happen. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a Warrior fan in the past, you were now. It didn’t matter as a host if you didn’t really like to talk about the Warriors, you have to now because of your audience. 

TM:  When did that shift of Warriors craze in the Bay Area actually happen? 

DB: I think it was when they started 24-0 the season after they won their first title, the year they won 73 games. It’s amazing to watch a team win a championship, but it’s also amazing to watch a team win a championship and then come even hungrier and angrier than ever. We all know what happened, they didn’t win the NBA Finals that year, Kyrie Irving hits the shot and the rest is history. But then they get Kevin Durant? That was the moment where it just felt absurd and people were like, it’s a drug and I’m addicted to it. 

TM: It seems like there’s already a strong belief that the Warriors are going to win another title next season. How did you keep listeners engaged during the regular season when everyone seems to always be looking toward the playoffs? 

DB: You just have to sort of change what you’re selling. You have to evolve with your product as a host. You used to be able to sell the premise of competition. Now you need to turn around and sell the premise of dominance.

In this regular season, a lot of the stories became how apathetic they were playing on a night by night basis. But how much out of that could you get, because No.1, they kept winning a lot, and No.2, we all knew what really matters: the playoffs. 

TM: NBA Free Agency has really grown into its own entity, but how big has it been for sports radio in the Bay Area when guys like Kevin Durant and Boogie Cousins are signing on? 

DB: I think it’s been gargantuan for us. When a championship had been won in the past, the Warriors had already been long out of the playoffs, they had probably just blown their lottery pick and the free agents were never interested in signing with them. You see how big NBA Free Agency is just in the national conversation. We’re talking more about the NBA now than at any other time in my life. That’s nationally. When you’re local and have the Warriors are in your backyard, it’s intensified. 

TM: With that being said, will your show pay any attention to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas? 

DB: Sure, we’ve been talking about it. There’s always things to monitor and to take a look at. There’s always plays being made and if you like basketball you’re paying more attention now than ever before. You bring up a Summer League topic, it’s not just automatically dismissed by internship because we’re all now a little more interested in the NBA. 

TM: Present day, in terms of sports radio, has the Warriors popularity eclipsed both the Raiders and 49ers?

DB: I don’t think anything will truly eclipse the 49ers in a season where they’re going to a Super Bowl. That’s stops the presses like nothing else in any town that has an NFL team. The Raiders have broken a local trust here that has damaged their value in terms of how much we care and how much we care about selling their bright future. Their bright future is no longer ours, so how are we going to get worked up about it, one way or the other?

Warriors have changed the paradigm in a way that I don’t think any NFL, MLB, or any program director or any person who has ever gone out to sell advertising could have ever imagined. The Warriors went from being something that was thrown into a sales meeting, like, we really want to sell you this, but we’ll thrown them in, to the main thing that you’re selling. I don’t think anyone anticipated how much business around the Warriors would change. 

TM: What about you personally? Now that we’ve seen the rise of the franchise, how much has that boosted your profile with media opportunities and other availabilities? 

DB: There’s absolutely no doubt about it. It’s unquestionable. I think it’s tangible, I think it’s measurable. If you were interested enough, I think you could go back and look at the number of Twitter followers during the playoffs compared to other times of the year. Interview requests, station requests, that sort of thing, it’s all gone up dramatically.  

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