Little Finger, a character on the wildly popular show “Game of Thrones,” once said, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” The thought is that chaos can be used to your advantage to come out ahead.
Chaos shouldn’t be feared and avoided. It should be sought after and embraced. Sure, it can be dangerous to take a risky approach if you aren’t smart about it, but consider the upside of embracing danger.
Controversy sells. Drama catches our attention. Some of the most popular TV shows involve some sort of conflict. “Game of Thrones” is conflict defined. “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” involves a deluxe helping of drama. “Breaking Bad” and “The Wire” were hard to predict. Millions of viewers flock to shows that involve a few key ingredients — great storytelling, conflict, and unpredictability.
Sports radio works the same way. Safe is boring. Predictable is a yawnfest. Good luck being able to predict what “The Dan Le Batard Show” is going to discuss on a given day. That’s interesting. Clay Travis is unpredictable with some of the topics he chooses to introduce. TNT’s “Inside the NBA” could include Charles Barkley eating a cookie that’s sliding down his face, a water gun fight, or discussing the latest playoff game. Keeping the audience guessing is key part of maintaining their attention.
Conflict is also a friend. Consider how sports fans flock to controversy. The infamous pass interference no-call in the NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints will be discussed for decades. The controversial decision to reverse the winner of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday sparked many discussions. Maximum Security was disqualified for interference — veering into the path of other horses — becoming the first Derby winner to be DQ’d in the race’s 145-year history.
The outcome produced some funny comments on social media. Sports reporter Ed Werder tweeted, “[Saints head coach] Sean Payton should switch to horse racing.” Buffalo Wild Wings tweeted, “Congratulations to the Rams for winning the Kentucky Derby.” Those are amusing comments, but more importantly they show how controversy catches our attention and ignites opinions.
Many successful sports broadcasters have this trick mastered. Chris Broussard was a guest on “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd last Friday. While talking about the Toronto Raptors, Broussard said, “Here’s the thing about Toronto. Number one, let’s just face it, they’re soft… This is a soft team. It’s been that way for the last five or six years. Canada is soft. Drake is a dope rapper, but he’s a little soft.”
There isn’t anything that’s out of bounds with those comments. Sure, some people were ticked off and fired back, but that’s the name of the game — creating conflict without stepping over the line of decency. Charles Barkley is a master of this tactic. He’s compared “big ol’ women in San Antonio” to churros on many occasions. It isn’t the most highbrow approach, but it isn’t indecent or improper. Barkley’s words cause a reaction. Remember, chaos is a ladder.
There are many other paths to take beyond the churro approach — have an ongoing debate with a co-host. Be critical or complimentary of a player/team/league regardless of the common opinion. The key is to make comments that are still in good taste, but cause the audience to say, “I can’t believe he/she just said that.” There’s a difference between being edgy and saying things that are flat-out wrong. Find those hidden ways to push the envelope without stepping over the line.
A lot of hosts fear the angry mob — the people that are offended by anything and everything. Those hosts will avoid making comments that might ruffle feathers. It’s a bad approach. There is such a thing as being safe to a fault. Don’t go to great lengths to avoid making edgy comments that might fire some people up. Use the overly sensitive to your advantage.
Remember when Bill Belichick went for it on 4th & 2 back in 2009 against the Colts? The Patriots tried to pick up a first down at their own 28-yard line instead of punting with 2:08 to play. The gamble didn’t work. After the game Belichick said, “We thought we could win the game with that play. That was a yard I was confident we could get.” He didn’t think, “Oh no, what if this doesn’t work and I get criticized? What if fans won’t like me?” He did what he believed was right without backing down.
Some hosts are like this too. Ben Maller doesn’t tepidly dance around the audience’s sensitivity level. Clay Travis doesn’t deliver a watered-down monologue to avoid criticism. Being wishy-washy doesn’t work. Hosts need an element of danger and unpredictability in their skillset. If we have many examples that conflict and drama sell, what sense does it make to completely avoid it?
Just like a suspenseful TV show or movie, there are methods in sports radio to keep the audience guessing. Find ways to be unpredictable and unconventional. It doesn’t make sense to avoid the angry mob. You know why? Because the angry mob listens. And the angry mob causes other people to listen when they mention your show while complaining about it. Use that to your advantage and embrace a little chaos. Forget about playing it safe.
Matt Damon’s character delivers a great line in the movie Rounders — “If you’re too careful, your whole life can become a f—in’ grind.” So can your show.