This week, Barrett Sports Media presents a series of articles featuring advice, lessons, and observations for the sports media industry. Between now and Thursday we will present these articles in a way inspired by the NCAA Tournament.
Today, I will take on something every station should be thinking about this week: how to capture the excitement of the Tournament in an interactive way for both the radio and digital audience.
If you haven’t already thought about what sort of nonsensical bracket your station will put together for listeners to follow, you’re a little behind. The good news though is that it isn’t too late to put something together. As long as you get your bracket on the air by Thursday, there is plenty of time left to put something together that excites the listeners.
Here are 16 ideas for your station’s interactive bracket.
1. SNL Characters
This will become a battle of generations. I am 37-years-old. For me, it is hard to imagine that there could ever be a funnier character on the show than Chris Farley’s Matt Foley. Maybe younger hosts and listeners will rally for Stefon or the older end of the demo will Stan hard for Eddie Murphy as Mr. Robinson.
Whoever the favorite going in is or whoever the winner may be, everyone has a frame of reference for SNL. A topic that reaches across generations is important for engaging as much of the audience as possible.
2. Local Dogs
The Internet really loves dogs. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.
This idea gets listeners involved in multiple ways. First, it asks them to submit their animals. Then, like all brackets, it asks them to be involved in choosing a winner. There could also be a good sales tie-in here, by creating a prize that allows your sales staff to go out and pitch potential clients whose business is focused on animals.
3. Past Local Teams
Stations in markets that pay little-to-no attention to college basketball often still participate in these bracket promotions. If the subject those stations choose for their bracket isn’t sports-related though, it can feel like a real departure from what the audience wants for the “stick to sports” crowd.
There’s no reason that you can’t pull the market’s sports obsession into these brackets. Imagine a bracket to determine the best Lakers team ever for ESPN710 in LA. A bracket that celebrates futility could be fun too. If the Fan in Cleveland hasn’t already done a Browns QB bracket, it certainly should!
4. Idiots In The News
There are plenty of divisive characters in politics. As Operation Varsity Blues has reminded us, Hollywood is full of objectionable celebrities. Why not build a bracket to highlight the worst of the worst?
You don’t even have to focus only on celebrities. Imagine crowning the biggest dummy from stories that have gone viral. You could even frame it in a positive way. It’s hard not to laugh at the idea of a bracket that ends in a battle between this lady banned from Wal-Mart and that guy that fell out of the ceiling in an Alabama Waffle House with the winner being crowned “King of The Common Man”.
5. Convenience Stores
Here’s something I only learned recently: people are as passionate about their local convenience stores as they are about sports and religion. Try telling someone from the Philadelphia area that there is a better store on Earth than Wawa. You will be the recipient of a lengthy rant. The same may be true if you try to tell a Southerner than there is nothing special about a QT.
Aside from that friend that uses a flip phone specifically to show you how much better he is than the rest of society, everyone has a smartphone these days. And all those people with smartphones have their go to app for killing time or being productive or whatever.
They all also have an app they just don’t see the appeal of. For the life of me, I’ll never understand the non-sexting appeal of SnapChat. Hell, throw your station app in there and see how it fares.
7. Ways To Die
Stupidity goes a long way on sports radio. A “worst/best ways to die” bracket will create some entertaining stupidity as you try to formulate an argument for why being burned alive is more preferable than drowning.
Admittedly, this is a little dark. But dark humor is still humor and as long as you’re not debating the deaths of specific people, the people that will object to a “ways to die” bracket are the same people that get upset when holding isn’t called on every play or a referee doesn’t blow his whistle when Zion Williamson takes a fourth step before throwing down an amazing dunk. Sure those people!
8. Starter Jackets
Whether your listeners will admit it or not, sports fans love fashion. New helmet designs, suits worn on draft night, and basketball shoes will always elicit strong opinions.
The Starter jacket is one of the most iconic pieces of fashion in sports, and now they are back on the market. Those majestic satin garments not only kept us warm in the 90s, they made a statement. This would be a nostalgia-filled bracket for sure, but it seems like a forgone conclusion that the teal Charlotte Hornets jacket would win.
There are so many directions you could go with food. Head-to-head fast food matchups always generate buzz. You could also add the local element of matching up local restaurants or those restaurant’s signature dishes. You can get very specific with something like a bracket of pizza toppings.
There is also the prepackaged angle. You could make a whole bracket out of Little Debbie snacks cakes!
Again, so many different directions you can go with music. You can go with individual musicians. You can do albums or songs.
There are options for going genre-specific. The middle of our demo grew up on grunge and 90s hip hop. Boy bands and the peak of country’s popularity were on their periphery. It is a generation with strong opinions on music.
11. Station Stuff
Make your bracket out of yourself. Pit personalities against each other. Maybe put drops or benchmarks in a bracket to pick the greatest of all. Make regular guests and show contributors compete for the title of audience favorite.
You are appointment listening for your P1s. They’re the ones most likely to participate in something like that. Why not shoot fish in a barrel and build your bracket around something you already know the audience is passionate about?
12. The Media
It doesn’t matter which side of the political divide your listeners fall on. Everyone has an opinion about the people we see on TV or hear on the radio everyday. There are a lot of ways you can go with a media-inspired bracket.
Everyone has play-by-play broadcasters and game analysts they are passionate about. We all grew up on SportsCenter. Put together a bracket to crown the greatest anchor in that show’s history. There are plenty of bloviating gas bags across the media landscape. Surely you can put together a field of 16 (even 64 shouldn’t be a challenge) of these people to crown the dumbest of the dumb.
13. Sexy Women
Okay, this is dangerous ground to tread on. Remember the blowback 103.7 the Buzz faced in Little Rock for their bracket of local female journalists last year? Haven’t we evolved past this? Absolutely, but sex still sells, so if you’re tempted to go this route I think I have figured out two ways to put together one of these types of brackets.
Your first option is to make it goofy. Forget about rating and ranking actual human beings. Every guy in your audience has a female cartoon character they think is sexy – human or otherwise (hello Lola Bunny!). Put cartoon ladies in a bracket.
The other way to do this is to have women put themselves in the bracket. Plenty of stations have a group of promotions models. They have names like the Fan Fatales or the Game Girls. Take that same concept and put it in bracket form. Look for local women that want to compete in that kind of contest and then let your listeners vote.
There are a lot of ways to put listeners into a bracket. You can match up regular callers. You can crown the best caller hot take and build a bracket of individual calls. You could even set up a special phone line for listeners to call in and deliver their hot take just for this contest. A funny twist on that idea would be to have people submit hot takes from their kids.
Movies, like music offer a lot of opportunities to get as specific or general as you want. Avengers: End Game is right around the corner. Put together a bracket of movies from the MCU. Do you want to do a bracket of nothing but movies starring the Rock? You can do that!
Get character-specific! Is Crash Davis the ultimate movie athlete or is it Adam Banks? What is the ultimate dinosaur from the Jurassic Park franchise?
16. Total Nonsense
Does the audience prefer ramen noodles to roller disco? Who would win in a matchup between Val Kilmer as Batman versus braided goatees? There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason to your bracket.
A station I worked for once did something like this. We called it March Blandness. The final was the state of South Carolina versus being the only one of your friends with a pick up truck. It’s the only radio bracket contest that I distinctly remember the result of because it was so much fun.