What We Can Learn From NBA Jerseys

There are appropriate times to focus on national stories in local radio, but it’s hard to lose when you set your sites not on being the perfect show, but on being the perfect show for your market.

My son is 7-years-old and he absolutely loves the NBA. His favorite team is the Washington Wizards, because his favorite player is John Wall. That is awesome. John Wall is from Raleigh. My son is from Raleigh. It’s a perfect fit right now, but it’s going to be a real problem for his dad, who is a lifelong Celtics fan, if the Knicks pull off this trade they are rumored to want so badly. 

Because my son is 7 and because I am a sports aesthetics enthusiast, we started talking about the NBA’s City Edition Jerseys over the weekend. There are a lot of cool looks this year. I asked him which was his favorite. He said the Wizards, because…well, he is one of those fans that can’t recognize when his team is wearing pure trash. 

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He asked me what my favorite was. I told him I was torn. I love that the Timberwolves went with the Purple Rain motif…then of course, had to explain what Purple Rain was. My son loves Prince’s music but we may be a few years away from bathing ourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.  

The Nets’ Notorious BIG-inspired threads look really cool as well. I’m also partial to Utah’s Red Rocks jerseys and New Orleans’s Mardi Gras theme.

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Notice the pattern?

All of the best City Edition jerseys this year make the biggest impact with the team’s local fanbase. They would only work for the team in the city they’re in. 

Take note as you prepare your rundown each day. There is nothing wrong with a host in Miami talking about the Rams and Bears on Monday morning. It was the most watched game of any sort this weekend.

What will have a bigger impact on that host’s listeners though is talking about the game between the Heat and Lakers on Monday night. It will be the last time D-Wade and LeBron share a court in the NBA, as Wade has announced this season is his “last dance.”

Think of the local angles he or she could take here. These guys brought a pair of championships and four trips to the NBA Finals to the city together. What are fans’ memories of that run? How did those four years together compare to the host’s expectations the day of that pep rally the Heat held to introduce the Big 3 for the first time in 2010?

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Surely you’ve heard the phrase “play the hits.” It’s the mantra of nearly every music format. Translated to sports talk it means you devote the most time to the biggest stories. I am never going to tell you that is wrong, but in sports radio, there is a specific way you go about deciding what the hits are.

What will ignite the most passion?

If you’re a host that relies on phone calls, texts, and tweets, you need to be looking for the topics that will drive the most listener interaction. If you’re a multi-person show that stays insulated, you should gravitate towards topics that trigger memories and strong opinions from every voice on the show. 

How do you do that? By finding the stories that the largest segment of your audience have the strongest connection to. More often than not, those stories will be the ones involving local teams and athletes.

Wrapping your station and your show in a local identity doesn’t mean ignoring major national stories. When Urban Meyer retires at age 54, that is something any market with any level of college football enthusiasm should pay attention to, but just because it is SportsCenter’s A-block that day, it doesn’t mean that story jumps ahead of talk about Ron Rivera’s job security on Charlotte sports stations.

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If we learn anything from the NBA’s City Edition jerseys, let it be this. It is tempting to follow a trend you see everywhere. That’s why the Pacers, 76ers, and Grizzlies have essentially the same “special” gray jersey. Look across the internet at articles reacting to these jerseys. The reaction to the gray ones are exactly the same. “These are boring and generic. There is nothing special about them.”

Now look at the reaction to something like the Warriors’ tribute to the most famous Chinatown in America or the Thunder’s jersey, which is perfect for a team in the state with the highest Native American population per capita in America. 

Those jerseys look good, but that is not why the positive reactions to them are so strong. It is because they so perfectly capture a design and a feeling that is only appropriate for a team from those cities. Let that be the goal for your show.

Pick the topics and put together the segments that give you the best chance to create memorable content. Anything that elicits emotion and reaction fits that bill. There are appropriate times to focus on national stories in local radio, but it’s hard to lose when you set your sites not on being the perfect show, but on being the perfect show for your market.