I live in a transplant market. I moved to North Carolina’s Research Triangle in 2005. It took some time for me to understand the vibe of the area and what was important to local sports fans. I’m not talking about teams. I mean the moments.
Fourteen years later, and I am definitely not an expert. But when UNC fans start talking with disgust about Gerald Henderson, I know exactly what moment they are picturing in their heads. I was here for it. I did radio the next day and heard people calling the kid all kinds of names.
That Duke-Carolina game happened on March 4, 2007. We’re two months away from Henderson elbowing Tyler Hansbrough in the face and bloodying his nose being twelve years old. Kids that were in kindergarten when it happened will graduate high school this year.
John Kasay’s final kickoff in Super Bowl 38 sailed out of bounds over a year before I moved to North Carolina. To me, the biggest story of that game is Janet Jackson’s boob. To my friends that are Panthers fans, it is that penalty and how it gave the Patriots the field position they needed to set up a game winning field goal.
My point in telling you that isn’t to make my friend Lauren Brownlow’s eyeballs twitch with rage. It is to hammer home the point that watching Gerald Henderson break Tyler Hansbrough’s nose is a vivid memory and iconic moment in the Duke/UNC rivalry for me, but it might not be for the audience. Kasay’s kick sticks in the memories of Carolina Panthers fans the same way. It happened a year before I even knew I would be a North Carolinian. Sometimes, when talking about the Panthers, I have to be reminded that it happened at all.
This is a place where Lenovo, SAS, Glaxo Smith Kline, and Pfizer all have corporate headquarters. People move to and from Raleigh and Durham all the time. Imagine how many new people have come to the area since Henderson’s elbow connected with Psycho T’s face!
The challenge of doing any kind of radio, but particularly sports talk, in a transplant market is being inclusive to everyone listening. Of course you will always lead with the biggest news about the local teams, but it is important to occasionally step back and evaluate just what kind of connection the bulk of your audience has with those teams.
In a market like St. Louis, where such a large chunk of the population grew up there and has decided to stay there, you can talk about Ozzie Smith’s “Go crazy, folks!” moment to this day. There’s a chance your listeners were in the stadium with their dads, or watching that game at home and hearing Jack Buck’s iconic call.
Now think about a market like Miami. A host there cannot rely on that same level of connection to even the 2003 Marlins team that won the World Series. People move to and from that area too frequently. Do you think a guy that moved to Miami in say 2015 and is just a casual sports fan knows off the top of his head that the Marlins used to be anything other than a laughing stock? In that scenario, even a hardcore sports fan that didn’t live in the city at the time would have trouble understanding what that team and beating the Yankees meant to the area.
There is nothing wrong with over-explaining things. It actually makes the tent that is your show bigger. Hell, if you are on the air in a place like Washington, DC where the population seemingly completely turns over every other year, you could turn teaching new residents local sports history into a bit.
You’ll always have listeners that are hardcore, lifelong fans of the local teams. Maybe they act like there is some honor in giving hell to more casual fans or newer fans that haven’t suffered with the team enough in hardcores’ estimation.
Here’s the thing about those kinds of fans. You don’t have to win them over. They are P1s, not just for your station but for sports talk in general. They have opinions about how their team is covered. They have opinions about you. They are going to listen even if they hate your guts. Just ask Paul Finebaum. He built a pretty healthy following of people that wanted to murder him but didn’t want to miss a second of his show when he was working in Birmingham.
You don’t want to ignore the hardcore local fans and P1s in your audience, but your show cannot grow catering only to the group that will always be there. If you’re new to the market, turn your education into a bit that shows how wide open your show can and will be. If listeners are calling in telling you about the moments that ripped the hearts out of every fan in the area, listeners that weren’t in town for those moments are hearing that too and it is providing them context for how you talk about those teams and those moments in the future.
Some time last year I wrote a piece about ESPN taking its college football pregame show, College Gameday, to New York. There was a lot of pushback to the idea when it was first announced. I wrote that everyone that swore it wouldn’t work and that there would be no crowd there was operating under the assumption that it’s still the 18th century and no one ever moves away from the town they grew up in.
Remember that when you think about your audience. How many of them came to town for the same reason you did – a job opportunity? Did their new job require them to learn the ins and outs of the local teams? It doesn’t mean that if you are on the West Coast you need to devote whole segments to the Knicks, because a lot of people are from New York. It means that you can’t assume everyone listening in their car or office knows everything that you do.