Tag Archives: sports radio

Stay-At-Home Run: How Your Sports Radio Brand Can Thrive When Sports Return

Tuesdays With Coleman

Judging from the sweat that immediately surfaces under my cloth mask during my daily walks, summer has arrived in Washington, DC. To be perfectly honest, I’m not the biggest fan of summer. I dislike heat and humidity. I have a sizable and beloved jacket collection. I am unusually susceptible to mosquito bites. But there are things I do love about summer. The beach. Steamed blue crabs in Old Bay.

And baseball.

I am not a huge fan of watching baseball on television. Doesn’t do it for me. And I honestly don’t care about scores, even though I want my home team to win. What I love about baseball is being there—I love the crowd, the collective excitement, the thrill of a stolen base or a home run, the hot dogs. The beer.

There’s been a ton of discussion these days about sports and how they will be handled once the country starts to open up on a larger scale. Experts aren’t sure when it will be safe to attend a baseball game in a stadium, but in most cases they’re pretty sure it won’t be for a while and that a ton of expensive precautions will have to be taken. At this point there’s a lot we don’t know, but we do know that we’re not ready yet and won’t be for some time. Personally, I don’t expect to attend a baseball game for at least another year.

The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox played in an empty stadium on April 29, 2015 due to Freddie Gray protests in the city.

Does that mean I’ll watch a game on TV? For me, probably not. An empty stadium fills me with sadness and dread. Without the noise, it all falls flat.

So what’s a baseball fan to do? Well, as I, a known media history buff, like to say, maybe everything old is new again.

I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men lately (by the time this blog post is published, it won’t be on Netflix anymore, sorry people), and something in Season 4, Episode 7 (“The Suitcase”) caught my attention. In that episode, Don and Peggy go to a bar and listen to the historic 1965 Ali-Liston fight, the one where Ali knocked out Liston in the first round. Our heroes aren’t paying attention to the whole thing– they’re nursing their drinks, they’re talking about all kinds of serious topics that require spoiler tags, but when the announcers get excited the way great play-by-play announcers do, they sit straight up on their barstools.

Mad Men’s Don and Peggy listen to the Ali-Liston fight on the radio while chatting at a bar in Season 4’s “The Suitcase”.

This is how a lot of entertainment has been for me these past couple of months. I have loved listening to what I used to experience in person. Jazz brunches. Comedy sets. Classical concerts. Lectures from the New York Public Library. All from the comfort of my own home. Sometimes my attention gets diverted, sometimes I need a bathroom break, sometimes I need a refill on my Old Fashioned, and that’s all okay because I’m at home. And the temperature can be whatever I want it to be.

It is a pleasure and a real privilege to be able to enjoy these things at home. But when it comes to baseball, I really want the in-person experience.

Baseball may not be played in 2020 because of disagreements between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association. Whenever it does return, a recent article in Inside Radio outlines how sports executives are planning to handle baseball play-by-play and create safe experiences for announcers as well as exciting moments for listeners. Of course, play-by-play hasn’t gone away and has continued to be important to stations and to many fans, even in “normal” times. I would argue that with stadiums empty and the visual experience significantly altered, play-by-play on the radio is going to be critical as players hit the diamond again.

So how can you take advantage of these unusual times? For your radio station, I would take it a few steps beyond broadcasting the game—make play-by-play an at-home event. Use the new entertainment routines we’ve established to be there for your loyal listeners and for those of us who are sorely missing our in-person experience.

Partner with a local spot where people can order their hot dogs and popcorn at a discount before the game. Run a social media contest where listeners post photos of (properly socially distanced) listening parties on Instagram with a customized hashtag. Disturbed by the idea of canned crowd noise? Make it fun—play the noise from a big historical game and make listeners guess what it is. Some lucky contest winner might get a bushel of blue crabs delivered to their door, complete with newspaper, Old Bay and cold Natty Boh, to be enjoyed at home while the Orioles trounce the Yankees (#hottake #dontatme #gobirds).

All of these ideas would serve your brand. You are the destination for your local team, and you are there for local fans. You know that times are different and people are missing out, so you want to help them enjoy games just as much, if not more, than they did last summer. You can use this opportunity to draw in new listeners who hadn’t thought about experiencing the games the way people did before TV was ubiquitous.

It may not be the same experience, but it can be a new experience… one that takes its cues from an old one that should never be forgotten.

Bring back baseball!

Sports Radio and the Margaritaville Problem

Tuesdays With Coleman

Ask any experienced music radio programmer and he or she will be able to tell you about numerous situations where “something big” was happening in their format that just didn’t feel right to them for their stations. Classic Hits programmers will try to deal with the fact that 20,000 people are going to see Jimmy Buffett in concert in their market when “Margaritaville” is the only song of his in their library. Similarly, a song will “blow up” in local market streaming data but finish at the bottom of the ranker in the station’s weekly new music research.

Jimmy Buffett concert photo

Jimmy Buffett’s concert success doesn’t often translate to radio airplay beyond “Margaritaville.”

It is in these situations that programmers earn their salaries and bonuses; the talented ones know—often thanks to strategic research they have conducted—how to respond in situations like these.

These scenarios are not, however, limited to music radio. Sports radio programmers deal with them as well and currently the changing landscape of sports consumption poses major challenges. I would argue that the rise of eSports, mixed martial arts (MMA) and legalized sports gambling represent the sports equivalents of the Margaritaville problem.

With eSports competitions selling-out arenas, MMA generating massive pay-per-view revenues and more states legalizing sports gambling like the new California online poker law, there is little question that all three of these are important parts of the sports landscape that are growing, especially with the younger consumers that advertisers covet. Does that mean if you program a sports radio station you should devote airtime to these topics?

eSports event

An estimated 380 million people worldwide will watch eSports this year. How should sports radio cover it?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.”

It depends on the interest level in these topics relative to the interest levels for “the big four” professional sports plus college football and basketball. It depends on how compatible the appetites for this content are with the appetites that exist for the other sports that are at the core of your station’s strategy. It depends on whether you’re the only local sports radio station in your market or if you have a direct competitor. It depends on how much you know about the specific content sports fans in your market look for your station to cover.

This last point is critical and is the one on which less-experienced programmers often get tripped up. Just because something is popular does not mean that it is right for your station. Jimmy Buffett may have a lot of fans who love going to his shows, but that doesn’t mean that they want to consume his music when they listen to your station. We repeatedly see in research that what people want from radio stations and what they want when they’re not listening to the radio do not necessarily align perfectly.

Coleman Insights clients and frequent “Tuesday With Coleman” readers are well-acquainted with the concept of “Outside Thinking,” the ability to look at your radio station from an outside, real-world perspective. Sports programmers who are Outside Thinkers don’t just react to the rise of eSports, MMA and sports gambling and add shows that focus on them to their stations’ line-ups and push their hosts to cover this content. They consider whether such content has strategic value for their stations and program accordingly.

Fortunately, we at Coleman Insights have numerous sports radio clients who think this way and have had us research the role that content focused on eSports, MMA and sports gambling should have on their stations. A summary of our findings will be a major element of the Programming Strategies for a Changing World presentation I will be delivering on Thursday morning at Barrett Sports Media’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles.

If you’re fortunate enough to be attending the conference, I hope to see you at my 9:45 AM session. I promise you’ll walk away with insights that will help prevent you from ending up on a beach somewhere searching for that lost shaker of salt.