Sports Media: the Good, the Bad and the Afraid (Part 1)

Sitting at my desk at home drinking a Sam’s Summer Ale and listening to the King of All Media on my headphones. This is a prerequisite to get the juices flowing on topics that consume the few minutes of off-time that I have.

As a fan and a consumer that buys products from advertisers that pay the bills and whose opinions are generally neglected by media personalities, who have never bought a ticket to a sporting event or paid for a $10 beer, it’s time to praise those who believe that they are not the story and to call out those who think that we watch or listen to their networks because we are enamored by their wit and knowledge. Again, I am sure that I will be called out on this because its not my livelihood and that I have not put in the countless hours of watching the interns do all the work for me. The good news is that I have spent more $ on watching events then most of them combined and according to Arbitron I am more important as a consumer than those who report it. Sorry, Ladies and Gents with the credentials.

So let’s find out why we have to deal with such mediocrity in a billion dollar enterprise of sports media.

Who are the Characters:   

Howard Stern. We will get to him later but he will play a major part in this story.

ESPN: Fitting that Godzilla just came out.

NCAA: Makes Godzilla look like Benji.

Sports Talk radio(terrestial): Purgatory

Owners and Commissioners: Monopoly Money

Advertisers:Want the ratings and ROI

Networks: Money is no object

Players and Agents: Sharks and Remora

Consumers: Do you really think we watch the commercials?

Social Media: Do you think Howard Cossell would have a twitter account?

In this 10 part series (if you have the patience), I will tell the story of why we are so enamored with Professional sports and those who report it, and  make it a part of our everyday lives. I will also call out those who ignore the organizations like the NCAA and their many violations because it seems that many are afraid that they will be thrown off the gravy train and their ticket will not be punched if they report that the conductor is just driving around in circles.  There are many reporters/writers who are not afraid to share their beliefs knowing they might be scorned by others and possibly lose their place on the pyramid. As you can see above there are many characters in this comedy/drama and hopefully that someone somewhere, will listen to this one consumer/fan/husband/parent and understand that we really do care and that we are more than a rating point and a voracious consumer.


Part One: Howard Stern

For a man who does not love sports or is rarely seen at any sporting event, he certainly has a lot to do with the media landscape. I am a fan and have been for many years. I am one of the ones who he left behind when he went to satellite radio and experimented with other forms of commuting entertainment.  My options at the time were FM music, AM sports radio and talking on the cellphone. Oh yeah, the occasional CD that was not scratched up that had maybe one song that I liked and would have to hit replay over and over. How dare he leave my car and my miserable commute to have the right to throw the F-bomb and tell the FCC to take a hike. He also collected a half a billion dollars which I can possibly understand.

I was the important consumer back then. I was in that age range that advertisers killed for and great ratings meant that the station would collect millions in revenue from their sponsors and be able to crow each quarter that they were the chosen ones. Howard was so popular back then that his re-runs in the afternoon and evening would beat the live competition that was played during that time slot. He broke the monotony of commuting for a lot of us and put smiles and laughter on our faces while we sat for hours in traffic. You could see other drivers laughing in their cars knowing that we were in the same club listening to the King.

Other stations would fight for the crumbs (listeners) that Howard left behind and they could tell their bosses that there was nothing they could do. There were efforts made by copycats and sports talk radio who would talk about the headlines and feed off the fans of the local teams if they were suffering another lost season or maybe a run at a championship. The announcers were generally local ex-reporters or present day reporters who wrote once or twice a week for a major rag in their city.

You could also enjoy the jocularity of an ex-athlete when he wasn’t pitching a car dealership or sporting good store. Nothing earth shattering but popular enough to thank them for an autograph they gave a few years back or maybe mowing their relatives lawn and saying “hi” to one of their parents.  Some did well by writing books with a local athlete or by being involved in charities and high school sports. ESPN also got in the race with regional broadcasts using someone local but that never panned out. Mike and Mike just got started but they were more cartoon characters then anything else. Pairing up a jock with a skinny mommy’s boy never did it for me but the Mother ship saved it with a lot of important guests and remote locations during march madness and alike.

So you see, when Howard left our fate was sealed. Either buy the broadcast unit and pay the monthly fee or wait a few years when I could hook my ipod up to my bluetooth and play reruns. In the meantime, sports radio took off because the consumers in my age range did not like the music at that time and was used to hearing a voice in our cars. Ratings went up and sport announcers got rich by being paid large bonuses for winning the ratings war. They thought they could just show up and all would be well.

We will investigate where that theory went wrong in my next column and why it may be gone forever. In the meantime, I propose that every sports talk show host should send a portion of their salaries to Howard as a thank you for leaving our free car entertainment and allowing them to become richer because his shadow is no longer there. They won’t but they know their gravy train is coming to an end.

Next: What’s next for Sports radio and their war vs social media


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