Sports Radio and the Coronavirus Pandemic – Now What?

| March 31, 2020

By Andy Bloom
Andy Bloom Communications
President

 

MINNEAPOLIS — In the days leading up to MLB’s Opening Day, I advised sports radio clients regarding ideas to keep listeners interested in their stations and teams while live sports remains on hiatus due to the coronavirus.

The ideas require franchises and leagues to work with local broadcast rights holders. I didn’t have contact with any of the teams or leagues. I thought, however, it would be logical for these organizations and their local broadcast partners to help keep their brands pertinent during the pandemic. A Wall Street Journal article I read convinced me the teams and leagues will listen to the idea.

Yesterday (3/30), the article written by Ben Cohen, Joshua Robinson, and Joe Flint appeared in the WSJ. The title speaks volumes: “Sports Industry Reels from Coronavirus Fallout.”  The theme is that the crisis has changed sports, limiting its ability to create a gusher of money into the reckoning. The highlights include the following:

  • Canceling March Madness is causing the NCAA to reduce its annual distribution to member institutions by nearly two-thirds from $600M to $225M.
  • Delay of the Olympics will cost the USA team an estimated $800M.
  • MLB tested the idea of floating $170M in salary advances.
  • Leagues are considering coming back before audiences are allowed and playing to empty stadiums and arenas. This concept has been met with push-back by players.
  • Media analyst Michael Nathanson forecasted that if the NBA were to cancel the season and playoffs, it would cost ESPN and Disney $481M.

Teams, leagues, and broadcasters need one another’s assistance during this crisis to stay relevant and create revenue opportunities.

ESPN can lean on its sports documentaries such as its “30 for 30,” or the O.J. story it re-aired recently.

Networks will also rely heavily on classic games.  On a national level, there is content to tide outlets over.  Outside of a few markets, how many worthy games can local stations find?

Since the turn of the century, eSports has been a rapidly growing category. Thus far, however, it is still a niche appealing to a demo younger than most sports radio stations.  That has the potential to change.

On Sunday, March 22nd, NASCAR and FOX Sports demonstrated the potential of eSports when over 900,000 people tuned-in to FS1 to watch a virtual race that took the place of a previously scheduled event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The drivers already signed to drive in the competition took part in the virtual race instead.

FOX’s regular NASCAR broadcast team narrated the “race.” It is the most viewed eSports T.V. program ever and the highest-rated show on FS1 since the mass-cancellation of live sports. The program was so successful that FOX has already committed to additional virtual races.

For stations with NBA or NHL rights and have teams that were in the midst of exciting, even potentially dramatic seasons, why not play them out using video games or computer simulations?

For the MLB season, play the entire schedule as planned, virtually, at least until live sports returns.

MLB has played some virtual games for the past several seasons and provided a slate of games on opening day last week. There have been some NBA virtual games. Both leagues have used players as the front-men in these events.

Now is the time to combine the assets of local radio stations and the city’s teams to benefit both organizations, and to create content, the masses will enjoy.

Like NASCAR and FS1, get actual players from the team to play as the home team. Perhaps with the co-operation of the leagues, it’s possible to get players from the opposing teams to participate too. If not, alternatives are to have members of your staff play or give-away the opportunity to listeners.

During my tenure at WIP, Philadelphia, we did (and the station still does) an annual Eagles charity auction. The opportunity to play Madden against players is always an item that draws enormous bids.

Using regular play-by-play teams to call the games creates authenticity.

The games can help bring back some of the play-by-play revenue that may be missing and will make great content on-air, online, and on social media. The games can also provide video content for websites, YouTube, or Twitch Channel.

For stations with baseball rights, perhaps call it the “Dream Season.”  In many ways, it will be the dream season. There won’t be injuries to deal with, and players can be available as often as you’d like.

For some cities, this will allow a promising basketball or hockey season to finish. Every spring baseball begins, and hope springs eternal. Maybe this will be your team’s “Dream Season.”

At this moment when nothing seems normal, don’t we need sports more than ever? Carrying on with what we wish were real is a great distraction from social distancing and going stir-crazy. Also, it plays to radio’s natural strong suit during a crisis.

Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in broadcast strategy, coaching and communications. He previously programmed leading sports, news/talk, and music stations across the country and served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. For more information, visit www.andybloom.com or email andy@andybloom.com.

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Category: Sports

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