Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sports on Country Radio

Jaye was recently telling me about a “NASCAR report” aircheck that a client station sent her, and that lead to a larger discussion about sports on country radio in general. The first question was: Should we do them? The second question was: If so, how should we do them? While I don’t think you can come up with answers to those questions that apply to every country radio station, I do think we came up with some good ideas and examples.

There are absolutely country radio listeners who are sports fans, but there are also lots of country radio listeners who for the most part don’t give a darn about sports. That can leave us in a tricky position. We obviously can’t be everything to everybody, so we need to choose our targets and put a laser-like focus on those targets. The broadest target for us is country music fans. We play country music, so we’re targeting people who like (or can be convinced to like) country music. We’re not a News/Talk station, so we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the stock market and politics. We’re not a CHR station, so we don’t spend a lot of time talking about Britney Spears. And we’re not a Sports station, so we don’t spend a lot of time talking about sports.

On the other hand, we are people who like to share interesting things with our listeners. And some of those things might involve the stock market, politics, Britney Spears and sports. But when we do share those things with our listeners, we’re (I hope) not giving them a bunch of facts, figures and jargon. Instead, we’re telling them stories. We’re entertaining them. We’re giving them information that will be useful in their lives, even if that just means giving them one new thing to talk about around the water cooler at work.

As an example, consider last month’s Allstate 400 race. Who won that race? I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that tires were exploding left and right during that race and that the Goodyear people had a lot of explaining to do after it was all said and done. So if you talked about that story on your radio station, was it a sports story, or just a story story? As long as you focused more on the tires than you did on the winner and losers, I’d call that a story story. And that’s exactly the kind of story that I’m talking about.

To further complicate the issue, throw some clients into the mix. Especially when you’re talking about something that could be considered niche programming (like a NASCAR report), it can be a real balancing act. If you think you have enough listener interest in such a report, give it a shot. The station that Jaye and I were talking about already has sponsors lined up for this feature, but we cautioned that station not to let the sponsors dictate their programming. Even if you’ve got sponsors lined up around the block for something, if the programming isn’t compelling, those sponsors will disappear along with your listeners.

It’s also important to clearly communicate your goals to the person or people doing the sports report. They need to understand what kind of reports you’re looking for. The reports can’t be lists of winners and losers and events and sponsors. They have to be human interest stories that transcend sports. It’s a fine line, but those reports need to talk enough about sports that sports fans don’t call us phonies, but also tell enough not-exactly-sports stories that the non-sports fans don’t turn us off the moment we do something like a NASCAR report.

For inspiration, check out Randy Scott’s sports reports on the KMPS-FM morning show (Ichabod and the Waking Crew). Randy’s stories certainly involve sports, but they aren’t “sports” stories. They do sports around 7:30am.

Better yet, think about what NBC did with the Olympics. Heck, think about what NBC and Visa did with just their commercials leading up to the Olympics. Even when they mention who won or lost an event, the story isn’t about that, but it’s a whole lot more memorable. Here are some examples of those Olympic ads:

Or see more stories here:
Those commercials and stories can certainly be over the top, but they’re also masterful, and we can learn a lot from them. We need to educate our staffs about who our audience is and what matters to them, and we should find a way to make our sports reports resonate with the vast majority of our listeners, which will mean that our sports reports have to be about more than “just” sports.