10 Questions with ... Rick Scott
February 22, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I jumped into radio when I was a junior in high school working at the local daytime country station on weekends. Like others in the business, I moved from city to city when offered a better position, working in places like Austin, where I went to school at the University of Texas, San Antonio; Fresno with Les Garland, which was a great experience and an incredible education, as he was an incredible teacher and motivator; San Francisco; Seattle; and Portland. I was in Seattle and flipped KJR to all sports in the infancy of the format. I remember spending hours on the phone with Tom Bigby. who was at WIP in Philly -- we were both trying to figure out the magic formula for the format. Of course, there wasn't one. In late 1992, I started RSA Sports, a sports radio consulting firm, and began working with sports radio stations around the US and Canada. I've been fortunate to work with many great and talented people over the past nineteen years.
1. You've been involved with sports radio about as long as anyone; in the decades since WFAN kicked off the format, what do you see as the biggest change in the format, other than the sheer number of stations? Is there a significant difference in the approach of today's stations to the format from what the early adopters were doing in the late 80's and early 90's?
Absolutely! When the format started it was more information and analysis-driven. The Internet was not yet a factor as a commercial and information conduit that it is now. The information that was available then was in newspapers and magazines. There was an audience that was hungry to get more and get it faster. One of the shows we did was fantasy football after the Sunday night NFL game. It was basically two hours of stats, and more than once we blew out the phone lines because everyone wanted information from the games.
Sports radio has evolved and successful stations create entertainment driven heavily by personalities. Like any talk format, sports radio is definitely impacted by external factors; big stories and issues that intersect with real life, performance or lack of it by players, coaches and management as well as teams making play-off runs. You can't rely on those factors to drive content because you can't control them. That's why the personalities are so vital. Look at all the successful sports radio stations today and you'll find one, two or more personalities playing a major part of that success.
2. There has been a move in several markets to put all-Sports formats on FM, and, in most cases, the FM stations seem to find their own audiences rather than cannibalize existing AM sports stations' numbers (say, as in WIP vs. The Fanatic, WEEI vs. The Sports Hub, The Ticket vs. The Fan vs. 103.3 ESPN). TO what do you attribute the new audience? Is an upstart FM sports station wise to go with a different approach -- younger, more aggressive -- from the established AM station or is the mere fact that it's on FM enough of a differentiator?
Great question... the biggest single factor is that you have a new audience. In most markets, more than half of the men never ever listen to AM radio. That's a huge untapped audience that has never heard the format before. Like other consumer products, when you introduce another quality choice, the overall usage increases. A great sports radio station on AM and another on FM grows the overall share for the format. And the FM sports radio stations are typically oriented to the younger end of the demo, which is where the largest segment of the audience is.
3. How important is play-by-play to a sports station's performance? Can an all-sports station compete without having at least one of the major local play-by-play contracts? If so, how?
I think of play-by-play as an external marketing campaign. In theory, it makes fans of the team aware of your station, which is what external marketing does -- makes potential listeners aware of your station. It's important to remember that just because someone is a fan of a team, it doesn't mean they're a sports fan. So not everyone who listens to the games is going to be interested in your station. They may be big fans of country, rock or other formats. You hope to convert some of them to bolster your numbers.
The other factor that has lessened the impact somewhat is the multiple sources available to the consumer to listen to the games. Radio is no longer the exclusive audio outlet. Don't misinterpret that remark; in most cases, the results are still significant enough to create an impact. However, sports radio can be successful with and without PBP. There are a number of examples, including The Ticket in Dallas and The Fanatic in Philly. The level of success depends on a number of factors, including on the team, your market, your talent, and your resources.
4. Sports formats don't always show immediate numbers, and in the industry's current financial situation, GMs and CEOs might be hesitant to devote an FM signal to the format when they can perhaps get an instant hit from a music format. What argument in favor of sports would you make to a station considering a change? What's the upside?
The upside is that your content is exclusive -- you can't copy Mike Francesa, Mike Missanelli, The Hardline, Valenti and Foster; with all due respect, I don't have enough space to mention all of the great amazing talent in sports radio. When you have entertaining personalities and a solid sales team that understands how to sell the format, you make money with sports radio. The power ratio has always been strong because it goes beyond radio dollars and reaches into the sports marketing pool. It's the same whether it's sales or programming: you have to have the right talent and know how to execute the game plan to generate the results. There are a lot of success stories with the format.
5. In larger markets, sports stations dominated by local shows are common, but as you go lower in the rankings, there are more stations that are totally or mostly network or syndication, with perhaps one local show. Can a station really succeed with an all-national lineup? What are the benefits and drawbacks of branding with a national network's name?
It's not about being network or local. It's about being good. There are many examples, one of which is a great sports city, Philly. When The Fanatic put ESPN's Mike & Mike on we heard how it will never work. Well, the January numbers just came out and Mike & Mike are #4 with men 25-54 at a 6.6 share (WPEN AM/FM), Angelo (Cataldi) at WIP is 3rd with an 8.1. A 14.7 share of men 25-54 in mornings for sports radio in Philly. Safe to say it works. Is Mike & Mike local or national? No, they're good and people listen!
As for branding with a national name like ESPN or Fox Sports, it can give you credibility a lot faster than starting from scratch. There's no "cookie cutter" answer; you have to evaluate your own market and all the nuances it includes.
6. You're known for finding and coaching top sports hosting talent. What are the primary things you look for in raw, rookie hosts that tell you there's potential for success there?
Wow, thanks for the kind words! The primary things I look for are strong likeable, entertaining traits. Are they genuine, a real person? Do they have the ability to capture you in a hallway conversation? Do they make you stop and think about what they say? And most important, the talent should be a guy on the radio talking sports rather than a sports guy on the radio.
7. Some all-sports Internet radio streams have popped up in recent years in places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh, sometimes featuring former hosts from the broadcast stations. What future do you see in online-only sports talk? How about podcasts? How long will it take, if it ever gets there (or if they are already), for those alternative sports radio equivalents to become a viable business?
It's already coming, whether we want it or not. The Internet is really another distribution platform for our content. The one thing the Internet does is lower the barrier to entry. You don't have to own a radio station to create a sports radio show. It will allow a lot more companies and individuals to jump into the mix and, as you mentioned, it's already happening. Like everything else, the ones with entertaining and compelling content will have success. The biggest factor is when in-car broadband penetration hits significant levels -- it will be a game changer for all of the radio industry, not just sports radio. You'd better have a local and a global position defined for your brand, or it won't be pretty.
8. Some stations are heavy on interviews and light on callers, and some are caller- and host-driven with fewer and shorter interviews. Is one approach better than the other? As a programming consultant, and as a listener, what's your preference?
I've heard great entertaining guests and callers. I've heard callers and guests that shouldn't ever have been on the air. The formula is simple -- whatever you put on the air has to be great! If you have a host or duo that can create entertainment with phone calls, do it. If the host is like Dan Patrick -- who can engage the audience with an interview -- do it. The personality is the show; everything else is a platform for them to create entertainment value.
9. How important is a station's online presence? What should a station be doing on its website, and should it be treated as an adjunct to the on-air product or a separate entity?
It's vital -- the on-line presence is a tremendous platform to expand your product. I love what Sports 620 KTAR in Phoenix has done. They launched ArizonaSports.com last month, and while they are still fine tuning the site, it is one of the best I've seen. It establishes a global position based on their local content. They didn't get hung up on making it a radio station website and that's why it works. They did a lot of out of the box, forward thinking creating it. Long-term, if you don't invest and cultivate an on-line presence and product, you'll be left behind. That doesn't mean terrestrial radio is going away, it's about having a presence where the audience is!
10. What separates the great hosts from the pack? What makes a great sports talker?
There are a lot of things, but two of the most important are being a great observer and a great listener. Every successful radio talent regardless of format has the amazing ability to see things that most people miss; they are great observers. And they also have the ability to share those observations with the audience in a unique and entertaining manner. In being a great listener, they never miss an opportunity. Great talent create more content opportunities by listening carefully to what someone is saying. They seize those opportunities to entertain us.