August 13, 2013
Radio has not been viewed as a high-growth medium, yet one facet of radio certainly seems to be - Sports Talk radio. On top of established brands such as ESPN, Fox Sports Radio, Sporting News Radio and Yahoo Sports, new to the game are CBS Sports Radio and, in this case, Dial Global's kickoff of NBC Sports Radio - which in this case, has already attracted 300 stations for its content. Overseeing the fledgling network is EVP/GM Sports Programming Chris Corcoran, who balances the new network's launch with Dial Global's sports content. Here's how he expects NBC Sports Radio to survive and prosper in this ultra-competitive battleground.
What were you doing before you took on the challenge of overseeing NBC Sports Radio?
Before adding NBC Sports Radio and Dial Global Sports Programming to my duties, I had been managing Dial Global's content for our services division; this included content creation, new business, managing partnership relationships and sales. I have always been a huge, passionate sports fan, and with my background in developing content and managing relationships and sales, my day-to-day duties shifted to leading sports programming for Dial Global, which includes the NBC Sports Radio project.
To say the least, Sports radio networks is a crowded competitive field with established brands such as ESPN, Fox Sports, Yahoo, Sporting News and most recently, CBS Sports Radio. In that light, how do you approach your role ... do you notice what the others are doing and try to do it different or better -- or do you solely focus on your own network?
If we're not aware of what's going on with our competitors and within our industry, then we're not doing our job. However, we're extremely focused on the task at hand as we are in the very early stages of this network. We don't react to what other networks are doing; we are laser- focused on our number-one mission, which is creating special content that will attract and engage sports fans. To be honest, all of this competition only helps to drive more fans to Sports radio, and that helps all of us. The better we all do, the better off radio will be.
NBC Sports already has a phenomenal and iconic heritage and brand; they are fantastic partners and collaborators. We've been able to do a lot of cross-promotion with NBC Sports Network, Sunday Night Football, the Comcast Regional Sports Networks, The Golf Channel, Rotoworld, and other NBC Sports entities. The more cross-promotion we can do, the better.
Talent-wise, NBC Sports Radio seems to have recruited established Sports radio veterans such as Eric Kuselias, Brian Kenny, Jon Stashower and Newy Scruggs. How do you see in them as being unique and standing out among all the other established Sports Talk hosts?
As a consumer of Sports radio, I want each show to be a journey that dives deeper, asks unique questions, and really gets me thinking and excited about what's going on in the sports world that day. It all starts with our host, or the "point guard" of the show, to keep the conversation smooth, seamless, entertaining and informative.
We are very proud of our talent pool. Our wide array of hosts will take listeners on these daily journeys, keep them tuned in, and make them think differently about sports. In addition to our philosophy on maximizing talent, we've also created an incredible list of exclusive contributors, such as former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, former NFL pros Rodney Harrison and Donavan McNabb (who also co-host shows on NBCSR), future MLB Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, former baseball manager Bobby Valentine, Michelle Beadle, former NFL star Bart Scott, Cris Collinsworth, Scott Pioli and others. Our contributors are not afraid to challenge our hosts and to talk candidly and openly about their game and respective leagues.
Your on-air lineup features several ex-athletes and coaches as hosts and contributors. What are the on-air characteristics that separate those ex-athletes who can succeed in radio and those who can't?
It's very simple -- we want straight talk, honest opinions, and no holding back due to perceived conflicts of interest because of their former careers. Yes, it's about having a name that fans recognize, but beyond that, we have to put on a great show every day. Once you move past the splash of the hire, our job is to deliver great Sports Talk every day. We expect all of our talent to deliver what the consumer expects -- honesty and opinion -- even if they still have friends in the league. We are very passionate about our extremely strong roster of opinionated former professional athletes, coaches and exceptional hosts; they bring out the best in this team.
Van Gundy, however, has already been rumored to be up for a number of coaching vacancies in the NBA. No one would be surprised if he gets a coaching offer he can't refuse this time next year. Does that necessitate you having a "plan B" bench of potential contributors should any of your talent decides to go back into their chosen sport?
Yes, we always have a bullpen of sorts - we do talk to talent and agents on a regular basis to see if they'd be interested should something come up. We have an understanding with the coaches or athletes who may decide to coach or play again. Bart Scott is doing stuff for us now, but he may decide to play again as well. It's a certain risk we take with them because if they turn out to be great on the air, and they decide to leave for their sport, we'd welcome them back when they decide to hang it up again.
Has PPM impacted NBC Sports Radio's content, or how you program it?
Yes, I would say so. Obviously Sports radio is a little different than music programming. You want topics flowing consistently and the guest interviews to be tighter. You can't let bad interviews go too long, even if they're with big names. Our goal is to create content that not just gets listeners to tune in, but is so good, no one wants to tune out!
NBC Sports Radio recently announced that it picked up its 300th affiliate. Do you want more, or are you at a level where you are more focused on getting on the best available stations and frequencies?
We have a lot of goals for this network, the first of which is always to deliver great content. We feel that compelling, engaging content will induce stations to believe that our product is right for them, regardless of the affiliation. It's about ratings and revenue, and that's what we want to deliver for more and more stations as we continue to grow the audience and affiliations side of the business. The growth in our affiliate base has been dependent on their awareness of NBC Sports Radio as a great leader in the Sports Talk field.
At Dial Global, we feel that we have a tremendous bag of sports products to offer radio stations, including our play-by-play offerings and our programming. Just like television networks and local stations, radio stations have a better chance at success and being the best Sports station in their market if they not only have great content, but they are also the leader in their market with league play-by-play rights.
I'm extremely proud of our entire NBC Sports Radio team and partners who have helped us reach 300 affiliates in under a year. Am I satisfied yet? No. We are just getting started on what we'd like to accomplish and we are just scratching the surface of what we can do. We have to maintain our focus and keep knocking down doors.
There seems to be a lot of stations flipping to Sports radio lately. How do you keep tabs on that and act on new openings - especially when you may have a station in the market airing some of your content?
We always want to keep an eye on everything, including when stations are flipping to Sports. It certainly helps to know if a station is going to flip or is not happy with the Sports programming it currently clears. You certainly don't like to be surprised when that happens, but as much as you'd always like to be in the know, you can't control everything. You just have to act as quickly and as effectively as possible when something like that does come up.
You earlier mentioned the importance of play-by-play broadcasts. What does Dial Global have to offer interested stations?
First and foremost is the NFL. We have the exclusive national primetime package that includes Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night games, as well as the playoffs and Super Bowl. We'll also broadcast regular season college football and college basketball, culminating with "March Madness" and the Final Four. We will also have exclusive coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia. Among other tentpole live events, we recently announced that we closed a deal for the exclusive radio rights for Barclay's Premier League as well as a massive digital platform for the games and programming. Soccer is quickly growing in this country, and the BPL is the largest soccer league in the world. For the first time, stations will have the opportunity to own the BPL in their marketplace, which is a massive opportunity locally.
Speaking of digital, how will NBC use the digital platform to enhance its brand?
Digital presence is a major focus and priority; NBC Sports Radio has already released a mobile app that has been downloaded almost 30,000 times since we launched it in April. Our goal is to continue to develop our digital presence and expose our content to make sure sports consumers and advertisers understand what we offer. We'll also be launching an on-demand platform that we'll be announcing shortly ahead of the NFL season. When it comes to content sharing, as long as terrestrial remains our core, we feel digital will be a big part of where audio is going to go - and NBC Sports Radio will be a part of that. We also take advantage of social media, like Twitter, which offers such a unique and free marketing tool. It really helps drive exposure instantly.
Dial Global offers its own sports programming. How does the creation of NBC Sports Radio impact that?
NBC Sports Radio is one of many important partnerships with Dial Global; nothing is negatively impacted from a business perspective as NBCSR gives us our first full slate of Sports Talk programming to complement our Dial Global play-by-play package.
Is it difficult to juggle the demands of Dial Global and NBC Sports Radio in terms of time management and prioritizing?
We have great individuals working for these teams and that's what helps us deliver on our goals. Prioritizing is always a challenge, but all of these products only help the growth of our overall sports platform. My job is to make sure everything runs smoothly, we sound great, we're growing every day, and that we're giving listeners and advertisers an exciting and unique partnership platform.
Considering the corporate demands for ratings and revenue - especially in a PPM world - do you feel extra pressure to succeed?
This network is still in its infancy; these shows need time to grow -- not just one book or even one year. Even if we're on the biggest station market, it takes time to build and grow. We're very realistic about that. Pressure is a part of the game. If there is pressure, that means you're a part of something special
Finally, has the new oversight of NBC Sports Radio, on top of your Dial Global duties, changed how you envision your long-term future, or is the future essentially "now?"
My answer to that would be similar to my response on being satisfied with the number of affiliates we currently have. From a personal standpoint, I'm never satisfied. If I settle, I'm not doing my job.