A Kick In The Butt
June 27, 2014
So soccer wasn't anything in America and now it is. That's not true, of course, but it SEEMS that way. Sure, there were AYSO leagues and sparsely-attended (except for a few markets) pro matches, and Premier League matches on cable, but it wasn't a national obsession, and now office work is grinding to a halt while the USMNT plays on in Brazil. As someone who's been a soccer fan for a long time (back to being one of the 70,000-plus at Cosmos matches in the "Once in a Lifetime" Pele/Beckenbauer/Chinaglia era), it's interesting to see how this year, unlike past World Cups, there appears to be a buzz around the games that's way beyond what we've seen.
That doesn't cover everyone, though. And, predictably, we've gotten talk show hosts and newspaper columnists (of course, newspaper columnists) and even political pundits who are taking the time-honored troll position of declaring their indifference or even hatred of the Beautiful Game. I've heard it on the radio more than once, a host spouting the same "soccer is un-American" "we have REAL football already" "nobody really cares" stuff he (it always seems to be a he) said four years ago, and four years before that, and so on. I'd be tired of that trope even if I didn't like soccer; It's been overdone. And it points out something that's bigger than whether soccer is finally catching on here.
You can make a compelling argument that fans are more into the nationalism and spectacle than the matches and the sport itself, and there might be some truth to that. Surely, two weeks ago, many of the people ignoring work to crowd around a flat screen to watch the games couldn't even tell you who Clint Dempsey is, let alone know why Luis Suarez' bite wasn't anything he hasn't done before. But the real story for radio is that the World Cup is a top-of-mind, eye level thing for your listeners, and there are still holdouts insisting that they won't talk about it on the air because it's soccer and we don't talk about soccer because we don't talk about soccer and get off my lawn with your "boots" and your "kits."
The larger issue is that you COULD have blown off the World Cup four years ago. But the public's tastes have obviously changed. And you can say that in almost every cultural area these days. I had to laugh when I heard that a room full of talk radio people were asked if they believe people are listening to less talk radio, as the ratings say, and that nobody agreed. You can argue about the measurement issues -- they're real -- but if we're defining talk radio as W-whatever or K-whatever on traditional radio bands, listenership is down. Pretending otherwise is not constructive. What IS constructive is to try and analyze why listenership is down, and that's tricky, but I'd say that doing the same-old for 25-30 years is bound to lead to an aging audience, and that aging audience will ultimately die. If you don't replace them with younger listeners, you'll die with your P1s. Even moving to FM won't help if your programming is still geared towards old cranky people.
Which is where we are. And, again, blowing off the World Cup while the listeners you want are blowing off work to watch it is only one way you're showing your age. The fact is, while talk radio was sticking to The President This and Congress That and Immigrants This and Tea Party that, the audience you need to reach was changing the common cultural references. They were, to use another sport't term, moving the goalposts. They're more tech savvy, they get any desired political debate through social media and websites, they're more cynical and independent. They went from getting opinion content from you to getting the news from Jon Stewart to getting updated by Twitter. Their cultural references went from middle-American -- think CBS' entire prime time TV lineup -- to fragmented and specialized, more buzzy about "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" than anything on the Big 4 broadcast networks. They used to be out of luck if they wanted to hear people talking about their narrow areas of interest, and now they can indulge in podcasts and websites about practically everything and anything. In short, if you're into that exercise I recently mentioned about imagining your target listener and everything about her, she's changed. A lot.
And those changes include being a fan of things she wasn't before, like soccer. She has a different outlook on the economy, a different attitude towards the news, different interests and different daily routines. So when you see World Cup fever, it's not just a reminder that people are suddenly actually into soccer. It's a reminder that you need to update your thinking on what your audience wants. Everything changes, but talk radio hasn't. Time to fix that.
One show prep column that knows how things have changed and includes content to address that is, of course, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, which offers hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows no matter who your target audience might be, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Talk about reflecting your changing audience: this week, you HAVE to read "10 Questions With..." myTalk 107.1/Minneapolis-St. Paul PD Amy Daniels, captain of a station that I guarantee you does not sound like any other talk station. myTalk's audience wants celebrity talk, lifestyle talk, fun talk, and they get it on the station and online, too; Amy explains it all.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
The Letter will take next week off for the U.S. long holiday weekend, during which I'll once again try to convince myself that the fireworks are for my birthday and not for Independence Day. After all, everyone's ego needs to be fed once in a while, right? See you in two weeks, and have a safe and happy holiday....