A Quarter Century of Sports Radio
By Ivan Braiker
It's hard to believe it now but before July 1, 1987, sports radio didn't exist -- period. I just finished reading Grantland's excellent look at the birth of sports radio. It struck me that, what is now commonplace -- there are more than 700 sports stations now -- was a huge gamble just 25 years ago. And in the first year, more than 85 percent of sports fans were still going to the major news stations for their sports news. There was talk of selling out to a religious broadcaster -- a move which would have changed the course of history for sports and broadcasting.
That's when the transition occurred. People weren't listening to sports radio to find out the scores, they were doing it to connect with their favorite teams and fans -- through stories, conversations, arguments and banter. It wasn't sports news, it was sports talk. Fans wanted a two-way dialogue that told stories about sports; stories that inspired passion, questioned loyalties, and above all, kept people tuning in.
And mobile has been a huge element of keeping sports radio relevant. Because when people can't hear about their favorite players and athletes on the radio, they still want to feel connected to them, and to the personalities that have sprung up over the past 25 years. Many of our oldest and most loyal clients are sports radio stations, which have created mobile listener loyalty clubs and truly extended their customer relationship management from the radio into their listeners' pockets, on devices that are never more than an arm's length away.
Why do sports and mobile go together so well? It's simple …
-- Fans want to be connected to their favorite teams -- and by proxy, to their favorite on-air personalities. The engagement shouldn't end when the game is over, or when the car is turned off, and with mobile, it doesn't. Making the content contextual -- giving listeners stories, not news -- was critical to its survival. Mobile has taken this to the next level: now fans can join their favorite station's listener loyalty clubs to get updates on SMS, surf mobile Web applications, even use custom, branded station apps on their smartphones, in addition to being able to listen through mobile applications.
-- The podcast has made sports radio listening something that can be savored -- or saved. Miss an episode of your favorite drive-time program about the Mariners? Download the podcast to your mobile device.
-- Sponsors can get into the act too. Listeners are willing to opt into loyal listener clubs or scan QR codes at sporting events sponsored by radio stations if they know there's something in it for them: For example, coupons from local retailers or the chance to get in on exclusive sales and offers.
-- Tried-and-true SMS updates deliver huge results. We've seen examples where push messages -- say a pitcher throwing a perfect game or a managerial change -- can increase listener cume, in some cases by as much as double.
It truly is hard to imagine a world without sports radio. And to think, it almost never happened. I'd like to join the rest of our industry in wishing the medium a happy 25th birthday!
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