Ep. 51: Evolution of Sports Media with Dave Goren
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Dave Goren, Executive Director at National Sports Media Association, joins Rob Cressy to talk about the evolution of sports media and how it has changed since the pandemic. How has the ability to create remotely become an advantage? How can the sports media industry innovate content when there’s not a lot going on? Why is it important to focus on the business side of sports? What can we do to create more engaging content?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host, Rob Cressy, and joining me today is Dave Goren, Executive Director at National Sports Media Association. Dave, great to have you on the show.
Dave Goren: (00:31)
Rob, thanks for the invitation. Happy to be here.
Rob Cressy: (00:34)
Can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
Dave Goren: (00:37)
Sure. After a 24 year career in local TV sports, I took over as Executive Director of the National Sports Media Association in the fall of 2009. So, I've been with the organization for a little over 10 and a half years. We are a 501c3 nonprofit and it’s our 61st year of operation. We honor sports media for excellence to kind of carry that history among the generations. Then we help the younger generation try to connect within the industry so they can get their first job, open some doors, and maybe move up.
Rob Cressy: (01:16)
So, what I want to jam about with you today is the sports media landscape and how it has been impacted and how that relates to fan engagement. One of the biggest things that I think has changed in the industry is the way that we create in sports media. So, so often it was seen as you need to be in a studio setup where everything's looking great. It costs a ton of money, and with all of this, with the majority of people working from home now, there had to be a pivot to say, alright, we need to be able to create high-quality content remotely and deliver it in a way that still engages the fans. And as I look at my own maturation as a creator, I feel like one of the positives that are going to come out of this is the forced innovation where so often the industry may not have said, well, yeah, people can create from pretty much anywhere, but now you're realizing all you need is a webcam and an internet connection and a microphone, and you can be on NFL Network or ESPN. And from your perspective, what have you noticed about the way that people are creating differently now and how moving forward that may completely change the industry?
Dave Goren: (02:39)
Well, that's one of the topics we've covered in our continuing education series to us to a smaller degree and hope to actually have it as kind of the headline for one of the sessions is remote broadcasts. Play by play guys typically has been at the game site over the years that not always been the case. Whether it's maybe for Olympics on a lesser channel, or I remember when I first started on TV in the mid-eighties one of the gentlemen I worked with freelanced and would go to ESPN studios in Bristol and call skiing from Europe, from ESPN studios. So, they've gone back to that the last couple of years for some of the lesser marquees. If that's a phrase. Under marquee games, whether it's college football, college basketball, or one of the other, you know every sport now is televised with all the conference channels that have come online, the Longhorn channel. So, there are so many different ways to do it and as that kind of innovation takes place, the technological innovation keeps pace with it and we get better equipment for hopefully cheaper prices. On a micro level, a platform like Zoom allows us to put these virtual backgrounds on so it doesn't look like I'm in my dining room, which is really where I am.
So, I've been playing with that like crazy. I think the limits are whatever you can think of and that's really what innovation is. There are so many people who are so smart and so innovative today. You know, we can bemoan the sports media jobs lost, or the people furloughed, the people with salaries cut because of what's going on now. But I think once we get back and over this, the opportunities will certainly be there.
Rob Cressy: (04:42)
So, speaking of those opportunities, I think one of the challenges or the shifts that are going to happen is we know that companies, unfortunately, have had to lay people off and do more with less. So, guess what? This previous studio model of which has been there forever may not be the way that things are going to be done moving forward, where you can say, wait for a second, we can hire in theory, more people remotely to do it and make sure that we get their quality to let's call it 90 out of a 100. And Oh, by the way, I would argue as a fan and consumer of this content, I would actually rather prefer the remote content than the overproduced because the overproduction misses the relate-ability factor oftentimes. When I'm seeing the way that things are being created right now, you feel relatable because you can see the person's backdrop.
And I think a perfect example of this is the way the NFL draft went down, that we enjoyed seeing the coaches and the GMs and the dogs and the families and everything. It allowed us to bring us closer to it and at the end of the day, I believe sports fans want relationships and communities. And I think that's been one of the biggest areas that's been a challenge in the sports media industry because so much of the content is homogenous. Everybody gets the same piece of news information, and then we regurgitate it out, and then we call that a day. But what's really going to separate one brand from another when so many people are saying the same thing?
Dave Goren: (06:18)
Well, I think it all comes down to great storytelling, and you're right. Here's how I think about sports and at its essence, what it does, and you mentioned the word is community. It connects communities or creates communities. So, good storytelling is going to do that every time. I look at my TV career and I say, okay, some of the quality of some of these shots is not great and that bothers me a little bit. As I said, technology will catch up with that. But you'd like to see, I think for humanity and people, and that's something that the overproduction kind of covers up. So, anytime you can get a chance to peek behind the curtain a little bit I think laypeople, fans appreciate that because, I always say the people who play the highest level of sports, they're just like us. Some better, some worse, some just the same. They just happen to have a freak athletic skill. But I think anytime you can show people to be just like me watching, I think you have that connection that sports provide.
Rob Cressy: (07:32)
So, as we look forward, do you think that the way that the sports media industry operates is going to change from a monetization level? So, when we look at the sports publishing landscape, I think one of the biggest challenges has been when you're building these digital brands. So much of them traditionally are built on an advertising-based model where it's page views, you get people there. And all of a sudden fans are engaging less with that type of content because everything is homogenous there. So, it becomes a trickle-down where these media companies try and get more people to these page views, but people aren't exactly engaging with it. So, the model as a whole is changing. And then if we look at the professional sports side of things, where now, all right, what does it look like with, how do we know what percentage of fans are going to be in stadiums? Whether it's 25%, 50, 75, whatever it is, there's going to be a lot of things changing in this industry. So, what do you think from a business model standpoint, the health of the overall industry, and where it's going to go?
Dave Goren: (08:40)
Well, I would imagine it's going to take some time to recover. There are a lot of interlocking pieces here. You know you look at, there was a story on ESPN.com today that if there's no college football season, that'll be a net loss of $4 billion to college athletic budgets, which will kill a lot of college athletic programs. I mean, just think of how much you would have to, and that's just the power-five, 65 schools, how much you would have to cut from your athletic department if you're facing losses that would be that huge. When the people come back and the rights fees come back, then maybe you will see a return to some athletic department. I hesitate to use the word bloating, but I think most people would agree that athletic departments have become bloated.
But part of that is, you look at NCAA regulations, now you need six compliance people in each department. If you have 30 sports in each college athletic department, you need people to oversee those sports, to coach those sports, to be athletic trainers for those sports. So, you've added all these ancillary personnel who you need to do the jobs if you become that big, but it's kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. You just keep getting bigger and bigger and you need more money to pay for that. So, I'm interested to see what's going to happen. When we come back and some people have floated the idea of a fall college sports season. One of my literal and figurative sideline jobs is on the sideline reporter for Wake Forest Football on the radio. I don't know if I'll be back if there's a season this fall. My play by play guy has been furloughed as have most of the independent contractor voices who work for the big companies. So, there are so many unknowns now. I hesitate to say, I know what's going to happen. Cause I've always liked admitting when I don't know something. I think people in positions of power would be wise to admit some of that too. And just be sure that they get the information when they can.
Rob Cressy: (11:04)
I think one of the other challenges I see when talking about fan engagement and you even touched on the type of content that's been created, a lot of it being archival, but my entire life is sports. And when I say my entire life, I don't watch Netflix. I don't watch the news. I don't watch anything else other than sports. And it's been like this my entire life, sports is just what I love. So, when all of a sudden sports just went away, it was weird for me because I no longer consumed TV or content, aside from obviously the Michael Jordan stuff that's going on because that was incredible and we needed that. But, the reason for that was when I would turn on SportsCenter or ESPN, it was just more of the same over and over and over again. I didn't feel like me as a fan was being engaged, that I love throwback sports and I love all of that, but it just didn't get my attention and it didn't keep me engaged. I know a lot of other people feel that way on a variety of levels. I guess I'm very binary. I'm either all or nothing. And I was all for sports. And then when sports went away I've been completely off there. And I see it's a real challenge because how can the sports media industry innovate their content in a way when there's not a lot going on?
Dave Goren: (12:26)
That's a great question. You know, I just turned 60 years old. How old are you Rob?
Rob Cressy: (12:31)
I am 39.
Dave Goren: (12:33)
So, you're a generation behind me. And I was like you, and of course, worked in the industry. So, all my attention was focused on it, but you know, I have found that I have other interests and I have been able to watch, binge watch shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu or whatever. My wife and I will decide what we want to watch and do it. And so maybe surprisingly, I've survived this pretty well and could continue. You know, I sit here at my dining room table and I work most of the day. Then when it's time to make dinner, I have to whisper, I'm a little bit better than my wife, but she's a good cook. So, Oh, she's yelling from the other room. So, I enjoy doing that and it's something that takes the time. So, I think most content producers are praying as hard as they can possibly pray that this virus has done its damage for the most part. And we can get back to playing the games that we all love. But I'm still a little wary.
Rob Cressy: (13:45)
Yeah, and it's something that I'm obviously very much looking forward to it coming back because you know what I miss the most? It's the community. I miss being on Twitter and just chopping it up with people about anything that's going on. Once again, the closest we're experiencing was the last dance with Michael Jordan. It was appointment viewing where there was nothing else going on in the world and you felt like you belonged to the sports world and I love that feeling. I wish it was something that more sports brands and media companies would embrace because so much we as sports fans, we want to be heard, we want to be talked with and we want to be loved. But, so often it's almost like shouting from the mountain tops at us. And there's just a lot of noise there when I would hope that one of the things that we're all gonna learn from this is actually the beauty and power of community and fan engagement.
Dave Goren: (14:45)
Oh, absolutely. I think the problem is there are too many people on top of too many mountains doing too much shouting at us. And as you said, it all turns into noise. One of the things I struggle with, and I had a good back and forth with a friend of mine who's a sports media practitioner yesterday. I don't know if you saw Jay Mariani's column on where we're going in sports media that was out yesterday. There are a lot of people who disliked Jay Mariotti, but I thought he made a lot of good points in his piece and you know, my buddy said, Oh, you know, he's full of crap. He's just self-serving this and that. And it's like, well, if you look at what he said, some of the stuff he said was true, there are very few and now fewer who say big city newspapers, and it doesn't have to be print, but the newspaper entity columnists who hold people's feet to the flame. Name them. I could maybe name 10 and I know most of these people cause it's what I do. But, on the other side of the coin is he said, you know, the play by play today is so much better than it was 20 years ago. I agree with that. Storytelling is so much better. There is so much out there now that I made the point a couple of years ago at one of our awards weekend events it's impossible to consume it all. I mean, you can't. Just think of all, even just the websites that are out there that produce sports content all the time. I'm a subscriber to The Athletic.
I can't read it all. There's so much that they put out and some good stuff. I love long-form stuff. I recorded all of Last Dance, I haven't started watching it yet. I'm a guy who covered several of Michael Jordan's playoff games at Boston Garden, including his 63 points, double-overtime game in 1980. What was that? Six? But it's just impossible to consume it all. I read Wright Thompson's story on Michael Jordan that was on ESPN.com yesterday. I mean, just awesome. I couldn't pull myself away from reading it and it was a long-form piece. I love long-form, both writing and as you touched on documentaries. I now counsel some young sports media interested young people to go into a documentary. Now, the problem there is you have to raise money to make them. So, there are always challenges, but good innovators and smart people will figure out a way.
Rob Cressy: (17:37)
And speaking of figuring out away, the best piece of advice that I can give from my journey is to actually focus on the business of sports. Because as you said, because of the number of people shouting from the mountain tops, and there's never an amount of content that we can consume. There's just always more, always more. So, the content has become a commodity. You can get it from anywhere from anyone talking about anything. So, how are you going to differentiate yourself? Well, the way that you can best keep yourself in this industry and thriving is to focus on the business of sports because I almost like to think that it is a given that you're a multichannel creator now, and things have certainly evolved from when you first started in the industry until now. Where sure, we would like to have some element of specialization. You can be great at that, but as we're learning from the ability to create content remotely if you have the ability to jump on a live stream and create a podcast and create a video and edit that yourself, and Oh, by the way, you can also launch this stuff and you can produce it. This becomes a lot more valuable when we look at, there are fewer resources, fewer dollars and we need people who can stand out and be different and not just be noise.
Dave Goren: (18:56)
That's absolutely true. And again, the people who can figure it out, I think sometimes, and I was guilty for most of my career in not wanting to know about the business side. Now, I have friends in the sales office who I would go visit regularly, but it was almost like separation of church and state when you're in TV news. Sports to me was a beat. I was the newshound and always have been, but I didn't want to do death and destruction and city council meetings. I wanted to have fun at my job. And so I did sports, but it's good to know. I remember Howard Cosell was saying, you know, in order to do that job, well, you had to know a little bit about a lot. You had to know the law, you had to know medicine, you had to know geography, you had to know the English language. Just think of all the different subcategories that a good sports media person brings to the table. So, ESPN for a long time didn't hire people who got broadcast journalism degrees that hire people from Ivy League schools who knew sports. They were smart enough to figure out that the TV side, which let's face it is not the hardest thing to figure out.
Rob Cressy: (20:20)
Well, yeah. If I can teach myself every aspect of how to create in sports, you can't just rely on the passion for sports, because that is the given. You have to say what is going to be the thing that differentiates me from others. And, Oh, by the way, you know what, the number one thing is? Never give up, as Jimmy V would say. Because if you want to work in sports, if you can continue to do it because on my end, I worked and created in sports for over 10 for free. Creating my own sports blogs, writing for other sports blogs. Because someone said something to me that was an absolute game-changer. They said, Rob if you ever hope to get paid to do what you love, you better be doing it already. So, because of it, I'm like, all right, I got to teach myself everything because if no one's going to hire me because I just love sports. Well, I'm going to do it for myself and prove that I belong. And through that, I had built my own brand. I learned about the business of sports and all of a sudden I became this other animal. Whereas, a lot of the people, unfortunately in the industry right now, when you're only doing one thing and then sports, unfortunately it goes away. You really get put into a tough position.
Dave Goren: (21:31)
Oh, that's absolutely true. I was counseling a young guy who just graduated from college last week I guess. I told him my story. I had been out of college for three and a half years while I was still writing for my local newspaper, which I had started doing when I was 15 years old, was working for a local radio station, but not making any money combined doing the two and wanted to get into TV. And so I've got myself a season press pass to Providence College Basketball. And while I was at a game one night I went up to the sports director at the NBC station and said, I'll volunteer. What do you have? I want to get into TV. So, I think the weekend guy needs somebody. I called him. He said, great. When can you start? Cause for those people, it's free help.
I got to know it from the other side when I got in. And as I tell young people now, it's like, you get that door open and when you do, you better show what you can do. You better be willing to do just about everything. Tell the on-air person I'll go get dinner. You buy, I fly. So, you learn stuff. By the time I'd been there a while and I had done an internship when I was in college I made myself so valuable that the weekend sports guy that I was working with went to the news director and said, why don't we hire Dave as our number three sports guy. That's how I got my start in television as a $5.45 an hour associate producer at a TV station.
Rob Cressy: (23:04)
That's a fantastic story, Dave. And that's actually how we're going to end this. I really enjoy jamming with you. Where can everybody connect with you?
Dave Goren: (23:12)
Email is Dgoran@nationalsportsmedia.org. That's our website, nationalsportsmedia.org. Let's see, Twitter @Dave_Giren. Facebook, Dave Goren and National Sports Media Association has separate channels on each of those as well as a YouTube channel, National Sports Media Association. Let's see, Instagram is @NSMASportsMedia.
Rob Cressy: (23:41)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I'm curious to hear about your consumption of sports content over the last two months. If you were going to give us a number from 0 to 100, what number would you give yourself? For me? That number is like 7 out of 100, when I was coming at 100 out of 100. You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @FanFoodOnDemand, on Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @RobCressy.