Friday, August 17, 2007

On The Leonsis/Czaban Throwdown

In case you haven't been following it, there's a bit of a blog war going on between Caps' owner Ted Leonsis and local sports radio ratings whore personality Steve Czaban. I'll give you a few minutes to catch up by reading Ted's initial missives here and here and Czaban's response here.

Now, Leonsis begins by talking about SportsTalk 980's coverage of D.C. United, but make no mistake about it - his point is more broadly addressing the station's coverage of his Capitals, a paying customer of the station.

But Leonsis also has a savvy enough media mind to know that in order to survive in an ultra-competitive commercial arena, you've got to either find and cater to a niche big enough to support your product or give the masses what they want. Since there aren't enough hockey fans in D.C. to support 980's existence on their own, the former is out. And as much as I'd love to hear drive-time sports radio discussing the Caps' blueline battles, the vast majority of listeners would rather hear opinions (or voice their own) on Michael Vick or Tim Donaghy or the competition for spots in the Redskins' secondary. Those are the facts of the business, and there's nothing noble or ignoble about accomodating that truth. Put it this way - if you were an advertiser paying for a 30-second spot during the 5:00 p.m. hour in mid-August, would you rather your commercial air right before a teased segment featuring an interview with Joe Gibbs or Olie Kolzig?

At the end of the day, radio is out for ratings, so that's what will guide them at nearly every turn. Leonsis knows this and he knows what he's doing. He isn't asking for more hockey talk. In fact, he might be asking for less. At the very least, what he's doing is similar to a coach complaining after a bad call - it's not the last call he wants changed to be in his favor, it's the next call.

As has become readily apparent over the years, gratuitous cheapshots are a primary currency of the talk radio personality (look no further than the second paragraph of Czaban's post to see a perfect example of this), and hockey is always an ample target for a quick zinger on poor ratings or excessive violence or xenophobia, be it from Czaban's over-the-airwaves ilk or the Tony Kornheiser's of the world doing drive-by hits in dead-tree media. This is (or at least should be) what Leonsis is looking to purge from the daily sports talk routine. He doesn't need "The Czabe" to sell tickets (and judging from the station's ratings, that's a good thing) - a winning on-ice product will do that. He doesn't need SportsTalk 980 to disseminate information about his team - a healthy online community does that. But what he and his sport do need - and deserve - is respect. Working the refs, as it were, will help in that effort.

Czaban, who has a great face/hairline for radio (I've got to admit - the gratuitous cheapshots are kinda fun), is mostly right: "Sports talk radio is not a democracy of equally shared time between all sports. The most popular sports get the most coverage in a variety of ways." (I say "mostly right" because sports talk radio actually is a democracy in which the ratings are votes and the sports that get more votes get more coverage, which is his main point despite his apparent fundamental misunderstanding of eighth-grade level civics). Talk radio is reactionary - if you build it, they will come, not vice versa. If you have a product about which people are buzzing with excitement, sports talk radio will cover it. But don't necessarily expect sports talk radio to create that buzz for you.

So who are the winners and losers in this throwdown? Well, no one's a loser that wasn't one before (speaking of which, Czabe, a note on this whole blogging thing - be a mensch and let people comment on your site). Really, both Czaban and Leonsis are winners; Czaban because we're talking about him and Leonsis because he's repositioning his product so that it will be shown in a better light, even if that light is at a similarly-low wattage (and something tells me that Leonsis will be a guest on Czaban's show at some point before Opening Night).

It's August 17 in the nation's capital and the owner of the local hockey team has the area's top sports talk radio "talent" on the defensive and talking about him and his team. Mission accomplished.

For more, be sure to check out OFB's take on this story, as well as EMac's take over at FanHouse and CapsNut's. Update: forget all that - check out Agent Steinz's recap for everything you need to know.


The Peerless said...

I don't care if I get bad publicity, just spell my name right.

-- Anonymous, on the value of publicity

JP said...


And people complaining about the quantity of the coverage are missing the boat - the market dictates that. The focus should be on the quality of the coverage, as that is within the control of the on air folks.

And George M. Cohan said that (or similar).

JR said...

I know you are a Caps/Leonsis fan, and so am I.

But - you really need to dial down the ass kissing a few notches. Mmmkay?

JP said...

JR -

Please elaborate.

JR said...

I've been reading this blog for a few months and it seems all to often that you are following the 'party line' with whatever Ted says/does. I enjoy reading this blog but if it starts to lose impartiality then the experience is greatly diminished. I see no need to vigorously rip Czaban for the sole purpose of supporting Ted. A lot of what Ted says is kind of off base, in my opinion. I mean if you think hockey gets low ratings try talking about soccer or the WNBA on the radio. I'd drive off a cliff before listening to that. Anyway, my point is, on this occasion and others, it seems like you are running this blog like a bit of a lackey rather than an independent observer; the latter of which I would like to see more of because I think you are very knowledgeable.

JP said...

I can appreciate your opinion on this, but I think you may be a little off the mark. If my post isn't as clear as it ought to be, let me try to clarify here.

Ted's whole argument in this little dust-up is about how 980 should be embracing hockey, reaching out to hockey fans and trying to broaden its own listenership.

This whole post, on the other hand, argues that that's not a realistic approach to take, given the realities of radio, what with ratings and advertisers and whatnot, so I fail to see how it's "party line."

While I did take some shots at Czaban, it's solely in response to his style of argument and not in defense of anyone. If a guy chooses to employ ad hominem attacks, he's made clear that they're fair game. If another principal has refrained from such tactics, he's spared having them used against him in my book. Nothing more, nothing less. And besides, it helps to funny/snark up the post.

I appreciate your kind words, and hope you stick around to see some knowledgeable independant observation - because (hopefully) you'll get plenty of it here.

Kevin said...

As a disinterested observer scoring from home, it does appear that "Czabe" totally pwn3d! Ted on that one.

At least, that's what the kids would say.

Anonymous said...

jr, if you think this is ass kissing you should read some of what other people have written on this

JP said...

Well that's really neither here nor there.

JP said...

Leave it to Steinz to hit the nail on the head recapping this whole kerfuffle.

Anonymous said...

It does seem like JP is buttering up Ted a bit on this and previous posts - but if I as a blogger could wrangle some press passes, I'd do the same.

chanuck said...

"Czaban, who has a great face/hairline for radio."

I always felt he had a voice for newspapers. Too bad he does not know how to spell check. (See DCSC blogpost.)

No comments on his blog, what a chicken $Hit.

The Peerless said...

There is a little voice in teh back of my head that is whispering something rather incessantly....that perhaps Ted and Steve met at a bar in upper northwest, sat in a darkened booth and had a conversation that went like this...*t, I'm bored. It's hot, there aren't any Redskin games, and Pollin is really getting on my nerves.

Ted....I hear ya. I'm tired of having nothing to write about on my blog except that 'Nanking' thing, and surfing the chat rooms on AOL gets old real quick.

Steve...we gotta liven up this burg...any ideas?

Ted...I dunno...wanna start a fight?

Steve...what do you have in mind?

Ted...well ok, try this on...that Beckham guy is coming to DC soon, and I know you guys won't be devoting much air time to that. You could have a segment or two that makes fun of the soccer fans here and maybe link that up with hockey...

Steve...the 'no one watches' angle...

Ted...right...then I'll blog for a few days on how you guys don't 'get it'...

Steve...and I come back a few days later with my own blog, sprinkle in a few 'radio jargon' terms no one will understand, and we'll have a full blown kerfuffle on our hands.

Ted...and folks will be talking about us for days...your ratings will go up...folks will buy more hockey tickets...

Steve...yeah, right...

Ted...see, you're getting in the spirit of it...and then I can come on your show and we can have a mano-e-mano to the death.

Steve...that's not a bad idea

Ted...yeah, and it beats reading those insufferably boring Caps blogs all summer.

laughter ensues...