The Media Column: Should there be less sports talk on sports talk radio?

Alex Reimer
July 10, 2018 - 10:30 pm

Kirk Minihane has an unwavering belief that sports talk radio should include less sports talk. To the surprise of nobody, I agree with his assessment. But that doesn’t mean my WEEI utopia would consist of Lou Merloni debating Brett Kavanaugh’s conservative credentials or Rich Keefe ripping President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. It’s never entertaining to hear people talk about subjects they aren’t passionate about, which is precisely what’s wrong with the mindset of doing sports just to do sports. 

On “Red Sox Review” Monday, Patrick Gilroy called Minihane “small-minded” for his outright dismissal of baseball. “I don’t believe Kirk has his finger on the pulse the way he does,” Gilroy said. “They don’t take that many calls, so for Kirk to sit here and tell us what his fans want, I’m not sure he understands fully what his fans want. If he opened up the lines to Red Sox conversation, I promise you the show would still do just as well.”

Kirk didn’t overreact at all, belittling Gilroy and declaring he’ll never succeed in the business. Then they opened up the phone lines, where the predictable smattering of callers named “Al” and “Dave” told Kirk and Gerry to stop navel-gazing and get back to the sports. This has been a long-running debate on WEEI. Who better to solve it than the part-time night and weekend host who just spent the last five months barred from the airwaves?

There’s an abundance of evidence the WEEI audience, and K&C audience in particular, loves to navel-gaze. For example, almost every segment about the Casting Couch, no matter how petty or tedious, generates massive listener reaction. Even a stupid Twitter poll asking people whether they like me or Tomase garners nearly 7,100 votes in hours. 

On the digital side, our articles about the media routinely generate some of the most traffic. It’s this way on almost every platform. 

Sports media members, and talk show hosts in particular, are some of the most gossipy people on the planet. The insults thrown during breaks would make Regina George blush. We are interested in talking about each other and the people are, too. Why not do it?

It all comes back to talking about what you’re passionate about. On Twitter Monday night, Lou Merloni fired off a litany of tweets lambasting those dismissing the Red Sox’ success against the weak American League. Sure enough, he unleashed a memorable rant at the start of the show on Tuesday. 

The ratings show that sports fans are still locked into the big games. Every Patriots game is an event, with almost 40-percent of Boston households routinely tuning into marquee regular season match ups –– never mind postseason affairs. 

Celtics-Cavaliers was a terrible series, but it attracted incredible numbers, with Game 7 drawing a 21.9 in Boston. The majority of the estimated 22-percent of people who watched the contest probably listen to us. 

The story is different in the regular season, however. Though Celtics ratings surged this year, they still attracted an average rating of 3.24. That means an estimated 3.24 percent of households in the Boston market were tuned into the Celtics on a nightly basis. The Bruins’ nightly average rating was 2.95, per Sports Business Journal

The Red Sox do better than both winter teams, drawing a 6.16 household rating so far this season. While those numbers are some of the best in baseball, they show that more than 90 percent of households in Greater Boston are watching something else. 

That’s why the Red Sox, despite their league-leading 64 wins, have produced little talk radio fodder –– besides lambasting David Price. Talk shows are issued-based. J.D. Martinez’s 28th home run was nice, but there’s not much debate or conflict there.

This trend is an evolution of the times more than anything else. People are watching less live TV overall. And those who do are getting older. According to SBJ, the average viewer age for every major professional league increased from 2006-16, with MLB going from 52 to 57. The NFL went from 46 to 50 and NHL expanded from 42 to 49. NBA fans are spring chickens, aging just 40 to 42 over that 10-year stretch.

The vast majority of potential listeners, especially those on the younger side, didn’t watch last night’s game. It doesn’t make much sense to discuss something most people haven’t seen. So instead, the sports talk is framed around a larger issue. Merloni’s Sox rant was partially in response to Dan Shaughnessy’s Globe column, which tied it to media criticism as well. 

The folks who simply demand hosts “talk sports” are irritating, because frankly, sometimes there isn’t much to talk about. No human on this planet spends any of his time with friends breaking down Eduardo Rodriguez’s pitch selection or Summer League performances. Talk show hosts are people, too. There’s nothing wrong with acting like them. 

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