Radio Row 2021: Super Bowl Interviews Go Virtual as Stations Mull Future

Jacob Feldman
·2 min read

The world’s most advanced trading market for influence reconvenes every year for radio row at the Super Bowl. For decades, local stations have gathered along with sponsors and stars to exchange time, money and recognition. All the parties come to learn their worth.

Household names can earn six figures for a few days of promotional work, while less-known personalities attempt to grow their brands and networks. Stations get a chance to book guests they wouldn’t otherwise have a shot at, making sure to leverage their few minutes with each into bankable and shareable content. For brands, “Radio is still the greatest way to reach local audiences,” MELT founder and marketing executive Vince Thompson said.

Radio row expanded beyond those transmitting AM and FM frequencies in recent years, with podcasters lining up alongside online outposts like Twitter. This year, digital has taken over. Fewer than 40 stations are in Tampa this week, whereas more than 100 have congregated in the past.

The NFL often facilitates bringing current and former NFL players to the Super Bowl city, but isn’t doing so this time around. On Monday, video of a desolate Radio Row circulated online.

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In some ways, the radio row ethos has survived, with plenty of brand-supported interviews being conducted remotely. Radio row vets said the current setup will likely end up benefiting the biggest guests, who can squeeze in more spots this week without worrying about traffic or autograph hawks. Much of what is lost, meanwhile, won’t show up in any accounting ledgers.

“With clients, you build a lot of relationships through in-person time,” Octagon marketing VP Jennifer Keene said. “You pick up cues that spur ideas for new business pitches. You learn what matters to them. We’re really missing that part of it.”

Shows suffer, too. “There’s no getting around it,” said Jimmy Shapiro, Zucker Media VP and a radio row guide to the likes of Snoop Dogg and Mike Ditka. “The majority of interviews are better in person.”

When it comes to radio row and beyond, Thompson said, “Everybody is in a massive rethink on what to do now.” If and when the pandemic relents, radio stations, athletes and marketers will be figuring out whether the old-fashioned market is worth their investment. With next year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles, the sell might be easier for stars than for budget-conscious networks.

“Maybe stations will feel like, ‘Hey, we don’t need to spend this money,’” Shapiro said. On the other hand, he added, “For a lot of stations, this is their Super Bowl.”

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