If there was ever a Cincinnati sports curse, the Bengals and Bearcats put an end to it last winter. The Bengals rallied around a young nucleus of talent to win their first playoff game since 1991 and to make their third-ever run to the Super Bowl. The University of Cincinnati Bearcats cracked the AP Top 25 poll’s top three for the first time in program history and finished the regular season undefeated, becoming the first non-Power Five conference team to reach the College Football Playoff.
Their seasons didn’t end with wins, trophies or a championship parade, but their respective journeys demonstrated the immediate impact sports teams can have on their local fanbases. It’s when a city becomes a community, coming together over something they can call their own. The Bengals and Bearcats proved they belong and set winning standards, earning the respect of the football world along the way. Back home, however, we saw this coming and took immense pride in supporting our teams as they realized their full potential.
For local beat reporters and broadcasters, this past season became less about football and more about capturing the buzzing energy around the city. Play-by-play radio voice Dan Hoard, The Athletic’s Justin Williams and FOX19’s Joe Danneman reflected on the unique challenge of covering such historic seasons as guest panelists for 2022 Media Day, presented by the Cincinnati PRSA Chapter. This past season was transformative for the Bengals and Bearcats, and it also changed the way local media follows them:
Staying honest and neutral
The same foundational principles of journalism hold true, especially when you have local reporters documenting momentous seasons for their hometown teams. While Williams and Danneman grew up around the Tri-State area and Hoard spent more than 20 years calling games in Cincinnati, it’s never been more important for them to remain impartial in their coverage.
Danneman declined a coworker’s idea to wear orange for the Bengals at the Super Bowl out of respect for the players and coaches he interviews on a weekly basis. Hoard has some leeway as a radio broadcaster who’s expected to favor the home team, but he’s extremely cautious to avoid referring to the Bengals or Bearcats as, “we,” and other common homerisms.
UC football has seen so much growth since Williams joined the beat that he sometimes feels he’s going too easy on the team, even if the negative news is far and few between for the Bearcats. Win or loss, these journalists know it’s their responsibility to approach any story from a fair and honest perspective. Their credibility is at stake every time they write or go on the air, especially when covering a successful franchise or program.
Humanizing athletes and coaches
With national outlets and reporters steadily inserting themselves into the Cincinnati sports scene, it has become increasingly important that local journalists dig deeper for unique angles and stories nobody else is working on. They have the upper hand with familiarity and relationships built on trust over time, and they capitalize on their access by delivering content you can’t find elsewhere.
“I’m always looking to enhance the game broadcasts with anecdotes and stories and things that personalize these guys beyond the statistics,” Hoard said. “What are you going to remember aside from the game itself? You’re going to remember an interesting nugget about a player or a good story or something funny about them much more so than any stat or something dry.”
As exciting as the on-field product was from a fan’s perspective, last season was all about getting to know these athletes on a personal level and watching them grow into football stars before our eyes. While a record nine Bearcats were selected in this year’s NFL Draft, UC’s next few recruiting classes boast some exciting prospects with as much swagger and personality. But don’t worry, Bengals fans: Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and company aren’t going anywhere.
Knowing your audience and justifying the story
The biggest takeaway from the 2021-22 football season that Hoard, Williams and Danneman kept coming back to was being able to read the room and know what type of content they’re expected to produce. As their audiences became more than just the regular readers and listeners, they felt the narrative and national attention around Cincinnati football shift toward uncharted territories.
Enthusiasm surrounding the teams also came with pressure for these journalists, constantly trying to reinvent and one-up their work while maintaining interest in their coverage. Bengals and Bearcats content was and still is in high demand, and it’s up to local reporters to make their own work stand out and sought after.
When tasked with this challenge, Williams keeps it simple and thinks about it from a fan’s perspective: “Cover it in a way that justifies how big of a story it is for the fanbase.”
Put yourself in the readers’ shoes, ask yourself what they’d want to know, cover all those bases and deliver. That’s been the winning formula for Williams, Hoard and Danneman, something they’re still learning but will continue to lean on this coming season.
Vehr Communications was the presenting sponsor of PRSA’s 2022 Media Day. Other sessions included “Throw Your Best Pitch,” “Brand as Experience” and a keynote Q&A with Phil Mattingly, senior White House correspondent for CNN. Read coverage from Senior Account Execute Karen Bells about the session “What’s New in News.”