Adam Lefkoe is that rarest of local TV breeds—the star of viral videos on YouTube who is there on his merits, not because he let an F-bomb slip or got tackled bya boozy passer-by or squealed when a spider crawled across the news set. The WHAS Louisville (Ky.) sports anchor is the man behind the station’s themed Sunday sports segments; different editions have included 41 references to Seinfeld, the names of 50 professional wrestlers and 46 different hip-hop lyrics—some seamless, some strained—sprinkled into five-minute reports.
The media requests are still pouring in, as are the agent queries—Lefkoe says he’s heard from about 10 since the themed sportscasts became a weekly thing almost a month ago. One can assume the ESPN scouts are watching as well. Yet Lefkoe’s strategy, at least for the moment, is to back off of the segments, which made him a national figure. He has been digging the national attention, but the viewers in DMA No. 49 are those he cares about most.
“If you play to a larger audience, you lose the viewers you’re supposed to focus on,” Lefkoe says. “You lose the point of what the sportscast actually is.”
No Scoop for You!
Lefkoe hatched the concept as a way to get viewers more involved in the sportscast. His concerns are similar to those of every sports anchor in America—how do you keep the report relevant when everyone who cares to know the result of the game already knows it? “I felt like I was regurgitating my Twitter feed into the sportscast,” Lefkoe says. “I’d tell people I work at WHAS, and they’d say, ‘I don’t watch news.’ I thought, how do you make it so they want to watch?”
He brought viewers into the process through social media. With the hashtag #Sportscast, Lefkoe solicited the names of old-school wrestlers via Twitter September 1, and worked mentions of dozens of them into his sports report that night. A week later, it was the “Seinfeldcast” (“[Rick] Pitino entered the Hall of Fame with Gary Payton, Bernard King, yadda yadda yadda”), followed the next week by rap lyrics. To date, the three have garnered in excess of 850,000 views on YouTube.
Lefkoe was a general assignment reporter before switching to sports. He says the gimmickry can work in the sports report. “Sports is flexible—it’s relaxed in nature,” he says. “You can have fun with it and include people without messing up the content or the journalistic integrity of the story.”
He stresses that going viral has never been his intent. “This is not a gimmick or a joke,” Lefkoe writes on his Tumblr page. “I’m not trying to create viral videos, I’m trying to make the local sportscast enjoyable, accessible and transparent.”
Linda Danna, WHAS president and general manager, calls Lefkoe’s on-air gimmick “a remarkable accomplishment,” and credits him for scoring with a social media initiative. “He’s got the social engagement thing we all strive for,” she says.
WHAS, an ABC affiliate, is part of Belo, which is in the process of being acquired by Gannett. The Belo brand is built on solid journalistic chops; while corporate has inquired about Lefkoe’s stunts, Danna says the intent was primarily to gauge viewer reaction, which she says has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Lefkoe says he’s gotten hundreds of positive comments and just a couple of negative ones.
Asked if the sportscasts have elevated WHAS’ profile, Danna says, “We’re a legacy station—we’re already on the map.”
Lefkoe says he’s putting the themed ‘casts on the back burner for a couple weeks, but he continues to experiment with interactivity. He recently asked viewers to submit headlines for a local sports story, and shared the best on the air. “I’m trying different things,” he says. “It’s all about getting people to think, ‘When the game is over, I still want to watch sports on WHAS.’”
He’ll almost certainly be back with another theme, whether it works in references to Star Wars, cheesy ‘80s music or whatever else Lefkoe’s 7,500 Twitter followers suggest. “I keep asking myself, how do I separate myself from everybody else in the market?” he says. “How do I make this an event to watch?”
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