A Conversation About Leadership
I recently had the good fortune of having dinner with one of the top executives in broadcasting when the topic of leadership came up as it related to driving change and real growth in our industry. This wasn’t a conversation about whether or not we could beat what the industry or market is doing or if we could increase our sales 5-6% over previous year.
This was a conversation about pushing ourselves to the max and really making our sales teams better and getting more out of them. This was a conversation about real leadership. The executive wanted to know if each of us was willing to be the “a**hole” that you sometimes need to be to make real change happen, or if we were just looking to be “Mr. Nice Guyl” and make friends.
The dinner was almost a month ago and I can’t stop thinking about his premise. Am I “Mr. Nice Guy?” Can I be an a**hole? And most importantly, do you really need to be an a**hole in order to drive change and be a great leader.
Often, as I’m sure most of you do, I turn to sports to look for my answers. Vince Lombardi. Bob Knight. Bill Belichick. Nick Saban. Bill Parcells. Bear Bryant. Scotty Bowman. Gregg Popovich. Mike Ditka. Tony LaRussa. Geno Auriemma.
I started to notice a trend. All of these names have, at one time or another, shown up on a list of some of the best coaches of all time. And, by all accounts, those that played for them would definitely NOT say they were “Mr. Nice Guy.”
As fans, we don’t often get to see the personal side of the players and coaches we love to watch, although being in the sports industry we’re much more likely than the average person to have spent at least some time around powerful sports figures away from the game. Often times, we see a very different side and walk away wondering how they can be such an a**hole on the sidelines or in an interview, and be so charming at other times.
I think with most of the people I named above, the reason is the same: the obsession with winning, and what makes them great leaders is often times the ability to think of nothing else and constantly be focused on only those things that will make their team better and be able to win more. And, while I can think of some names that would also be on that list of great coaches that, by all accounts, were more “Mr. Nice Guy,” (John Wooden, Dean Smith, Don Shula, Mike Krzyzewski to name a few), it seems they all had something in common as well in that they are all regarded as incredibly intelligent people.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t fall in to the “incredibly intelligent” category by anyone’s account (other than my maternal grandmother who thought I could do no wrong), so if I am truly good at what I do, I must have some a**hole in me.
Later on, my attention turned to this thought: if you do have to be an a**hole, how big of an a**hole do you need to be or how often do you have to be an a**hole to get what you want done? To me, this is the larger question. Nobody wants to work for a tyrant or someone regarded as an a**hole all the time. But, at the same time, I can’t think of a “Mr. Nice Guy” who really drove me to be better or who was willing to have difficult conversations in order to help me see where I could improve.
Like with most everything else we do as managers, it’s about balance. In this case, knowing when being the nice guy will get you where you want to be and knowing when it takes a much tougher approach. Many years ago, I was given the advice that you cannot manage everyone the same. A large part of a manager’s job is to identify how best to lead an individual. We want to get the best out of each member of our teams, and to do that, sometimes you have to pull it out of them with force, and with some, you need to cheer by their side as you casually push them in the right direction.
It’s not so much about how nice or how mean you can be, to me, it’s more about picking the right times. There’s a time and place for “Mr. Nice Guy” to come out, and there’s a time and place for “Mr. A**hole” to take over.
Dave Greene is a former sales columnist for BSM. He works as a General Sales Manager for Audacy St. Louis. He can be reached by email at DGreene@Audacy.com or find him on Twitter @DaveGreene34.
Coaches & News Conferences Don’t Have To Be So Boring
“It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring.”
I couldn’t possibly count how many news conferences I have watched or attended in my career. It would be like counting each individual pine tree you pass while driving a two lane country road. Eventually, every tree and news conference looks the same. You would just end up losing count and interest.
Most news conferences contain ten times the recommended daily amount of cliches and safe answers. There’s the occasional oasis in the desert of “one game at a time” answers that restores faith in the existence of a non-cookie cutter news conference. Often, those hopes are quickly reeled back in by the coach that would rather have his teeth pulled out one by one than show even an iota of personality in an answer.
I get that the purpose of a news conference is to get the answers to the pertinent questions facing a coach or his team at that given moment. The view inside a news conference that the general public is given is rare. It is like a live look-in at the accounting firm’s weekly staff meeting (and, often just as exciting).
It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring. The fan of the team gets to see how the quote of their coach is edited down from the 90 second soliloquy to the 20 second “money quote”.
Here’s the thing; there is no law mandating every question has to be the boring, run of the mill roster spot question. The reason they are is that most of these news conferences are a race against time by media members that cover the team on a daily basis to gather as much information as possible. It is a race against time because the head coach will not stand at the podium all day. He’d rather be anywhere else.
It is in that environment that a member of the media risks raising the ire of their colleagues by asking a coach if they could be one movie character in all of history, who would they choose? Can you imagine Bill Belichick, unlikely as it may be, explaining why he’d choose to be Michale Corleone from The Godfather? Instead, he is mumbling a non-answer on any variety of positional battles in Patriots practice.
Last week in the news conferences leading up to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament game against Providence, Wildcats coach John Calipari was asked about not taking the North Carolina State job because of bad Raleigh, North Carolina pizza. The story, originally told by former Calipari assistant Josh Pastner, was relayed by WSJS’s Josh Graham. The ensuing answer, far from a knee slapper, showed some personality from Calipari. He informed the reporter the pizza was from Mellow Mushroom and it was not why he passed on the Wolfpack.
Calipari is a guy not afraid to show a little personality, in fact, he is a very big personality. It is not uncommon to see a news conference clip from him that is beyond the normally mind numbing coach speak. This is the guy that had a press conference interrupted once by Temple coach John Chaney trying to fist fight him. It would be nice to randomly see that from other coaches across sports.
Imagine if we discovered most coaches were actually funny people who didn’t mind not being robots 24/7? It would be like dropping a rock in your driveway only to have it break into pieces revealing gold dust on the inside. We could inadvertently stumble into a whole new realm of news conferences. I mean, the breakdown down of the two deep at the offensive guard spots might not get discussed in excruciating detail but, maybe, we find Andy Reid’s go to burger patty seasoning.
What we may discover is that our audience actually likes that kind of thing. It doesn’t mean Reid, or any other coach, never gets to tell us it is one week at a time and they’ve moved on from last week’s game. There will be plenty of that kind of talk, it is in their DNA. We could only hope the fun stuff gets seasoned in.
It will take a member of the media that doesn’t mind ruffling the feathers of some of the old school writers who wear mustard stained shirts and Sansabelt slacks. Those guys devour the coach speak of the week one two deep. They’ll ostracize the media member who “doesn’t take this seriously enough”. Deep down inside, though, I think they’ll give it a laugh, heck they may even use it in their content. When that day comes, you’ll thank me for this idea. Then you can go right back to the battle for the back-up spot at the left corner.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
RSNs’ Demise Could Make Baseball Even Less Competitive
How many fans would have to buy a $20/month package to equal $60 million/year in local TV revenue?
Baseball fans should consider being careful what they wish for regarding the seemingly inevitable demise of regional sports networks (RSNs).
Yes, Diamond Sports Group’s recent filing for bankruptcy puts the television broadcast agreements that Bally Sports Networks have with 14 Major League Baseball teams in possible jeopardy. Many fans of those 14 clubs — which include the St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins — are hoping this development frees up local TV rights to be picked up by a streaming platform.
Currently, fans in those 14 markets who cut the cord with cable and satellite providers have been unable to watch their favorite teams locally because of Diamond’s failure to work out carriage deals with popular streaming outlets like YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV. And many of them aren’t interested in subscribing to Bally Sports’ own streaming package for $19.99 per month. Especially if they just want to watch baseball for six months and have no use for local NBA and NHL coverage. (A few of those markets don’t have a local NBA or NHL team, either.)
Amid the bankruptcy proceedings, Diamond is attempting to get out of broadcast agreements with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, and Cleveland Guardians. Those four clubs cost Diamond more in rights fees than they generate in cable contracts and ad revenues. MLB intends to pick up the broadcast packages for those teams and stream those games for free if that happens.
Fans of the other 10 teams tied to Bally Sports deals are hoping for a similar outcome. Though that would be highly unlikely, Diamond apparently is not close to an agreement with MLB that would help the company get out of bankruptcy, as it has with the NBA and NHL. Furthermore, Diamond is arguing that MLB has no interest in such a deal, preferring to take back streaming rights for those 14 teams.
Yet would that really be the best development for MLB in terms of competitive balance? Baseball has long struggled with a significant financial disparity between large-market teams and those in mid-sized or small markets. According to Spotrac, the New York Mets will have the highest payroll for the 2023 season at $355 million. At the very bottom of the league, the Oakland Athletics’ payroll is a fraction (11 percent, to be exact) of the Mets’ at $40 million.
But the gap between teams playing in large media markets (and thus getting significant revenue from local TV contracts) versus small market clubs is nearly as vast. The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly earn $239 million per year from their local TV contract, while the Pittsburgh Pirates get $60 million.
The Pirates are also one of three MLB teams who have a TV deal with AT&T SportsNet. Warner Bros. Discovery recently announced its intentions to transfer ownership of those RSNs to their respective teams and leagues. If a deal can’t be made, WBD will likely enter bankruptcy proceedings for the RSNs. So add the Pirates, Colorado Rockies, and Houston Astros to the team whose local broadcasts could be taken over by MLB.
But would the Pirates still get $60 million in local TV revenue under such an arrangement? Teams with local cable contracts were able to draw enormous fees by being part of a larger overall package in which even non-sports fans were paying fees for RSNs.
However, if these networks are no longer part of a cable bundle, can their broadcasts come anywhere close to matching those revenues from streaming packages? As The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis asked on The Press Box podcast, how many Pirates fans would have to pay $20 a month (or more) to generate $60 million per year? Even if RSNs began to feature sports betting broadcasts, would that draw enough revenue to make up the shortfall?
The Pirates aren’t competitive as it is, finishing last in the National League Central division in 2022 with a 62-100 record (31 games behind the first-place Cardinals). Pittsburgh also had the lowest payroll in the NL at $59 million. How does taking away $60 million — which essentially covers the Pirates’ player payroll — improve any chance of contending?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the Wall Street Journal, “I think we can get into a mode where we are better able to say to fans: You can watch baseball on whatever platform you want to watch it.”
Manfred and MLB will also have to address the sport’s restrictive local market blackout rules to make game broadcasts as accessible as the commissioner envisions. Many baseball fans and observers likely know that Iowa, for example, is blacked out from six teams (Cubs, Twins, Brewers, White Sox, Royals, and Cardinals) locally. An MLB.TV subscription isn’t of much use in that region.
Reportedly, MLB is working on that very goal. But current TV contracts and local media rights deals create a ball of yarn that could take years to untangle. In the meantime, baseball’s elite teams could separate themselves even further from those less fortunate — or without lucrative local TV rights deals.
Having local broadcasts liberated from RSNs sounds appealing to fans who ditched cable and currently can’t watch their teams on streaming platforms. But losing those revenues could prevent their favorite teams from funding competitive — or even respectable — payrolls. Be careful what you wish for, baseball fans. The team you get to watch may not be nearly as good.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Disney Has One Logical Choice For The Future – Jimmy Pitaro
“If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.”
Bob Iger’s latest tenure atop the Walt Disney Company fascinates me. The company begged him to come back to clean up the mess made by his handpicked successor, but it was made clear from the get-go that he has a very limited window to get this right and then go home. That is why, less than six months after Iger returned to Burbank, we are already hearing about who will be the next CEO of Disney.
There is reportedly a shortlist of candidates for the job and it is sports-heavy. Two of the four spots are occupied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. I see the value both men could bring to the job, but I think there is a clear frontrunner and obvious choice.
Jimmy Pitaro is already inside the Disney walls. He has already learned to operate within the Disney hierarchy. He has had to answer investors’ tough questions about budget and direction. If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.
Adam Silver’s tenure as NBA Commissioner is the target of all sorts of criticism, mostly from people that don’t watch the NBA anyway. For all of the pissing and moaning about load management and player empowerment, people are still watching and the league is still as profitable as ever. By the metrics that matter to the people that matter (team owners), he is doing an excellent job.
On a recent episode of Meadowlark Media’s Sports Business, John Skipper made it clear that he loves Silver and thinks he would make an excellent CEO for the Walt Disney Company, but that is a totally different world from the one Silver is currently thriving in.
“My advice would be to stay at the NBA,” the Meadowlark Media boss said. “It’s not a public company. You don’t have to face shareholders. You do have to face 30 NBA owners, but you don’t have activist shareholders. And I think Adam is a committed NBA commissioner. He’s been for a long time.”
The public posturing of Ron DeSantis will always get attention, but it doesn’t always have to be taken seriously. The moment he threatened to dissolve the special district in Central Florida that Walt Disney World operates out of, legal scholars were quick to point out that the proposal would create a major burden on the state and its citizens that no politician wants to be responsible for.
DeSantis wanted his culture war. Disney wanted the problem to go away. The two sides quietly found a compromise that made it look like the governor didn’t lose while Disney got to go on basically with business as usual. That is the kind of corporate policy war whoever takes over for Bob Iger will have to be ready to wage.
Disney needs a salvager in that chair, someone who knows how to diagnose the problems of business relationships and find fixes that hurt each side just enough that both can say the other really took it on the chin. Pitaro is that guy.
Look at ESPN’s relationship with the NFL when he arrived versus where it is now. The company needs someone that makes stars and creators feel like this company is one that it can trust and one that they want to be in business with. Look at what Pitaro has done to bring the Manning Brothers, Pat McAfee, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman under the Disney umbrella while simultaneously finding ways to keep stars like Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones happy with non-exclusive deals that allow them to grow their profile with new opportunities outside of the company walls.
Most importantly, no segment of the Walt Disney Company and arguably, no network on basic cable, has had to answer as many questions about the future of distribution as often as ESPN. Jimmy Pitaro has been asked about a future where entertainment is driven solely by the needs of the audience so many times that he has undoubtedly thought about the ups and downs of the streaming landscape more than just about anyone else on Earth.
Bob Iger will be atop Disney through the end of the year and into 2024. This isn’t a decision that is being made tomorrow. Even when it is made, Iger doesn’t just get to write a name down on a piece of paper, slam down an “APPROVED” stamp and go home.
Everyone on that reported shortlist will be vetted by Iger, his confidants, members of the Disney board, and shareholders. Some may wince at the fact they have no idea how Jimmy Pitaro envisions running theme parks and a cruise line, but the reality is that no one checks all the boxes for any job as big as this one until they have been in it for a while.
When you know the perfect fit for a job doesn’t exist, you go looking for the person that is the best fit. I think Bob Iger and Disney have already found him in Bristol, CT.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.