Connect with us
BSM Summit
blank

BSM Writers

Can Finebaum Thrive in Big 10 Country?

Demetri Ravanos

Published

on

When I say the name Paul Finebaum what comes to mind? Do you think about a rabid Bama fan calling to explain why he poisoned trees on the Auburn campus? Do you think about Phyllis in Mulga losing her mind over Colin Cowherd’s comments about Nick Saban? Maybe it’s Tammy from Clanton calling in to yell about officials being biased against Auburn.

Whatever your answer is, whether you are from the South or not, my point is you think about something related to SEC football. It is where Finebaum’s bread is buttered. It is why he wrote a book called My Conference Can Beat Your Conference.

Finebaum and ESPN are locked in a contract dispute right now and according to Clay Travis at Outkick the Coverage, who you may be tempted to dismiss because of his constant head-butting with ESPN, the relationship is close to irreparable.

According to sources Finebaum, who declined comment to Outkick, was told in October of last year by then-president of ESPN John Skipper not to worry about his soon to expire contract. Nine months later, with limited contact from ESPN executives, Finebaum has now reached the limits of his patience with the network and is preparing to depart. That’s despite substantial efforts by an increasingly frustrated SEC office over ESPN’s inability to get the deal done.

Whatever your thoughts on him, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Travis here. He and Finebaum are close friends. I trust that he has some insight as to where Finebaum’s head is at right now.

Paul Finebaum walking away from the SEC Network wouldn’t be the end of the world. After all, the guy was already successful long before that channel was even a spark of an idea in either Bristol or the league office in Birmingham. Finebaum was already Finebaum even before he was on Jox 94.5 in Birmingham.

blank

What is a little hard to believe though is Michael McCarthy’s report in The Sporting News that Fox and their Big Ten Network would have interest in snapping Finebaum up if he walks away from ESPN. McCarthy says that some executives for that conference believe Finebaum’s show might be BTN’s missing piece.

But Fox Sports has a history of poaching ESPN talent, like Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock and Erin Andrews. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is said to be a huge Finebaum fan.

Some Big Ten executives have lamented the absence of a “Paul Finebaum-like show” on the network’s programming schedule. Fox owns 51 percent of the Big Ten Network.

I talked to a few program directors of stations in both the Southeast and in Big 10 country to get a gauge on what they expect of Finebaum and the challenges he would face trying to swap out the SEC for the Big 10.

Arky Shea is the program director at The Ump in Huntsville, AL. I asked him how important his home state (and to be fair, mine too) has been to Finebaum’s success.

blank

“Alabama is the meat of the stew. Auburn is the potatoes,” Arky said in a conversation over Twitter DMs. “The rest of the SEC and their fan bases are the spices and vegetables – depending on what’s in season. Paul has a legacy because of that state and Birmingham.”

Bama and Auburn fans seem to be content to see Finebaum’s focus go conference wide since launching his partnership with ESPN and the SEC, but how would they react to Finebaum moving to the Big Ten Network? Maybe he could talk about Bama or Auburn from time to time, but the Big Ten Network would probably want him focused on the Big Ten, right? That would be a very different show from the one Finebaum’s long time fans are used to.

“After all the smack he and his callers have dished out on the Big Ten and others, that’s traitorous territory,” Shea says of a potential move.

“The average Big 10 fan in Wisconsin would need to be ‘won over’ and heavily educated about the who and why of Paul Finebaum,” Tom Parker (the program director of 105.7 the Fan in Milwaukee, not the colonel that managed Elvis) told me in an email. “He’s an SEC insider with sources and contacts. Why would the Big 10 even want what appears to be ‘a project’? Except for times when he’s said something crazy in the past that got some run (very little here), I doubt a Big Ten fan would have even heard of him. Maybe Fox sees him as another Stephen A or Skip. Willing to say crazy things for attention?”

blank

That very well could be. After all, if a deal to do a televised version of his radio show on BTN did become a reality, you would have to assume that Fox would also use Finebaum on its Saturday college football coverage in the fall. That may be where Finebaum is the most valuable. Fox’s coverage is pretty good, but they are missing the headline-maker ESPN has in Kirk Herbstriet or even their own “face of college football,” something ESPN has a seemingly endless supply of. Finebaum could fill both of those roles for Fox.

Brad Lane now programs 1500 ESPN in Minneapolis, but he grew up playing football in Texas. He is very aware that football means different things to different parts of the country. He says the Midwest isn’t a college football wasteland. Fans are aware of Finebaum.

“I DO think fans here not only know who Finebaum is, they ‘get’ why he’s successful in SEC land. He’s got the southern drawl, he seems to have deep connections with a lot of the coaches & programs, and he has great self-awareness and the ability to make fun of himself and the way he looks,” Lane said in an email.

blank

“But more than all that he seems to have tapped into the language & world of SEC football fans; he is a reflection of who they are and what they want from their teams,” he says before adding “Would that translate to the Big 10 if he were to move networks? Highly doubtful. I have no idea how old Finebaum is, but his sort-of ‘old man/southern charm’ seems to speak to and reflect a culture down south that won’t work nearly as well up here.”

I wondered if Finebaum might be giving up a position of power with a move to the Big Ten. After all, the SEC footprint has very few cities with multiple pro teams. There are a lot of cities with a lot of sports options in the Midwest. In his email, Parker illustrated just how much of a stranglehold the NFL can have in the region, saying “Here in Milwaukee, the top team conversations are 1)Packers, 2)Aaron Rodgers, 3) Rumors about the Packers, 4) Rumors about Aaron Rodgers, 5) NL leading Brewers and at a tie for topic #6) Bucks rumors and Wisconsin Football. (props to Joe Zarbano at WEEI – I adapted his NE topic sheet haha).”

My impression has always been that is normal for the Big Ten footprint, but Jeff Rickard of 107.5/1070 the Fan in Indianapolis says that is a little off base.

blank

“While the B1G conference has campuses near several big cities, (New York, Chicago, Minneapolis etc.) it’s roots still exist in some of the greatest college towns in America. In places like Ann Arbor, Columbus, Bloomington, Madison or beyond the college game is just as alive and well here as anywhere in the country. In football there are traditional powers with fan bases scattered all over the country. If you’re talking OSU, PSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska for example (a ton of titles in that group) they’re not sliding to the side for anyone. In basketball, places such as Bloomington, Madison, Ann Arbor, West Lafayette or East Lansing are as electric on game day as any other place in the nation.  Sure, Rutgers or Maryland can get lost in the shadow of NYC or DC but the entire midwest is B1G country and you’ll see the bumper stickers, t-shirts and yard flags representing those schools everywhere,” he told me in an email.

Jeff added that passion doesn’t look the same in the Big Ten as it does in the SEC, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t passion. “Fans in B1G country are just as passionate for their teams as any other conference, they just don’t feel the need to convince everyone of that. They already know who they are and feel pretty good about it, too.”

Justin Acri, who is the program director of 103.7 the Buzz in Little Rock, says that while the Big Ten Network may be an uphill climb for Finebaum, it’s not like he is a force of nature across the SEC footprint. There are plenty of markets where he isn’t aired at all and plenty of listeners that simply don’t like the show. “I have tried to listen a few times, but alas it is not for me. The one time he was a topic of conversation was when he and Saban had their tete a tete at SEC Media Days a few years back. That being said, I tip my cap to him for his continued success.  Every show will not appeal to every man of course and this is a case in point.”

blank

Brad Carson feels very differently. “I think Paul Finebaum is solid and can do whatever he wants. I think he’s good at football in general as we’ve seen with how much fun he’s had with the Harbaugh stuff,” the program director of Memphis’s ESPN 92.9 told me. “He’s awesome on SEC and can translate that other ways, likely. I’d bet he’ll be awesome on national topics because he’s smart and interested in what fans want to hear in terms of topics. He’s got energy and info.”

blank

So the previous 1500 words and all of those quotes are a long way of saying “Paul Finebaum shifting focus to the Big Ten would be weird.” How successful would it be? That is a little harder to say.

Personally, I have always believed that as a radio host, Finebaum lives and dies with his callers. Taking his show to the Big Ten Network would most likely mean football in that conference would move to the A block of his topics list. Would the passionate fan base he has already established stay loyal to a show like that? Probably not. Would he be able to build a passionate fan base in Big Ten country doing the same thing he did in SEC country? I don’t think so. From a radio standpoint, the move wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But maybe Finebaum is thinking beyond radio. A move to Fox makes a lot of sense from a TV standpoint. The guy knows college football beyond just the SEC, so the fact that the conference has no relationship with Fox is irrelevant. Besides, it’s not like Fox won’t talk about the SEC at all. The network’s various college football shows will cover everything going on in the world of college football, just like the college football shows on ESPN and CBS do.

What makes the most sense for Paul Finebaum? That depends on what his goals are. If he wants to expand his profile beyond the Southeastern United States, a move to Fox would expose him to a brand new audience. If his goal is continued domination, a new deal with ESPN makes the most sense.

Plenty of people in our industry are of the mindset that Finebaum’s interest in the Big Ten Network is merely a negotiating tactic, and to be honest I am one of those people. Whatever the motivation and wherever he is calling home next month, what is clear is that Paul Finebaum is a valuable brand name in the world of college football.

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

Published

on

blank

One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2023 Barrett Media.