There are less than 50 days left in 2018. Can you believe that? The midterm elections, which couldn’t have come fast enough for some after 2016, are now in the rearview mirror and the deadline to get wishlists to the North Pole is fast approaching.
I know next week is Thanksgiving, but I wanted to get this piece out this week because next week BSM is rolling out a very involved series of college football-themed articles. Plus, this will give you more time before the holiday to seek out the projects I am highlighting so that you can mention them in your Thanksgiving prayer. So, with no further ado, here are five sports media projects (listed in no particular order) that I am thankful for this year.
1. FOUL PLAY: PAID IN MISSISSIPPI/“CROOKED LETTERS”
So, I know I said that this list is in no particular order, but I have to be honest. Nothing in the sports media blew me away in 2018 like the project Steven Godfrey spearheaded for SB Nation. It will almost certainly be the most extensive documentation of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss ever created. It might be the best encapsulation of the Ole Miss/Mississippi State rivalry you could ever consume.
Foul Play: Paid in Mississippi is a four-part documentary that was originally made for the now-defunct go90 and has since been repurposed to YouTube. “Crooked Letters” is the 13,000 word article that tells the story of how Laremy Tunsill was sabotaged on the first night of the 2016 NFL Draft, the downfall of Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, the illicit recruitment of high school linebacker Leo Lewis, and how the NCAA manages to get so much wrong in the punishment phase. Both the article and the documentary are well worth your time.
ESPN struck gold years ago with its 30 for 30 documentary series. As production on new films slowed down, it made sense that the network would look for new ways to utilize the brand. Enter 30 for 30 Podcasts.
For season 3, released in May, Julia Lowrie Henderson spearheaded a five-part series on the rise and fall of Bikram Choudhury and the style of yoga that bears his name. Henderson, a former Bikram yoga devotee, makes the perfect reporter and narrator. The stories told by her interview subjects are compelling, heartbreaking, and unbelievable. ESPN dropped all five episodes at once on May 22. I had finished the entire series by May 23.
3. HIGH NOON
I have written a lot about High Noon, starring Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre. I spent a day in New York as the pair and their crew were in rehearsals for their move to afternoons on ESPN. When the show debuted, I wrote that it was something everyone that does any kind of show can take a lesson from.
Despite cutting the show’s format from an hour to a half hour in September, Jones and Torre actually got something of a promotion by moving from noon to 4pm on the East Coast. On top of that, the move made total sense. With High Noon leading the way, ESPN’s afternoon block features four very different shows and seems set for stability and longterm success.
4. KURT WARNER ON WESTWOOD ONE’S MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL BROADCAST
Kurt Warner isn’t an improvement over Boomer Esiason necessarily. It is just rare that a good analyst is replaced by someone that makes it possible for the broadcast to not miss a beat. Anyone that ever watched Warner on NFL Gameday Morning knows that he has the knowledge and presence to do the job. What stands out on the Westwood One broadcast is the way Warner’s style so perfectly compliments Kevin Harlan’s.
The majority of us are not consuming Monday Night Football via radio. If we were, surely the national conversation on Tuesdays would be more about what a solid product it is and less about what a mountain ESPN’s new TV crew has to climb just.
5. BIG GAME: THE NFL IN DANGEROUS TIMES
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors at the NFL league office, Jerry Jones’ personal bus, or at Tom Brady’s mansion, then you need to read this book. Mark Leibovitch, who usually writes about politics for The New York Times, got access to all of it because…well, he asked. And these guys love when people ask them to talk about themselves.
I spoke with Mark earlier this year to get a better handle on the way the league’s power brokers view their relationship with the media and their plans for a future where broadcast TV isn’t the center of the media universe. Please read that interview, but also read the book because you need to learn why Roger Goodell doesn’t like cheese. I promise it will be the only thing you think about the next time you see him.
The sports media gave us a lot of great new stuff and great new editions and episodes of some of our all-time favorites. Maybe great content doesn’t garner a mention in your Thanksgiving blessing, but it is the lifeblood of our business, so when a child at your holiday gathering asks what you are thankful for this year sit them down, grab a laptop, and expand their minds.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.