Are You Allowed To Be A Fan?
“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that.”
If there’s ever been a list of unspoken rules in sports media, not openly cheering for the team you cover seems like it would be at the top. In fact, at some point or another, you were probably told to be neutral about the team you talk or write about. ‘It’s unprofessional,’ is likely the line you were sold.
But if sports radio is all about being your true self on the air, what if your true self is someone that’s openly a fan of the team you talk about on a day-to-day basis? If I grew up loving a team and now get to talk about them every day, why would I hide that from the audience in the pursuit to be neutral?
Logan Booker, co-host of The Morning Show on 960 The Ref in Athens, Georgia, grew up a hardcore UGA fan. Rooting for the Bulldogs was in his blood and still serves as some of his best childhood memories. He realized a dream, when he enrolled at the University of Georgia and set out to follow his passion of covering the Dawgs. But he got a bit of a rude awakening when he found out what sports media would force him to do.
“The sports media program at the University of Georgia was so adamant about trying to knock that fan element out of you,” said Booker. “We were not allowed to wear anything with a sports logo on it to class. Otherwise, they’d say you’re not allowed to be here right now.”
Booker figured he’d have to give up his UGA fandom if he wanted to be in the business. Luckily, while interviewing a host at the station he works at today, he found out that didn’t have to be the case.
“I interviewed my now co-host for a school project, during my internship at the station,” said Booker. “One of the questions I asked him, was how do you turn off the fandom when you’re working? He kind of looked at me like, what do you mean? I’m in radio I don’t have to do that.”
That was the moment Booker can pinpoint to where he knew radio was the route for him. All of the pretending he didn’t care about UGA athletics was no more. He grew up in Georgia and loved the teams within its borders. Sports radio gave him the option of wearing that on his sleeve every day.
Richard Cross of SportsTalk Mississippi never hides the fact he graduated from Ole Miss. He’s also not shy about openly admitting he hopes the Rebels do well. Though a Mississippi State fan may occasionally call him a ‘homer’ that’s really not the case with Cross, nor is it his objective. In fact, he portrays himself about as neutral as it comes while broadcasting games for the SEC Network, no matter which team he’s calling a game for. But Cross realizes the most important factor when openly admitting you root for a particular team: He knows you have to be critical when it’s necessary.
“I feel like the biggest thing in all of this is honesty,” said Cross. “If you’re honest with your listeners, whether it’s after a great win or a heartbreaking loss, you just have to shoot people straight. That’s where the credibility comes from.
“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that. I think people expect honesty and they don’t want someone who is constantly taking shots at their team, because that gets old as well.”
“One thing I take very seriously, if something is wrong, I’m not going to sit in the radio booth and say, oh, things are fine and we’re going to get better,” Booker said. “We’re going to talk about what’s wrong and what should be fixed without a fear of upsetting someone. But at the end of the day, my audience knows I identify as someone with a rooting interest and I thoroughly enjoy that.”
So is acceptable to openly root for the team you talk about every day on the air? Well, if that’s who you are as a fan, then absolutely. But as Cross and Booker said, you also have to be willing to be critical when need be. At the end of the day, it’s all about honesty with your listener. Be your true self and say what you think.
“We are major parts of people’s daily routine,” said Booker. “For someone driving a car, whether it be for 10 minutes or 30 minutes every single morning, I think they far more identify with someone that’s a fan of the same program. We’re told this at the station a lot, we have listeners that look at us like friends. They think you’re their buddy and for all practical purposes, they are. You spend every morning with them and they’re not nearly going to be as connected or enjoy listening to someone if all I do is criticize this and criticize that. They want to connect with me and feel like they can have a beer with me and talk about the Bulldogs.”
But what if you’re labeled the ‘Ole Miss guy’ on the air in Mississippi? Though Cross isn’t viewed by all Mississippi State fans as that, his listeners that are MSU fans, still likely know where his loyalties lie. That can make for an interesting relationship when the two fan bases are evenly split through the market.
“The fascinating thing with me and Mississippi State fans, is that forever I was just the Ole Miss guy,” said Cross. “But because of the television work that I’ve done, even a bunch of Mississippi State games, there’s some that will never see or hear anything but, oh, Richard, he’s an Ole Miss guy and I don’t give a damn what he says. But I think most people have noticed how I approach doing TV broadcasts. I do a Mississippi State game the same way I do a Tennessee or Ole Miss game, or whoever I’m calling. I think I’ve developed some credibility along the way as a result of that. Hopefully that’s carried over to the radio side.”
Doing radio in Athens, Booker doesn’t have to compete with two fan bases. It’s all UGA, all the time. When the vast majority, if not all, of your listeners have the same rooting interest as you, it makes being open with your fandom on the air a whole lot easier.
But what if another station outside the market wanted to hire him? Say, Atlanta? Would he totally change his on-air persona?
“If I were in a bigger market, especially in Atlanta, yeah I would be able to be the exact same person,” said Booker. “If anything, I would lay out both sides on the table a little bit more. I would probably be a little bit more, hey, this is good, but this could also be the same thing. All of a sudden your audience isn’t going to be 90% your fandom, your audience will be split into a lot more different fan bases. It would be a little bit more difficult, but at the end of the day, I would be who I am.”
Tyler McComas: Doing radio in Athens, do you feel like you have to be a guy that openly roots for UGA on the air?
Logan Booker: No, not 100 percent. I’ll use one of our afternoon show hosts as an example. He’s from Miami and went to the University of Miami. He’s an outspoken Miami fan. He’s not over the top, like “I’m going to rub it in your face, Go Hurricanes and the Dawgs suck”. I think he understands that in order to connect to your listenership he needs to talk about the Dawgs as if it was his wake up, check the news, find out what’s happening with Georgia, and, oh, Miami is just something I do on the side. Whether that’s true or not I think when you’re in a small market, especially a college town, where you know 90 percent of your listenership either graduated from that university or even goes to that university, or employed at university, they have a major rooting interest in the local team. But if you’re not an outspoken fan I think it’s important to make sure you legitimately care about what’s going on with that team. Not necessarily in a blindly positive way but it has to be an interest of yours.
TM: You did something interesting with a poll a while back to gauge how fans view media.
LB: I put up a poll back when I was trying to become a beat writer and kind of get that fandom out of me, asking my Twitter following, hey, do you think that beat writers are fans of the program? Overwhelmingly, like 90 percent, were absolutely, the beat writer is supposed to be a fan of the program.
They don’t get it. They don’t understand that not everyone is from the state or grew up loving the team. We have a couple guys in our market that are Maryland grads. But the fans don’t get that and that’s actually a testament to the good job those guys are doing on the beat.
TM: In general, is it ok for a host to root for the team he talks about every day?
Richard Cross: I think it was Scott Van Pelt that famously said, “Everybody’s from somewhere” Everyone that’s in this business are fans of some teams. If you’re in the sports talk radio business you’re a fan of sports, right? You like it, or at least I hope you like it. Odds are you grew up watching or following some team.
I’m coming at it from a little bit of a different angle, because I host a sports radio show and I work with the Ole Miss Radio Network but I also work with ESPN and the SEC Network. They’re the same skill set, for the most part, it’s kind of different in terms of how I treat each broadcast. But I try not to be over-the-top ever from hosting a sports talk show in a state like Mississippi where you have Ole Miss and Mississippi State, you have to be fair to both sides. I graduated from Ole Miss and I don’t try to hide the fact I want to see them do well. But I feel like the biggest thing in all this is honesty.
TM: Just be genuine, right? Don’t force or fake it to your audience.
RC: Sure, absolutely. I never approach it on the radio side from the standpoint of, let’s talk about the Ole Miss game because I love Ole Miss. It’s not the approach should I go with. Let’s look at all the different angles and point out all the stuff that’s good, but also the things were bad. And I try to do the same thing with Mississippi State. But I’m just not a rah-rah guy. I never have been.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
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.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
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.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
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.