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Coronavirus, The Economy, And Sports Radio

“These are unchartered waters, create together and help service the community that they are in. People still need goods and services. It’s our job to convey that to our listeners.”

Demetri Ravanos




The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the world. People are stuck in their homes. Some have lost loved ones. Others will. The worldwide pandemic is bigger than dollars and cents to be sure, but the dollars and cents are important to talk about here too.

In an effort to limit the spread of the disease, the CDC has recommended limiting gathering to ten people or fewer. That means a lot of movie theaters, bars and restaurants are out of business for the time being. That is going to effect the bottom lines of people in all walks of life.

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Barrett Sports Media is a sight focused on the sports media world though, and while we have empathy and sympathy for everyone trying to figure out how to make ends meet right now, we want to put the spotlight on sports radio.

I spoke to a number of people around the business to understand what their plans are and what they expect during this time. Many expect that losing clients, even if only temporarily, is likely. All of them though, do have a plan and good reasons for their clients to stay the course.

“There is going to be a hit, and if you don’t think so, you are lying to yourself. Just like with your clients, you need to be honest with yourself,” one sales rep in the Northeast who wished to remain anonymous told me.

“So far, I’ve broken it into 3 buckets. First, there are certain categories of business that should absolutely stay on or start up, even during these first few weeks of uncertainty (mortgage, banks, financial planners, lawyers, insurance, healthcare/hospitals, etc.). Consumers have a lot of questions, these experts can help and we give them the platform to do so.

“Second, categories that may need to take a short hiatus. Due to the fact that most cities are in a full or partial lockdown, customers of some businesses can’t even take action on their messaging. If you are a true partner you need to help them through this time. Categories that violate social distancing such as automotive, retail except for grocery, food/drink, events, home improvement that requires in home visits, etc. Hopefully this is a temporary hiatus and we will start to get some better news in the coming weeks.

“Lastly, are the clients who have purchased a play-by-play or direct sports entitlement. The passion and inclusion you sold them was genuine (or it better have been). For you to turn around and try to reallocate those dollars to your sports station or a sister station in your cluster can come off a little desperate. This is where the hit will be inevitable as seasons hang in the balance for NBA, NHL, etc. and are delayed for MLB and potentially NFL. In this case if your clients are not on your core sports station, definitely a good time to bring it up, not to replace their sponsorship, but to help them reach their clients during these tough times if they are in a category that I listed above.”

Sandy Cohen, Vice President and Director of Sales for Union Broadcasting in Kansas City and Louisville, told me that his staff started reaching out to clients “by phone, email and texting” as quickly as they could. “However we can help, we are.”

“Clearly we are contacting the sponsors who are actively advertising with us at this moment, then we are reaching out to sponsors who we actively work with, but may not be active at this moment. I am fortunate to have a veteran group who average 17 years on the team. They know what to do and have been a tremendous help with handling all our sponsor needs.”

Chadd Scott, who programs 1010XL in Jacksonville told me his sales manager has been proactive with the sales staff, reminding them that there is still content on the station advertisers would be happy with.

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“Seeing as how this news is so fresh, there’s still plenty to talk about. I did send an email today to all programming staff letting them know that I did not want to hear anyone saying on air anything along the lines of ‘there’s nothing to talk about.’ During my weekly meetings with all talk shows next week I’ll begin to discuss with everyone ideas for creating content that is not reliant on games or daily news.”

“Our guys are very talented and creative. They’re entertainers. More importantly, they are serious guys that live in the community, and care about the community,” Don Martin of Fox Sports Radio and AM 570 LA told me. “They will give you the facts, and then entertain you. We’re not going to go back and do something on last year’s greatest game. Why do that? Stay in the moment!”

Whether content is there or not though, Don isn’t blind to reality. Business owners are scared. Many of them are re-evaluating budgets and what costs are and aren’t necessary right now. That’s why Don advocates for being honest and putting the client’s needs at the forefront right now.

“They are our partners, and we have to take care of each other. You hear them out, they are afraid. Together you come up with a plan to help them keep business moving forward. These are uncharted waters. Create together and help service the community that they’re in. People still need goods and services. It’s our job to convey that to our listeners.”

Sam Pines, the Vice President of Good Karma Brands’ ESPN Cleveland, is having his staff reach out via video conference to as many clients as possible. The company isn’t changing the consultative process. Pines just wants to make sure his clients have the right messaging for the moment. That is the way he is having his staff approach both small businesses and large agency clients.

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“I don’t see a reason to have a difference in approach. Our team should be building deep relationships whether the advertising partner is a huge national agency or a small business owner who measures their revenue in thousands. We should always be listening first, understanding their needs, challenges, and business objectives, and then strategizing a way we can help them reach and exceed their goals – that process should never change.”

Finally, I spoke with David DuBose of Townsquare Media in Tuscaloosa, AL. He posted an open letter to his clients with advice on what they should be doing right now when it comes to advertising. He noted that this is a potential opportunity for some businesses, pointing to past clients that grew their market share after the 2008 financial crisis by keeping their messaging consistent while competitors abandoned advertising entirely.

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“We have had a few cancellations for event related marketing, but not a significant number,” David told me in an email.

“Our sports listeners are loyal,” he says of the cluster’s sports station Tide 100.9. “We are using the talk format for live interviews with the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce President, Live press conferences, and pertinent information.”

There is no right way to go about servicing clients right now. There might be a blueprint in how our industry dealt with advertisers after the 2008 financial crisis or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but this isn’t a singular event. What we are dealing with right now is a continuing disruption to daily life in America, and who knows when that ends?

Good sales reps always put the client first. They think about the needs of the people that are their customers. Keeping their business is an understandable goal, but it is only an attainable one if you start from a place of empathy. What are they going through in their business? Can advertising or new, relevant messaging make a realistic difference?

Right now, sales staffs are trying to save business, but they are also planting the seeds for future business. Any money lost right now will only return if those businesses remember that you prioritized them and treated them as a partner in a time of hardship.

BSM Writers

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.”

Demetri Ravanos




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.”

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BSM Writers

Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?

The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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.

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Barrett Media Writers

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