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Sports Still Filled With Glory, Eyeballs and…More $$$

“The broadcast networks remain bullish on the future of sports, even in a pandemic, which has motivated leagues to play seasons and forge exciting, historic moments despite ever-present health risks.”

Jay Mariotti

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We’ve had our first confetti sightings, blizzards swirling in the faces of LeBron James and the Lakers as “I Love L.A.’’ echoed through a Florida bio-tank. “I guess, as Frank Sinatra would say, I did it my way,’’ said James, before grabbing partner-in-title-crime Anthony Davis for last call at the Disney World lakefront bar, knowing a seventh failure in the NBA Finals wouldn’t be legacy-friendly.

The NFL continues to produce dazzling quarterbacking performances, propane offenses and to-the-wire games that rouse diehards, gamblers and casual folk, with Josh Allen and the Bills Mafia creeping in on the ongoing Russell Wilson/Patrick Mahomes/Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady/Cam Newton debates. Aaron Rodgers has returned to his wondrous self, too, kicked in the ass by Matt LaFleur. The Stanley Cup finals remind us why overtime hockey is a delightful mind-glaze, even inside an igloo with seats covered by tarps. Crazy Mike Leach marched into Baton Rouge, made fun of how the dorms in the stadium have been replaced by suites, then had fun by upsetting LSU, the team whose coach thinks all his players have achieved herd immunity. Ed Orgeron might want to work on herd pass defense after allowing 623 passing yards and five touchdown passes to Mississippi State’s Air Raid.

“It’s better than average, I’ll tell you that,” Leach said after reducing the defending national champions to kitty meat. “We played LSU because New England, Green Bay and the Chiefs had somebody scheduled. So we played these guys.’’

That wasn’t even the biggest story in Covid-infested college football, where a team ravaged by the coronavirus (Kansas State) beat a behemoth that isn’t truthful about which players have it (Oklahoma). “Knock on wood, because who knows who’s gonna be available next week, you know?’’ said winning coach Chris Klieman, in a keeper quote for 2020. “And that’s kind of what everybody has to realize on our team and across college football. I hate to say that, but that’s unfortunately the reality we’re living in.’’

Oh, and through it all, as 23 states report rising Covid numbers in a land paralyzed and frightened about its future, Turner Sports decided for some brain-cramped reason — does someone have naughty pictures? — to pump $3.74 billion into Major League Baseball for seven seasons starting in 2022, even if a troubled sport is shuttered at that point by a labor impasse. This as Fox Corp. decided to leak, though the media weren’t inquiring, that it will pay the NFL up to $2 billion a year to keep its NFC-heavy Sunday package. Think the NBA, concerned about a future that might not include in-arena revenues that constitute 40 percent of the league’s business, isn’t excited to see these heady developments?

“The NFL has asked, I think, all the broadcasters to think about every package, and to think how would we monetize packages that we currently have or other packages differently,” Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said in a call with investors. “So, we’re looking at all sorts of options.”

In.

A.

Pandemic.

Remember the scene in “I Am Legend’’ when the world stops? When Will Smith, survivor of an infection that turns humans into savage mutants and destroys most of the global population, stumbles through an apocalyptic Manhattan? Amid the rubble, the director should have made room for signs of life: namely, stadiums, ballparks and arenas. Because in our version of the sci-fi film, the demand for live sports by homebound America is bigger than anyone believed. That doesn’t mean the passion is the same, with many people simply trying to survive. Where I live, Los Angeles, I’m not seeing the gold t-shirts and purple car flags of Lakers championship runs past — though I suspect that will change the more James invokes Kobe Bryant. Point being, this stuff is being watched during an unprecedented 10-week run of championship events, which is why the only two entities thinking sensibly about Covid — the Big Ten and Pac-12 — flip-flopped and chose to attempt seasons. There was too much money to grab, you see, as President Trump badgered the Pac-12 in a tweet that smacked of passive-aggressive peer pressure. “You’re the only one now. Open up. Open up, Pac-12. Get going,’’ he wrote. “Said the same thing to Big Ten and they did, and now I’m saying it to Pac-12. You have time. Get going.’’

So, enabled by Trump, the Pac-12 also broke down. Only weeks earlier, University of Oregon president Michael Schill had expressed grave concern about Covid’s potential spread and aftereffects on athletes. Suddenly, advances in rapid testing made him and his brethren do the 180-degree Watusi? “Let me just say one thing it was not about,” Schill said. “This has nothing to do with money.’’ And the Oregon color scheme isn’t green, either.

If sports won’t achieve normalcy in this abnormal year, and maybe not for quite some time, it has stepped around the debris and somehow carried on. The attitude is business as usual even if athletes are infected by the virus, which runs counter to medical wisdom elsewhere in American life. If, say, anyone on the “Saturday Night Live’’ set tests positive for Covid when live shows start this weekend, executive producer Lorne Michaels will shut down all production and quarantine everyone for 14 days, including Alec Baldwin and Jim Carrey, meaning Trump and Joe Biden would be safe from humiliation for a chunk of October. When Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife tested positive, it was big news.

Yet when starting cornerback A.J. Terrell tested positive, the Atlanta Falcons simply placed him on the reserve/COVID-19 list. And they dutifully went on to host the Bears, with the NFL insisting that contact tracing and subsequent tests cleared all of Terrell’s teammates and coaches. I am having difficulty believing it — a week earlier, as the Washington Post reported, the NFL didn’t identify a player who was kept out of a game with Covid symptoms. As I’ve written and said often, the flouting of coronavirus transparency is beyond disturbing — do we really trust anything the pro leagues and college conferences tell us about test results? It’s a lost cause; because privacy laws protect the infected, sports isn’t required legally to be forthright. The leagues, supported by media partners that downplay Covid developments while hyping up the games, wish to create a soothing effect among the masses: “You know, we have this. We can play through any old virus. Keep watching and drive up our ratings.’’ The NFL, in particular, also wants its broadcast partners — and streaming interests — to be of a mindset that outrageous multi-billion-dollar rights bids are safe.

The league better beware. Whether it’s head coaches violating sideline protocols by refusing to wear masks or, as reported by ESPN, the Raiders allegedly allowing an unauthorized team employee in the locker room, too many people are playing loose and reckless with the virus. That’s a recipe for an outbreak — or two or five — in a sport with no social distancing on the field. Blame the NFL office, which continues to express no doubt that an entire season will be completed without a hitch and a champion will be crowned on Super Bowl Sunday.

Certainly, the games are delivering so far. The office hot takes, via Zoom these days: Brady is better off in Tampa Bay and Newton is a better idea in New England … Nick Foles rescues another team in Chicago … the Saints are out of sorts in possibly Drew Brees’ final season … who’s fired first, Adam Gase or Dan Quinn? … is Jimmy Garoppolo now expendable? …. always remember the Titans … why we should feel sorry for Joe Burrow … why DK Metcalf must grip the football until he reaches the end zone … the Eagles should be ashamed for punting with 19 seconds left in overtime and taking a tie instead of trying a 64-yard field goal … the Rams should stop whining about a late call when they benefited from one in Week 1 … and how about those chaotic, undisciplined, 1-2 Cowboys?

As for college football, can we page Dr. Fauci, Dr. Anthony Fauci? How many players — again, unpaid and taking long-term health risks — will be infected this season as the Power Five conferences are aligned again and playing in the spirit of money? Notice how many programs continue to play on as epidemiologists say prayers, knowing campuses will be raging Covid hotspots as long as students party and don’t wear masks? For every Notre Dame, which postponed its game against Wake Forest, you have 10 Kansas States that celebrate wins while infected players are vomiting somewhere. Virginia Tech was missing 23 players due to Covid, including the starting QB, yet played and beat North Carolina State. At least those people are being honest. Most are like Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who said he won’t release Covid particulars because he doesn’t want to give an advantage to opponents. How did that go, Lincoln? It’s typical of a sport that somehow will stage a lucrative four-team playoff despite uneven schedules that border on the absurd.

Ask baseball if it’s wise to be reckless or overconfident. Only now — with no new positive tests reported in September, assuming the data is legitimate — can MLB present actual playoff story lines after a shotgun regular season from Covid hell. Still, with 16 teams heading into a so-called Bubble that involves four rounds and as many as 65 games, don’t virus troubles still lurk? In this unusual October pecking order, baseball trails the NFL, an intriguing NBA Finals  — James vs. the Heat and the godfather he bolted, Pat Riley — and college football lunacy in general interest terms.

It would help if baseball rocked us with exciting drama, which will be difficult as games already longer than ever push toward four hours in the postseason. Yet two decades of industry erosion didn’t stop Turner from joining Fox, which has secured the World Series long-term, in making questionable investments. Networks pump money into baseball because it brings the consistent live inventory that attracts advertisers. Even if every cable cord is cut at some point, the streaming generation is why Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN will keep bringing wheelbarrows of money to the NFL table, and why Turner will gamble on baseball. I’d like to think the guarantee of freshly loaded coffers will cause the owners and union to calm down, find common negotiating ground and let us focus on the game, which this October will include: the Dodgers, trying to avoid another postseason fall, with Clayton Kershaw needing to be the G.O.A.T. this time and not the goat … the Padres, who will wake up the millennials and Gen-Zers with one Fernando Tatis Jr. swing and dance … the Rays, maybe best equipped to win it all despite a humble following and wretched ballpark … the Braves, who have a MVP candidate, Freddie Freeman, who thought he was on his death bed while fighting Covid in July … both Chicago teams, the Cubs and White Sox, who only could meet in a World Series during a pandemic in Arlington, Texas … the Astros, who give America a common villain … and Mike Trout, er, never mind, as the Angels continue to waste his career.

My rooting interest is the Marlins, not just because they’re the Marlins — what are they doing here? — but because they overcame baseball’s first Covid blitz. Is it possible Derek Jeter knows what he’s doing?

Notice how all of this commotion — multi-billion-dollar TV deals, LeBron pursuing more history, NFL thrillers, collegiate unpredictability, a hockey champion crowned — is happening with few or no fans in the stands. I miss the fans and never again will take for granted their energy and place in the in-game experience. Sports leagues will mumble something about missing the fans, too.

But they really don’t. Because sports, even when played in makeshift and otherwise empty studios, is still an entertainment spectacle worth watching … and bankrolling with multiple billions. Not long ago, America was obsessed with three topics: Covid, Black Lives Matter and Trump vs. Biden. Now, we at least can marvel at how Joe Montana and his wife stopped a female intruder from kidnapping their 9-month-old grandchild in their Malibu home. And we can thank the heavens that Mike Leach exists.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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