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What Do Fans Miss When Media Doesn’t Have Access?

“Not having a face-to-face aspect changes a lot, because you’re forced to hear most of the stuff secondhand, and this job you want to hear it yourself so you can create your own narratives, opinions and perceptions off of it.”

Tyler McComas

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Covering a team has never been more difficult than it is in 2020. Several factors have contributed to that, but none bigger than the lack of face-to-face communication for play-by-play broadcasters, radio hosts and reporters. With Covid protocols forcing all media sessions to be conducted via Zoom, it’s changed the way media has been able to get information from players and coaches.

ESPN broadcasting Sixers Press Conference from The Bubble on their ESPN App  using Zoom lol : sixers

Sure, press conferences via Zoom still give the opportunity to get quotes and sound bites, but losing the face-to-face aspect, as well as the all important one-on-one opportunities after games and practices, costs reporters and hosts the opportunity to have, amongst other things,  intimate conversations that help develop a personal relationship with a current player or coach. 

Instead of well-documented feature stories on athletes or comments from players and coaches that really let fans inside their personalties, we’re left with mostly meat and potatoes content that rarely strays away from the nuts and bolts of a game or practice.

Without the face-to-face interaction, it’s probably fair to say that reporters such as James Rapien of Sports Illustrated and the Locked On Network aren’t getting the same content they’re accustomed to. 

“In a one-on-one setting it’s much different and I haven’t had one this year since May,” Rapien, who covers the Cincinnati Bengals, said. “You can joke around beyond football stuff and talk to them about their family, things like that, which, you can’t do a press conference environment anyway and that’s really what the Zoom calls are. It’s more of a news conference where you have eight different writers, 12 different TV reporters and a bunch of people that need certain clips about football. A lot of the small talk and jokes that humanize the players, and even the media, which, you use to try to gain the trust of the player, who you don’t know yet, that’s kind of gone, which certainly makes it challenging.”

Being the play-by-play announcer for a team, normally means there’s ample time to get any face-to-face interaction you need. There’s traveling with the team, staying with the team on the road and the usual prvivlege of being able to attend practices that most media can’t. But that’s changed this season and even the most trusted employees of the team are left searching for alternate ways to get the information they need. 

“Access is relative,” said Paul Allen, Minnesota Vikings play-by-play voice. “I make my own access. They’ve been nice enough throughout the years to let me watch practice and I’ll even be in the head coach’s office. Mike Zimmer and I are friends, as much as we are co-workers, so a lot of that has been eliminated but I still have ways to get the information I need.

“I think the nuance of the non-obvious is probably lacking. Given that I’m an announcer, a race track announcer and I do radio show, I’m not media. They know they can trust me. If I’m chatting with coaches before or after practice, or players before and after practice, I get a lot of the nuance and the non-obvious that’s coming up in the games. I think some of that is probably lacking, not being around the coaches and players as much as I’m used to.” 

Opponent Overview: Vikings' Paul Allen

Ari Temkin is a host on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network. Normally, he’s used to being at The Star, the Cowboys training facility, and getting the access he needs for both pregame and postgame shows. Instead, he’s relegated to the same conference calls as everyone else in the Dallas media. That’s obviously a disadvantage, seeing as he’s probably able to bring more unique content to his show with the normal access he has. 

“This year, the Cowboys have really limited  the amount of media access,” Temkin said. “Having just one representative per media outlet, it’s been difficult to get any access. Not having a face-to-face aspect changes a lot, because you’re forced to hear most of the stuff secondhand, and this job you want to hear it yourself so you can create your own narratives, opinions and perceptions off of it. 

I covered the Spurs in San Antonio for years and when my first son was born, I didn’t go to very many games, because it was hard to leave my wife at home alone with a kid. I realized I could still watch the games and hear the press conferences online, but it’s just incredible to see the difference in being there in person, because it matters. You can see things such as how players interact with each other on the bench, how players interact with the coach, things they do during timeouts, these are all things that you can’t pick up on television. You have to be at the games to see it. That’s partial to the face-to-face interaction with these guys. I saw, just by taking a year off and not covering the Spurs in person, just how much of a difference it makes.”

Craig Way, the voice of the Texas Longhorns, hasn’t seen his normal access change as much as others, but there’s still big differences to his normal routine. 

“It’s been a little bit different for me in terms of the access to the players, certainly,” Way said. “That’s probably been the biggest change more than anything. But I do a show with Coach Tom Herman each week, we’re distant and we even have plexiglass in between us, things like that. We record our pregame interview from a distance, as well. We’re still able to function the way we normally do,which is a little more logistically challenging. My meetings with the coordinators, in the past, they’ve been in person, but they’re now in separate meeting spots by Zoom. We still have our conversations and things of that nature so that part of it has been good.”

The truth of the matter is that nobody is at fault for the current situation. Sports information directors have to keep the safety of the players and coaches at the forefront at all times and the media has to respect protocol, as well as their own safety, and work around the guidelines given to them. It’s obviously not ideal for anyone, but it does point out how critical face-to-face interaction is at all level of media. 

Tom Herman Interview with Craig Way [April 7, 2020] - YouTube

Let’s just hope that privilege returns back to normal soon. 

“There was this idea that reporters shouldn’t ever be in the locker room, even pre-Covid,” said Rapien. “I think that’s a joke. Our jobs are much more different now than they were a year ago or eight months ago.”

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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