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Cost Cutting Will Cost MLB Coverage Its Soul

“This sport’s history is a source of great pride for its consumers.”

Seth Everett

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Baseball Bet

Major League Baseball recently offered long-term employees over the age of 50 a generous buyout package to leave the league and enjoy an early retirement or move on to another career. While any company is well within its rights to do so, the departures have left baseball missing part of its soul.

The Covid-19 pandemic hurt all sports hard, and sports media outlets as well. Still, it is exhausting to hear MLB talk about their losses. Most of the names I knew left MLB Advanced Media after iconic roles with the company. Others were involved in intricate programming that made up the now-defunct MLB Productions, which was morphed into MLB Network before the 2015 season.

When longtime columnist Richard Justice announced that he was departing, it made the rounds in both media and social media. Justice was an executive columnist for MLB for nine years after a long career at the Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Baltimore Sun, and Washington Post.

Justice alone is newsworthy, but in the days that followed a host of other longtime reporters announced the same thing.

Ken Gurnick, who covered the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1982, and was will MLB since the inception of MLB.COM in 2001. Greg Johns, a journalist with 41 years of experience, his last 10 covering the Mariners for MLB. T.R. Sullivan covered the Texas Rangers for 32 years beginning with the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram before moving to MLB.com. Joe Frisaro covered the Miami Marlins since 2002 for MLB.COM. 

There are dozens of other employees and the purpose of this column was not to simply list them all.  They ranged from producers to IT experts to journalists and much more. They make up part of the soul of baseball.

Upon speaking with a handful of the many people who took the buyout, none of them could speak to me about it as per the conditions of their departure.

“You have a belt-tightening commissioner,” one former MLB executive told me. This person was not part of the 2020 buyout.

“The league needed to dump bodies.  Whatever the reason, older bodies are too expensive. This was a way to avoid layoffs. It’s kind of classy, but the heart and soul of the long-standing tradition are from people who are now going to now find new things. I think you’ll find these people resurfacing elsewhere.”

I worked for MLB Advanced Media from 2001 to 2008. Then, the outlet was struggling to be taken seriously as a journalistic outlet. These writers were instrumental in telling the stories of a sport desperate for good storytelling.

Over the years, MLBAM as it was known, became a tech empire that the league drew profits from.  When I heard owners commenting about the financial losses that the pandemic was impacting, I wanted to reply by asking about the incredible profits from the 2019 season, 2018, 2017, 2016…. How far should we go back?

The games will go on without them, but part of what drew me to work there and cover that sport was the personalities that made up the game. Under former Commissioner Bud Selig, this sport thrived. Sure, there was a fair share of controversies, and I attended two congressional hearings about steroids in the iconic building that was attacked last week horrifically.  Selig was far from a perfect commissioner, but he was a great boss. During his tenure, the league attendance set their all-time high record in 2005.  That record, will not be broken anytime soon.

Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said during the 2020 World Series that holding the pandemic-stricken 2020 season cost the sport approximately $8 billion. Any business showing those kinds of losses would be expected to find cost-cutting. 

To be clear, none of these writers were forced to take the buyout. However, offering it at such a young age of 50 (yes, 50 is young!  I’m 46), invites too many talented people to leave when the sport needs the storytellers the most.

For MLB to make this offer, it shows that they do not value the journalism experience. My perception is that this league is more into clicks and tweets than articles and history.

While that might work for other companies in this digital age, that’s not what baseball is about. This sport’s history is a source of great pride for its consumers.

“While this is not good for baseball losing people who have countless years of experience,” one former Wall Street executive told me. “The people who are taking the buyout will look back and understand the economics behind why MLB offered it in the first place.”

The possibility of layoffs still exists in the league offices.

I’ve said on many radio shows.  A station could play a sound bite from Mike Trout to open a segment and give a free station t-shirt to the first listener who could identify him by voice.  Yet, anyone reading this column could recognize the voice of Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, or even Barry Bonds.

Attendance in baseball is on a 15-year downturn. Leaving 2020 out of the conversation (no fans were allowed due to Covid-19 until the playoffs and World Series), MLB attendance is down 1.62% in 2019, following a 4% drop the season before.  When I worked at MLB, we did shows on the attendance records between 2004 and 2007.  That feels like ancient history today.

The labor deal between the players and owners expires after the 2021 season. There have been conflicting reports about the financial viability of playing another season without fans, yet the players are insisting it all starts on time.

The two sides are so diametrically opposed to each other. The sport is evolving with the advent of launch-angle, and pitcher “openers” as opposed to “starters.” The union wants to preserve the old way players were paid.

I was against the 2020 season. I thought the league could have canceled the campaign and used Covid as the reason. Then, Manfred and MLBPA head Tony Clark should meet somewhere and quarantine for 7, 10, or 14 days. Then, don’t come out of a room until they have a new labor deal.

People would have been upset at the idea of no baseball last year. That won’t even come close to the vitriol that sport will see from fans if a vaccine is here and life is returning to normal, and there is no baseball then because of a strike or a lockout.

To the MLB employees that took the buyout. Congratulations. You are in a good position to do some great work in the next step of your individual careers. Or, enjoy a much-deserved retirement.  Your departure is baseball’s loss, not your own.

Still, MLB Network will continue to produce content. MLB.com will have a reporter to cover every team. Without the new “50+” group of former MLB employees, it simply can’t be as good. It won’t have the soul that it is greatly missing.

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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