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How Do You Handle The City’s Savior Suddenly Being Done?

“The show on Monday after Lamelo’s injury was announced was a somber one.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Gut wrenching is a phrase we use around injuries in sports. It is an apt description for the broken bones suffered by Paul George in 2014 at Team USA trials and Louisville’s Kevin Ware a year earlier during the NCAA Tournament. Those kind of injuries are gut wrenching for obvious reasons. Thinking about them or looking at them is physically hard.

Kevin Ware's Awful Break: How Could It Happen? | TIME.com

Then there are the injuries that are gut wrenching because of the implications for you as a host. Two markets have experienced a very particular subset of these injuries within the last 12 months.

It is the injury to a rookie player deemed the future of the franchise, the savior for fans of the home team. During football season, Cincinnati lost Joe Burrow and just recently, Charlotte has lost LaMelo Ball. Their careers aren’t over, but promising rookie seasons are and that can be painful for hosts in a market.

Mo Egger hosts the afternoon drive show on ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati. He says that to understand the disappointment around Burrow’s rookie season being cut short, you first have to understand what having the first pick in the draft, with the opportunity to select a local kid with that kind of resume did for Bengals fans.

“The Bengals were not only getting the best player in college football, but the most famous, and after years of wrestling with whether or not Andy Dalton could ever take his game to another level, fans got a chance to imagine limitless possibilities for their quarterback,” Egger says. “It also helped immensely that Burrow is a guy who drips confidence, something that isn’t insignificant for beaten-down Bengals fans used to expecting the worst.”

He says that the national narrative about Burrow being compared to the national narrative about the Bengals helped rally fans too. Before national writers started writing about how unfortunate it was that Burrow would have to play for the sad sack Cincinnati franchise, Egger says he had forgotten what passion for the team looked like.

“Given that it was obvious since before the 2019 season ended that the Bengals were taking Burrow with the top pick in the draft, I wasn’t entirely sure what topics were going to present themselves, but it was refreshing to hear fans come to the defense of the Bengals and aim their ire at commentators who, in their eyes, seemed to almost be rooting for Burrow to end up somewhere else.”

LaMelo Ball was received a little differently by fans of the Charlotte Hornets. Chris McClain hosts the morning show at WFNZ in the city. He says that the idea of Mello as a franchise savior didn’t click right away with fans. That’s fine by him though, because it meant more callers to his show.

What makes The Mac Attack unique in Charlotte morning radio? | Charlotte  Observer

“The early season buzz on LaMelo was good for talk radio because he was so polarizing.  Many fans thought it was a great pick but tons were real skeptical because of his dad and his brothers and because of the talk about his struggles as a shooter.  But it didnt take LaMelo long to win the whole city of Charlotte over.”

Sure, it didn’t take long. Handling and distributing the ball at age 19 like a perennial all-star has a way of getting people on your side. Averaging nearly 16 and 6 per night while watching your minutes per game slowly tick up has a way of turning doubters into fans.

Charlotte basketball fans have suffered. Throughout history, there have been a number of times commentators and analysts have pointed to the Hornets as “a team with a lot of promise”. Very rarely were they a real contender though. Melo changed that attitude. McClain says that he had people believing that the franchise had stumbled upon its first true superstar since the days of Grandmama. That is why the Monday morning after Ball and the Hornets announced his rookie season was over felt like a funeral.

“The show on Monday after Lamelo’s injury was announced was a somber one,” McClain said. “He has filled Queen City sports fans with so much hope that it really stunk to feel some of that hope, at least for this year, leaving the fanbase.  Plus, many fans have purchased tickets to games later this year and were excited to see him play and now realize they wont get that chance until next season.  Real bummer.”

For Charlotte fans, it was a fractured wrist that stole their superstar. In the other Queen City, when Joe Burrow was carted off the field with a torn ACL in Week 11, despair was mixed with anger. Egger says fans were pretty clear that this was their primary concern when the team drafted Burrow without upgrading the offensive line.

“They blamed the Bengals for cycling through offensive line coaches, for giving a pay raise to a shoddy right tackle, and for whiffing on some many draft picks on the offensive line. These were all reasonable criticisms, but when you add to it the seemingly cursed history of not only the Bengals, but of pretty much every Cincinnati sports entity, there was anger meshed with a ‘here we go again’ sense that Burrow’s injury was proof that we simply cannot and will not ever have nice things. When an unfortunate moment in the present ignites a flood of very bad memories, the reaction is not good, and it sure wasn’t that day.”

That can be the danger in losing a rookie season to injury. Fans can have newfound vigor squelched. Conversations hosts haven’t been able to have in years can so quickly turn into the familiar drumbeat of the universe being lined up against your team.

If you’re in a place like Cincinnati, dealing with a fan base like the Bengals’, Egger says it can be easy to wonder if that passion will ever bounce back to where it was the moment before it became clear that Joe Burrow wasn’t getting up.

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“With Bengals fans, there’s always trepidation,” he says. “The franchise’s history is not a winning one, there have no playoff wins since January of 1991, and while I think the team’s ownership does at times take some unfair shots from people who are a little too quick to blame the family that runs the team for every single thing that goes wrong, there is a massive amount of mistrust when it comes to how fans view the way the team is run.”

He says that there is something different about Joe Burrow though. Fans seem a little more willing to believe that this is the only guy that can change a pattern that has become far too familiar in the fall. That is probably good for Mo’s ratings and the team’s ticket sales, but he says it comes with a sense of dread.

“Burrow’s arrival has created a ‘if not now, then when’ vibe among most fans I hear from. If they can’t win with a really promising quarterback working under a rookie contract, then when will this franchise every breakthrough and win something meaningful? Add to all of that the fact that the team’s lease in its current stadium is up in 2026, and there is a very real sense that Burrow is quite literally here to save the Cincinnati Bengals, but along with that comes uncomfortable speculation about what will happen to the franchise if Burrow is either incapable of rescuing the team from the depths of the NFL, or more likely, never fully equipped to do so by the people running the franchise he was brought here to save.”

That can be an interesting topic that keeps people tuned in for sure, but can Mo Egger really find a way to keep people interested in a conversation so filled with doom and gloom for what? Five years? Especially if listeners are dealing with anger for letting another talented prospect flop?

McClain has a different outlook. He wants his listeners to know that even without LaMelo Ball, there are reasons to pay attention to and talk about the Hornets.

“I do worry a bit that the Hornets excitement wont be the same this year without LaMelo, but they did win their first game without him and that seemed to remind us that this team is more than just one uber talented 19 year old,” he told me. “If they find a way to make a playoff push without him, I do think fans will stay engaged.  And, I know this, the long term hope in this fanbase is the most substantial I have seen in this town and I have been here since the Bobcats arrived in 2004.  LaMelo and the personnel moves of Mitch Kupchak have us believing.”

Obviously, it sucks to see a guy’s first professional season come to such an unceremonious end. When you’re on air, there is a fine line to walk. How do you reflect the fans’ frustrations while also convincing them that there are still reasons to pay attention and keep tuning into your show?

Selling optimism can get you part of the way there. Mac is right. If the Hornets do make the playoffs this year, that is reason for Charlotte fans to say that things are improving and being interested to hear what WFNZ has to say about the team.

Do The Charlotte Hornets Have A Surprisingly Bright Future?

You also need to be real and vulnerable and let the fans know you feel the same way they do. You also wonder what the hell this means for the next how ever many years. Remember, misery loves company. But also remember that company can get bored quick if misery is all you have to offer.

BSM Writers

The Chiefs & Eagles Have Super Bowl Game Plans, How About You?

“The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either.”

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When it comes to preparation, I usually hold off. I’m a procrastinator’s procrastinator. It sounds better if I say; “I’m driven by deadlines,” but the truth is, I just generally put things off until they absolutely have to be checked off the list. If your goal as a producer is to have a great post-Super Bowl show, don’t be me, you best start working now.

There are many things that complicate booking guests for a Super Bowl reaction show. The obvious is that you have no idea who is winning the game. But, beyond that, you have no way of predicting what will be the biggest story coming out of the game. It could be anything from overtime to a blowout, halftime show debacle, officiating blunder, or even a surprise retirement announcement.

With that in mind, there are some strategies for targeting guests. With these, though, working ahead is paramount. Most anyone that is going to have enough insight to improve your show will be slammed in the hours following the end of the game.

Strategy 1: The Game Participant

This is a big risk, big reward strategy. It is also one that is only available to a select group of shows. If your show is nationally syndicated, in a very large market, or home market for one of the teams, you have a shot here. If not, the odds are not in your favor. The team’s media departments are as busy as anyone during a Super Bowl run. They aren’t likely to help a show they’ve never dealt with during that whirlwind of action.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who worked as the media relations director for a mid-major basketball team that sprung a huge round two upset and advanced to the Sweet 16. Needless to say, he was swamped overnight with interview requests for his coach. He told me every station led with “ESPN Radio” then mumbled the part about being in Puyallup, Washington. It never hurts to ask, but understand it is a long shot.

Strategy Two: Local Player Not In The Game

This can be a really solid idea for both previewing the Super Bowl and the Monday after the game. If you are in a local NFL market, or if a local college or high school star is in the NFL, consider him as an analyst. Who better knows what happens in an NFL game than an NFL player? Bonus points if he has been a Super Bowl participant in the past.

Don’t underestimate how many NFL players are thinking about life after football. One of the dozens of roles as NFL analyst at a major network is an excellent retirement plan. You don’t have to have a Hall of Fame jacket for those gigs, but you do need to be good on air. You might be surprised by how many players will agree to an interview with that in mind.

Strategy Three: The Trusted Analyst

Every network has all their biggest voices either In Phoenix or in the studio for the game. These are people that know the interview game and have plenty of experience. This strategy comes with some obvious hurdles; it turns out the networks paying the analysts to be on site keep them rather busy. While they might have been happy to join your show the Monday after Week Three, this is a different animal.

One other factor you should consider in this strategy is the fact that Sky Harbor airport will be one of the busiest in the world Monday morning. Many of the analysts will be scrambling home to start their off season as well. If your analyst is on the move, travel delays can wreck your whole plan.

Strategy Four: The Pop Culture Angle

Oftentimes the biggest talking point coming out of the game is one of the things happening outside the actual play on the field. If you watch Super Bowl Twitter, the biggest traffic moments are people joking about a slow starting Star Spangled Banner “hitting the over” or how bad the halftime show is. Regardless of the act, it has become the default position that the halftime show is awful, even when we all think they are pretty good. 50 Cent hanging upside down will forever be a meme.

Commercials are going to be a massive talking point after a game, especially if the game doesn’t quite deliver. Who is the voice that can talk to your audience about everything from Rihanna to a Taco Bell commercial? There is the inherent risk of alienating the “talk more sports” guy with this type of guest so, as you should with any guest, make certain they are entertaining.

The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either. Communication between hosts and producers is critical. Have a plan, work ahead and be on the same page.

Most of all, try to enjoy the game – and take the Chiefs and the points.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Burying ‘Outside the Lines’ Shows Little Regard for Respected Brand

Continuing to use the ‘OTL’ brand is likely a nod to the great work of Bob Ley, Ryan Smith, and Jeremy Schaap.

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With the end of college football season and the Super Bowl marking the conclusion of the NFL season, ESPN has air time to fill on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the next six months. In past years, that opened up a window for the network to bring back its prestige news magazine program, Outside the Lines.

However, late last week, Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported that ESPN has decided not to bring back the standalone OTL show. The program most recently aired Saturday mornings during football’s offseason, typically from mid-February through August. That timeslot essentially buried a show that was once an important part of ESPN’s Sunday morning programming.

Outside the Lines provided substantive, in-depth sports features, interviews, and discussions on Sunday mornings, when viewers were conditioned to expect important dialogue and commentary with weekly public affairs programs and political talk shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation.

Originally anchored by Bob Ley, OTL was a departure from the highlights, analysis, and quips that made up most of the network’s programming. This was ESPN doing journalism with a capital “J,” reporting and investigating longer-form stories on pertinent issues in sports, usually off the field, and examining trends that developed through a news cycle.

Eventually, the number of stories the OTL staff worked on — and presumably, the appetite for such content from ESPN viewers — necessitated expanding the show to a daily schedule airing in mid-afternoons. After Ley retired in 2019, Ryan Smith and Jeremy Schaap hosted the show and continued its deeper look into topical sports stories.

Producing for a daily schedule probably spread the show too thin, however. Finding important stories that warranted the stronger coverage promised by the OTL brand became difficult, forcing the show to include panel discussions that resembled the sort of debate programming seen throughout the day on ESPN. As a result, OTL content was whittled down and integrated into the noon edition of SportsCenter each day.

OTL also suffered amid the inherent conflict at ESPN from having a news-gathering, journalistic operation while entering partnerships with the sports leagues it was covering. Hard-hitting reports on domestic violence issues in the NFL, particularly in light of the Ray Rice assault scandal, and player safety concerns with the rise in traumatic brain injuries gave the network’s producers and reporters credibility. But such stories also rankled league officials and team owners who sought more positive promotion for their sport.

ESPN would surely balk at the idea that it throttled back on in-depth reporting and scrutinization. But the network’s relationship with the NFL is obviously better than it once was, best demonstrated by getting better match-ups on the Monday Night Football schedule, Wild Card playoff games, and Super Bowl telecasts for ESPN/ABC in 2027 and 2031. Meanwhile, Outside the Lines has been effectively buried among ESPN programming.

Yet ratings ultimately decide what stays on a broadcast schedule and what doesn’t. And OTL hasn’t drawn a good number of viewers in quite some time. Some of that is likely influenced by an early Saturday morning timeslot that drew an average audience of 303,000. But SportsCenter AM attracts 572,000 viewers in the same timeslot, so it’s apparent that fans want quicker, breezier content as they begin the weekend.

Outside the Lines simply may not stand apart in the current sports media landscape, either. Longer-form storytelling and reporting are often found in documentaries now, and we’re living in the golden age of sports nonfiction films. That includes ESPN’s own documentary brands E:60, 30 For 30, and ESPN Films. (E:60, in particular, seems to have replaced news magazine programming or special reports, which were once reserved for monthly specials early in OTL‘s life, at ESPN.)

Shuttering the Saturday OTL fortunately won’t result in anyone losing a job. According to SBJ‘s Ourand, some staffers will be reassigned to other studio programs. And others will continue to work on OTL-branded content that runs on SportsCenter throughout the day, not just at noon, under the “OTL on SC” banner. Additionally, OTL content will run on ESPN’s digital platforms such as the network’s YouTube channel. So the show will go on… sort of.

ESPN obviously values the OTL brand and realizes that it carries respect among fans and media. (The show also penetrated pop culture enough to warrant a parody on Saturday Night Live.) Otherwise, the network might shelve the title entirely. Yet perhaps that’s really a nod to the work of Ley, an ESPN institution, and Schaap, one of the network’s best reporters (with ties to sports media royalty in Dick Schaap).

That may be Outside the Lines‘ true legacy. Ley created a brand (continued by Smith and Schaap) taken seriously enough that viewers knew it meant bolder sports journalism unafraid to explore stories and questions that warranted such attention. The OTL name carries enough weight that ESPN can’t bear to get rid of it entirely, even if it doesn’t hold the place at the network that it once did.

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BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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