There was a time when walking to the ballpark meant seeing tailgaters, team stores and beer vendors. There were smells, sounds, sights and everything else that made walking to the ballpark such a special event. That’s not exactly what fans are experiencing this season as people flood back into ballparks, but it already far more resembles what we’re used to. Granted, you may be just as likely to see people getting COVID vaccines outside the ballpark than a group of guys playing catch and chugging beers, but seeing baseball revert back to a sense of normalcy has been incredibly therapeutic for many across the country.
This year is almost a perfect blend of what we remember and what has become normal. Yes, we’re finally allowed to get back in the stadium and enjoy games, but at the same time, everything around you reminds you of the unprecedented time we’re still in.
“Right now, our site is a FEMA site for giving vaccine shots,” said Chris Townsend, host of A’s Cast Live. “The federal government is here at The Colosseum on one side of the parking lot getting vaccine shots. They give over 6,000 shots a day. No parking on the south side of the stadium, I’m outside right now looking at it, and you have people in hazmat suits. It’s really impressive the amount of vaccine shots they’re doing on a daily basis.”
Brad Thompson, host of the Fast Lane at 101 ESPN in St.Louis and Bally Sports Midwest is back in the booth at Busch Stadium. However, for road games, he’s in the studio. It’s a challenge, because you have to train yourself to watch games from two completely different viewpoints, yet still be able to give the same energy and analysis while in the studio as you do live from the ballpark.
“It’s different and can be difficult in the studio,” said Thompson. “I keep trying to remind myself that the people that are watching at home don’t care where you’re at, they just want you to do as good of a job as you possibly can. As much as you try to tell the story of what’s going on, and it happened on Opening Day, we had a couple of plays that were cut a little bit differently. You just try your best to figure out that aspect and continue to bring the energy either way. The hardest part is seeing, even though there’s a camera that shows the all-nine, where you can see where all the players are, it’s not like watching a game on the field and seeing it develop requires reps.”
It’s different, but it’s so much better than the alternative. That’s true for everyone who’s involved. But there were probably some broadcasters that were nervous about returning to the ballpark, after some took an entire year off. Although there may have been hesitation by some, it seems that’s been replaced with enthusiasm and excitement.
“Oh my God it’s so refreshing,” said Townsend. “Where we are in the Bay Area, we were on such a lock down that our governor made our organization give a list of how many people can be in the ballpark. My boss actually asked me, he said, can you do all the games from home? I said yes I can treat it like a road game. My crew never entered the stadium last year. I was at my house, my producer was at his apartment and we put our engineer at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors used to play. Getting back to the ballpark was really one of the highlights of my career.”
“We did the same exact setup last year,” said Thompson. “It was eerie being in a ballpark with no fans and seeing the back of cardboard cutouts the whole time. The idea of being back in the ballpark, for me personally, is super exciting, because a lot of the energy you have to create within the studio, you don’t have to create, because it’s right there in front of you with the fans. For me, there’s no worry about going back. it’s all exciting.”
Major League Baseball has found itself in uncharted waters as it tries to navigate through two key issues this season. One, the ongoing attempt to grow the brand nationally back to what it once was. Two, navigating political storylines after the league took the All-Star Game out of Atlanta last week.
It’s tough to say which one will be the MLB’s biggest priority, but the league has to figure out a way to tinker its product to become more appealing to sports fans across the country.
“I think action is the No. 1 thing,” said Eric Byrnes of No Filter Network. “What I’m talking about is putting the ball in play. I think athleticism in the game today is at an all time high, but so are walks and strikeouts. To get the athleticism on display, we need to put the ball in play. One of the things discussed in moving the mound back,but if anything, before doing that, I would consider lowering the mound.”
“The biggest one is more action,” said Thompson. “You know, it used to be special when a guy struck out a team 15 times. Now, it means it’s probably just a Tuesday. The average in 2019 was four minutes in between baseballs put in play. That’s not aesthetically pleasing. If we can just figure out a way to create more action I think that would help. The frustrating thing is athletes now are bigger, faster, stronger and better than they’ve ever been before. Unfortunately we don’t get a chance to see the athleticism because of how good the pitchers have gotten and how we really don’t care about the strikeout. We just want to see power.”
“Baseball has one major problem and it’s the timing of the game,” said Townsend. “If you go and look at Opening Day, 11 out of the 13 games went over three hours and three of them went over four hours. The average game time last year was three hours and four minutes. If you’re trying to build a future fan base, you can’t be playing 3 and a half to four hour games. It just doesn’t work. This is the major crisis for Major League Baseball right now.”
Maybe the answer is a trend to more of what Townsend is doing with A’s Cast Live, which is a 24-hour streaming station on iHeartRadio, where the games are aired. Right now it’s the only thing of it’s kind in baseball. If this is the future for baseball, the MLB needs to know how to push the product to more fans across the country.
Politics and sports intertwining here to stay. Now that baseball has gotten into the mix, it will be one of the major storylines this year, just like it was in the NFL and NBA. Regardless of your stance on the MLB moving the All-Star Game, this will be an interesting summer to see how much, if at all, it affects ratings and attendance.
“I still think it’s going to be a bigger storyline than it would have been had they kept it in Atlanta,” said Byrnes. “As a baseball fan I prefer to have a separation between sports and politics. There’s channels I can go to if I want to have political discussions or listen in on debates. I’m not asking baseball to be ignorant of what’s going on and I have no problem if they want to make their opinion known, but I think sometimes it’s better to not go public with your opinion, for fear of alienating your fanbase. I don’t care what side of the aisle you stand on the issue, but I think the NFL and NBA would both tell you that it has hurt them.”
“Players utilizing the platform, they should do that,” said Thompson. ”I am in full support of that. From the baseball standpoint, I like to be able to watch baseball and that’s the focus. But I also understand that people have things they are passionate about. The two worlds are going to collide but the hope is that the game is so good it takes the attention away.”
Amidst all that, there’s good news. Not just that baseball is back, but also because teams are shooting for full capacity crowds by the end of the season. Even with all the political drama, baseball has a chance to be the first sport to showcase with full stands that the world is back to normal
“The big thing for us in California is how we keep switching tiers and more and more people are allowed to get back into the ballpark,” said Townsend. “As the season goes and vaccines go, we’re hoping to get to full capacity at some point.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.