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What Do Fans Think A Sports Talk Host’s Job Is?

“When it comes to local media, fans expect to hear why their optimism isn’t unfounded or why following their team isn’t time wasted.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Last Friday, Seth Everett posted a column that I thought was a fair critique of where baseball is as a sport. He pointed out that the public seemingly only pays attention when the sport is in a PR mess, and lately, that seems to be happening a little too frequently.

Seth made points that are hard to argue with. The move from Atlanta to Denver for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game seems less about benefitting Denver and punishing Georgia than it does about making Major League Baseball feel good. The lack of balls in play is definitely a problem. Baseball may not be dying, but I, for one, can’t see how anyone can feel good about the sport right now. Later in the day, a tweet popped up on my timeline from my pal Brady Farkas.

Now, call me cold or an opportunist or unfair or whatever, but why does the media need to save baseball? Doesn’t it seem like that should be baseball’s job to figure how to change public perception? I’m not sure any of us in this business owe any league or team anything other than than to be fair, which I thought Seth was. “Hit piece” feels a little strong. But this comment started my wheels turning.

I know Brady loves baseball. He hosts a show on WDEV in Vermont, so he has to be locked in on the Red Sox, but at the drop of a hat he can tell you all of the problems with the Mariners’ farm system.

Brady is a more traditional sports fan than I am. He lives and dies with his teams and will put on any game at any time and can find himself locked in. I love college football, I love the Celtics, other than that, I just want to be entertained. I grew up rooting for the Buccaneers, and so I was happy to see them win the Super Bowl, but I am not positive that I didn’t get just as much joy out of Tom Brady being drunk on a boat later that week.

Does loving the absurdity and weirdness of sports blind me to what it is fans of teams and listeners to our shows think our job description is? Is there a widely held belief that we need to protect or only talk positively about the teams and sports we cover?

Heath Cline is one of my closest friends in this business. He hosts the afternoon show at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The city is the home of the South Carolina Gamecocks. The school’s football, basketball and baseball games play on his station. Heath says that definitely shades the way his listeners think about his job.

“There’s definitely a belief among some portion of the audience that being ‘the home of the Gamecocks’ means we’re supposed to be rah rah at all times,” he says. “What’s funny is that we’re supposed to back them to the hilt, until the minute the fans get mad and want to fire someone at which point unless we agree with them we’re homers and shills for the athletic department.”

Heath Cline | WNKT-FM

I called Gary Parrish, because I thought he might have a unique perspective. Gary has a local audience in Memphis, where he can be heard on 92.9 ESPN. He also has a national audience thanks to his work for CBS. He covers college basketball both on television and on CBSSports.com.

Gary says there are times he has found himself wondering if he has colleagues that feel like they are supposed to protect and talk up the sports they cover.

“Even friends of mine will say things and type things like ‘college basketball is the greatest sport in the world’. And the truth is, it’s just not,” Parrish says. “It’s, at this point, kind of a niche sport. It’s kind of, for most people, a six week sport, maybe a five week sport, maybe even a three week sport. So, I don’t feel like it’s my obligation to lie to anybody. I love college basketball. It is my job to to cover college basketball, but I don’t pretend that it’s not without issues and I think some real serious issues that that need to be addressed.”

I am not making a comment on anyone’s professionalism here. Two people can choose to do the same job in very different ways. Different outlets can even come with different expectations in how you do your job and what you owe the people and organizations you cover. That can mean you can talk about the same thing the same way on two different platforms and the audiences can have opposite opinions of you. Parrish says he deals with that every basketball season.

“The perception of me inside of Memphis versus outside of Memphis is pretty drastically different, specifically in the way that I talk about the University of Memphis,” he says. “I think I think non-Memphians think that I am too positive about the Tigers and talk too much about Memphis, more than it deserves. In the market, I’m like the guy that Memphis fans think hates on Memphis. They genuinely believe that I despise Memphis, which is just not true.”

Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) | Twitter

Carrington Harrison hosts the afternoon drive show on 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City. He told me that any discussion about baseball and the idea that it is a dying sport is not easy. The answer is nuanced and listeners aren’t always here for nuance. How do you succinctly say that baseball is dying except for the places where it isn’t?

“We don’t have national conversations about baseball anymore,” Harrison explains. “The only way we have national conversations about baseball is when there are historic single game feats. Tomorrow, if someone pitched a perfect game, we would talk about it, of course, or a fight happens. Those are the only times we talk. Or a big contract is given out. Tomorrow, if they gave a player 400 million dollars, everybody in sports would be talking about it.”

Occasionally, I’ll exchange Twitter messages with Sports Map Radio mid day host Jake Asman. He hosts a show with a national perspective. I wanted to get his take.

Asman echoes Harrison’s idea that baseball doesn’t have the popularity problems on the local level that the sport does nationally, but he also thinks there are some real problems in terms of the sport’s ability to build a new generation of fans.

“The pace of play and lack of action besides strikeouts and homers is a major turnoff to a lot of fans. I also think every team going all in on analytics is not a great way to attract fans to your sport.”

So what if he were to say that on air? Is there anything special a host has to do or anything special that he/she needs to consider if he/she is planning to be critical of a league? What about if he/she is being critical of a team as an entity rather than sounding off on their on-field performance?

“I would treat criticism of a team or league as I would treat criticizing a player or coach during a segment. I would make sure that I am well informed on the topic I am going to be critical of and I would never make things personal,” Jake says in a DM.

Jake Asman Moves To Mid Days On SB Nation Radio | Barrett Sports Media

That seems like basic advice, right? It does answer my question though. No, there is nothing special you have to do, nothing more you owe to the audience if you are talking about an institutional problem with a sport or any other non-human entity.

Cline tells me that the idea of being unfair to a team is something that exclusively lives with fans. He worked in markets across Florida before moving to South Carolina. In the entire time covering college football, the only people that have ever accused him of having an agenda are fans.

“I have never gotten a single call from an athletic department person at either Florida or South Carolina complaining about anything I’ve ever said,” he texted. “It’s possible my bosses have and kept it from me, but I think if you’re honest, can back what you say up with facts and don’t make things personal there’s really no way they can complain too much.”

According to Harrison, the audience wants to be told they are right or that they have a good idea. When it comes to local media, fans expect to hear why their optimism isn’t unfounded or why following their team isn’t time wasted.

“I think in really any form of media, and I think we see it in sports, we also see it in news, there’s some implied confirmation bias,” Harrison says. “Like, you want to hear people that agree with your point of view. And if you’re listening to local radio, you want to hear the conversations come from a local perspective.”

That is an interesting idea and one with a lot of merit. There will always be a segment of the audience that believes a local perspective means one that sings the praises of the home team. There might even be a segment of the audience that believes a sports media perspective should always be deferential to sports and teams when we aren’t addressing issues on the field. I can see how someone could get there. I don’t think it is right, but we’re dealing with a fan brain, and you can connect those dots.

When it comes to the concept of “fan brain,” Parrish is a little less eloquent and a little more blunt.

“It’s just that fans, and this is something you have to always remind yourself, they don’t often want to hear the truth.”

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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