Think about this. Other than a State of the Union address, a terrorist attack on Manhattan, certain natural disasters and a debate in which a President-to-be refers to a Dead President Tweeting as “a clown” — twice! — no American news event commands coverage on multiple networks.
So why the NFL Draft? Why did 55 million viewers watch last April, in the pandemic’s early throes, and 47.5 million the year before, when the streets of Nashville were jammed as if Dolly Parton was performing a strip tease during a hot chicken sandwiches giveaway?
Oh, because the Draft is live reality television. And because it celebrates new faces and dreams in this country’s dominant sports league — and most popular and enduring form of broadcast entertainment. And, cutting to core truths, because the NFL is a monopoly that can televise the Draft on its own channel, then use Fox as a leverage pawn to force a scrambling Walt Disney Company to broadcast the show on both ESPN and ABC and, thus, remain in favor when 11-year rights packages are awarded.
Never mind the absurdist overkill. Roger Goodell puts his spectacle on three networks and various digital platforms because he can. So he does.
Once a mom-and-pop, landlines-with-cords operation conducted on fold-up tables in ballrooms — Hotel Lincoln, Hotel Sherman, Hotel New Yorker, Hotel Fort Pitt, everywhere but Motel 6 and the haunted Cecil Hotel — the NFL Draft now is on the same boutique plateau as the NBA Finals, World Series, Final Four, Masters and all else except its own mega-showcase, the Super Bowl. In a context of how interest builds over days, weeks and even months, one could argue the Draft is the second-biggest annual event in U.S. sports. It attracts hordes of mock drafters, nerds who like to ridicule Mel Kiper Jr. yet want to be just like him. It creates heightened mass intrigue, thanks to smokescreens from 32 franchises that guard information like the Russians. By bringing in the family element — this year, chosen players will celebrate with loved ones and friends backstage in Covid-shielded “living rooms” — female viewership has risen. And in one of Goodell’s shrewdest moves in his tumultuous reign as commissioner, cities are selected as revolving hosts, with Cleveland psyched to rock out this weekend and invite 150,000 barking Dawgs into a downtown theme park over three days.
Isn’t the NFL worried about, um, a Fauci superspread? Nah. This league is bigger than any ol’ infectious disease, as the executives will tell you, pointing to a 2020 season that survived without a game cancellation. Just ask Goodell, who is renewing his tradition of hugging newly anointed young men because he has been double-vaccinated — regardless of whether they’ve been or not. “We learned so much from what we did at the Super Bowl,” said league official Peter O’Reilly. “We have every confidence in our protocols that are in place. They’re the ones that got us through a season on the field and with the ability to host more than one million fans. … A year ago, we were hosting a draft in commissioner Goodell’s basement. Now, we’re looking toward brighter days ahead and so thrilled that we can do a large scale live event safely.” So, after carefully distancing spectators in Tampa, the league thinks it’s prudent to let 150,000 roam from venue to venue in a town that treats football experiences like an AC/DC concert? The reason: TV optics and a feeling that America is alive again, even if the league kills a few folks in the process.
By the time all three networks launch coverage Thursday evening — with Mike Greenberg hosting on ESPN, Rece Davis on ABC and Rich Eisen on the NFL Network — large swaths of the U.S. will be dialed in like Election Night. Oscars ratings were abysmal on Sunday night, mirroring the declines of other awards shows. There is no such thing as appointment TV anymore in a Netflix world. Yet a record 60 million viewers might watch this NFL Draft.
I just have one question.
What exactly is the redeeming substance here?
Beyond the destinations of hundreds of athletes, many of whom never will he heard from again, absolutely nothing is determined. Hype is little more than hope, unrealized until the season begins, but Draft audiences tend to believe what the national media breathlessly report anyway. Fans assume Trevor Lawrence will be “the best quarterback to come into the draft in nearly a decade” because Sports Illustrated says so, forgetting that some experts thought similarly of Joe Burrow last year. Are we certain Lawrence’s coach, Urban Meyer, isn’t headed for the same pro struggles as Nick Saban, snuffed out by NFL minds who can’t wait to subdue his ego? Zach Wilson has been described as a hybrid of Aaron Rodgers and Johnny Manziel, which is weird, and as a “riverboat gambler” by none other than Mark Sanchez, he of the Butt Fumble. It doesn’t bode well when an all-time New York Jets flop is warning the team’s next so-called quarterbacking savior about “a very different media market.” Yet once Lawrence sports a Jacksonville Jaguars cap as the No. 1 pick and Wilson pulls on a Jets jersey as the No. 2 pick, reality is shoved aside for Super Bowl fantasies — after all, it’s Draft Night.
Mac Jones, for all anybody knows, will be a bust. When the aspirational prototype is Patrick Mahomes, a playmaking magician, Jones is regarded for accuracy and on-his-feet I.Q. but offers no running dimension. Who wants a modern-day Carson Palmer, right? Kyle Shanahan is expected to grab Jones with the No. 3 pick anyway, eschewing the more athletically gifted and aesthetically rousing likes of Trey Lance and Justin Fields. It means the San Francisco 49ers, only 14 1/2 months removed from a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, are gambling the future of the franchise on a whim. They became the fifth team in the last 15 years to trade up for a top-three draft pick with the intention of using it for a quarterback. But know how many of those previous four QBs survived beyond five seasons with the teams that drafted them? Zero. Which makes you wonder why Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, with Garoppolo still on the roster, dealt three first-round picks and a third-rounder to trade up.
“You study historically how things work,” Lynch acknowledged. “But we have great confidence in this group of players that are up there, and now we hone in and continue to examine each and every guy. And ultimately do our best to find the guy who will be a great part of this organization’s future.”
If Jones is a star, we can hear the Mac puns already in Silicon Valley. If he flops? He can share horror stories with the biggest quarterbacking disaster in Bay Area history, JaMarcus Russell.
On Draft Night, these are the story lines that sell, even if definitive answers don’t arrive for months and years. Lance played only 17 games at North Dakota State, which used to be known fondly as the program of Carson Wentz … until Wentz regressed into a flop himself. With Matt Ryan aging but hardly ready to retire when he’s EIGHT YEARS YOUNGER than Tom Brady, would the Atlanta Falcons bypass one of the most exciting weapons in years — shock-and-awe tight end Kyle Pitts — to gamble on Lance? “He’s a unicorn,” said Dan Mullen, who coached Pitts at Florida. “How are you going to deal with him?”
“I feel like, at the end of the day, I’ll be the best to ever do it,” Pitts said at his pro day.
Except Lance, he of the Mahomes arm and Lamar Jackson speed, might be the league’s next great quarterbacking sensation. If the Falcons don’t take him, won’t flames burst from the draft rooms of Bill Belichick, the QB-phobic Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos? Suddenly, Belichick will have a chance to put away his Brady voodoo doll and trade up for his next QB. And maybe it’s not Lance but Fields, the best dual-threat operator in the draft, though his work ethic has been unfairly smeared as lax and his epilepsy viewed as a detriment instead of a sign of perseverance. “I get very frustrated,” said Ryan Day, who coached Fields at Ohio State. “I feel like there are a lot of people in the draft (where) some guys get a pass — and some guys don’t. Certainly, people have taken shots at Justin.”
If Fields and Lance are available about an hour into the draft, every football fan in New England and Chicago will tune in and drive up the ratings. Can you imagine the shrieks if the Bears trade up for Fields and Belichick for Lance? Wouldn’t Belichick use Lance and Cam Newton on the field simultaneously, as Sean Payton did in New Orleans with Drew Brees and Taysom Hill? Unless … Belichick reacquires Jimmy G in a deal.
This is why the NFL Draft thrives when live pandemic sports have fizzled. It’s unscripted madness, made for draftniks and gamblers and common folk alike. It doesn’t matter that one of these five quarterbacks will be Ryan Leaf, one of them will be Peyton Manning and the other three will settle into various modes of success and failure. It doesn’t matter that Kiper himself says on his ESPN platform, “All five of these guys are not going to be really good. There’s going to be a bust, and there’s going to be a disappointment. Now, good luck having your crystal ball to figure that out.”
The crystal ball is exactly why tens of millions watch. The NFL Draft is a game of chance where all teams and players are winners, until the fall, when they’re not. You just wonder if Goodell is plotting how to coax every network to join the crapshoot.
Tucker Carlson would slam the media for bias.
Don Lemon would cry racism when Lawrence is taken first.
And Trevor Noah? He’ll just make fun of it, as I am.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.”
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 Cleveland Plain Dealer, 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. Then came covering the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer 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”.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Radio Row Is One of Sports Radio’s Worst Weeks
Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.
From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.
Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”
And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”
Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.
It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.
It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.
It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!
It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.
But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.
Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™
And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.
Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.
Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at email@example.com.
What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?
“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”
Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.
How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts.
Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.
“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”
Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!
Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media.
She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.
“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”
Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.
“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”
Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.
TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.
I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.
“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”
That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.
Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.
“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.
“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”
What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content?
I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?
“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”
Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer.
Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.