Meet The Market Managers: Steven Griffin, Seven Bridges Jacksonville
I’ve been fortunate over the past six years to work with a lot of sports radio stations across the country. I haven’t publicized most of those partnerships on BSM or my social media pages because I don’t seek validation for my work. Those who work with me know what I add to their organization, and as long as they’re pleased with my contributions, that’s all that matters. Any additional publicity they’ve received on this site has been earned by performance, not because they agreed to work with yours truly.
But today I am going to recognize a client because Steven Griffin and his team at 1010XL, 92.5 FM do radio the right way. Chances are you know little about Steven, even if you’re aware of his radio station. That’s by design. He’d rather his team earn the credit for their efforts, and focus his energies on serving the audience and his advertisers, instead of seeking the spotlight for his own contributions. Fortunately I was able to twist his arm and convince him to be a part of this series.
The first time I arrived in Jacksonville to work with Steven’s team, I walked in the front door to find a custom graphic on their front lobby television screen with my name on it welcoming me to town. As small as that gesture may have been to whoever created it, it made an immediate positive impression. It told me ‘we’re glad you’re here, thanks for making the time to come work with us.’ Those little touches can make a big impact when you do business with people. Having spent more time working with Steven’s crew since, I’ve learned that it wasn’t just a small trick used to impress people who walk thru the door. This is how they operate every day. It’s why I enjoy working with them.
What’s truly astounding is how 1010XL has managed to keep a successful air staff together for 15 years and continue thriving. Sports as a format features many talented, driven personalities seeking big stages and larger paychecks. Being able to retain top personalities in market 46 long-term can be difficult unless people love where they live, where they work, and who they’re working for. That becomes even more important when you consider that many of the talent at 1010XL have shared responsibilities in sales as well as programming. Yet as the station prepares to celebrate fifteen years of excellence, many of the faces and voices familiar to Jacksonville sports radio listeners are as excited and thankful today as they were when the station arrived.
Some corporate groups may have advantages such as more signals, more resources, more audio platforms, and larger facilities, but 1010XL is more than comfortable with the position they’ve earned – being Jacksonville’s best live and local sports radio station. Steven and his team believe in the power of radio, they’ve used their airwaves to help clients grow their businesses, and while others may run from the R word in search of other emerging opportunities, the Seven Bridges Radio group sees plenty of value in being identified as Jacksonville’s destination for sports talk radio.
As a standalone operator, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of Steven’s experiences, and pick his brain on the challenges that come with being locally owned and operated. Having built a business myself, I have a ton of respect and admiration for anyone who can create a vision, put it into action, and turn it into a success for a lengthy period of time. Consistent excellence depends on many factors such as producing results, treating people right, knowing when to take a risk or pass on an opportunity, building and maintaining healthy relationships, creating a culture that others want to be part of, and giving listeners and advertisers reasons to continue supporting you. That may sound simple and easy to execute, and for 1010XL it is because it’s part of their DNA. But rather than hear that from me, learn about it yourself from the Market Manager of Jacksonville sports radio station 1010XL, 92.5 FM, Steven Griffin. Enjoy!
JB: I know your first GM jobs were in Scranton and Jacksonville, but I want to start this conversation by going back in time to your initial entry into the radio business. Where did it begin and what were you doing?
SG: Out of college, I was a journalism major. I had thought about going to law school but after looking at the big LSAT catalog and thought ‘maybe not’. So there was a posting on the board about a new radio station being started in Morgantown, West Virginia where I was at. They were looking for people who could wear many hats, sell, be on the air, write copy, etc.. So I met with them and took that gig right out of school.
From there, I was in copywriting for a while in Charleston where I got more into the sales side. I saw there was more money and prestige in that side of the business. After that I left radio for about six or seven years because I got married and wanted to stay in Morgantown. Eventually though I got a call from the West Virginia radio corporation. The timing was right so I went back into radio and was fortunate enough to be with a good company as the sales manager of a country station. I was there for a while and then went to Greenville-Spartanburg for a while. After that I had a cup of coffee in Raleigh before going to Memphis as a Sales Manager for Entercom. Then came the call from a head hunter about the GM job in Scranton.
JB: When that call came and you were asked to lead an entire operation, how did you know you were ready to oversee everything not just the sales department?
SG: In West Virginia, Greenville, and Memphis I was one of those people who people would come to for help. When the folks in Scranton called I thought it was a good next step for me and I thought ‘I’ll see if I can do it.’ It was a big cluster, eleven stations, and they were spread out all over god’s creation. I saw it as a good opportunity to see what could happen if I gave it a shot. We were facing some healthy Entercom stations in the market, they had won for something like twenty years in a row. Fortunately for us, a year and a half in our AC station beat them and we had four or five of our stations in the Top 5. I made my share of mistakes but also learned a lot and next got a call from another head hunter about coming to Jacksonville to work for Salem. My family and I wanted to move back south. We loved the weather. So I took the job here. Spent some time with Salem. Things didn’t last with them, but it got me to the right place because now I’m here and have been for fifteen years and love what I’m doing.
JB: So being in the market for a bit gave you a chance to see how the market was being served from a sports radio standpoint. Given that you jumped on board to help build 1010XL, I assume you felt there was opportunity to grab a leadership position in the sports radio space.
SG: I did. I knew it was underserved locally. There was way too much syndication. Jacksonville is a great market for sports. There are super passionate fans here. They love the Jaguars, the Gators, the SEC schools, Florida State and there’s even interest in Triple A baseball and some of the other minor league sports. That’s not including High School sports which is a big deal here. So a signal became available, we looked at the opportunity, rounded up some local investors and one out of Chicago and decided to give this a shot.
JB: Do you remember what your original lineup was?
SG: That’s 15 years ago so I may be off on something but I’ll give it a shot. Dan Hicken and Jeff Prosser were still in morning drive. Rick Ballou and Tom McManus were together in the middays. I think Sean Woodland was involved in the middle of the day too. He was a TV sports guy. Frank Frangie and Mike Dempsey worked together in afternoons. And we also had an evening sports talk show, and Joe Block, who’s now a play by play guy for the Pittsburgh Pirates was part of it along with Terry Norvell.
JB: What’s impressive is that many of those names you just mentioned are still on the station and remain very strong. Knowing how this format constantly tinkers with things and loses good personalities to other situations, how have you managed to keep the band together?
SG: I think it’s a combination of not dictating, and trusting them to do what’s right on the shows, and continue looking at what’s best for sports in this market. I knew I had to get the best talent and it had to be local. To me, radio is a local companion medium. If you don’t have that person at the mall, restaurant or church who’s saying ‘hey I love listening to you, I like your radio station’, you’re missing the mark. That to me is what radio is and that’s who we’ve been. I wanted people here who people knew and who I thought had talent. And they do.
I also wanted to make sure we had a team that was dependable and proven. When we were fortunate to land the Jaguars seven years ago, I knew we had someone like Mike Dempsey who could host a show like Jaguars Today and do it justice. Jeff and Dan in the mornings have always done their own thing and it’s connected with our audience. We talk over the important things and they know the parameters and they all work well within them. When I’ve felt we needed a different perspective I’ve been able to call someone like you to come in and help and they still care about what they do and want to get better. Another thing that makes this a little unique too is our guys all generate revenue. They do great radio but also help create 25% of our sales. They’re accustomed to going out and selling themselves and the brand and it’s helped them make a better living financially while also helping the radio station.
JB: I’m glad you mentioned that because as you know, that’s not common everywhere. Your guys don’t seem like they’re bothered by having to do sales, they really seem to enjoy it and excel at it. How have you been able to keep them productive and interested in doing both at a high level?
SG: Honestly, I don’t have some magic answer for it. They all had it to begin with. They have a good grasp on the business. They’ll look at things and say ‘my show might be worth X in market 46 but if I can generate additional revenue on the sales end, it can bring my number higher’. They know the importance of it and what it means to the radio station’s sustainability. I’m lucky to have a bunch of guys who are self driven. We’re also far enough along now as a station with these hosts that there’s a certain level of credibility that’s been earned and that’s made it easier than it used to be.
When we started out though it wasn’t easy. The recession hit in 2008, a year or two after we started, so we took our lumps. But having gone thru that, I can tell you that when the pandemic hit last year, the station did better than most in the market and some other sports stations who we talked to during the past year. Our hosts lost almost nothing. They kept most of their business intact. Maybe a month off here or there, but by the time football season arrived it was all there. It was kind of amazing and tells me that if the station didn’t get results, clients wouldn’t stay. But they do get results, and our guys are really good at building and maintaining relationships. Sales will never be their #1 focus though – it will always be the on-air show. That’s what they love to do. But they’ll never miss an opportunity to prospect a new client or make a call to keep a client happy. That was ingrained in them so I can’t take credit for it.
JB: If you were in another market, would you try to replicate this same strategy?
SG: Absolutely. I don’t think enough talent understand their influence. These guys take it seriously and they earn talent fees for doing it. They connect with their advertisers and make sure that when they’re doing live reads for them that they give it a personal touch. A big reason why we’re a #1-#2 local biller in this market is because of our talent selling. If I were in some other town and had enough local talent, I’d absolutely do the same thing because it works.
JB: In your market, you have to compete against others for ad dollars as a standalone. Unlike some of the other corporate groups, you can’t go in with a pitch involving 5-6 stations. How are you able to create that feeling that advertisers need to be on your radio station?
SG: The first thing is that we are unique to the market because we’re live and local so much. If nothing else, we’re a local radio station and we’ve never changed that. We’ve never dropped in Dan Patrick or Colin Cowherd when they’ve been available just to save a little money. Pretty much M-F 6a-10p we are live and local. We can do a lot of things during that time whether it’s endorsing, tailoring a special piece of content, all because we have that flexibility.
The second thing is, we don’t swim in the same pools that some of the corporate folks do. Our strategy has always been to focus on local accounts for local radio. We have some agency business but it’s mostly local agency. We don’t get a lot of regional, and absolutely no national business. We don’t accept a lot of those national deals because the rates just don’t make sense for us.
When you’re dealing 1 on 1 with our company and the owner or client is meeting me, the sales manager, the hosts who are delivering his endorsements, that goes a long way. Sometimes it might be a husband and wife duo and they come in with their son or daughter to watch the show for a bit. It’s very much a relationship where both sides want to help each other. Radio is still entertaining, fun, and informative, and it has value for local businesses. We go after accounts and are very strict telling our sales team ‘don’t waste your time here or there, this is who we are so let’s do what we’re good at.’ Because we get results, they stick with us. When we go visit somebody we’re not meeting with the manager of a chain. We’re visiting the owner himself. That helps.
JB: You mentioned the word unique and that’s probably the best way I’ll describe this next item because what you’ve done in Jacksonville to elevate the perception of women as on-air talent is unique. Jessica Blaylock, Amanda Bourges, Mackenzie Thirkill, Lauren Brooks and others, have all earned opportunities on the radio station, but what especially stands out is how you’ve put them together for a Tuesday night show titled ‘Helmets & Heels’. Given that this is such a heavily dominated male format, why was it important to you to put women together on the air and give them a chance to host shows, and what have you learned from doing it that might be helpful to others in the format who are reading this and might consider doing something similar in their own markets?
SG: I never looked at gender. It’s about the voice and what it has to say. I would listen back in the day to Jessica, Donna, Lauren and others and their perspectives stood out and added something to the conversation that we didn’t have available on the radio station. It wasn’t rocket science. We had a lot of time available as a local station so we took these different voices and put them together. I’ve been fortunate to see many of them move on to bigger and better things and now when they come back and think about us it’s usually positive.
What I have learned is that it’s a never ending process. You have to continually look. When I started the show I thought it had potential one day to be a daily show. I’ve got a good team on the air now and even then we’re talking to someone else about doing some shows with them. That’s just what you do to keep something working. Our best shows tend to be when we have 4 of them together, but it also depends on the mix. The bottom line, you have to be open to different ways of presenting content to your audience.
JB: You recently did a business deal with the University of Florida to bring Gators Athletics on to 1010XL-92.5 FM. How important was that move for your brand?
SG: We’re very excited about it. It only took us 14 years to get it (laughs). After the Jaguars, which is and will always be our #1 priority, on our station they’re undefeated, the next biggest sports entity in town is the Florida Gators. 15-18 years ago when I got here, the Gators were extremely popular. That was when Steve Spurrier just left. I think there are somewhere between thirty and forty thousand Gators football season ticket holders in Jacksonville or the First Coast area, and I know Tampa and Orlando are bigger but Jacksonville has a lot invested in the Gators.
When the deal became available previously, we went after it pretty hard. I knew that we would mostly get inventory in game. There were no rights fees or anything like that. I thought it was a relationship worth pursuing and we’d have a chance to monetize it while simultaneously helping them tap into more of their fan base here. We didn’t get the deal. They chose to stay with iHeart because they had been with them for twenty years or so and had great relationships there. We were disappointed, but I understood the situation.
But then their station in Jacksonville flipped to Gospel, and we started getting calls because I think they missed airing a couple of games. I told them ‘if you need help, just let me know, no obligation.’ I made sure they knew we wanted them. Then one day out of nowhere, I was meeting with Dan Hicken from the morning show, and he asked ‘have you heard anything about the Gators?’ All of a sudden the phone rang and it was Learfield IMG telling me they wanted to go with us. We were obviously excited. So they sent over the deal and we’re now working with them for the next 4 years. All we did on our end was make sure we were prepared in case the opportunity came up.
JB: You brought up before how important the Jaguars are to your station. They’re the lone professional franchise in the market so they have massive appeal to your listeners and advertisers, not to mention a strong influence. How do you navigate the relationship when the on the field results aren’t good? Everyone in your building would prefer they win so it keeps people excited, tuning in, and clients wanting to spend more money to be associated with them, but if they’re not delivering wins, critical opinions have to be shared by your talent because the audience expects honesty from them. How do you essentially serve the audience without ticking off a value business partner?
SG: When Jaguars president Mark Lamping got here, one of the first things he said was ‘we don’t want you guys to change a thing….if we’re not good on the field, you can say that. Be who you are.’ He understood. I have never told anyone to tone it down or don’t say that or laid out guidelines for what can and can’t be said about the team. I think everyone on our staff understands the value of the partnership, but we also respect and value our listeners, and are truthful with them.
I will say this, everybody likes to preach hope even sometimes when it’s not there. I think on your website Mike Dempsey said ‘it’s almost better when they’re not doing well because everyone wants a shoulder to cry on’. I don’t agree with that 100%. When you’re a few games below .500 and there’s no hope for landing a playoff spot, that to me is the worst spot to be in but I can tell you that in 2017 when the Jags advanced to the AFC title game this place was on fire. There are passionate fans here. They want to support the Jags. With Urban here now and Trevor expected tomorrow night, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic. We’re glad to be partners with the Jaguars, but if the results aren’t there on the field, we have the flexibility to address what’s going on.
JB: I want to ask you about working without numbers. Your brand has been very successful without subscribing to Nielsen, generating consistent revenues year after year. You’ve demonstrated you don’t need the data to operate a productive and profitable business. But how do you evaluate the progress of your brand without that information?
SG: Two words – Jason Barrett.
SG: No seriously. I know I don’t know everything and everyone in here doesn’t know everything. I try to read and learn things all the time but having people around who can bring things to the table to help us improve is important. I try to get consensus when we’re looking at things. Some managers will say that’s not a good move but for us in our family atmosphere, it is. I never make a big decision without asking for input. It doesn’t mean I still won’t go with what my gut tells me but I’ll always listen to what sales, the air staff and engineering have to say. I guess if there’s a downfall to not having the ratings it’s not being able to go in and see how each show looks with Men 25-54 and other demographics but we hold our own.
JB: Having a talented, professional lineup though that’s been part of the community for 15 years and possesses good content judgment and sales relationships probably makes that something easier for you to live without.
SG: It does. I read Jeff Tyler’s comments last week where he talked about KFAN and how they brought in the talent, gave it time to grow, and now it’s become its own little entity. We may not be KFAN but maybe in Jacksonville we’re similar to that to our audience and advertisers. He made the point about people listening and not being able to get it at first and I can relate to that. We have some of that here. We’ve been blessed that our investor base has been patient with us and allowed us to go thru some ups and downs and a few mistakes I made along the way but we never knee jerked anything and we’ve always stayed committed to being live and local. Fortunately we’ve had people want to stay here, work here, and succeed here.
JB: I’ll wrap up with you on this. You’ve gotten more involved with original podcast content, video, the focus on social has grown, and you’ve also added Action Updates from VSiN. The sports media landscape is rapidly changing so all of these things are important. When you look at the future of sports talk, what are you keeping your eyes and ears on that you think are going to be important for the growth of your brand?
SG: Well, it depends. As a standalone, we’re never going to have the resources that an iHeart, Cox or Audacy have. I can’t go out and buy every audio platform that’s out there. One of the advantages we have is being able to turn on a dime when we need to. When sports betting becomes legal in Florida, and I think it will, we’re going to be able to take advantage of that. Video we have found to be advantageous, at least so far in the first quarter, and it’s helped us not only sharpen our tools as a sales organization, but it’s allowed us to sponsor some new things using the talent we have that have TV skills. We haven’t even touched the high school or local realm of some of the things we’re going to do.
And then as far as podcasting is concerned, we’ve taken valuable advice from someone who may or may not be part of this conversation and have focused our efforts on doing fewer things really well and sponsoring them instead of trying to do twenty or thirty or forty and have most of them miss the mark. Some of these things may move a little slowly and we’ll gravitate and work quicker towards the ones that we can monetize and deliver the most value for our fans. I can tell you, we’ve done a good job creating quality programming and selling our inventory but there’s always room for improvement. We’re always looking to get better. We can be a little more patient and selective because we’re not dictated to by some corporate place that’s thousands of miles from us and doesn’t know us very well. We have investors who know this market, they support our vision, and I want to please the market that’s here because they’re a big reason why we’ve made it this far.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN Deal Used to Mean Stability for ACC, Now It Means Anything But
It was April 19, 1775 when the first shots of war were fired on battlefields in Lexington and Concord that would send shockwaves across the world. Some brave soul among a group of rebel farmers and blacksmiths, doctors and lawyers literally pulled the trigger on what would become known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Indeed, the world would never be the same.
The college athletics version of that event was June 11, 2010. On that day, regents at the University of Nebraska officially applied for Big Ten membership and were unanimously approved by the other eleven schools (if the number in the conference name not matching the number of schools in that conference is something that bothers you, this column may not be for you). From that day forward, we have never really exited the “expansion era”.
One conference that has gone largely untouched in that time is the ACC. Only Maryland has left the ACC since 2010, heading to the Big Ten, and the conference has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville in that same window. That is significant when you consider only the SEC and Big Ten have avoided any departures in this era. Every other major conference has seen great turbulence while those three conferences have primarily seen only growth.
That trend may actually continue for the ACC and that may not be a net positive for the conference or the ACC members. This is thanks to the long term grant of rights deal the conference schools negotiated with ESPN. The grant of rights means ESPN holds the broadcast rights to all home games of the current ACC schools, and do so for the next 13 years.
When the deal was signed in 2016, the 20 year media rights deal seemed like a win for the ACC, creating stability in a time of great instability. Now, what seemed like a “must have purchase” may be the impulse buy that the league schools regret for decades.
Put simply, the ACC has been lapped in the media rights race by the Big Ten, SEC and even the Big 12. At best, the ACC schools are working at a $10-15 Million per year deficit when compared to Big 12 schools. At worst, they are operating at a much larger $30-$40 Million annual deficit when compared to Big Ten and SEC programs. It would be a battle of monumental proportions for the ACC to compete on the same level as those other conferences at that large of a disadvantage.
The conference’s options are slim. ESPN has a deal that is locked for 13 more years, what benefit would it be to them to renegotiate just so the ACC can compete? For instance, it would require $140 Million annually from ESPN just to place the ACC in the same financial neighborhood as the Big 12 Conference. What would be the benefit to ESPN in doing that?
The other option for ACC schools would be to bang the departure drum. Almost all legal analysts have painted a very grim picture for the schools that would be itching to leave. The exit fee is $120 million and may get the schools some nice parting gifts but does not give them their media rights. Their home game broadcast rights will still be a part of the ESPN deal with ACC. That greatly reduces a departing school’s value to any other conference.
Maybe ESPN is willing to broker a deal for a departing school if it is going to a conference, such as the SEC, that has a large rights deal with ESPN. If one of the schools desires a departure to the Big Ten, who has large deals with networks not named ESPN, one would have to think The Worldwide Leader would be in less of a deal-making mood.
Some league athletics directors, led by Florida State’s Michael Alford, are suggesting teams be incentivized for success. Breaking the code; rather than equal distribution, the power schools want a bigger share of the money. This is where Wake Forest points out that it is all they can do to exceed football expectations on their current stipend, what will become of them if that money shrinks? It seems that conferences and leagues that steer away from an equally shared revenue model have had a difficult time making that work long term.
Maybe the ACC teams that are ready to punch out could flash back to the period of time our country was in with the events we started this column remembering. They have a team in Boston, go throw some tea in the harbor and revolt, have a modern day Boston Tea Party. As it stands now, there are several ACC members that want to leave the party they are part of. Their only problem is they are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.