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Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from the burner accounts of media people.

Jay Mariotti

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Kenny Mayne, ESPN — In a deliciously off-the-wall final show, the man who wouldn’t take a 61-percent paycut at age 61 refused to let Aaron Rodgers make their interview about Mayne’s departure. Obeying his very function for hosting “SportsCenter” through the years — delivering the news — Mayne adroitly peppered the aggrieved quarterback with questions about his issues with Green Bay Packers management. Finally, Rodgers relented, saying his beef is less about the drafting of Jordan Love and more about the general chill he feels from the likes of general manager Brian Gutekunst. Said Rodgers, who clearly wants out, even as the Packers waffle: “Anything’s on the table at this point. … It’s just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting it’s about the people that make the thing go. It’s about character, it’s about culture, it’s about doing things the right way. A lot of this was put in motion last year, and the wrench was just kind of thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year. This is just kind of, I think, a spill-out of all that.” Yes, Mayne departed Bristol by breaking the biggest sports story in America, then telling his good friend in vintage smart-ass mode, “You told me to go heavy in the cryptocurrency game. I did, and we’re down 40 percent — then I lost my job. Gretchen just wants a new comforter. F— you, Aaron Rodgers.” A smart boss will hire him soon — tomorrow — and Mayne should look to an established brand such as Fox, not to a speculative future at startup Meadowlark Media. 

Greg Olsen, Fox Sports — The brave but daunting battle of the analyst’s 8-year-old son, TJ, warrants our prayers. The former NFL tight end, launching a new career as a promising football analyst, is using Twitter to update TJ’s condition this week as a congenital heart defect takes its toll. Wrote Olsen, whose son is on a pacemaker after three open heart surgeries: “Unfortunately, it seems his heart is reaching its end. We are currently working through the process to determine our next steps, which ultimately could lead to a heart transplant.” Olsen and his wife, Kara, have donated millions to a foundation that helps young heart patients in Charlotte, N.C. That’s where the family is spending days and nights. “We don’t know how long we will be within these hospital walls,” Olsen wrote. “We do know that we are in full control of our attitudes and our outlook. TJ has been a fighter since birth.” We talk about courage in a 2021 world. No one is more courageous than TJ Olsen.

Jim Nantz, CBS — The social media mobs — and I’m not sure why they’re routinely cited as authorities — praised Nantz for his not-exactly-original call after Old Phil Mickelson’s age-defiant victory: “Phil defeats Father Time!” I was more impressed when Nantz, known to overlook newsworthy matters in fear of disrupting sports fairy tales, sensed trouble as the chaotic crowds swallowed Mickelson and Brooks Koepka on the 18th fairway. “They’ve lost control of the scene,” he said of an unprepared security presence at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, wondering what might happen on the green when Mickelson secured a place in history. For the first time, I actually felt Nantz was prepared to cover a major news story, like Bob Costas or going way back to Jim McKay, father of CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. When Mickelson called the crush scene “unnerving” after pushing away a fan and an angry Koepka suggested fans were intentionally trying to “ding” his recently repaired knee — “no one really gave a shit,” he said — it confirmed that Nantz had read the danger properly.

Phil Mickelson, Man Of The People — One of his secrets for remaining young, at 50, is an eagerness to converse with the masses and embrace social media. Anyone who follows Mickelson’s feeds isn’t surprised he spent his long jet ride home, from South Carolina to southern California, conducting a Twitter chat with fans. When one asked if he was on a plane, he replied, “Yes. Sipping wine, half lit, tweeting. Life is good.” Another wondered if his hand was sore from so much thumbs-upping, his new way of acknowledging roars during tournaments. “Icing it now,” replied Mickelson, adding a thumbs-up emoji, natch. Always wildly popular among galleries, he is fully engaged to reach all demographics and extend his “cool” factor for who knows how long. Other athletes of a certain age should be taking notes, especially when Mickelson finally puts away his clubs — next year, five years, 10 years? — and becomes a national sensation as a network TV golf analyst. You don’t think broadcast executives are slobbering over the Sunday ratings, when Mickelson drew 13.1 million viewers in the 7 p.m. EDT hour? 

Kwame Brown, critic crusher — Tired of ex-NBA players and media people treating his lame career like a punchline, Brown went ballistic. The former No. 1 overall pick — what was Michael Jordan drinking in Washington in 2001? — posted retaliatory videos after he was belittled on the “All The Smoke” podcast, referring to Stephen Jackson as a “fake Black Lives Matter activist” and Matt Barnes as “Becky with the good hair,” whatever that means. He was just getting started, challenging ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to a fight: “Stephen A. you bald forehead. Thinking you tough talking about `Oh, they can come see me.’ … Well meet me in Seattle where you can have mutual combat. It’ll look like you had a toupee on the front of your head.” Then he ripped Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless: “I ain’t get no pass from your co-host when you was letting this punk motherf—-er talk about a teenager. … I had to endure you talking about my momma’s son like that, b—ch.” Rather than obey the golden rule of the criticism business — if you can dish it, you should take it — Barnes invited Brown to “All The Smoke” so he could “talk you shit face-to-face.” Brown rejected the offer, then responded with the winning blow: “I’ma let your show fizzle out, because I’m not gon’ help you get no rating.” Someone give Kwame his own podcast.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Doug Kezirian, ESPN — I will ask nicely, this one time, for Kezirian to take the $300,000 he won on a Las Vegas prop bet and donate it to charity. He has established a ghastly precedent at his company and in the media industry, whipping open the floodgates for on-air personalities to use inside information and expertise to win big money in legalized gambling. Kezirian, who hosts an ESPN show called “Daily Wager,” should be front and center in maintaining his professional integrity and showing he’s NOT betting on sports. Instead, he took advantage of his acumen during the NFL Draft, noticing how a sportsbook had listed Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell as a safety — something he likely wouldn’t have known if not in sports media. The mistake by BetMGM enabled Kezirian, as he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to hoof it to Bellagio’s self-serve kiosks, partner with a pro bettor and make a series of wagers — totaling $3,500 — at odds up to 100-1. When Campbell went 33rd to Jacksonville as the first “safety” taken, Kezirian hit the jackpot, and BetMGM was forced to admit its error and pay up. “We all have different strengths as bettors, and mine are instincts,” said Dougie Dice, proudly. “I can tell when it’s a situation to just bet as much as you can.” If I’m ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro or another media executive committed to gambling coverage and imbedded with sportsbook partnerships, I’m frightened about the number of employees who might read Kezirian’s story and use their own inside knowledge to bet, which will lead to multiple scandals in media and sports. Does Bristol even have a betting policy? Don’t cry to me when Congress is contacting Pitaro, Kezirian, Scott Van Pelt and the gambling crowd to testify.

Shannon Sharpe, Fox Sports 1 — I’ve given up on expecting sound ethics from All Things Fox. Still, how does sports boss Eric Shanks allow Sharpe, the co-host of “Undisputed,” to cold-call Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones — without identifying they were live and on the air — and ambush him with questions about his Atlanta Falcons future? Not until Jones made news and said, “Oh, I’m out of there, man,” did Sharpe quickly wrap up the interview by informing him, “We on the air, but I appreciate you calling me, dog.” It was Sharpe who called Jones, of course, but that’s the least of Fox’s problems. The studio show is based in California, where a wiretapping law makes it illegal to record a private phone call without the consent of all parties. That didn’t stop co-host Bayless, a long-ago journalist, from giddily remarking, “He’s out. He’s outta there. I told you.” If Jones wants to augment his $15.3 million base salary this season, wherever he is playing, he might have an easy financial settlement from a sports division that should know better.

Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — The easiest way to snag social media eyeballs is by uttering two words: White privilege. Once again, Smith is recklessly tapping a convenient well, and this time, he paints himself into a race-baiting corner. By arguing Tim Tebow has benefited from preferential treatment in landing a tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars and his college coach, Urban Meyer, Smith reminds viewers that he made the same claim about NBA coach Steve Nash. “When you look at the totality of the situation, if I’m gonna bring up white privilege when I brought up Steve Nash getting the job in Brooklyn, is this not an example of white privilege?” Smith said. “What brother you know is getting this opportunity?” What he didn’t mention: Nash navigated a gnarly season of injuries and disarray to position the Nets as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a favorite to win the NBA title. Don’t drop lethal words, Stephen A., without at least crediting Nash’s success so far.

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — Not sure what’s going on with this elite sports columnist, but he is writing in homerish extremes. He apparently didn’t learn from his unrestrained, premature prediction about the Dodgers, claiming in March that they “will be the greatest team in baseball history” — already an impossibility amid injuries, the rival Padres and a flurry of early losses. Now he’s guilty of over-giddiness in writing, “As long as the Lakers have a healthy LeBron James, they are headed directly toward a second consecutive NBA championship.” He wrote those words after James made his lucky three-pointer to beat Golden State in a play-in game, and just days later, Plaschke was scolding Anthony Davis for inconsistency as the Lakers settled in for a daunting series against Phoenix. He’s the only one thinking repeat, whether James is healthy or not. What’s Sis Boom Bill going to write next, that the 2022 Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium will feature the Rams and Chargers?

Cassidy Hubbarth, ESPN — I don’t care that she referred to Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone as “Mike,” which prompted him to fire back, “Michael. Michael Malone.” What bugs me is how the slip-up further cheapened the lost art of sideline interviewing, with Malone obviously upset that his team was trailing in a playoff game. What should remain an intimate component of a game broadcast — a between-quarters chat with a coach — is fading into a lot of nothing. Raise your hand if you’ve seen a recent in-game interview that enlightens you in the slightest. I see no hands. Just let these people do their jobs, which allows networks to, hey, sell another commercial.

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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