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Has Our Access To Players Changed Forever?

“I have felt for a long time that locker rooms will not be open to the media soon. I think zoom calls will be replaced by press conference rooms, but that idea of 30-40 reporters standing around Saquon Barkley after a New York Giants home game is not happening soon.”

Seth Everett

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This week’s withdrawal from the French Open by Naomi Osaka was misread at least in part by many mainstream media outlets. Coming less than a day after she was fined $15,000 for missing a mandatory media session was a mere coincidence. Osaka’s heartfelt message posted on her social media revealed she had been battling anxiety since her controversial victory in the 2018 US Open. It did, however, raise the issue of the current state of press conferences and the lack of access mainstream media is currently receiving.  What are the media responsibilities of athletes going to be once the pandemic is no longer a factor?

Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers fielded questions from a  mob of reporters in the locker room after winning Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.
Getty Images

The issues Osaka has been dealing with are not new phenomena. In late 2018, I was working on some projects with Nissan and Osaka had recently become an ambassador for the company. I reached out to Nissan to see if I could welcome Naomi to my Sports with Friends podcast. In a heartfelt reply, my contacts at Nissan told me she was only doing mandatory media at that point. I noticed she was not comfortable talking to the media then, so her post didn’t surprise me at all.

If the French Open was trying to pressure Osaka into doing media zoom press conferences, it didn’t work. Not just because of her anxiety, but because she has a social media presence that is huge. Other athletes are likely to take notice.

Still, the Covid-19 issues have changed the way media members could interact with athletes.  Even before the March 2020 shutdown, the first move sports made was to ban reporters from the locker room/clubhouse/dressing room. After Rudy Gobert tested positive, all interviews took place specifically on Zoom (or equivalent software platforms). It hasn’t changed since.

That has had a huge impact on the media’s ability to do their job.  Using baseball as an example, there has been very small contact between media members and players since the beginning of spring training 2020.  Jon Paul Morosi, baseball insider for MLB Network and FOX Sports discussed that recently on Sports with Friends.

“The ability to be on the field and just have a baseball conversation (players and coaches) was incredible,” Morosi said. “It was just those spontaneous conversations. ‘Where’d you go to college, who’d you play with in college, who you played with in high school,’ those sorts of conversations were wonderful to have again. It’s important for me to constantly revive those contacts, whether it’s by reaching out to a college coach, an agent, or an executive.”

The biggest revelation that ties to both Osaka and social media, is that the players generally liked the separation between themselves and reporters.

Now that we are getting closer to ending all the restrictions, the question that was raised as Osaka withdrew was, will the media be given all their privileges back?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says yes.  He appeared on my Sports with Friends podcast nearly a month ago and said that the ban from locker rooms is only temporary. 

Courtesy: AP

“You’re gonna go back when things get back to normal,” Bettman told me. “ You will go back to the locker room when it’s safe.”

I have felt for a long time that locker rooms will not be open to the media soon.  I think zoom calls will be replaced by press conference rooms, but that idea of 30-40 reporters standing around Saquon Barkley after a New York Giants home game is not happening soon.

Morosi made a great point about not being able to establish relationships. It reminded me of the beginning of my career and how then the key to being in the sports world was relationships.

My first year out of Syracuse I was in Denver, Colorado working for KKFN The FAN.  Among my responsibilities, I was sent to cover the day-to-day operations of the Denver Broncos. I was 23 years old and did not know a soul. John Elway was already a soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer. I was young and did not do a single one-on-one interview for the first four weeks of the season.

Then, in week 5, I overhead defensive lineman (now radio host) Alfred Williams talking to his teammates about Madden NFL 97, which had recently been released.  I had a sudden moment of boldness and mentioned that I played that game too. It struck a conversation with Williams, Tyrone Braxton, and other players.

I was not looking for a story. I did not feel the need to take a selfie. I was not trying to break anything. I just befriended those guys like I had met any other friends in my life. 

Fast-forward a few weeks later, and we had set up a Madden league. (yes, I’m old moment – we had to connect to each other’s computers via a dial-up connection) (just typing it hurts me.)  We played throughout that season. Our Super Bowl was postponed because the BRONCOS were in San Diego playing in Super Bowl 32, defeating the Green Bay Packers. Relationships were forged.

Today, reporters can’t get that access. Players now consider their own brands.  They use their own social media to get statements made. 

Throw in the pandemic, and there are no profiles about a random player on a team. Reporters have to go through media relations to talk to anyone unless a reporter of Morosi’s stature had a phone number.

Shannon Drayer, Mariners’ field reporter for KIRO and the Mariners Radio Network, told me last winter that her whole access point is compromised.  Her job is based on how she communicates with players.  Now, she is relegated to Zoom, and while she continues to do her job well and sound great on the air, it is just not the same.

Morosi explained that one media relations executive proposed this as an outstanding compromise.

“One compromise could be that the clubhouse, or at least the field, would be open before the game for a period of time,” JP said, reiterating that this is only when protocols are fully lifted. “Maybe there’s like a field access time or a clubhouse access time before the game, but that possibly the clubhouse would be closed after the game.”

Osaka inadvertently started a debate on whether athletes should need to be in press conferences at all. I do believe that the media is simply a conduit to the fans.  It is also possible, that the days of “needing” the media are outdated.

Naomi Osaka
Courtesy: AP

As the country recovers from the Covid-19 restrictions, I wonder how many athletes will use Osaka’s bravery as a way to avoid the press.

Athletes may be able to control their message the way they want. There are still too many good journalists and broadcasters that tell great stories to not let them do their best work.

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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