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Following The Formula Isn’t Helping The Format

“We’ve allowed research and analytics to force hosts to be too formulaic. We’ve made likes and re-tweets into currency and it’s cultivated an entire generation of people whose goal it is to create clickbait.”

Ryan Maguire

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One of the great things about my current job is that it gives me the opportunity to interact with people in the sports radio business that are younger than I am.  We’re fortunate to have a core of youthful and talented professionals at ESPN 1000 that work both in front of the mic and behind it.  Our production crew for White Sox Baseball are about a generation or two younger than me, but we all share the common bond of having a true passion for sports and sports media.  

One question that I’ve asked all of them was, “Who did you listen to that really made you want to get into this line of work?” 

Among ALL of them, one name consistently came up: Dan Le Batard.

Dan Le Batard signs off ESPN for final time to 'take quite the leap of  faith' | Sporting News
Courtesy: ESPN

When I heard this, it really made me think.  What was it about The Dan Le Batard Show that really hit home with my younger colleagues?  

I never met Dan or his team but having worked in Miami as a direct competitor of his for three years, I’m familiar with his program and its talented cast of characters.  Certainly, the show was VERY different from standard sports-talk fare and very unapologetic about being so.   More than anything else, the program came off as being REAL by pointing out that so many other programs were not.

The best thing Le Batard did was MOCK how disingenuous sports media has become.  It was a hallmark of his show.  His entire team did a masterful job lampooning the “gasbags” of sports-talk and very few people (even ones at his former network) were spared.  All comedy aside, there was (and is) true relevance to his schtick.  

The sports media landscape (and media landscape in general) is littered with disingenuous nonsense.  

When I watch or listen to a sports show these days, there is a real lack of altruism going on.  Much of what is being presented are hot takes, manufactured debate and panel shows where everyone tries to one-up each other in the hopes of a sound bite going viral.  Too many programs have become overly formulaic to the point of becoming predictable.  Its nauseating.  

I grew up during (what I always considered) the heyday of SportsCenter on ESPN.  The era when the program was hosted by the likes of Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott, Linda Cohn, Charley Steiner, Robin Roberts, and Craig Kilborn.  This was always must watch television for me.  Why?  Because you could tell that the people hosting the show were GENUINELY having a good time.  There was a formula, but it was letting the talent do the highlights and sports news of the day while being permitted to be themselves.  Every one of the anchors had a unique sense of humor and they were allowed to inject that into their content.  

ESPN BOOK: Exec Who Complained About Keith Olbermann, Not Remembered As a  Team Player
Courtesy: ESPN

I remember when Jon Stewart made his infamous 2004 appearance on the CNN “debate” show Crossfire.  Anyone that remembers that program remembers that it was one of the first cable TV shows with the formulaic approach of putting hosts of opposing viewpoints on the air and have them spit “hot takes” at each other.  Well, Stewart saw right through the entire concept and made a point to appear on the show to make his feelings known.  It was so hilarious and yet so relevant to the fake tropes I see developed in media every day.  Every now and then, I hop on YouTube and re-watch it just for fun.

Stewart, who at the time, was the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, appeared on Crossfire and wasted no time in tearing into hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala and quickly managed to turn their own studio audience against them.  

“To do a debate would be great,” Stewart lectured.  “But that’s like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.  Now, this is theatre.  It’s obvious.  You’re doing theatre instead of doing debate.  What you do is not honest.  What you do is partisan hackery.  You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.”

CNN cancelled the show a short time after Stewart’s appearance.  Unfortunately, almost two decades later, not much has changed.  

Early on in my career as a Program Director, we had a former professional athlete as one of our hosts.  He was an interesting person, had a great sense of humor and was always gregarious around the office.  However, when the mic would go on, he would, at times, be too stiff.  He clearly was trying to play a character on his show in an effort to be taken seriously.  

Why won't anyone take me seriously ?

So, one day I pulled him aside for a chat.  I told him that the only thing that was holding him back was himself.  The guy that laughs and makes jokes in the break room, the guy that randomly walks into my office and tells me crazy stories every day, the guy that has me laughing every time we go out for drinks…. THAT is the guy I wanted him to be on his show.   That’s what he was missing. To this day, he tells me that’s the best advice that he’s ever been given.

As content curators, we need to do a better job of allowing talent to be genuine.  We’ve allowed research and analytics to force hosts to be too formulaic.  We’ve made likes and re-tweets into currency and it’s cultivated an entire generation of people whose goal it is to create clickbait.  Creating great content is an art, not a science.  It starts with finding people who are entertaining and enlightening and allowing them to be themselves.  

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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