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ESPN’s ‘Kay-Rod’ Telecast Has Potential if A-Rod Loosens Up, Tells Stories

“Kay-Rod” debuts with the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox. Hopefully, they explore the space they’re given and talk about A-Rod’s compelling history within this great rivalry.

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This coming Sunday (April 10) is the debut of ESPN2’s alternate Sunday Night Baseball broadcast featuring Alex Rodriguez and Michael Kay. Or, as the network is calling it, Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod.

(Will “Kay-Rod” catch on? Probably. It’s kind of catchy. And it’s succinct, like “ManningCast.”)

April 10 is also the debut of ESPN’s new regular Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team of Karl Ravech calling play-by-play with new analysts David Cone and Eduardo Perez. Which telecast and broadcast crew viewers will be most intrigued by depends on their level of curiosity.

SNB, ESPN’s weekly Major League Baseball showcase and arguably the sport’s national regular-season stage, deserves a top-notch announcing team. That didn’t really apply during the past two seasons as Matt Vasgersian and Rodriguez never quite clicked. (Jessica Mendoza was part of the crew in 2018, which made for some bumpy broadcasts. Yet moving her out didn’t simplify matters as hoped.)

Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the new SNB booth is that Cone and Perez are experienced broadcasters. So this isn’t a “cross your fingers and hope we have a star” situation as it was when ESPN put A-Rod in the booth. Neither Cone nor Perez will have to figure out who they are as broadcasters or what their “hook” might be.

(Remember when A-Rod went through that phase of trying to predict pitches and plays, as Tony Romo does on NFL broadcasts? That didn’t go so well.)

So the regular SNB crew should be solid, at the very least. Maybe they’ll be even better than that, which would not only be refreshing but especially gratifying for Ravech and Perez who deserve the showcase after accomplished broadcasting careers at ESPN. Cone could be the X factor that makes this booth stand out and sustain itself for multiple seasons.

But there will be plenty of opportunities to see the regular SNB team (25 telecasts are scheduled). “Kay-Rod” will do their thing for only eight weeks this season as the alternate SNB telecast, including the first two Sundays on the schedule. (Kay and Rodriguez are also set to call a few games, including a postseason broadcast, in a traditional play-by-play/analyst set-up.)

Thus, it’s only natural that curiosity is drawn to the “Kay-Rod” telecast at first. For one thing, we don’t really know what it’s going to be. Sure, the reflexive comparison will be to the Monday Night Football “ManningCast.” But the rhythm of a baseball game and broadcast are much different than their football counterparts. Also, Kay and Rodriguez likely won’t have the instant chemistry that Peyton and Eli Manning have as brothers.

However, the two do know each other quite well which is why A-Rod wanted Kay as his partner for this alternate telecast. “Kay-Rod” debuts with the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, arguably the greatest rivalry in Major League Baseball. Hopefully, they explore the space that they’re given and talk about A-Rod’s compelling history within the feud.

First, Rodriguez was nearly traded to the Red Sox in 2003 until the MLB Players Association objected to A-Rod lowering his salary to make the deal happen. That gave the Yankees the opportunity to swoop in and snatch away the impact slugger who could break the Curse of the Bambino in Boston. This also occurred months after the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the ALCS on a heartbreaking Game 7 walk-off home run by Aaron Boone.

There should be ample time during the alternate broadcast, which won’t be obligated to follow the typical play-by-play format, for Kay to ask A-Rod about the trade that wasn’t. Rodriguez has told this story before, on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast, and a 30 For 30 short was made about the trade. But “Kay-Rod” presents a new audience for the tale and the setting is ideal.

Oh, and during the subsequent season, there was the brawl between A-Rod and Boston catcher Jason Varitek. For anyone unfamiliar with the rivalry, a photo of Varitek shoving A-Rod in the face provides all the necessary information. There is undoubtedly a story to tell there.

Again, this is a Yankees-Red Sox telecast in an alternate format intended for conversation, rather than play-by-play and analysis. Kay has surely heard stories about the brawl before, probably even Rodriguez’s account of it. So he likely knows exactly what questions to ask and how best to set A-Rod up for maximum storytelling impact.

The plan is to have guests on the telecast, as Peyton and Eli do for the “ManningCast.” Here’s hoping that Varitek will be making an appearance. Joining the show remotely might be a good idea, though.

Based on what the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand reported in his weekly “Sports Clicker” newsletter (subscribe here), there’s reason to be optimistic for “Kay-Rod.” Kay understands the assignment. He knows it’s up to him to get A-Rod to show the insight that fans have seen on Fox’s MLB postseason coverage.

More importantly, Kay needs to get Rodriguez to make fun of himself and not be so image-conscious. Taking himself too seriously hurt his popularity as a player and restricted him in the Sunday Night Baseball booth.

“I told [A-Rod], ‘I want you to make fun of me, and I’m going to make fun of you,’” Kay said to Marchand. “Hopefully we’ll humanize each other.”

Part of that mockery will include reading mean tweets during the telecast, a good idea that does well on Inside the NBA and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Let the viewing audience carry some of the load with sharp quips and hilarious GIFs. A-Rod just needs to laugh at himself as well as Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal do — even when some of the jokes cut close.

Kay probably is the best choice for this endeavor. The question is whether A-Rod will give the people what they want or stay buttoned-up. Becoming anywhere near as popular as the “ManningCast” — or even the Sue Bird-Diana Taurisi MegaCast for the NCAA Women’s Final Four — would be a great thing for baseball. And A-Rod would surely think it’s a great thing for him, as well.

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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