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Mike Florio Is Busy Even During The Slow Times

“I still try to get them to pay attention to the issues associated with off-field misbehavior. That often causes some to ask whether I have a problem with the league I cover for a living.”

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Mike Florio has been covering the NFL for 20 plus years. He does phenomenal work with his daily show PFT Live and his website, ProFootballTalk.com continues to be the source of tremendous content.

Mike Florio’s path should be a source of inspiration for us all. After working with ESPN for less than a year, Mike started his own digital platform and would Trojan Horse his way into national relevancy. The best part is that it worked. 

His background in law also helps him cover the ever-controversial NFL through a lens that’s unique from others in the sports media. Mike has also found himself smack dab in the middle of America’s favorite Sunday NFL pregame show, Football Night in America on NBC. 

His journey and perspective on a league that gobbles up the majority of our headlines has now been covered in great detail in his newest book, Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn’t). I discuss that venture, NFL scandals, and how he got started in the industry in this Q&A with PFT Live’s, Mike Florio. 

Brandon Kravitz: What has the NFL done to create this Teflon coating? As you point out in your book, TV networks are paying more and more for NFL rights, despite countless scandals.

Mike Florio: The fans disconnect the scandals from the game. No matter what happens, people continue to watch live NFL action like nothing else. As consumption habits continue to splinter, the NFL continues to prove its ability to pull 20 to 30 million people together simultaneously, multiple times per week.

It’s even easier to get fans to look past the scandals during football season. A bright, shiny object is never more than two days away, pushing any drama aside and replacing it with a football game that many want to watch and/or bet on.

Is there a scandal that would get fans to not watch? Maybe, especially if it went to the heart of the integrity of the game. Even then, the impact possibly would be temporary. The league would say whatever it had to say, do whatever it had to do, and the stream of bright, shiny objects would make everyone forget.

BK: Does it ever bother you on a personal level how much fans are able to overlook the transgressions of their favorite teams/players?

MF: I’m not bothered that fans are able to overlook it. I still try to get them to pay attention to the issues associated with off-field misbehavior. That often causes some to ask whether I have a problem with the league I cover for a living.

I don’t have a problem with the league itself. I have a problem at times with the people who are running it, the stewards of the sport.

I became brainwashed by the mythology created by NFL Films as a kid in the early 1970s. I put the NFL on a pedestal, as a shining example of American excellence. That kid has grown up (mostly), and he expects them to live up to the image they created. 

BK: Does it amaze you sometimes to think about how much the coverage of the NFL has changed over the years? This has truly become a 12-month sport, and it wasn’t always like that.

MF: The arrival of (mostly) true free agency and a (mostly) hard salary cap created a much more compelling offseason than the league ever had. By the time I got into the business 20 years ago, the NFL had become a sport that generates news and interest for most of the year. It seems to attract even more attention today, even during the slow times. On very few occasions when I sit down to write a blurb for PFT, I find little if anything to write about or discuss.

BK: What do you make of all the movement we’ve seen from the networks in terms of play-by-play and color analyst, and the money these broadcasters are now pulling in to call games? Is it worth it, in the end, to pay play-by-play announcers north of 10 million a year?

MF: It started with Tony Romo and CBS. Some would try to brush that off as an aberration, but when the rest of the market moved in the same direction, it wasn’t. With the ongoing influx of gambling money, it will continue. That said, no one watches a game because of the announcers. Certain announcers, however, make the game feel bigger. The more money that the announcers make, and the more everyone knows about the money they’re making, the bigger the game will feel.

For some in sports media who are now making money that seems objectively obscene, and I have no problem with that development, making sure everyone knows how much money is being made becomes a marketing tool of sorts. “Hey, if we’re paying so-and-so ‘X’ million dollars per year, then so-and-so must be great, so if you don’t tune in, you’re really missing out.”

I also think the league expects the networks to spend the money necessary to create that vibe, even if Rams owner Stan Kroenke may not have been thrilled that Amazon provided Rams coach Sean McVay with the kind of leverage that forced Kroenke to dramatically increase McVay’s pay.

BK: When you started doing PFT Live, what was your vision for the show and how has that shifted over time?

MF: PFT Live launched in 2011, as a digital-only production of NBCSports.com. It started at noon ET and lasted roughly an hour, and some of the clips would land at our web destination, ProFootballTalk.com.

It changed when NBC Sports Radio offered to make it a three-hour show. We continued to stream the video of the first hour. After a year, the show moved to the 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. ET slot and we persuaded NBC to televise two hours of it. When Westwood One shut down NBC Sports Radio in early 2020, the show became primarily a TV vehicle with a SiriusXM 85 simulcast. A lot of the viewership continues to come from clips of the slow that are embedded into stories posted on the PFT website since our traffic at PFT continues to grow.

The vision for the show has always been the same: to talk about the news of the day in a candid, honest, smart (hopefully), thought-provoking, and entertaining way, and to periodically have some interesting interviews.

When we added Chris Simms in 2017 as a co-host, the show began to evolve. We instantly had great chemistry. Our styles and approaches and backgrounds complement each other very well. We don’t create phony debates. We agree most of the time, and we talk through most of our disagreements in order to find a middle ground. We rarely have a serious disagreement. When we do, it’s memorable — and it makes some of our friends and family members wonder whether we’re actually mad at each other. We never are.

BK: What do you miss about traditional terrestrial radio that you don’t get from your PFT Live show?

MF: I don’t miss long breaks and hard outs, that’s for sure. PFT Live currently has seven segments spread over two hours. Some mornings, we’ll stretch the first segment for nearly a full hour, without a break. That kind of loose, open-ended format has resulted in some very meaningful conversations and discussions as to the top stories of any given day since there’s no urgency to take a break.

We also have become a little looser with our language, since we’re not on any FCC-regulated platforms. The censors at Sky Sports in the UK may not appreciate that. Our show airs there later in the day. Sometimes they’ll bleep words that shouldn’t have been bleeped. Sometimes they’ll fail to bleep words that definitely should have been.

Also, instead of three straight hours in the morning, we now split the day into two hours early and one hour in the late afternoon. Having that 5:00 p.m. ET window for PFTPM often can be very useful, given the amount of NFL news that often breaks after we wrap the morning show.

Still, I enjoyed knowing that people who were driving in their cars and who didn’t have satellite radio could listen to the show. I’d hear from truckers on the West Coast who’d listen to the show at 3:00 a.m. local time. Under the right circumstances, I’d be interested in another terrestrial radio show. However, removing all those long breaks from the equation has helped improve the quality of the show. It would be a challenge to return to segments that range from only seven minutes to 15 minutes.

BK: What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring sports broadcaster, who’s just looking to get their foot in the door? What should be their first move?

MF: My experience was unique. I developed a digital platform, and I started doing free radio spots anywhere and everywhere I could, since making your brand part of the content is much more effective than any advertising that ever could be purchased. I did spot after spot after spot after spot, with the goal of getting more people to visit PFT. Eventually, I decided to start asking the stations that were having me on regularly to pay me for those spots. I thought they’d all say no, but almost everyone said yes.

I never would have developed any sort of hosting skills in broadcasting if Dan Patrick hadn’t made me a regular guest on his show starting around 2007 and then trusted me to guest host during a vacation week in 2010. I remember getting the call. “Dan’s off next week, and we were wondering if you would do the show,” they said. “Sure,” I replied, “just give the guest host my number and let me know when the spot will be.” A few seconds of silence. “No, you’re the guest host.” 

I freaked out, I was overprepared, and I got myself twisted up several times during the first effort. I also learned the hard way that the hard break means you don’t stop talking until the music bed begins to play. I tried to throw to break at the end of the first hour of the show, proud of the fact that I’d gotten out with a minute to spare, like a department head coming in under budget.

The engineer said to me, “Um, you have to keep going.” I was more rattled than Chris Rock after the slap. But it was a learning experience. Through more and more experiences (fortunately, few like that one), more and more lessons were learned. That’s the key for anyone who (like me) isn’t naturally skilled at this. Get reps. Get reps. Get reps. You’ll eventually be as good as you possibly can be. You may end up being better than you ever thought you could be.

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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