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Facing Change, ‘Good Morning Football’ Keeps Rolling With Successful Formula

After Monday’s debut, it appears that the GMFB machine will keep rolling just fine. This is not an easy show but the team makes it look that way, which is what makes it so special.

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The Greek philosopher Heraclitus probably wasn’t referring to sports media when he said that change is the only constant in life. As interpreted by Plato, Heraclitus was more profound.

“All things pass and nothing stays,” said Plato, “and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river.”

No, there’s nothing about sports media in that quote. But Heraclitus could’ve been referring to it. For many of us (especially those of you reading this, shaking your head at a writer trying to sound smart by quoting Greek philosophy), sports media is life. And the industry is constantly changing.

Viewers of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football saw that on Monday morning with Jamie Erdahl and Jason McCourty joining incumbent co-hosts Kyle Brandt and Peter Schrager in the show’s new lineup.

It’s a huge change for the program, which had a rock-solid quartet for five years. That stability and familiarity, not to mention fantastic chemistry, willingness to mix football with pop culture, and a great sense of fun made GMFB the best sports morning show on TV.

Then last September, Nate Burleson left to co-host CBS Mornings. (There may be no greater example of change being a constant in media than the CBS morning show.) In May, Kay Adams also exited the program, ensuring that GMFB would have a very different look for the 2022 season.

Change is the only constant in life. Or sports media.

Producers hadn’t named a permanent replacement for Burleson during the past 11 months, rotating a variety of panelists including Michael Robinson, Cris Carter, Shaun O’Hara, and DeAngelo Hall. But naming the right person to fill Burleson’s chair was more than finding a former NFL player who provided good analysis, meshed well with the other three co-hosts, and kept the chemistry flowing.

“It’s a very difficult spot to fill, not only because of the obvious chemistry deal and the obvious work we’ve had behind us with Nate,” Brandt told Jimmy Traina on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast last October.

“It’s just like, we’re looking for an ex-player — he’s gotta be an ex-player, this is the NFL Network — and he has to be an ex-player who not only wants to get up at 4:30 in the morning every single day to go to a table to talk to three people who did not play in the NFL and are going to tell him his opinion is wrong. You also have to have that ex-player live in the New York-New Jersey area.”

As it turns out, the right man for the job wasn’t available until Jason McCourty officially retired from the NFL earlier this month. After impressing producers and executives at the league’s broadcasting boot camp, along with appearances on NFL Network in recent months, McCourty (who lives in New Jersey and didn’t have to relocate) checked all of the boxes.

With no disrespect to Adams, replacing her role on the show was going to be easier. Whether it’s acting as host, moderator, or point guard, being a former NFL player wasn’t necessary. Fitting in with the rest of the cast, keeping the offense moving, and getting the fun, upbeat tone of the show was most important. Oh, and maybe already living in New York or a willingness to relocate to the metro area was a plus. (If not for that, would Rachel Bonnetta have gotten the job?)

Erdahl had already been “one of the boys” in a hectic, fast-paced environment as a sideline reporter for CBS Sports, bantering with game broadcasters Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson, while also having a good rapport with coaches and players in college football and basketball.

The broadcast crew for a studio show shouldn’t be judged after only one broadcast. But after Monday’s debut, it appears that the GMFB machine will keep rolling just fine. This is not an easy show but the team makes it look that way, which is what makes it so special.

Erdahl and McCourty know the assignment, and NFL Network producers surely wouldn’t have put anyone in place who would have to adjust on the go. Both showed a good rapport with Brandt and Schrager right away, deftly handling references to movies like Bridesmaids, football topics like which team will benefit most from a new season, and offbeat subjects such as travel pet peeves.

Viewers and fans like the familiar. They like to be comfortable with what they’re watching on a regular basis. So there was a valid reason for concern that Good Morning Football would no longer be the show with which so many of us fell in love. But Brandt and Schrager make up the engine that drives the show and they’re still in their seats. The style and format of the program and the sensibility that sets it apart from the competition haven’t changed. And that’s a relief.

But TV and radio programs need to change periodically to stay fresh. The same is true for staffs at newspapers, magazines, and websites. Different voices and faces might be necessary for a venture to avoid becoming stale and accumulating cobwebs. Nothing has blown off the dust and aired out the room like the turnover we’ve seen during this NFL offseason with broadcast crews moving around and new outlets showcasing the sport.

Even when a team like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman stay together, they seized an opportunity to shake things up by moving from Fox to ESPN. Both seem excited by leading a brand like Monday Night Football.

Change is the only constant in life. Or sports media. It doesn’t always work. We’ve watched many ill-advised experiments and failures through the decades. Knowing what works and not tinkering too drastically with a successful formula certainly helps. Good Morning Football is showing how important that is.

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BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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