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ESPN’s ‘The Captain’ Gives A-Rod Summer Spotlight ‘KayRod Cast’ Couldn’t

A-Rod isn’t cast in a flattering light. But that’s created buzz for him in media, which is as close to popularity as he’ll get.

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ESPN Films

If Alex Rodriguez was hoping to generate some sports media buzz this summer, he hasn’t done so with ESPN’s alternate, “KayRod” Sunday Night Baseball telecast. He hasn’t become Major League Baseball’s version of Peyton Manning, whose Monday Night Football “ManningCast” with his brother Eli became the biggest story in the industry during the 2021 NFL season.

To be fair, the limited number of “KayRod Casts” scheduled for the 2022 MLB campaign was always going to make it difficult for Rodriguez and broadcast partner Michael Kay to connect with viewers. Only eight alternate telecasts were on the SNB schedule with just two more to come for the remainder of the season.

(The Aug. 14 telecast will feature the New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox, which will draw interest no matter what. But A-Rod’s connection to those teams could create some intrigue if he and Kay offer more insight than the debut April 10 “KayRod Cast” offered. Sept. 25’s matchup has yet to be determined, presumably waiting to pick the best game available.)

But thanks to a former New York Yankees teammate, A-Rod did get a moment in the summer spotlight last week. Episode 4 of The Captain, ESPN’s seven-part Derek Jeter docuseries, ended with a look back at the relationship between the two stars when Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees before the 2004 MLB season. The final 15 minutes of the episode confirmed what most baseball fans already suspected; Jeter did not like A-Rod.

The tension between the two was based on remarks A-Rod made in a 2001 Esquire interview, in which he attributed Jeter’s success to playing on a good team.

“Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him. He’s never had to lead,” Rodriguez told Scott Raab. “He can just go out and play and have fun. And he hits second, that’s totally different than third and fourth in the lineup. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie (Williams) and (Paul) O’Neill. You never say, ‘don’t let Derek beat you’. He’s never your concern.”

Those comments led to Jeter saying in Episode 3 of The Captain that Rodriguez was “not a true friend.” Yet when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman had an opportunity to acquire Rodriguez (which became a necessity after third baseman Aaron Boone suffered a serious knee injury), they didn’t hesitate to add an impact slugger. Getting A-Rod also had the bonus effect of sticking it to the rival Boston Red Sox, whose efforts to trade for the star fell through months earlier.

However, the Yankees shortstop looked down on Rodriguez for his willingness to move to third base and join a World Series contender rather than try to build a winning team himself. In Episode 2 of the docuseries, the two talked about being perceived as rivals but Jeter dismissed A-Rod’s statistical achievements in comparison to his championships. And now, here was arguably the best player in baseball — the reigning American League Most Valuable Player — trying to take a shortcut to World Series glory.

Eighteen years later, Rodriguez arguably tried to take another shortcut to TV stardom with cultural and social media relevance with the “KayRod Cast.”

Yet with such a limited number of telecasts and months between some of them, A-Rod and Kay had little chance to improve, get comfortable with each other, and help producers figure out what works and what doesn’t. Under such circumstances and an apparent lack of commitment from its supposed star, the “KayRod Cast” seemed doomed to fail — or at the very least, probably wouldn’t succeed.

A-Rod and the “KayRod Cast” would never be as popular as the “ManningCast.” (Though it should be noted that SNB‘s alternate telecast attracted a similar percentage of the audience as MNF‘s did, drawing 10.7 percent of the total viewership.)

Regular-season MLB telecasts don’t draw the same attention in sports (and mainstream) culture as the NFL. Monday Night Football is an established brand with more than 50 years of history and a celebrated roster of broadcasters behind it. It’s still appointment television for some football fans and with the right match-up can still feel like an event.

Viewers also like Peyton Manning. Fans and media admired him as a college and NFL quarterback and enjoyed many of his commercials for products including DirecTV, Mastercard, and Nationwide Insurance. He starred in one of the most memorable Saturday Night Live skits from the past 15 years, spoofing United Way public service announcements.

Name an Alex Rodriguez commercial you remember. He’s in a current DirecTV campaign but shares the screen with fellow baseball legends David Ortiz, Ken Griffey Jr., and Randy Johnson. Unfortunately, we can’t say A-Rod is in the Ghostbusters-inspired ads with “fellow baseball Hall of Famers” due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs and a subsequent suspension that cost him the entire 2014 MLB season.

Being exposed as a PED user will likely prevent Rodriguez from ever receiving enough votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America to gain induction into the Hall of Fame. In his first year of eligibility, only 34 percent of the voters put him on their ballots. As most baseball fans know, 75 percent is required for induction.

Rodriguez’s PED disgrace validated the disdain that many fans felt toward him. Like Jeter, they viewed his impressive individual numbers as secondary to his team’s success.

During his seven seasons in Seattle, the Mariners only had two first-place finishes and lost three times in the postseason. The year after A-Rod left for the Texas Rangers, Seattle won an American League-record 116 games. Though Rodriguez had some spectacular (albeit likely enhanced) seasons in New York, winning two AL MVP awards, the Yankees only won one World Series during those 12 years.

Alex Rodriguez has always wanted fans to adore him. He sought popularity as a player and now yearns for acclaim as a broadcaster. But likability has never come naturally to him. When he’s funny, it’s because his colleagues tease him on air or allow him to poke fun at himself.

But thanks to Derek Jeter and The Captain, A-Rod is getting attention this summer. He’s not cast in a flattering light, but that’s created buzz for him in sports media and on social media. It’s probably the best he can hope for when adulation is still elusive.

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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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