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ESPN Edge Conference Puts The Future On Display

” The company will look to continue to embrace movements in the digital space and the proclivities of its viewers and sports fans at large as it looks to serve the sports time anytime and anywhere for years to come.”

Derek Futterman

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Since 1979, ESPN has sought to be the worldwide leader in sports coverage and media innovation, remaining at the forefront of changing consumer habits and emerging technologies. One year ago, the company introduced the ESPN Edge Innovation Center, effectuating a new standard to power sports media innovation through robust partnerships with companies centered around connectivity, technology and consulting. In conjunction with this new branch of the company, the ESPN Edge Conference was created to inform sports media professionals and partners about the work the company is doing to fulfill its mission of serving the sports fan anytime and anywhere.

“We’re on to year two, and I’m here to guarantee no sophomore slump this time,” said Around the Horn and conference host Tony Reali. “I have no doubt you’ll feel the impact when you see the ways we can unleash technology to power content; the way we can partner in cultivating our minds to championing innovation.”

ESPN Head of Sports Business and Innovation Mark L. Walker shared some of the company’s achievements over the last year in the “Powering the Future of Sports Media Innovation” session of the conference. The ESPN Edge Virtual Lab, for example, was created to test new technologies with internal stakeholders and implement them on programming. Around the Horn was the first half-hour program to implement augmented reality.

The company experimented with volumetric video broadcasting technology in a matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets last season, allowing fans to see the game in 3D and from more camera angles than were previously realistic. The network’s broadcast of the NBA Finals also utilized innovative technology and hardware to change the way the game is presented, virtually placing elements and video around venues to be captured by drones and other cameras.

“As innovation across infrastructure, networking and computing enable more immersive digital experiences than previously possible, ESPN is utilizing the breadth of its rights and partnerships… to create future-state experiences that enable the most immersive, connected communities for our fans,” Walker said.

Accenture partnered with ESPN to help transform the fan experience. The company has over 721,000 employees and maintains two schools of thought regarding innovation known as “Big I” and “Little I.” While the latter relates to continuous levels of improvement every day, the former refers to transforming a space and doing something never before seen. In order to do that though, diversity within the company is an essential part to ensure different perspectives and backgrounds are considered relating to company decisions.

“You can’t innovate unless you are diverse,” said Julie Sweet, chair and chief executive officer of Accenture in a panel moderated by Mike Greenberg. “As you look across what’s happening now, there’s so much opportunity with technology, the use of data, AI and there are so many challenges and opportunities so companies are taking much more seriously not just the words, but moving to action. They believe they cannot serve these new markets and take care of these challenges unless they have different thought at the table.”

The ESPN network of platforms spans across traditional and modern approaches to content dissemination and aims to meet the fan where they are. As an example, Formula One Racing, a sport quickly rising in popularity, is being used by the company and its partners as a case study of creating multiplatform content engaging and informative to consumers.

StatusPRO Technology is one of the companies looking to reach consumers, but it also has positioned its product to appeal to those within the National Football League as a training mechanism. Started by former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins and Division I quarterback Troy Jones, the company launched NFL Pro Era, the first ever fully-licensed NFL virtual reality game. Moving from being football players to founders of a technology company, the duo seeks to implement augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality into the game experience for both athletes and fans. Andrew Hawkins, co-founder and president of StatusPRO, found himself interested in the technology after he saw a hologram of Tupac at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival; the challenge was how to apply it.

“I started building a mobile application that will connect anybody with relevant experience with the people who would value it,” Hawkins said in a panel moderated by Molly Qerim. “If you wanted to have a sports media sector of it, people who want to be in Molly’s shoes could subscribe to get feedback [and] mentorship.”

After being approached by two non-athletes about this type of technology potentially being able to shift the sports landscape, Jones analyzed it more thoroughly and came to the conclusion to try to revolutionize the space as well.

“I said, ‘Hey, this can really disrupt sports [and] help athletes get better, but also helps and gives them experiences they’ve never had,’” Jones expressed. “We believe this is the future of computing and how people will interact with the internet and content.”

The Baltimore Ravens were the pilot team for the technology developed by Howard and Jones’ team, and utilized its quarterback, Lamar Jackson, to produce a special experience centered around his versatility and athleticism. Aside from that though, he is indicative of authenticity to the consumer base and gives the platform to market its mission of pioneering gaming and training in ways never before realized. The challenge comes in getting people to realize that what they perceive to be in the future is actually here in the present.

Through its 5G technology, large bandwidth and low latency, Verizon has helped ESPN transform fan experiences around the world in addition to broadcast production. The company figures to accelerate the speed at which changes can be made and presented to consumers and seek to use the technology to immerse fans within the game instead of having them passively observe the action. An example of such integration is the 2022 X Games Aspen mobile application where the company was able to exploit second-screen technology and alternate viewing experiences to transform the viewing experience for fans.

Verizon’s 5G technology allowed for ESPN to place unique types of cameras in locations never before accessible along with those with 180° and 360° degree capabilities. Upon analysis of application data, the average session length was found to be 20 minutes and two-thirds of users returned for a second time. The network surmises experiences like these could alter the direct-to-consumer approach to media innovation for years to come.

“There was so much work that had to be done [and] it just doesn’t happen without a lot of coordination and a lot of teamwork. I think that has been what’s made this partnership, at least from my perspective, really special,” Tim Reed, vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, said. “At the end of the day, we all wanted to work towards creating something really unique for our fans and an experience that we all could be really proud of.”

One way audiences are becoming more engaged in sporting events is by having a stake in the game through betting. As more states move to legalize the activity following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. NCAA (2018) delegating the regulatory power to the states, content providers such as ESPN have observed its proliferation in popularity and subsequently built studios in Las Vegas while implementing betting segments within studio and live game programming.

“ESPN is the number one, most trusted brand in sports,” said Mike Morrison, vice president of sports betting and fantasy at ESPN. “We’re setting records on digital with the ESPN App, on streaming and social media as a sports publisher and [as an] editorial journalism platform. ESPN’s brand and the trust people have in it offers ESPN the opportunity to further lean into sports betting.”

The outcome of games and performance of athletes can change in an instant and, subsequently, the outcome for bets whether they be props, parlays or teasers. Just as it is difficult to accurately predict the outcome of a sporting event, it is also hard to project the growth of certain industry trends – part of the reason why ESPN decided to view the growth of sports betting and be ready to assimilate into the space if they deemed it as a place for future growth. Once the network saw sports fans migrating to betting platforms and the success they were experiencing, it decided to more heavily migrate into the space and now continues to do so as both analysts and storytellers.

“We are the most trusted brand in sports media,” repeated Laura Gentile, executive vice president of commercial marketing at ESPN and Disney Networks. “That is why we’ve taken this patient, methodical approach to sort of vetting the opportunity and being there in a responsible way. Trust for us is always going to be paramount. When we have partners; when we have odds, we need to feel good about that and give it to fans in the proper way.”

Both sports betting and fantasy sports have blurred the lines when it comes to following specific teams; instead, fans are following athletes and/or certain occurrences in games with the prospect of winning or losing money at hand. Part of the value proposition of sports betting to ESPN aside from telling stories that relate to the interests of fans is using its platform to make it more accessible, part of the reason why many sportsbooks have looked to partner with them to sponsor segments, statistics or other parts of their multifaceted broadcasts. ESPN is aiming to emulate how it was able to help grow fantasy sports to sports betting, the latest innovation in a dynamic content landscape.

“We’ve almost doubled the number of fantasy players in the last 10 years,” Gentile said. “We’re breaking records every single year when it comes to sign ups and how people are playing on multiple teams and multiple leagues. Fantasy is much more accessible; it used to be this strange, rotisserie type of thing [but now it is] more mainstream. Now you’re sitting there watching games that you would never watch before because your team hinges on it. It’s very, very similar [to sports betting] and I think we’ve made fantasy football much more understandable and much more successful.”

Coinciding with new technologies and viewer experiences, sports fans crave information and listen to experts decipher statistics and trends that enhance their knowledge and understanding of the game both on the playing surface and in the front office. Dr. André Snellings always had an interest in sports but attended the University of Michigan to receive his PhD in biomedical engineering. The dissertation he crafted and successfully defended in order to earn his PhD related to deep brain stimulation as a form of treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, assisting neurosurgeons to locate the most optimal location for electrode implants and neural recordings to be placed to help eliminate the disease.

Snellings discovered fantasy sports while waiting for a colleague in a laboratory one day and instantly became captivated by the practice after creating a fantasy basketball team. He got into the industry by means of necessity though, as he looked to augment his own knowledge about the practice but did not have the means to do so.

“One day I heard a guy on the radio giving fantasy sports advice and when I went to sign up for his website, I volunteered doing analysis for them to gain access,” he said. “It turns out that the same tools that made me good at bioengineering lent themselves to sports analysis.”

Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, he worked to build his career in sports media which eventually led him to become a senior writer at RotoWire. Once he signed on with ESPN as a senior writer and on-air talent, he began applying his expertise to the world of professional sports. In fact, he suggested trades during the 2017-18 and 2020-21 seasons in columns for the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively, to make in order to contend for a championship. Whether or not there was any correlation between his suggestions and the team’s strategy, both franchises ended up executing the suggested trades and went on to win league championships.

“I utilized the same analytical toolbox in both careers,” he said. “These days, I apply it to the NBA, the WNBA, the NFL and the tennis tours in addition to the nervous system.”

ESPN Edge has also partnered with Microsoft to help leverage innovations in data and artificial intelligence to transform the sports media landscape. Referencing surfing, the panel discussed how technology can assist in familiarizing fans with sports with which they may not be as familiar while also genuinely eliminating biases to allow for objective scoring.

Akin to the intersection between training and gaming, the technology that gives fans insights about statistics is also desired by sports franchises looking to optimize their performance and prevent injuries to move into the future. It serves a dual purpose which is marketable and usable for those on the field and in the stands.

“It was the athletes, coaches and people involved in the sport [who were] coming to us and asking us to bring this technology to the field,” Kevin Ashley, principal engineer at Microsoft, said. “We have this magic; we have this technology that can tell them how to improve performance and reduce the number of injuries on the field.”

Social media remains vitally important in content strategy and distribution, but part of the expertise of teams comes in identifying which opportunities could help the growth of a brand as compared to hindering it. Vice President of Social Media at ESPN Katiee Daley and her team recognized the growth of TikTok, joining the platform in 2015 and creating specialized, digestible content for consumers. Today, ESPN as a brand is in the top five in terms of following and engagement on the platform following its launch in 2015.

BeReal, a social network centered around authenticity, alerts users once per day of the commencement of a two-minute window to take a photo and post it to the platform. The application has surged in popularity since its inception in 2020 and has been installed over 53 million times globally; however, ESPN has yet to create an account on the platform despite considering joining it.

“We’ve talked about ‘Can we show up as authentically ESPN there or is it going to come across as us trying too hard?,’” Daley said. “I think it’s smart to pick your spots [and] pick the playgrounds that you want to be testing in.”

In appealing to consumers, ESPN has focused on the growth of alternate broadcasts, most notably Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli – colloquially-referred to as the Manningcast. Featuring former NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, the program presents viewers with an alternate perspective of the action on the gridiron broadcast in quasi-studios built in their respective homes.

According to Ed Placey, who serves as vice president of production at ESPN, Peyton Manning declined the use of a telestrator because it is indicative of a normal broadcast but is engrossed by viewing various different camera angles and videos of plays. As a result, the network recently installed a large LED wall with television screens showing different feeds of the game at his home, giving him the opportunity to analyze plays from multiple angles. Conversely, Eli Manning watches the game and enjoys using the Microsoft tablets provided on the sidelines to look at the special coaches feeds of plays and will sometimes use them as a type of telestrator as well. Nonetheless, the key to the broadcasts is relatability, and despite them having storied careers on the field, have been successful thus far in their pursuit to revolutionize the way football is presented across multiple platforms.

“We’ve found that Peyton and Eli’s broadcast and many other second-screen experiences that we do are for folks that aren’t as avid in that game at that time and want something different,” Placey said. “People who are just casual on that night love tuning in to Peyton and Eli because they’re kind of watching it the same way they are. It’s Monday; it’s fun; it’s not serious all the time with them.”

Whether it be alternate broadcasts, evolutions in augmented reality or fan engagement, the ESPN Edge conference exhibited the network’s innovations and areas of development and future growth. The company will look to continue to embrace movements in the digital space and the proclivities of its viewers and sports fans at large as it looks to serve the sports time anytime and anywhere for years to come.

BSM Writers

John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup

“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”

Brady Farkas

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Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.

The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.

Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.

(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)

BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?

JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.

BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?

JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.

So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.

BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?

JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.

So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.

Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.

BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?

JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.

And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.

We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?

JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.

The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive.  If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.

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BSM Writers

Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”

Tyler McComas

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It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood. 

“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.

If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy. 

Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.

“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”

What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air. 

“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.

“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.

“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”

Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again. 

“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.

“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”

As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?

“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.

“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”

Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content. 

For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show. 

“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.

“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.

“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”

It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle. 

“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”

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BSM Writers

Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”

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It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.

Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.

The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.

There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?

More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.

“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”

Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf  family and our entire organization.  I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”

I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.

For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.

“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”

Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.

“I would say this. I am my own worst critic.  I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I  am to be in the position where  I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said.  “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”

In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making  a commitment to work on their  skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said. 

“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his  glove,  his ability to play multiple positions?  His  character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”

Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one  meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.” 

The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.

Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.

Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.

I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.

A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.

“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels.  My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case,  my foundation is  built on respect,  kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”  

Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of  the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”

The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.

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