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NBA Teams Branch Out Beyond English To Reach Global Fans

The Wizards’ Spanish accounts aim to share wide-ranging coverage of the team’s 2022-2023 season, including game coverage, media availability, behind-the-scenes access and other fan-related content.

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With a global audience of 1.6 billion fans, the NBA is one of the few American sports leagues that boasts both domestic and international household names. For every homegrown talent like LeBron, Steph and Zion who grace the hardwood, they’re becoming increasingly matched by popular stars from abroad — Giannis, Luka, Rui and many others.

As the NBA continues to assert itself as a melting pot of talent, its 30 clubs are beginning to reach some of their international players’ countries through multi-language social media accounts. 

The Washington Wizards recently added to their diverse social media portfolio by creating their first-ever Spanish-language account. Launched on both Instagram and Twitter, the Wizards’ Spanish-centric social media channels will provide an outlet for not only their Spanish-speaking fans abroad, but for the growing Spanish-speaking population in the D.C. area. The greater D.C. area is considered one of the fastest-growing Latin American communities nationwide, with a 42% increase in the 2010s.

The Wizards’ Spanish accounts aim to share wide-ranging coverage of the team’s 2022-2023 season, including game coverage, media availability, behind-the-scenes access and other fan-related content.

“Latino people are hungry for basketball,” Tania Henao, director of digital content at the Wizards, said in an interview. “They love the NBA and they want an outlet to be able to enjoy that as well.”

The Wizards’ launch of their new Spanish account is just the latest example of their efforts to broaden their international reach. It was in 1979 when, after winning the 1979 NBA title, Washington —then known as the Bullets — became the first U.S. sports team to be invited to China. The Bullets went onto play in two exhibition games against the Chinese national team and the now-defunct Bayi Rockets in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively.

Nearly 40 years after their China tour, the Wizards looked elsewhere in Asia to find more than just their next lottery pick. After drafting Japanese-born and Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura with the ninth-overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, they would hire a Japanese digital correspondent and launch a Japanese language website, Twitter account and weekly podcast.

While the Wizards’ international history preceded Hachimura’s arrival, the 24-year-old was nonetheless the reason behind their increased marketing efforts outside the U.S.

“We had done many ‘Heritage Nights’ over the years with different cultures and countries, but Rui was really the catalyst to look into the opportunity to grow our brand globally,” Rebecca Winn, senior vice president of marketing at the Wizards, said in an interview.

Like Winn said, 2019 was just the start of the Wizards’ multilingual social media efforts. When Washington again went outside the U.S. for their 2020 lottery pick — Israel’s Deni Avdija — it commemorated the news by becoming the first NBA team to create a Hebrew-specific Twitter profile.

One notable difference between the Wizards’ Spanish-speaking profile and their other foreign-language channels? The lack of a Spanish player on their roster. With the help of players like Hachimura and Avdija, the Wizards’ Japanese and Hebrew Twitter profiles have attracted nearly 87,000 and 12,000 followers, respectively. The Japanese Instagram account has also grown to roughly 59,000 followers.

Lacking that Spanish face to represent their newest channel, the Wizards will be leaning more into the increasingly diverse DMV area — as well as a new social media manager — for content purposes. 

“Without having a representative on our team at the moment for the Hispanic-Latino community, I think that’s where we’ll be definitely putting more focus locally in D.C. versus trying to target a specific country,” Henao added. 

It’s not just the Wizards in the NBA that have expanded their social media efforts beyond English-speaking communities.

Since Washington traveled to China in 1979, the NBA has seen its clubs play overseas in what is known as the, “NBA Global Games.” After not having held an international contest since 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA will see the Bulls and Detroit Pistons face off on January 19th, 2023, at the AccorArena in Paris.

Because of their upcoming international game, the Bulls recently announced that it will be working with sports agency SPORTFIVE to develop a strategy to grow their fan base and business in France. According to GWI, the country boasts 5.5 million NBA fans, 1.4 million of whom are Bulls fans.

Ahead of the Bulls-Pistons matchup, SPORTFIVE will also help Chicago launch a comprehensive marketing campaign which will include digital audience development, strategic brand partnerships and on-site activations, among others.

Already, SPORTFIVE has helped the Bulls launch their first official French language Instagram account, @leschicagobulls. As of October 23rd, the channel has roughly 6,800 followers.

The Bulls’ French endeavors are their latest attempt at making themselves an international brand, said Joe Pinchin, the team’s senior manager of digital content. Recent years have seen Chicago engage globally through platforms like fan pages and fan groups. The team also saw its international profile rise due to The Last Dance docuseries which chronicled Michael Jordan’s time as a Bull. Coincidentally, the first episode documented the Bulls’ 1997 preseason trip in, you guessed it, Paris. 

“In terms of the language approach, that is just a more authentic way to speak to fans,” Pinchin said in an interview. “I think that we take for granted how much of the world speaks English, but there’s so much of our fan base where English isn’t their first language. And so French was like the starting point for us.”

It’s not even just teams in notable U.S. cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. that have invested more resources into international marketing.

One of the first teams to create a Spanish-language social media handle? The Oklahoma City Thunder, which created @elthunder on both Facebook and Twitter in 2015. 

While @elthunder’s inception dates back to the Thunder’s days of dominance with former stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, their attempts at reaching Spanish-speaking fans have persisted despite the departure of their most notable players. 

When the Thunder first launched @elthunder, their initial efforts were just to make sure that their messaging was translated correctly, according to Michelle Matthews, the team’s manager of fan development. 

Over time, the Thunder began finding other ways to create what Matthews called a, “365 effort to engage with our Hispanic community.” Those efforts range from interactions with Latino school groups to using their social media platform to highlight local Hispanic business owners throughout the pandemic. 

With the 2022-2023 season officially underway, Matthews says that the team is continuing to find both new and existing ways at supporting Oklahoma City’s Spanish community. The Thunder have had home games announced in Spanish on WKY radio (930 AM in Oklahoma City) by broadcaster Eleno Ornelas since the 2009 campaign.

Lately, the Thunder have also seen the power of influencer marketing help them attract Spanish fans. They have been working with several micro-influencers to help bring more attention to Oklahoma City by having them post about relevant topics like the best Spanish restaurants to visit and highlight local brands that support the Hispanic demographic.

“When we started this journey, we were trying to make sure that our messaging was just simply translated correctly to the audience that we were hoping to speak to,” Matthews said in an interview. “And what we quickly learned was we wanted to go more than just surface level with that connection.”

Even with the start of a new season, it hasn’t stopped teams like the Bulls, Thunder and Wizards from using their non-English speaking social media accounts to generate buzz. 

The Wizards continue to reach fans in other foreign regions. They recently joined Weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms in China with 582 million monthly active users. With @WizardsArabic, they also became the first NBA franchise to create a social media profile specifically for Arabic-speaking audiences.

As for the Bulls, Pinchin hopes to launch a second-language Instagram account to complement @leschicagobulls. He also recognizes the importance of maintaining a pulse on the Chinese sports fans. Two other Bulls accounts — the official team profile and their mascot, Benny The Bull — have attracted TikTok followings of nearly 950,000 and 5.4 million followers, respectively.

To Pinchin, the opportunity for both the Bulls and other teams to reach non-English speaker supporters is an objective that, if done correctly, can help convert casual followers into lifelong fans.

“If we can remove some barriers for people to engage with us, and provide it in a way that makes sense for them versus it makes sense for us, I think it’s going to put us in a really, really good spot,” Pinchin said.

BSM Writers

What Does Bob Iger Back On Top At Disney Mean For Gambling At ESPN?

“Under Chapek, I think the company was willing to make moves like that, but Iger believes more in keeping Disney and all of its subsidiaries more family-friendly.”

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Will the Mouse House continue to stray from its family-first image and expand its presence in the world of sports betting? After Bob Iger’s retirement set the stage for Bob Chapek’s role as chief executive officer, many wondered how it would impact Disney’s sports betting curiosities. While Iger said in 2019 that he couldn’t foresee Disney “facilitating gambling in any way,” things slowly changed under his successor’s leadership.

During Chapek’s tenure as Disney CEO, ESPN — arguably its biggest sub-brand — would announce partnerships with the likes of Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings, even owning a roughly 6% stake in the latter. The partnerships, in Chapek’s eyes, were needed so ESPN could look externally for help breaking into sports gambling.

“We at ESPN have the ability to do that. Now we’re going to need a partner to do that, because we’re never going to be a [sports] book, that’s never in the cards for the Walt Disney Company,” Chapek told CNBC in an interview last September. “But at the same time, to be able to partner with a well-respected third party can do that for us.”

Any further interest in Disney’s sports betting endeavors can yield a big payday for the entertainment behemoth. The Wall Street Journal speculated in August 2021 that an ESPN licensing deal would cost sports betting companies at least $3 billion over the course of several years, a figure that appears to hold weight with industry experts. 

Josh Taylor, a content creator focused on the Walt Disney Company at his YouTube Channel @ModernMouse, believes that $3 billion could be the minimum amount that Disney charges its sports betting partner, which could be DraftKings. Last October, one month before Chapek was ousted as Disney CEO and replaced by Iger, Bloomberg reported that ESPN was nearing a large new partnership with DraftKings.

When Chapek was at the helm of Disney, Taylor thought that ESPN’s bevy of sports programming — SportsCenter and Fantasy Sports, to name a few — would mutually benefit both Disney and DraftKings in an expanded partnership. 

“The internet provides stats, but shows on ESPN can provide more insight that you can’t get from stats necessarily,” Taylor wrote in an email. “Coverage of injuries, team shake ups, etc… are something that goes hand in hand with sports betting and fantasy leagues. A deal with DraftKings keeps people watching ESPN longer and more intently. On the flip side, a big brand like ESPN backing DraftKings gives it legitimacy and safety. Because ESPN is a trusted brand, gambling with them seems safer and will likely garner more people to do so.”

Following Chapek’s ouster at Disney however, there is some uncertainty about the latter’s sports betting future. While Iger has yet to comment on Disney’s gambling plans following his return as CEO, he might try to reverse Chapek moves that appeared to run antithetical to the company’s wholesome reputation.

“Iger now coming back does make the Draft Kings deal less likely,” Taylor said. “I almost think its a dead deal. Under Chapek, I think the company was willing to make moves like that, but Iger believes more in keeping Disney and all of its subsidiaries more family-friendly. He’s still someone who wants to bring in money for the company, but Bob Chapek was more about money than about the continued legacy of a brand.”

With Chapek revealing plans to lower Disney’s expenses through layoffs and hiring freezes prior to his departure, Iger might take it one step further. The rumored DraftKings mega-extension  could also fall victim to Iger’s possible penny-pinching plans for Disney.

“With ESPN reportedly asking for $300mm a year per our channel checking, could DraftKings even afford to do that deal? Especially in light of its recent 3rd Quarter results and the investor reaction to its apparent inability to reduce costs?” said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming (EKG) Partner Emeritus Chris Grove in the most recent edition of the research firm’s weekly “EKG Line” report. “Bottom line, in the current market, we find it hard to see who would pay up for an exclusive ESPN deal—unless the price drops significantly.”

An increasingly competitive sports betting landscape might also make Iger less apt to expand Disney’s resources in that area. Of the United States’ 59 sports-betting operators in October, only three had double-digital market share. FanDuel leads the way at roughly 42%, followed by DraftKings and BetMGM. Fanduel CEO Amy Howe told CNBC on November 16th, that, “almost 90% of the operators have a sub-2% share of the market.” 

Coincidentally or not, Howe’s comments came one day after Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin revealed plans to launch sports betting operations in January 2023 and to expand gambling nationwide by the start of next year’s NFL season. 

“It should be clear that new entrants that are entering now at this point may face a real challenge taking on scale players who have more than a four-year head start,” Howe added.

Fanatics’s reveal was made just days apart from competitors like MaximBet and FuboTV sharing plans to shutter their respective sportsbook operations. That might give Iger more of a reason to weigh the pros and cons of Disney’s sports betting plans. 

“If I am looking at ways to grow profits for shareholders, sports betting is not the easiest way of making that happen, at least yet,” John Holden, a business professor at Oklahoma State University, wrote in an email. 

Iger’s second run at Disney has many wondering if it will be as successful as its first. Boomerang CEO success stories are few and far between in business. Outside of Steve Jobs’ second stint as CEO of Apple and Howard Schultz’s second run at Starbucks, returning CEOs and founders generally lead their companies to perform, “significantly worse than other types of CEOs,” management professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UC Irvine and Marquette University have found.

The researchers pointed to past experiences of boomerang CEOs’ performances at their companies. Xerox’s stock plummeted 60% after Paul Allaire was CEO between 2000 and 2001. Dell’s valuation dropped by 33% following the return of founder Michael Dell. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang took over as CEO of 2007 and, after struggling to compete with Google, stepped down in under two years.

Iger will be looking to recapture the magic at Disney that made him one of this country’s most successful CEOs. He led the acquisition of major Disney brands like Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. He also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox. He also spearheaded Disney’s efforts to dominate the streaming market through Disney+, which under Chapek’s leadership saw global subscribership swell to 164.2 million. 

Within a day of Iger announcing his return to Disney, shares jumped as high as 6%. For now, it might be wise to watch how he handles Disney’s sports betting aspirations before making any assumptions, argues Holden. 

“Perhaps Iger is the magician who can find all the profitability,” Holden said.

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ESPN Radio Dreams Came True For Amber Wilson

“I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was 12 years old. It’s quite literally my childhood dream realized.”

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It feels like a dream come true, because that’s exactly what it is. Since Amber Wilson was 12 years old, she wanted to work for ESPN. On January 2nd, 2023, her dream will be realized when she takes the airwaves on Joe and Amber, with Joe Fortenbaugh, the newest show on ESPN Radio

But what makes this opportunity even more special is what Wilson’s 12-year-old self didn’t know at the time. One day, she would find herself in a spotlight that few other women in sports radio have been.

“It feels like a dream come true, because it is,” said Wilson. “And it’s not just being a host, it’s being a named host with my own show. That was the ultimate dream to be able to do that. I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was 12 years old. It’s quite literally my childhood dream realized. It’s been a really long journey to get here, over 20 years, and there’s certainly been some twists and turns but I think that makes it all the sweeter, frankly.”

This is a huge opportunity for Wilson and her career, but she takes immense pride in showing women there’s more opportunities in sports than just television. The opportunity with ESPN Radio didn’t come without twists and turns in her career, but the most rewarding feeling is helping lead the charge for more women in sports radio. 

“It means everything,” said Wilson. “I hope I don’t have the job because I’m a woman. I hope I have it because of my merit. I’m grateful they saw an opportunity here to maintain a woman in their lineup as a named host. I think that’s incredibly important, because Sarah Spain said on the Around the Horn when she talked about the end of her show and her run on ESPN Radio, I think Tony Reali said when Sarah was growing up there were no Sarah Spain’s on radio. That’s been something I’ve noticed even during my career.”

“I’ve had this dream since I was 12, but it was to go into television. I saw women on television in sports when I was 12, not many, but I didn’t know women in sports radio when I was growing up. So it wasn’t a medium I considered getting into. When I started my career it was all about TV. I sort of found my own way to sports radio and I was listening to it as a consumer all the time. I was listening to all men.

“It took me a long time to break into it, but I always loved it myself. I do think it’s important to show women that, hey, there’s other avenues here if you want to work in sports and there’s not just one way to do it. Hopefully my presence will do that. Just like Sarah Spain did. There’s still far too few, I’m the only named host in the lineup, so there’s far too few, but at least there’s some progress. But I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”

There’s a lot of anticipation and excitement for the debut of Joe and Amber on ESPN Radio. Especially for those who have heard the duo work together in the past. For the past few years, their paths have crossed as fill-in hosts across the network. Naturally, that means there’s already a level of chemistry that’s been developed between Wilson and Fortenbaugh.

But there’s still a few weeks until the show debuts in early January, which means there’s time to further the chemistry even more. And that’s exactly what Wilson and Fortenbaugh are doing, because they both understand the value of chemistry on a radio show. 

“We’re going to talk as much as we can leading up to the show to further develop that chemistry,” said Wilson. “We’re going to even pick out a sports subject, banter on it and do a mini show over the phone. We’ve both been in radio so long, he had a local show in San Francisco and I had a local show in Miami, so we’ve worked with different co hosts over the years and we know that, first and foremost, chemistry is everything when it comes to a radio relationship.

“It’s a very intimate relationship, I always say in sports radio with the host and the audience, because you’re really letting them in. There’s so much space with sports radio, which is what I love about it compared to television. There’s so much more space to bring your personality into it and certainly it helps if you have a report with your co-host and you have chemistry. That’s something that’s really important for us, for us to further develop that and we’re making an act to do so.”

The chemistry that’s already been established between Wilson and Fortenbaugh will undoubtedly help when the show debuts next month. But if you’ve heard the two together on air before, don’t necessarily expect an exact carbon copy of the shows you heard.

“We have to iron out the details and work with whoever our producer ends up being, as far as really structuring the show, but it’s certainly going to be our own flavor, since it’s our own show,” Wilson said. “Whereas before, we were filling in on other shows and trying to stay true to what they had developed and what they normally cover. It’ll probably be a little different, obviously Joe brings the better portion of things to the table, as well.

“We’ll definitely be doing some of that to get his expertise, although it’s not going to be a betting show, it’s going to be a talk show. They can still expect all the fun with sports talk and we really want to engage with the audience, as well, and put our own style and brand on it.”

Fortenbaugh is most notably known for his expertise in the sports betting space. And rightfully so, with how successful he’s been with sports betting content. However, you won’t find anybody that will doubt his ability to be more than just the ‘gambling guy’ on the show. He’ll get that opportunity on Joe and Amber. Wilson is eager and excited to be more involved in sports gambling and thinks it’s a great opportunity for her to learn from the best. 

“I love that I get to work with someone with that expertise, because it’s not my expertise,” said Wilson. “It’s a growing space that I think is only going to continue to grow. I’m just so grateful to be able to learn it and absorb some of his knowledge, frankly. I think it will be invaluable to the listener and I’m pretty stoked to be able to work with someone who has that.”

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Should Baker Mayfield Start Thinking About A Media Career?

“What should he anticipate when that time comes? Here are a few things I would expect from Baker if he were my broadcast partner.”

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“Coach wants to see you, oh and bring your playbook”. Words no professional football player ever wants to hear. That means you’re done with that team, and it’s on to the next, or in some cases, on to a new adventure altogether.

Athletes never know when that day will come. Some are better prepared to deal with sudden change than others. A few have a skill set that can make it an easy transition to coaching, front office work, or broadcasting. 

Outspoken former players or managers seem like they have a leg up on the competition. Every network wants compelling characters that bring viewership. Most often times the player that’s been a great quote their entire career or the one that isn’t afraid to speak his or her mind that stands out in the booth or studio. 

When the news broke Monday that Baker Mayfield was going to be released by the Carolina Panthers, it got me thinking. Mayfield was a top quarterback in college football, won a Heisman Trophy, and was the top pick in the NFL Draft just 4 years ago. His tale is a familiar one, great in college, so-so in the pros. Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow are a couple of Mayfield’s contemporaries that fit that same bill. So, what might be next for him? Television?

The two examples I cited, have found life after football as analysts for college football broadcasts. Leinart is part of the studio crew at Fox and Tebow once worked for ABC/ESPN. Could Mayfield succeed in a television role? Absolutely. Would it take a little work to get him ready? Absolutely. There could be some stumbling blocks though. 

Mayfield has a reputation for being outspoken and irreverent. His personality has been called ‘toxic’ by some, ‘cocky’ by others and ‘brash’ to another audience. But, having a personality is half the battle to work in sports television. Even if the adjectives seem to fit, are they necessarily bad things? Maybe for a football team, but not for a guy that would be talking on television. 

Polarizing is another word used to describe Mayfield. His sense of humor, puts one segment of an audience off, while another loves it. For example, over the last few seasons at some postgame press conferences, he interjected phrases and rap songs into his comments. He’s a little ‘off-beat’ too. A few years ago, he took to Twitter, declaring that he and his wife Emily believed they spotted a UFO during an offseason.

The fact he hasn’t turned into a ‘franchise quarterback’ makes his swagger a turnoff to a lot of people. When you’re the number one overall pick in the draft and the success on the field doesn’t equal that status, you’re prime for the picking. 

Mayfield has shown a different side to his personality though in various commercials since he was drafted. Most notable are his “Progressive Insurance: At Home with Baker Mayfield” spots. The concept being that his home stadium (at the time First Energy Stadium in Cleveland) was his actual home. He and his wife experience typical homeowner issues in this giant empty stadium. It’s funny and he’s very good in them. Unfortunately, they are no more. He’s also starred in Hulu Live TV commercials, where his face is superimposed on a significantly smaller body. It’s strange, but he makes it work. 

One of Mayfield’s harshest critics, Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd thinks the QB could make a career change work. On a recent show, the often-loud critic of Mayfield, was confident the former number one pick would be great on the air. “If I owned a network, I’d put Baker on as a college football announcer tomorrow,” he said. “Now he’s not (Joel) Klatt or (Kirk) Herbstreit, but I would put him on a college game. He’s got huge credibility collegiately, he’s totally outspoken.” Cowherd went on to say Mayfield could be in the #2 College Football booth in two years. 

Not just anyone that’s outspoken can make it as an analyst. I think of Charles Barkley, Ozzie Guillen and even Randy Moss to an extent. Three guys that have made a good living after playing/managing by being who they always have been. All were on the highest stage and each was a noteworthy quote in their playing days and now in their roles on camera. That means something. Their opinions come from years of experience in what they did. They’ve seen things, learned things, and know how to translate those nuggets into rants and viral moments. It’s hard to fake and you either have it or you don’t. 

What you see and hear is what you get with this trio. Like them or not, agree with them or not, it really doesn’t matter to them or the networks they work with. Barkley, Guillen and Moss are each the type of commentator that draws in an audience. It’s the old Howard Stern prophecy, people who didn’t like him listened almost as long or longer to him to hear what he’d say next.  

Mayfield would have some cache in the college game. But thinking that just because he’s a good quote and an opinionated, and outspoken guy, he would automatically be able to work in media isn’t correct. Mayfield would need to put some work into it, not only in preparation, but in being a good teammate in a studio or booth setting.  

Now, Baker Mayfield is spending at least the rest of this season still on an active NFL roster after signing with the Los Angeles Rams. That means there is time to get things right if and when he wants to try his hand at broadcasting.

What should he anticipate when that time comes? Here are a few things I would expect from Baker if he were my broadcast partner.

ACT LIKE A ROOKIE

It’s easy for those that played the game to think that they know everything there is to know about that sport. But there’s a lot to learn about the broadcasting game. There’s nothing worse than someone with little to no experience coming into an unfamiliar situation and acting like a know-it-all.

I would be hopeful that someone trying this for the first time would act like a rookie. They should be receptive to coaching and try to make a good impression. Just as in football, there are subtle nuances that need to be learned to make the relationship between a play-by-play announcer or host and his or her analyst. 

PREPARATION

Not unlike football, there’s a ton of preparation that goes into a broadcast. Not just knowing the teams, but understanding the flow of a broadcast. Prep and reps are critical in sports and in broadcasting.

As a play-by-play announcer, I expect my analyst to be prepared and not just with cliches and “when I played” moments. Believe it or not “Mr. Former Football Player”, for your first time around, we’re going to have practice too. Oh, and there’s game tape to watch in this job too. There are coaches and players to talk to as well. Don’t come into my house thinking this is easy. 

TEAM FIRST

A good relationship between a broadcaster and his or her analyst is probably the most critical aspect. It’s not so important that you be my friend, but teamwork is crucial.

Think about it in sports terms. I’m sure there were teammates that the player didn’t exactly get along with, but had to coexist to make the team better. Announcing and hosting is a team sport too. It takes numerous behind-the-scenes people, a director, producer, production assistants, stage managers and audio folks to make it all work. Does everybody go out to dinner every night? No. Does it matter? Not when the end game is to make it the best broadcast possible every single solitary night or day. 

It is a demanding job. Yes, you won’t get hit every play, you might not get booed, but you’re going to have to work. If you come in understanding that, you’ll be fine. It’s going to be a short foray into the broadcasting world for you for anyone that doesn’t get that. 

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