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MLB Network Gives Former Players Platform To Shine During For World Series

“Having these players come right off the field and contribute when the stakes are this high makes our content that much more appointment viewing.”

Derek Futterman

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After spring training, 162 regular season games, and a mad dash through the playoffs, Major League Baseball crowns a champion after the World Series. At the conclusion of the journey, the winning team usually has a ticker-tape parade in their home city and celebrates the championship with the fans before moving on to try to do it all over again… and MLB Network is there every step of the way.

Since its launch in 2009, MLB Network has provided fans with year-round coverage from all levels of the game. MLB Tonight is the outlet’s signature program, winning seven national Sports Emmy awards for “Outstanding Daily Studio Show” through its commitment to delivering fans game highlights and analysis in unique and unparalleled ways. This includes the use of ballpark cams, live baseball demonstrations and the effective deployment of technology and implementation of presentation elements.

Along with other studio programming such as MLB Central, High Heat, MLB Now and Intentional Talk, MLB Network brings its viewers “our national pastime all the time,” and there is arguably no bigger moment for it to deliver on that commitment than during the “Fall Classic.”

MLB Network first covered the World Series in 2009 when the New York Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. While the Yankees have not made it past the American League Championship Series since that year, the Phillies are in the midst of an improbable postseason run as a wild card team that has, thus far, resulted in winning a National League pennant.

As a result, they are playing the Houston Astros in the 2022 World Series and 14 years later, coverage of baseball’s final games of the year have expanded and evolved with the game itself and media at large.

The network has a deep roster of personalities with varying experience playing and/or following baseball, including National Baseball Hall of Fame members Pedro Martínez and Jim Thome, along with Harold Reynolds, Bill Ripken, Dan Plesac, Mark DeRosa, Kevin Millar, and Sean Casey.

Moreover, the network has added analysts closely removed from their playing careers, including Hunter Pence, Alex Avila, Anthony Recker, Yonder Alonso, and Xavier Scruggs to contribute across its programming MLB Network has offered them the platform to do so whether they be an active player or recently retired from the game.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve made a conscious effort to bring in new faces that are opinionated and passionate to keep our shows fresh,” said Marc Caiafa, senior vice president of production at MLB Network. “Having these players come right off the field and contribute when the stakes are this high makes our content that much more appointment viewing.”

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Former MLB Outfielder Chris Young began at MLB Network as a guest analyst before joining the network in 2021. (Photo: MLB Network)

In 2021, former Major League Baseball all-star outfielder Chris Young joined MLB Network as a studio analyst, just three years removed from playing the game professionally. Young spent the majority of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks where he became the first rookie to have 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a season. Since joining the network, he has appeared across its programming and is currently in Philadelphia, working on MLB Tonight broadcasts live from Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Starting in sports media was something that always intrigued Young and later in his career, he began working as a guest analyst on MLB Network to see if he would be a fit in the future. This aligns with a trend of current major league players appearing as guest analysts – which includes New York Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader and Miami Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. stepping in the roles this postseason.

“After I retired, I ended up talking to some of the guys over at the network on getting the opportunity to kind of test the waters and see how they felt about me and see how I felt about the network and to see if it would be something that I really wanted to dig into,” Young said. “After jumping in, I’ve fallen in love with it and I love being a part of the network.”

At the conclusion of last season – Young’s first on the network – another major league outfielder retired and immediately found his way to working in sports media. Cameron Maybin finished his big league career playing for the New York Mets in the number one media market in the world.

Maybin had played in “The Big Apple” once before during a stint with the New York Yankees in 2019 where he posted an .858 OPS and brought a championship pedigree, as he had won the World Series in 2017 as a member of the Houston Astros. It was in the Bronx, when Maybin had his first thought of potentially working in sports media at the end of his career thanks to a conversation with YES Network and ESPN play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco.

Less than a decade later, he is back in Houston – this time covering the World Series with MLB Network from Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astros.

“He came [up] to me after a game and he just said, ‘Hey man – after you’re done, I think you should really look into getting into some broadcasting or some type of media realm. When you’re done, I think you’d be great,’” Maybin recalled Ruocco telling him. “….At the time when he told me I said, ‘Hey, I’m good; I’m going to play for six more years. I’m good.’ And then you look up and that time flies by.

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After 15 years in the big leagues, Cameron Maybin joined MLB Network earlier this year. (Photo: MLB Network)

Young and Maybin played in markets large and small throughout their careers in the major leagues, but despite that still played the game well; they covered vast amounts of ground in the outfield, were intelligent hitters and caused havoc on the basepaths.

Off the diamond, they claim they had a positive relationship with media members, understanding journalists came to the ballpark with a job to do and bosses to whom they had to report.

As a result, they saw media members as people trying to help promote and spread the game of baseball, roles they themselves transitioned to when their time on the field concluded.

“Once I finished playing, I had created such good relationships with different members of the media that I was able to call them, speak directly, talk about the experience, talk about what to expect and really gain appreciation for what the media is trying to do,” Young said. “They’re trying to put the players on a pedestal and let the world hear their stories.”

“I always kind of took the mindset of being open, being transparent with them [and] trying to develop a good relationship,” Maybin added. “I also thought [that] if you develop a good relationship with the media, if you do something they might not kill you as much as they could.”

Playing professional sports has helped Young, Maybin and other athletes who have made the transition to being an analyst more relatable to the audience. When discussing sports that they have worked to perfect over a majority of their lives, they seek to share their esoteric knowledge and expertise with those interested in the game while surrounded by like-minded people.

“It’s a lot of baseball heads which is great because everybody speaks the language pretty much to where you can feel like you can be your authentic self and everybody can understand the lingo and what you’re talking about,” Young said. “….I think we put a really good product out there and give the fans something from the perspective of writers and broadcasters and players all collectively to really break the game down and show it from a lot of different lenses.”

Similar to aspiring professionals who look to work in sports media, those who undertake building a career playing sports professionally often look to others who have done it successfully for inspiration and motivation.

In baseball, many young players modeled their games based on the play of former Seattle Mariners outfielder and National Baseball Hall of Fame member Ken Griffey Jr. – nicknamed “The Kid” – who was known for his speed, power and versatility combined with his proclivity to flip his cap backwards. Griffey Jr. was also outgoing and friendly towards fans, influencing a countless number of people for more than his skills on the diamond.

Maybin affirms that he had an understanding of the responsibility of athletes that extends beyond the field both as a player and media member, which includes using their platforms to disseminate content beneficial to the team. This includes critiquing athletes – some of whom he recently called teammates and/or opponents – especially in larger markets with large amounts of attention devoted towards sports.

Working with Marquee Sports Network in Chicago as a studio analyst and with YES Network in the Bronx as a color commentator for New York Yankees live game broadcasts in addition to his role on MLB Network this past season, Maybin knew he would have to divulge genuinity in the opinions he expressed to viewers on the air.

“One thing I learned in this new broadcast realm is you have to be subjective if you want to gain credibility,” Maybin said. “….It’s just not being afraid to say what you have to say and also [showing] up where those guys can see you. My relationships outweigh any critique that I’ve had to make thus far.”

In remembering what it was like to be a professional baseball player, Young and Maybin are able to reminisce about both the good times and the bad times, recognizing the inherent volatility embedded in sports.

Becoming oblivious to the fact that making it as a professional and consistently succeeding is highly unlikely for most people threatens to diminish others’ willingness to listen to what they have to say and to consider their analyses tenable. Similarly, it contrives the possibility of media platforms to lose credibility, especially newer ones such as Apple TV+ where Young served as a color commentator on its presentation of Friday Night Baseball this past season.

“As a former player, the first thing you can never do is make the mistake of forgetting how hard the game is,” Young expressed, “and I feel like I make a valiant effort to never forget how difficult the game is.

“With that being said, yes, if there’s a play that happens or something that was done wrong and you have to be critical of it, we have to do that…. I try to stay away from placing judgment on a person’s character or something like that without fully knowing that person, which I think is the mistake that some people make at times.”

Both of the former major league outfielders have appeared in postseason action as players, but neither had covered postseason games on-site for MLB Network until this season. Being behind the desk for studio coverage on the best-of-seven series is a heralded opportunity and a chance for them to enhance the platform’s coverage by sharing modern perspectives and ideas.

“There’s only one game going on in baseball [and] that’s a huge deal for us because all the attention is on that one game,” Young said. “You just kind of enjoy the ride and react to the punches. We have no idea what’s going to happen in this World Series but…. being able to cover that is a really exciting opportunity for me.”

“You talk about what you see; you talk about your experience; you talk about what you’ve been through when you see different moments and you try to explain that and try to convey that to the crowd and the fans watching,” Maybin added. “That’s really it – it’s not too difficult; not really too in-depth. It’s about doing your homework and trying to be as prepared as possible.”

Amid a dynamic media environment where the emphasis on studio coverage is being threatened due to consumers’ desire to have complete control over their experience – made possible by over-the-top and video on demand content distribution platforms – companies have had to adapt to survive.

Yet some studio shows such as MLB Tonight have actively made adjustments from the very beginning to ensure it stays at the forefront of innovation and continues to provide viewers a stellar, appealing product. That comes not only with knowledgeable people and supportive management, but also through constant communication with all team members.

“Year after year nothing really stays the same,” Maybin said. “They’re trying to add more [and] trying to become better and I think that’s what separates the network from so many others… They’re constantly reaching out to people who work there and asking opinions [on] what they see [and] what they think we could do to make this thing be as dominant and prominent as it is.”

Young says the program reminds him of whiparound shows such as NFL RedZone and NBA CrunchTime where fans go to see the latest action around the league and get caught up on the action. In essence, it is a way for people to keep a pulse on the entirety of Major League Baseball through both live look-ins and analysis among other segments.

“I think MLB Tonight is a great show,” Young said. “I think they make adjustments on the fly just as well as anybody out there, and I feel like that’s a show that’s always going to be needed no matter where the rest of broadcasting goes or anything.”

In a 2019 study by Social Media Today, it was found that nine out of every 10 consumers value authenticity in their decision whether or not to support a brand, an ostensible reason BeReal has seen a 2245% jump in active monthly users from 921,000 to 21.6 million.

The social media platform, which has been installed over 53 million times globally, sends a notification once per day at a random time that opens a two-minute window for users to take and post live, in-the-moment photos from their front and back phone cameras.

Any posts made outside the timed window are considered to be late and subsequently time-stamped.

Surely, evolution is the matrix of sports media but even as the industry becomes more nuanced, the foundation of sports broadcasting and mission to serve the fan remains imbued in new platforms and innovations.

Today, media personalities are active on social media and engage with their audience beyond their set air time while athletes seek to shape their own narratives acting as “new media.” Through it all, authenticity represents a factor of differentiation suggesting a positive correlation between ethos and media consumption – all derived through an understanding of the audience.

“You’re getting a lot of new fans, and you want to find a way to appeal to everybody,” Young said. “I think that’s what’s happening right now…. You see different services trying to find a way to appeal to the masses while still keeping the integrity of what a broadcast booth should be and how you still want to respect the game and still call what’s going on in the game.”

“You see a lot of younger faces; a lot of guys who just recently got out of the game who bring a different perspective than some of the older guys,” added Maybin. “We’re still learning so much from those guys but I think when you look at the game you’re trying to get different viewers. I think baseball’s done a really good job of going a little bit younger right now and getting guys to give their perspectives that just got off the field.”

Chris Young and Cameron Maybin look to continue to grow working in sports media and have set goals for themselves in the future. Young recently completed his business administration degree at Arizona State University, a goal he had set when he was drafted, and will take advantage of opportunities to boost his skills as a broadcaster.

While Maybin will look to continue to work in sports media, he is not afraid to branch out to host different types of shows outside of his comfort zone similar to Nick Burleson and Michael Strahan.

As an athlete, it can be a perplexing time once the reality of retirement begins to set in and some believe working in sports media is quite tantalizing. By quickly getting started though, Young and Maybin garner fresh perspectives and relevant insight that accurately depict the mindset of players, fostering a strong connection to “our national pastime, all the time.”

“Throw yourself in it and see how you feel about it because [there’s] so much knowledge out there from players in my opinion from their experiences on the field,” Young advised. “Once they get themselves around the environment, they’ll figure out very quickly if they love it or hate it.”

“I think it’s extremely important to pass on the knowledge,” Maybin added. “You play for so many years and you develop a rapport; you learn a lot of things. You gain a lot of knowledge and I think it’s almost a disservice not to give that back.”

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BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jac would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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BSM Writers

Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success

“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

Derek Futterman

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When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.

Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.

From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.

“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”

At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.

Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.

“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.

Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.

“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”

Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.

“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”

By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.

“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”

During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.

“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”

All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.

Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.

“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”

Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.

“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”

Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.

“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”

A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.

“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”

Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.

Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.

“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”

As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.

“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”

Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.

As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.

“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”

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BSM Writers

Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

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For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.

ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.

When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.

Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.

In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.

Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.

One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.

He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.

And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.

But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.

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Barrett Media Writers

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