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How Are Broadcasters Supposed To Cover Alabama Basketball Right Now?

“It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court”

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As you’ve probably seen or read by now, Alabama men’s basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder in connection with an early morning shooting last weekend near the Tuscaloosa campus. A 23-year-old woman was killed.  Miles, a junior forward from Washington DC, is no longer on the team. 

Last Saturday, Alabama had announced before its game against LSU that Miles would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Following Miles’ arrest his bio has been removed from the athletic department website, and the university’s statement said he “has been removed from campus.”

It’s another incident that puts sports in proper perspective. There have been too many of these ‘incidents’ lately. Whether it be due to gun violence, sexual violence, bus or plane crashes, or the latest tragedy when we all watched a man brought back to life on a football field. Sports is meant to be entertainment, a way to escape the challenges of everyday life. Now it seems to be causing us to think more about outside noise than the actual games that we’re supposed to be watching. 

Let’s focus for the moment on the Alabama situation. The Crimson Tide are having a basketball season for the ages. As of the time I’m writing this, Alabama is #4 in the AP Top 25 with a record of 15-2. Many analysts and experts in college basketball circles think this team is actually the best team in the country. A good bet for the Final Four perhaps and maybe even a national title. Now what? 

Head basketball coach Nate Oats spoke to reporters Monday, but not about his team’s prep for another game and a chance at another win. He had to speak about something he probably never imagined he’d have to in his career. One of his now former players has been charged with murder. 

“I just want to start by offering condolences to the family and friends of Jamea Jonae Harris, the young woman, mother, daughter who was taken away too soon from a senseless act,” Oats said in a prepared statement. “This is an incredibly sad situation. Hearts go out to her loved ones. I’m keeping them in my thoughts and prayers as they continue to grieve.”

Oats called it a tragedy all around, especially for the victim’s family. He then addressed the message to his players. 

“Wish we weren’t having to address this situation, but we’ve got to pull together as a team at this point and … really be there for each other.” Oats said. “This is a really difficult situation, and we’ll continue to support each other as we process this and balance school and basketball,” Oats said. “To that end, we regrouped this morning to maintain our routine and some structure in the midst of this situation and we’ll practice before heading up to Nashville for the Vanderbilt game.”

Last week we talked about the handling of the Damar Hamlin situation, that unfolded on the field in Cincinnati during the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals. Hamlin needed to be resuscitated once on the field and once on the way to the hospital. ESPN’s broadcast crew handled the situation about as well as they could. Information was scarce and there was no room for rumor or speculation. 

Now, bringing it back to Alabama, what do you do, when you’re a broadcaster for the Crimson Tide? How much attention should be given to the shooting and the results? 

Once again there is no handbook to say, okay you do this, then this and then this. Nope. I’m sure ‘higher ups’ at the school and the stations will have some input as to how it will be handled. It’s a delicate situation to say the least. A life was lost. A player that, more than likely, the broadcast crew interacted with numerous times, has been accused of murder. All of it makes you really think. 

So, here’s how the crew on the SEC Network decided to handle talking about the Darius Miles arrest during the Alabama/Vanderbilt game. The announcers, Courtney Lyle on play-by-play and Carolyn Peck as the analyst, briefly mentioned the Miles situation at the start of the game. Saying they would talk about “what Alabama has been dealing with off the court.” 

There was no further mention through the first media timeout. Instead, they talked basketball, including talk of Vandy’s upset of Arkansas and Nate Oats’ notes about Alabama’s defense in recent games.  

Coming out of the first timeout, ESPN put up a graphic stating the charges against Miles and some of Coach Oats’ comments about the situation and his team. Peck then spoke about Oats and how he told his team about the charges. The story she told, continued saying how Oats brought the team together Sunday and let them decide whether or not to practice. They chose to skip Sunday and regroup according to her commentary. 

It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court. I’m not sure what was said to Lyle and Peck before the broadcast, so it’s hard to really critique. 

Having said that, I really wish Peck, who is a former college basketball coach, could have spoken about what Oats must be going through. He had to tell his team that one of their fellow players was accused of murder. Peck might have also delved into what the job of a coach is, off the floor. Looking out for his or her players as people as well as athletes. Again, it’s easy for me to say, and I’m not privy to what the broadcasters were allowed to say by producers or the school. I just felt like an opportunity to humanize the story went by the boards. Especially from a credible source, like a former coach. 

I’ve never been in the situation directly. I’ve had to deal with deaths during broadcasts. I  mentioned the Daryl Kile game in 2002 a couple of years ago in a column. When I was with the Padres, our bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds fought an admiral bout with cancer, but succumbed to the disease in the middle of our 2012 season. I knew Akerfelds and actually had a hard time keeping it together when news of his passing was made public. This Alabama situation is totally different. 

To me, there are a few things broadcasters need to keep in mind when dealing with situations like these. Our natural inclination is not to want to talk about it. We just want to concentrate on the games and what’s happening on the court or field. I get that. Audiences are going to tune in and, especially in the case of a local broadcast, wanting to know what’s happening from their trusted voice – you. Fair or not, that’s the position you’ll likely find yourself in, if God forbid this happens to one of your teams. 

One thing that is absolutely critical in this particular situation, is wording. Remember in the United States, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. While the court of public opinion may have already made up its mind, you do not have the luxury to do so. Verbiage is very important. Miles has been ‘charged’ with capital murder. He is ‘alleged’ to have provided a gun to the shooter. You as the broadcaster have to play it straight, even if you have the opinion that he’s guilty, that’s not the case right now.  

The problem here is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you read the statement from the school, the audience will say “that’s not enough”. If you go into detail and let it consume the broadcast, others will say, “enough, we already know this, get on with the game,” right?  

Case in point, NFL broadcasters took a lot of heat for coverage of the return to the field of DeShaun Watson. The Browns quarterback was accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct and was suspended for 11 games. The CBS telecast, according to a New York Times article, covered the accusations against Watson about 10 minutes before kickoff but the complaints made against Watson were not detailed during the game itself.

Late in the game, the CBS play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes mentioned the “mixed emotions” of Browns fans as they reckoned with the “weightiness of the allegations with Watson.” 

Analyst Jay Feely added, “We were conflicted, getting ready to prepare for this game, because you want to show empathy for the women impacted and affected by this.” Feely said.“You have to talk about football as well.” 

I get it, these were serious allegations and there were numerous complaints about Watson. Not to minimize the impact of his actions, but Dedes and Feely are expected to talk about the game on the field. Are football fans tuned in for social commentary?  There are many other outlets for more pointed opinions. Just by mentioning the gravity of what was going on, they probably said more than a lot of fans expected. 

To have an opinion on something other than sports as a sportscaster opens you up to the “stick to sports” tired reaction from fans. This is the problem. Incidents like this, straddle the line between sports and news. How much should be handled by each department is pretty critical. During some recent sportscasts I’ve delivered, I had to talk about the news of journalist Grant Wahl dying in Qatar. While everyone wanted to know how and why, I only talked about the facts, and the decorated journalists’ career. Our news department carried the rest. 

Judgement and true feelings are at play here. We are human beings and everyone reacts to tragedy and death differently. In our situation as broadcasters, we have to be sympathetic to the victim, empathetic for what the team is now going through and realistic as to how much you should or shouldn’t say about the situation. There is no cut and dry way to handle this, you do the best you can and that’s all that can be asked of you. 

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BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. Then came covering the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of Sports Radio’s Worst Weeks

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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