Bonnie Bernstein Has Embraced Entrepreneurship
“When you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you’re doing it the right way, part of that is trying to stay on top of emerging trends – and in this case, technology.”
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Those 37 words changed the course of United States history, providing more equitable opportunities for women like Bonnie Bernstein to immerse themselves in activities some entities previously prohibited.
Today, women comprise approximately 45% of all college athletes, and many are profiting off of their name, image and likeness through professional careers and endorsement deals. Bonnie Bernstein was one of the many beneficiaries of the decision, and it influenced her career both as an athlete and sports media professional.
Bernstein is starting a new podcast series with Audible this week called She Got Game, in which she seeks to shed light on successful women and the influence sports had on their careers.
Some of the interviewees in the 10-episode project include XFL Chairwoman and Owner Dany Garcia; NFL on CBS analyst Amy Trask; and founder and CEO of Salamander Resorts and co-founder of BET Sheila Johnson. Through conducting casual interviews, Bernstein looks to promulgate the fundamental skills women can gain from playing sports and becoming invested in them.
“For as many doors as Title IX has opened, what we also know is that girls are still exiting sports at a younger age and at a higher frequency than boys,” Bernstein said. “….Whatever the challenge may be that may have a girl or young woman thinking about leaving sports: stay. If you stay, you will continue to hone those life skills that will tee you up for success in life.”
As a student at the University of Maryland, Bernstein was an All-American gymnast, but her love of sports was fostered at home by her parents. When the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left New York City to move to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif., respectively, after the 1957 season, Bernstein’s parents quipped that they refused to watch New York Yankees baseball. Fortunately for them, “The Big Apple” received a new National League baseball team with the founding of the New York Mets in 1962 – but for Bernstein, her parents’ interest in sports subsequently helped fuel her passion. From an early age, she possessed a penchant for creative writing and tried to amalgamate it with sports, dreaming of one day writing for Sports Illustrated.
Early in her tenure as an undergraduate student, Bernstein queried other students regarding which professors they recommended studying under. Through these conversations, she found that Prof. Chet Rhodes continued to be mentioned, the instructor of an introduction to broadcasting class. By her junior year, she found herself in the classroom mesmerized by the possibilities this facet of the industry had to offer, including anchoring, producing, engineering and filming. Because of the class, she decided to focus on cultivating a career in broadcast journalism and remained eager for chances to hone her craft.
During her formative years in the industry, which began in Lewes, Delaware at WXJN-FM, a station broadcasting in the country format, Bernstein was operating without a bonafide playbook. As the news and sports director of the station, she was responsible for finding and reporting on stories around the community.
On most days, she would be at the station by 4:30 a.m. to write top of the hour updates, load carts and slice tape. Then she would spend the next several hours driving around in a white van with the station’s call letters prominently on display acting as a field reporter. By the time she returned to the station, she would refine her stories and prepare them for the afternoon news. These arduous tasks would consume her days, but gave her valuable repetitions and shaped her work ethic.
Although there were not many women in the industry, Bernstein looked up to Lesley Visser, an accomplished sports media personality and journalist who reported on many seminal events. Visser was the first woman to appear on Monday Night Football, the first woman inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first woman to earn the Sports Lifetime Achievement Award given at the Sports Emmys.
Aside from Visser, Bernstein also watched Gayle Gardner and Jayne Kennedy enter the field; however, it was hardly facile to ascertain an effective direction for her career based on looking at others. Instead, Bernstein had to forge her own path and is thankful she can pay it forward to the next generation.
“One of the nice things about being where I am in my career is that I now get to serve as the mentor for young people that I didn’t have,” Bernstein said. “I was just really flailing blindly for a long time trying to do the best I could with the hope that my desire and passion and commitment to being the very best sports journalist I could be would somehow propel me through my career.”
Beginning in any new industry is hardly an easy task, making the probability of failing much more likely. Even though Bernstein began working with ESPN as a Chicago bureau reporter just two years after leaving WXJN-FM, she always continued to learn and find ways to improve her craft. In having the chance to cover Chicago Bulls superstar and Basketball Hall of Fame member Michael Jordan, along with contributing to shows such as NFL Countdown and SportsCenter, she further augmented her versatility.
Sticking to the status quo remains something she tries to avoid, instead maintaining an alacrity for progression and innovation.
“When I was younger, I would use failure as a personal indictment on me. You are less than; you are not worthy; you are not capable. What I’ve learned through lots of conversations with entrepreneurs and strong leaders is that failure is a critical part of success. If we can shift the mindset about failure, then entrepreneurship is a much easier road to travel because there will be failures and there will be a lot of them.”
Even though she did not create her first company until 2016, one could argue that Bernstein has been an entrepreneur throughout her entire broadcast career. In essence, being a personality means establishing a brand that stands out from others, conducive to professional success and sustained growth.
On television, she was doing it from the moment she joined WMDT, a local ABC affiliate in Salisbury, Md. anchoring news on the weekends. Shortly thereafter, Bernstein made the move to KRNV, a local NBC affiliate, in Reno, Nv. where she became the first woman in the locale to serve as a weekday sports anchor.
Working as a woman in sports media, Bernstein has been the subject of criticism and misogyny and has had to find ways to cope with antagonism. She affirms that women are held to a higher standard and that it is impossible to satisfy everyone all the time. The negative commentary from others surely hurts but does not hinder. As her career has progressed, she has been able to contextualize these situations to realize that the commenters are likely afflicted or disarmed by other scenarios, wherefore they choose to take out their frustration on others.
“At the end of the day, I know who my inner circle is,” Bernstein expressed. “I know if I’m meeting my own expectations, then hopefully the other meaningful expectations will follow suit. The reality is women in sports broadcasting are not for everybody, and that’s okay…. More important for me is not so much the public opinion as much as the joy I get from doing what I do.”
In 1998, Bernstein joined CBS Sports where she was quickly named as a sideline reporter for live broadcasts of NFL games and the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Some of the colleagues she collaborated with for NFL games included Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Dan Dierdorf, Verne Lundquist and Dick Enberg.
Bernstein was the sideline reporter for the television broadcast on CBS and the radio broadcast on Westwood One for Super Bowl XXXVII. Additionally, she compiled and produced features for The NFL Today as its lead reporter and anchored studio coverage for CBS programming of sports updates and college basketball coverage.
“If you’re doing the sideline the right way, you’re doing as much preparation as anyone else on the team, but you are only utilizing very specific instances,” Bernstein said. “There is nothing that will ever replace the thrill of being on the sideline and having a vantage point that nobody else has except you and the photographers who are allowed on the field.”
Bernstein departed from CBS in 2006 and ultimately signed with ESPN where she began reporting on Sunday Night Baseball and ESPN College Football on ABC, allowing her to continue telling stories and providing information to enhance the broadcast. A few months into the job though, Bernstein endured a life-threatening health scare when she began to feel pain in her leg.
She recognized this leg pain, along with accompanying shortness of breath, in the midst of running to her car following coverage of the Red River Showdown between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and University of Texas at Austin Longhorns. Following a flight back to New York, she immediately went to see a chiropractor who referred her to the emergency room to be checked for blood clots. It was a directive that may have ultimately saved her life.
“Never in a million years did I think I would be in the hospital and have a doctor come in and throw the films up and say, ‘See all these black dots in your lungs? Those are blood clots. I have no idea how you’re still alive, and the only thing I can think of is that you’re in fantastic shape,’” Bernstein recalled. “That’s what saved me. The only reason I’m still alive is because health and wellness is really important to me.”
Bernstein’s official diagnosis was bilateral pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis, the result of a blood clot that was the full length of her leg, broke off, and spread into both of her lungs. She was rapidly treated with blood thinners.
According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 900,000 people annually can be affected by deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, and the first symptom experienced by 1 in 4 is sudden death. Moreover, one-third of those affected will have a recurrence within 10 years, making monitoring symptoms and receiving medical checkups pivotal.
March is deep vein thrombosis awareness month, and Bernstein has tried to utilize her platform to spread the message about the severity of this treatable, yet life-threatening disease. She urges people to take a risk assessment test while monitoring potential symptoms, and has been a spokesperson for the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis for many years.
“When I come across somebody who’s suffered a blood clot or when we’re in the month of March,” Bernstein said, “I always try to find a way to share that messaging with folks who are kind enough to follow on social [media].”
Aside from reporting and hosting television shows such as Outside the Lines and First Take, Bernstein contributed to programming on espnW, meant to disseminate stories and interviews with women in sports. Several broadcast networks are holding events for International Women’s Day, including an all-women broadcast and production team for the NBA on ESPN broadcast of the Dallas Mavericks’ matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans.
While working for ESPN, Bernstein executive produced and hosted a six-part interview show titled Winner’s Circle where she welcomed influential women in the world of sports to discuss their stories.
The show aligns with her new Audible podcast; however, it did not have the ability to go into profound detail because of time constraints. Nonetheless, the experience further sparked her interest in interviewing and telling these stories to viewers around the world – she was just simply waiting for the right opportunity to revitalize the effort.
Bernstein was the creator and co-host of NY Football Live, a program that aired on ESPN Radio in New York with former New York Jets linebacker Greg Buttle. She had previously had the chance to work with Michael Kay and Don La Greca on The Michael Kay Show beginning in September 2009 where she learned how to appeal to local listeners and expanded her storytelling in the audio space. It is usually difficult to create and transition to a brand new show, evinced by a dearth of callers; yet the phone lines began to light up regularly as their program became more established.
“There’s some incredible, award-winning storytelling in linear and digital,” Bernstein elucidated, “but there’s just something special about the audio space because all of your senses are completely locked on one thing: audio. There are no pictures; there are no graphics – you’re just listening. I think the ability to really have an impact on a listener is powerful when doing audio.”
Being able to effectively create a new show of her own required Bernstein learn more about management, leading her to join Campus Insiders, a new, digital college sports network owned and operated by Silver Chalice Ventures. Bernstein was initially approached to serve as a host, and she responded to the company’s initial offer with gratitude.
Knowing that she wanted to start her own production company in the future, she negotiated the role into a hybrid between hosting and serving as the company’s vice president of content and brand development. Digital media was fairly new at the time with an ambiguous outlook, but Bernstein recognized the concept as anything but transitory in nature. Adaptation is oftentimes the key to survival in a dynamic marketplace, and Bernstein has been ready and willing to explore new ideas amid other prosaic instantiations.
“When you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you’re doing it the right way, part of that is trying to stay on top of emerging trends – and in this case, technology,” Bernstein said. “When digital media was initially emerging and we were calling it ‘new media,’ I had the sense that it was not something that was just some sort of fad or trend that would fade.”
Bernstein achieved her entrepreneurial goals when she founded two companies – Velvet Hammer Media Consulting and Walk Swiftly Productions. Moving in this direction for her career aligned with the goals of continued flourishment and evolution in mind as an on-air talent and a manager. Through these endeavors, she has worked on programs both linear and digital with the XFL, College Football Playoff and ESPN.
“I have so much admiration for people who have on-air careers for 30-40 years,” Bernstein said. “I still love that aspect of it too; I love telling stories [and] I love doing interviews. The business piece of what you have the ability to do as an entrepreneur is where I really experienced the most growth. Yes, it’s hard; and yes, it requires an inordinate amount of intestinal fortitude.”
With this new podcast, which becomes available for Audible subscribers tomorrow, the company has pledged $25,000 to organizations based in Newark, N.J. working to provide opportunities for women to participate in sports. The company’s commitment to its surrounding community further underscores the mission of the podcast itself in engendering inspiration for women to play the games. A study by Ernst and Young as part of the EY Women Athletes Business Network found that 94% of C-suite women have played sports, an activity that has helped facilitate success.
“It’s storytelling with real impact, and I’m not sure that I would have ever been able to get a concept like this across the finish line if I were talent working for a network,” Bernstein articulated. “I needed to be able to take this from concept to market myself.”
In interviewing these successful women with a background in sports, Bernstein knows it is her job to listen and help create an on-air product that attracts and retains listeners. These are lessons that she learned from her time working in news and has since refined at a national scale. She continues to modify her parlance to fit the marketplace, always ensuring that she is able to elicit insightful and comprehensive answers from her guests.
“If you’re interviewing [in] the right way, you don’t drive conversation; your guest does,” Bernstein said. “A lot of times, these interviews wound up going in different directions that I didn’t expect. That’s not only okay – it’s awesome. That’s what I hope will enable listeners to feel like they’re really glad they took the time to listen.”
As her career in sports media moves forward, Bernstein aims to receive the green light regarding some other projects she has been working on, along with thinking about authoring a book. In addition, she immensely values philanthropy and volunteer work and serves as the advisory board co-chair for Every Kid Sports. The organization provides funding for families who are unable to pay league entry fees to ensure everyone who wishes to participate and make sports a part of their lives has the chance to do so.
During the pandemic, Bernstein took a board certification course so she has the ability to lend her expertise and passion to other organizations and try to actualize change in the world. She remains ready for new challenges and instances where she can grow both personally and professionally, keeping her energized and perceptive on a regular basis.
“Daily growth and evaluation is really at the core of my being,” Bernstein expressed. “That’s not to say that there’s always room to continue growing as on-air talent…. The opportunity to start at the bottom of the learning curve and work my way up has always been so extraordinarily enticing and exciting to me.”
As more people pursue careers in sports media with a concomitant rise in the demand for compelling and engaging content, the industry remains competitive. Bernstein affirms that the sheer demand outpaces supply; however, those who try to enter the industry are sometimes precluded by those performing multiple jobs.
Ultimately, the craft comes down to timing, sustainability and networking. Those who are able to sustain a career in sports media usually take chances and adapt, and also have additional experiences that enhance their portfolio or add to their personality – including playing sports themselves.
With the array of people broadcasting their opinion en masse through a wide variety of traditional and digital platforms, it is crucial to stand out. Much like an entrepreneur, one must build their own brand and, according to Bernstein, should start doing so from the moment they determine in what industry they want to work. Employing a stellar work ethic and a willingness to go the “extra mile” helps set people apart, combining talent with hard work, humility and erudition.
“That’s the amazing thing about 2023,” Bernstein said. “You don’t need a platform; you don’t need a job. All you need to do is start creating content; start a YouTube channel [and] start networking.”
She Got Game is a 10-part Audible Originals series to be released Thursday, March 9 amid the celebration of Women’s History Month and 50th anniversary of Title IX. Bernstein will sit down with guests Laila Ali; Bianca Belair; Chelsea Clinton; Dany Garcia; Shawn Johnson; Sheila Johnson; Folake Olowofoyeku; Amy Trask; Aisha Tyler; and Julie Uhrman – interviewing them about how sports has helped them facilitate successful and enduring careers. In the process, she hopes the project serves as another avenue to compel young people to explore and leverage the advantages and lessons learned through sports for future growth.
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Amanda Brown Has Embraced The Bright Lights of Hollywood
“My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
The tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and eight others aboard a helicopter, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, sent shockwaves around the world of sports, entertainment, and culture. People traveled to Los Angeles following the devastating news and left flowers outside the then-named STAPLES Center, the arena which Bryant called home for much of his career, demonstrating the magnitude of the loss. Just across the street from the arena, Amanda Brown and the staff at ESPN Los Angeles 710 had embarked in ongoing breaking news coverage, lamentation, and reflection.
It included coverage of a sellout celebration of life for Kobe and his daughter and teams around the NBA opting to take 8-second and 24-second violations to honor Bryant, who wore both numbers throughout his 20-year NBA career. They currently hang in the rafters at Crypto.com Arena, making Bryant the only player in franchise history to have two numbers retired.
During this tumultuous time, Bryant’s philosophy served as a viable guiding force, something that Brown quickly ascertained in her first month as the station’s new program director.
“I had people that were in Northern California hopping on planes to get here,” Brown said. “You didn’t even have to ask people [to] go to the station; people were like, ‘I’m on my way.’ It was the way that everybody really came together to do really great radio, and we did it that day and we did it the next day and we did it for several days.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is quickly approaching, and Brown will be attending the event for the first time since 2020. During her first experience at the BSM Summit in New York, Brown had just become a program director and was trying to assimilate into her role. Because of this, she prioritized networking, building contacts, and expressing her ideas to others in the space. This year, she looks forward to connecting with other program directors and media professionals around the country while also seeking to learn more about the nuances of the industry.
“The Summit is kind of like a meeting of the minds,” Brown said. “It’s people throughout the country and the business…. More than anything, [the first time] wasn’t so much about the panels as it was about the people.”
Growing up in Orange County, Brown had an interest in the Los Angeles Lakers from a young age, being drawn to play-by-play broadcaster Chick Hearn. Brown refers to Hearn as inspiration to explore a career in broadcasting. After studying communications at California State University in Fullerton, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a producer at ESPN Radio Dallas 103.3 FM by program director Scott Masteller, who she still speaks to on a regular basis. It was through Masteller’s confidence in her, in addition to support from operations manager Dave Schorr, that helped make Brown feel more comfortable working in sports media.
“I never felt like I was a woman in a male-dominated industry,” Brown said. “I always just felt like I was a part of the industry. For me, I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I deserve to be here; I deserve a seat at the table.’”
Brown quickly rose up the ranks when she began working on ESPN Radio in Bristol, Conn., working as a producer for a national radio show hosted by Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt, along with The Sports Bash with Erik Kuselias. Following five-and-a-half years in Bristol, Brown requested a move back to California and has worked at ESPN Los Angeles 710 ever since. She began her tenure at the station serving as a producer for shows such as Max and Marcellus and Mason and Ireland.
Through her persistence, work ethic and congeniality, Brown was promoted to assistant program director in July 2016. In this role, she helped oversee the station’s content while helping the entity maintain live game broadcast rights and explore new opportunities to augment its foothold, including becoming the flagship radio home of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Don’t sit back and wait for your managers or your bosses to come to you and ask what you want to do,” Brown advised. “Go after what you want, and that’s what I’ve always done. I always went to my managers and was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this. Give me a chance; let me do that.’ For the most part, my managers have been receptive and given me those opportunities.”
When executive producer Dan Zampillo left the station to join Spotify to work as a sports producer, Brown was subsequently promoted to program director where she has helped shape the future direction of the entity. From helping lead the brand amid its sale to Good Karma Brands in the first quarter of 2022; to revamping the daily lineup with compelling local programs, Brown has gained invaluable experience and remains keenly aware of the challenges the industry faces down the road. For sports media outlets in Los Angeles, some of the challenge is merely by virtue of its geography.
“We’re in sunny Southern California where there’s a lot of things happening,” Brown said. “We’re in the middle of Hollywood. People have a lot of opportunities – you can go to the mountains; you can go to the beach. I think [our market] is more about entertainment than it is about actual hard-core sports. Yes, obviously you have hard-core Lakers fans; you have hard-core Dodgers fans, but a majority of the fans are pretty average sports fans.”
Because of favorable weather conditions and an endless supply of distractions, Brown knows that the way to attract people to sports talk radio is through its entertainment value. With this principle in mind, she has advised her hosts not to worry so much about the specific topics they are discussing, but rather to ensure they are entertaining listeners throughout the process.
“People know the four letters E-S-P-N mean sports, but really our focus is more on entertainment more than anything,” Brown said. “I think the [talent] that stick out the most are the ones that are the most entertaining.”
Entertaining listeners, however, comes through determining what they are discussing and thinking about and providing relevant coverage about those topics. Even though it has not yet been legalized in the state of California, sports gambling content has been steadily on the rise since the Supreme Court made a decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act established in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (2018). Nonetheless, Brown and ESPN Los Angeles 710 have remained proactive, launching a sports gambling show on Thursday nights to try to adjust to the growing niche of the industry.
Even though she has worked in producing and programming for most of her career, Brown is eager to learn about the effect sports gambling has on audio sales departments. At the same time, she hopes to be able to more clearly determine how the station can effectuate its coverage if and when it becomes legal in their locale.
“I know that a lot of other markets have that,” Brown said regarding the legalization of sports gambling. “For me, I’m interested to hear from people who have that in their markets and how they’ve monetized that and the opportunity.”
No matter the content, though, dedicated sports radio listeners are genuinely consuming shows largely to hear certain talent. Brown recalls receiving a compliment on Twitter earlier this quarter where a listener commented that he listens to ESPN Los Angeles 710 specifically for Sedano and Kap. Evidently, it acted as a tangible sign that her philosophy centered around keeping people engrossed in the content is working, and that providing the audience what it wants to hear is conducive to success.
At this year’s BSM Summit, Brown will be participating on The Wheel of Content panel, presented by Core Image Studio, featuring ESPN analyst Mina Kimes and FOX Sports host Joy Taylor. Through their discussion, she intends to showcase a different perspective of what goes into content creation and the interaction that takes place between involved parties.
“A lot of times in the past, all the talent were on one panel; all the programmers were on one panel,” Brown said. “To put talent and a programmer together, I think it’s an opportunity for people to hear both sides on certain issues.”
According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, AM/FM (terrestrial) radio among persons 18-34 has a greater average audience than television. The statistical anomaly, which was forecast several years earlier, came to fruition most likely due to emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Simultaneously, good content is required to captivate consumers, and radio, through quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, has been able to tailor its content to the listening audience and integrate it across multiple platforms of dissemination. The panel will give Brown a chance to speak in front of her peers and other industry professionals about changes in audio consumption, effectuated by emerging technologies and concomitant shifts in usage patterns.
Yet when it comes to radio as a whole, the patterns clearly point towards the proliferation of digital content – whether those be traditional radio programs or modernized podcasts. Moreover, utilizing various elements of presentation provides consumers a greater opportunity of finding and potentially engaging with the content.
“We do YouTube streaming; obviously, we stream on our app,” Brown said. “We’ve even created, at times, stream-only shows whether it’s stream-only video or stream-only on our app. We all know that people want content on-demand when they want it. I think it’s about giving them what they want.”
As a woman in sports media, Brown is cognizant about having to combat misogyny from those inside and outside of the industry, and is grateful to have had the support of many colleagues. In holding a management position in the second-largest media market in the United States, she strives to set a positive example to aspiring broadcasters. Additionally, she aims to be a trusted and accessible voice to help empower and give other women chances to work in the industry – even if she is not universally lauded.
“I’ve kind of always made it my goal to be like, ‘I’m no different than anyone else – yes, I’m a female – but I’m no different than anyone else,’” Brown expressed. “My whole goal was that I didn’t need people to like me; I needed people to respect me.”
Through attending events such as the BSM Summit and remaining immersed in sports media and the conversation at large about the future of sports media, Brown can roughly delineate how she can perform her job at a high level.
Although the genuine future of this business is always subject to change, she and her team at ESPN Los Angeles 710 are trying to come up with new ideas to keep the content timely, accurate, informative, and entertaining. She is content in her role as program director with no aspirations to become a general manager; however, remaining in her current role requires consistent effort and a penchant for learning.
“Relationships are very important overall in this business whether you’re a programmer or not,” Brown said. “Relationships with your talent; relationships with your staff. If you invest in your people, then they’re going to be willing to work hard for you and do what you ask them to do.”
The 2023 BSM Summit is mere days away, and those from Los Angeles and numerous other marketplaces will make the trip to The Founder’s Club at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
Aside from Brown, Kimes and Taylor, there will be other voices from across the industry sharing their thoughts on aspects of the industry and how to best shape it going forward, including Colin Cowherd, Rachel Nichols, Al Michaels and Eric Shanks. More details about the industry’s premiere media conference can be found at bsmsummit.com.
“I’m excited to be a female program director amongst male program directors for the first time and get a seat at the table and represent that there can be diversity in this position,” Brown said. “We don’t see a lot of it, but… there is an opportunity, and I hope I can be an example for other people out there [to show] that it’s possible.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pat McAfee Has Thrown Our Business Into a Tailspin
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve, McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
When you have one of the hottest talk shows in America, you’re always up to something. That’s the case for the most popular sports talk show host in America – Pat McAfee.
The former Pro Bowl punter was on top of the world on Wednesday. With over 496,000 concurrent viewers watching at one point, McAfee was able to garner an exclusive interview with frequent guest Aaron Rodgers who announced his intention to play for the Jets.
Yet even with all the accomplishments he’s been able to achieve — a new studio, consistent high viewership, a syndication deal with SportsGrid TV, a four-year, $120 million deal with FanDuel — McAfee is still anxious and unsatisfied with the state of his show and his career.
At the end of the day, he is human and he’s admitted that balancing his show, his ESPN gig with “College Gameday,” and his WWE obligations has taken a toll on him.
McAfee and his wife are expecting their first child soon and he recently told The New York Post he might step away from his deal with FanDuel. Operating his own company has come with the responsibility of making sure his studio is up and running, finding people to operate the technology that puts his show on the air, negotiating with huge behemoths like the NFL for game footage rights, booking guests, booking hotels, implementing marketing plans and other tasks that most on-air personalities rarely have to worry about.
McAfee says he’s looking for a network that would be able to take control of those duties while getting more rest and space to spend time with family while focusing strictly on hosting duties. FanDuel has its own network and has the money to fund such endeavors but is just getting started in the content game. McAfee needs a well-known entity to work with who can take his show to the next level while also honoring his wishes of keeping the show free on YouTube.
The question of how he’s going to be able to do it is something everyone in sports media will be watching. As The Post pointed out in their story, McAfee hasn’t frequently stayed with networks he’s been associated with in the past for too long. He’s worked with Westwood One, DAZN, and Barstool but hasn’t stayed for more than a year or two.
There’s an argument to be made that the latter two companies weren’t as experienced as a network when McAfee signed on with them compared to where they are today which could’ve pushed the host to leave. But at the end of the day, networks want to put money into long-term investments and it’s easy to see a network passing on working with McAfee for fear that he’ll leave them astray when he’s bored.
It’ll also be difficult for McAfee to find a network that doesn’t put him behind a paywall. Amazon and Google are rumored to be potential new homes. But both are trying to increase subscribers for their respective streaming services.
It will be difficult to sell Amazon on investing money to build a channel on YouTube – a rival platform. For Google, they may have the tech infrastructure to create television-like programming but they aren’t an experienced producer, they’ve never produced its own live, daily talk show, and investing in McAfee’s show doesn’t necessarily help increase the number of subscribers watching YouTube TV.
Networks like ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox might make sense to partner with. But McAfee faces the possibility of being censored due to corporate interests. Each of these networks also operates its networks or streaming channels that air talk programming of their own. Investing in McAfee could cannibalize the programming they already own.
And if McAfee works with a traditional network that isn’t ESPN, it could jeopardize his ability to host game casts for Omaha or analyze games on Gameday. It’s not impossible but would definitely be awkward on days that McAfee does his show remotely from locations of ESPN games with ESPN banners and signage that is visible in the background.
If SportsGrid has the money to invest in McAfee, they might be his best bet. They have all the attributes McAfee needs and they already have a relationship with him. It is probably unlikely that he’ll be censored and he would even be able to maintain a relationship with FanDuel – a company SportsGrid also works alongside.
Roku is another option — they already work with Rich Eisen — but they would move his show away from YouTube, something McAfee should resist since the majority of smart TV users use YT more than any other app.
If the NFL gave McAfee editorial independence, they would make the perfect partner but the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. NFL Media has independence but it was clear during the night of the Damar Hamlin incident that they will do whatever is necessary to stay away from serious topics that make the league look bad until it’s totally unavoidable.
It’s hard to think of a partner that matches up perfectly with McAfee’s aspirations. But once again, at the moment, he’s on top of the world so anything is possible. The talk show host’s next move will be even more interesting to watch than the other fascinating moves he’s already made that have put the sports media industry in a swivel.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Tips For Networking At the BSM Summit
“Have a plan and don’t leave home without it.”
Bring your game plan if you attend the BSM Summit in LA next Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter your purpose for attending: to learn, get a job, speak, or sell an idea, you must be able to read the room. To do that, it helps to know who will be there and how you can cure their pain.
Have a plan and don’t leave home without it. If you have time, buy How to Work a Room by Susan Roane. If you don’t, just follow these five tips:
- INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Before you arrive at The Summit, figure out what you want, who you want to meet, and what you will say. Once you get there, scout out the room and see if anyone of those people are available. Talk to speakers after they have spoken- don’t worry if you miss what the next speaker says. You are there to meet new people! Most speakers do not stick around for the entire schedule, and you don’t know if they will attend any after-parties, so don’t risk it. Refine your elevator pitch and break the ice with something you have in common. Make sure you introduce yourself to Stephanie, Demetri and Jason from BSM. They know everybody and will help you if they can.
- GET A NAME TAG: Don’t assume that name tags will be provided. Bring your own if you and make your name clear to read. If you are looking to move to LA or want to sell a system to book better guests, put it briefly under your name. Study this to get better at remembering names.
- LOSE THE NOTEBOOK: When you meet folks, ensure your hands are free. Have a business card handy and ask for one of theirs. Remember to look people in the eye and notice what they are doing. If they are scanning the room, pause until they realize they are blowing you off. Do whatever it takes to sound upbeat and open. Don’t let their clothes, hair, or piercings distract from your message. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie but do bring your best business casual wear. A blazer isn’t a bad idea either.
- SHUT UP FIRST! The art of knowing when to end the convo is something you will have to practice. You can tell when the other person’s eye starts darting or they are not using body language that tells you the convo will continue. You end it by telling them you appreciate meeting them and want to connect via email. Ask for a business card. Email is more challenging to ignore than a LinkedIn request, and you can be more detailed in what you want via email.
- WORK THE SCHEDULE: Know who speaks when. That is when you will find the speakers hanging around. Plan your lunch outing to include a few fellow attendees. Be open and conversational with those around you. I am a huge USC fan, so I would walk to McKays– a good spot with plenty of USC football memorabilia on the walls. Sometimes you can find the next day’s speakers at the Day 1 after party. Need a bar? Hit the 901 Club for cheap beer, drinks, and food.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
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