Mike Monaco Remains Grounded While His Star Rises
“There’s no substitute for the hard work component…Just bring a thirst and a great unparalleled work ethic to it.”
Baseball in the calendar year 2023 looks and feels drastically different with history being made in ways never before perceived as possible. The pitch clock has had a dual effect in that it has correlated to a shorter average game duration of two hours and 38 minutes – down from last year’s figure of three hours and eight minutes), but has also caused batters to accumulate balls or strikes through a timer violation of some kind. As a play-by-play announcer, Mike Monaco precipitously felt the effect of the rule changes when calling a Boston Red Sox spring training game against the Atlanta Braves. The score was tied at 6, and the Braves had the bases loaded with a chance to win the game.
On a 3-2 count with two outs in the ninth inning, Red Sox pitcher Robert Kwiatkowski prepared to deliver a potential game-altering pitch; however, the umpire quickly gestured to stop play and mark a seminal moment in baseball history. Atlanta Braves shortstop Cal Conley was called out without a pitch being thrown since he was not set in the batter’s box with at least eight seconds to go.
The crowd at JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, had just witnessed something new: the first professional baseball game to end on a pitch clock violation, and in a tie nonetheless. “America’s Pastime” has officially been altered, and now there is no turning back.
“I said to Lou Merloni – who had just finished calling his first Red Sox TV game because his experience in the past had been on radio for Red Sox broadcasts – I said, ‘Did you think you’d go viral in your first game in the booth?,’” Monaco recalls. “It was a crazy ending, and at that point, we were still sifting through the mechanics of the call.”
Just as the new rule alters pitchers in terms of their usual sequence, it has changed the way hitters approach a plate appearance. Because they are only allowed to call for a timeout once per at bat, along with the fact that they need to be ready at the plate by the point in the countdown where at least eight seconds are remaining, batters must remain focused and locked in at all times.
Moreover, the institution of the pitch clock has, in essence, altered the sound of a game broadcast and forced commentators to render their points more compendious and succinct in nature.
“It’s made me rethink about how I set up stories and how quickly I try to get into something,” Monaco expressed. “In the past, you might be able to meander into something and then kind of get your story started and your point across in a more ‘folksy’ way that we always think of with baseball broadcasting. It’s definitely changed how I view it from a broadcast perspective.”
In listening back to the call, Monaco’s reaction is obviously one of shock and mesmerization, and it can be discerned that most viewers felt the same way. As a broadcaster, he portrayed the feelings of the audience at that moment, demonstrating his adept versatility and instincts.
Make no mistake about it – Monaco is familiar with the history of the Boston Red Sox. He has been watching the team both at Fenway Park and at home since he was young, and he considers their play to have been a vehicle that fueled his love of sports. Reflecting on his time as a young Boston sports fan, he realizes that he was spoiled with success, highlighted by the Red Sox breaking the infamous, 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” when the team won the 2004 World Series.
Since the turn of the century, the New England Patriots, led by head coach Bill Belicheck and quarterback Tom Brady, formed a dynasty and won six Super Bowl championships. The Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins have had formidable chances to win multiple titles over the last 20 years as well, with the teams securing glory in 2008 and 2011, respectively.
Aside from being an avid fan of the teams, Monaco was an athlete himself, yet inherently aware that he had no chance of completing the path to competing professionally. As a student at Cohasset High School, Monaco played baseball and basketball and, in his senior year, was named captain of the soccer team. When it was time to think about applying to college, Monaco decided to try and study to become a general manager of a Major League Baseball team, an occupation with only, at most, 30 potential job openings.
During his formative years as an undergraduate student attending the University of Notre Dame, Monaco remained focused on his classwork but joined various campus organizations including the school’s newspaper and radio station.
Through opportunities to write and broadcast on these platforms, he recognized that he wanted to pursue a career in sports media, leading him to major in journalism and learn the trade. From Notre Dame softball games, fencing events and even football contests between different dorms, Monaco covered all different types of sports at a high level, and also worked to develop hosting skills in the campus radio studios.
Additionally, he was promoted to sports editor of the school newspaper and had the ability to cover events and write a variety of stories disseminated to the local community. The athletic department’s decision to begin streaming games engendered additional chances for him to take the microphone, providing him with a litany of repetitions and the credentials needed to land an internship.
“For two years in college in the summers, I interned in the Cape Cod Baseball League calling baseball games,” Monaco said. “It was 44 games in a little less than two months, so basically a game every day. I knew that I loved it; I loved hanging out at the batting cages during batting practice in the afternoons and talking to players and coaches, and it’s really cool how many guys I know from there.”
The Wareham Gatemen, the team for whom he called these games, exposed him to the quotidian nature of the sport and how to prepare and execute broadcasts. Before that though in the summer after his freshman year, Monaco had interned with New England Sports Network (NESN), specifically on its Boston Red Sox broadcasts.
For select games, his role was to sit in an edit bay throughout the duration of the Red Sox game and help produce a 30-second commercial for the next contest. By being present, he discerned the conversations happening in the broadcast truck between producers, directors, broadcasters, and other personnel. It allowed him to develop a cognizance of industry jargon, invaluable to cultivating a fastidious approach in his preparation that continues to pay dividends today.
“There’s no shortcut for it,” Monaco said of preparation, “and it’s the baseline expectation of a fanbase tuning into your game, whether that’s a national broadcast or a local broadcast. They are watching because they care so much about the team – or maybe about a family member or a friend on the team – or just fandom. You can’t cheat that, and you can’t shortcut it.”
By the time he was a senior at the university, Monaco became a media assistant with the South Bend Cubs in its first year as a minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. The roster featured future major league players to go with an environment where development was at the top of mind.
By that fall, he was off to Western Michigan University, not to attain another degree, but to broadcast its basketball games, marking his first job out of college with some pressure to prove the people that took a chance on him sagacious in doing so. The games were televised on ESPN3, granting the production team the capability to establish its own identity and make the broadcasts unique and compelling to watch.
“It gave me a chance on air to try different things and to make mistakes and to learn,” Monaco said. “….Through the basketball season, [I found] ways to tell stories about the same team and [not only covered] them each time I had their game, but [tried] to bring something new to it. It was an amazing experience.”
The next spring, Monaco resumed his baseball duties – this time with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres. In broadcasting a sport with an average of less than 20 minutes of action, a fundamental aspect of the job is in attracting and maintaining an audience, something that is often done by being invested in the game while having synergy with on-air partners.
“To really be a good partner and a good teammate, even with the production crew as well, and to accentuate the other people that are a part of the broadcast and to bring out their strengths and be a good point guard so to speak,” Monaco described as part of his role. “That’s a lot of what I think being a play-by-play [announcer] is – to have that role and to hopefully put others in a position to be successful and make them feel comfortable and bring out their best characteristics.”
Over the time Monaco assimilated into working professionally in sports media, he sought out and received advice from many prominent broadcasters in the field, such as Sean McDonough, Adam Amin, and Len Kasper. As time has gone on, he has established relationships with Brian Anderson and Jason Benetti, receiving insight and expertise into what it takes to succeed in the industry and how to best position himself moving forward. One method anyone pursuing a career in most professions could take is by aligning oneself with a proven commodity, something that has been refined and established with the proper ethos.
By joining the Pawtucket Red Sox as an intern in broadcast and media relations in the spring of 2017, Monaco was doing just that. The organization has a long list of alumni who have made the transition from the minors to the majors over the years, including Cincinnati Bengals radio play-by-play voice Dan Hoard; San Francisco Giants broadcaster Dave Flemming; and New York Mets television play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen. Yet when he joined the organization, regularly going on air was no guarantee, and the situation became more unpredictable when the team landed a local television deal.
In the end, Monaco was assigned to broadcast Saturday home games in the first season and performed other tasks under Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, both of whom now broadcast Major League Baseball games on the radio. When Flemming received a chance to broadcast Boston Red Sox games, Monaco was paired in the booth with Maurer, forming a duo that called games throughout the course of the 2019 season.
“You’re right in the Boston market basically, and there’s coverage from Red Sox media of the PawSox, [so] that was a great learning experience too [in] being a step closer to the major leagues and seeing how things operate. It was three amazing years there, and I’m still really close with all those people and wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
In the midst of his final season with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston play-by-play announcer Dave O’Brien was unable to broadcast two late-season home games against the Baltimore Orioles. As a result, Monaco was paired with Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersely, officially receiving his call to the show and a new vantage point from which to watch the game at historic Fenway Park.
“Two of the biggest days of my career to that point and two days that I still hold really closely to my heart,” Monaco said of the occurrence. “I was incredibly excited. I couldn’t believe [it] when they called me to tell me that they were going to have me fill in for Dave. It was an honor then to fill in, and it’s an honor any time I fill in now.”
Broadcasting his childhood team alongside Remy and Eckersley was somewhat intimidating for Monaco, but an opportunity he knew he would never pass up. Feeling excitement, nerves and disbelief as he entered the NESN broadcast booth, he remembers both color commentators making him feel comfortable and affirming the value his intellect and impressions garnered. They offered to adjust to him and try to make the broadcast as enjoyable as possible, helping make that stretch even more memorable.
“I’ll never forget [that], and I hope to pass that on to any new partner that I work with at whatever level down the road,” Monaco expressed. “They really did go out of their way to make me feel like I was supposed to be there and that my opinions, thoughts and words were as valuable as theirs. Certainly, the experience factor says otherwise.”
Since that time, Monaco has had several chances to broadcast Red Sox games on NESN, requiring somewhat of an adjustment from his days in the minor leagues. Additionally, he has been given the chance to fill in for Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox games in parts of the last few years.
For starters, Major League Baseball teams, especially in large markets, receive what may seem like an interminable amount of press. As a result, there is an unimpeded circulation of news, analysis, statistics and other information that factors into the broadcast. Furthermore, a large proportion of fans are recurring viewers of content related to their favorite teams, indicating that they comprehensively and instantaneously know the ins and outs of what is happening.
“There’s just a baseline understanding between announcers and [the] audience of who guys are that I [do not] necessarily need to rehash a player’s backstory when I’m doing a game on NESN,” Monaco said, “whereas there’s maybe a little bit more introduction of who someone is in the minor leagues to a listener in a town where the fanbase isn’t as big.”
Around the time when he began working with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Monaco signed a deal to broadcast games for FOX Sports and the Big Ten Network including football, soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse. Calling myriad sports with varying rules and rosters without a fixed, recurring role took an adjustment period, but fostered an even greater sense of versatility and value in his craft.
“There have been times in the fall or even in the spring where I might have five games in five days and they might be three different sports,” Monaco said. “Trying to keep everything straight is a challenge, but it’s also the joy in this and it’s why you get into it in the first place. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Although he continues to keep in touch with lead NHL on ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough, Monaco says that their relationship had no direct influence on his joining the network in 2019. It took considerable effort for Monaco to learn the game well enough to be considered for professional broadcasting roles, and surely his time calling college hockey at Notre Dame gave him somewhat of a background in the nuances of a sport predicated on dynamic action.
Last March, he made his debut and today calls a variety of national contests throughout the course of the regular season; in fact, he estimates that, at this point, he has worked with nearly every one of the property’s analysts.
“I’ve learned a ton just from sitting next to them at a morning skate [and] over the course of a two-and-a-half hour broadcast as well,” Monaco said. “It’s an incredibly challenging sport to call, but it’s incredibly rewarding.”
The skill and abilities of the athletes to play with finesse and physicality on the ice make the sport somewhat of an outlier in that no matter the situation, fans are always at the edge of their seats. In an era with interminable amounts of distraction and other activities to engross oneself in, hockey shines through and holds its broadcasters to a high standard to keep up and cohesively describe the game.
“It’s the fastest sport there is,” Monaco said. “That’s a reason why I think from a sheer fan entertainment perspective, I think it’s the most enjoyable sport. If you plop down at a sporting event, it’s the most enjoyable sport to watch in person because of how fast it moves paired with the incredible skill in the game.”
No matter the broadcast, commentators have set a standard since the advent of sports media in acting as acquiring information and delivering it on the broadcast, instantiated in an objective manner. Although there is opinion imbued in sports broadcasting, stellar broadcasts utilize it to contribute to the game story rather than attack individuals personally. In having a platform with the capability of reaching a large number of people, Monaco and his broadcast team, whether it is on NESN, ESPN, or the ACC Network for college football, has a responsibility to precisely depict the game and, if the situation calls for it, accompany it with mirthful moments.
“If someone has a career game, that might be the biggest moment of their life at that point,” Monaco said. “I feel a duty to be prepared to hopefully tell that story accurately for how that person got to this point and what this moment means for them.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the time thereafter, a question about sending broadcasters to road games has been posed throughout the industry – and it made gathering stories to tell considerably more difficult. Those opposing broadcasts on the road usually cite how it hurts teams financially and that a comparable product can be generated from a remote site, while those in favor talk about the importance of being able to discern the whole game and gain intangibles through their observations.
In Major League Baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Angels are the only franchises that do not send their English radio announcers on the road for games – and they have received a fair amount of backlash for their decisions.
Monaco is of the belief that broadcasts sound better when announcers travel with the team and call the games in person, but also understands the other side of the quandary. There were occasions when he flew back home to Chicago just to call a game remotely, and he still continues to do so in special circumstances. He knows the stretch of time doing it regularly was a challenge for him and adjusted his means of preparation. The relationships with those around the industry made the time easier in keeping an open line of communication and remaining in the subconscious of decision-makers.
“I think in any industry that’s probably the name of the game,” Monaco said of relationship building. “In any walk of life, it’s great. What you’ve done and what you’re capable of, but also who you know is really important.”
While he tries to resist thinking about future goals and instead remain grounded in everything he is presently doing, Monaco knows he wants to continue broadcasting meaningful games and telling stories to an audience. There are many people with this same desire, making sports media a particularly competitive and sometimes cutthroat industry in which to work wherefore establishing a work ethic is of the utmost importance. In addition, astutely watching other broadcasters and reaching out to get feedback demonstrates humility and a yearning to enhance one’s skills and adapt.
Quite simply, staying ahead of the curve is crucial in staying in the industry, and while there is a certain allure to tradition, the industry continues to look forward and find new ways to implement its talent and showcase the best the games have to offer.
“There’s no substitute for the hard work component,” Monaco said. “….Just bring a thirst and a great unparalleled work ethic to it.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. 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.
As Media Changes, Bob Costas Hopes Standards Remain
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me.”
Growing up in New York, Bob Costas frequently listened to broadcasters such as Red Barber, Mel Allen and Marv Albert call games on the radio. To him, their voices were inseparable from the players. Although he idolized Mickey Mantle, Costas knew the only way he would pass through the Yankee Stadium gates without charge would be by working in the press box. Recognizing that many national broadcasters began their careers by working in radio, he searched for an esteemed college program to accentuate his pursuit of a media career. Once Costas picked up a New York Knicks yearbook and learned that Glickman and Albert had both attended Syracuse University, his mind was, somewhat consequentially, made up.
“When I got there, I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to be a writer or a broadcaster,” Costas said. “Almost as soon as I got there as a freshman, I started getting airshifts doing sports reports and whatnot on the campus radio station. I felt like this was something that I enjoyed and I might have a knack for.”
Costas on the Air
Costas was fond of a specific type of sports broadcasting early in his career, one promulgated by Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wherein an announcer is more than just someone who documents the game. It led Costas to espouse a multifaceted approach with shades of humor, journalistic elements and some historical references.
“[They] were essayists and at times journalists,” Costas said. “Not just announcers, but journalists with a respect for and a command of language with the occasional literate touch [and] I admired those people. I think I was influenced by them in that they showed me that was an avenue [and] that not every good broadcaster had to be generic.”
When Costas graduated from college, he was hired at KMOX radio by general manager Rob Hyland. He was assigned to be the new play-by-play announcer for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Spirit of St. Louis, and later called Missouri Tigers college basketball.
In 1976, Al Michaels was slated to be a regional football play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, but ended up signing a contract with ABC less than one week before the regular season. It left the network with no one to call an opening week game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers from historic Lambeau Field, resulting in CBS Sports calling Hyland to inquire about a potential replacement.
“Mr. Hyland said, ‘We’ve got a young guy here. We think he’s pretty good. He’s 24 and looks like he’s 15,’” Costas recalled. “They said, ‘Send him to Green Bay,’ and I signed a one-game contract for $500 to go to Green Bay.”
Costas continued calling regional games for CBS Sports while working at KMOX, being used every so often on football and basketball coverage. It gave him additional exposure in various marketplaces around the United States, and ultimately prepared him to join NBC Sports. By the end of 1981 though, Bryant Gumbel departed the sports division to join Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace as a co-host on TODAY. As a result, Costas was elevated to become a more visible part of NBC’s football coverage. He eventually started hosting the pregame show for the NFL on NBC, and had to learn the mechanics of the studio and how to read from a teleprompter.
“For the first several years that I did it, I didn’t use a teleprompter at all,” Costas said. “I just had notes and ad-libbed around those notes, but then as the production became more sophisticated, they’d want a specific cue to roll in B-roll or whatever, and I began using the prompter for that. I still ad-libbed in and around it because I felt more comfortable doing that.”
Costas on America’s Pastime
Costas continued hosting studio coverage for football, but had also impressed network executives when hosting NBC’s coverage of the 1983 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier that season, he had started broadcasting games with Tony Kubek on Game of the Week, a partner to which he credits accentuating his development. Kubek introduced Costas to key figures around the sport, such as players, general managers and scouts, implicitly communicating the trust he garnered in his abilities.
Throughout his career, the composition and expectations of the audience have altered, requiring Costas to adapt the way in which he calls a game. Research departments compile tedious amounts of information for broadcasters to consider, and it is in their purview to determine what deserves emphasis. When sabermetrics first began to pervade into the everyday vernacular of the sport, Costas had Bill James on KMOX to discuss his theories and baseball abstract, and he considers himself an early adopter of the metrics.
Costas is familiar with postseason baseball as a fan and broadcaster, appearing on World Series broadcasts five different times either as a host or play-by-play announcer. Through his lifetime, he has seen and embraced the evolution of the sport. Yet he is frequently labeled as a “traditionalist.” That led to extensive criticism regarding how he called last year’s American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on TBS.
“If it ever gets to the point in a broadcast where the statistician eclipses the storyteller, then some of the elements of romance and legend that are part of baseball are lost,” Costas expressed. “What you’re looking to do is strike a balance between those two things. They all have their purpose, but it’s a matter of balance.”
In addition to baseball, Costas also covered basketball with NBC, helping further cement the Association into the collective awareness of the viewing public. He was elevated to lead play-by-play announcer for the 1997-98 season and called three NBA Finals, including one of the most consequential shots in the history of the game. Costas, who announced games locally for the Bulls on WGN-TV during the 1979-80 season, punctuated Michael Jordan’s championship-winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Although he no longer calls basketball, Costas is a fan of the game and regularly tunes into the NBA Finals while staying aware of ratings.
“A good portion of it is on cable,” Costas said of league broadcasts. “There are very large rights fees paid, so that explains the league’s willingness to go in that direction, and the quality of the broadcasts are generally very, very high. There’s no criticism of the way the games are presented, but it’s less present in the minds of the casual fan than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”
Costas on Reporting
When Costas was at NBC, he was presented with a proposal from producer Dick Ebersol about starting his own late-night talk show, entering a space where sportscasters had not often frequented. While he looks back at that stage of his career with a sense of appreciation, he turned down the program multiple times. Once he reluctantly agreed to host the show, Costas welcomed guests including Paul McCartney, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks among others for longform, insightful interviews.
“It wasn’t confined to five minutes or a quick soundbite,” Costas said. “I think I was well-suited to that format, and once I got my footing after the first few months of doing it, I realized that even though I hadn’t planned anything in that area, it was something that I was suited to do.”
As a journalist, Costas affirms that it is his responsibility to address uncomfortable subjects with his audience in an objective manner. Through this approach, people feel empowered to formulate their own opinions and contribute to the discourse, especially since they do not have to start the entire conversation. In working as the prime-time host of the Olympic Games on NBC for 24 years, Costas had to balance highlighting the competition with bringing light to international affairs and global issues.
“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me,” Costas said. “But I hope that I’ve had a healthy skepticism, and I’ve never thought there was any contradiction between embracing the drama; the theater; the human interest [and] the occasionally and genuinely moving and touching things that can happen in sports… and then turning a journalistic eye towards what’s happening within those same events or those same sports.”
Before Costas took over the hosting role from Jim McKay in 1992, they had a lengthy conversation about the duty of the host and how integral the person is in the network’s coverage. It requires being familiar with notable athletes while also having the dexterity to seamlessly pivot, take a briefing and discuss unexpected occurrences. For example, during Costas’ second Summer Olympics in 1996, he had to cover the Centennial Park bombing. At the same time, he needed to know about the competitions and the significance of certain milestones the athletes achieved.
When Costas inked his final contract with NBC in 2012, he insisted that a stipulation be placed that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the final time he would host the games on the network. At the time, Costas was also hosting Football Night in America on NBC, which led into Sunday Night Football broadcasts with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The network suggested he take on an emeritus role similar to what Tom Brokaw did as a newscaster, a proposal to which Costas obliged.
Costas has hosted two different nationally syndicated radio programs during his career – Costas Coast to Coast (1986-1996) and Costas on the Radio (2006-2009) it’s a parallel path to the ones takes by some of the biggest names to follow in his footsteps in sports media.
Stephen A. Smith, for example, is a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, broadcasts an alternate telecast for select NBA matchups, appears on NBA Countdown and hosts his own podcast titled The Stephen A. Smith Show. He does all of this while building his own production company, occasionally guest starring on television shows and ensuring he is well-positioned for the future. Smith has not been shy about his desire to expand beyond sports, pondering trying to host a late-night talk show of his own. Costas, it should be noted, is the only person to ever win Emmy awards in news, sports and entertainment. He has amassed a total of 28 throughout his illustrious career, the most wins in the history of sports media. Nonetheless, he believes discussing more than sports takes a specific archetype and is not a route all personalities are inclined to forge.
“You could name a lot of people that do one thing, but they do it extraordinarily well,” Costas said. “They don’t have to check every box…. I just had varied interests, and I guess people identified that I had varying abilities, and so I was able to do that.”
Costas has been on MLB Network since its launch in 2009. This followed an eight-year run with HBO as the host of On the Record, which was later revamped into Costas NOW, but he departed the premium television network when they insisted he grant them “cable exclusivity.” He desperately wanted to join MLB Network because of his passion and interest in the game – and ultimately ended up doing so – but not before making a monumental decision about his future.
“It was a really difficult choice because HBO was the gold standard when it came to sports journalism,” Costas said. “But given my love of baseball and given the fact that NBC hadn’t had it since 2000, I went with the baseball network.”
Costas on the Gridiron
Costas’ infatuation with baseball was contrasted with a perceived indignation towards football, although Costas affirms that was not the case. He had generally been allowed to express his opinions about different topics on radio programs or television shows, but there was a point where it became too much.
After he went on CNN to discuss the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following remarks he made at the University of Maryland about football having adverse mental effects, Costas was removed from the NBC’s Super Bowl LII broadcast. The decision did not bother him, as he had been assigned to host the Super Bowl without any prior knowledge before it was publicly announced. In fact, he was somewhat apathetic towards the proceedings.
“What I did suggest was I could make a more significant contribution if, during the course of a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show, you carved out 15 to 20 minutes for a real journalistic interview with Roger Goodell,” Costas shared. “That would be good programming, and it would be solid journalistically, but Goodell declined. So then that left me with no role that I was interested in for the Super Bowl.”
The ambivalent feelings Costas had towards the sport precipitated his exit from the network, officially parting ways in January 2019 and moving to the next stage of his career. Upon his exit though, Costas knew his previous roles were in good hands with Mike Tirico at the helm. The plan from the beginning was to have Tirico assume the host role of both prime-time Olympics coverage and Football Night in America. Once Al Michaels left NBC Sports to join the incipient Thursday Night Football property at Amazon Prime Video, Tirico was duly named the new play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football. It was one transaction in a deluge of broadcast movement in the final offseason before the start of the NFL’s new national media rights deal, reportedly worth over $110 billion over 11 years.
“The NFL doesn’t just reign over sports TV; it reigns over all of television and over all of American entertainment,” Costas said. “It’s the only thing that consistently aggregates audiences of that size, and therefore it isn’t just valuable to the networks; it’s indispensable to the networks.”
With these sizable media rights agreements comes substantial compensation for on-air talent. ESPN is reportedly paying Joe Buck and Troy Aikman a combined $33 million to serve as the Monday Night Football broadcast tandem, a figure some people would consider overpaying. Costas does not view it that way, instead perceiving broadcasters as harbingers of credibility.
“When you think about a company spending billions and billions of dollars for a property like they do with football, and then add on all the production costs, why should it surprise anybody that they’re willing to pay a very high premium to get Joe Buck or to retain Jim Nantz or to retain Tony Romo?,” Costas articulated. “Not doing so would be the equivalent of, ‘You spend $5,000 on a suit, but now you’re not going to splurge for the tie or the belt.’ These are accessories to a larger investment, and they’re important accessories.”
ESPN announced it was signing Pat McAfee to a multiyear, multi-million dollar contract to bring his eponymous show to its linear and digital platforms. McAfee conducted the negotiations independently and will still retain full creative control over the show in its new phase. The move, however, received considerable backlash from those inside and outside of ESPN since it occurred amid Disney CEO Bob Iger’s directive to lay off 7,000 employees across all divisions of the company. On several occasions, sports media pundits and personalities alike have expressed that ESPN concentrates its attention on a small sector of talent while neglecting everyone else. While FOX Corporation, Paramount Global and various other companies have engaged in layoffs this year, none made a hire with the star appeal, gravitas, and price tag of McAfee.
“Someone like McAfee; he moves the needle,” Costas said. “He moves it, I guess, [on] various platforms – YouTube, as well as ESPN now, so he can make a difference so that’s what they’re paying for.”
Costas on Modern Media
An existential question those in the media industry are grappling with is how to offset the effects felt by cord-cutting. In the first quarter of 2023, cable, satellite and internet providers experienced a loss of 2.3 million customers, and the latest Nielsen Media Research Total Audience Report says 34% of consumption derives from streaming services. With digital forms of media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms taking precedence in the marketplace, companies must establish alternate revenue streams while continuing to innovate.
CNN laid off employees last year, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will reportedly be laying off additional employees during the summer months. Costas joined the company in 2020 as a correspondent for CNN. Earlier this week, Costas appeared on the network to talk about the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which marked a seminal moment in the history of the game.
Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav recently relieved CNN chief executive officer Chris Licht of his duties as CEO following a pernicious feature in The Atlantic. It only worsened a dwindling company morale predicated by several controversial decisions regarding coverage, casting and the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity.
While Costas expressed that he had a “cordial, but not deep relationship” with Licht and did not have shrewd insight into the decision to part ways with the embattled CEO, he does understand the shifts in news viewership and how its subject matter can penetrate into sports media.
For years, consumers regarded MSNBC as being biased to left-leaning politics, FOX News having bias towards right-leaning politics and CNN as nonpartisan, although that sentiment has somewhat changed.
“There’s a battle for viewership, and there’s some thought that people only want to go to the places that reinforce what they already believe,” Costas said. “‘Feed me the same meal every time over and over,’ and now CNN is trying to chart a different course more down the middle. Maybe you have to be more partisan in order to attract a larger cable audience; I underline ‘maybe’ because my insight into this is not as valuable as a lot of other people who are closer to it.”
The fractionalized media landscape, whether it be pertaining to news coverage, morning sports debate shows or afternoon drive programs, has, perhaps, engendered more disparate audiences than ever before. People tend to stick with outlets they know will provide them with information and coverage more favorable to their own points of view, and there is somewhat of an implicit chilling effect associated with channel surfing in certain scenarios. Viewers are obstinate towards programs that reinforce their points of view and hesitant to change, sometimes creating misinformation or, worse, disinformation.
“I think one of the most important courses that should be taught beginning fairly early – probably at the junior high school level and certainly continuing through college – is media literacy,” Costas opined, “which is not telling you what to think, but helping you to navigate this crazy jigsaw puzzle that’s out there.”
There are many people following the business of sports media, but a smaller group of people who tend to break news and report on the beat itself. While there are reporters specialized in different niches of the industry, there are others who indolently parse stories and/or spin aspects of it to render it compatible with their platform.
Established reporters and outlets certainly engage in some level of repurposing; however, these entities safeguard what they are disseminating is true and take accountability for their mistakes. Conversely, there are perpetrators who transmogrify things into engrossing headlines designed to attract traffic. It is disheartening for journalists such as Costas.
“Many sites now, and this is true in sports perhaps especially, [are] just aggregators,” Costas said. “They do no reporting; there doesn’t appear to be any editor overseeing any of it. They just look for stuff wherever it might appear, and then they repurpose it, and almost always, the context, the tone [and] the nuance is lost. At best, it’s reduced to primary colors. At worst, it’s totally misrepresented for clicks.”
In the past, Costas remembers genuine local programming which was exclusive to certain geographical areas. Because of the advent of the internet and social media though, nothing is truly local since people from around the world can consume content live or on demand. While this has brought many people together and improved cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism persists and has hindered accurate comprehension.
“If what you say is inevitably going to some extent be distorted where ‘A’ won’t just become ‘B,’ but it might become ‘X,’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ by the time it’s gone through all of its iterations, you sort of say to yourself, ‘What’s the point?,’” Costas elucidated. “Sports is not brain surgery – but you can make a more or less thoughtful point when asked a question, but if it’s then going to be seen, heard or read by more people than heard it initially, and if it’s going to be mangled in the process, it’s almost like a fool’s game to be part of that.”
Costas on the Future
The term ‘pretentious’ is wholly inaccurate in describing Costas. He does not view himself as a visionary and knows that he will not be an “active participant” in the industry that much longer, but is reassured regarding the direction of sports broadcasting. He looks at revered announcers such as Jim Nantz and is able to effectively identify similarities with Curt Gowdy. Although the degree of information available to people has certainly shifted, play-by-play announcing, at its core, remains similar to the on-air product people first heard in 1929, although the lexicon and flow of a broadcast are somewhat different.
“The essentials of the craft remain the same,” Costas said. “If you’re talking about sports talk radio; if you’re talking about the internet’s coverage of sports, that in some cases bears no resemblance to the notions that people of my generation had about credibility and quality of presentation. No one’s saying that sports coverage is masterpiece theater or something that should be taught at a Ph.D. class at Princeton [University], but it can be done more or less thoughtfully. It can be done more or less credibly, and we see wide variations now in how it’s done.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. 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.
There is Nothing Old School About a Human Touch in Radio Sales
“Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway.”
We are not dumb or dumber when it comes to buying radio advertising. Being a radio ad sales rep is old school to some advertising buyers. To others, we write the book on how to get advertising done. Find those clients!
The digital automated ad buying platform AudioGo described selling radio ads as old school and wrote that automated buying is smarter. I am sure that is true for some buyers who have grown up with tech and automation, namely programmatic buying, and have changed their view of a radio salesperson. They don’t see the unique value radio sales reps bring to the process.
Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway. Plenty of other local direct clients are not ready for algorithms to automate ad buys. They want a human touch, a helping hand, and the kind of expertise that no algorithm can replace. YOU. Radio salespeople add value to these types of clients. Here is why we do and how we are not the “dumb and dumber” of media of buying.
ONE-ON-ONE PERSONALIZED CONSULT
A radio salesperson offers specific solutions to meet a client’s goals with the right target audience and within their budget. We allow real-time interaction to understand the client’s business better, so we can match up the perfect advertising strategy. We are the ultimate live FAQs page. Building strong client relationships is critical. How can trust, collaboration, and a long-term partnership be created based on algorithms?
EXPERTISE AND INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE
Most successful Radio salespeople have invaluable expertise and industry knowledge they picked up through years of experience. Twenty percent of the reps do eighty percent of the business. The vets know all about 6a-8a, 4p-6p, and live endorsement spots.
We get the nuances of radio advertising, like shifting audience demographics, programming trends, and effective messaging strategies. We can advise a client to make a much more informed (and time-saving) decision that can maximize the impact of their ad campaigns. No algorithm can see that.
Automated programmatic buying may offer convenience, but it isn’t too custom of a solution. We tailor advertising campaigns to meet the unique needs of each client. We take in specific target audience preferences, locations, and competitive market trends to produce effective strategies. We listen to real-time feedback and get results. Algorithms rely on predefined parameters and can’t customize.
Buying advertising can be complex, with regulations, industry standards, and market trends constantly changing. Radio salespeople have the experience to anticipate roadblocks and offer proactive solutions. Additionally, we can provide insight into budgeting, negotiation, and buying other media. Algorithms lack intuition and can’t maneuver fast enough to handle the unknown.
While automation and algorithms have their place with certain buyers, remind yourself of the value you offer clients. You provide personalized consultation, industry expertise, customized solutions, and the ability to navigate. You are indispensable to the right buyers. Now find them!
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 email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
Vic Lombardi Turns Nuggets Disrespect into Great Content
“I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.”
There was a feeling of Denver vs. Everyone during the 10 days that separated the end of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The word “boring” was being used to describe what it was going to be like watching the Nuggets play for an NBA title. It didn’t sit well with Denver media and sports fans, as the unfair tag was being consistently referenced by certain members of the national sports media.
Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, along with several of his co-workers, decided to fight against a narrative they found uneducated and unfair. In their eyes, all you had to do this season was to actually watch the Nuggets to find them interesting.
“We assume everyone else knows what we know,” said Lombardi. “We assume that the rest of the country is watching. And all this has done, to be honest with you, has proven that a lot of national folks don’t watch as carefully as they say they do. Because if they watched they wouldn’t be as surprised as they are right now.”
There was even an on-air spat with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated on the Altitude Sports Radio airwaves. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Mannix said there weren’t any compelling or interesting storylines surrounding the Nuggets first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
Lombardi, along with other hosts at Altitude Sports Radio took exception to the comment and fired back with their thoughts. A few days later, Mannix appeared on the station to defend his position and stick up for what he thought was accurate. Though the tensions were high during the back-and-forth it was incredible content for the station.
But Lombardi says he doesn’t take the spats, whether they’re public or private, all that seriously when other fellow media members.
“The arguments, if they’re anything, they’re all in fun,” said Lombardi. “I don’t take this stuff personally. We had a little back and forth with Chris Mannix. That was fun. I actually saw him in Denver when he came out for media. I respect anyone who’s willing to make their point on the air. It’s not the media’s job, it’s not your job as a host or a writer to tell me what I find compelling or interesting. We’re all from different parts with different needs and you can’t tell me what I desire. Let me pick that. Chase a story because the public may learn something. We’re curious by nature, that’s why we got into this business. All I ask is be more curious.”
The entire team at Altitude Sports Radio did an incredible job of sticking up for their own market and creating memorable content out of it. That should be celebrated inside the station’s walls. None of the outrage was forced; it was all genuine. But what’s the lesson to learn here from media folks, both local and national with this story?
“I think the takeaway is number one, it’s a business,” said Lombardi. “I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.
“Well, you start selling when you start winning. They’ve got to sort of earn their way into that club. I think with what the Nuggets have done recently, and hopefully with what they’re about to do, they’re at the adult table. The media business is not unlike anything else. The biggest common denominator is what sells. I get that. I just don’t understand why a team like this, with the most unique player most people have ever seen, why wouldn’t that sell?”
Maybe it’s still not selling nationally, but locally in Denver, Nuggets talk is on fire. For years, the Denver market has been seen as one where the Broncos and NFL rule. The Nuggets have not been close to the top of Denver sports fans’ interests and have probably fallen routinely behind the Avalanche.
But there’s been a real craving for Nuggets talk during this historic run. Granted, it didn’t just start two weeks ago, there’s been momentum building for the team ever since Nikola Jokic started asserting himself as one of the best players in the NBA. But there’s more than just an appetite for the Broncos in the city and the past few years have shown it.
“I think it’s just proven to people in the city that the town is much different than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Lombardi. “The Broncos continue to rule this town and will do so because the NFL is the NFL. But I can tell you this. There are sports fans outside the NFL. I’m born and raised in Denver and I always believed, what’s so wrong about being an ardent fan of every sport? If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. There’s nothing I hate more than territorializing sports. Like, ‘oh I’m just a football fan’. Or, ‘oh I’m just a hockey fan’. Why? Sports crosses all borders and boundaries.”
Lombardi and Altitude Sports Radio have settled into local coverage of the NBA Finals, rather than fighting with a national narrative. The payoff for the entire ride has been very rewarding for the station. It included what Lombardi called the “highest of highs” when the Nuggets beat the Lakers on their own floor. It even included one of the biggest events the city has seen in the last five years, when the Nuggets hosted its first-ever NBA Finals game last week.
The last few weeks could even be considered one of the most rewarding times in station history for Altitude Sports Radio.
“Our ratings have never been higher,” said Lombardi. “It’s a great display of, sometimes in the media, we think we know what the listener wants. We think we do and we try to force feed them. I think the national folks do that, but so do the local folks. You think they know, but if you give them a nice diet, they’ll choose what they want. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.