Bucky Brooks Can’t Live in the Middle
“The best scouts are not afraid to have strong opinions. That’s what makes a scout good; you can’t live in the middle.”
A friend of mine used to make fun of a slogan used by a radio station in Phoenix. “We aren’t left. We aren’t right. We are Americans.” My friend used to say, “Yeah, well, you’re 28th in the ratings.” That memory popped back in my head while talking to Bucky Brooks.
The TV, radio, and digital personality has a straightforward view on evaluating talent for the upcoming NFL Draft. Bucky believes that a good scout can’t live in the middle. Strong opinions are required when evaluating players while working for a team, or while working in the media.
It’s one of the reasons Bucky is so good at what he does; he isn’t afraid to have a strong stance while knowing that it’ll be thrown back in his face if he’s wrong. It’s much better than not having a strong opinion in the first place. If you don’t stand out, you’re just going to blend in.
Bucky appears on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft, FOX Sports Radio, and the successful Move the Sticks podcast with Daniel Jeremiah. He also writes for FOX Sports digital and NFL.com. We chat about his transition from scouting to media, why he believes sports radio is the greatest medium, and how doing skull crushers at the gym with Jeffrey Chadiha led to Bucky crushing it as a writer. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When your playing career ended, what was your path like through scouting and then doing media?
Bucky Brooks: The last season that I played, I was in camp with the Raiders in ’99. Didn’t play, then in 2000 I started scouting with the Seattle Seahawks. I was working in the college ranks. I was scouting college players, doing all the stuff for them to help the team get ready for the draft. I did that for three years for the Seahawks. Then I moved on to the Carolina Panthers from 2003 to 2007. In a similar capacity, work in the college ranks, doing all the stuff when it comes to scouting and learning the inner workings of a team.
But I had this desire to eventually transition into the media world. At the time, Pat Kirwan was writing and doing stuff for CNNSI. That stuff kind of appealed to me, like being able to have an opinion, having a voice, and allowing people to hear your opinion. I used to work out at a gym with a guy named Jeffrey Chadiha, who at the time was at Sports Illustrated. He basically took my resume over to SI.com. I started freelancing for them. Chadiha got me over to Sports Illustrated.
I always thought writing was cool. I knew nothing about what I was getting into, but I learned a lot and learned a lot quickly. My degree is in communications, but I didn’t go to school to necessarily be a journalist, so I was learning on the fly. But my goal was just to be respected, to be able to walk into a press room and be respected by those that pour themselves into the craft.
I tried to really work hard at learning the ins and outs of the profession. I tried to be humble enough to ask questions from those who had done it. I had guys who helped me along the way. Jim Trotter, Steve Wyche, and a handful of other guys who helped me understand the process and how you go about it. Then I just kept kind of grinding at it.
The writing enabled me to get my foot in the door when it came to TV and radio and other stuff because when you publish as a writer, you have an instant level of credibility. The way that it was going early in the 2010s, that was the way to get in. That really helped me because my playing career, I wasn’t a gold jacket guy, I wasn’t an All-Pro or Pro Bowler. Writing gave me a way to circumvent not having the accolades and things that most of the people on TV and in the media business had when they transition from being star athletes to broadcasters.
BN: What was the scouting job like for you?
BB: Scouting was great because when I was a player, I was always fascinated by team building. How you build a championship team, how you put it together, what it looks like, those things. As a player, I was really fortunate to have some of the greatest coaches. My coaches were Marv Levy, who’s in the Hall of Fame. Mike Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl. I went down to Jacksonville, Tom Coughlin, who’s a two-time Super Bowl winner. Marty Schottenheimer, who has like 200 career wins. Then I finished with Jon Gruden, who also won a Super Bowl.
I always felt like my centers of influence in the pro ranks were that of championship pedigree, those guys knew how to win, so I saw from that level. Ron Wolf was the general manager for the Green Bay Packers, who was always very helpful. I just wanted to take all those things and see if I could take those lessons learned and find a way to eventually — at that time the goal was to be a general manager.
Jumping in the scouting process, seeing it, learning those lessons, watching how teams were built, being a part of a team that went to Super Bowl 38 with the Carolina Panthers, it was all of that stuff kind of coming together to see how you put the pieces of the puzzle together.
BN: What was the most helpful thing you learned about the scouting process?
BB: Ron Wolf was great. And Rob Wolf, if you know anything about him, he was heavily influenced by the late Al Davis. Watching him put together that team in Green Bay, because I spent part of three seasons with the Green Bay Packers. During two of those years, they went to the Super Bowl. He would always just talk about trusting your eyes. Players who are super productive in college tend to be productive in the pros.
There’s a certain level of prototypes, like in terms of physical dimensions and stuff that you want to adhere to, but he was always about big-school players, playing at a high level. Those guys typically play well at the next level. And so taking those lessons and applying them. More times than not, that basis will lead you in the right direction.
BN: After your playing days, what was the part of your career that you had to learn the most about? Was it scouting, TV, was it writing?
BB: I would say writing and then TV. Writing, just the process of writing, the process of putting it together, the process of storytelling, taking what you know and putting it in simple, concise terms so that the reader can understand what you’re doing while also entertaining them. That part was hard. Writing post-game; being at a game, writing on a deadline. All of that stuff because I was untrained. You have to learn how to do that by doing it.
I would say TV is its own form and medium because now you have to take a lot of knowledge and stuff that you know, but you have to be able to talk in sound bites. How can you take a lot, and whittle it down to the bare, most important parts to get it out to the viewer?
Then it’s the other stuff that comes along with the presentation and the gesturing and that stuff, but really it’s taking a lot of stuff that you have in your head and figuring out what’s the most important part that I want to get out and give it to the viewer in a way that is understandable and entertaining, while also doing the mechanics of TV.
BN: Doing sports radio where you don’t have to speak in those short sound bites, is it almost like creating bad TV habits? When you go back to doing TV and you have to speak in those sound bites, does doing sports radio ever make that harder?
BB: No, I think it all works together. I will say this, if I had to advise anyone who’s young, you want to learn how to be a great writer because the writing gives you a foundation. It gives you an opportunity to learn how to organize your thoughts. If you can organize your thoughts, it’s easier to switch lanes when it comes to doing radio, TV, or podcasting. You now understand how to organize the information.
It’s like ‘Okay, what medium am I on? I’m on TV? Okay, so I need to be quicker. It’s 45 seconds of me being able to say it. Sports talk radio? Okay, now I have more time to vamp’. I can do a little more storytelling to go with what I’m also saying. Podcasting is the same. So yeah, it can be tricky, just making sure you understand where you’re at, but because writing is the foundation, you’re able to navigate all those different worlds.
BN: How did you get hooked up with Daniel Jeremiah?
BB: DJ and I had always known each other when we were on the road as scouts. And when DJ came over to NFL Media, it just kind of became a natural synergy. He had his own podcast, he had started an iteration of Move the Sticks before me. I was working on a podcast with Matt “Money” Smith, and we just kind of came together. DJ and I came together, it gave us an opportunity to have unique perspectives, both coming from the scouting background. And because we had a friendship prior, the chemistry and the connectivity just clicked.
I would say that it has been great because when you’re working with a friend, we could finish each other’s sentences. We’re able to debate and have compare/contrast conversations without it ever being personal. That has allowed us to really, really grow.
I think the one thing that we always have tried to do while we’re working together is to, I guess, keep it real, be very clear about how we see what the league is doing, what this means in terms of the team building process, yet honest assessments when it comes to the players that we’re evaluating. How that could project to the next level, and what teams are doing.
Bringing all those different experiences, mine as a scout and a player, his as a scout, putting all that together. And then still trying to find a way to engage and entertain, while also bringing other things in like leadership stuff, things that we’re interested in a little bit beyond football, still tying all of that stuff together and really having a good podcast. It’s really worked out; the fact that we may be nearing 1,000 episodes, it’s been one of our things to have a level of success that’s really been impressive.
BN: Can you think back on a time when you both disagreed about a particular player, and either he was really right and you were really wrong, or the other way around?
BB: No, the scouting business is always interesting because you always take a stand. The best scouts are not afraid to have strong opinions. That’s what makes a scout good; you can’t live in the middle. And so I think we’ve had instances where we may not see eye to eye on a player, but we’ve come to understand different viewpoints, so it’s not like we keep a scorecard on who said what or whatever. I think we try to attack it where, well, let’s look at it from every angle. And let’s talk about this player and how he could fit in, what he should be at the next level.
The hard part for what we do as media scouts, is we don’t have a team. When you’re not working with a team, the scouting that you’re doing is a little different. Now you have to consider ‘Where would he fit? How would he fit? How can they get the best of him?’. Whereas when you work for a team, you’re thinking about your team, specifically. If he comes for us, this is the role that he will play. This is how we see him in relation to the roster that we currently have. It’s a bit of a different hustle, what we’re doing as media scouts as opposed to scouts that are working for teams.
BN: What are you most interested in finding out about this year’s NFL Draft?
BB: I think everything is about the quarterbacks. How do people really feel about the quarterbacks? There’s been a lot of speculation about the quarterback class, and Anthony Richardson, and Will Levis, and which one is better? Bryce Young or CJ Stroud? I can’t wait until the draft finally comes so we can see where those guys go. Then we can begin to have a feel for how those teams will utilize them and the success that they can have in each of those respective programs.
It’s never about hoping that you’re right or wrong based on your draft grades; it’s more a curiosity about, okay, what do these people think about the player? How are they going to maximize the player? And how is it going to work out? For instance, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, when they came out, both of them were polarizing in terms of their style of play and what they had on their resume.
Then Josh Allen goes to Buffalo. He gets with the right offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, who unlocks his game and he plays at almost an MVP level. Lamar Jackson goes to Baltimore, bottom of the first round, he joins a team that completely revamps and changes everything that they do to accommodate his skill set. And he plays at an MVP level.
So now are more teams willing to do that? How do those experiences now help Anthony Richardson and Will Levis when they go into the league? It’s just looking at the changing dynamics of the NFL game, based on the success that quarterbacks have had in maybe having stuff built around them as opposed to them having to fit into other systems like it used to be in yesteryear.
BN: Is there anything specifically that you’re just tired of talking about at this point?
BB: I think naturally when you’re on the media side, everything is about the quarterback, right? The quarterback drives the interest. I am not necessarily tired of it, but I’m more curious to finally see what people really think about this quarterback class. We have talked about Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson as if they’re going to be the top four picks of the draft.
Last year, we talked about Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, and Matt Corral as if they were first-round picks, but they all went in the third round. So how much of what we’ve done on our side as the media, is really matching what teams think about these players? I can’t wait to see that part of it.
The conversation in terms of Anthony Richardson being the No. 1 overall pick, to me, I think it’s crazy because we’ve never seen a first-round pick with so little production. Great tools, but the production doesn’t match what historically goes as the No. 1 overall pick. Just even having that conversation, that Anthony Richardson could be the No. 1 pick in the draft. I’m just fascinated because there’s never been a player or a prospect that had a resume like his that goes No. 1 overall.
BN: As far as sports radio goes, what do you like most about it, and what do you dislike most about it?
BB: I just love it, I think is the greatest medium. I think it’s so cool to have an opportunity to sit for a couple hours with a buddy and just talk about sports in any capacity. Obviously, we do a lot of talk about football given my background, but just anything. Being able to talk about baseball and basketball and any of the things that come up, because I’m a fan just like everybody else.
To sit with a microphone, have TVs on, talk about what’s going on, and give an opinion on what has happened over the course of the week, that’s what’s great about sports radio. Sports talk radio is outstanding in terms of just giving you an opportunity to share in that regard.
In terms of stuff that I don’t like about it, there’s not much that I don’t like. A lot of it depends on who your co-host is and what they like. Do they like taking callers? Do they like to just vamp on their own without being distracted or bothered by people calling in? For me, I kind of can go both ways.
Sometimes I like hearing from Joe in Kansas City give his opinion and go back and forth. [Laughs] Other times I like to talk freely and just have my own deal where I kind of layout and just talk about, hey, here’s my opinion on this, and if you want to listen to it, great. Sports talk radio is one of the things that I really look forward to doing because it gives you an opportunity to live in so many different lanes.
BN: Mike Mayock once did a lot of media stuff and then became the GM of the Raiders. It was a mixed bag, but it didn’t go great. Do you think that NFL teams would possibly think twice about taking a look at a guy like you or a guy like Daniel Jeremiah, Louis Riddick with ESPN, or any of their draft analysts? Do you think that would have any effect on a team maybe pausing and not going in that direction again?
BB: No, but I think Mike had a unique perspective. He was great at what he did on TV. Mike had only worked in TV; he hadn’t necessarily worked for a team. I think it’s a little different situation. Everybody that you’ve mentioned, for the most part, have worked on teams to understand the business on that side.
I don’t think it would dissuade or discourage people from going after someone who works in TV. I mean, we see it all the time in basketball. You see broadcasters go from the booth to the coaching seat or from the booth into the front office chair. It can be done.
I think, for everything, it’s all about fit and circumstance. You have to go to the right organization that fits you, and then you’ve got to have the right circumstances work out for you so you can have enough time to build it in the vision that you see fit.
But no, that shouldn’t be anything that’s a black mark on guys that sit in these chairs on the TV side or the radio side and talk about team building. Because ultimately, the qualifications come from being able to share your vision, being able to put a plan in place to make that vision come to life. You gotta be able to sell that to ownership.
BN: Going forward, what do you want to do within the next five years? Is it more of the same, or would you like to do anything differently?
BB: I think you always want to expand and build upon some of the stuff that you’re doing. I’m currently working with the Jacksonville Jaguars, doing radio broadcasts. Down the line, I would like to tackle that part of it.
I think being on a broadcast team, doing radio stuff, that has always been something that’s intriguing to me, but continue to grow in all areas of the media business. Being able to continue to grow and become the best podcaster I can be. Being able to take it to another level when it comes to radio.
I think one of the things that we talk about is eventually seeing if you can do a daily radio show. That’s everybody’s dream that works in sports talk radio. Then with TV, it’s just being the best with the opportunities that you’re given.
The more you’re given, making sure that you handle those responsibilities and obligations and make sure you do a great job with that. That comes from the preparation, that comes from the performance. Everything comes from the work, so just putting in the work to be great at whatever you’re given. Then hopefully that’ll lead to more opportunities.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.