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What Is The Secret of Sports Talk?

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The headline of this article poses a question that we have all wondered or been asked about many times. How do you craft the perfect show? How do you balance pleasing yourself as well as the audience? How do you land an opportunity and make more money? How do you build a dominant brand and become a seven figure talent?

The questions that exist in our industry are endless but so is the journey to discover those answers. There is no one-size fits all formula to make great sports radio, and everyone’s path presents different trials and tribulations that get dealt with differently.

espn1250Ari Temkin is someone I have known for a few years, and he wears two hats at his current place of employment, ESPN 1250 in San Antonio. He hosts “The Hardline” from 11a-2p CT with News 4’s David Chancellor, and he also serves as the radio station’s Assistant Program Director. He’s been with the station for four years, after spending nearly a year and a half in Austin working for 104.9 The Horn.

What I’ve enjoyed about Ari is how inquisitive he is about the business. While we’ve not worked together directly, he’s always asked questions and struck me as someone who’s hungry to learn, and continue improving as a host and programmer. I’m sure those traits have served him well in his climb up the ladder the past few years.

ari1What I didn’t know about Ari before today, is how gifted of a writer he is. The piece you’re about to read is thought provoking, informative, factual, honest, and real. It ventures into a few areas that may make some people uncomfortable, but these are important issues that require further dialogue if we want to make progress. I hope that you’ll remember that as you consume the content and think about what Ari has brought to the surface.

WHAT IS THE SECRET OF SPORTS TALK?

Most of us have been there.

We’re sitting behind a desk as a young, fresh faced, aspiring sportscaster stares blankly across back at us.

You speak, providing insight, advice, and words of encouragement. Sometimes they internalize it. Sometimes they hear you.

easywayMost times though, the person staring back at you has no inclination of listening. Their goal is to get a job with an immediate payoff. They want the easy answer – the one they’ve already reached – and are simply looking for you to reinforce.

What’s the secret? They’re always looking for the secret. The secret is a surrogate for the easy answer. The reason this person has found you, the reason they are sitting across from you at this exact moment is that you can tell them the easy answer.

Never mind the reality that there are more people looking to work in sports radio with less jobs available. Never mind that the industry has never been tougher, and more unforgiving to more qualified applicants.

We want to reach across the desk and shake that ignorance by the collar. Hard work and determination are merely just factors for success; if you’re looking for the easy answer you’ve got no shot.

jobInevitably, the person staring back at you across the desk wonders how you ended up on that side. The funny truth is it’s a façade, because I’m not entirely sure how I ended up on this side. If I trace my steps back, I’m not even sure I could end up in the same spot.

Each unique path we’ve all taken to get to where we are today was filled with many factors…luck perhaps the most common of all.

There are two questions people always ask me when I tell them what I do. They always wonder how to get a job in sports radio, and they always wonder if the end goal is television.

The first question is somewhat puzzling. It’s almost as if they expect my answer to be that I just showed up at a station telling the programmers I could talk sports. Getting a job in sports talk is similar to other highly competitive fields. You have to work really hard, make as many contacts as possible, take jobs in small markets, move cities, and make significantly less than you’d care to make. And if you are lucky and catch a break, you might end up in a top 50 market.

The television question is insulting, even condescending. Radio, and specifically the spoken word format, is art. It’s an open forum. Its hours of conversation, debate, compelling storylines, and perhaps the only true medium to capture the breadth necessary to discuss in depth topics. There’s no pretense, no window dressing, just personality and a microphone.

deathThe future of radio is inevitable death, but the spoken word sports format will always remain. The question that needs to be asked, whether by inquiring minds or the aspiring sportscaster is not how, but what?

What is needed for the future of sports talk?

Sports talk as a whole lacks nuance. Time is the greatest asset for a sports talk host and yet we do not utilize it to the best of our ability. Every storyline devolves into surface level discussions. The spoken word format affords time to lay out varying factors with multiple levels of payoffs, and yet we still lack perspective. Disagreements are germane to the format, but life does not exist on polar ends of the spectrum.

The Cam Newton discussion has been very surface level. When unraveled it’s about race, expectations, overcoming adversity, and success. In all of the screaming and bellyaching over arrogance and race baiting, there were very few hosts that mentioned the context needed for the entire story like where he came from or his intentions and motivations or what he does in the community.

romoWe would never want any one single act to define our entire lives, but we are constantly defining athletes by one, perhaps false, move. Tony Romo has been one of the most productive passers in the league over the last decade and yet his entire career has been defined by a botched snap in his first season as a starter.

With hours of content at our disposal we choose to peel only a few layers of the onion, which sets in motion an echo chamber of moral outrage and fast judgement. The best and most productive commentaries do not reinforce conventional wisdom, or widely held beliefs. Rather, they challenge them.

The most powerful tool of spoken word sports is the captive audience. Political radio placates to the right wing, music galvanizes specific cultures, but sports radio invites all kinds of people to the discussion.

Challenging someone’s beliefs has become taboo; people view it as an affront on their intelligence, but it’s the most profound way to learn and evolve. We are afraid to disagree because people condescend and belittle. Social media was established as a means of exchanging ideas, but instead it serves to reinforce our ideas and silence dissenting opinions. Sports radio is a reflection of that phenomenon.

Access to information has changed. Professional athletes are not engaging in more illicit behavior than in the past, we just have more means to gather that information. Sports, morality, politics and life are in constant cohesion and we should not be scared to address these complex issues. Life is not easy. It’s problematic, and it’s filled with conflict and adversity. This is not new today; it’s become a major focal point of the sports discourse, and the issue is we’ve been caught unprepared.

We are ill-equipped to handle these complex issues so we either avoid them, or deal with them on a surface level.

The most important factor for the future of the format is depth of voice.

Invite disagreement. Exchange ideas. Involve varying perspectives.

riceWhen the Ray Rice video was released outrage was packaged and sold a dime a dozen. How could you not be absolutely outraged by the unadulterated violence? And when the outrage subsided questions arose. Why would Janay stay with Ray and even worse get married to him? Was it a money grab?

Throw them out of the league we all said clutching our pitchforks. But we never acknowledged the unintended consequences.

Sexual assault is even worse. Victims of sexual assault rarely come forward when it’s in the case of high profile athletes, and when they do their entire existence is analyzed and often destroyed.

We were all outraged when a Cleveland radio host recently opined on why women do not belong in football, and yet we’ve all made similar deliberations in questioning motives in highly physiological crimes when having the above discussions.

We are ill-prepared for these complex issues because we have no depth of voice.

We need to be talking issues of race and sex in sports radio because they are commonplace. We need more female voices and African-American voices to help add varying perspectives absent from the current sports radio landscape.

Diversity in hiring practices is a major issue in sports as a whole. There is one African-American majority owner in all of professional sports. There are only a handful of high level executives and coaches and there are even fewer women.

BISRAOver the last few weeks, Jason Barrett did a tremendous job breaking down the top sports radio hosts, shows and stations…but it was lilywhite. That is not an indictment on Jason; it’s an indictment on the industry. Does a morning show with three white hosts think the Cam Newton criticism is steeped in racism? Does the afternoon drive show with two males think that girl who was “all over” Patrick Kane at a bar was sexually assaulted? “Well, why was she going back to his place,” an actual sports talk host said.

We need diversity because we lack the proper perspective to have these conversations. It’s not as much about accepting the need for diversity and perspective as much as it is understanding the need for it.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be as close to sports as I could possibly get. But the closer I got the further away I realized I wanted to be. It’s easy to become jaded.  Working in sports radio is a grind, and it never stops. There’s never a market size big enough, never an audience as wide reaching and never a perfect job. The most ambitious chase the mirage of perfection.

storiesThe business of sport is booming and one byproduct is the continued growth of our industry. There are more sports radio stations sprouting up across the country and with the proliferation of podcasts the landscape is changing. Because access to information is so easy, sports fans aren’t listening to you on the radio because you are on the radio; they are listening to you because you have something meaningful and compelling to say. The more saturated it becomes the more important the latter.

It’s funny, without fail that kid staring back at you across the desk will tell you how they’re glued to ESPN, how they follow stats and know everything about sports.

I can’t help but think of Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, which is based upon the idea from Isiah Thomas that the secret to basketball has nothing to do with basketball.

Well, the same is true for sports talk. What’s the secret the kid staring back at you desperately wants to know?

The secret has nothing to do with sports.

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Meet the Bettors – Kelly ‘In Vegas’ Stewart

“There’s so much free content out there. Like we have 38, 39 states about to be 40 states coming on board, and the more states that come on board, the more mainstream that gambling has gotten.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Kelly Stewart is the kind of person that the gambling media needs. She has thoughts not just on the players and results, but she thinks hard about the industry and what trends will be the next to rise to the top.

Maybe you first heard her name because of the controversy surrounding her hiring and firing from ESPN. Maybe you’ve never heard her name at all, because you only know her as Kelly in Vegas. 

What I can say for sure is that she isn’t hard to find. Her content is everywhere. She hosts shows for Outkick, the Superbook, and WagerTalk, a brand she also owns a piece of.

Kelly is the latest conversation in our Meet the Bettors series presented by Point to Point Marketing. We talk about the evolution of gambling Twitter, the challenges faced by media companies launching their own sportsbooks, and why customer service is so important for picks services.

Demetri Ravanos: Can you tell me how you learned to make your way, and I might even say conquer, gambling Twitter? I mean, that’s how most people came to know Kelly in Vegas in the first place. 

Kelly Stewart: Oh, boy. I don’t know if I’ve even still been able to navigate gambling Twitter. It is such an awesome place and very unique. I’m going to say that, because I have met some of my best friends in the world on gambling Twitter. But my brain also wants to say the word cesspool because that is also what it is, right? 

DR: Chris Fallica from FOX used that exact same word for it.

KS: There is so much hate and vitriol when in reality we all have the same goal. We’re all laying eleven to win ten. It’s all of us versus the bookmakers. These trolls on the internet, unless they’re bookies, which they could be, should not be mad at me. I’m not battling. You know, my good friend Hakeem has it pinned to the top of his page from years ago. “I’m not here to compete with anyone.”            

Once you kind of realize that the competition is you versus the books, this is a competition within yourself and you’re trying to be a better version of yourself every single day. Then you really start to look at Twitter a lot differently.            

I’ve muted several types of words. I muted tons of people. Unfortunately, I’ve had to block some people, but overall, I would say that is a great place to have some really cool discord, whether you agree on a team or you disagree on a team. I have gotten great information from absolute utter strangers in my DMs. “Hey, just so you know, this team’s flight is four and a half hours late.” I mean, this is years ago, before it became public knowledge like it was with the UConn team plane. It was stuff like “Oh, hey, I happened to watch practice today, and this is what happened to point guard A” or “Guy B got carted off.”          

Being able to get the best of the information is so critical. So, when you have that network and it works to your advantage, it can be a really beautiful thing. 

DR: So, whether it is because Twitter has changed or because the amount of access to gambling has changed, how have you seen gambling Twitter change? 

KS: Well, it’s crazy because when I got on Twitter in 2009, you just said whatever without any repercussions. Clearly, I was one of those idiots. You just got on and you just typed away.           

I could go on and say, “I don’t like Notre Dame for this reason,” and every Notre Dame person would be mad at you and tell you why you’re wrong. Then it became just such a bigger entity.    

You’re absolutely right. I think gambling Twitter, pre-PAPSA, was a little different. It was a lot more of a hateful place. Touts, people that sell picks, were all over it. It was like the tout world with the customers being able to talk back, and then there was a battle between touts. Who’s smarter? Who knows more? Who’s getting better information? Who’s got the best CLV (closing line value)?        

Now, it’s just such a free for all. There’s so much free content out there. Like we have 38, 39 states about to be 40 states coming on board, and the more states that come on board, the more mainstream that gambling has gotten. That’s really what’s happened to Twitter, too. It’s really brought out a younger demographic. I mean, some of these kids that produce content are barely old enough to place a legal bet, right? And they have more followers than I do! It’s because they’re objectively hilarious. They’re objectively more talented from the creative standpoint. No one is watching them because they win or lose. They’re watching them for entertainment.        

You even hear the word, wager-tainment, which my friend Nick Kostos coined. It’s really interesting because people are going to hate you even when you’re winning, right? They’re going to hate you when you’re losing, but they’re going to still hate you when you’re winning. But if they’re entertained, they’re going to stay around. It’s a really unique pair of words that he put together to describe what I think Twitter is really turning into. 

DR: Let’s circle back on something you said, regarding touts because I do want to ask you about that. But first, just sort of give me an idea of where all people can find your content these days because you’re not just at Wager Talk. 

KS: No, I’m actually all over the place. So, unfortunately, with the layoffs that happened over the summer at Barstool Sports, I was one of those and I thought, “You know, it’s end of June. Football season’s right around the corner. I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I can’t be worried about scrambling to find another job. I’m just going to freelance.” So that’s what I’ve been doing since then.           

I have talked with several companies about what I want to do, and I have to make some decisions with my agents, but as of right now, I’m all over the place. I revived The Kelly and Murray Podcast because that was something that I really enjoyed doing. I’m doing a little bit more stuff for the Superbook. I’ve been friends with those guys for years, so that was a very natural fit. You already mentioned WagerTalk, which has been such an integral part of my career. I owe those guys the world, and they gave me a little piece of the company, so that didn’t hurt either. Then I even got into doing some more of what I would call daily fantasy stuff, but more from the player prop side, which is kind of in a gray area.  Some people say it’s gambling, some people say it’s not. It’s definitely gambling. Whether that’s Betr or the Prize Pick world.           

I was doing the rough with Betr. Those guys were super fun because they are hyper creative. Like, that entire office is just a creative vibe. Those guys and I parted ways after Super Bowl because, well, there’s not a lot for me to do until football season starts again. Then I partnered up with the Slash Sports guys. So, we’re doing survivor contests. My girlfriend Pam and I did a Masters pool, which was really tough for me because I have been slacking on the golf front, which is why I decided to partner with Pam. She’s such a great golf handicapper.           

Now, I’m just trying to sift through all of it. Where do I want to be? I’m doing some of the stuff with Outkick, which, of course, is now owned by Fox. We’re in some negotiations about what is the bigger picture for me with them, but really, I’ve just been enjoying myself this whole season and saying, which is not something that when you’re under contract, you really ever get to do. You’re pretty much exclusive to that one entity, and that’s okay. That works for some people. I really like being able to kind of set my own schedule. I got to go to Mexico last week for one of my best friend’s birthdays. That would have never happened if I worked in a very rigid, corporate media position. They’d have been like, “you want to go where for March Madness?” I remember telling Clay I was like, “Oh, I’ll be in Mexico next week.” He goes, “Do you want to cancel the show?” I was like, “No, I’m doing it from the beach.” 

DR: As a gambling content creator, do you ever approach making a new video or podcast, whatever it might be, do you ever approach it with the idea of your goal being turning people into gamblers or are you always approaching it with the idea that you are talking to people that are already gambling? I don’t mean for that to sound nefarious, but is there ever stuff that you are putting out there in your mind, at least, part of the goal with it is to show people that might be interested that “hey, this doesn’t have to be as scary as you think it is?”

KS: That’s very interesting. A few years ago, we were filming a series at the Superbook on showing people how to bet. This was way before phones, right? Like we’re talking 2017, 2018. What it was, was “are you scared to walk up to the window? Well, here’s what you do before you walk up to the window.” So, you’re prepared, right? The videos did okay. Then phone apps came out. Now we don’t have to explain that to people because they just start typing on their phone and they figure it out, right?           

My boyfriend’s little sister, we live in Florida. She’s like, “I got a Hard Rock account.” I’m like, “why?” She got it because “I want to put money on the games with my boyfriend, and I want to have fun.” And I’m like, “how much money did you put in there?” She says, $200, and I go, “okay, what are you going to do when you lose that $200? Because it’s going to happen.” And she’s like, “Well, I haven’t thought that far yet.” I said, “Well, you should think that far.” You know, I hope at WagerTalk, what we do is educate people to become better bettors.           

I don’t think I actually have really done much in terms of growing people into gamblers. Maybe that’s something I should look at, because if you have somebody who’s green and doesn’t have any experience and you explain to them in the beginning, you are going to lose, you’re laying eleven dollars to win ten, and here’s the reality versus they’ve already been gambling for 50 years. Those people are like, “quiet lady, I’ve been doing this for a while and don’t need your opinion.” It’s kind of funny, because some of those people, you can’t educate them. There are other people who are willing to learn. I wish I had a better answer for you because I don’t think that I’ve ever gone into it. Like saying, okay, we need to get more gamblers, but definitely some companies I’ve worked for, that’s how they make money. 

DR: So, I want to circle back on the tout discussion because, especially in states where online is legal, getting information as you place your bet is very easy. In a lot of cases, the tout advertising that used to be all over local TV and radio at night has disappeared. The idea of those businesses has become almost like a bad word.           

WagerTalk is a pay-for-picks service. So talk me through how it’s different from the days of calling a 1-900 number and having to wait five minutes to hear a lock of the day. Why does one work in 2024 and the other doesn’t?

KS: We’re definitely a pick service. The bottom line, yes, we have a YouTube channel with 100,000 plus subscribers where we give free information out every single day, but you’ve got to watch the shows to get it for free. You’ve got to follow the Instagram channel. You need to follow some of the guys themselves. They give out tons of free information and that I’m very proud of. As I mentioned, my goal is to make people better bettors and to lose less money. Something that used to get said in the industry a lot when I worked for Don Best in like 2013, 2014 was “People don’t stop buying picks. They stop buying picks from you.” Like, that’s kind of weird but not incorrect.           

I wonder though, as the generations get younger, if people are just going to stop buying picks, because here is what the other psychology of it is: why do people buy picks? Well, because they want to win or they want to think they’re going to win, but if they still lose, they want someone to blame. I find that also to be another interesting side of the psychological aspect of gambling.           

I’d also like to think that people are paying for information that they don’t have.  Let’s use Ralph Michaels, for example. He and I do a weekly show during football season called Bet on It. His segment is called “Trends and Angles,” and I only want actionable information from Ralph. I don’t want him to say, “well, the last ten games, UConn has covered the spread in the NCAA Tournament.” That stuff you can find everywhere. “Yeah. Thanks, Ralph. We know that, right?”  

He’s not going to do that. He’s going to dig deep into a database that goes back into the 90s. And he’s going to say, “here’s how double-digit home dogs have done in college football since 2003.” Like he’s got something to either play on a game or play against a game. When you’re getting his stuff, you’re getting a lot of that actionable information that might not only pertain to that game, but several others throughout the course of the season. There are other guys like Marco D’Angelo who don’t use a lot of power ratings. He’s looking for those sandwich spots. Sure, you can find those sandwich spots yourself, but are you going to scour through, you know, 313 NCAA basketball schedules to find them? It’s what he’s doing before the game tips off in November. He’s thinking, “Okay, here’s a really flat spot. This could be really interesting. Let me write this on my calendar so that it’s here.”           

We’ve got guys that are, you know, particularly in NBA circles, they get great inside information. A few weeks ago, I never knew this. I should have. It made sense as soon as one of our guys said it. Of course, the Pacers bus to Chicago, why the heck would they fly to Chicago, right? I never really thought about that. Well, their bus broke down. They had a flat tire. It took four hours. They walk into the gym and say screw it; we’re not doing shootaround. We’ll see you at game time. Guess what. They got the doors blown off, okay. They just were pissed off and annoyed. Those types of things, you’re not going to get all the time and those are the types of things, I think, that do still provide a value, but I am genuinely curious to see where the industry is going.           

We see a lot of different sites, they provide different analytics, whether it’s KenPom or Bart Torvic for college basketball or you hear from the shot selection guys. You have to kind of be able to dissect your information. I like to think that that’s what our handicappers at WagerTalk do for those guys that have full time jobs that can’t do this full time, because all of that data collection really is a full-time job. They’re going to give you your information and you can pick and choose. “Do I want to play all their stuff? Do I only agree with them here? Do I only agree with them there?”           

We have a really great customer service team and I give them tons of kudos. We always like to take care of people, and if there’s somebody who’s unhappy, we always are, like, “Here you go. Here’s a refund or you can join up with another guy.”           

So, I like to think that we are the, least tout-y of the touts, right? When it comes to a gambling scale, we only allow guys to do 1% to 5% of your bankroll. You should never bet more than 5% of your bankroll. We don’t allow them to have more than four five-percenters a month, because that would be 20% of your bankroll. There are limitations in place.            

I don’t sell picks. Have I sold picks? Yeah, absolutely. Have I thought about selling picks after the Action documentary? I definitely did. Plenty of guys made a lot of money selling picks, but I said, “No, I’m having a really good time. I’ve got plenty of media gigs where I give these all out for free.” 

DR: Because of the way you have been in the media, you have a little more freedom than your typical over-the-air network has had in terms of the way you cover sports and look at gambling angles. So, Fox started out covering betting, then launched its own book. Barstool starts out talking about betting, launches its own book. Now they’re both out just as ESPN has launched its own proprietary book. What are some of those traps or obstacles that come with trying to be both the media and the book that maybe even the companies just can’t avoid, because of how these business and the laws are set up?

KS: That’s really interesting. I’m not actually even sure what happened with Fox Bet, but I can tell exactly what happened to Barstool. They have been called the pirate ship for a reason. They are unapologetically, just completely out of their minds and say whatever they want with almost zero repercussions. Well guess what? Gaming is going to deal with 40 different states that are going to have something different to say about it. As somebody who grew up in the Nevada gaming world, Nevada has its own sets of rules and regulations.           

I sat in on three different Massachusetts gaming meetings, and I was appalled by some of the ideas and some of the things that these people who have no idea about gambling outside of a casino in regard to sports betting are upset about a can’t-lose parlay with Big Cat, but in the same breath, now we have Rece Davis saying the same thing on ESPN. That’s why I called a spade a spade. I know a lot of people were like, oh, you’re being ridiculous. I said, “When it comes to the law, it has to apply to everyone. And if it’s got to apply to some, it’s got to apply to all.”           

That’s literally what I think happened with Penn. They said, “Oh, shit. We maybe should have looked into this company a little bit more.”           

I think maybe they thought Dave was just going to ride out his contract and ride off into the sunset. I remember there were so many times with Penn where I’m like, “hey, guys, if you want me to go do this event, if you guys want me to do this, you guys want me to do that” and Dave’s like, “you’re not using my talent to do X, Y, and Z. This is what we agreed to.” And I’m like, “oh, okay, I volunteered, but if you don’t want me to do that, okay.”           

I’m guessing something similar happened at Fox, right? They had the show, they were in L.A., they, you know, had Todd they had Clay, they had Sal, and they were the first ones to launch. I did Fox in the Westgate Superbook in 2014, and it was a really fun show.  I’m guessing that it doesn’t always equate to players though, so it didn’t always equate to hard dollars. When you’re spending millions upon millions of dollars to acquire customers – only the certain kind of customers though. Don’t forget, they don’t want the sharp customers. It’s tough to do.           

WagerTalk is based out of Michigan. If there’s something that I want to bet, I can just make a call like, “hey, you have an MGM account and like, can you beat this?” It takes like five seconds because they have everything at their disposal versus in Nevada, which doesn’t allow DraftKings or FanDuel and probably will never. Then you’ve got Massachusetts that seems to be the strictest. New Jersey still can’t bet on college games. There are a couple other states that are now going “we may backtrack and rewrite the law and not allow you to bet on college games.” So, there’s a lot of hoops. There’s a lot of things to navigate, especially in multi-state situations. And I think that’s ultimately that’s what’s going to be the hardest for some of these operators, because you may be able to offer something in one state but not in another, and then you’re going to piss people off. It’s a muddy situation to try to navigate. 

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Matt Jones Gave a Lesson in Audience Engagement During Coverage of Coaching Change

“I can’t sleep, not gonna lie. The next 48 hours are gonna be wild.”

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Matt Jones
Courtesy: Netflix

Matt Jones, founder of Kentucky Sports Radio, put on a clinic this past week on how to cover a sports story and keep your fans engaged. If you wanted the latest information on what was happening with Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari resigning, Kentucky’s replacement search and the eventual hiring of Mark Pope, you didn’t have to go much further than Matt’s X account, @KySportsRadio.

While others may have been first to report certain parts of the story, Matt was on top of it all, and if there was new news, Matt would share it. Then he would generally give an opinion or two, some information or background and when necessary, special content to address a topic as a group.

I am not a Kentucky or Arkansas fan, but I am a fan of John Calipari. I like the “characters” in the sports world, and he is certainly one of them. In my very first management job, I was hired as the Program Director for WHBQ in Memphis. Cal was coaching the Memphis Tigers and I was introduced to him at a Memphis Grizzlies game. I spent about 20 minutes with him, and you would have thought I was a major recruit he was after (I’m 5-7, over 200 pounds so it wasn’t that he was confused). Turns out he had been trying to get some of his assistants a paid radio gig and although it didn’t end up going anywhere, that 20 minutes made me a fan.

So, I had some interest in the story, and I happened upon Matt’s first post which came at 8:42 p.m. on Sunday April 7:

A couple of minutes later Matt posted that nobody on the Kentucky side was confirming anything. A few hours later he posted more from the reporting coming out of Arkansas and then he announced their radio show the next day with Ryan Lemond and Billy Rutledge would go an extra hour.

A few minutes later he posts, “Calipari has informed Kentucky that he is negotiating with Arkansas, according to Matt Norlander.” That post received just under 700,000 views and was shared almost 800 times. At 9:43 p.m., one hour and one minute after posting about the news for the first time, Jones writes, “Twitter space in 10 minutes.”

I can count on one hand how many Twitter Spaces I have taken part in, but I clicked on it more to see how many others were on it. When I joined there were 14,000 people tuned in and Matt would later post they had 19,000 tuned in at once, on Twitter Spaces, on a Sunday night at 10:15 p.m.

Later, Jones would post that he thinks the show the next day “might be the biggest show we have ever done.” At almost midnight he wrote, “I can’t sleep, not gonna lie. The next 48 hours are gonna be wild.”

And he wasn’t kidding. The search for the new coach, the recruits, the portal, the lists of replacement names, the videos from Calipari and his wife, the video of Cal pushing the stroller and walking the dog, the prospective new coaches dropping out (Scott Drew stayed in Waco, Texas for goodness sakes!), the shock of Mark Pope’s name rising to the top and then the eventual hiring of Mark Pope, the press conferences. Holy moly.

And while all of this was going on, Matt Jones was posting and talking about his opinions, hunting for information, writing blog posts, doing interviews, responding to the Kentucky fans, creating extra audio content and keeping everyone in the loop on all of the fallout and aftermath.

I was exhausted keeping up with it, I can’t imagine how Matt must feel.

And what it made me think of is this; if you are a manager of sports media talent, how many of your people would have put in the effort Matt Jones put in and continues to put in on this story?

Matt kept his audience informed, gave them plenty to think about and continuously provided content and context. He brought his audience behind the curtains when he could, and he tried to answer legitimate questions that came up. He was attacked, at one point I believe being blamed for anything bad that has ever happened to Kentucky basketball.

And in the end, when a lot of fans, Matt included, were a bit disappointed when they found out Mark Pope was the guy, they worked through it together. Matt flat out said he was not happy with the hire at first, but now they had only one choice as a fan base and that was to support the decision and the new coach. Pope’s press conference was a sold-out event at Rupp Arena.

Programmers and talent, I encourage you to look back at Matt Jones’ X account timeline from April 7 to today. It’s a blueprint for how to cover a major story and bring your audience along for the ride.

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The Best Thing I Heard Recently

I really enjoyed the conversation Baltimore’s The Big Bad Morning Show had last week talking about the streaming situation. No. 1 prospect Jackson Holliday was set to make his home debut and the game was one which would be streaming only on Apple TV+.

Rob Long, Ed Norris and Jeremy Conn had an adult conversation about the fact that if you were an Orioles fan without Apple TV+ this one would sting. While they noted it is such a small percentage of baseball games, versus football games, that can end up streaming only, this one game would be one a lot of Orioles fans would want to see.

As they talked through it, they noted it is a younger audience which baseball is trying to target, and you are not going to reach that group on linear television. So, while it may stink for fans for that one game or the few the Orioles might have which are streaming only, the bottom line is this is the direction things are going and you need to get used to it.

As Conn said, “Either get in line or get left behind.”

You can listen to the segment in the last hour of the show by clicking here.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

In Case You Missed It

Sean McManus retired this week from CBS Sports and David Berson took over as the president and chief executive officer. Before he stepped away our Derek Futterman had the chance to talk with him and look back on some highlights of his career, this year’s Super Bowl and a look at what Berson will inherit and how things look for the future.

About the success of this year’s Super Bowl, McManus told Derek, “We far exceeded our sales expectations and budgets. The number that’s been written is $700 million, and we exceeded that – obviously the overtime helped – but I think from the time we came on the air at 11:30 with the Nickelodeon Slimetime show until we went off the air at approximately 10:30, it was an unqualified success in every way. The most-watched television program ever; maybe the best Super Bowl ever in terms of the quality.”

You can read Derek’s feature on Sean McManus by clicking here.

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Rich Eisen is the Top Pick as NFL Draft Host

“If you’re gonna literally sit there and want to spend an hour or two, I got to make sure it’s entertaining, you’re engaged, but also informed and not gonna hit the button.”

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Logo for the 2024 NFL Draft and a photo of Rich Eisen

We’re still a week away from the NFL Draft in Detroit. Who among us hasn’t attempted a few mock drafts through one of the many popular “draft simulators” out there? I know I have. Talk about this year’s selections seem to have started earlier than even last year. Coverage of prospects’ “pro days” have become commonplace on NFL Network and streaming platforms. So much attention paid to every little detail about players.

Draft coverage is big business for the folks at ABC/ESPN and the NFL Network. Both networks drum up the excitement of what may or may not happen for months leading up to the big night. They debut new and interesting things, like this year, Nick Saban joins the ESPN crew for analysis. The attention is massive as more and more fans dig deeper into their own team’s needs and possibilities. Thanks to all the information online, the average fan, can feel as educated as the bosses in the NFL. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but you know what I mean.

The coverage is wall-to-wall, minute-to-minute, pick-by-pick. It’s crazy how much depth there is to the telecasts, with backstories and packages on interesting players. The analyzation is so crazy these days, some of the information has nothing to do with the way a player may or may not perform if drafted. The stories are fine, but the over analyzation can be a bit much. For example, here in Chicago, we’ve heard the pontificators break down every word uttered by Caleb Williams, to see if he really wants to be the next Chicago Bears quarterback. It’s over the top.  

There’s only so much ‘predicting’ and ‘disappointment’ by the ‘experts’ on each and every pick in the draft. Especially on day two and day three. It’s nauseating at times. Listening to the criticism every single pick because it doesn’t match their “board” can be entertaining to some, but really annoying to others. As hard as it is to believe for some fan bases, the teams know their needs and what direction they may end up going a lot better than some of these analysts.

The NFL Draft is a lot to consume. Some viewers will watch, because they are such big NFL fans, they want it all. Others will watch the first round to be elated or disappointed at their team’s pick. More probably duck in and duck out of the coverage and take in as much as they can until it reaches the point of oversaturation. To me the glue that keeps a network’s coverage together is the host. A person that talks to you and not at you. The person sitting in that ‘anchor’ chair, had better be prepared and have a good disposition and a sense of humor.

If I had the #1 pick in the NFL Draft Host draft, I wouldn’t hesitate to take Rich Eisen. He is my favorite. Eisen has the perfect demeanor to host this marathon of an event. He figures out a way to make it entertaining without going over the top. After 20 years at the NFL Network, he has the hosting thing figured out.

Before last year’s draft, Eisen appeared on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina. The two discussed the hosts’ job when it comes to the NFL Draft. Eisen was honest and candid.

“If you’re gonna literally sit there and want to spend an hour or two, I got to make sure it’s entertaining, you’re engaged, but also informed and not gonna hit the button,” Eisen said.

Bingo. That’s the key. A host that understands not only what HIS role is, but also has a respect for the viewer. He knows that there is a lot coming at fans in the course of the long broadcast.

“My job is to if you are actually going to sit down and watch a four-to-five-hour event, I need to make it something that you want to hang and watch,” Eisen told SI. “If there’s too much of me in it, if I’m in your face, if I make everything a joke, if I make everything about me, you’re gonna turn off. And that’s the last thing I want to do. For lack of a better phrase and I’ll say it anyway, I just want it to be a ‘douche-free environment’. That’s it. That’s literally my radar screen the entire time when I weave in what I need to weave in.”

That’s an interesting way to look at it, but he’s right. Who wants to watch The Rich Eisen Show, featuring the NFL Draft? Nothing is cut and dry when it comes to the draft. Trades, reaches and head scratchers are commonplace, but you don’t know when they are going to happen. Eisen is one of the more prepared hosts out there and that certainly helps when the draft gives you a squib kick that’s bouncing all over the place.

To take the ‘if there’s too much of me’ portion of his answer above, Eisen uses his cast extremely well.  Eisen is the host, who has some talented analysts surrounding him, and he’s going to let them do what they do. The best hosts realize when it’s time to take a backseat to those more in the know. That’s why they are there right?

It’s not like Eisen doesn’t have opinions about the NFL and the draft. He recently said this on The Rich Eisen Show.

“J.J. McCarthy, right now is rising up draft stock conversations. He’s the odds-on favorite to be the 2nd quarterback mentioned now in the state of Michigan when the draft night hits.”

Shocking revelation, since Eisen doesn’t hide his Michigan allegiances. But the point I make is, there’s a time and place to make your thoughts known. That’s the reason people listen to and watch his show. That’s not why they tune into the NFL Draft, viewers want him to guide them through the experience and that’s what Eisen does, very well.

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