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Switching Gears

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I was involved in a major car accident on Saturday night. The driver of a semi truck intentionally plowed into my rear bumper. I’m not sure if he missed a few hugs as a kid or what. Whatever the reason, the driver walloped my car causing me to collide head-on with a concrete median on I-65 in Nashville. If we catch the guy, his trucking company will be renamed “Noe Inc.” In the meantime, I’m just happy to be breathing and able to make my weekly contribution to BSM.

The EMT people looked at my car and urged me to stop by the ER and get checked out. My chest felt like Snuffleupagus was standing on it, so I thought that was probably a good idea. When I arrived, this magical utopia of an ER had the NFL Playoffs on TV. While I was waiting to get an x-ray and CT scan, which thankfully checked out fine, one thing in particular stood out to me that relates to sports radio.

The Patriots are the masters at switching gears. They don’t just line up and say, “This is our gameplan every week regardless of the opponent.” They craft a detailed attacked based on their strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses. Tom Brady threw a season-high 53 passes against the Titans on Saturday. Running back Dion Lewis had a career-high nine catches. Maybe just maybe it had something to do with the Titans 25th ranked pass defense that struggles to cover running backs in space.

Sure, other teams have a similar approach, but it isn’t as in depth. The Patriots take it to the extreme. They’ll have a back rush for 200 yards one game and barely give him the ball the following week. It’s all about adapting to matchups and putting their team in the best possible position to win.

In sports talk, it’s important for hosts to be more than just one thing. A great host excels in one area, but isn’t deficient in others. It’s like ink cartridges for a printer. If you want a colored printout but only have black ink, you’re screwed. Being multifaceted gives a sports talk host the best chance at being successful.

Colin Cowherd is best known for being thought-provoking. He has generated some laugh-out-loud moments though. I remember a conversation years ago that touched on treating people with respect. Colin agreed and then jokingly said, “Vince, go get me a donut.” It was a funny moment that broke up all of the serious points he was making.

It’s similar to music. Regardless of the genre, songs often switch gears. There are tons of heavy metal songs with slow parts that make the heavy portions sound heavier. Take a commonly known song like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” It starts off very slow with some clean guitar. When the chorus kicks in with fully-distorted guitars, it sounds even heavier than it actually is. Same thing with the song “One.” Same thing with “Battery.” Same thing with (you get the idea). This is very common.

For a sports talk host, switching gears involves their style and delivery. The humorous things a host says will be even funnier if thought-provoking comments are also made. Same thing in reverse — serious comments will have a greater impact if funny comments are also shared. It’s like playing Texas Hold ‘Em — they say that aggression wins. No, switching gears is the best approach. If you’re aggressive with every hand, you’ll eventually get busted. If you’re conservative with every hand, you’ll lose that way too. You have to alter your approach by being a blend of both.

Switching gears also involves subjects. Hosts have go-to sports that they can talk about with ease, and others that they don’t have as much to say about. Pinpoint those problem areas and work on them. Lakers guard Lonzo Ball stinks at shooting 3-pointers right now. Do you think he’s going to say, “Oh, well. Guess I’ll just be bad at shooting”? No, he’s going to get in the gym and shoot thousands of shots to improve his game. Hosts have to work on their game too so they can switch up their content.

Although switching gears is incredibly important, the irony is that it’s often overlooked. Charles Barkley is best known for his jokes and sense of humor, not his basketball knowledge. If you pay close attention to Barkley’s analysis, he makes smart observations way more often than he’s given credit for. He wouldn’t be on TV in the first place if he only made dumb comments.

I’ll relate this back to music again. The chorus is typically the most well-known portion of a song. That doesn’t mean the other parts are unimportant. If the intro is awful and the verses are bad, the chorus won’t stand out as much. You might not even listen to the chorus if the other parts are horrible. It’s the same concept in sports talk. A host might be best known for one particular thing. However, it will actually be overlooked if the other facets around that skill are lacking.

Something else stood out as I was getting more familiar with concrete medians and EMT’s associated with my wreck on Saturday. As I was driving to work, I noticed that I had a huge crack in my front windshield due to the weather being so cold. As I passed by each light pole on the highway, the light would reflect off of the crack. I thought, “Great, I’ll have to get that fixed.” Five minutes later, my car was headed straight for the automobile heavens after being totaled.

It made me think about the good and bad aspects of sports radio. I’m definitely not the only one who spends too much time thinking about what isn’t perfect. My big thing is having more airtime. Guess what? If I get fired this week or leave sports talk because the lotto fairy visited me, I’m going to miss the shifts I do have like crazy.

At the risk of sounding like Kumbaya is playing in the background while doves are flying around, we work in an industry that many people desire to be in. It doesn’t make any sense to only look at the annoying portions of the gig while failing to enjoy the cool stuff. When a football player retires, he often tells stories about what he misses. Have you noticed that it’s typically positive? It’s the comradery and the “10 sets of eyes looking back at me in the huddle.” We will dwell on the positive aspects of sports talk once our gig is gone, so it makes a lot of sense to dwell on it while we still have that same gig.

This isn’t a PSA to be complacent and accepting of your current situation. Strive to make things better — just don’t get so laser-focused that you simply forget to enjoy yourself along the way. The right attitude makes an enormous difference. Find the middle ground of fighting to make things better while not getting deflating about your job being less than ideal.

This concludes my latest piece thanks to Semis Gone Wild. I don’t think my mind was too scrambled. I didn’t do anything crazy like compare Blake Bortles to a spectacular food like bacon. He’s more like dry toast — serves a purpose but still leaves a lot to be desired. Remember to be good at switching gears. Although you might hate the Patriots, you’ll be very successful if you can switch gears like they do. Also, remember those Andre Agassi commercials where he said “image is everything”? I think attitude is everything. You can have a much happier life if you focus on the positive.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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