Adam Gold didn’t invent sports talk in Raleigh, North Carolina, but you could be forgiven for thinking he is the format’s patron saint in town. He has been on hosting sports talk shows in the area for nearly as long as there have been sports talk shows in the area.
You can hear Adam & his partner Joe Ovies each afternoon on 99.9 the Fan. They host one of the most irreverent and welcoming local sports talk shows you will ever hear. Want to know why Coach K can’t get consistent play from a roster full of five star talent? They’ll tell you, but first they’re going to spend ten minutes talking about tacos.
I worked with Adam briefly and spent the first few weeks in the building intimidated by him. He isn’t physically imposing at all. He is supremely confident and always up for a friendly debate.
Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill (or “The Triangle” to those of us that live here) is bitterly divided in its college basketball loyalties, but somehow only in those particular loyalties. Adam explained to me how a sports culture like that has allowed him to create consistently fun content. We also talked about pants and internet videos.
DEMETRI: How did you get to Raleigh?
ADAM: Well, my wife at the time – my practice wife as I call her – had been hired to run the training department at Central Carolina Bank, which was in Durham. We were living in Baltimore, and we decided if I could find a job making $18,000 it was worth it. Between the cheaper cost of living and her salary, all I really had to do was make minimum wage, which I could do delivering pizza if I had to.
I was a producer in Baltimore on the morning show, and there was really nowhere for me to go unless I got a chance to host. So we are in North Carolina, and I am looking through the classified ads at the radio jobs section and I see an opening at WRBZ, which at the time was 850 the Buzz, so I called the PD, a guy named Craig Schwalb.
At the time the station was news, talk and sports. He liked my tape and said that they may have something coming up that I’d be right for. About a week later I got a call saying that they were thinking about going all sports, and I thought “gee, wouldn’t that be perfect?”. They brought me on as a part time employee to do updates. Three an hour for like five hours a day. Then that turned into co-hosting my own show and then my co-host quit on the air. I’m sure you’ve heard that story.
ADAM: Pat Mellon was his name. He was the afternoon host before it was all sports and they kept him on as the Buzz started to tilt towards sports. He was a sports fan, but not a sports host.
They paired us together in March, and then like six weeks into it, at the end of the show on a Tuesday in May, he just says “Well, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this, but this is my last day. I’m quitting after the show.”
I really thought he was joking. We had a tendency to be a little silly at the end of the show and find something light to go out on. I told him “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.” We close the show and as we’re walking out he says “By the way, I wasn’t kidding.”
It was too bad too, because through the first weeks everyone was happy. The word was good on the street. It was good with advertisers. People liked the vibe. I thought we were happy, but he wasn’t happy. It had always been his show. He quit. That was that.
Management told me they were going to do a search. That went on for two ratings books. The ratings went up in each book. So the general manager, who is still my general manager today, Brian Maloney said “The ratings are good. It’s your show. Go get ‘em.”
I know I’m very lucky. I always tell people half the battle in radio is right place and right time. The other half is what you do with it, so I am not overlooking the second half, but you couldn’t have gotten luckier. New town. No prospects. No contacts. And then all the sudden I have my first on air job hosting my own show.
DEMETRI: So, being here as long as you have, how have you watched the Triangle change as a sports market? How have you seen the appetite for sports radio grow?
ADAM: Raleigh was behind the times for sports radio, but I guess kind of everywhere was, because for so long there was just WFAN. Then things slowly started to trickle out mainly in pro towns.
We still argued sports here, but what we had on air was more folksy, positive, “everyone is a fan” deals. I was never afraid to give an opinion. I would never call myself a shock jock, but the market just wasn’t used to hearing someone say “You’re wrong! This is not good.”
This is not to poke fun at a guy like Tony Rigsby, who was in the market for a long time. He just did a different type of show and what I was doing fit with the time. It was the late 90’s. Sports radio was starting to mirror talk radio where it wasn’t positive all the time.
DEMETRI: It was starting to sound like an actual conversation. Things were more genuine.
ADAM: Let’s use the current language. It was becoming more real. So, what I was doing resonated because I was just giving my opinion and trying to have some fun. Even when we were ripping on stuff, we always tried to find the fun angle.
We would pick games with dominant mascot theory, which mascot would win in a fight. It was silly. It was fun. We did it for a year and it ran its course and we moved on to something else, but even something like that is genuine, because you’re poking fun at the people that claim to be experts.
DEMETRI: That is an interesting bit of history, especially when you combine it with just how divided this market is with Duke, Carolina and NC State. People can be so tribal, so I wonder, did you ever question yourself or your style or did you always think “the market needs to catch up to me”?
ADAM: Well, people will tell you that I have never thought I was wrong.
DEMETRI: (LAUGHING) Right, Joe (Ovies, Adam’s co-host) just wanted to make sure I got that on the record.
ADAM: (LAUGHING) It should be on the record.
Seriously though, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t wrong. I just thought it was important that the first goal be to make people laugh, because we aren’t talking about splitting the atom. We aren’t talking about nuclear codes. What we are talking about is purely entertainment. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but this is purely entertainment, so let’s make people laugh.
I wanted to challenge people’s conventional thinking. I thought that was important on certain elements, and I’ll get into specifics in a moment. But I never faked an opinion to be a contrarian. If I had that opinion, I had it and was willing to stand by it. That way I never had to think back about “well, what did I say about this topic last time?”.
Now, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t change my opinion if presented with new facts. When it came to issues though, I think people respected that I could give an opinion and that I had done the work and research to back it up.
I’ll give you an example. After Latrell Sprewell choked PJ Carlissimo, Spree did a commercial for Converse maybe. I don’t remember the brand, but in the ad he says he was the American dream. And I saw that and thought, “He’s right,” and I knew that was going to make people upset, but we’re living in America. We love second chances and reclamation projects, and the whole point of the ad is “I screwed up.” In that way, Latrell Sprewell was absolutely living the American dream.
I pointed that out on air, and of course you know how that went. So, that was a very explosive type of show. I wanted to make people face why they were so anti-Latrell Sprewell getting a second chance when maybe they would have been a little more sympathetic to another athlete that looked a little more like them.
When Earnhardt died, and people get uncomfortable when I talk NASCAR, because I’m not a fan, I asked openly why not retire the number 3? Now, I’m not crass, I didn’t do this the next day, but people started talking about who would be the next to drive the 3, because it wasn’t Earnhardt’s number. Richard Childress owns the car, so it’s his number. But look, certain numbers don’t belong on the track anymore. NASCAR purists, and there are a lot in North Carolina, couldn’t tell me why the sport doesn’t retire numbers beyond “We’ll run out of numbers.” Give me a break!
DEMETRI: You’ve been here long enough to see the market change from only caring about NASCAR or the ACC to becoming this major transplant destination. We have people that moved here from all over the country. Does that change what is “in bounds” for daily topics?
ADAM: It’s an interesting market. When we talk college basketball, it is a local market. It’s a very small market type of conversation we have.
DEMETRI: How about with hockey?
ADAM: We don’t talk a lot of hockey. If the Canes are a playoff team, we’ll talk about it then. When they are really bad, Alec (Campbell, Adam’s producer and The Fan’s pre-and-postgame host for Carolina Hurricanes broadcasts) and I will do a little crosstalk, but that is it. Day of a game we’ll have the TV play-by-play guy John Forslund on to preview the game, but we don’t set up to talk a lot of hockey.
But with college basketball, that is a local conversation. I never have to talk about any other team in the country or even the conference. It’s Duke, Carolina and NC State. I assume East Carolina has a basketball team. We don’t really care.
Frankly, as a listener, it bugs me when hosts talk about this stuff and waste my time. I really don’t care what (Miami basketball coach) Jim Laranega has to say about his team. He is a perfectly nice gentleman, but I really don’t care. We have other shows on this station that give us that and it is a complete waste of time. It’s not Duke, Carolina or State, so it is a waste of time.
Now, this market is so transient, that we can talk about anything else. If we talk about the NFL, sure it has a Panthers or Washington slant, but for the most part Joe and I are just talking NFL football. We can talk about coaches, quarterbacks, or any of the big personalities. Same with college football. We’ll always start with State, Carolina and Duke, but college football is a national sport, so we will talk about Nick Saban or other national topics.
We’re local mainly just when we talk college basketball, but there are so many people here that didn’t grow up here. We’re a national show when we talk about literally everything else, which is good. I think if we only talked local sports, we would bore each other.
I look at other local hosts, or even Paul Finebaum. I see on Twitter that he is going to talk about Ole Miss recruiting in the middle of March and I think “I would poke my eyes out if that was my show.” I just can’t do that. We mock recruiting here. That’s the only way we talk about it.
DEMETRI: This ties in nicely to something that has become a signature of the show, because a few years ago you and Joe made the decision not to take listener calls on an average day. It has worked out well for you guys and really fits the show. It has worked on the national level for a while, but it’s not a decision a lot of local shows would make. How did you guys come to that decision to break with what sports radio “should be”?
ADAM: Well, there was never a conversation where we decided “Hey, let’s stop taking calls.” We were just having our own conversations, and they were good conversations. We didn’t give the phone number out and we were entertaining ourselves.
Joe and I have been really fortunate to have some really talented and creative producers. And to me it’s even insulting to say Shannon Penn was our producer. Alec Campbell is not just our producer. These guys are just another part of the show. They just happen to have different responsibilities than we do.
So we just started getting creative and we were mixing it up with more benchmark elements. We found things that were entertaining and irreverent. Then we would get back into these conversations with ourselves. We just didn’t need the phone calls. They were honestly the worst part of the show.
If you’re a talented host, I want to hear your opinion and I want you to have as much fun with it as you can. This is going to sound crass, and I don’t mean to sound dismissive of callers, but as a host you use callers. You use callers to create more callers. If 1% of your audience is going to call in, then why would you cater to them?
The majority of listeners are annoyed by callers. Why would you try to annoy your listeners?
I don’t want to sit here and laud the ratings, because I know how volatile they can be and I know how they work. The ratings though have gone up and the show has been better and more successful as we have eliminated callers. And again, it’s not something we set out to do. It just kind of happened.
DEMETRI: So what would get you to take calls? Because it does happen occasionally.
ADAM: Well, we do a segment at the end of each show called Ask Away where we open the phones and the listeners are allowed to ask us anything and we will answer, as long as it isn’t an HR violation or something we can claim attorney/client privilege on. People that get the show know we don’t want to talk sports at the end of the show. We have been talking sports for 4 hours at that point. I mean, unless we’re off on a tangent about pants or something. And that happens a lot.
DEMETRI: Yeah, I think when I filled in for you Joe, Alec and I talked about workout routines for a good 15 minutes.
ADAM: Oh, that will happen a lot. It’s a big part of the show. When Roy Williams wore that multi-colored, striped sweater at his press conference a few weeks ago we talked about the sweater for…I mean for a long time. That’s kinda where we’re at our best.
DEMETRI: So, you are in a market with three sports stations. All three are owned by the same company and the programming on each one is meant to serve the others. So what do you look at as your day to day competition?
ADAM: Our competition is anything that occupies men 25 to 54. In terms of radio that’s country radio, urban radio and NPR. That is our competition in the time slot. But I don’t really think about competition. Man, that sounds really arrogant.
DEMETRI: No, I think that is the right answer, but everyone has an idea of who they expect to see occupying the first and third slots or the second and third slots when the ratings come out.
ADAM: Yeah, it’s a usual cast of characters, right? Lately we’ve been number one in our time slot. Sometimes number two, but it is great. I think that is because we are always changing what we do. It’s rare that things stay the same for a given year.
Frankly, we’re trying to entertain each other. The best compliment you can pay the show is “I’m not a real big sports fan, but I love the way you guys talk about sports.”
We’re always going to talk about issues before we talk about games. I am not going to preview a damn thing. We make jokes about breaking stuff down. Thursdays during the football season we’ll predict the stupidest storylines for the next day. That’s why women and guys who aren’t even sports fans like the show.
I love that. My wife is a hairdresser. I would estimate 30% of her female clients listen to the show. I love that if you take a broad cross-section of our listeners, a big chunk of it would be made up of people that aren’t hardcore sports fans. Those are the people we are probably pulling away from NPR or country radio.
DEMETRI: The company that owns 99.9 the Fan is Capitol Broadcasting, which not only owns the market’s NBC and Fox affiliates, but they also were very quick to adopt the idea of making content exclusively for their digital platforms. How do you think that has grown the show and changed who you’re exposed to?
ADAM: Digital has made some of what I do easier. I cover the Hurricanes for the station. Writing a story after each game would kill me, so instead I’ll prop my phone up and do a four minute video with my thoughts about what the outcome means. It sits right on top of the game story. That makes my life easier.
There have been more podcast opportunities for me. They aren’t lucrative, but that’s not why I do it. I have a weekly Canes podcast. I do a golf podcast every couple of weeks. There was a time when I did a college baseball podcast with John Manuel from Baseball America. I didn’t do it because I was a huge college baseball fan. I did it because I like hanging out with John.
It’s good. We do goofier videos. You gotta be multimedia now and make yourself valuable, otherwise they’ll find someone that can be more valuable.
DEMETRI: If I gave you a magic wand to wave over all of sports radio, what kind of thinking would you want to change in the format?
ADAM: Sports radio and talk radio mirror each other really well. That’s good and bad. Talk radio is, in general, pretty angry. It’s getting angrier too. I sense that happening with sports radio now. People are getting angrier. I hope the way Joe and I do it heads that off.
I will say this. There’s still way too much subtle racism in sports talk. I want that to go away. I don’t want to hear you say Jameis Winston is a running quarterback when he’s not. But he’s black, so he must be a runner, right?
Subtle racism and sexism. I’d love for people to not patronize someone like Lauren Brownlow (99.9 the Fan’s ACC reporter and regular contributor to Adam’s show) when she’s talking about college basketball because she absolutely knows what she is talking about more than I do. I look forward to the day when we don’t have to overcome those barriers, but I think that probably comes along with people being more angry. They don’t want their territory infringed upon. I’m all about new points of view and different points of view and I am intolerant of your intolerance.
DEMETRI: Is that what is going to go at the bottom of the campaign poster?
ADAM: It’s very meta, isn’t it?
Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”
After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure. In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.
“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM. “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”
Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube. The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.
It all came together very quickly.
“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”
The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday. The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.
“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber. “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television. For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment. So far, I’m having a ball.”
And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.
A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels.
“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber. “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel. Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”
The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career. He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.
Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests. And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.
Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.
“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber. “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up. It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there. The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”
There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.
For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to.
“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber. “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation. I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that. I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”
Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing. A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio. For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.
The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber. “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about. I was doing a five-hour radio show. It’s too long. That’s crazy. Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.”
Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore. The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.
Kind of like Adam The Bull!
“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber. “But the game has changed.”
Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms. The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.
I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.
Bull can certainly relate to that.
“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle. “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device. It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.”
With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business. In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month. But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.
“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber. “I still love radio. I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation. I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”
The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve. Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.
Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content
“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”
It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.
TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.
TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan.
Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!
This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours.
So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success.
Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video.
If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point.
Other simple tricks:
- Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video.
- 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time.
- Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video)
- Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.
- Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video.
- Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Does Tom Brady’s Salary Make Sense For FOX In a Changing Media World?
“The risk here doesn’t have to do with Brady specifically, but rather the business of televising football games in general.”
FOX is playing it too safe when it comes to adding Tom Brady.
That’s going to sound weird given the size of Brady’s broadcasting contract. Even if that deal isn’t worth as much as initially reported, it’s a hell of a lot of loot, especially considering Brady has remained steadfastly uninteresting for a solid 20 years now.
Let’s not pretend that is a detriment in the eyes of a television network, however. There’s a long line of famous athletes companies like FOX have happily paid millions without ever requiring them to be much more than consistently inoffensive and occasionally insightful. Yes, Brady is getting more money than those previous guys, but he’s also the most successful quarterback in NFL history.
The risk here doesn’t have to do with Brady specifically, but rather the business of televising football games in general. More specifically, the fact that the business of televising football games is changing, and while it may not be changing quite as rapidly as the rest of the sports-media industry, but it is changing. There’s an increasing number of choices available to viewers not only in the games that can be watched, but how they are consumed. Everything in the industry points to an increasingly fragmented audience and yet by signing Brady to be in the broadcast booth once he retires, FOX is paying a premium for a single component in a tried-and-true broadcasting formula will be more successful.
Think of Brady’s hiring as a bet FOX made. A 10-year commitment in which it is doubling down on the status quo at a time of obvious change. FOX saw ESPN introduce the ManningCast last year, and instead of seeing the potential for a network to build different types of products, FOX decided, “Nah, we don’t want to do anything different or new.” Don’t let the price tag fool you. FOX went out and bought a really famous former player to put in a traditional broadcast booth to hope that the center holds..
Maybe it will. Maybe Brady is that interesting or he’s that famous and his presence is powerful enough to defy the trends within the industry. I’m not naive enough to think that value depends on the quality of someone’s content. The memoir of a former U.S. president will fetch a multi-million-dollar advance not because of the literary quality, but because of the size of the potential audience. It’s the same rationale behind FOX’s addition of Brady.
But don’t mistake an expensive addition from an innovative one. The ManningCast was an actual innovation. A totally different way of televising a football game, and while not everyone liked it, some people absolutely loved it. It’s not going to replace the regular Monday Night Football format, but it wasn’t supposed to. It’s an alternative or more likely a complement and ESPN was sufficiently encouraged to extend the ManningCast through 2024. It’s a different product. Another option it is offering its customers. You can choose to watch to the traditional broadcast format with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth or you can watch the Mannings or you can toggle between both. What’s FOX’s option for those audience members who prefer something like the ManningCast to the traditional broadcast?
It’s not just ESPN, either. Amazon offered viewers a choice of broadcasters, too, from a female announcing tandem of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kramer beginning in 2018 to the Scouts Feed with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks in 2020.
So now, not only do viewers have an increasingly wide array of choices on which NFL games they can watch — thanks to Sunday Ticket — they in some instances have a choice of the announcing crew for that given game. Amid this economic environment, FOX not only decided that it was best to invest in a single product, but it decided to make that investment in a guy who had never done this particular job before nor shown much in the way of an aptitude for it.
Again, maybe Brady is the guy to pull it off. He’s certainly famous enough. His seven Super Bowl victories are unmatched and span two franchises, and while he’s denied most attempts to be anything approaching interesting in public over the past 20 years, perhaps that is changing. His increasingly amusing Twitter posts over the past 2 years could be a hint of the humor he’s going to bring to the broadcast booth. That Tampa Tom is his true personality, which remained under a gag order from the Sith Lord Bill Belichick, and now Brady will suddenly become football’s equivalent of Charles Barkley.
But that’s a hell of a needle to thread for anyone, even someone as famous as Brady, and it’s a really high bar for someone with no broadcasting experience. The upside for FOX is that its traditional approach holds. The downside, however, is that it is not only spending more money on a product with a declining market, but it is ignoring obvious trends within the industry as it does so.