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Inside Draft Week with Darren McKee

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The Denver Broncos are on the clock. The envelope has been turned in to Roger Goodell. The commissioner takes the stage and announces, “With the 5th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select…”

Nobody has discussed who will become part of that sentence more than 104.3 The Fan in Denver. A station that focuses heavily on the Broncos, The Fan has been all-in on this year’s draft, with coverage that’s spanned all the way from The Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL to Josh Allen’s Pro Day in Laramie, WY.

At the center of that coverage, has been Darren McKee, co-host of The Drive with Big Al and D-Mac. Though the draft is always a big storyline in an NFL hungry city such as Denver, McKee realizes this year is different than most. Along with the Broncos owning a Top 5 pick for only the second time since 1992, the team has also been linked to having a strong interest in taking a quarterback. That, in itself, has created a large amount of interest among the fan base, which, in turn, has provided a big ratings opportunity for McKee, program director Armen Williams and the rest of the staff at The Fan.

But with draft day approaching this Thursday, what goes into getting the most out of, quite possibly, the biggest week of sports radio so far this year in Denver? In an exclusive interview with McKee, I asked that question and more to see just what to expect from the market leader during a crucial week.

TM: In this calendar year, would you say this is the biggest week for sports radio in Denver?

DM: That’s a good question. We just had our ratings come in for the month of March and free agency was huge for us. Huge. It was pretty rough after the end of the season, because not only were the Broncos bad this year, but they were bad early, meaning that there was plenty of time to realize how bad they were. It wasn’t like everyone was in up until the last minute, they were out of the playoffs for quite a while. But the intrigue was if they’d keep their coach (Vance Joseph). So after they kept their coach, and they were bad, they did let go of some of their assistant coaches, but nobody cares about that. So we definitely felt a dip. Then free agency came and the Broncos were on the chase for a quarterback, which pumped things back up for us. So, is this week going to be bigger than that? It’s a good question and I’ll be curious to see the results. It’s huge, I mean it’s gargantuan, but at the end of the day, I’ll have to look at the ratings afterwards to see if people really care more about this or if they cared more about free agency. All that being said, it’s hugely important to us and it’s a big, big deal.

TM: Your show is not one that’s centered on getting guests, but is this week different? Which guests are relevant during a time like this?

DM: We have some of our radio contributors in terms of news and information, such as guys like Troy Renck who works for Denver7. We may also reach out to people that develop story lines that we are pushing. For example, I’m big time on the Baker Mayfield wagon and I read that Alfred Breer of Sports Illustrated had a mock draft with Mayfield going to the Broncos. So I’ll probably push to get Breer on the show, something like that, because he’s going to help me out. Now, if it’s not my opinion and I see someone significant that mocked Bradley Chubb going to Broncos and we can track them down, then we may have that person on too. It’s not just my opinion that matters.

Other than that, the time for guests is kind of gone. Even on draft night, itself, we’ve learned that through experience. We’ll be out at a bar and every year we invite someone who was drafted the year before to be on with us. We had Shane Ray the year after he was drafted, we had Justin Simmons the year after he was taken and this year we have Chad Kelly. But we won’t talk to Chad Kelly once the draft gets going. We’ll have him on for maybe 10-15 minutes to touch base, but as soon as the draft starts, we won’t care about what Chad thinks, although, this year might be a little interesting if they take a quarterback with the first pick and he’s sitting right there. Guests to us, just aren’t that big of a deal. We have bought into the feedback that people are listening to our show to hear our opinion. Unless the guest can bring something significant to the table, we don’t feel a big need to add guests.

TM: You mentioned The Fan is having another huge watch party with the listeners this year. Where have you seen the benefit of having such a big event of draft night?

DM: You need to make a big deal about things that are a big deal, as much as possible. It creates an image that something big is going on. When we first did these draft parties, the setting was really great, but nobody was really that into it. It sort of blossomed throughout the years. For example, when Tim Tebow was drafted, Alfred (Williams) wasn’t even at the draft party. He was at the Broncos practice facility and Sandy Clough and I were out at a Buffalo Wild Wings. What we realized is that there was no reason to have Alfred at Dove Valley, or frankly anyone to be at Dove Valley. Nothing happens there until the draft is over when John Elway speaks, and we can just pod up that audio. So, the draft parties have become more of the show. Listen, the big man, Alfred, is a character. Just last year, the Broncos drafted Garrett Bolles in the first round and he walked off the broadcast for about five-straight minutes. Literally, he walked off the broadcast.

TM: What does your audience care about most when it comes to draft coverage?

DM: I’ve realized over the years it’s all about the first round. The more you can bring to the table for that first day, the better it is, because it’s what your audience values about. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in broadcasting is what not to do, what not to waste your time with. You have to just get to the point and focus on what your listeners care the most about. So when we get deeper in the draft, nobody really knows who these guys are in the 3rd, 4rd and 5th rounds. So are we really going to go that deep on the air, day after day and bring these guys up? For what purpose? To bring it up on a Saturday afternoon that you were right? I mean, who cares?

What you want to be is great leading up to the event. The draft is like a big game. Usually you have a game every week, but the draft is one time and you have months to get ready for it, so it’s really extraordinary. But after the draft is over, everything changes. It’s all about the hype leading up to it, and if the only thing people care about is the first round, then bang away at that as hard as possible.

TM: It seems the morning show of Mike Evans and Mark Schlereth, as well as your co-host, Big Al, adamantly disagree with your take on what the Broncos are going to do with the fifth pick. In terms of content, is that a dream scenario for your program director?

DM: Yes and no. I would say yes, to the degree that it creates different points of view, but I’d also say no, because each show still has to exist on its own. Ultimately in radio, it’s about capturing a listener for 15-20 minutes a day. That’s it. If the morning show says one thing about how dumb the afternoon show is, and then I tune into the afternoon show and they’re saying how dumb the morning show is, there’s naturally a back-and-forth there, right? There’s an anticipation to hear what each one is going to say. But, the yes and no part is if one of my shows is so negative about something and they’re saying how stupid the afternoon show is, or vice versa, it’s a little bit of a crap shoot because you could just be pushing people away. If they’re just telling you how moronic everybody is, why would I pay attention? If their opinion really doesn’t matter at all, then why should I listen to them?

I think you have to keep an interesting balance. You have to be critical of each other, while still being respectful of one another. But because I’ve been so strong on the quarterback situation, most of the shows are talking about me. I’m like, woah, it didn’t have to be that way. I mean, there could have been someone else at the station that was strongly pushing for a quarterback. Overall, I’m sure Armen is happy, but if I was him, I’d go to the others shows at some point and ask if it really is possible it could be a quarterback? Because that’s how strong quarterback talk generally is with talk shows. I’ll tell you this, it’s not pre-determined. We didn’t sit around and hash it all out to decide who is going to play what role. It definitely happened organically.

TM: Every Broncos fan in the market has an opinion on what they should do with the fifth pick. How do you handle phone calls during a week like this?

DM: To me, it’s all about pace. I’ll sort of judge it as it comes. Quickly, you know, boom, boom, give your take and move on. Often times, I’ll put them on hold after they give their take, because it’s easier for them to hear our response. A lot of times, I won’t even respond to what they said, I’ll just go to the next caller. It all depends on what segment you’re doing and how long the segment is. I’m not going to say I won’t use callers, but it just depends on what we’re talking about, how we’re talking about it and what I’m looking to get out of the callers.

TM: The draft is your main topic this week. But the Avalanche just went 6 games with the Predators in the NHL Playoffs and the Rockies just played a three-game set at home with the Cubs. How do you sort out this week with what people care about most, to what else is going on in town?

DM: About eight years ago, a company did a survey and they showed what people want to hear about, as well as what types of things they want to hear about. The top thing they wanted to hear about was the NFL and Broncos, along with entertaining talk and inside information. That’s all I needed to know. I saw that eight years ago and it hasn’t really changed. The Rockies were No. 2 on that list and the Avalanche and the Nuggets were way down, so it’s really not that complicated for me. Whenever when one of our other teams is on the front page, not the back page, the front page, okay, let’s go. We’ll take swings on social media saying we don’t talk enough hockey, and that’s fine. What I’ve found is people don’t want you to talk about your team, they want you to praise your team, they want you to be a cheerleader. We’ll touch on the Rockies a little bit this week and wrap up the Avalanche’s season, but if you’re not the Broncos, you better be front page news for us to really dive deep on you.

TM: The Fan doesn’t have a business relationship with the Broncos. How much does that help during a week like this?

DM: I love it. There is a feeling that if we had a partnership with them, we’d have better shows, everyone would sell, but I don’t think we’d have better shows. Maybe there’s a sales aspect that would be beneficial to the company, so I’m not going to say it isn’t important, it’s just not important to me. I have to be very focused on my show. For me, personally, I was thrilled that we never gained the rights to any of the teams and that we didn’t get a business relationship directly with the Broncos, because I think that’s a huge advantage. There are things that you hear on our show and radio station that you won’t hear at other places, because they have ties to the team. I think that makes us unique. What’s also great, is that the pro athletes on our station are older so they don’t have direct ties with the team. Even though they’re friendly with John Elway and other guys, they’re speaking their mind and I think it’s fantastic. I think listeners know it, hear it, and sense it, and when they want to hear real, honest opinions, they know where to come for it.

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

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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