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A Conversation With Paul Finebaum, Part 1

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Paul Finebaum is a force in college football and the national media. His daily show airs via ESPN Radio and the SEC Network from 3-7pm Eastern. He recently signed a three-year contract extension to remain with ESPN. This is part one of my three-part Q&A with him. 

Matt:  With everything that’s going on with Urban Meyer at Ohio State right now, I wanted to get your take on where he went wrong and what’s going to happen. 

Paul:  It’s fascinating to watch these stories unfold. For some context, I was in a room at the Sheraton in Hartford at ESPN’s college football seminar when the story broke. At the time I was listening to a conversation about rules and I kept showing the story to people around me and they didn’t really react.  I went outside and ran into a former Ohio State player and said “What do you think?” and he said, “Well don’t forget Urban Meyer won a national championship three years ago.” 

I thought “is that gonna matter in today’s world?” By the end of the hour the dynamic had changed. We all did our typical rush to judgement but I think in the world that we live in, that’s what we do.  We’re influenced by the first couple of opinions we see. As a person who was brought up in journalism, I always want to be careful not to jump to a conclusion. I left there (Connecticut) to come to LA and after flight delays and ten hours of flying I found myself live at 130am Eastern Time doing SportsCenter from LA being asked the question I had been avoiding all day.

I was glad that I had 12 hours to think about it. Unfortunately nowadays we don’t have 12 hours to think about it. We just immediately give the first opinion that comes to our mind. If you’re on a radio show, television or on Twitter that opinion is going to influence people.  It’s a dynamic that I think creates a lot of issues—very negative issues—but it’s the reality that we live in. You can be king of the hill at 10am and a disgraced bum by dinner time. 

Matt: Isn’t it the case that people are encouraged to have “hot takes” on the story of the day and it becomes a firestorm that feeds itself and is the Urban Meyer firestorm lessoned by the fact that Brett McMurphy reported it? 

Paul:  I found that (McMurphy reporting it on his Facebook page) to be the most interesting part of the story. A lot of people waited on the story because he did not have to go through a normal vetting channel (if he had worked for a news organization). Urban Meyer calls this guy (McMurphy) out last week and he has time and ability. He researches, reports and writes the story because he really had nothing to lose.

That’s one of the problems in our industry today is that we all have so much to lose that we are more careful than we have ever been on the one hand and more reckless than we have ever been on another. It is an utterly bizarre time to be alive in the media industry. 

I have a lawyer friend of mine who likes to critique my ESPN appearances.  He says, “You really need to be more careful. You need to say there’s two sides of the story.”  I’m thinking when you’re on with Stephen A. Smith do you really have time to say “Hold on a second Stephen A., there’s two sides to the story”?

One of the criticisms I get from my own staff is “We want more hot takes!”  Well, I’ve done the “hot takes”. I’m more trying to just moderate the conversation now than just come out of the shoot trying to see how outrageous my take can be and you’ll react to it. That’s the world we live in. I feel like I sit in a pretty good seat having done it all—and not very well at times—I can very easily see through almost anyone when they’re just saying something to say it because I’ve already done it before. I’ve already made outrageous statements.  I admit it; I’m a recovering “Hot Taker”!

Matt: Something you mentioned there cuts to the core of how you do radio which is extremely unique.  You called yourself a “moderator.” How would you describe how your style developed?

Paul: I think I learned more about myself reading a story about myself. It was a pretty famous story in The New Yorker magazine. They were quoting a guy in there and I think it was Chris Vernon. Chris Vernon is just an amazingly talented guy. I could listen to him every day, all day.

He said “I hear about this Finebaum guy and I get to Birmingham a couple of times a year and I put the show on and I’m wondering what’s the deal? The guy’s not saying anything. He sounds like a drowsy Rush Limbaugh. I’m waiting and waiting and finally a caller says ‘What do you think about what Bill Curry said about Nick Saban?’ then Finebaum says ‘Who cares about what Bill Curry thinks? He’s just a lowlife scumbag!’ Then Finebaum threw to break. I finally got it. I can’t believe it. This guy just called Bill Curry, who everyone in the world loves and respects, a pathetic, lowlife scumbag.  Then he goes to a break. I finally got it!”

I’m not sure I got it until I read that.  It’s about subtlety. I feel like I’ve got an arsenal of knives on me at all times but I choose not to use them–especially if someone is looking. I’ve done the “hot take” routine. I used to come on and bloviate, script it out. I found that I really wasn’t very good at it.

I mentioned Colin Cowherd before who I think is the best I’ve ever heard at just tackling a subject and doing it in an intellectual way, where there’s a sound argument.  I’m a little too lawyerly.  It’s not interesting radio—I’ve been to the Supreme Court—it’s not very good radio.

 

What I’m best at, if I’m good at anything, is being a symphony conductor. Start out the music and then find a way to change it. Then know where to go whether it’s the strings, percussion or horns. 

I listen to callers, I listen to interviewees intensely and intently and I’m always just looking for that moment. I take great pride in knowing where to go.  If I go to the wrong call or the wrong question to a guest, that drives me crazy. That’s what I obsess over.  It’s not something you can prepare eight hours a day for. 

Join us Tuesday August 7th for Part Two as Paul Finebaum talks about his show’s transition to ESPN

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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