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Mark Packer Q&A Part 2

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When I caught up with Mark a week ago he had just returned from the Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and Texas. For those who aren’t aware, the game is just part of the weekend. The game takes place at the old Cotton Bowl stadium and is also part of the Texas State Fair. Food, Fun, and Football? Sounds like a perfect Mark Packer weekend.

Matt: You just got back from your first trip to the Red River Showdown. Sounds like a perfect Mark Packer weekend. Can you give me some of the highlights from your trip?

Pack:  Number one—it was a perfect Mark Packer weekend. It involved everything being deep fried and it was a great football atmosphere. I’ve been to Georgia-Florida which is great– “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party!” This is Georgia-Florida on steroids because you throw it into the state fair of Texas which has been going on since 1886. When I say they deep fry anything…if it moves they deep fry it. The fair has 277 acres and I saw every square inch of it.

Then you throw in Texas and Oklahoma—a pair of teams ranked in the top 20 for the first time since 2012—stadium is split right down the middle, 50/50. Fans were great. People were great. The bands were great! The food was great! The weather was great and oh by the way Texas won 48-45 on basically a walk-off field goal. If you have the chance to go—you must go!

Image result for texas oklahoma field goal

Another thing that made it cool is that it’s still played in the Cotton Bowl. In this day and age where everyone builds the brand, spanking new multi-billion dollar stadium—and Texas certainly has that in “Jerry’s World.” There’s still something cool that it’s still at the old Cotton Bowl that’s been hosting this game since 1929.

Is it a beautiful place? No, but if you’re a college football junkie and historian like I am you remember all the incredible games that have been played in that stadium. To have 92,000 split between the Crimson and the Burnt Orange it was the first time I’ve ever seen it and IT WAS AWESOME!!

Matt: One of my favorite parts of your shows is when a caller calls in and tells you they’re going to a college campus for the first time and invariably you have great advice on where to eat, tailgating, where to go after the game, you name it. How did that start and how do you have such a vast knowledge of all these college campuses?

Pack: I’m Old!! (laugh) Seriously though, it probably started when I was a kid. My old man is Billy Packer and he would take me on college trips with him when I was a young knucklehead. I started seeing things that just became normal and commonplace in our world. When I went to college at Clemson I loved going on road trips as a student for a road football game. I have always loved the aspect of tailgating as part of the fabric of college football, even the fabric of college basketball for that matter.

When I finally got into doing radio I thought all that would be a neat thing to incorporate into the show. That’s when I started a thing called “The Southern Fried Football Tour.” I did that back in 1998 and I incorporated the name and started the company. Trademarked the name and turned it into a radio program, TV program, website, merchandise and I still have it to this day. That basically encompasses everything we’re talking about. From the games to the tailgating to the food to what you eat, what you bring, where you need to drink, where you need to eat. You name it. It started when I was a kid growing up with Billy and I thought it was a neat lifestyle thing to add to the radio show. I’ve been doing it now for twenty some odd years on radio and some on television.

That’s all part of the coolness of what sports can do. There’s nothing better than a great game to bring people together but there’s nothing better than food and drink to do the same thing. To me they’re the perfect match, the perfect marriage–why not do that on-air?

Matt:  It seems to me that it has been such a great way to make such a close connection to your listeners?

Pack: Here’s the other thing, I keep ridiculous notes and I still have notes from every show I’ve ever hosted back to my days at WFNZ. My wife always gets on my case, “What are you doing with all those boxes and boxes of note pads?” Everything is hand written. I told her that one of these days when I get done doing radio I’m going to write a book. I have met so many unbelievable people and have such crazy stories.  I will eventually have the time to write a book.

I have every note from interviews to crazy stats to food to restaurants. It looks like a Leonardo Da Vinci scribble of my show notes. I always keep a running tablet of suggestions I get from fans. It’s a great ice breaker. It’s cool when you go on the road and try certain things. When I went to the Texas State Fair I couldn’t wait to have a deep fried Snickers. How good is that gonna taste?

Image result for texas state fair deep fried snickers

Matt: It seems like you are the busiest man in radio—you’re doing two shows a day and travelling almost every weekend to a college campus or big game site. How do you do it all and to the level of quality you have set for yourself?

Pack: Number one—I love to work. To me, this is not work. I love sports. I love people. To me mowing the yard, cleaning the gutters, washing windows-that’s work. I read constantly so you’re constantly acquiring content and information and coming up with creative ideas of how to present stuff on the air. I love that part of it. To me that is the most fun part of what we do—having the ability to create.

Every day is a blank canvas and I treat it that way. Whether your show is great or it’s a disaster and you hope they’re not disasters—you want people to be entertained. When they get in their car from having a real job, not what we do, you want them to turn on the radio and say ‘that guy right there has the greatest job in the world and it sounds like he is having the most fun of anybody on the planet.” I have that in my head before every show. I may be having a terrible day personally, but I know that from 7-10am ET on the ACC Channel and from 4-7pm ET on “Off Campus” on ESPNU Radio  I’m gonna give you the impression that I have the world by the “you know what.” Even if I’m having a lousy day, I’m not gonna have a lousy day on your time.

We get into great content and topics. I want it to be different and entertaining every day. I also think that in this day and age that people are always worried about how a show should be done. There’s a thousand different ways to have a successful show. I always think it’s cool to get feedback from our listeners. I love to listen. It’s probably the biggest trait I’ve acquired over a couple of decades. Not necessarily to talk but to listen. It’s amazing how often I will learn something about a team, a player, a coach by just listening to one of our listeners who calls in.

Going back to your question of how I do it all in a day. I don’t sleep much. I don’t sleep but a couple of hours a day. It may just be the fact that I’m a San Francisco Giants fan living on the east coast. I’m used to staying up late watching them lose. I just get used to two hours a night. I’ve gotten into a routine when I know when I need 30 minutes for myself just to get re-energized between shows. The travelling part, I’ve always loved to travel. I’d much rather be working than not working. I kinda look at it that way. If I feel that I’m slipping or the show is slipping because I’m not focused or dialed-in, then I’ll kick back and decide to go forward or go backwards. Right now, I just love to work. I love what I do.

Matt: There have been so many crazy things that have happened on your shows throughout the years. What is the craziest and most unexpected thing that has happened on one of your shows?

Pack: For folks who listened to our “Primetime with the Packman” show in Charlotte, we had always opened the show with the James Brown song “Living in America” as the theme song for the show. I don’t remember what year this happened. One night, it was the night of a Duke-UNC basketball game which is a big deal in North Carolina. One of the guys on our show was nicknamed “Hayseed.” Hayseed hated North Carolina and he had a bet with a listener about wearing a t-shirt or sweatshirt depending on who won the game.

With about 15 minutes left in the show we get a phone call and it turns out that James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, is listening to our show. The reason he’s listening to our show is because he’s coming to Charlotte to perform the next night. He’s listening to this crazy banter about Duke-North Carolina. He calls our show. So I have two co-hosts at the time and we bring on James Brown and what I hear sounds like gibberish and you know immediately it’s really James Brown.

Now I realize we’re talking to James Brown and I don’t know a word he’s saying. For the next 15 minutes I pretend I know every word he’s saying. I’m focusing so hard to just pick out one word so I can setup the next question with James Brown. You can’t understand a word he says. We go for 15 minutes. My co-hosts are on the floor laughing and I do the entire interview by myself. We get done with the interview and I rip my co-hosts sideways. Here I am trying to conduct an interview with one of the most iconic figures in America and you guys are laughing on the floor. That’s how we end the show.

The next day we start the show at 3pm and North Carolina has beaten Duke—meaning Hayseed has to wear a North Carolina sweatshirt, but he refuses to wear it. Now the North Carolina fans are coming out of the woodwork wanting to kick his rear end. They are really mad at him! All he’s done is talk trash all week and he won’t wear the sweatshirt.

We get to the last hour of the show. My producer, Daniel Norwood, who now is an executive at SiriusXM, comes up and says, “You’ve got to see something.” He grabs me and brings me over to the window; we’re on the third floor. I look out the window and there is a caravan of cars—limos, all kinds of cars. It turns out that James Brown and his entire band have showed up to our studios to hang out with us. The doors open up for the last hour, here’s James Brown, his backup singers—the whole band.

Every Friday on our show we would have Bubba’s BBQ. We had ribs, chicken and mac and cheese. The next hour on the air, James Brown is singing, they’re raising hell; they’re having a good time. It was a gospel, one hour free-for-all. It was unbelievable!

He was dressed head to toe because they are going right from our studio to the concert. He’s got the robe, he’s got the hairdo working, and he’s ready to go. At the end of the hour, on the air, James Brown says “Where’s that Hayseed?” So I point to the window. James Brown says, “Hayseed let me tell you something, brother. You ain’t nothing unless you’re a man of your word. Put on the sweatshirt!” He puts on the sweatshirt and that’s the end of the show.

That’s what makes live radio great!

Mark Packer can be heard weekdays on SiriusXM. From 7-10am Eastern he co-hosts “ACC this Morning” on ACC Channel 371 and from 4-7pm Eastern he hosts “Off Campus” on ESPNU Radio, SiriusXM 84.

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Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

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How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.

But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?

As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.

Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.

Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.

I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.

What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.

As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.

Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.

But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.

Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.

There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.

I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.

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Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not

“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”

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There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City. 

Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in. 

A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.

“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”

Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show

“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”

He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.

“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”

For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.

“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”

“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”

So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN. 

But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.

“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.

“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”

But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.

“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”

He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.

“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”

Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely. 

Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task. 

“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”

Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm. 

Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success. 

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Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”

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The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.

The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.

Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.

But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.

When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.

There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.

And the fans know it.

The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person. 

In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night. 

They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.

And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.

I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.

A star is born.

When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”

And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.

But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.

“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”

He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.

“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”

But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.

“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.

And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.

Resonating with Boston 

When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.

It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said. 

While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time. 

Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.

“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”

But there just may be something else at play.

“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”

The Family Dynamic 

Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.

But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?

“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”

“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”

What’s Next?

At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?

“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”

Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.

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