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Baseball Has Taken Phil Elson Everywhere

“Along with being the voice of Arkansas baseball and women’s basketball, he recently joined ESPN Arkansas in September to do a weekday afternoon show.”

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Phil Elson is really good at what he does. Yes, I realize that sounds like a very biased opinion, but there’s actually facts to back up my claim. Three, to be exact. 

Earlier this week, Elson won Arkansas Sportscaster of the Year. It was his second in as many years and third overall, with the first coming in 2009. It takes a lot of talent and respect to even win one these awards, let alone the three he’s won in the last decade.

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Life is good right now for Elson. Along with being the voice of Arkansas baseball and women’s basketball, he recently joined ESPN Arkansas in September to do a weekday afternoon show. That means his plate is normally full on a daily basis, but it also means his voice is heard all across the state of Arkansas. What’s funny, is that you can find Elson several days throughout the year in Fayetteville, the home of the Razorbacks, calling baseball and basketball. But it was in another Fayetteville where his journey began. 

Originally from Pittsburgh, the long-winding road of Elson’s career began at 18 years old in 1995 as a Minor League Baseball intern for the South Atlantic League in Fayetteville, NC. From there, he would move to a new city for each of the next six years.

In 1996, Elson moved back to Pittsburgh to intern for the Pirates doing media relations. That season, he taught himself how to score a game, a critical component to anyone doing media relations at the time. As a 20-year-old in 1997 it was another new city, as Elson found himself interning for a Double A team in Akron, Ohio. But it was in 1998 where he caught his first broadcasting break. Leaving Akron the year prior for a new opportunity on the west coast in the Pioneer League, Elson was able to talk his way into being a color commentator. The team had never heard him do a game before, because, well, he’d never done one. He was being paid peanuts and doing media relations, but his first big break had come at 21 years old. 

In 1999, Elson was the play-by-play voice of the Ogden Raptors. What’s strange, is the team offered him the job the year before, sight unseen. It was a break that seemed abnormal in the business, regardless, he was really starting to feel fortunate with how things were going in his career. Not only was Elson doing play-by-play for the first time in his life, he was also the lone voice on the broadcast. That experience proved to be invaluable. 

The new millennium saw Elson in the California League in Stockton, doing games for the Mudville Nine. He called 140 games and was, yet again, in a new city. In 2001, Elson was hired by Arkansas Travelers of Texas League. His career had taken him from coast-to-coast and everywhere else in between.

Elson was the first person the Travelers ever sent on road games. Before, the team had only done home broadcasts. For the next 14 years, Elson was riding Texas League busses and doing everything else that goes along with Minor League Baseball, such as advertising, making the website, doing stats, writing game stories and handling official scoring. 

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During his long stint with the Travelers, Elson was also able to call women’s basketball for Arkansas-Little Rock. For eight years, he was combining doing two sports, along with another opportunity that came along with Henderson State in 2011 to call football games. Calling games is what Elson did. And he was really good at it. 

In 2011, Elson picked up fill-in roles for Arkansas baseball games. Though it wasn’t full-time or permanent, he used the opportunity to establish relationships. That would prove to be key. In the summer of 2014, Chuck Barrett stepped down from his duties of calling Razorback baseball and soon after, Elson was named as the new-play-by-play voice.  

Along with being granted the duties of Arkansas baseball, he was also named the voice of Razorbacks women’s basketball, as well. In terms of hosting a sports radio show, Elson had experience with a station outside Little Rock, producing and hosting on a limited basis, until an ownership change saw people being let go. Now, his new opportunity at ESPN Arkansas as a co-host of Halftime has seen him blossom into a successful show host. 

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“I was nervous about doing a show with him at first,” said co-host Tye Richardson. “I didn’t know how the chemistry would mesh. In all honesty, it’s been a blast. Phil has a great sense of humor and we play off the young millennial & middle age guy dynamic throughout the show. He can be serious and joke around on some occasions which some guys can’t do. He also adds a different element to the station concerning Arkansas baseball, which we haven’t had before. We don’t agree on everything, but we respect each other’s opinions. That’s pretty much the best thing you can ask for in a co-host.”

TM: What’s the advantage of being the voice of the baseball team and doing a local show?

PE: I think it put me in a place where I could even have a talk show. I don’t know what it’s like, yet, to do this with baseball, because I just started doing the show in September. It will be really interesting, because you’re doing two different kinds of broadcasts for a good chunk of days. Plus, we’re on a lot of stations.

The baseball team, if it’s not the largest network in college baseball, it’s one of them. That puts you in a lot of people’s ears. We haven’t seen the impact of what it’s like for our show, yet, because once baseball season starts, and people are already counting down, our show is going to be the place to be for an inside look at the program, Without doing the baseball games, I don’t think doing this show would have been a possibility. 

TM: What are some of the biggest differences between calling baseball and women’s hoops?

PE: The sports are just completely different, but that’s been something I’ve been used to. I used to do minor league baseball and UALR women’s basketball at the same time.

I guess the challenge for me, is that I’ve been around baseball a lot longer, and while I know basketball, I’m just in the baseball culture a little bit more. I’ve hungout in a lot of clubhouses and a lot of dugouts during batting practice. I’ve hung around the batting cage and gotten tips from all types of people. That came from Minor League Baseball and I’ve tried to take the same approach with college baseball.

It’s kind of hard to do with basketball, because it’s a culture I’m a part of, but maybe not as in the weeds as baseball. But I really like covering women’s basketball, because it’s fun and everyone is really nice. 

TM: What’s going to happen when Arkansas had a mid-week game on the road or you’re traveling on a Thursday to Baton Rouge to play LSU. How do you still fulfill your commitment to your daily show at ESPN Arkansas?

PE: There may be a couple days, here and there, where it’s an issue but our timeslot lends itself to not being a problem. Noon-2 works when your travel is after 3:00. What’s great about this show is that I’m mobile. The show is based out of Fort Smith, I’m doing it in Little Rock, where I live. But I’m also doing it from Bud Walton Arena or a hotel in Knoxville, or Mizzou Arena and Baum Stadium as well as other ballparks in the SEC.

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To be able to pull that off, I don’t think that will be a problem. What that becomes, is added attraction to the show. Our first really big road series that I’m going to be able to do, is against Texas in Austin. How awesome is it going to be doing the show from Disch-Falk Field? I’ll be doing the show and leading right into the broadcast that’s on the same station. That’s awesome. 

TM: How humbled are you that you’ve won your third Sportscaster of the Year award?

PE: What’s humbling, is seeing the other names of people that have won it the same number of times. They’re the greats, when it comes to sports casting history in this state. I don’t look at myself in the same way as them.

Guys like Paul Eells, Chuck Barrett, Bud Campbell, Steve Sullivan, it’s very humbling to even be considered in that group. What’s also really humbling is that the people who have a sense of what you really do, voted for me. You definitely care what your listeners think, you care what your bosses think and even I want our coaches at Arkansas to hear good things about the broadcast. But when it comes from people that actually do this, it carries a different weight. 

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

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

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

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

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

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

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

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

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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