Jalen Rose’s playing career was a success story in itself. A cultural icon in college as a member of Michigan’s Fab Five who went on to earn more than 100 million dollars in the NBA, his accomplishments on the court should be commended. Still, for Jalen, his second career has been just as important as his first.
As a featured personality on ESPN’s NBA Countdown, Get Up and Jalen and Jacoby, Rose is just as recognizable for his media career as he is for his playing days. Opinionated and vocal, Rose has been destined for a career behind the mic with or without basketball.
Jalen comes across as a renaissance man. If basketball was never an option, Rose would’ve found somewhere else to make his mark. He “retired” at the age of 34, but Rose had no plans to be removed from the spotlight, creating his own opportunities as one of the hardest working members of the media, while quietly shaping young minds through his charter school.
I had the opportunity to talk with Rose about his media beginnings, current gigs and how his basketball talents would fit in today’s NBA.
Brandon Contes: When did Jalen and Jacoby start? You had already been with ESPN for a bit right?
Jalen Rose: I want to say eight years ago, from 2002 – 2007 I worked for various networks while I was still in the league. I appeared on ESPN with Walton and Snapper, I went on Cold Pizza, but I was mostly working with The Best Damn Sports Show during those years. I even did some things with the NFL Network. In 2007, I started working full-time with ESPN, primarily on NBA Tonight. When I saw Bill Simmons got the green light for Grantland as a subsidiary of ESPN, I was interested.
That year at the ESPYs, I knew where all the suits would be hanging out and I went to the after party and introduced myself to Bill and told him I had an idea for a podcast. Bill said to come by the office and we’ll talk about it. A month or two goes by, I go to pitch the idea and Jacoby is there because he was overseeing the podcasts with Bill. We talked about what I wanted to do and they ask, ‘so who do you wanna do it with?’ I said, well I want to do it with you – and Jacoby said ‘Me?! I’m a producer, I don’t talk on the mic, do television or anything.’
A friend of mine did a lot of research on Jacoby’s background and who he was and then we got to hangout a couple of times and it felt like it would work really well. He went from being a producer who was here 10 years longer than me, to being a personality.
BC: So you went to them before they came to you.
JR: Yea, this was a passion project, it wasn’t in either of our contracts. We did it a few years once or twice a week, depending on studio availability. We didn’t have a spot to do it consistently, it wasn’t being promoted and that’s why I came up with the term ‘pop the trunk.’ The equivalent of an artist that’s not on a major label, so they have to sell their records to the people hand to hand.
BC: I’m thinking back to 2011. Eight years ago, I didn’t listen to podcasts, I can’t remember if I even knew what they were, so for you to be on ESPN and established in the media and still have the foresight to look at this as an opportunity into something that could grow is pretty cool. Now, looking back and seeing what Jalen and Jacoby has become, is this what you envisioned?
JR: Definitely what I envisioned and prior to that, a lot of people don’t realize my major at Michigan was Mass Communications; radio, TV, film. And most of the world doesn’t end up working in the field that they received their major. I was fortunate to do that, so I understand how the landscape works.
As a member of the Pacers, I’m playing in the 2000 finals, scoring 20 plus points a game and then in 2002, I get traded to the Bulls in February and they have nine wins. We’re not going to the playoffs! So I reached out to a contact I had at BET Madd Sports and pitched them the idea to let me cover The Finals for them. It was the Lakers and New JERSEY Nets, to show you how long ago that was.
I got my own footage, clipped and edited it, they liked it and played it. Once they used it, I turned around and pitched it to The Best Damn Sports Show and they hired me while I was still in the league.
BC: You’re on Countdown, Get Up, Jalen and Jacoby – do you have one platform you like more than others?
JR: The best thing about how it worked out is that they’re all different. I get to not only look different, but feel different. The approach is different, the content is different. The things I’m talking about on Jalen and Jacoby is more TMZ type news. When I’m on Countdown, it’s more suited and booted. It’s the biggest stage in basketball. It’s Christmas Day and noon on the West Coast, so there are 4 year olds watching and there are 90 year olds watching, which means the content and jokes are different. Get Up is more like a SportsCenter type show. Being able to express myself in three different ways keeps it from ever becoming mundane.
BC: Jalen and Jacoby feels like a more personal platform – the audience gets to know you more on that show than anywhere else. They’ve seen you, and I’m sure people recognize you from everything, but you probably have a hardcore fan-base that comes from Jalen and Jacoby.
JR: It’s also the longest thing I’ve done. Get Up just started a year ago and I started doing Countdown in 2012. It is a different audience and I’ve been able to distinguish the difference. The 40 and older crowd comes up to me and talks about Get Up and Countdown; 40 and younger wants to talk about J and J.
BC: Was Mass Communications a degree you fell into, or is it something you always had an interest in when you were younger?
JR: I definitely didn’t fall into it. I’ve been very vocal and outspoken for a really long time and I felt like I needed to channel that and be part of the sport I love. I was a McDonald’s All-American and then part of the Fab Five, but you should always be thinking about what you’re going to do next.
To be able to produce a documentary for ESPN, The Fab Five, to be able to have a radio show, a podcast, contributing to Countdown, Get Up, After the Buzzer and Jalen and Jacoby – it’s a juggling act that I was hoping to have and I’m really appreciative of the opportunities.
BC: What did you do with NFL Network?
JR: I was doing breakdowns of the NFL and current events. At the time, I was on with Warren Sapp and Deion Sanders. I know and love football just as much as basketball.
BC: People know you as a basketball player, they look at you as basketball focused and your media career has been mostly focused on the NBA. Do you like that? Or do you prefer talking about a variety of sports and topics?
JR: That’s why I like having multiple opportunities. In high school, I always prided myself academically and not falling into the stereotype of being a dumb jock. It’s the same thing in the media. Closed-minded people will look at a woman and say ‘what is she doing talking about football?’ But that’s their insecurities and that’s them not being open-minded. It’s the same exact thing with me. I knew I wanted to break barriers for basketball players.
If you look at the landscape of Monday through Friday shows, the perception is that football is king, so you see a lot more football players on those shows, Golic, Marcellus Wiley, Michael Strahan, Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe – I’m the only basketball player and it’s been like that for a really long time.
I knew this when I joined Numbers Never Lie a few years ago, because I wanted to be the person to break the barrier for former NBA players to show we can talk about the sport we played, but still have the knowledge to talk about other sports. Again, it’s not for everyone. Just because you played basketball in the league, doesn’t mean you’re a good basketball analyst. Same with the NFL – there are people who didn’t play either sport that are still great at covering it, so I don’t have a lot of those preconceived stereotypes that a lot of people have when they initially see somebody talk about something that they’re not initially famous for.
BC: Right and sometimes we see former players that go and be an analyst for one year, it might not work out, and they go away.
JR: Ohh I like what you did there. [Laughs]
BC: [Laughs] But it is crazy how fans of the NBA will look at a basketball player and if you’re talking about the NFL, they have the thought, ‘what does he know about the NFL?’ Meanwhile, they’re just a fan that assumes they know more than you about the NFL, so why can’t you also be a fan?
JR: Right! You get to talk about every sport, but I only get to talk about the NBA!
BC: It’s crazy that becoming a professional athlete takes away the ability to talk about or analyze whatever sport you want, but I can talk about any sport because I never played. It’s an odd stereotype to have to overcome.
JR: [Laughs] It’s hypocritical, but I’m here to break those barriers. I worked for Top Rank boxing for years, I was doing things with the NFL – you just have to earn the respect of the public and I’ve been able to do that. But that’s why I like having different shows. Because on Countdown the focus is NBA, on Get Up it’s current events and on Jalen and Jacoby it’s whatever we want to talk about, so I have that freedom to talk about more than basketball.
BC: Being a Mass Communications major, if you didn’t make it in the NBA, do you think you would be as successful in media as you are? Was it the NBA that gave you that opportunity? I mean you’re opinionated, you look good and sound good on camera – would media opportunities still have been there without the NBA?
JR: I hope so. It wasn’t because people felt like I was such a superstar that I got an opportunity. I had to work for it. A lot of people that now work in the industry that I see on national platforms, I covered them when they played. As I see them wanting to work in the media, they treat me as someone they want to come to for advice because they see the opportunities I’ve been able to garner. So I’d like to think I would have made opportunities even without basketball.
BC: Was it disappointing the way Get Up transformed so quickly? At first it was going to be Greeny, you and Michelle and it quickly changed. You’re still featured on it, but it’s not what the show was promoted as in the beginning.
JR: Right and that’s the industry. We work in sports. Teams and coaching staffs change all the time. Just because you draw it up one way, that doesn’t mean that’s how it will end up.
The premise of Get Up still got accomplished. The show initially started in April and the NBA Finals were a sweep in June. We all know when it’s the dog days of baseball and there’s no basketball or football in July and August, that’s your chance to rail against a show and everybody took their shots.
There are tiers to it as well. You’re ESPN. You’re the bully on the block. People question it because “you have the nerve to box us out and take more real estate?”.
A lot of the chatter on blogs and social media can also come from competitors and enemies, so it might not be unbiased. The other thing is just the competitive spirit of the industry. People will question, “they’re starting a new show and I’m not on it?” People that are talent for this network and other networks were calling their agents to say they want to be on this show.
Beadle decided with the company to make a change. She felt more comfortable being in LA and they found a way to make that happen. But now all of a sudden in September you go from three hours to two hours, the rating is going to be better. Having a show during football and NBA season, the ratings, again, will be better. Now all of a sudden the show has staying power. For me, it’s just been about learning to ignore the noise.
BC: How about with NBA Countdown and the amount of times it’s transformed since starting in 2002 compared to TNT where they’ve had mostly the same crew for decades. Should Countdown have more stability with personnel on the show?
JR: I think people need to put more respect on Countdown’s name. As the longest tenured person on that show, I’ve seen the dynamics of searching for respect and an identity with the public, to now this year, where whether it’s ratings or social clips, it’s looking eye to eye with Inside the NBA on TNT. That’s an absolute fact. It’s different media. We’re a pregame show that sometimes comes on at noon. They’re late night television. So yeah, they can have their feet up on the desk.
First off, I love them; Ernie, Kenny and Chuck. I actually worked there. I did sideline and studio for them earlier in my career. They are the best. I do love them tremendously and I’m entertained by their show as much as anybody.
They have their lane, they own it and they’re great, but we have our lane too. We have to continue to own it. When you continue to make certain changes, whether it’s on or off the camera, it just gives people the opportunity to say, ‘if they don’t believe in it than why should we?!’ This year’s team was great. I love working with Beadle, Paul and Chauncey. We’ve done just as well, if not better, than any time the show has been on ESPN. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.
BC: As busy as you are in media with all of the different shows on ESPN, you also have the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot in the last year, but I only heard about your charter school after LeBron James started the “I Promise” school.
JR: Interesting. Thank you, LeBron, for making this mainstream. So we’re tuition-free, public charter, open enrollment. I’m the founder of the school, president of the board and we were founded in 2011. We decided to stagger the enrollment to create a culture of learning and at the time, 90% of the students we were getting couldn’t do math or read at a 9th grade level. We have special needs students as well. We’re grades nine through 12 for high school and have 13 through 16 support for all of our scholars, whether it’s college, military or trade school. I’m really proud to have a successful 9 through 16 model where this year, not only did we see another class graduate high school, but also have some scholars graduate college, which really saw the model play out the way we hoped.
BC: What made you start JRLA?
JR: We deal with kids in the inner city of Detroit that obviously have their family challenges, as well as a fiscal dynamic to overcome. We call it bridging the education gap because we have students that get $7,800 from the state, no scholarship money for college, zero state funding for our facilities.
We’re taking that young person and having them compete for the same spot in college and life opportunities as the kids going to suburban public and private schools are afforded. Unfortunately, in our country the quality of your education is not necessarily determined by your skill and will, it’s determined by your zip code.
BC: Were you motivated to start it on your own, or did someone else have the idea and ask you for help?
JR: As a student athlete, I took pride in my academics. I took pride in being a really good student and making the honor roll in high school. In college, as part of the Fab Five, I was proud to make the Dean’s List. I’m proud to be a college graduate and I’m fortunate to be a former player that left school early and went back to get my degree. Education was always important to me.
BC: I’m curious if you have any interest in creating a sports media program for kids to teach them about TV, radio and media. You mentioned wanting to pave the way and break barriers for NBA players, how about doing the same to create more diversity in media? You look around the industry and it’s still white male dominated.
JR: Well the beautiful thing about our school is that’s actually happening. We basically operate as an 11-month school. In July, we created something called “Summer Session.” For students that fail a class, they go to summer school. For every other student, they get a college experience, and/or set up with an internship of their choice.
For example, we’ve had students intern with a friend of mine at Funny or Die, Mike Farah. We’ve had internships at Quicken Loans with Dan Gilbert, internships with the Pistons, Roc Nation.
If you’ve ever heard the word Detroit or seen Michigan on a map, I’ve probably reached out to you for a donation, to get the word out or an internship because the point you made is exactly what I hope to do. We’re doing things that, respectfully, don’t get done in this space with a public school budget and without a corporation standing behind me with a blank check. We need relationships with businesses like Jeep and Puma, because it’s been reported that public education and many schools can be extinct in 20 years. Those relationships and our donors are the heartbeat that makes us tick.
BC: I think it’s really cool to see how involved you are in the school as someone that played in the NBA, was a star player, but still graduated college and emphasizes education. And you’ve used that education to help with a successful second career in the media. I think it helps to improve diversity in itself because kids can see someone who worked hard at it first-hand.
JR: And in the off-season in particular, when I’m in Detroit and I’m doing Get Up or Jalen and Jacoby, I’m actually doing it from the school, JLRA. So I continue to talk to students and show them what it’s like in front of and behind the camera, and expose them to jobs that they don’t necessarily know exist, which is really important to the point you made.
BC: It’s not only difficult for minorities in the industry, but women as well. What did you think about it taking LaVar Ball going on First Take and being disrespectful to Molly for ESPN to back away from using him? Even though this isn’t new for LaVar, we saw him be disrespectful to Christine Leahy on Fox Sports, but continue to be flaunted in the media.
JR: She appreciated how ESPN came out to support her. The one thing about being married to someone, is you have to applaud their strength and trust their ability to handle things, and the way she handled herself on and off camera, I applaud that. My whole context of what was said and how it was said was to first and foremost ask her what she thought and how she felt, because I was watching it live, but I wanted to ask her how she felt about it when she finished work. Once I realized her feelings mirrored how I felt about it, then I respectfully – because I’ve been one of the most supportive people for the Ball family, I even jokingly asked LaVar to adopt me at one point – but after it went down, I did reach out to him via text and tried to call him.
I didn’t want it to leave a stain. I didn’t want Molly to be upset or feel disrespected at her job and feel like she didn’t get the support she needs or deserves, but I also didn’t want LaVar and I to be trending in the wrong way because that’s counterproductive for everyone. He’s a husband, a father, a CEO of a company, so I understand what comes with that and the way you’re expected to carry yourself. I just applaud how Molly carried herself. She’s a veteran in this industry, she’s a professional, she’s strong and that’s what I love about her.
I’m not here to give him advice, but if I was LaVar and I noticed the comment rubbed her the wrong way and was consumed in a way that was unflattering – I understand he’s always been unapologetic, but I still would’ve taken the opportunity to note in my press release ‘for Molly and anyone that was offended.’ But I’ll get a chance to talk with him and we’ll see where it goes from there.
BC: I grew up watching you so I need to ask you about basketball. How would you have fared in today’s NBA? You’re 6’7”, 6’8”, you can play big at the point, shoot the three – how would your talents have translated to today’s NBA?
JR: I was fortunate enough to be one of the best players on a team that went to the NBA Finals. I won Most Improved Player, Player of the Week and I was fortunate enough to walk into a front office where they paid me maximum dollars to play NBA basketball. If I was able to accomplish that in an era where the rules were different and a lot more physical compared to now, you have more three point shooting, load management is a real thing – I think my averages would’ve jumped a bit.
BC: Would you have focused on the three-pointer more?
JR: Reggie Miller, as one of the greatest shooters we’ve ever seen in the game, I think the most three’s he ever took in one game is what James Harden and Steph Curry are taking EVERY game. We came from an era of efficiency – if you miss a couple of threes, you weren’t going to keep shooting. You wouldn’t get the chance to take 15 or 20 threes in a game. Now, the league has become three-point happy with the feeling that a contested three is a better shot than an open two. But we just saw an NBA Finals where a team that didn’t have a lottery pick on their roster, focused on taking the best shot available and they won the championship. I would say that’s how I would still play.
BC: Do you like the way the NBA has changed and continues to modernize every year?
JR: First off, I think the NBA has the best commissioner in sports with Adam Silver. Even moves like changing the lottery odds for teams that were tanking, then the lottery happens, you look up and it’s LA, New York, Memphis and New Orleans as the Final Four. Every conspiracy theorist at that moment knows it’s going to be LA and New York going one and two! Then when it’s New Orleans and Memphis getting the top two picks, the two smallest markets in the league, it’s a method that no longer rewards tanking, so yea, I love the progression of the NBA with things like that.
I like pace and space. I like open floor. Everyone calls it a guard driven league, but the dominant wing ultimately has a say in who wins a championship, and the big man has slowly made a resurgence. You look around the league and you see Giannis, Anthony Davis, Jokic, Embiid – there are some great quality big men in the league right now.
BC: You mention big men making a resurgence, is everything cyclical? Will analytics ever become less important with more emphasis on the eye test? Or do you see the league going even more the way of specialized stats like baseball, even football using it for things like judging where and when you want a running back to attack an o-lineman.
JR: Right now it’s going more down that path of advanced metrics and analytics. Having all of the information is never bad. Knowing how many times a running back can go off tackle or how many times a lineman can absorb a hit, I want that information. I want everything that’s available. But I don’t think the final decision should be based on a metric or number. If I’m buying a car, I wanna touch it, I wanna smell it, I wanna feel it, I wanna get in and out of the car, test drive it, pose by it. I want all of the information that’s under the hood, even though I’m never going to put my head under the hood. But I’m not buying a car online. I’m not making a decision based on only stats or numbers. Numbers can be manipulated. I like when I’m looking at a player and the measurables I see and the comps they remind me of add up with the numbers, not the other way around.
The Houston Rockets have been at the forefront of analytics and I love Daryl Morey. I voted James Harden MVP, I played for Mike D’Antoni. And right now they go into the offseason thinking, ‘how can we make more threes than twos’, but the opposing defense knows that too.
BC: With everything you’ve done and accomplished, you’re a great role model for kids to have goals and work hard, but professional athletes have different views on whether or not they’re role models. Did you always view yourself as that? Because even when I was younger, I didn’t like superheros or Power Rangers, I liked basketball, and they filled that entertainment void.
I rooted for the Knicks, but the Pacers were the antagonist and villains I built in my head. If I saw you, Reggie Miller or Rik Smits walking in the street, I probably would’ve ran as if I saw Shredder from the Ninja Turtles, so you’re naturally going to be viewed as larger than life characters by kids.
JR: [Laughs] Respectfully, I understand it’s just hard enough for us to function as people because we’re consumed by so much information constantly. Some people only want to focus on your backyard, not wanting to accept the responsibility that comes with influencing others in a positive way because you have your own friends and family and kids. It is an extra effort.
But the idea that any person can’t be a role model is naïve. You don’t have to be an athlete or an entertainer. You can be a parent, guardian, teacher, you can just be a leader in your community, and that’s how I was raised. I saw people in my family that always tried to give back and help others, so that was instilled in me and I always felt like if I got in the position to do so, if I was fortunate enough to do so, I would be a role model. And it doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, you just need to care about others and do what you can to influence people in a positive way.
Unusually, one of the things that helped spark it for me, was the realization that so many people were naming their kids Jalen.
BC: Right, you said your mom invented that name?!
JR: Yes, my biological father is James Walker, number 1 pick in the 1967 NBA draft and my uncle Leonard took her to the hospital to give birth. I recall being a young NBA player and people would come up to me that were named Jalen. A couple years ago, I’m watching the NFL draft and you hear Jalen Ramsey, and the NBA draft, Jaylen Brown. It’s taken on a life of its own and people don’t name their kids after people they don’t like or don’t respect, because names are symbols.
BC: What are your future goals? I know Stephen A. Smith has talked about wanting a late night show, we’ve seen Michael Strahan gobble up jobs in the media to where now there are probably some people that watch him every day and don’t even know he used to play football. Where do you see your career going?
JR: I absolutely love what I’m doing right now. NBA Countdown is the biggest stage in basketball. Christmas Day, the whole world is watching, The NBA Finals is on ABC – network television. Jalen and Jacoby and Get Up are both Monday through Friday shows and I’m really fortunate to work on both of them, but I would like to produce more projects.
I produced a Fab Five documentary, I co-produced Jalen vs. Everybody, a project with Nahnatchka Khan. I would like to do more of that, I also love game shows and trivia shows! Family Feud, Jeopardy, Price is Right. I love game shows and would like to host one of those and lastly, to own the Detroit Pistons.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Which Network Has the Best NFL Pregame Show?
I watched for chemistry on the panel, the personality of the group as a whole and the value of the information the show provided to get me ready for the game.
It’s far too early to start handing out awards in the NFL, with a few weeks left in the season. But it’s never too early to rank the various NFL pregame shows on the main and cable networks.
Talented people coming together to get the viewer ready for that week’s slate of games. Human interest stories, fantasy football news, and reports from the “insiders” make for standard Thursday/Sunday/Monday viewing.
Who does it all best on Sunday specifically? Last Sunday, I was able to get a good look at the shows. I watched for chemistry on the panel, the personality of the group as a whole, and the value of the information the show provided to get me ready for the game.
The shows are listed in ranked order from the best to the sixth best.
#1 – FOX NFL Sunday
The current crew is led by Curt Menefee, who is the host and moderator. Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, and Michael Strahan make up the main ensemble. Rob Gronkowski has made a few appearances this season. The FOX NFL Sunday insider is Jay Glazer.
This show is celebrating 30 years on the air this season and while there are only a few of the original members still on the show, it remains the cream of the crop. I just like the personality of the collective group. Johnson, Long, and Bradshaw have been there from the beginning and the seamless addition of Strahan makes it work even better. The show comes across as so natural. The conversations seem to flow like they are just football fans sitting around talking about the game they all love and either played or coached at the highest level.
Menefee is the perfect, “referee/moderator/traffic cop” for the show. He is really smooth making transitions from topic to topic and keeping things rolling. A ringmaster is needed from time to time when Bradshaw starts playing with his panel mates. He is the ultimate teammate, and isn’t afraid to make fun of himself or join in on a “bit”.
Glazer is a polarizing figure, coming off as “brash” at times, but there’s no arguing his sources and information. Usually, Glazer breaks his news on the show, as opposed to social media. Most of the time the info he provides is first seen on the show. It’s top-notch.
Each panelist is strong in opinion without shouting it and getting into heated arguments about the point. As I mentioned these are all guys that have major personalities, but they seem to understand the dynamic. They look at their show as something greater than the sum of their parts. It really works and is the gold standard amongst the national studio shows.
FOX NFL Sunday is a clear choice for the top spot.
#2 The NFL Today (CBS)
Today’s cast includes James Brown, Nate Burleson, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, and Phil Simms. JJ Watt will make a few appearances this season. The “insider” is Jonathan Jones.
Back in the day, this was my go-to show. My brother and I would mimic the music all the time. We couldn’t wait for a “You are looking live” from Brent Musburger. But the show has changed since its time in the mid-1970s.
The NFL Today returned to CBS after the network acquired the broadcast rights to AFC games in 1998. The current format of this pregame show began in 1975 with Musburger hosting, with Phyllis George, and Irv Cross. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder joined in 1976. The NFL Today was, for 18 years, the highest-rated program in its time slot.
The latest iteration of The NFL Today is hosted by James Brown. He’s been in the lead chair since leaving Fox after the 2005 season. Brown has a smoothness about his delivery that really works. He never tries to be the center of attention, deferring to his esteemed colleagues on the set. Brown really sets the tone for the show, infusing a little humor into the situation when needed.
Esiason has been with the show since 2002 and is the longest-tenured current member of the panel. Esiason and Simms, the two former quarterbacks, like to get after each other once in a while, but sometimes it seems a bit forced. Esiason exudes personality, Simms does not.
Bill Cowher adds credibility having been a highly successful NFL coach with the Steelers. His opinions are usually strong and from time to time, that scowl he was famous for on the field, comes across on the set. Burleson has become somewhat of a rising star at CBS, bursting on the scene in 2017. In addition to his NFL Today duties, he co-hosts CBS Mornings and appears on Nickelodeon as well.
While this show is certainly a good watch, it doesn’t feel as “unrehearsed” to me as the show on FOX. Some of the commentary and subsequent arguments feel staged and not as organic as I’d like to see. The panel looks like they’re having fun, with Esiason usually driving the boat. Simms gives off a different type of vibe, almost like he’s still angry at not being in a booth calling games. I get it, I would be too, but you have to steer into the skid and join in on the fun or you stand out for the wrong reasons. Cowher is solid and gives great insight and I like Burleson too.
The NFL Today is a solid show, but solid only gets you second place in these rankings.
#3 – NFL GameDay Morning (NFL Network)
This show includes Rich Eisen as host, with panelists Steve Mariucci, Kurt Warner, and Michael Irvin. Ian Rapaport is the “insider” and we get info on analytics from Cynthia Frelund.
Eisen is such a great host. His demeanor is perfect for sports and this show as well. It’s a perfect blend of substance and sarcasm that keeps NFL GameDay Morning entertaining and informative.
Eisen works very well with his assembled cast on the set. Mariucci provides a nice blend of comedic timing with quality information and analysis. He’s always seemed at home in front of the camera and is an easy view. Warner also seems like a natural on the air. His story of course is a great one. He played at a very high level, and I like how he comes across as an everyday guy and isn’t pompous about analyzing today’s NFL. Irvin is good in doses for me. I find him yelling at me more than providing me with excellent information.
Rapaport is very good as an insider, but most of what he ‘breaks’ on the show has already been posted on social media. Still great information.
NFL GameDay Morning is a good show, I feel like sometimes it loses out because it’s on cable and isn’t a regular home for NFL games. You have to hunt for it, but the effort is worth it.
#4 – Sunday NFL Countdown (ESPN)
Now hosted by Sam Ponder, along with panelists Tedy Bruschi, Randy Moss, Rex Ryan, and newcomer Alex Smith. The “Insider” is Adam Schefter.
ESPN’s pregame show used to be appointment watching when a then-funny Chris Berman and Tom Jackson anchored the show. It once featured Mike Ditka and Ron Jaworski and was a very fun and insightful show. Sam Ponder does a nice job as the host of the latest iteration of the show. She runs the broadcast well, and tries to keep the panelists in check. Moss and Ryan provide the personality of the show, with each possessing larger-than-life personas. Bruschi provides good information, but kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Smith is learning the ropes as a first-year guy.
Schefter is one of the best “insiders” in the business, but as previously stated, most of what we see has already been reported, several times on social media.
This show has lost some of its previous luster but still has a good amount of value in the pregame show mix. It’s a tradition for some who remember the glory days and have become used to watching it every Sunday.
#5 – Football Night in America (NBC)
There have been a few changes over the last couple of years at FNIA since Mike Tirico took over as the main play-by-play guy of Sunday Night Football. Maria Taylor has stepped in as the host, with panelists, Tony Dungy, Jason Garrett, Rodney Harrison, Devin McCourty, and Chris Simms. Jac Collinsworth is a contributor. Mike Florio serves as the “insider” and Matthew Berry is the Fantasy Football guy.
Taylor is a very good host, she’s knowledgeable and asks insightful questions of her panelists. That’s where the show takes a turn for me. Dungy’s soft-spoken takes don’t really hit the mark much anymore. Garrett is still growing into his role and I’m still trying to decide whether or not I am a fan. He’s loud, but green in the game of broadcasting. The jury is still out.
I like Harrison for his edge and realism. McCourty has been a nice addition as well, adding another player perspective to things. Simms is all about the hot take and it gets annoying at times.
Collinsworth’s role is kind of weird to me. It seems like the network just put him in there, to, well, put him in there. Not much added by him. Florio provides good inside information and Berry might be the most important guy since basically the whole world plays Fantasy Football.
The NBC show seems the most sterile of the bunch and highly scripted. Many have said they do a good job of creating hype for the Sunday Night game, but I don’t see it. Just my humble opinion.
#6 – TNF Tonight (Amazon Prime Video)
The new kid on the block is Amazon Prime Video and its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. Charissa Thompson, who’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, is the host. She’s joined by a veteran and some relative newcomers. Tony Gonzalez has the most experience of the bunch, which also includes, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Richard Sherman, and Andrew Whitworth.
Thompson has always been a more than capable host, despite her recent revelation that she made up sideline reports. She has a good sense of each of her co-host’s strengths and weaknesses and tries to put each in the best light.
Gonzalez has deep knowledge of the game and a good presence in front of the camera, but he’s a little on the bland side. Fitzpatrick and Sherman are the flamboyant ones. Fitz-magic is trying to find his niche in the broadcasting game. The beard and humor are working for him, but he still has to learn about timing.
Sherman isn’t afraid to voice an opinion which is great and offers some levity to the show as well. Whitworth’s grade is incomplete. He’s very new to the studio show world and is trying to find his way.
The group will eventually create chemistry, but it’s lacking a bit now.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at [email protected].
Meet the Podcasters: Mina Kimes, ESPN
“I think fans are smarter than ever now. Because football is such a big tent, you can find pockets of the audience with every level of knowledge and preference for analysis.”
As 2023 inches towards the finish line, so too does our Meet the Podcasters series. We have spoken with people that found success in the space after so many different journeys. Greg McElroy and Chris Jericho were championship-winning athletes. Mike Francesa and Adam the Bull dominated local radio. Bomani Jones made his name in the digital space. We end on a bonafide sports television superstar in Mina Kimes.
If you don’t believe that, just look at the deal she signed earlier this year. She gets to stay at ESPN and carve out time to work with Meadowlark Media. Those aren’t concessions given to someone their network thinks is easy to replace.
It can be tough to find time to chat as the holidays approach, so the conversation was short, but it covered a lot of ground. Why have analytics caught on with fans? Is it more fun to dissect success or to re-think failure? How do you watch a game when you have to not only understand what is happening, but figure out the best way to turn that explanation into analysis?
Obviously, I want to thank Mina and everyone else that made time to chat with me for this series. A big thank you goes to Point-to-Point Marketing as well for making these features possible. Last, but certainly not least, thanks to all of you that took the time to read even just one of these. I hope you learned a little something that you can take with you into 2024 to make your digital content more successful!
Demetri Ravanos: There is a big audience for what you do best and I sometimes wonder how much that surprises those of us that grew up in the media. Do you think the appetite for analytics and in-depth analysis is relatively new, or was the appetite always there without the right platform before the rise of digital media?
Mina Kimes: I think fans are smarter than ever now. Because football is such a big tent, you can find pockets of the audience with every level of knowledge and preference for analysis, but on the whole it really does seem to me that viewers and listeners are better informed than ever, which I’d attribute to the rise of fantasy football and the proliferation of websites and podcasts that talk about film, cap management, analytics, etc.
We see this trend playing out at NFL Live, where our nerdiest segments often capture a good deal of interest.
DR: What for you is more interesting – explaining why things aren’t as bleak as the performance may suggest (i.e., Bryce Young not having time or protection to really see what he is as a QB) or highlighting what makes the greats so great (Mahomes’ best throws, how Micah Parsons sheds blocks, etc.)?
MK: I love digging into great performances, but the first category is really compelling to me because it forces us to look beyond basic numbers and highlights (or lowlights!). That’s where I think the intersection of film and statistics is so useful – it allows us to dig deeper into tendencies and trends to explain why things are happening.
DR: When you are doing your weekend previews, what information do you prioritize? Is it storylines or is there a number or category that you try to make a staple of your analysis for everything?
MK: Once I’ve settled on which games I want to discuss, there are two things I try to zero in on: The strengths and weaknesses of each team, and how they match up.
I also make note of things I’ve observed recently (for example, if a team is leaning on a certain personnel group or formation) and then consider how it might impact the game.
DR: What about in setting those topics and discussions up? How do you watch and re-watch games, plays and moments to best understand what it is you are seeing and find the point you want to bring to the audience?
MK: When I’m watching the weekend’s games on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I’m looking for interesting (good or bad!) plays, tendencies, and trends. For example, if I notice a QB is having success targeting a specific area of the field, I’ll make note of a few plays, grab the numbers later, and then, when I’m podcasting, consider how that might play out next week.
DR: One of the big differences between podcasts and legacy media is that people listening to podcasts are actively choosing you and the topic you are talking about. Does that change the way you can discuss a game or a player versus on TV?
MK: I’d say the biggest difference isn’t topic selection, but time. On TV we only have a segment or less to hit on a matchup, whereas on my podcast, I’m often talking about the same games and players, but I have 15 minutes instead of five (and I’m one of two people chatting instead of four or five).
I will add that the topic selection process at NFL Live is very collaborative, though. We know which games we need to focus on, but the way we approach discussion is driven by our interests and observations.
DR: I am always interested in the different views on this. Podcast listeners overwhelmingly say they like video now. Is that a preference you understand or does it not make sense to you?
MK: It makes sense! Because the production quality has improved so much (the kind folks at Omaha Productions have been working with me to improve the look of my show for YouTube), many podcasts really don’t look very different from sports television.
If you’re already a listener, why wouldn’t you want to watch as well, especially since you have a convenient viewing device in your hand all day? I do think there will always be people who just listen, though, because their free time for consumption is relegated to commuting (or in my case, walking a dog!).
To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
Michelle Smallmon Didn’t Stumble Into Mornings on ESPN Radio
“The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”
It all started with an accident. While vacuuming her apartment just two days before the first episode of her new national ESPN Radio program, Michelle Smallmon tripped over an air purifier cord. As a result of the maladroit blunder, she fell face first into her coffee table and hit the inside of her eye on a drinking glass.
When Smallmon looked into the mirror, she immediately saw that her eye was bleeding and swelling up and was in a state of disbelief, although she was not surprised that this happened to her because of her inherent clumsiness. The black eye that came out of all of this turned out to be an advantageous opportunity for the program, which opened its first hour on the air with this circumstance.
Smallmon works alongside Evan Cohen and Chris Canty weekday mornings on UnSportsmanLike, the new ESPN Radio morning show that leads off a refreshed national programming lineup. Since the program is also simulcast on ESPN2, there are cameras on inside the radio studio at the Seaport District-based radio studio, granting viewers of the premiere episode an opportunity to see Smallmon’s black eye for themselves. The incident, however, provided a means for the new hosting trio to introduce themselves and showcase their personalities in an atypical fashion by recalling a calamitous occurrence from the onset.
“We have to be ourselves,” Smallmon said. “People are coming for the sports, and hopefully with our opinions and our information and the knowledge that we provide, they’ll stick around, but they’re going to remember us for who we are. The humanity and the relatability is what’s going to really bring people in.”
Once the hosts of UnSportsmanLike were finalized, Smallmon met with Canty and Cohen to determine their collective philosophy for the program. At the crux of their conversation was how sports is supposed to be an enjoyable part of people’s days, making it important to be genuine with the audience and celebrate the festivities.
“I just think that audio provides a really great way for people to weave us throughout their day and it’s something that they can come back to, and I just feel like the audio space continues to grow,” Smallmon said. “So that is really exciting to me that there are so many different avenues for us to explore in the audio space.”
Smallmon and her colleagues understand that their program that was once anchored by Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg in the mornings for 18 years, who created a show that proved to be an enduring facet to sports radio as a whole. Today, UnSportsmanLike is competing for mindshare and attention span in a dynamic media ecosystem where people can consume various types of content by equipping myriad methodologies. The mission to serve the sports fan anytime, anywhere requires the hosts engage in deft preparation and fealty towards the audio vertical, never taking their positions for granted and understanding the privilege in being able to communicate en masse on the air.
“Any time anybody elects to listen to you, they are giving you a vote,” Smallmon said. “They’re choosing you [and] they are saying, ‘I want to spend a part of my precious time with you,’ and particularly in the mornings because we’re the first people that get the opportunity to talk about the games from the night before or to give our opinion on certain things.”
While Smallmon may have stumbled into an enthralling storyline to open the program and captivate the audience, she did just the opposite in landing a spot within the coveted morning drive daypart. Through years of indefatigable persistence and calculated risk-taking, she positioned herself to garner such a chance when the network was in the midst of developing a new lineup.
Despite having a successful morning show in St. Louis, Mo. on 101 ESPN that was finishing with high ratings and bolstering streams of revenue, Smallmon found herself yearning to live in a sprawling metropolis. Because of this, she started visiting her friends in New York City once per month and gradually became enamored with the locale, prompting her to meet with co-host Randy Karraker, program director Tommy Mattern and Hubbard Radio market manager John Kijowski to express her intent to leave the station.
“They have always been my biggest champions [and] they encouraged me every step of the way,” Smallmon said. “They were like, ‘This is going to be a tough transition for us because the show’s going so well, but we care about you as a person more than we do an employee, and if this is your dream and something you think you have to do, we’ve got your back.’ I will always and forever be indebted to them for not only finding a way to help me do that, but for supporting me and checking in with me every step of the way.”
When she was young, Smallmon frequently traveled to St. Louis with her father to attend sporting events, cherishing every chance she could to see a live game. Throughout her childhood, she watched football on television and remembers seeing sideline reporter Melissa Stark interview the players, prompting her to think about working in sports. Quotidian tasks were transformed into beacons of flourishing sports knowledge, catalyzed by her father’s creativity with abecedarian activities such as sorting and folding laundry.
Yet Smallmon concentrated in premedical studies at the University of Illinois, matriculating to try and become a dermatologist. Early on, she realized that she was not dedicated enough to pursue a profession in the field, resulting in a meeting with her advisor about her future plans. Upon being asked her ideal career path, Smallmon demonstrated interest in covering the basketball team with the goal of appearing on College GameDay as a features reporter in the future.
Amid an economic crash, Smallmon was able to land a job as a production assistant at KSDK, a local television station with which she had interned as a college student. Smallmon worked on the outlet’s morning show, Today in St. Louis, arriving at the studios around 3:30 a.m. every day to prepare and execute the broadcast.
Although her shift ended at 2 p.m., she would put in extra effort to stay later and interact with sportscaster Frank Cusamano and sports director Rene Knott, volunteering her time and trying to be productive. In displaying her aspiration to work in sports, she was eventually offered a position in the department, which first started with shooting and editing high school events.
“Most of the work that was done in sports was leading up to the 5 and 6 o’clock newscast until they took a big break before 10 p.m.,” Smallmon said. “I would use that time to just absorb as much as I could, watch the guys at work and try to make myself useful.”
Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned Stark, Smallmon had seen various women working and thriving in sports television; however, this was not the case in the sports radio format. Despite being familiar with the medium, she had never considered going on the air until Knott asked her to be a co-host of his new weekend show on 101 ESPN.
After some time, she received a note from an executive inquiring if she would be interested in applying for an open producer position available at the outlet. Even though she applied thinking she would not receive the job – a thought compounded when she discovered the producer role was for the program hosted by Bernie Miklasz – Smallmon made it to the final round of interviews. Speaking with Miklasz directly, he articulated that while he thought she was a good fit for the role, the other candidate had more qualifications and previous experience.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘Well, if that person is as great as you say that they are and have this much experience, they will have no problem finding another job when you hire me to be your producer,’” Smallmon averred. “I left there and I was like, ‘Man, I blew that.’”
Much to her surprise, Smallmon was hired and ended up working with Miklasz in the role for three years. In speaking with him and observing how he interacted with other people, she learned industry nuances and esoterica that made her even more adept at the role. Smallmon was eventually moved to The Fast Lane in the afternoons with Randy Karraker, D’Marco Farr and Brad Thompson, possessing a mentality of how to best position the show for sustained growth and success.
Smallmon took her skills to ESPN Radio in 2015 when she moved to Bristol, Conn. to work as a producer. The first stint with the network prepared her to excel on UnSportsmanLike, collaborating with hosts such as Ryen Russillo, Danny Kannel and Jorge Sedano, but she always felt a magnetic pull back towards St. Louis. Once Russillo was officially slated to leave ESPN, Smallmon was in talks with the company about different paths she could take and weighing her options. In the eleventh hour, Smallmon received a fortuitous call from Miklasz, who conveyed that he was thinking about changing up his show and wanted to know if she had any interest in co-hosting the program.
“It just felt like all of the cards were falling into place at the right time for me to make that move, and I’m a person that likes to take chances and challenge myself, and I don’t ever want to live with regrets,” Smallmon said. “I thought, ‘Maybe hosting and being on the air is not going to be for me; maybe it’s always going to be production, but I’d like to know.’”
Once she returned, Miklasz offered to change the name of the program to incorporate Smallmon, an entreaty that she declined because of fear that it would disrupt what was a known entity to listeners in the locale. Upon his exit from the station two years later, Smallmon started hosting with Randy Karraker, who implored her to add her name. Even though she never sought out to find the spotlight, she capitulated to the request once her co-host explained why it was important as not only an identifying factor, but also as the first female to be a full-time host on the station.
“I would hear from so many female sports fans across the area and parents whose daughters listened to the show and whose daughters paid attention to the show because someone who looked like them occupied that seat,” Smallmon said. “I really realized how important it was for me to establish myself in that way.”
As Smallmon made the move from St. Louis to New York City, her parents surmised she was recklessly upending her life. Subletting an apartment from a mutual friend in the city, she was working under a usages deal at ESPN Radio where she would deliver overnight updates and host SportsCenter All Night. Smallmon was grateful for the support of her parents and asked them to give her a year, during which she would work hard to land a full-time job in the city. Three hundred and sixty-six days later, Smallmon took to the air with a black eye to commence UnSportsmanLike, officially meeting her end of the bargain.
“It’s hard to explain to people how strange our job is,” Smallmon said. “The three of us sit in a windowless room and talk to one another for four-plus hours a day, so just by nature of spending that much intimate time with someone, you get to know them really well really fast.”
The workday for the morning episode begins the day prior several hours after the conclusion of the previous broadcast, independently reading articles, following sports news and reviewing games. In the preceding afternoon, the program holds a content call where everyone pitches ideas before an early rundown is sent out and added to throughout the day.
While the game of the night is on, Smallmon is in constant communication with her thoughts before getting sleep and preparing for an early wake-up call. There is a pre-show meeting to review the rundown before the four-hour morning show begins at 6 a.m. As soon as the on-air light is extinguished, the process starts again so the hosts are ready for it to illuminate again in 20 hours.
“It’s really a full-time commitment, especially during football season, to do a job like this,” Smallmon said, “but when you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity to host a show of this magnitude, you’ve kind of got to make it your life in a lot of ways.”
When she takes her seat behind the microphone in the morning, Smallmon believes that two of the most talented people she has ever worked with are sitting by her side. In her view, she needs to be at the same level as them on the program and effectuates that through her preparation and by bringing different perspectives to the air.
“I have zigged and zagged and occupied different roles throughout my time,” Smallmon said. “It’s really just been surprising opportunities that I have emerged and that I’ve really been grateful to have and that I want to take advantage of, but I don’t really think about the future and my motivation is not really driven by what’s next; it’s driven by the present.
For now, Smallmon is focused on attaining success in New York City and hopes to participate in the program for as long as possible. Down the road though, she knows that her career will entail a second return to St. Louis when she wants to be back in the community she loves and closer to her family. The gratitude she has in being able to regard the city as home is conspicuous and authentic, and those in the locale continue to listen to her on 101 ESPN for two hours each morning ahead of the station’s local morning program.
“My only goal right now is to make UnSportsmanLike the best show that it possibly can be, and if that is the case, hopefully we have an amazing run with the show,” Smallmon said. “That’s the goal is to make it as amazing as it possibly can be and ride that wave for as long as we possibly can.”
Smallmon never envisioned herself working in radio but now finds herself as a trusted voice in the mornings on a simulcast program within the network’s on-air lineup. Through it all, she has remained true to herself while exhibiting an evident commitment and passion for the craft, valuing every chance she has to go on the air.
“People will always say things to me like, ‘Oh, are you going to be the next Erin Andrews?,’ or things of that nature,” Smallmon explained. “And I say, ‘No, I’m going to be the first and only Michelle Smallmon,’ because the edge that I have over everybody else is that I’m me. There’s nobody else that’s me, and so if I can just be myself and be authentic every day and do that, anybody else can.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.