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Jalen Rose Isn’t Just Talking About Basketball

“Being able to express myself in three different ways keeps it from ever becoming mundane.”

Barrett Sports Media

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Jalen Rose Countdown

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?”. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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Sports Radio Advertising is a Great Alternative to Expensive Team Sponsorships

There are plenty of creative ways to tie into sports radio stations, where the fans listen daily, and the investment is often much less than team sponsorships.

Jeff Caves

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Photo of Citi Field in New York
Photo Credit: Stadium Sponsorship

Not everyone can afford to sponsor a local NFL or college football team. However, there are plenty of creative ways to tie into sports radio stations, where the fans listen daily, and the investment is often much less than team sponsorships. Here are some ideas:

Pitchmen for Hire: Leverage Local Personalities

Thousands of listeners tune in to hear local sports personalities discuss their favorite teams. Hiring these “football expert” personalities to represent your business can significantly boost your ad response. Their endorsement can help you rise above the fray and double your ad response.

Get More Bang for Your Buck: Stand Out

Tie into station activities that make your brand stand out. Sponsor the local team poll on the station’s website, host a remote broadcast the day before a big game, or sponsor a charity promotion and donate to the cause. Breaking through the clutter of commercial breaks requires creativity and involvement in station activities.

Tie into Local Teams Without Sponsoring Them

You don’t have to sponsor the local team to run a promotion about them. Consider running ads offering discounts if the team wins and even more significant discounts if they lose. Your ad rep can help you phrase these promotions to avoid legal issues. True fans listen to sports radio weekly for team-related content, so tap into that passion.

Become a Title Sponsor

Be the title sponsor for interview segments with local players. If the station is conducting regular player interviews, sponsor these segments. If shows don’t run many interviews, consider sponsoring newscasts that feature excerpts from these interviews.

Hire Retired Fan Favorites

Retired players beloved by fans can be an excellent asset for your business. They are often less expensive than current stars but still hold significant appeal. Think of players like Mike Alstott, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, or Nate Newton. These personalities can do spots or appear at your location, adding a memorable touch to your advertising efforts.

Adopt a ‘Mattress Mack’ Strategy

Make an offer based on the local team’s success, like Gallery Furniture in Houston‘s Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale. In 2022, he offered customers double their money back if the Astros won the World Series. Such promotions generate significant publicity and engage the local community, even if the offer is temporary.

Sponsoring a local NFL or major college football team may be out of reach for many clients. Still, numerous creative strategies exist to maximize a sports radio advertising investment. By leveraging local personalities, participating in station activities, and creatively tying your promotions to local sports teams, you can effectively break through the clutter and make a lasting impression on listeners. Engaging fans with innovative offers and memorable endorsements enhances your brand’s visibility and builds a loyal customer base.

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Caitlin Clark Media Coverage is Good for Everybody in the WNBA

By tuning in to see what Clark does, viewers are also noticing the many other great WNBA players.

John Molori

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Screengrab from ESPN's Get Up covering Caitlin Clark
Screengrab: ESPN Get Up

It’s time to talk about Caitlin Clark. The rookie guard for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever has become a legit phenomenon in the media. She has singlehandedly, and I repeat, singlehandedly put the focus on a league that has been largely ignored by mainstream sports talk shows for a quarter century.

Nobody wants to admit that one person can change a sport or a league. It is viewed as a slight to people who came before that special athlete and that special athlete’s contemporaries, but it has happened on numerous occasions, and we’ll get to that.

From a marketing and media standpoint, Caitlin Clark is a human tidal wave of interest, excitement, and anticipation. She quite literally brought tens of millions of eyes to the 2024 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, and deservedly so, she will most likely earn tens of millions of endorsement dollars from a variety of corporations and their products. She has inspired congratulations and controversy, especially with her recent exclusion from the USA Basketball Women’s National team.

The reaction to Clark’s success and attention from some members of the media and WNBA players has been shocking. Tremendous commentators such as Andraya Carter, Chiney Ogwumike, and Rebecca Lobo have, at times, come off as apologists for WNBA players who are just plain jealous of Clark’s unprecedented popularity.

As ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has explained eloquently, these critics are missing the point from a marketing and economic perspective. Clark has not only helped herself with her play, but has also brought attention and focus to women’s hoops as a whole.

By tuning in to see what Clark does, viewers are also noticing the many other great WNBA players. Clark is that rare breed of athlete who is truly changing the game, making it better and more profitable not only for herself, but for everyone involved at all levels.

On recent editions of ESPN’s First Take, Smith has gone toe to toe with Carter, Ogwumike, and Monica McNutt on the Caitlin Clark issue. The fascinating exchange between Smith and McNutt on the June 3 edition was a watershed moment in recent sports television.

Smith, McNutt, and host Molly Qerim were discussing the hard foul/shove that Chicago’s Chennedy Carter laid on Clark in a WNBA game. The course of the discussion moved toward the rise in WNBA ratings mainly because of Clark’s presence in the league.

The debate eventually came down to a back-and-forth between Smith and McNutt. Smith reiterated his longtime dedication to the WNBA and women’s sports in general. In response, McNutt said that with Smith’s platform, he could’ve been talking as much about the WNBA three years ago, long before Clark’s debut.

Smith was visibly angered and disappointed by McNutt’s comments. On The Stephen A. Smith Show podcast that same day, he defended himself and his show, saying that First Take has been at the forefront of promoting gender, race, age, and all forms of equality and respect.

Smith is 100% correct. This chap has been a champion of women, minorities, and even older media personalities, such as Christopher Russo, whom he has brought to a whole new audience on First Take. Stephen A. Smith is the Arsenio Hall and David Letterman of sports talk. When the syndicated Arsenio Hall Show hit the airwaves in 1989, he was the first late night host to bring hip-hop artists to center stage on a regular basis.

Similarly, Letterman’s “Late Night” on NBC showcased new talent in comedy and music, while bringing irreverence and originality to the tired old talk show format. Smith has done the same. He has made stars out of Ryan Clark, Mina Kimes, Marcus Spears, Kimberley Martin, and many others. He has also raised the profile of already renowned commentators such as Shannon Sharpe, Qerim, and the aforementioned Russo.

Smith has been a stalwart of equity, but that’s not what McNutt was saying. She was saying that with his audience, Smith could’ve talked about the WNBA thereby creating popularity and exposure for the league long before now.

McNutt’s jarring comment put Smith in a humbled position and really hit at his very core, but he took his game to a whole new level the very next day. McNutt was back on First Take, which right there shows the utter gumption that Smith possesses. He could’ve easily let things settle down a bit before he brought McNutt back on the show, but he didn’t. That’s classic Smith – encouraging discourse and disagreement.

When you get to the level of a Stephen A. Smith, you welcome a debating challenge. The last guests you want are sycophantic suck-ups who cowardly agree, no matter what the subject. Smith’s high point on the June 4 episode was when he said in a loud voice, “Caitlin Clark is white.”

He acknowledged the fact that it makes a difference. He also stated that black players who have been just as talented as Clark have not been given their rightful attention – also true. Regarding the perceived negative treatment of Clark by some WNBA players, Smith made it clear that they should not go easy on Clark on the court, but their mindsets need to recognize that Clark is benefitting the WNBA and putting dollars in their collective pockets.

Whether you agree with Smith or not, the fact is that this is what special players like Caitlin Clark do. They raise the level of discussion and simultaneously raise the profile of their respective sports. The WNBA is now in the A-block on highly rated shows like First Take and ESPN’s Get Up.

The league and its players are on the front burner of discussion for Smith, Nick Wright, Colin Cowherd and many other top-tier, multimedia sports debaters. This fact was straight up impossible one year ago. This is what Caitlin Clark has done.

Clark’s impact and stamp on women’s basketball is not unique. There are precedents where one person has made such a difference.

Larry Bird looked different, played different, restored a dead Celtics franchise, and made his mark in a sport that was on life support in terms of media coverage and fan interest. Bird and Magic Johnson rescued the league – a black man on the west coast and a white man on the east coast, two wunderkinds who changed the NBA forever. Caitlin Clark is Larry Bird.

Tiger Woods burst onto the PGA TOUR and won the Masters in 1997, embarking on a run that would see him change the game of golf from a competitive, performance, historic standpoint, and social standpoint. He was charismatic, focused, and yes, an African American phenom smashing records in a white-dominated sport. Caitlin Clark is Tiger Woods.

In 1965, Alabama quarterback Joe Namath eschewed the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals and signed with the AFL’s New York Jets. He raised the profile of the league and garnered more attention and dollars than established AFL stars which made him a target. As the league’s popularity grew however, opposing players recognized his significance beyond the field. They did not go easy on him during games, just ask his knees, but they knew that his success was theirs as well. Namath was the key figure in the eventual AFL/NFL merger. Caitlin Clark is Joe Namath.

Serena Williams was smart, savvy, athletic, fashion conscious, and just plain great. Williams shattered the traditional mold and became an iconoclastic figure in women’s tennis with both her play and personae. The lineage with her sister Venus ushered in a new era in the sport. Serena attacked the game in a unique way. She was exciting and original, and lifted her sport and fellow athletes. Caitlin Clark is Serena Williams.

I am not saying that Clark will have a legendary or Hall of Fame career akin to these illustrious athletes, but the immediate impact she has had on her sport and the media coverage of her sport is similar.

As Smith so often states, Clark is “box office.” You can debate the reasons why, but you cannot debate the fact that she has supremely raised the profile and the financial prospects of women’s basketball and its players.

I understand that other WNBA players want their share of the credit for improving the league. I also understand that WNBA commentators want fairness and equity in terms of attention and the spotlight. However, both groups need to realize that Clark is the main reason that they are getting this increased exposure. On the court, be competitive against Clark and try to beat her and her team. On the air, be critical of Clark and analyze her game, but on a larger scale, understand, accept, and embrace that Caitlin Clark’s most important assist might just be to you.

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Joe Tipton Turned Sports Graphics Into a National Reporting Role With On3

“There’s definitely a competitive aspect of it, which I really enjoy actually because it just kind of keeps you on your toes.”

Derek Futterman

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(Illustration) | Courtesy: On3

In the moments when athletes make a monumental decision about their playing careers, news outlets frequently try to cover the story in a timely and accurate manner. Whether it is signing with a new team in free agency, inking a new endorsement deal or retiring, basketball has plenty of these occurrences annually. These announcements are sometimes accompanied by graphics, adding visual elements of branding and allure to the development. Joe Tipton learned the nuances of photo editing and graphic design at a young age, leading him to create images of NBA players and share them on social media. Observing a lack of interest within the space, he considered doing the same for high school players nearing college commitments.

Tipton Edits, an independent business venture that he began shortly after starting in sports graphic design, provides athletes with a free edit in which their new uniform is superimposed onto an image divulging their new team. These recruits then share the photos on social media and tag Tipton. Especially at the start of the entrepreneurial property, he viewed gaining followers as remuneration, an invaluable currency as digital media continues its swift proliferation.

“I didn’t start making the graphics at 17 to have a job in it – I was just kind of doing it on the side for fun and then just kind of [seeing] where it would go,” Tipton said. “Since I was one of the first people to make graphics for these high school players in their recruiting decisions and now transfers, and now that I’ve built up the presence online and the credibility and the reputation, a lot of them will flock to me, and I think that’s what’s so sustainable about it now.”

The transfer portal keeps Tipton busy in creating and delivering graphics to collegiate athletes moving to a new school. Remaining prepared to create an enticing visual featuring the player in their new uniform and distributing it on social media requires a commitment to the craft. Even though he was a marketing student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, he was still trying to determine the best path forward and ended up transforming his hobby into a sustainable career.

“I was able to communicate with high-level basketball players and create something for them – and all of it free of charge – in exchange just for a tag on Instagram and Twitter, which helped propel me and grow my brand and following online,” Tipton said, “and over the years, [it] got me to where I am now.”

By designing these graphics in advance, Tipton was privy to coveted information and recognized that he could effectively reveal where players were signing. His work has been featured on various sports outlets such as ESPN and Bleacher Report and shared by NBA legends including Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen.

On3, a digital sports media brand that delivers news, analysis and insights to consumers regarding college sports, recruiting and NIL, added Tipton as a national basketball reporter after he graduated from college. Since that time, he has established himself as a distinguished journalist covering high school and college basketball.

“[I] had an opportunity to join On3 because basically what I was doing when supplying the graphic to a high school recruit and even transfers now in the portal, I am being gifted the knowledge of where a player is going,” Tipton said, “so I’m able to report that information, and that’s basically what I serve as now for On3.”

Joining On3 provided him with another platform to disseminate this information and expand his audience while assisting the company in its own growth. Shannon Terry founded On3 in 2021, and the platform has continued to expand with dedicated coverage of NIL, the transfer portal and the NFL Draft, along with adding subsidiary verticals such as On3 Elite and On3 HER.

“When it comes to the transfers and their decision making, it’s so rapid fire, and there’s so many players that enter the transfer portal because of NIL, because of instant opportunities and also the ability to play right away and not have to sit out like the previous rules stated,” Tipton articulated, “so it increased the need for what I do and just the coverage of the transfer portal in general has taken a significant leap, which is great for those who cover the portal and recruiting in general.”

Tipton earned a contract extension at On3 earlier in the year, but he has always operated with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he is more than just a graphic designer. While he is a recent graduate and continuing to shape his identity and forge relationships, he believes the process has been considerably slow to this point. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic that working with On3 will be able to propel him to the next level.

“They didn’t view me as a reporter even though I was breaking news, so especially in the earlier stages, I wasn’t getting credit for breaking the news just because I guess they didn’t view me as a reporter [or] traditional media outlet,” Tipton said. “But ever since joining On3, that’s kind of painted me in a new light, and people will look at me a little bit differently, especially with the coverage that I’m able to provide for On3 and then just the overall stories broken.”

There is an aspect of fluctuation that has become more embedded in college basketball, rendering it fundamental to verify information ahead of its circulation. For example, if a player informs Tipton that they are committing to a certain school, he will oftentimes call the coaches or athletics department to safeguard against complicating miscommunication between the two entities. In the end, he is never releasing graphics or reports without extreme confidence in its veracity.

“There’s definitely a competitive aspect of it, which I really enjoy actually because it just kind of keeps you on your toes,” Tipton said. “It’s kind of a rush as well to be able to get it out first, but the first year on the job with On3, there was an incredible amount of pressure that I put on myself to just achieve this at a high level, but there’s also a great deal of stress that comes with it because a lot of what I do is time sensitive.”

Although he has a stellar reporting record dating back to his days solely creating graphics, there are moments when other reporters or outlets beat him to the story. In these situations, the power of his brand and its identity assists in overcoming these impediments, indicative of his broad appeal and widespread reach. Establishing himself as a brand rather than being a graphic designer or reporter within a larger entity has been a key differentiator within his formative years in the business.

“I think it’s the key to sustainability and a way to separate yourself from other people, so I’m incredibly fortunate that the players believe in me, trust in me and then On3 does the same because I’m a source for the player that they can come to and trust, and we all grow together,” Tipton said. “I help grow the player, [and] I help grow On3. On3 helps grow me [and] the player helps grow me because they’re all posting my stuff, we’re posting them, so we’re all on this together, so it’s really nice.”

Tipton never envisioned himself appearing in front of the camera, but he is now doing so regularly for On3. As part of its content, he frequently discusses the latest news regarding recruitment, the transfer portal and NIL in addition to synthesizing player rankings.

“[I am] obviously only just scratching the surface of the on-camera stuff, but I think that is a strong potential avenue for me moving forward in my career,” Tipton said, “but then also my ability to break news at a high level and also the relationships that I have just when it comes to the recruiting insider portion of my job as well.”

Later this month, Tipton will see some of the players for whom he has created graphics soon enter the NBA when the NBA Draft takes place from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Although he has not assimilated into reporting on the NBA, he is competitive and has thought about his future work. Yet he understands that a majority of his verve is in college basketball and is focused on breaking news beyond recruiting.

“The good thing about me and kind of how I was brought up was I wasn’t raised in a family that was a fan of a specific team; in fact, my parents aren’t even sports fans at all,” Tipton said. “Sports was just not on at all growing up, so I never grew up a specific fan or a diehard of any specific program.”

Reflecting back on his journey thus far, Tipton feels that he stumbled into his career with fortuitous timing. The versatility he has developed, along with his persistence, networking and inexorable work ethic, has contributed to the growth of Tipton Edits and his role with On3.

Tipton found a way to cut through the media ecosystem, investing his time and effort into a niche that did not exist with the level of cache and emphasis that it currently possesses. The industry moves with unrelenting momentum and can seem imposing to shrewdly understand and cover, but Tipton aims to masterfully keep up while enjoying his journey to an unknown destination.

“We live in a world where, especially younger people, they’re keen on growing their social media presence,” Tipton said, “so On3, Tipton Edits and others alike are able to grow their channels, so they’re encouraged to utilize services like mine to help kind of propel their following and for it to reach a large number of people.”

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