Social media is a blessing and a curse for the sports media world. So many of us check out what is trending on Twitter as we’re putting together our rundowns. We use comments from Twitter and Facebook in place of phone calls. ESPN and FS1 routinely use Instagram and Snapchat videos to spur discussions on their various debate shows. It has become every bit as important to our professional lives as it is in some people’s social lives.
That is the blessing side. The curse is that with social media comes constant access. People that don’t like you always have a way of reaching you. There are block and mute buttons, and I think anyone in this industry would highly recommend making use of them.
What about when the barrage is constant though? This column isn’t about the art of a good hot take. That is a different discussion for a different day.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been talking to people that have found themselves on the wrong side of the social media mob. Some of the names might surprise you. Others probably won’t. Your opinions of them (hell, mine too really) don’t matter. What I want to know is what it’s like to live on the wrong side of the hive mind.
There are a lot of ways to earn yourself a public shaming on social media. Sometimes it’s as simple as being downright offensive and ignorant. Remember when Mike Bell referred to ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza as Tits McGee? That was ignorant and inexcusable. Any public shaming he received was warranted.
The people I wanted to talk to have found themselves in the same position as bell for far more minor offenses. Sometimes, it has just been the result of being who they are. Take Dan Dakich for example. The ESPN college basketball analyst and midday host on 1070/107.5 the Fan in Indianapolis is very aware that anything he Tweets will be met with at least some scorn.
“Look, I totally understand who I am to people on social media,” he told me. “There are some of us that are like a cancer on social media and people are going to say what a jackass I am, and that’s probably self-inflicted I would think.”
Recently a Tweet about Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement was met with more than just some scorn. Dakich didn’t hold back. Whether or not he intended to imply Luck was soft, it certainly read that way.
According to Dakich, this wasn’t a hot take. He was at a wedding with his wife, who is a former coach, and one of his best friends from childhood, who is a longtime Colts season ticket holder, and this is what he was hearing them say. Dan agreed and wanted to use his platform to express that sentiment from people in Indianapolis.
“What I say on social media I do believe,” Dakich says. “Like, I’ve always said this and I have been very consistent. I never thought Andrew Luck was the guy that was all encompassed in football like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, and good for him that he has other interests. Any scout that has scouted him will tell you the same thing. All I’ve ever said is he is not the guy that everyone is saying he is, because in his offseason Luck is going to head to Prague instead of Zionsville High School’s practice field.”
Dakich wasn’t afraid to double down on his point as countless people fired back at him on social media. Whether you agreed or not, Dakich thought he was right. He also swears his intention wasn’t to imply Andrew Luck was soft.
“I’ve always said he plays football as a tough guy. I was stunned at how so many people took that [Tweet] and said I was saying Andrew Luck was soft. That wasn’t what I was saying. I literally sent another Tweet out that said ‘Look, if you don’t love football anymore and you’ve got enough money and you wanna walk away, just tell us that. That’s cool.’ I put that in a Tweet after, but no one paid attention to that.”
There was only one comment Dan Dakich was taken aback by. ESPN Radio morning man Trey Wingo referenced Dakich’s abrupt exit as West Virginia University’s men’s basketball coach and said that Dakich should “clean up his own backyard” before commenting on anyone else.
Dakich Tweeted his objections.
He told me that it actually lead to phone calls with Trey Wingo and ESPN’s Executive Senior Vice President of Studio and Event Production, Norby Williamson.
“Trey was great. ESPN was fantastic with it. I made my opinion known to the higher-ups. Trey and I had a long conversation, then Trey apologized on air…He was great. He was really, really good with it. Norby Williamson was great with it. We got it resolved once we were able to get on the phone, Trey and I, and it was very nice of him to apologize.”
Sometimes hosts can find themselves the focus of a social media mob because the local fanbase isn’t ready to hear anything negative about the home team.
Lauren Rew of 1010XL in Jacksonville had just come to town from Tulsa in July of last year. The Jaguars were just coming off of a trip to the AFC Championship Game, and fans and fellow hosts were confident the team would go further in 2018. Rew didn’t buy it.
“I said on-air the Jaguars wouldn’t go to the Super Bowl and probably wouldn’t make the playoffs, my main reason: Blake Bortles,” Rew told me in an email.
The Jags finished 5-11, traded for Nick Foles and let Bortles go to LA where he is now backing up Jared Goff. Rew says that didn’t change the way listeners in her new home town reacted to her.
“Let’s just say, I didn’t make a whole lot of ‘friends’ early on and I 100% felt the mob mentality of social media throughout the season. But! I want to make this very clear, I didn’t (and still don’t) come up with ‘hot takes’ or go against the grain to be controversial or a contrarian. If I’m passionate or strongly agree/disagree with something, you’ll know it and I will say it because I genuinely feel that way.”
Rew adds, “Thank the Twitter Gods for the mute and block options.”
Josh Parcell co-hosts Wilson & Parcell on WFNZ in Charlotte. While he also insists that he never goes out of his way to spout a hot take (a common theme in all these conversations you’ll notice) he makes no qualms about being one of the few hosts on his station to point out the failings and flaws of the Carolina Panthers, namely the team’s franchise quarterback Cam Newton.
That has drawn some fire from co-workers and listeners alike. I had lunch with Josh a few months ago and he told me that he had been called “Little Cowherd” and “Danny Kannel Jr” with regularity.
In an email this week, he told me that he doesn’t shrink from any criticism of the Panthers or their biggest star. He also isn’t surprised that Panthers fans don’t want to hear any of it.
“For the first 15 years of the franchise, they watched Kerry Collins, Chris Weinke, Steve Buerlein, Jake Delhomme and Jimmy Clausen lead the team through a ton of ups and downs,” Josh says. “Cam is the biggest star and brightest personality the franchise has ever had. He’s made them relevant outside of the Carolinas.
“Because he came into the league after one of the greatest single seasons we’ve ever seen in college football and claimed to want to be an “icon” before ever playing a down in the NFL, Cam set the bar incredibly high for himself when he joined the Panthers. And let’s face it, Cam isn’t perfect — as a player or as a person. His ceiling as a player is as high as anyone we’ve ever seen. No one in the league is as athletically gifted as Cam. Whenever he fails to live up to that lofty standard, he’s easy to criticize.
“Panthers fans can’t stand the thought of going back to the Clausen era, or even a guy like Delhomme, so they’ll do everything they can to defend Cam against the negative criticism that comes his way.”
I live in North Carolina, and really there is no reason I should like Cam Newton. He plays for the Panthers and I grew up a fan of the division rival Buccaneers. I went to the University of Alabama and he played college football at Auburn, the team that I would openly root against even if they were playing Taliban A&M.
Still, I can’t help but be charmed by Cam and his unflinching devotion to being himself. I mean the guy once wore a fox tail to a press conference just because he wanted to. How can the thought of an NFL quarterback dressing like Raccoon Mario not make you smile?
That devotion to self-expression has drawn plenty of criticism of Newton, some of it fair, some of it insane, and some of it clearly racially motivated. I asked Josh if he thought that some of the coded critiques of Cam have made his fans even more dogged in their defense of him. He didn’t disagree exactly, but Josh doesn’t think Cam Newton’s detractors have been as motivated by his race as his fans think they are.
“I think we judge quarterbacks based on their behavior much more than their skin color. Deshaun Watson is a quiet guy, doesn’t wear flashy outfits, doesn’t generally draw attention to himself on the field like Cam does. and no one seems to have a problem with him, right? In fact, the only time anyone had a problem was when he was celebrating first downs in a blowout loss in the Playoffs. That’s a behavioral criticism, not a racial one.
“Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, was arrested for a fairly trivial crime in college, won a Heisman Trophy, was the #1 pick, is very outspoken and doesn’t lack for confidence. Baker’s been criticized (and lauded) for a lot of what he says and does. Sound familiar? Most people expect quarterbacks to be boring. When they’re not, it’s interesting. Cam is interesting. Baker Mayfield is interesting. Some people love it, others hate it. I’m not altogether dismissing the idea that there are people out there who have a racial bias towards Cam Newton, but I think the racial element of the Cam Newton criticism is wildly overstated.”
A guy that is more than comfortable with detractors coming after him on social media is FS1’s Jason Whitlock. The Speak For Yourself co-host doesn’t mind people disagreeing with him. He just hopes that when they do, they are speaking for themselves (pardon the pun) and not trying to score points by regurgitating a popular opinion.
“There’s good information and insight on social media as long as you dig beneath the surface and ignore the trolls and Artificial Intelligence,” Whitlock told me in an email. “It’s a good way to engage with authentic fans and critics. I like engaging with my critics. Keeps my perspective sharp. Helps me avoid complacency. You just have to dig beneath the pile of shit Twitter and its algorithms try to stuff down your throat.”
Sometimes, what people that are ready to pile on Whitlock at a moment’s notice see as controversial, he sees as merely pointing out logical fallacies. Recently, he tweeted about an ESPN segment about USWNT star Carli Lloyd’s plans to work toward an NFL tryout after kicking a 55-yard field goal at a training camp practice with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, to be honest, I tend to think Carli Lloyd showed the ability to kick in the NFL and the idea of “What is she going to do if a kick is blocked and she has to play defense?” is kinda bullshit. No NFL team has ever taken that into consideration when evaluating any other kicker.
That being said, I don’t think Whitlock’s point is wrong here. Four guys all agreeing on any point, let alone one that some people very passionately disagree on, is boring television done in the name of playing it safe. I asked him if his Tweet was a comment on Carli Lloyd or on the ESPN panel.
“They all said the same thing, which I just don’t think is reflective of reality,” Whitlock responded. “Four guys, two of them being high-level former football players, won’t all agree that Carli Lloyd or any woman could kick in the NFL. It makes no sense. One person should’ve expressed some skepticism. Hell, all four should’ve expressed some skepticism. But it’s not worth it because they’re smart enough to realize the blowback they would receive via social media.”
How does a guy like Jason Whitlock view social media? I wondered if he looked at it as something of a sparring partner. Does he digest the popular opinion and try to see how he can challenge it, and are there ever times where he finds himself arguing that the popular talking points on social media are the right ones?
“If I agree with the consensus on social media, I check my sanity. Social media is a stage where people perform. That’s what you do on a stage. You act. You perform. Social media is a platform for inauthentic thought.”
So how do the people that find themselves in the crosshairs of the social media mob view social media? Well, all four of the people I talked to gave different answers. Most of them wanted to make it clear that they don’t ever form an opinion just to be controversial.
And then there’s Dakich, who when I ask if knowing his reputation, is there a part of him that enjoys needling people on social media responds with an enthusiastic “OH GOD, YEAH!”.
He tells me a story about driving home with his wife after calling a game. She is in the driver’s seat. He is checking Twitter and seeing people ripping the job he just did. Dan says it is the element of him that is still a fan that makes him want to interact with even the people calling him names.
“I’ll respond to them. I would have thought it would have been cool when I was in high school or when I was in grade school to watch Al Maguire and then have him respond to me immediately after a game.”
There is a great line from the original Men in Black where Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are discussing what would happen if people ever found out aliens not only existed but were here on Earth. J asks why not just put the truth out there. “People are smart. They can handle it,” he says.
“A person is smart,” K responds. “People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”
I tell Rew about this line and ask her if that sentiment could be applied to social media as well.
“I honestly think that’s the first time I’ve seen/heard anyone reference a line from Men In Black, but damn it’s a good one. And yes, I completely agree that part of the mob mentality on social media stems from people not being able to think for themselves. All it takes is a ‘leader’ from ANY group (sports, politics, music, etc.) to make a claim about what someone said/did and usually his/her followers will jump at the opportunity to pile on; usually doing so without doing any research themselves or in the case of something a radio host has said, having heard it themselves.”
I’m going to close with a quote from Whitlock here. I asked him how he viewed being branded as “controversial.” What even is controversy when small pockets of people get loud voices because of the reach of social media?
His response was unfiltered and very…is Whitlockian a word? If not, I am making it one right now.
“Twitter has made common sense ‘controversial.’ If I say LeBron James shouldn’t celebrate on the court during his son’s AAU game, that’s basic common sense. The overreaction to my common-sense statement is controversial. My opinion wasn’t. People like the NFL Network’s Nate Burleson went to Twitter and performed like my LeBron comment was controversial. Think about it. I said a parent shouldn’t be on the court during a game and people acted like I said LeBron James is the worst parent on the planet.
“Twitter is a platform operating as a marketing/public relations tool for elite celebrities and athletes, particularly the celebrities and athletes who promote far left ideology. Much of the Twitter lynch mob is Artificial Intelligence bots/algorithms that agencies and PR firms buy for their top clients. We act like only the Russians manipulate social media. People with money and an interest in controlling public perception or protecting a brand manipulate social media.
“Painting me as ‘controversial’ and spamming me with Twitter criticism are ways to tell other people in the sports media to avoid criticizing LeBron. If you’re black, you’ll be labeled a sellout. If you’re white, you’ll be labeled racist. Don’t criticize LeBron!!! Celebrate Taco Tuesday! Criticize Carli Lloyd’s NFL publicity stunt and Twitter will paint you as sexist. If Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Stalin had a baby, they’d name it Twitter.”
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 DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
How Are Broadcasters Supposed To Cover Alabama Basketball Right Now?
“It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court”
As you’ve probably seen or read by now, Alabama men’s basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder in connection with an early morning shooting last weekend near the Tuscaloosa campus. A 23-year-old woman was killed. Miles, a junior forward from Washington DC, is no longer on the team.
Last Saturday, Alabama had announced before its game against LSU that Miles would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Following Miles’ arrest his bio has been removed from the athletic department website, and the university’s statement said he “has been removed from campus.”
It’s another incident that puts sports in proper perspective. There have been too many of these ‘incidents’ lately. Whether it be due to gun violence, sexual violence, bus or plane crashes, or the latest tragedy when we all watched a man brought back to life on a football field. Sports is meant to be entertainment, a way to escape the challenges of everyday life. Now it seems to be causing us to think more about outside noise than the actual games that we’re supposed to be watching.
Let’s focus for the moment on the Alabama situation. The Crimson Tide are having a basketball season for the ages. As of the time I’m writing this, Alabama is #4 in the AP Top 25 with a record of 15-2. Many analysts and experts in college basketball circles think this team is actually the best team in the country. A good bet for the Final Four perhaps and maybe even a national title. Now what?
Head basketball coach Nate Oats spoke to reporters Monday, but not about his team’s prep for another game and a chance at another win. He had to speak about something he probably never imagined he’d have to in his career. One of his now former players has been charged with murder.
“I just want to start by offering condolences to the family and friends of Jamea Jonae Harris, the young woman, mother, daughter who was taken away too soon from a senseless act,” Oats said in a prepared statement. “This is an incredibly sad situation. Hearts go out to her loved ones. I’m keeping them in my thoughts and prayers as they continue to grieve.”
Oats called it a tragedy all around, especially for the victim’s family. He then addressed the message to his players.
“Wish we weren’t having to address this situation, but we’ve got to pull together as a team at this point and … really be there for each other.” Oats said. “This is a really difficult situation, and we’ll continue to support each other as we process this and balance school and basketball,” Oats said. “To that end, we regrouped this morning to maintain our routine and some structure in the midst of this situation and we’ll practice before heading up to Nashville for the Vanderbilt game.”
Last week we talked about the handling of the Damar Hamlin situation, that unfolded on the field in Cincinnati during the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals. Hamlin needed to be resuscitated once on the field and once on the way to the hospital. ESPN’s broadcast crew handled the situation about as well as they could. Information was scarce and there was no room for rumor or speculation.
Now, bringing it back to Alabama, what do you do, when you’re a broadcaster for the Crimson Tide? How much attention should be given to the shooting and the results?
Once again there is no handbook to say, okay you do this, then this and then this. Nope. I’m sure ‘higher ups’ at the school and the stations will have some input as to how it will be handled. It’s a delicate situation to say the least. A life was lost. A player that, more than likely, the broadcast crew interacted with numerous times, has been accused of murder. All of it makes you really think.
So, here’s how the crew on the SEC Network decided to handle talking about the Darius Miles arrest during the Alabama/Vanderbilt game. The announcers, Courtney Lyle on play-by-play and Carolyn Peck as the analyst, briefly mentioned the Miles situation at the start of the game. Saying they would talk about “what Alabama has been dealing with off the court.”
There was no further mention through the first media timeout. Instead, they talked basketball, including talk of Vandy’s upset of Arkansas and Nate Oats’ notes about Alabama’s defense in recent games.
Coming out of the first timeout, ESPN put up a graphic stating the charges against Miles and some of Coach Oats’ comments about the situation and his team. Peck then spoke about Oats and how he told his team about the charges. The story she told, continued saying how Oats brought the team together Sunday and let them decide whether or not to practice. They chose to skip Sunday and regroup according to her commentary.
It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court. I’m not sure what was said to Lyle and Peck before the broadcast, so it’s hard to really critique.
Having said that, I really wish Peck, who is a former college basketball coach, could have spoken about what Oats must be going through. He had to tell his team that one of their fellow players was accused of murder. Peck might have also delved into what the job of a coach is, off the floor. Looking out for his or her players as people as well as athletes. Again, it’s easy for me to say, and I’m not privy to what the broadcasters were allowed to say by producers or the school. I just felt like an opportunity to humanize the story went by the boards. Especially from a credible source, like a former coach.
I’ve never been in the situation directly. I’ve had to deal with deaths during broadcasts. I mentioned the Daryl Kile game in 2002 a couple of years ago in a column. When I was with the Padres, our bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds fought an admiral bout with cancer, but succumbed to the disease in the middle of our 2012 season. I knew Akerfelds and actually had a hard time keeping it together when news of his passing was made public. This Alabama situation is totally different.
To me, there are a few things broadcasters need to keep in mind when dealing with situations like these. Our natural inclination is not to want to talk about it. We just want to concentrate on the games and what’s happening on the court or field. I get that. Audiences are going to tune in and, especially in the case of a local broadcast, wanting to know what’s happening from their trusted voice – you. Fair or not, that’s the position you’ll likely find yourself in, if God forbid this happens to one of your teams.
One thing that is absolutely critical in this particular situation, is wording. Remember in the United States, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. While the court of public opinion may have already made up its mind, you do not have the luxury to do so. Verbiage is very important. Miles has been ‘charged’ with capital murder. He is ‘alleged’ to have provided a gun to the shooter. You as the broadcaster have to play it straight, even if you have the opinion that he’s guilty, that’s not the case right now.
The problem here is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you read the statement from the school, the audience will say “that’s not enough”. If you go into detail and let it consume the broadcast, others will say, “enough, we already know this, get on with the game,” right?
Case in point, NFL broadcasters took a lot of heat for coverage of the return to the field of DeShaun Watson. The Browns quarterback was accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct and was suspended for 11 games. The CBS telecast, according to a New York Times article, covered the accusations against Watson about 10 minutes before kickoff but the complaints made against Watson were not detailed during the game itself.
Late in the game, the CBS play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes mentioned the “mixed emotions” of Browns fans as they reckoned with the “weightiness of the allegations with Watson.”
Analyst Jay Feely added, “We were conflicted, getting ready to prepare for this game, because you want to show empathy for the women impacted and affected by this.” Feely said.“You have to talk about football as well.”
I get it, these were serious allegations and there were numerous complaints about Watson. Not to minimize the impact of his actions, but Dedes and Feely are expected to talk about the game on the field. Are football fans tuned in for social commentary? There are many other outlets for more pointed opinions. Just by mentioning the gravity of what was going on, they probably said more than a lot of fans expected.
To have an opinion on something other than sports as a sportscaster opens you up to the “stick to sports” tired reaction from fans. This is the problem. Incidents like this, straddle the line between sports and news. How much should be handled by each department is pretty critical. During some recent sportscasts I’ve delivered, I had to talk about the news of journalist Grant Wahl dying in Qatar. While everyone wanted to know how and why, I only talked about the facts, and the decorated journalists’ career. Our news department carried the rest.
Judgement and true feelings are at play here. We are human beings and everyone reacts to tragedy and death differently. In our situation as broadcasters, we have to be sympathetic to the victim, empathetic for what the team is now going through and realistic as to how much you should or shouldn’t say about the situation. There is no cut and dry way to handle this, you do the best you can and that’s all that can be asked of you.
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 Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
Nick Coffey Embracing New Afternoon Role on Rebranded Sports Talk 790AM
“I’m a fan, I’m fair, I’m objective and we’re going to talk about both teams, because that’s what our audience is.”
The clock hits 4:45 AM inside the home of Nick Coffey and there’s nothing but complete silence. Nobody in the house is awake, no coffee is brewing, only a family sleeping in the darkness of the night Louisville sky.
But this is somewhat of a new occurrence for the Coffey household. That’s because it wasn’t long ago when dad was up and around before 5:00 AM to make it on time to host his morning radio show. In fact, only about two weeks. But with a recent rebrand of his station and a move to afternoon drive, he’s no longer the dad that’s out the door before his kids wake up. He’s the dad that gets to take his kids to school in the morning.
Cards Radio 790 WKRD in Louisville was recently rebranded to Sports Talk 790AM. The gist of the rebrand is that the station and The University of Louisville had — according to Coffey — a mutual agreement to part ways.
“We were Cards Radio 790 WKRD for many years, long before I was here,” said Coffey. “We did not renew, and it was more of a mutual thing. We had the rights to U of L football and basketball games for quite some time and that kind of limited us from doing a whole lot, because their logo was on the station.”
What Coffey means by limiting the station is they didn’t previously put a lot of University of Kentucky coverage on the station. At the time, it didn’t make a lot of sense to do so, especially with the close relationship the station had with U of L. And as you can imagine, the university didn’t love UK coverage on the station.
The move to Sports Talk 790AM has completely changed that philosophy. Now, along with coverage of Louisville athletics, coverage of Kentucky is more prevalent on the station than ever before. The move is a smart one, because even though there’s a large collection of Louisville fans in the state, there are more UK fans.
“Once our deal with U of L ran out during the summer, our plan was to make 790 a sports specific station that’s going to have — I’m a Louisville fan myself — but there’s a ton of Kentucky fans in Louisville,” said Coffery. “My shift has really been focusing on, you know where my allegiances lie. I’m a fan, I’m fair, I’m objective and we’re going to talk about both teams, because that’s what our audience is. Getting away from the Cards Radio brand really opened us up to where we’re not just sticking to just one side.”
Adding content with a Kentucky twist was also a plan for the rebrand. That includes Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio and the huge following he brings. Granted, Sports Talk 790AM isn’t the only place you can hear KSR — there are several affiliates across the state — but it was a plan to bolster coverage of UK on the station.
“He has a monster of a show and there’s a ton of statewide affiliates,” said Coffey. “Because of our relationship with U of L before, we had to put him on a sister station of ours, at Talk Radio 1080 which is just an AM signal we put our paid programming on. This just freed us up to build what we hope to be, sort of a monster here in sports.”
Part of that plan was to move Coffey and Company to afternoon drive. Granted, Coffey loved morning radio despite the early morning grind, he was pitched on the overall benefit of the station.
“What was pitched to me when I decided to make the move to afternoons,” said Coffey. “One, I thought it would just be better for the station. And if it’s better for the station, it’s better for me. Also, I have the chance to get on these other affiliates, where I’m not just on in Louisville.”
Maybe this wasn’t included in the pitch to move to afternoons, but Coffey had to think about what the move could do for his daily lifestyle. So far after just two weeks, he loves what the new adjustment has brought to his life.
“So far it’s been awesome, because I’m still getting up early, but there’s a difference between getting up at 7:45 and 4:45,” laughed Coffey. “I’m just getting more sleep and throughout the day I’m more energized and ready to go.
“After a year of morning drive I remember thinking I didn’t want to do anything else, because I loved the thought of people starting the day with whatever we got for them. It’s also nice to have your shift end pretty early, when you wrap it up. I could stay after and get a head start on the next day, talk to clients, and be out of there by 12:30 PM. That was beneficial, but now I get to wake up, I’m in charge of the kids in the morning. That’s something I really enjoy. So far so good.”
Coffey is big on show prep, just like any other successful host is. The dynamic of prepping a morning show compared to an afternoon show is vastly different. That’s been a change for Coffey, but there’s another element of his changed lifestyle that he’s found that really helps his prep.
“When I prepare for my show I try to be as informative as I can and I’m ready to give fresh thoughts,” said Coffey. “But I also like to talk about things that go on in my daily life. I’ve noticed in the two weeks we’ve been here, I’ve got 7-8 hours where I’m up and there’s a lot of things I can bring to the show. So far I really do enjoy it.”
It was a smart move for Sports Talk 790AM to rebrand and focus more on Kentucky. The reasoning for it is pretty simple. It’s the largest sports entity in the state and is considered a “blue blood program” in college basketball, which has the most rabid following in Kentucky. But Louisville also has a following with a lot of passion.
When you have a station that previously focused almost entirely on U of L, a change to cover more of the bitter rival probably didn’t go over too well for most of the fans. That has certainly been the case in some instances, but overall, the feedback has been strong.
“I think if we get eight responses, six will be positive, two will be negative and you find yourself focusing more on the negative,” said Coffey. “I think that’s just human nature with some people. I think the reaction has been good overall. This state is just filled with Kentucky fans. Louisville fans, and I’m one of them, they don’t seem to like to hear this but it’s true, in Louisville it’s about 50/50.”
But as much as Kentucky might be more in the conversation, Louisville coverage is still very present on the station. Especially with Coffey and Company in afternoons.
“What I try to emphasize to people is you didn’t get any less U of L coverage, I’m just now in the afternoons. I think top to bottom, just not being Cards Radio has opened us up to new clients that want to advertise. People know now they’re going to get both UK and U of L.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Programmers Offer Ideas To Refresh The ManningCast in Year 3
Matt Edgar, Matt Fishman, Parker Hills, Q Meyers, Jimmy Powers and Kraig Riley share their thoughts.
Monday night brought the second season of The ManningCast to a close. ESPN’s alternate broadcast of Monday Night Football featuring Peyton and Eli Manning remains a trail blazer. Plenty of other networks and other sports have tried to copy the formula. It just never seems to work as well. There is something about these guys, their chemistry, and their view of football that just works.
Still, the ManningCast missed that feeling of freshness this year. It’s nobody’s fault. We had expectations. That is very different from 2021, when this was a wild, new concept.
The circumstances at ESPN have changed too. In 2021, the network was looking for a crew that could capture the big game feel of the Monday night slot, because it didn’t have it on the main broadcast. Now, it has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, arguably the two voices most identified with big NFL games. That means the Mannings have to do more than just provide a star-powered alternative to the main broadcast.
Going into 2023, the ManningCast will be facing a problem that is pretty common in radio. How do you improve something that works? Reinvention isn’t necessary for the broadcast, but a recalibration would certainly raise the ceiling.
“Disney isn’t looking at Peyton Manning as part of ESPN,” I wrote in 2021. “They are looking at him as Mickey Mouse or Iron Man or Baby Yoda. He is another of Disney’s mega-brands that is talked about on investor calls and upfront presentations.”
With that kind of commitment from the network in mind, I asked six radio program directors to answer two questions.
1. Going into year 3, how has your view of the ManningCast changed since its debut?
Matt Edgar (680 The Fan in Atlanta) – I view the ManningCast as the standard of all alternate game broadcasts, nothing really comes close.
Matt Fishman (850 ESPN in Cleveland) – The real challenge is how to be more interesting and entertaining each week. The first year was a great novelty. A real breath of fresh air, especially with some underwhelming games.
Now that ESPN MNF’s main broadcast is the powerhouse of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, you need to be bigger and more unique to get people to check it out.
Parker Hillis (Sports Radio 610 in Houston) – Early on I was skeptical of the ManningCast. I wanted a “two guys hanging out at the bar talking football” vibe that was less formal and more fun. What I got in the beginning was not that. The broadcasts leaned heavily into Peyton’s football IQ, diving way too deep into X and O analysis in real-time and providing more of a distraction than a benefit. The production and pacing felt clunky and awkward, another distraction. And most frustratingly, I didn’t get anything out of Peyton and Eli’s personalities.
Somewhere along the way, as the concept has been refined and Peyton and Eli clearly have gotten more comfortable, they’ve gotten there. Two goofy football nerds with incredible insight and experience seamlessly meshing smart analysis with real football fandom. They’re inviting me in to watch the game with them, not telling me what I need to know about what’s going on, and that is something I can get into and really enjoy.
Q Myers (ESPN Las Vegas & Raider Nation Radio in Las Vegas) – For me personally it hasn’t changed much. I find it entertaining but only in a small serving size. I might pop on for an interview with a guest that I really want to hear from but then tune out. I really enjoy the game being the bigger feature, and I realize for a lot of the games that aren’t that great this could help out a bit.
Jimmy Powers (97.1 The Ticket in Detroit) – It hasn’t really. I’ve enjoyed it from the beginning and thought it was genius when it debuted! I think it has given many sports fans an alternative option to the traditional broadcast, which allows them to get a better understanding of what is going on. In my opinion, the knowledge and entertainment value they bring to the viewer is excellent!
Kraig Riley (93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh) – My view has changed in that, as much as I loved it when it debuted, I questioned the long-term sustainability given how driven it was by the guests they welcomed in. I always wanted more of the Peyton-Eli brotherly relationship part of it. Their breakdowns of the game were good and so were the guests, but what were they going to do to add to that? Since they’ve shown more of their personalities, it stands out more in a way that separates itself from just watching the standard broadcast of the game.
2. As a programmer, what would you do to freshen up this brand next season?
Edgar – You don’t want to get gimmicky or clownish, but I’d love to see them talk with a mic’d up player, similar to what they do on Sunday Night Baseball. They obviously can’t speak with a player between the lines, but what about someone who is in the mix and actually playing, like a linebacker after the defense comes off the field?
Fishman – To me, the biggest “miss” is not having Eli and Peyton in the same place. It creates a certain sloppiness and a decent amount of talking over each other. Some of that gives it the casualness that’s appealing and some of it is just messy. It’s sort of like Zoom calls. They were fine when you needed them during the pandemic, but if you can do it in person, it’s better.
Hillis – It might not be “freshening it up”, but the biggest thing I would do to tweak the Manningcast is limit the interviews. Peyton and Eli can carry the broadcast with their personalities and knowledge alone.
Having big name guests from the NFL, the sports world, and pop culture makes for a great promotion piece to draw in a different audience, but at the end of the day, it’s distracting and pulls away from the game I’m watching and the brand of the broadcast itself. I want to connect with Peyton and Eli… that’s what the brand is built around, so give me more of them.
Myers – I think keeping it a little more tight as far as breakdowns and analysis from the two make it good. A lot of times when it gets off the rails it does tend to be funny, but I don’t feel like I learn a lot from it. It feels to me like a lot of the comedic side of things is forced at times, when it happens organically it just seems better. For example, with Peyton walking off after Maher missed his 3rd kick. That felt like what we all were doing at the time.
Powers – Since they only do a number of games, I would put the two of them together in the same room to view the games. You could still split the screens and have the same look – but it would prevent (or at least limit) the talking over each other because of the delay. That is especially a problem when they bring in 3rd person.
Riley – I would push for more of the content that stands out aside from the game and can be pushed on social. I think the original audience will always need more in order to continue engaging with them over the standard broadcast of the game. That audience knows their broadcast is different, but what about the audience that hasn’t engaged yet or has possibly disengaged?
Serve them up with some breakdowns of the game that only Peyton and Eli can provide. Give them the best clips of the interviews. But super-serve them on the entertainment and personality sides so that the audience knows they’re getting something more than just the game. They can consume that elsewhere.
The ManningCast is not in danger. It’s one of the most influential sports television products of the last 15 years. Even radio is trying to figure out a way to make it work. Edgar’s station, 680 The Fan, delivered a conversational alternate broadcast of the Peach Bowl this year.
Like anything else in pop culture though, the producers always have to think about what is next. How do you tempt fans to come back for more? It’s why we don’t see Spider-Man fight the same villain in every movie. When you know the parameters, the content has to be all killer and no filler just to move the needle.
But this is a product built around live sports. By nature, there is plenty of filler in a football game broadcast. That isn’t the Mannings’ fault, and most weeks, they find a way to make gold in those moments. Going into the 2023 football season though, the novelty of the ManningCast, and frankly of alternate broadcasts in general, will have worn off. Peyton and Eli don’t have to change everything, but re-evaluating where their show stands and where it could go wouldn’t be a bad idea.
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 DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.