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Ben Maller Enjoys The Parallel Universe

“There are a lot of people listening overnight. I’m obviously biased but it’s a special crowd.”

Brian Noe

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Ben Maller has mastered two very important things as a sports radio host. He has established ways of making his audience feel like they are truly a part of his show, and he has found the tricky middle ground of working hard without taking himself too seriously.

The Nocturnal Colonel doesn’t just show up at the FOX Sports Radio studios and goof around from 11pm to 3am PT. Ben puts a lot of hard work into his prep without losing sight that sports radio is supposed to be fun.

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There is something disarming about a host that can make you laugh. Ben certainly has the ability to amuse listeners with his unique blend of sarcasm, wit, hyperbole, and rambunctious views. He can rile you up one minute and then make you laugh out loud the next. The Beethoven of BS has fiery debates at times, but makes you envision a mischievious smile on his face throughout. Ben makes you feel like he’d happily buy you a drink at any point. It isn’t personal. It’s a radio show.

Ben is passionate about the industry and considers radio to be an art form. He just launched a new weekly podcast with iHeart called The Fifth Hour with Ben Maller.

Ben hits on many interesting points in this piece. We’ve got the origin of his most popular caller Jeannie in Medford, the old man feeding ducks at the park, and one of Ben’s favorite nights in radio. We’ll combine all of these things and make one delicious lemon meringue cheesecake. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Where did your sports radio career begin?

Ben Maller: I started in college radio at Saddleback College. Then I got an internship in the early ‘90s at XTRA Sports 690, which was this huge radio station in San Diego that had 77,000 watts of power. I was an intern for Lee Hacksaw Hamilton, this big star, afternoon drive guy. I started there and then I got a job as a board op at the station. Then they hired me as a reporter. I did that for several years. After that the company purchased a radio station in Los Angeles. They were launching a station in L.A. so they hired me. I was one of the first people they hired at that new station. It took off from there. I’ve been at FOX for almost 20 years so it’s been good.

Noe: When you started out, sports radio wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. Did you intend to be a sports radio host or was it something you fell into?

Ben: When I was growing up I loved sports. I come from a family that doesn’t really love sports, but I’ve always been a big sports fan. My original goal, I was going to replace Vin Scully as the voice of the Dodgers. Then I realized Vin was never going to retire. Then I had this idea; well, maybe I’ll go work for another team. I looked around and at that time in the early ‘90s — even before that — these baseball play-by-play guys it’s like a Supreme Court justice type of job. The jobs didn’t turn over.

I did the math on that and I’m like ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to have an opportunity if I go down that path to end up doing play-by-play at the major league level.’ I know it’s changed a lot since then. There are teams that have changed broadcasters a lot, but at that time if you got a play-by-play job you were in it forever. That was my original goal.

I just kind of fell into the sports radio thing. It was not my intention when I first started. I always loved sports radio. I listened to it when I was younger, but I didn’t know that I would be good at it. I’m pretty much an introvert. It’s odd when an introvert does this. I guess being in the business now there are a lot of introverts in radio.

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Noe: If you’re an introvert, how challenging were your early days of being on the air?

Ben: I remember the first show I did in L.A., the first talk show, it was a Saturday. I spent all week preparing. I was so paranoid. I was like I’ve got to be perfect. This is going to be very important. I’ll never forget; I did my opening monologue at the start of the show. It was like a Saturday morning at like 10 in the morning or something like that. I nailed it, right? And the program director, Beau Bennett, came in and he said great job by you.

I hadn’t planned it out, so I didn’t have any material the rest of the show. Everything was in the monologue. I had this flop sweat going. It was a nightmare, man. It’s tough for people starting out. You’ve got to really get your reps in and go through those growing pains. It obviously worked out in the end, but those first couple of times that I was on the air by myself I was panicked. You think, oh man no one’s listening. No one’s going to call and help you out and bail you out. It’s nerve-racking.

Noe: You’re so great at interacting with your callers. Did that take you a while to get that good and that comfortable with it?

Ben: Doing overnights, as you know, Brian — because you’ve worked some shifts at FOX doing the overnight show over the years — it’s a different animal overnight than it is during the day. During the day it’s more interview based. They don’t take a lot of calls. But overnight, it’s like a parallel universe where you take calls.

As far as my relationship with the callers, it just kind of happened organically. I was a fan of Howard Stern back in his prime. I liked what he did with the callers and it just kind of fell into that. I’ve got several guys that I consider them professional radio callers because these are guys I heard before I was in the business. I heard these guys calling the radio shows like Dick in Dayton and Cowboy in Windsor. These guys became part of the show. They became characters on the show. The odd thing is that some of these people I actually know about their lives and correspond and we have emails. It’s an odd relationship but it’s been fun.

Noe: Would you miss that whole dynamic if you ever moved to a different daypart?

Ben: Yeah, it’s a give and take. I think I can do pretty well. Radio is very important 6am to 6pm and I think I could hold ratings and bring an audience there. I think a lot of these guys that are my big fans, the Maller Militia guys, who will come with me wherever I go, that’s encouraging.

I really love doing the overnights. It’s been great for me. I used to listen to Art Bell back in the day on Coast to Coast. My parents would listen to him. Now George Noory does a great job on that show.

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There are a lot of people listening overnight. I’m obviously biased but it’s a special crowd. You’ve got a group of people, a hodgepodge of people, an insomnia of people that work third shift. People that are doing different odd jobs — truck drivers, security guards, all those kind of people — so it’s good. They really appreciate it because I don’t know that you get the same feedback during the day. I think it’s more of the less personal relationship with the audience during the day than it is at night.

Noe: The Maller Militia is the perfect name because your fan base, they are diehards. What do you think it is that you’ve been able to do to make that connection with your audience?

Ben: I don’t know exactly what is resonating. As far as my philosophy on doing the show, I just try to keep it real. I don’t take myself too seriously. Even though I’m very critical — obviously I poked fun at athletes all the time. That goes with the job. It’s part of the territory to be a critic, but I have fun. I don’t look down upon these guys that call the show. To me they’re not equals as far as I’m on the microphone, they’re not on the microphone, but we’re just having a conversation. They seem to really enjoy that part of it. They’re part of the show.

I think that’s the biggest thing about this, Brian, is the fact that we’re so interactive as far as reading comments from people on Twitter, and taking phone calls, and all the other social media stuff, that people really feel that they’ve got an ownership in the show. Literally I have a plan coming in every night of what I think I’m going to talk about and a lot of it takes twists and turns based on the feedback I get in real time from the audience.

It’s really the great thing about live radio; I really appreciate the feedback in real time. I know right away what’s working and what people cannot stand. The people that follow me are not afraid to tell me I suck and that was terrible radio. I like that. I want to know what people like. I want to give people what they like. That’s kind of how that goes.

Noe: When a great caller, Jeannie in Medford, passed away, were you surprised how huge the response was from listeners that had a connection with her through your show?

Ben: Yeah, Jeannie is one of the great characters in sports radio. I miss her. She was my most popular caller. It’s just a crazy story that you only get in overnight radio. The legend of Jeannie in Medford was born by her calling 911. She just wanted somebody to talk to. She was lonely. She got arrested for it because you’re not supposed to call 911 when you’re lonely. You’re supposed to call 911 when you have an emergency. So the police called her and said ‘listen, turn on the radio and call a radio show. Don’t call the police.’

Somehow she found my show late at night and she would call every night. We didn’t put her on the air every night, but it was great. She was quite the character. She had great stories. She had an interesting life. I don’t know how much of it was true and how much if it was embellished, but it made for good talk radio.

You’re absolutely right; I remember talking to Justin Cooper the producer and we knew she had been sick. I wasn’t blindsided. She had been in poor health unfortunately. She had a hard life with drugs and booze and that kind of stuff. I was talking to Coop and we started a GoFundMe page because she had no family when she passed away.

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One of our other listeners had kept in contact with her. So we tried to raise some money. We raised way more, I forget exactly the dollar amount, but it was like thousands of dollars more than we anticipated to cover the funeral cost for Jeannie. It was people that never call the show, never text the show, none of that stuff. These are just people that aren’t ever interactive that reached out and donated money on this GoFundMe thing. It was amazing.

It’s one of these things when you die you don’t really know. I wish we could get that message to Jeannie how much she was loved because I don’t think any of us imagined that kind of reaction would happen to just a person calling a radio show at 1 in the morning.

Noe: When you think back on your career, what’s something that stands out as one of your favorite bits or moments in radio?

Ben: This is going to sound odd but one of my favorite nights in radio was right after the Malice at the Palace. We did four hours when Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal and those guys went in the crowd and started fighting with the Pistons fans. It was crazy. The show was carried by the Pistons flagship station and the Pacers radio station at the time. It was wild. It was one of the funnest nights we had for anything to talk about because it had just happened right before we got on the air. It was a crazy, wild night.

As far as some of the bits that we’ve done; we do these radio roasts every once in a while where listeners send jokes in and everyone thinks they’re funny. Those have been pretty good. We did one about Tim Tebow back when Tebowmania was a big thing. I think it’s one of the funniest things that has ever been broadcast on FOX. I know I’m biased on that one as well, but that was really fun. We were all dying at these jokes. It was a lot of fun.

Noe: What’s something that a lot of your listeners wouldn’t know about you?

Ben: When I’m at home I don’t talk about sports with my wife. She’s not a big sports fan. It’s not like when I come home the job is always with me. I’m watching games every night before I do the overnight show, but as far as my time with my wife and my family, we talk about other day-to-day stuff going on, but not hardo sports conversation at the house.

Noe: What’s a favorite hobby of yours that has nothing to do with sports radio?

Ben: I’m pretty much dedicated to the job. It’s funny that you bring that up because I remember one of my bosses back in the day, Bruce Gilbert, told me you gotta have balance. You’ve got to have balance in your life. You can’t be all about the radio. It was really good advice. I don’t know that I do anything in particular as far as a hobby. I do like to sometimes kind of Zen out. There’s a park with a lake right near my house. I’ll go out there sometimes and just kind of sit out in nature. I’m like an old man feeding ducks at the park.

It does kind of clear my mind a little bit. I feel refreshed and then I can move on and do some other stuff. It’s not really a hobby but it’s something I do from time to time just to kind of reset.

Noe: How many Ben Maller nicknames are there now?

Ben: (Laughs.) I think the last count we were at 44 nicknames. These are all sent in by listeners. That’s pretty funny. I do the nickname rundown every so often. People seem to enjoy that. They’re pretty funny and ridiculous and absurd nicknames.

Noe: Do you have a favorite nickname?

Ben: There are a couple of them that stand out that I think are pretty good. I think the thing that sums up the show; they call me the Nocturnal Colonel of the Maller Militia. The Beethoven of BS is also pretty amusing to me. I think that sums up a lot of what all of us do in sports radio. I think that’s pretty good.

Noe: In terms of sports radio in general, where do you think the business is right now? Do you like where it is overall, or do you think things could be noticeably better in ways?

Ben: I love working in the business. I feel like it’s really in a good place right now as far as what’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years. It is going to be a gold rush for sports talk radio and I’m so happy I’m still in the business. I hope to stay in the business for a long time. The gambling thing is going to be so big now that it’s getting legal state to state. It’s going to bring in so much money to local sports radio stations. It’s going to be great.

I remember when I first started, Brian, and I don’t even know if this is true, but I was told this by an old guy in the radio business. I’ve always kept this close to my vest. When sports radio started, the first 24/7 sports radio station in New York, WFAN, a big part of their plan was to just give scores out because at that time there was no internet. You couldn’t click on to your favorite sports site and get the scores. People were calling like sports phones. There were guys gambling on games illegally and they needed to get the score of the Dodgers game or the Mariners game and they’re sitting in New Jersey or New York, so WFAN catered to that audience of gamblers.

This is what I was told and it seems to make sense. That leads into what we’re going through right now. I think the next couple of years are going to be amazing financially for the sales people. Hopefully it trickles down to the people on the air as well, and the programmers, and everyone can benefit from what I think is going to be perfect for our format. If you are running a sports gambling outfit and you want to bring people in, there’s no better place to advertise than sports talk radio.

Noe: Overnight radio is such an anything-goes type deal. Have you ever done a segment that you thought sucked but then it gets a great reaction?

Ben: Oh I’ve done plenty of bad radio. I should have been fired probably for some of the segments of radio I’ve done over the years, but you live and learn. You’re right; the thing about this — I get a kick out of it — I’ll do a monologue and I’ll think I’m the god of sports and all this stuff. I have this big head when I do these monologues. I have all the answers when I do a 10-minute monologue on the radio.

Then I’ll spend like a minute talking to Eddie Garcia, and Roberto my engineer, and Coop, and we’ll just talk about something that happened during the day — whether I had an odd experience at Costco. I look at the reaction and no one cares about my monologue. They all want to talk about what happened in my personal life. It’s like well why did I just spend 10 minutes talking about that when all you care about is me going to Costco and taking as many samples as I could possibly take?

Noe: Ahh, man. It’s so true. Do you keep a similar sleep schedule over the weekend when you’re not doing the show?

Ben: The way I’ll answer that is that it really depends on my wife’s schedule. My wife works for a police department so she switches her shift. Most of the year she works during the day and then sometimes she’ll actually work third shift — the same hours that I have. She works a little longer than I do as a 911 operator.

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It depends on her schedule. Typically if we want to do anything on the weekends you’ve got to flip your schedule around. You want to see family and all that stuff. Just to go shopping you’ve got to change your schedule around. I do change it. I have a schedule; the show is Sunday night for us until Thursday. Then Friday night and Saturday night I have more of a normal schedule.

Noe: Some of my friends are in news radio. It gets contentious and some of the listeners are nuts. What have been your experiences with crazy sports talk listeners lashing out or doing wild things?

Ben: Well, I’ve had some listeners threaten to kill me. That’s been interesting. I don’t think they were kidding. That’s odd, but I have some real cartoon characters. Working the overnights you get some people that have just amazing personalities that want to be on the radio. I did an appearance — I was working at WEEI for a couple of years and they brought me back there — and I did an appearance at a bar across from Fenway Park. It was crazy. It was wild.

We had a bunch of the East Coast listeners, the Northeast listeners that showed up. One guy who I will never forget — down the line if I write a book – one of my callers, this guy David, drove all the way from Winter Park, Florida just to hang out for like two hours at a bar, the Cask ‘n Flagon, in Boston. It was crazy.

The funny thing about it is he had called the show and he said he had a parrot named Roscoe. Roscoe the Parrot, right? So I’m like okay. I said to him where is Roscoe the Parrot? And David leaves the bar. He goes out to his car. He comes back. Now I didn’t know where he went because I was doing some other stuff with some of the other guys that were there. He comes back and he’s holding this stuffed animal parrot. And then he started talking — he pretended like the parrot could talk. It was unbelievable. I’m like what am I doing here? It was crazy. It was pretty amusing. He’s quite the character and that really stands out right off the top of my head.

Noe: (Laughs.) What would you say is the proudest achievement of your broadcasting career?

Ben: I think that it’s still yet to happen. I’m very happy that I got the overnight show at FOX. I’m very proud of that. It’s something I wanted when I started at FOX Sports Radio. That was something I had my eye on for a while. I was hoping I could get, not just that shift, any shift at FOX Sports Radio. I’m very proud of that.

I don’t really spend a lot of time looking back at stuff that I’ve done per se. I think you do that once you’re retired from the business and all that. I just march along every day and then eventually look back and reminisce about the good ol’ days.

Noe: A lot of the business nowadays is they want names. Programmers want someone with a big name. Was it hard for you to get to where you are without being a former big name athlete or having a big name in another capacity beforehand?

Ben: Yeah, Brian, that’s a great point. You’ve had the same battles I’ve had. I went to a community college. I didn’t play sports. I started in the business as an intern. I completely understand why program directors want to hire people who are ex-athletes, or comedians, or actors and people like that because you can sell it to advertisers. But I think we’re missing out on some really good radio people.

To me radio is an art form. Those that can do it well, it’s really wonderful — it’s audio art to listen to. Unfortunately it’s disposable. It doesn’t last. I guess with podcasts now it lasts, but I do think program directors are missing out. You can get great radio people. The people listening — I believe this to be true — the bulk of the people that listen they might start to listen because of a big name, but if that person doesn’t know the formatics of radio and doesn’t do an entertaining show, they’re not going to listen. The audience isn’t going to be there whereas if you hire somebody that maybe doesn’t have the name and ends up working his craft or her craft and becomes really good at it, then I’d rather have that person. Obviously I come from a position where if I was an athlete or an entertainer I would feel the other way. But I do think the people that run radio stations should look more at these people because they’re also cheaper. I’m pretty affordable compared to some of these big name guys.

Noe: (Laughs.) Absolutely. What’s something that you would like to accomplish or experience in your broadcasting career before it’s over?

Ben: I did television for about a year and I would like to try that again. I was not good at it per se. I was on a show that got cancelled on the NBC Sports Network. But I want to give it another go.

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I’m a little older now. I’m probably less camera friendly than I was back then, not that I’ve ever been camera friendly and all that. I’d like to give that a shot and mix that in a little bit. I’ve also kicked around the idea eventually of getting back on the website. I think if I get out of the radio side of things, which I don’t intend on doing, I could bring back a website that I had about 10-15 years ago. I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing right now. I would like to give TV, as I said, a shot again.

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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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