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Every Week Is Shark Week For Dan Rusanowsky

“You can’t be that guy always looking for the next job. You have to focus on being the best you can be wherever you are.”

Jack Ferris

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Memory is funny.  It can be difficult to recall small events in our lives that occurred last week, yesterday or even a few hours ago.  Our memories can shift without our permission, painting a picture of an experience that might be different than what other people remember.  Memories shape who we are, how we think, and even what we value.  The cruel universal reality is that it’s our darkest moments we tend to remember the clearest.  

One can argue memory’s greatest ally is time – not the enemy it appears to be.  Like a Zamboni to ice, time has a way of healing certain scars from our past, and in the process can turn pain into wisdom.  It also has a way of preserving our happiest moments through the decades.  

58-year-old Dan Rusanowsky is a man not short on happy memories – and many are tied his 40 year career calling hockey games.  He can tell you in great detail about the time the Sharks snapped a 17-game losing streak in Winnipeg on Valentine’s Day 1993.

Image result for dan rusanowsky

“After the game,” he smiles “they raised a garbage can in the visitor’s locker room like it was the Stanley Cup.”

His memory is well organized and cataloged.  Ask him for a San Jose Sharks story and the Connecticut native would respond with “What season?”  

Just about every high point in his professional career is tied to a hockey game on some level.  Unfortunately, the same can be said for a very low point in his personal life.

Ask him where his love for hockey began, and Rusanowsky doesn’t hesitate.

Herman Solomon, the brother of Rusanowsky’s mother, sparked Dan’s passion for the sport at a very young age.  The two were regulars at New Haven Nighthawk home games and spent plenty of time watching the nearby Yale Bulldogs on the ice.  To this day, Rusanowsky continues to honor his uncle’s influence.

“I still mention him every game,” beams the proud nephew.  “I would always refer to him as the unofficial statistician of the broadcast, so much so that people have asked me if he’s actually on the payroll.”

Long before young Rusanowsky found himself in front of a microphone, he found himself on the stage.  He was never far away from the opening of a new play – portraying Captain Hook in Peter Pan and the title role in a Charlie Brown Christmas production.  His enthusiasm for acting faded a bit as he entered high school – but Rusanowsky still values his experience as a thespian.

“What I do professionally is, and always has been, performance art.  I’m presenting my audience with the images only I can see.  Every game is a performance of sorts.”

Rusanowsky’s reverence for his profession is clear, and it started with what he calls the “romantic” crackle of the radio dial.  From his home in Milford, he recalls hearing Penguins broadcasts, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs via Hamilton, and even the Montreal Canadians.

“The whole thing was in French so I couldn’t understand a word,” chuckles Rusanowsky.  “Every once in a while they would mention a name though, so I recognized the names!”

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Understanding he wanted to pursue a career in his two passions – hockey and radio – Rusanowsky set off for college at St. Lawrence University, roughly 5 hours north of Milford.  

St. Lawrence was attractive to Rusanowsky on a couple of levels.  For one, it was a small school, a size that would afford him personal relationships with his professors, and two, the Saints played D1 hockey.

“My freshman year I went in there, not really with any clue what I was doing, and I introduced myself to their play by play man, Bob Vilas, and pretty much said I was interested in pursuing this as a career.”

To Rusanowsky’s shock, it just so happened they were in need of a fill in play by play announcer later that season.  Vilas told the 18-year-old to watch some games from the booth and record some practice tapes.  In time, Rusanowsky could feel Vilas’ confidence growing in him, but even he couldn’t have predicted what happened next.

With the Saints games being delivered on the local NPR station, Vilas didn’t have the luxury of commercial breaks during intermissions.  

“One game in that first season he came up to me and said ‘Dan, here’s your interview subject, I’ll be back in 5 minutes, you’re on in 30 seconds,’ just like that I was on the air for the first time ever.”  

Rusanowsky still remembers the man he interviewed – Tom Burke, a hockey writer – but he wouldn’t give himself high marks for the conversation.

“I don’t have that tape.  I wish I did!  I’m sure it was just about the worst interview in the history of radio!”

While the thought of the tape might be cringe-worthy, he looks at that experience as a seminal moment.  Not only was it his on air debut, but he was given a challenge he wasn’t prepared for and didn’t back down.

“In this job,” Rusanowsky explains, “what you expect is often not what happens.  You have to be prepared for the unexpected and find a way to make it work.”

Rusanowsky made it work, and a Hall of Fame broadcast career was born.  By his Junior year, he became the voice of the Saints, a title he didn’t want to lose on account of graduation after his senior year, so he enrolled in grad school at nearby Clarkson University.  He knew the next logical step towards his ultimate dream of landing in the NHL was a position in the American Hockey League.  He would check religiously, and finally – one day after his graduation from Clarkson – he got an offer from the New Haven Nighthawks.  His hometown AHL club.

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He was thrilled for the opportunity, but his paycheck left a lot to be desired.

“When I got the job in June I weighed 175 lbs.  The next time I stepped on the scale was when I was home for Christmas in December – I was 148 lbs.”

The radio veteran laughs today when talking about his early days in the industry, as he grinded his teeth through so much uncertainty.  He recalls looking forward to road trips because he could pocket a little extra per diem cash.  One thing he never did was look too far ahead, and he believes that made all the difference in his career ascension.

“You can’t be that guy always looking for the next job.  You have to focus on being the best you can be wherever you are.”

In his five years with the Nighthawks, Rusanowsky was responsible for promoting the club and selling season tickets – a side of the business that interested him greatly.  For the first time in his life, Rusanowsky was learning about the business side of his craft.  Understanding the intersection of art and commerce.  It’s that layered knowledge of the radio business that would serve him greatly in his next position.  

By the late 1980s Dan was approaching 30.  He knew in the next couple years, if he wanted a to buy a house or settle down with a family, he’d have to consider a career shift.  He couldn’t accomplish his personal goals on an AHL salary.  Before he walked out of the booth entirely, he knew the NHL was expanding with a franchise in the Bay Area – a region of the world as foreign to the Connecticut kid as another country entirely.  Always a realist, Rusanowsky understood his chances of becoming the radio voice of the San Jose Sharks was slim, but he submitted his tape to the powers that be regardless.

“I mailed in my tape and they asked for another one, that was a good sign.  I sent another tape and they asked to fly me out for an in-person interview, that was a very good sign.  I fly out to meet everyone and they tell me I’m one of a couple different people they’re considering, that’s a great sign.”

Dan is not lost for words when you ask him about his uncle Solomon, Bob Vilas, and about a dozen other individuals who he credits with the rise of his career.  However, when you ask him about the moment he was offered an NHL radio announcing job, he’s efficient and humble.

“They offered me the job and I said yes almost before they could finish asking.”

The San Jose Sharks played their first two seasons roughly an hour north of San Jose in the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco.  The venue was a bit of relic, even 30 years ago, but that certainly didn’t bother their 30-year-old radio play by play man.

Image result for san francisco cow palace

“I look back at the Cow Palace years and remember a lot of fun times,” he offers with a grin, as if to say he can’t begin to tell me half the stories he has locked away.

“We definitely did our fair share of losing though.”

During their second season, the Sharks lost a staggering 17 consecutive games and earned just 24 points in the standings.  It was clear after two seasons, the shine of the new NHL franchise was wearing off in the Bay Area.

“A new team is like a new baby,” Rusanowsky explains.  “The first year, everyone wants to come and see the baby, then the 2nd year you get less visitors.  Well, our circumstances were such that in year 3, despite losing so much in year 2, we had a renewed energy around the team when we finally moved to San Jose.  San Jose is interesting in that it’s bigger than San Francisco, but it’s very much in the shadow of San Francisco.  This was the first team of the major four leagues who said ‘we want to be in San Jose, we want San Jose in our name,’ and the community around here really embraced us for that.”

In their first season in San Jose and third in existence, the Sharks made their first postseason appearance.  Soon thereafter, the new franchise was much more than a novelty in the league – they were regularly playing meaningful hockey in late spring and the entire Bay Area was taking notice.  

Personally, Dan couldn’t have been happier.  He had met his wife in his new adapted city and not only was he an NHL play by play man – he had called every game in franchise history.  That streak, unfortunately, came to an unexpected end on November 25, 2000.

Like they so often are, Dan finds the details leading up to this particular bad memory very easy to recall.

“It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  The New Jersey Devils were in town and I had just spent the morning at practice getting some interviews done for that night.  My routine for home games was generally always mornings with the team, then I’d go home to work in my office before coming back for the game.  That day, I was invited to a new restaurant my friends had just opened up, so I thought I’d stop by for a quick lunch, that’s the only reason I was at that particular intersection on that particular day.”

Rusanowsky pauses slightly, as if to apologize for the upcoming hole in his story.

“I don’t remember the impact, of course, but a driver ran a red light – hit my driver’s side door and I woke up in the hospital.”

The then-39-year-old suffered a number of injuries, most notably a fractured femur and a ruptured diaphragm, the second of which would’ve been life threatening if not quickly identified by a specialist that day.  That night, the San Jose Sharks played their first game in franchise history without Dan Rusanowsky in attendance.  He would spend the next week in the hospital and would not return to the booth for 27 games.  It was a dark time for Silicon Valley’s adopted son and his wife, but it’s an experience in which he realized he belonged in San Jose.  

“The reception I got from the team, from the fans and from the community was overwhelming.  It truly was.  When I was healthy enough to return to work, I was presented with four long panels covered in get well messages from fans.  Those are still in my house, and they’re not going anywhere.”

Like his panels, Rusanowsky doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either.  Last season he called his 2,000th regular season game for the Sharks.  He also has the incredibly rare distinction of calling every playoff game in franchise history – including the 2016 run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Six years ago the East Coaster was immortalized in the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame.  Ask him about it and he’s quick to share the honor with his fellow inductees.  He points to his nearly 20 year working relationship with KFOX, the terrestrial station that has carried Rusanowsky’s Shark network since 2000.  On paper, Dan has done just about all one can hope to do in the world of sports broadcasting, but he’s still as enthusiastic as ever to go to work every day.

Image result for dan rusanowsky kfox

“It’s a unique lifestyle, doing what I do.  It’s also an honor and a privilege to be broadcasting in the National Hockey League.  Working in sports and sports broadcasting is as rewarding now as it’s ever been I believe. 

“You look at a market like the Bay Area – there’s people from all walks of life, from all different backgrounds.  There’s different groups of people who may disagree on any number of topics – but the one thing we can all see eye to eye on is sports.  If our local teams win, we all win, and we can share that together.  If we can share that together, I think that opens up a lot of other things we can do together.”

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Ryan Clark is Ready for ‘The Pivot’ to Grow with Channing Crowder, Fred Taylor and Fanatics

“We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are.”

Derek Futterman

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Ryan Clark
Courtesy: The Pivot

Answering a call from Emmy Award-winning producer Alicia Zubikowsi, Ryan Clark learned of a potential new media venture in a niche space. Zubikowski had produced the I Am Athlete podcast for nearly two years, which rapidly proliferated in size, scope and prominence. A financial dispute among the colleagues, however, led to the departures of Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor from the roster, along with Zubikowski, and they branched out on their own to actualize a new vision. After speaking with Zubikowski, Clark met with Crowder virtually and evinced compatibility that compelled him to become involved in the project.

Less than two years later, The Pivot Podcast has quickly amassed notoriety and prestige within sports media. The athlete-driven podcast contains weekly conversations with contemporaries and luminaries alike, to talk sports, music and entertainment. Clark, Crowder and Taylor possess an evident rapport and retains the audience while encouraging prospective listeners to hear the genuine endeavor.

“We felt like there was some synergy there, we thought we could do some good things and we decided to give it a try,” Clark said. “I had already been doing my own podcast that I was funding myself, editing myself and cutting promos myself just because I understood what the space was and I knew that that’s where a lot of media was going, and at the time I didn’t have a partnership or anyone kind of showing me the way, but I was like, ‘These people have already been successful.’”

Since its launch in the winter of 2022, The Pivot Podcast has amassed over 158 million views and 870,000 subscribers on YouTube alone. The show has welcomed guests across a variety of professions, some of whom have included Caleb Williams, Snoop Dogg, Gayle King and Travis Kelce. During its time in circulation, it has made an indelible impact on the landscape and recently agreed to a multi-year partnership with Fanatics.

Through the deal, The Pivot Podcast will feature Fanatics’ verticals surrounding commerce, betting, collectibles and events, and the Fanatics Sportsbook garnering the title of the “official sportsbook” of the show. Additionally, the program will be part of company events such as Fanatics Fest NYC and its annual Super Bowl party.

“Luckily for us, it’s been such a blessing,” Clark said. “Some of the stories we’ve been able to tell, the people we’ve been able to work with and have as guests on the show, and then obviously now having an opportunity to partner with Fanatics and be a part of Michael Rubin’s team and sort of head their media division, especially when you’re speaking of Alicia and what she’ll be able to do, it just makes so much sense.”

Fanatics itself had inked some deals in the sports media space over the last year, including agreements with Bleacher Report and Overtime, but they were largely under the aegis of merchandising and/or live events. The company also hired Ed Hartman as its chief strategy officer in media, trying to discover content that fits various key business sectors. For The Pivot, retaining creative control and autonomy over the content was essential and being involved in other ventures added more value to the proposition.

“To be a part of those things and bringing those things to the world, but also an opportunity to showcase the athletes and entertainers that are part of the Fanatics family – and I think that’s a different and a bigger opportunity than any podcast has ever had with any partnership, and that is why it was important for us to find the right partnership,” Clark said. “And if I’m being honest, our producer has turned down multiple deals saying that she believed that this was the one before this was ever even a thing that Michael Rubin was talking about.”

Reaching this point required hard work, consistency and confidence that The Pivot would ultimately resonate with audiences and establish a rapport in the space. Luckily for Clark, he had a viable fallback plan in that he was working at ESPN as an NFL analyst, a role he had positioned himself to attain while he was still an active player.

During his career, he had worked on 93.7 The Fan hosting a radio show from a hibachi restaurant in Pittsburgh and also appeared on local television. Clark played 13 years in the NFL as a safety and won a Super Bowl championship as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 season.

Although Clark had been told as a player that he had a chance to thrive in sports media, his formative years in the business broadened his understanding of the landscape and how to achieve success. Upon retiring from the NFL, he signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN to appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio shows and additional network programming.

Over the last several years, he has been a consistent part of NFL Live. Clark explained that the show contains underdogs who have crafted chemistry that has coalesced into an on-air product and meaningful friendships. Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, Mina Kimes and Adam Schefter work with Clark and blend their football knowledge and expertise with entertainment.

“I could see how much work they all put into their craft, and I respected that, and then once you get that respect and you start to work together, now you get to know the people,” Clark said. “You get to know about their kids, you get to know about their home life, you get to know about what makes them tick and what makes them themselves, and then we care about each other.”

As members of the show watch NFL games every week, they remain in constant communication through a group chat. Additionally, Clark ensures that he is actively listening to what his colleagues say on the air so he can disseminate informed, substantive opinions that play a part in the overall product.

“The smartest of analysts understand what they have to be on each show based on who they’re working with,” Clark said. “I think you just also have to be versatile enough to do that. You have to know when you’re on NFL Live, that show is so heavy X and O; that show is so heavy, ‘Let’s educate – let’s talk about the things that are important in ball, even if they aren’t the most popular things.’”

Starting last season, Clark was added to Monday Night Countdown as a studio analyst as part of a revamped iteration of the program hosted by Scott Van Pelt. Joining Clark as analysts on the show were his NFL Live colleague Marcus Spears and incumbent analyst Robert Griffin III. While there were some memorable moments both in studio and on site throughout the year though, Clark felt that the show struggled to capture an essence on the air.

“I think the show is just hard because it’s sort of like rolled over the entire infrastructure and changed the people, and it happened so late that I don’t think we ever got an opportunity to find our voices on that show, and we tried to work through that throughout the season,” Clark said. “….I think last year was a learning experience where if I’m being really honest, we did bad TV sometimes, which was new for me because I felt like I haven’t done bad TV in a very long time, and it was embarrassing for me because I put so much time into it.”

Former Philadelphia Eagles center and Super Bowl champion Jason Kelce is joining the show and was formally introduced this week. During a charity golf outing this offseason, Clark had a chance to meet Kelce and learn more about him as a person while also answering questions about ESPN and the sports media business.

“I told him to be himself because being himself is what got him here,” Clark said. “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion, so he has so much knowledge, experience and wisdom that people will crave, and he can give it to them uniquely with his personality, with his honesty [and] with the openness and vulnerability about who he is. Other than that, he’s going to have to learn.”

Akin to Clark hosting The Pivot and working at ESPN, Kelce hosts the New Heights podcast with his brother, and will now be joining Monday Night Countdown on ESPN. Clark anticipates that Kelce will be a huge addition, referring to him as the “hottest free agent ever,” and hopes to grant him longform chances to express himself on the air. Being on the show for a second season, however, nearly was not a reality for Clark amid an expiring contract at ESPN.

“I was gone,” Clark said. “I wasn’t considering – I was done. Normally they extend your contract until it gets done most times. I was out – my contract had ended.”

Clark took part in discussions with other people in the business, some of which included having his own show and organizations starting networks around him. Throughout the process, he was cognizant about the relationships and memories he had built at ESPN and was appreciative for various personalities speaking up for him, including Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith. In the end, Clark signed a multi-year extension with the network that implemented a raise and additional responsibility while also continuing his other projects.

“Obviously my family is the NFL Live crew,” Clark said. “Scott Van Pelt and I probably share one of the most memorable nights in television when Damar Hamlin went down. And so those relationships were things that I didn’t want to leave unless there was a good enough reason to leave, and I don’t think that’s just money.”

Clark started hosting Inside the NFL last season on The CW, a storied sports franchise that presents highlights, analysis and interviews every week during the NFL season. After spending approximately four decades on HBO and subsequent years on Showtime and Paramount+, the program moved to broadcast television for the first time. Clark conceptualizes his role as a point guard who is able to score when necessary and successfully facilitate his colleagues Jay Cutler, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Chris Long and The Pivot co-host Channing Crowder.

“I think that was the hardest adjustment with Inside the NFL initially was like, ‘Okay, how do I set these guys up for success while still doing something I’m really good at, which is analyzing football?,’” Clark said, “and it’s taken some time to really sort of find a space for it, but I think I did find that on Inside the NFL.”

In working on The Pivot, Clark built relationships organically through conversations surrounding strategy, content creation and lifestyle. One episode in particular that stands out to him is when the show interviewed former NBA forward Michael Beasley where he opened up about his mental health struggles and hardships he has endured throughout his life. Furthermore, he talked about struggling to find the right people and explained that everyone stole from him except his kids. Clark, Crowder and Taylor sympathized with Beasley and offered him assistance, underscoring the unscripted, genuine nature of the show.

“Everybody wants The Rock to be able to come on their show and talk about his battles with depression, but we also want Kevin Hart to be able to come on the show and invite him to nudist camp too,” Clark said. “We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are. And I don’t necessarily know if it’s distinctive in effort or goal; I think it’s been distinctive in execution, which, in the end, is what we deliver to people.”

Through the new partnership with Fanatics, Clark looks forward to continuing to take part in candid conversations and storytelling on The Pivot while continuing to thrive in his work with ESPN and The CW. As someone who attained a successful NFL career after signing as an undrafted free agent, he maintains a mentality built on an indefatigable work ethic and resolute dedication towards his professional endeavors. Once the show signed the partnership with Fanatics, it had an opportunity to interview Tom Brady, who discussed topics including his experience being the subject of a Netflix roast and the lessons he learned playing in the NFL.

“Not everybody understands Tom Brady, right?,” Clark said. “Who knows that story? Who has ever lived that, ‘I’m the greatest to ever do something’? But everybody has understood what it’s like to struggle; what it’s like to doubt yourself, right? And so we bring them that story, and in bringing them that story, we talk about the things that Fanatics is doing and the ways that they are now moving in the sports world.”

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Christopher ‘Mad Dog’ Russo Making the Most of His Resurgence with the Help of ESPN

Far from a close-minded fuddy-duddy. He is an open-minded observer of sports, one of the greatest of all time.

John Molori

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Screengrab of First Take on ESPN with Chris Russo
Screengrab from ESPN/First Take

The true essence of Christopher ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, Version 2024 can be found in the open to the May 15 edition of First Take on ESPN.

In the aftermath of the Knicks defeating the Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, superstar showstopper Stephen A. Smith opened the program with an emotionally joyous soliloquy lauding his favorite New York basketball team. Smith was jubilant, ebullient, and thrilled.

The segment ended with Smith walking over to panelists Russo and Kendrick Perkins and hugging them in glee. After the show’s open, the Knick rapture continued, that is, until “Mad Dog” was let out of the kennel.

Russo brought things back down to earth, predicting that Indiana would win Game 6 of the series. He then went through a mental historical timeline of the Knicks choking in playoff games at home. This level of historic context is largely lost on modern sports fans, many of whom believe that nothing existed before LeBron James or Tom Brady.

Russo’s beautiful dose of reality ticked off the jovial Smith but set the discourse on a more levelheaded road. Russo is a talking history book, and let’s face it, not everybody likes history class. The difference, however, is that Christopher Russo lived this history, and indeed, made history himself. A 2022 National Radio Hall of Fame inductee, he has uniquely entertained sports fans for more than four decades, becoming one of the most memorable and imitated personalities ever.

He created Mad Dog Sports Radio on SiriusXM in 2008 and headlines the channel with his popular Mad Dog Unleashed show. In addition, he hosts the daily High Heat program on MLB Network. Still, it is one of Russo’s earliest and most recent gigs that set him apart.

Beginning in 1989 and for the next 19 years, Russo and Mike Francesa hosted the landmark Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon driveshow on WFAN radio in New York. It was a ratings mammoth and ensconced Russo as a stone-cold sports media legend.

I am going to make the case that Russo’s latest incarnation as a First Take Wednesday regular is just as significant. It has exposed a whole new audience to the Russo experience. On a more basic level, it is just really special to see a classic radio guy like Russo welcomed into the most progressive and popular sports talk show on the air right now.

Kudos to Stephen A. Smith for making Russo a regular on his program. You can tell that Smith, author of an historically significant media career himself, truly respects those who came before him and blazed the trail. In fact, to a certain extent, Smith is a media offspring of Russo. They both possess riveting personalities, unquestioned bravery, and on-air dominance. Like or dislike, agree or disagree, these are two men who must be listened to and respected.

With Max Kellerman’s 2021 exit from First Take, I was doubtful as to what would happen to the program. My worst thought was that Smith would bring in a bevy of co-hosts who would bow to his greatness – like Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ coaching hires since Jimmy Johnson. Thankfully, Smith went in the other direction. Russo has the same cache as Smith, so there is no hero worship. He says what he feels and talks straight – real talk in a colorful and exciting manner.

As the Knicks discussion continued, Smith wanted to tap into Russo’s New York sports sensibilities and emotion asking Russo if he felt Madison Square Garden shaking during the Knicks’ Game 5 win. It didn’t work. Russo responded that at 65 years-old, he has been in the Garden for many big games and then cautioned Smith to take it easy with the Knicks.

He again harkened back to New York’s less than sparkling history in big games and menacingly joked that it is his job to “spoil Stephen A’s fun.” Russo then spectacularly took the air out of the building with an ominous What If asking what the Knicks would do if it came down to a Game 7 and the game was tied with the clock winding down.

Russo is also self-deprecating. When host Molly Qerim asked him for a prediction on the Nuggets-Timberwolves series, Russo said that he predicted that the Bills would blow out the Giants in Super Bowl XXV – the famed Scott Norwood missed field goal game. Qerim, who does an excellent job in controlling Hurricane Christopher, acknowledged the obscure reference.

While Russo has a database of past stats and stars, he is not lost in history. In fact, on this edition of First Take, he made a bold statement that the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić has the greatest offensive skill set of any center in the history of the NBA. These are not the words of a stodgy curmudgeon whose mind cannot be changed.

Russo is an astute observer of our games. He sees greatness and gives that greatness credit. Far from a close-minded fuddy-duddy. He is an open-minded observer of sports, one of the greatest of all time. His opinions are not to be chided. They are to be listened to and appreciated.

During First Take’s Quick Takes segment, Russo ably put his encyclopedic knowledge to use. The question posed was whether the Celtics or Lakers are the greatest franchise in NBA history. Russo’s analysis was spot on and long overdue. First, he discounted the Minneapolis Lakers’ five titles as part of the pro-Lakers argument. He also cited the Celtics’ overall dominance when the two franchises have met in the NBA Finals over the decades.

Lastly, he remarked that the Celtics have had four eras of greatness: Russell in the 1960s, Havlicek-Cowens in the 1970s, Bird in the 1980s, and Pierce-Garnett in the late 2000s, while the Lakers have only two: Magic-Abdul-Jabbar in the ‘80s and Shaq-Kobe in the 2000s. It was the best analysis of a longtime debate.

In a debate about Bronny James and his NBA hopes, Russo again was the voice of reason giving a very realistic analysis of why he is not a top pro prospect. It is clear that Russo has nothing to prove, nobody to impress, and no apple to polish. He made his bones years ago, and his takes are refreshing and objective.

The cherry on top of Russo’s First Take sundae was his What Are You Mad About? segment. Viewers tuning into this part of the program are no doubt wondering who the hell, and at times, what the hell they are watching. Russo pushes the limits of his angst, heart rate, blood pressure, and decibel level picking apart several news items from the week in sports. At times, he closes his blurbs screaming to the heavens, “May God strike me down!”

In this particular segment, he went off on late NBA playoff start times, the intrigue surrounding the 2024 NFL schedule release, and his distaste towards the vulgar humor in the Tom Brady roast. Russo gets up close to the camera and goes off in a boisterous way. It is simultaneously fantastic and frightening.

In his last piece on the roast, Russo looked into the camera and yelled to Brady, “How stupid can you be!” This is the same question I will pose to anyone who dismisses Russo as an out of touch old guy. This cat is no curmudgeon. He is a killer. Elderly? No, epic. Bygone? How about straight up bad ass. That is Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, Version 2024.

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How to Renegotiate Your Annual Sports Radio Advertising Contract

Reducing expenses within an annual radio agreement takes a strategic negotiation and budget management approach.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic that shows two people negotiating
Graphic Courtesy: Soject.com

If you are a small to medium-sized business, there is no doubt you are facing rising costs, and making ends meet is a top priority. Sometimes, that means cutting expenses on things you have committed to via contract, like a 2024 annual radio advertising agreement with level monthly payments. You are on the air each month and appreciate the value of advertising consistently. You understand the necessity to maintain a market presence within the budget you laid out last year. You negotiated a win-win contract and are happy with it. However, with your costs spiraling to deliver your services, cost-cutting measures have become critical for financial viability in the long term and better cash flow in the short term. You are now tasked with the need to reduce expenses wherever you can, and your sports radio advertising is next on the list. The station doesn’t want to lessen your committed budget. It’s time for strategic negotiation and decision-making. Here are some effective strategies to accomplish this objective while keeping your annual budget intact:

Pricing and Rates

Initiate negotiations on pricing and rates for ad spots with the radio station. They know where they have more demand than supply and could even make more money by freeing up some of your commercials to be sold to other clients, sometimes at higher rates. This is typically during the weekday drive time periods; you probably got an annual rate for your commitment. If the station is willing, you could move into off-peak nighttime buys or weekends. Off-peak hours typically come at a lower cost and can still reach a substantial audience, enabling you to stretch your budget further. Give the station 30 days to see if they can accomplish this, and if not, go to plan ‘B.’

Longer Commitments

Consider committing to a longer-term contract, like a multi-year agreement, to potentially lower your monthly cash commitment. Maybe you could move off $2,000 per month from July to December and move it to the first six months of 2025. Emphasize your dedication to maintaining a consistent advertising presence over time, which can incentivize the radio station to continue the partnership.

Frequency and Unit Length

If the station allows you to reduce the monthly budget, focus on maximizing frequency by strategically choosing the length of ad units. Instead of running only thirty and sixty-second ads, opt for :15 slots to increase frequency without exceeding your budget. Shorter units are more cost-effective per spot and can deliver well-known messages repeatedly.

Budget Reallocation and Trade

Explore avenues for reallocating funds within your annual budget to optimize expenses. For instance, negotiate a reduction in the monthly budget and allocate the saved funds to months where your cash flow is strongest. Having a payment schedule that matches your cash flow will give you the best chance to meet expenses. Furthermore, explore opportunities for service or trade to offset your monthly bill, leveraging resources you have already paid for that may match up well with what the station needs.

Reducing expenses within an annual radio agreement takes a strategic negotiation and budget management approach. Concentrating on pricing, rates, contract length, frequency, and budget reallocation can keep your station relationship intact, honor your contract, and increase cash flow.

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