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Brandon Tierney Joins The Bears

“It would be a disservice to not keep an open mind, as a person, a broadcaster, father who’s trying to show my children that anything’s possible and my wife who believes more in me than I believe in myself.”

Brandon Contes

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Humans are competing with grizzly bears and sports radio host Brandon Tierney is at the center of it all.

No, Tierney isn’t actually taking on a grizzly himself, but he’s hosting a new show for Discovery Channel featuring people that will, titled Man vs Bear.

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The concept – each week three human competitors will engage in challenges of strength, speed and stamina against three grizzlies. The bears receive home field advantage, using their Utah sanctuary for the show’s location. Each episode includes five challenges, with the top two competitors advancing to the final round against the largest bear, Bart standing 8’ 6” tall and weighing in at 1,400 pounds. Points are earned during each challenge and used to determine a champion. For the season’s final episode, the top three point-getters return for one last competition against the bears.

The series premieres on Discovery Channel Wednesday, December 4th at 9pm, featuring commentary from Brandon Tierney and co-host Casey Anderson. With 25-years of experience, Anderson is a wildlife expert on animal biology and behavior, a filmmaker, having also rescued seven bears from inhumane captivity situations. Tierney, co-host of the nationally syndicated Tiki and Tierney on CBS Sports Radio, brings more than two decades of sportscasting to Man vs Bear.

If Tierney seems like an interesting selection for this greenlit show on Discovery Channel, there were times he had the same thought. Trying something new in front of 40 cameras, 20 associate producers and three grizzly bears, is not an easy task. The opportunity was challenging, but equally rewarding.

Maybe the biggest challenge was finding a way to mix his current TV and radio gigs with the time requirements it would take to host Man vs Bear on Discovery. With his daily show on CBS Sports Radio, also simulcast on CBS Sports Network, stepping away for five weeks to work for an entirely separate entity in Discovery seemed like a tall ask. But Tierney credits his employers, bosses and agency for their willingness to work symbiotically and help him get this new opportunity.

Although the platform is new for Tierney, the expectations are the same as his other media responsibilities – create, entertain and deliver content. The ability to step outside the box and prove something to himself, was an opportunity Tierney couldn’t pass up as he continues to embrace the world and new challenges.

BRANDON CONTES: With all of your TV and radio work, Discovery Channel is very different from anything you’ve done, how did this opportunity get to you?

BRANDON TIERNEY: I’m in an Uber heading to Nashville to do Tiki and Tierney from the NFL Draft and I get an email from my agency about a new show Discovery is working on. They were looking for a host and the email said ‘they know you, they like you and they’d like to gauge your interest.’ But as soon as I read the stipulation of a five-week hiatus to shoot the show in Beaver City, Utah I knew there was no way I could do it. I was honored, but logistically I didn’t think it could work.

They still wanted to do a Skype interview and I always think it’s good to network and meet new people. It was supposed to be 15 minutes, we ended up going for over an hour. I put my best foot forward, I had fun, I was happy with it and I honestly didn’t think much about the job beyond that.

Two days later, I get a call – they want to fly me to Los Angeles for a chemistry test.  I had a 6am flight out of Newark, flew to Los Angeles for a noon audition, went right back to the airport and was back at Newark 6am the next morning. The chemistry test was with the potential co-host and person they identified as a bear biologist, Casey. It went great and I remember telling him, I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but if we get a chance to do this show I can’t wait to have a scotch with you because I think we’ll do great work. [Laughs] It just felt natural.

BC: I remember you doing your show from Utah a couple of times over the summer, I didn’t realize you were out there for five weeks though!

BT: If I didn’t have the synergy between Entercom, CBS Sports Network and Tiki [Barber] as a great partner, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I took all my remaining vacation and applied it to this. During dark days, which was once, sometimes twice a week, I drove 45 miles to Salt Lake City for Tiki and Tierney. CBS Sports Net got a mobile TV studio for me to do the show and everyone made concessions for this. When I first learned about the opportunity, I didn’t think there was a chance it would come together as serendipitously as is it did. Herculean effort by all involved that I work with and for.

BC: It is pretty interesting that Discovery has no affiliation with CBS or Entercom, but they were willing to help make this happen for you.

BT: Absolutely and I was also juggling the BIG3 at the time so there was a lot going on. If one person didn’t acquiesce, then it doesn’t happen. I’m so thankful to everyone.

I’m a huge Discovery fan, but my expectations about the possibility of this working out were tempered. After I auditioned, about 4 or 5 days later, the phone rings and they think I’m a great fit. From that point it became a dance of the business aspect, which my agency works out, but now we have to tell CBS Sports and Entercom that I have this opportunity. We need to find a way to make this work logistically, which still felt unrealistic even though I was offered the role.

My agency was in constant communication with everyone involved and multiple companies, multiple people were so flexible and accommodating to make this work. It was humbling to see the work my employers put in, just so I could host this show.

BC: Were you nervous to try something so different? You’re flying out there to host a show and I’m sure you didn’t have lines memorized at the time and you didn’t have exact details as to how everything was going to work on the show.

BT: I remember sitting in my trailer, which was extravagant and hysterical in itself, but I’m looking around, I have my script, I’m mic’d up and now my hearts pounding. But its go time, you have to sink or swim, this is different, this is going to be tough, you have to make it work. You have to dig down deep and crush it.

When you do what I do every day, you have a database of thoughts and historical occurrences that you can tap into and bridge from one thought to the next if you’re ever stuck. You have an excess of verbal ammunition.

But I’m not ashamed to admit this, right before we shoot, I’m standing there with my co-host Casey. The show doesn’t start until I speak and I’m looking around and there are 40 cameras, 40 lighting technicians, this monstrosity of a set, 20 AP’s and it’s a different world! In that second, I’m a little overwhelmed and questioning can I do this? Well you better find a way because the show is about to start.

BC: You’ve done plenty of TV in your career, but did you have an interest in branching away from sports? I’m sure the challenge was exciting, but have you been targeting opportunities like this?

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BT: I’ve always had an interest in being challenged and I’ve always had a natural curiosity and again, I’ve always been an ardent fan of the Discovery Channel. I do think it’s important to have hobbies and places to check out of the sports world a little bit, to infuse normalcy into your life. I’ve attacked my career with an open mind and I’m always prepared to give different things a try.

The core of what I do is, and always will be sports, but it’s a big world and I’m not afraid to embrace and explore it. I proved something to myself, that I wasn’t 100% sure I could do. I left Utah with a different understanding of my skill set and a deep level of confidence in the ability to challenge myself.

BC: There were nerves and moments wondering if this was something you could do. If you look back on your career, radio/television, local/national, is there one job or even one moment you could reflect on and take something from that you feel helped you?

BT: You just tap into your broadcasting instincts and understand that conversation is paramount. You find what messages need to pop and resonate. One of the jobs that definitely helped, because there was a lot of standup work, was the Red Storm Report which I’ve done for a long time with MSG and St. Johns. I learned how to have a presence, because camera presence is vastly different from verbal presence.

Anytime you do something new, you tap into that vulnerability and if you channel that properly, it really goes from a possible detriment to a true asset. The first time I was ever on TV in Detroit, or on Cold Pizza with ESPN, when I auditioned for First Take, when I helped launch a national radio network, those are moments where there’s not necessarily a net if you fall and we all fall because nobody does every segment and is fully enthralled in what you do. You have to be self-critical, you also have to appreciate when you do something well and find that balance.

BC: Did you interact with the grizzlies?

BT: We were close to them. They’re tame, they’ve been out of the wildlife since birth, but they’re still animals. There’s a whole protocol with the wildlife team and with their trainers, but Bart – the biggest bear is almost 9-feet tall and 1400 pounds. There were times when we’re shooting promos and Bart is only 11 or 12 feet away from us and my back is to him. I’m trying to deliver these lines, but I’m human! You realize, if something, God forbid happens, you’ll be squashed like a gnat and ripped apart like a salmon! It puts a charge through your body that you can’t replicate because we’re not faced with those innate dangers day to day.

BC: Has branching out inspired you to set other TV goals? Stephen A. Smith talks about wanting a late night show. Do you now have new goals that you previously never thought were attainable?

BT: You’re always looking to evolve. My personal evolution as a broadcaster has gone from local radio, moving to larger markets, incorporating TV and not being very good at first, going national. All of the different auditions and different jobs have reinforced that I’m incredibly lucky, but also that I’ve been talented enough, smart and blessed to take advantage of those opportunities. You don’t jump at every project, you get to a point where you can turn things down, but anything is possible. I’m at the point now, in my 40s, I’m a dad, I’ve traveled the country, I’m in tune and curious about the world. It would be a disservice to not keep an open mind, as a person, a broadcaster, father who’s trying to show my children that anything’s possible and my wife who believes more in me than I believe in myself. There are no limitations. 

BC: You have this big platform with your national radio show, could it be easy to ever get complacent and say I’m just going to focus on this and not look for new opportunities?

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BT: This is going to sound contrived, but I don’t look passed today in terms of my profession and I can say this with 100% conviction, I don’t take a segment off. There’s no such thing as this show’s been good, I can mail the rest of it in. There’s always some young buck ready to come take your job and eventually somebody will. We all get older, but I’ve always viewed myself as an underdog.

I’m from a middle-class family in Brooklyn where these jobs didn’t seem attainable. I didn’t have one connection in this business so I’ve fought and scrapped for everything I’ve earned. There are people who have given me the chance to prove them right and if I didn’t have those platforms, I absolutely wouldn’t be here today, but I wake up every morning and my mission is to slay it on the radio. To put out the most thought-provoking, passionate, energetic show of anybody. I’m probably insecure in my place in the industry. There are a lot of things I’m proud of on my resume, but it doesn’t feel that way. I’m not Stephen A. Smith. I’m in a good space, but there are still several rungs to climb. Complacency? Not a chance.

BC: What’s next for your radio show? I get the need to slay it and the underdog mentality when you’re young and you’re in small markets, climbing and chasing something. But you did local, you did major market, you’ve done morning, midday, now you’re in the afternoons on a national stage – What’s the next step for your radio career? What are you chasing exactly? Would you ever go back to local?

BT: My focus is on this show. To gain more affiliates and more markets, to convince people to say ‘Tiki and Tierney, that’s a show that we need.’ Three hours is great, I want four hours, five hours, I want more real estate, I want a larger platform, I want to connect with more people and continue to solidify the Tiki and Tierney, the CBS Sports Radio brand into the sporting realm every day.

I’m up for juggling some local, there’s a part of my heart that is local. Local radio is imbedded in my soul and I’d be dishonest if I said I wouldn’t be open to being able to do both. I also use Twitter for that local connection. But the Tiki and Tierney brand has grown and Tiki has really grown. He’s smart, curious and passionate for being great.

We’re motivated by the same things, but we’re very different and I think that’s why our balance is great. He knows when to let me go nuts for a few minutes and conversely, I can see when it’s time to give him 30 carries and let him roll. I want this show to get bigger.

The thing about national radio that I never thought I would say when we launched and certainly wouldn’t have said 10, 12 years ago when I was immersed in local, is that national has enabled me to branch into a different space. The way sports radio has changed and the way people talk about societal topics has opened up the opportunity for new conversations.

BC: Right, if something important outside of sports happens on the west coast, the conversation in New York remains Mets and Yankees, national lets you talk about happenings around the country.

BT: Sports will remain the commonality for our show, but we can morph into important, real-life, sometimes uncomfortable discussions. That is something I cherish and would never want to lose. In my mind, if you really don’t carry any bias or any hatred toward any person, then you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this stuff. If you’re open-minded and embrace the exchange of ideas, there are no boundaries for what you can create and that’s very satisfying and appealing, especially as a dad.

BC: Is it frustrating, you are a New Yorker, Tiki has obvious ties to New York, but the show isn’t available in New York terrestrially.

BT: I crave a New York affiliate, this show absolutely deserves and has earned a New York affiliate! But I have Twitter and other outlets, I’m at the Garden for St. John’s games and seeing people on the street to fill that local desire.

I love baseball and can talk about it as well as anyone, but with this show, we don’t need to spend three hours in the middle of the summer breaking down Mickey Callaway’s use of the bullpen. At this stage of my life, I like conversations with depth and layers. With a national platform, you can create interesting and unique discussions.

BC: You mentioned sitting in your trailer and then standing in front of the 40 cameras on set. Your heart is pounding. At this point in your career, after doing this for decades, how often do you get that heart pounding feeling when you’re on the radio.

Image result for tiki and tierney in studio

BT: Every day. My fear of underachieving and not attempting to reach greatness is my fuel. It’s what keeps me sharp. You can ask Tiki, two or three minutes before we go on-air I feel like I’m going into the ring for a heavyweight fight. It’s go-time. Everybody’s pregame routine is different, but this is what works for me. I don’t deviate from it because without that urgency, I don’t feel as if I’m delivering what I want to deliver to my audience.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

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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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