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What If The Streaming War Was Sports?

“The next stage of the streaming wars will probably have a lot to do with the rights to live sporting events, but for now the power still rests with the traditional network powers.”

Jack Ferris

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The great streaming wars are upon us – and the casualty is our spare time.  I’ll admit I didn’t realize how bad I wanted to watch 1994’s Blank Check until Disney+ gave me the option Tuesday night.  

Image result for disney plus

At the moment – the main weapon in the war is intellectual property (IP), and Disney is loaded with ammunition.  It’s the newest player to the game but with Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney Channel Original bangers the likes of Brink! and Luck of the Irish – it’s easy to see how the service received 10 million subscribers almost overnight.  

In a notable counteroffensive this week, Netflix (60M domestic subscribers) announced a partnership with Nickelodeon IP and gained valuable territory on the battleground of millennial nostalgia in the process.  

Of course, the arrival of Disney+ means one more password and one more monthly payment to factor into the budget.

If you count the money I’m saving by using my sister’s old roommate’s ex boyfriend’s login information on a handful of premium network subscriptions (he’s cool with it) I’d be paying close to $90 a month for all my television.

Disney+, AppleTV+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, Starz – do the math and you’re probably pretty close to $90 yourself.

In a matter of years, if not months, how we consume sports could look a lot different.  The NFL is seemingly very close to closing a “Sunday Ticket-type” deal with a streaming giant that would dramatically shift the landscape of the sports world.  Hulu has spent what appears to be several small fortunes getting athletes to tell us “Hulu has live sports.”  A company like Apple certainly has enough cash to bid for an NBA rights deal against ESPN or Turner.  What’s stopping Netflix from doing the same?

The next stage of the streaming wars will probably have a lot to do with the rights to live sporting events, but for now the power still rests with the traditional network powers.  Skynet is not yet self-aware, so let’s not stress out too hard.  We’ll save doomsday scenarios for another article.

Image result for skynet self aware

For now, let’s play a game.

If we watch as much live sports as we do television and movies – it’s fair to put the same value on our live sports consumption, in this case let’s say $90.  

If I had $90 and it was up to me to assign a cost to each of the sports media giants in a streaming war of sports, this is how it’d look.  

ESPN

Platforms: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews, ESPN Classic, SEC Network, ACC Network. ESPN+

What Disney+ is to the intellectual property race, ESPN is to the sports content war.  The appropriately named World Wide Leader has their fingers in every pie. 

Give me the NBA Finals, the College Football Playoffs, and the best games from each sport all season long.  College basketball games almost every night through the winter from just about every conference you can name – with a special emphasis on the SEC and ACC.  They’re on the grounds for two of golf’s four majors and three of the four tennis grand slams.  And oh by the way, they own Monday Night Football and are probably a few years away from getting in the Super Bowl rotation. 

Even in the dog days of summer – you can find the Little League World Series or wall-to-wall NBA free agency coverage on an ESPN platform.  It’s truly a must own for any sports fan, and it’s price point in my budget reflects that.

MONTHLY BUDGET: $20

FOX 

Platforms: FOX, FS1, FS2, BIG TEN

Like ESPN on a slightly smaller scale, a FOX subscription offers me a little bit of everything.  I’d get a huge slice of the NFL Sunday pie and the best PAC-12 and Big Ten games each Fall Saturday has to offer.  It would also prove invaluable during October as I get my cherished Joe Buck time during the MLB Playoffs.  It would dominate my house during the US Open thanks to the network’s agreement with the USGA, and I would gladly pay double the price if it was a World Cup year.  I’m not a huge WWE or NASCAR guy – but I’ll take it if it’s all part of the bundle.

MONTHLY BUDGET: $15

CBS

Platforms: CBS, CBS Sports

Kind of a “meat and potatoes” situation here.  CBS only has a few things to offer – but man are they crucial things.  Imagine your sports calendar without Jim Nantz.  See?  It’s not possible.  No self-respecting sports fan can live without the CBS jingle during the month of March.  Honestly, I would pay just for the NCAA tournament, but I’m not gonna turn down a little icing on my cake.  I’ll take the lion’s share of the Sunday AFC games as well as the Masters in April.  Sprinkle in a little Brad Nessler with the best SEC football game of the week and I’m a happy man.

MONTHLY BUDGET: $15

Regional Sports Networks

Platforms: YES, Fox Sports RSNs, NBC RSNs, etc.

The Regional Sports Network is commonly forgotten by first time cord cutters.  You don’t realize how much you need the option of watching your local NBA, MLB, or NHL team on some idle Tuesday until you don’t have it. 

Again, we’re sticking to sports for this game. I recognize Disney+ has changed everything now that you can fill those idle Tuesdays with Cool Runnings or Homeward Bound.  Stick with me. 

Losing your RSN means losing track of the storylines in your hometown teams, and that’s just not an option for sports fans.  The RSN bill has to get paid.

MONTHLY BUDGET: $11

League Networks

Platforms: NFL Network, MLB Network, NHL Network, NBA TV

Not a ton in the way of live events for this bunch.  Wall-to-wall NFL combine coverage would be nice in April, and the MLB, NHL and NBA Networks always have sneaky playoff games, but for the most part I’m getting studio shows and documentaries here. 

Truthfully, there is one reason the League Networks rank this high on the list and that’s Redzone.  Assuming this package gives me Redzone 17 Sundays out of the year, I’ll happily pay a monthly fee.

Monthly Budget: $9

NBC

Platforms: NBC, NBC Sports, Golf Channel 

I’ll be honest – there’s not a ton for me here.  I love me some Sunday Night Football with Al and Chris, but the rest of the week you don’t really have my attention. 

I could see Notre Dame football and NHL diehards clearing some space in the budget, but it just doesn’t make a lot of sense of me to overextend here.  I don’t wake up early enough to be a Premiere League guy, and I’d rather get off the couch than watch a cycling event.  I am, of course, open to renegotiate as we get closer to the Olympics.

MONTHLY BUDGET: $9

Turner

Platforms: TNT, TBS, TruTV, B/R Live

If valuing Turner over NBC Sports seems like a surprise, I’d challenge you to consider your own viewing habits.  Yes, Turner gets a little nod for supplementing CBS’s NCAA Tournament coverage in March (and I’ll give them $1 for their MLB stock) but TNT is on my TV on and off all winter long and it’s a must have for NBA fans during the postseason. I also don’t hate Rizzoli & Isles reruns.

MONTHLY BUDGET: $11

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Nobody Looks Good in 670 The Score vs John Schriffen Feud

Nothing makes you look like an insecure bully quite like not being able to take it when you’ve already dished it out.

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A photo of the 670 The Score and John Schriffen

John Schriffen had the unenviable task of replacing Jason Bennetti as the TV voice of the Chicago White Sox. And the reaction from 670 The Score hosts — namely Danny Parkins, Matt Spiegel, and their producer Shane Riordan — hasn’t helped matters.

To call Schriffen’s first six or seven weeks on the job a rough stretch would be an understatement. Not a baseball play-by-play savant, Schriffen has struggled to get into the groove of working an everyday broadcast and has made mistakes that aren’t unexpected.

However, the 670 The Score afternoon show of Parkins & Spiegel was quick to jump on Schriffen’s miscues. In some instances, the criticism was warranted. For instance, Schriffen called former White Sox owner Bill Veeck (pronounced VECK), Bill “Veek.” In a rather innocuous comment, Schriffen showcased his inexperience and lack of knowledge.

But the reaction from 670 The Score hosts quickly went from “criticism” to being borderline ridiculous. They continually ridiculed the relatively green but promising play-by-player, taking any chance they could to take potshots.

While I’m certain the hosts and producer found the quips amusing, they quickly became meanspirited. This is surprising, because Matt Spiegel is a baseball play-by-play voice in his own right, filling in at times on Chicago Cubs broadcasts. There’s an almost unspoken agreement between play-by-play broadcasters that you really don’t critique someone else’s broadcast without that person asking for your input. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own style, but what 670 The Score did went past criticism and turned into questioning the resume and reasoning for why Schriffen was hired in the first place.

Which isn’t their place. I imagine if I were to question why Parkins, Spiegel, or Riordan were hired for the roles they currently hold, they’d have a conniption. And rightfully so, because who the hell am I to say who does and doesn’t deserve this job or that job. But that’s the point.

John Schriffen, however, isn’t innocent in this ordeal. After analyst Gordon Beckham flubbed an ad read during a broadcast last week, instead of just letting sleeping dogs lie, he commented “If any of those radio losers clip it and try to make fun of you, nobody cares about them anyway.”

Before that moment, Schriffen had the upper hand in the feud, because at that point it wasn’t a feud. It was a one-sided, often times mean-spirited approach from 670 The Score. But he needlessly added fuel to the fire.

When somebody wants to pick a fight — and make no bones about it, a fight only benefitted Parkins, Spiegel, and Riordan — you have to avoid the fight, hold in your anger, and walk away/ignore it. And ignoring criticism, even when high-profile people are questioning your credentials, is just something that has to come with being the TV play-by-play voice of a Major League franchise.

Schriffen, no matter how difficult it is, has to take the high road when it comes to media criticism. Nothing, absolutely nothing, good comes from engaging. And frankly, those tearing him down were hoping to do just that, bring them down to their level, where they’d beat him with experience. Part of being a great sports radio host — and despite criticizing them in this story, I think Parkins & Spiegel is the best local show in America — is defending your opinions, and coming out on top no matter what. It’s an avenue Schriffen was never going to win.

I’ve been hesitant to use the word “bully” or “bullying” in this case because I think the word is thrown out all too often in 2024. It’s as if there is no middle ground between “everybody love everybody” and “bullying.” But, after Schriffen’s comments, Shane Riordan went into textbook bully mode. His “If you mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns” response, couldn’t be more bully-esque. Nothing makes you look like an insecure bully quite like not being able to take it when you’ve already dished it out.

Riordan was suspended in 2023 after claiming he’d “bone” the mom of a conservative Chicago talk radio host after speaking poorly of the Windy City. Instead of being somewhat remorseful over the situation, Riordan wore it like a badge of honor in a tweetstorm after Schriffen’s comments, claiming that his response to the White Sox TV voice would lead to another suspension. He later said Schriffen “just opened the f—ing floodgates” and had “no f—ing clue what he has done” by criticizing the station and the afternoon show.

After weeks of criticism, going as far as to say Schriffen “didn’t know baseball”, he called the folks making fun of him “losers”, and that’s the response? After making attacks that could absolutely be viewed as personal, to take being called a “loser” by someone you’ve denigrated for weeks so personally is bizarre. The idea that you’d even care about someone you’ve already un-invited from the cool kids club is truly asinine. Again, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.

I’m sure they would deny this, claiming a role as an “equal opportunity offender”, but I can’t help but think that if 670 The Score was the radio flagship of the White Sox, or if Schriffen was the Cubs TV voice, this would have never happened. Boog Sciambi is often lambasted by Cubs fans for his work (and I’ll never understand why), but I can’t remember a time when a Score host took time to criticize his performance.

For what it’s worth, Parkins & Spiegel aren’t the only Chicago media members talking about Schriffen. Jonathan Hood, morning co-host at ESPN 1000 (the flagship of the White Sox) said he didn’t “understand the chip on the shoulder” of Schriffen, adding that “no one is out to get” the new White Sox TV voice. I think it’s pretty clear, however, to see why Schriffen would feel differently.

Nobody wins here. Everyone looks like a loser. Each side is at fault. And instead of being able to take the high road, both sides look like petulant children. It’s a pissing match that no one can win, and no one included in the beef has taken the slightest moment to be introspective, nor retrospective, and think “Maybe I should just be an adult — and a professional — and grow up.”

And while it’s great for content, when it gets personal, it becomes — at least in my opinion– no fun. If there were a clear-cut winner, or someone that deserved to be defended, that would be a different story and a different column. But in this case, it doesn’t feel like either side deserves to be praised for their conduct.

As observers, we often forget the people we see on TV or hear on the radio are real people, with real thoughts, real feelings, and real ambitions. It’s just unfortunate that the people who are often subjected to it the most lost sight of that in this situation, too.

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Netflix Knows Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones Bring Eyeballs

The team still draws a crowd.

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A photo of Jerry Jones and a logo for Netflix
Photo: Sports Illustrated

A 10-part series on Jerry Jones here in 2024 feels like roughly eight parts too many. But that is not the Netflix calculation.

No, the math is far simpler: Dallas Cowboys = eyeballs.

It’s been true for as long as most of us can remember – and that particular part about the Cowboys franchise isn’t hype. The team still draws a crowd.

The news in the recent announcement of the 10-parter on Jones, the Cowboys’ owner and general overlord, isn’t that it is being produced. That was known last year. But Netflix’s involvement answers the question about on which platform the project might land.

So get ready for plenty of Jerry Jones, but also Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys. And make note of the timeline, because this multi-parter is going to be almost exclusively rooted in a brief, glorious and now quite distant past.

You’ll need to put your 1990s goggles on to recognize the triumphs documented here. It was then that Jones, as a still-young owner by NFL standards, having bought the team in 1989, was the man of record as the Cowboys reeled off three Super Bowl victories in a four-season period.

That is a tremendous accomplishment in any era, and those Cowboys teams were a blast to watch: talented, cocky, demonstrative, controversial. They made news on and off the field, not all to the good. For those of us who wrote about the league in those years, they were a gold mine of source material. And, of course, winning in the NFL is the cologne that masks any little odor that might arise.

Those Dallas teams knew how to win games. How much of that actually had to do with Jerry Jones is a fair question, especially judging by what’s happened since, and I guess we’ll have to wait for Episode 5 or 7 or 9 to find out how this series answers that. But given the fact that the NFL itself insists that the series is “the definitive story of Jerry Jones and his unique journey in transforming the Dallas Cowboys franchise,” we’re already a good ways there.

“For several years, Forbes has ranked the Dallas Cowboys as not only the most valuable team in the NFL, but the most valuable sports team in the world,” the Netflix news release intones. “In 2023, the Cowboys were worth $9 billion and rising — the result of decades of exceptional athletic talent, coaching, and management that took shape during the ’90s, when the once-struggling team transformed into three-time Super Bowl champions.”

As Preston Jones put it in the Dallas Observer, “There are a lot of words doing a lot of heavy lifting in there.”

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were certainly the architects of the roster that Johnson coached, but in that time – during those precise years of the Cowboys winning and winning – I can tell you that most of the NFL cognoscente understood Johnson as the driving force and creative genius.

Jones was well aware of that; it was the source of much of the well-publicized friction between those two. They were high-level, high-ego competitors even as they were part of the same multi-championship run – so much so, in fact, that by the time those Cowboys won ring No. 3 in the 1995 season, Jimmy Johnson had already been replaced, with Jones bringing in longtime friend Barry Switzer after functionally running Johnson off the job.

The decision to part with Johnson was more than three decades ago. Coincidentally, the Cowboys’ drought of winning a Super Bowl – or appearing in a Super Bowl, or appearing in an NFC conference championship, for that matter – is now roughly three decades old.

It’s silly to pre-judge the entire series, which includes interviews with many of the leading lights of those ‘90s successes. The list includes Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, and it also includes Johnson. That alone sounds worth watching.

Of course, you could cover that in an episode or two. But the producers of the series, and now Netflix as distributor, understand the greater value lies in promoting a Cowboys-branded product. Jerry Jones might not like hearing it (or he might not care), but it is a brand whose popularity far, far predates his appearance on the scene.

Brands equal viewers. You watch network baseball, you’re going to get a lot of Yankees and Dodgers. The NBA? Prepare for Celtics, Knicks, Lakers. These are the ratings anchors of large-scale broadcast deals, and in the NFL, the Cowboys are firmly part of the mix.

They may be 5-13 in the playoffs since their last Super Bowl victory back in the ‘90s, but the Dallas Cowboys draw. A 10-part series about Jerry Jones is really just another way of saying, ‘Here’s some more Cowboys material.’ It’ll be consumed.

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Allie LaForce Honored to Have the Best Seat in the House for TNT Sports

“I’m not in the business to break news or to become famous or gain followers – I’m here to cover live sports.”

Derek Futterman

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Allie LaForce
Courtesy: Warner Bros. Discovery

During an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game on TBS, the broadcast read a promo for upcoming coverage of The Masters on CBS Sports and Paramount+. Rather than keeping the camera on the court though, they panned to sideline reporter Allie LaForce, who was sitting courtside unaware of what was going on and suddenly saw herself on the broadcast monitor. Once she realized that her green jacket tied into the promo, she stood up and portrayed a golf swing for the camera, adding to the overall programmatic value of the promotional read.

For LaForce, it served as an example of reacting to spontaneity and showcasing personality without it coming across as forced or contrived. As a multifaceted reporter in a variety of different roles throughout her sports media career, she has adapted to changing times and handled the dynamic game atmosphere with ingenuity and confidence.

While LaForce is the lead sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT and set to cover the Western Conference Finals, she recently completed another run within March Madness. Assimilating into the grind of this role since joining then-named Turner Sports in 2018, she needed to pace herself and ensure she was aptly prepared. Eight practices in one day followed by a four-game First Four slate in Dayton, Ohio and subsequent drive to the first region is a taxing assignment but one she has mastered through her professionalism and college basketball experience at Ohio University. Although her team fell just short of a tournament berth, the exhilaration and adrenaline therein continues to endure, nonetheless.

“I could sit and watch those college kids get one last shot at the tournament all day long, so it gave me energy more than me having to find the energy,” LaForce said. “It gave me so much natural energy.”

Once her stretch of March Madness games ended, LaForce immediately went back on the road to cover the NBA, commuting to various cities every week and contributing within the broadcasts through live reports, interviews and observation. In her reporting role, LaForce scrupulously watches the action and takes in the environment in an effort to identify and convey key storylines to the viewing audience. Executing the job requires synergy and stamina, perseverance and poise while respecting the game and understanding the inherent commitment to fair and accurate reporting disseminated to viewers.

“I think portraying to the audience the closest reality of being in a moment live and recognizing that it’s an honor and a privilege to be sitting courtside,” LaForce said. “How can we portray that same energy, newsworthiness and accuracy to the viewers through television that I get to witness in person?”

The NBA Playoffs have been accompanied by the backdrop of ongoing media rights negotiations as the league looks to solidify its partners for the 2025-26 season and beyond. The Walt Disney Company and Amazon Prime Video have both reportedly reached the framework of a deal with the league, presumably leaving one remaining rights package being pursued by both Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery. Within the latter, TNT Sports, formerly known as Turner Sports, has been broadcasting NBA games since the 1984-85 season and hopes to extend its multiplatform relationship through a deal that makes sense for all parties involved.

“I think there is a direct correlation and association with TNT and our personalities,” LaForce explained, “and how much fun we have while also calling the moment and the game in a newsworthy fashion that the viewers are comfortable with and look forward to that gets to take their mind off of their everyday grind and just live in a moment of freedom and fun and excitement.”

As a national reporter, LaForce is assigned to a variety of games throughout the season containing different teams, thus requiring a broad knowledge of the league. With the strenuous schedule plus trying to raise a family and run a growing charitable endeavor, it can be difficult to balance everything effectively.

When LaForce was growing up, she watched her mother run a modeling agency in Atlanta, Ga. and fly back home to Ohio every week to spend time with family. Her mother happened to be a previous winner of the Miss Ohio pageant, something she had not told her daughter until she received a letter to participate in the Miss Ohio Teen USA pageant. LaForce initially did not want to compete, but her two victories ended up paying dividends through broadening her worldview and gaining creative inspiration.

“I am on a plane every two days, and I’m trying to be a great wife and a great mom and work full time and present myself in a confident way that people that are viewing me believe in me, and storytell in a way that’s honest and compassionate,” LaForce said. “I think when I was 15 years old, I was trying to take high school classes, play three high school sports, travel the country and present myself and make other young men and women believe in me in a genuine manner.”

While LaForce was in college playing on the basketball team as a walk-on member, she remembers realizing that she would need to eventually give up the sport. Her mother had previously commented on her resonant baritone voice and recommended that she be a broadcaster. LaForce was granted an opportunity to work as an analyst on the radio for her team and took part in a variety of other ventures at the school with WOUB Public Media and volunteering for the Mid-American Conference.

LaForce perceived herself as being restricted because of her role as a sideline reporter, something that changed upon her joining CBS Sports as lead sideline reporter for its broadcasts of SEC football. The endeavor marked the first time she recognized the strategy behind when and how to deliver a live game report, something taught to her by producer Craig Silver.

“There’s a sense of urgency to this game that the audience needs to feel because we’re feeling it here on the field, right?,” LaForce said. “The roar and the clock and the band and the pageantry of the game. It has to be short because there’s a pace and a momentum and a newsworthiness to this game that’s warranted, and your reporting needs to match that.”

Through a cognizance and acceptance of her role as an element of a larger component, LaForce began to find her niche in reporting. On top of that, her background as an athlete allowed her to easily decipher plays, mannerisms and proclivities. The challenge exists in delivering observations and updates precisely and at the correct time. In covering NBA games at the national level since 2018, LaForce has worked to hone her craft and embrace the setting without being buried in patterns of overthinking and inflexibility.

“I used to over plan and take a trillion notes throughout the course of the game, and now I just let myself live in the game,” LaForce said. “And when we get down to the last minute or two, I start jotting down notes about, ‘This guy whispered something to this guy here,’ or, ‘During this free throw, I noticed this,’ or, ‘During a timeout, I felt tension.’”

Although LaForce has refined her in-game process, she still tries to prepare before each contest. Part of that comes in re-reading conversation transcripts with the top eight players on every team and grasping the necessary context. Moreover, she reviews lineups, rotations and other facets of the game she would want to know as a basketball fan.

“I like to take my job seriously but not too seriously,” LaForce said. “I want the viewer to think that I’m hanging out with them watching sports, but also I want to be professional enough to be able to distinguish between just having fun and actually being a reporter.”

Over the course of a typical game, LaForce is doing more than appearing on camera and conveying the latest information. In part because of her vantage point and expertise, she is consistently communicating with those in the broadcast truck and helping to guide the composition of the broadcast. LaForce takes part in production meetings every morning and ultimately has an implicit yet tangible presence on the end product throughout the show.

When LaForce conducts interviews, she tries to begin with a sense of levity to foster a sense of comfort and amicability. Commencing a casual dialogue before these conversations also helps break down a barrier that can sometimes exist because of the nature of the schedule. This is not always possible though, as was evidenced when LaForce was forsaken by the Oklahoma City Thunder after a playoff win to speak with Bally Sports Oklahoma.

“You have to realize that as the national broadcaster, you come in out of nowhere and get the first interview and are asking questions that they perhaps have been being asked for the last week to 10 days from their local broadcast crews,” LaForce said. “They’re there daily and really know them, so you have to remember that the people interviewing them daily understand their career and their team in the moment.”

Working as a reporter requires LaForce to have relationships around the league that are built on trust and respect. No matter the circumstance, she adheres to rules of attribution and does not divulge details that have been classified as being off the record. At the same time, if she develops friendships with team or league entities, she expects them to understand that she needs to do her job professionally and may not always be able to portray them in an auspicious light.

“I’m not in the business to break news or to become famous or gain followers – I’m here to cover live sports,” LaForce said. “And then if there’s something that they don’t say is off the record, but I feel should be, I will figure out a way to tell that story without using that piece of information but use that information to shape the way in which I tell the story.”

LaForce cherishes the balance of professional and personal ventures in her life and aspires to continue covering marquee events, such as the National Championship, Super Bowl and Olympics. Having the chance to experience a wide array of moments in sports is something she knows would be a dream come true, but she is focused on the present moment in closing out the season strong for the NBA on TNT. After all, an essential value proposition of the broadcast is predicated on disseminating insights and developments in real time, part of which is actualized by the work of LaForce and her unrelenting commitment to the grind.

“Be prepared in the beginning to work for free, and always surround yourself [with] people that are helping you become a better version of yourself as a professional and as an individual, even if they tell you things you don’t want to hear,” LaForce said. “But avoid the people that are trying to have influence on you because it makes them feel important or powerful.”

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