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Make The Good Even Better

“When we think about improvement, we generally target our deficiencies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, looking to strengthen an area that is already strong can pay off in a big way.”

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We’re in the stretch run of lovely football and it has been oh so tasty. The LSU Tigers capped off a perfect 15-0 season by clobbering Clemson to win a national championship. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs scored 41 unanswered points to erase a 24-point deficit against the Houston Texans. Not only have the games been exciting, but there is also a lesson to be learned.

Before I get to the lesson I’d like to refer to something that New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick said in the HBO special Belichick & Saban: The Art of Coaching. Belichick made a very insightful statement to Saban — “The great ones can get to the top of the mountain and say you know what, I can be even better.”

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Consider how Belichick’s point applies to LSU and the Chiefs — teams that had done a lot of winning, but strived to be even better. LSU won a lot of games with their former head coach Les Miles. They claimed a national championship and played in another BCS title game under Miles. The Mad Hatter had a record of 114-34 at LSU. He won 77 percent of his games! Miles was fired in 2016 after a 2-2 start to the season. Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach and later became the full-time head man. It worked. Tip of the cap to quarterback Joe Burrow and former passing game coordinator Joe Brady who played huge roles in LSU’s success, but it all started with the dismissal of Miles and hiring of Ed O.

Another bold move by the Chiefs paid off in a major way. Kansas City traded two first-round picks and a third-rounder to the Bills to draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Last season Mahomes was named MVP as he threw for 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards. Oh, and he became the first player in NFL postseason history with 300 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, and five touchdown passes in a single game against the Texans on Sunday. Yeah, that move worked out too.

LSU and the Chiefs could’ve been content with being good. LSU was successful with Miles and so were the Chiefs with their former quarterback Alex Smith. The Chiefs were 50-26 with Smith as the starter and made the playoffs in three straight seasons. Smith actually led the entire league in passer rating in 2017. Firing Miles and trading up to draft Mahomes were largely viewed as risky moves. As it turns out they were moves that paid off handsomely because both teams were hellbent on being even better.

What’s also interesting about LSU and the Chiefs is that they looked to improve areas that were not glaring weaknesses. When we think about improvement, we generally target our deficiencies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, looking to strengthen an area that is already strong can pay off in a big way. In sports radio, what are some areas that might be your strengths, but could actually be even stronger? Here are a few possibilities:

Ignoring negativity

Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson had a special season. He led the league with 36 touchdown passes and rushed for 1,206 yards. The rushing yards alone were sixth in the NFL among everybody. Those studly numbers didn’t translate to the postseason though as the soon-to-be MVP threw two interceptions, and fumbled in a loss to the Tennessee Titans. He was asked about his thoughts regarding critics that were sure to emerge after his performance. Jackson said, “I don’t really care about what they say. We’re just going to keep going and get ready for next year.”

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Maybe you’re good at brushing negativity aside like Jackson as a sports radio host. Chances are you could be even better. It isn’t just Twitter that is largely bathroom graffiti with ads, it could be nasty comments from callers, texters, or even negativity from a co-host that not only disagrees with you, but tries to discredit your opinions. Not allowing negativity to get you off track is vital in sports radio. If you’re already good in that area, look to get stronger.

Celebrating the wins

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow smoked a cigar after beating Clemson and many of his teammates danced in the locker room with Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Tigers know how to celebrate a national title in style. You might be the same way when it comes to your own success. I’ve gotten better about celebrating my wins in sports radio, but I’m a perfectionist by nature. What I do wrong generally stands out more to me than what I get right.

Former Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Michael Irvin has a great outlook on celebrating. He told The Athletic: “Any great journey that you’re going on – even in life – if you say, ‘I’m only going to celebrate when I get to the finish line,’ then 95 percent of those people will never make it there. But if you start at the genesis of your journey, and you make small celebrations all along the way – like when I get a quarter of the way, I get to celebrate. If I get to 50 percent of the way, I get another celebration. But, man, you bring out small celebrations ’cause those journeys are too long! 100-yard journeys are too long. The NFL has given you small celebrations. They’re called first downs, and if we end up with enough of these, we will end up with a touchdown. That is a great metaphor for life.”

Focusing too much on imperfections can drive yourself crazy. It’s important to also look at what you actually do well. You might be good at celebrating the wins, but I bet that you can improve there.

Resetting

Ahh, yes, it’s been drilled into our sports radio brains that resetting is incredibly important. Listeners are typically in and out during broadcasts. They don’t hear everything yada, (data), yada, (research shows), yada. It’s very true though. I’ve always pointed to music to describe resetting. How many songs repeat the chorus? The vast majority of them. Imagine if we heard the chorus — arguably the most important part of a song — only one time. That wouldn’t make much sense.

It’s the same thing with sports radio. When you have a solid angle on a topic that is getting a reaction, mention it more than once during your show. If listeners are reacting to your comments that Packers’ tight end Jimmy Graham was tackled shy of the 36-yard line against the Seahawks on Sunday, and that the ball should’ve be respotted, and the officials should’ve then measured for a first down, well mention it more than once. Stick with what’s working. If you’re good at resetting, look for ways to be even more consistent and creative while doing it.

These are just a few examples of possible areas that you can improve in. There are hundreds of things you can look at. I encourage everyone reading this — and God bless all of you wonderful people — to think like LSU and the Chiefs. Don’t just look to improve your shortcomings and glaring weaknesses. Target your areas of strength and look to be even better.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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