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Have Faith In Bomani Jones And His Audience

“Your audience can handle more than you think your audience can. Your audience just wants entertaining content, and entertaining content can come from a broad range of people”

Demetri Ravanos

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It was 2006. The Carolina Hurricanes were on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Versus, the pre-cursor to NBCSN, carried the games and made a big deal out of just how into hockey Raleigh had become.

Bomani Jones lived eleven miles west of Raleigh in Durham. He was writing for ESPN’s Page 2 while attending grad school. Where he was, not only was there not the hockey fever the national media was describing, he never even noticed the games on at bars when he would go out at night. Like any good writer, Bomani turned that into content.

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At that time, I was hosting the morning show at 96 Rock in Raleigh. Our sister station, an oldies station called Y102.9, was the team’s flagship, so most of the ra ra stuff fell on us. I saw Bo’s article and knew we had to get him on air. That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted 14 years. I think it was also probably the last time we talked about hockey. That friendship, I would guess, is the reason he agreed to appear on a panel at the BSM Summit in New York this week.

I wasn’t the only one that called Bomani to talk about that column in 2006. Adam Gold and Joe Ovies were hosting the afternoon show at what was then 850 the Buzz. That was Bo’s first exposure to a sports radio audience.

“Joe Ovies called me and said ‘we want to get you in studio on this’ and then Adam Gold found out I lived in town and was like ‘Okay, we need to have this guy in more.'”

For a guy that is as smart and thinks as quickly as Bomani Jones does, it would be easy to think talking about sports was a lifelong ambition.

“Nope. Never considered it even for a moment,” he says when I ask if that in studio appearance was the first step towards one of his goals.

Bomani eventually went on to host shows on 620 the Bull in Raleigh and Durham, the Score in Toronto, and ESPN Radio. Now though, his audio content is off the airwaves and on the internet. That is why I wanted him to be on stage at the Summit.

Bomani is smart. He is creative. His takes come from consuming diverse sources and considering the points laid out in front of him. Radio may not be hurting necessarily, but the national sports talk scene is a lot less interesting without him. As his television show High Noon was about to launch, Bo realized that if he wanted to keep doing The Right Time, it would have to move out of afternoon drive on ESPN Radio and into the podcasting realm.

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“It was just the time constraints that came up when the television show started. Three hours per day, five days per week of radio. I didn’t really realize until I stopped how consuming it was and how much energy it took,” he told me.

When Bomani speaks about why he moved away from radio at the BSM Summit on Wednesday morning, one thing that will undoubtedly come up is the lack of diversity on sports radio. He told me that not only did it effect the way programmers looked at him, it made some of them skeptical of his content choices.

“Program directors get so obsessed with programming to who they think their median audience is: someone middle aged and usually white. What has always frustrated me about radio programmers is they don’t have much faith in their audience’s ability to deal with somebody that is not like them. 

“I swear, I have seen enough to indicate this to me, man. Your audience can handle more than you think they can. Your audience just wants entertaining content, and entertaining content can come from a broad range of people. Now, you do need someone that can relate to the audience and understands where they come from, but I could relate to those audiences through shared experiences. Me being black and them being white didn’t mean that we didn’t have things in common, and I think that a lot of programmers struggle to recognize that can be the case.”

With The Right Time podcast, Bomani has found a place for his audience to get his show exactly how he envisions it.

“Since it’s an opt-in product, we get a lot more flexibility on what it is that we can do,” he says. “Part of what I think makes me good as a radio product is the ability to go and do a bunch of different stuff and talk about different things that maybe aren’t exactly in sports, but are tangentially connected. Maybe it has nothing to do with sports. Now we can do that on a podcast, because we aren’t worried about somebody scanning the dial on a sports station, hearing a tech story and wondering ‘what am I doing here?’ With a podcast, they know what they’re doing there.”

That audience has a potential ceiling in Bomani’s eyes though. That is why it was so important the show came out of the gate strong and maintained a consistent level of quality when it transitioned away from being a radio show. With podcasting, Bomani doesn’t have the advantage of catching the attention of someone just scanning the dial.

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“You really really need the first people who listen to love it. They can’t just like it. They have to be out here telling everybody ‘Man, this is a great show’ every time you send it out.”

Make no mistake though, Bomani Jones doesn’t hate radio. He isn’t the type of guy to tell you radio is dying. In fact, he was quick to tell me that he still considers himself “in many ways, a tried and true radio dude.”

That is why, in addition to reconnecting with old friends, Bomani has a list of people he is excited to meet and hear from at the BSM Summit in New York. He speaks glowingly of Pat McAfee. The duo share an agent but haven’t really interacted very much, so he is looking forward to getting some face time with another ESPN star.

And then, there’s the Sports Pope.

“I just want to see Mike Francesa in the flesh,” he says laughing. “I’ve never met Mike Francesa. What he is is your standard local radio guy. It’s just his local has 20 million people. I am really fascinated by the idea of that and how you sustain that.”

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Radio still, very much matters in the eyes of Bomani Jones. He even says if all things were equal, he would still be doing a radio show. “No question.”

It’s not that Bomani doesn’t believe in the digital space. He will be the first to acknowledge that podcasting isn’t just the future. It is the present for a large audience. Maybe in said future radio won’t have the impact it once did, but in 2020 radio matters, particularly in the sports world.

“I think about some of the long, flowing things people have written about Dan Le Batard’s radio show. They aren’t doing that if that’s just a podcast,” Bomani says of the praise heaped on his former TV partner. “Radio still carries a caché. It still has that intimacy. To me, the best part of radio will always be the connection with the people that listen to you.”

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When Bomani talks on Wednesday about why he chose to move away from radio, it won’t be with animosity or bitterness. This is a guy that clearly loves the medium and the format. He just wants to see the voices we don’t hear from enough get a microphone and room to grow and thrive. Creating that environment and improving the sports radio landscape is something he says is “hugely worth the fight.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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