Accountability in the sports talk industry has never been higher. In some ways, it’s harder to be a host with a national platform now than it has been in the entire history of the sports talk show. Audiences have long memories and easier access to receipts than ever before. Instead of running from those expectations, however, hosts and shows need to take more care in crafting their opinions, and take responsibility for their words – for better or worse.
As the genre of sports talk radio has matured, the process of creating a successful sports talk show has been refined and distilled into two key elements: Play the hits and create compelling opinions based on those hits. Consistency and sincerity in those opinions weren’t necessary components in that recipe – until now.
Before the advent of social media, “I nevah said dat!” was all the armor a host needed against any questioning of their previous comments. A caller had to rely on their own memory to take a host to task, and they had no real way to prove their recollection was accurate. With the explosion of social media, however, that isn’t the case anymore. As shows have posted quotes and videos online, they’ve also opened themselves up to criticism of their own words. Twitter accounts like @OldTakesExposed and @BackAftaThis are dragging previous comments and opinions back from the ether and sharing the receipts with everyone.
So, how should shows deal with this new accountability? Most hosts with large platforms bristle at the idea of someone pointing out an instance when they were wrong. Some hosts have been on the air for decades and are quick to remind people of his successes while never admitting to being wrong about anything. Doing this destroys your credibility and makes your next predication or opinion far less compelling. Worse yet, some hosts also pucker before giving that next opinion because they’re worried about it coming back to haunt them in the future.
But can being incorrect really haunt them? Just as fans make all sorts of prognostications that are wildly inaccurate, hosts and “experts” everywhere are constantly wrong about all sorts of things. Preseason predictions and NFL mock drafts are proof enough of that. @OldTakesExposed may be quick to point out when a host was wrong, but what most show units fail to realize is that the audience isn’t expecting perfection. They’re expecting authenticity.
Don’t run from your bad calls, lean into them. Most national shows do this during March Madness, but forgo the policy the rest of the year. Why? Turning a blind eye to our mistakes throws away an opportunity for genuine interaction with your audience. Authenticity is one of the most important things people look for when they’re forming a relationship with a host. What could be more real than being wrong like the rest of us?
Being wrong can actually be a no-lose situation for a show. If the evidence is clear that you were flat-out incorrect (“Brady is going to the 49ers”), just take the L and move on. The respect the host gains from the audience will last far longer than the memory of the wrong prediction. If you’re talking about something that is a little more black-and-white, use the criticisms themselves as content for your show. Doing so keeps your head out of the sand and allows the audience to feel heard, and to become a part of the show.
This philosophy doesn’t just apply to simple predictions, however. Colin Cowherd’s, “Where Colin Was Right, Where Colin Was Wrong” is a great idea, but it only boosts credibility if it is also applied to evaluations of players, coaches, teams, etc. The most damning tweets from @OldTakesExposed are the ones featuring Colin comparing a QB to an all-time great after previously calling him, “Jay Cutler with a ring.”
(That paragraph isn’t meant as rip Colin as much as it might read. I think he’s one of the best talk show hosts in the country, I just think he and others like him need to tweak their style going forward.)
Producers and other members of a show unit need to be the first line of defense for a host. No one is in a better position to create a mental inventory of what has been said than the people that are dedicating their working lives to the show. The crew behind the glass knows what’s been said, so they’re in a perfect position to help avoid some of the pitfalls that can come when jumping from one hot take to another. If the host is still intent on living in, “Jay Cutler with a ring” world, the show should at least be able to explain the evolution of their thinking in the meantime. Unsaid in this analysis is the relationship between host and crew being strong enough to allow for this kind of give-and-take.
The days of saying the most provocative thing from minute to minute and show to show are over. Just as sports talk itself has evolved with technology, so too have audiences. Hosts and show units must acknowledge their hot take inventories and carry them into each show. The crews that use criticism as the tool that it is and collectively craft their opinions will thrive in this brave new sports talk world. Those that don’t, will quickly be left behind.
Rob ‘Stats’ Guerrera is the executive producer of Pro Football Talk Live with Mike Florio on the NBC Sports Network. He has 15 years of experience on the production side of the radio business and has worked with a number of elite and up-and-coming personalities. Notable hosts he’s worked with include Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic and Erik Kuselias. You can reach him by email at Rob.Guerrera@NBCUni.com or follow him on Twitter @StatsonFire.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.