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The Pandemic and Sports Media: Dr. Feelgood or Dr. Fauci?

“Guest columnist Jay Mariotti wants an end to wishful-thinking reporting during the pandemic and says media should rely on medical experts, not leagues, about the resumption of sports.”

Jay Mariotti

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From a home studio that features books, photos and the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon’’ album, ESPN analyst Jeff Passan could not have been more definitive. There WILL be baseball in 2020, he declared, referring to live game action in the major leagues and not to the grainy footage of World Series reruns.

“Yes, will,’’ Passan wrote in his accompanying piece on the network site. “As states have begun to plan reopenings, nearly everyone along the decision-making continuum — league officials, players, union leaders, owners, doctors, politicians, TV power brokers, team executives — has grown increasingly optimistic that there will be baseball this year.’’

A giddy fan would come away from the report thinking, “Great, I’m going to have baseball before long! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!’’

Which meant the same fan was deeply confused only hours later. That’s when the grim realities of resuming sports in a still-raging pandemic — — a daunting absence of testing access in the U.S., a demand that athletes assume health risks and possible salary reductions amid fear and uncertainty, a death toll approaching 250,000 — were hammered home by an infectious disease expert with a wee bit more coronavirus cred than Passan. Dr. Anthony Fauci, popular enough among the masses to have his own bobblehead doll, told the New York Times that team sports such as baseball, football and basketball will not resume in 2020 without a sudden breakthrough in widespread testing and the ability to process rapid results.

“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,’’ warned Fauci, his usage of “trump’’ perhaps intended. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, `We may have to go without this sport for this season.’ ‘’ His addendum was more jarring with May upon us and summer nearing: A second wave of Covid-19 is “inevitable’’ without substantial progress in fighting the virus, Fauci said, likely leading to “a bad fall and a bad winter.’’

So, why such a wild disconnect in the reporting of content so vital to the American people? Why are some news sources routinely optimistic about the resumption of sports while others are far more — shall we say — realistic and blunt? As always, follow the fire alarms of lost revenues, the existential crises of league and network empires that continue to burn with each passing day in a U.S. sports industry that typically generates $74 billion per year. The best news shops are committed to airtight, responsible journalism in a global disaster. Others, with direct business attachments dependent on sports, prefer sophomoric wishful-thinking that borders on consumer brainwashing.

From a behemoth such as ESPN to an ambitious writing site such as The Athletic to a talk station in the heartland, media companies have a critical financial interest in the rush to resume sports as soon as possible. Thus, their coverage tends to almost force-feed events back into existence, accentuating “when’’ and not “if’’ and embracing any positive information from the leagues, even if it’s little more than hollow propaganda. If you’d like to call it a self-serving agenda, please do. Nor will I disagree if you call it fake news.

This skewed approach is in antithetical contrast to media companies not in direct business with the sports industry, such as the Times and HBO. The cable network’s long-running journalism bastion, “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,’’ did itself proud this week, devoting a powerful segment to the life-threatening audacity of leagues — NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS — which defiantly staged March events with thousands of paying customers while ignoring directives from local government officials to shut down mass gatherings. Using science and data not evident in Passan’s report, HBO detailed how MLB contributed to a national spread of the virus by continuing its spring-training schedule — profits over precaution and prevention. Among the takeaways was a shaken Eireann Dolan, wife of Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, who sat in fear of her life as Grapefruit League games continued. Vulnerable to the virus because of a chronic lung condition, Dolan finally let loose on MLB in a March 12 tweet, begging fans to avoid games a day after Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test prompted the NBA to suspend play.

“Every day I’m holding my breath and wondering, `Who is (Doolittle) going near — what fans, what staff, what players?’ ‘’ Dolan said. “And I thought, `If one person gets it, God forbid, we will have it within a week. All of us.’ ‘’

This is the same league, Major League Baseball, that recklessly wink-winks a “scoop’’ to Passan that games will happen in 2020, blurry reasoning and all. How selfish of ESPN, which could be using investigative reporters such as Don Van Natta and Jeremy Schaap, to duck away from journalism anywhere near as intense and essential as that of HBO correspondent David Scott, who pointed out how none of the leagues has expressed remorse for ignoring the pandemic. It’s the most important sports-related story of this hellish period in U.S. history. But ESPN prefers to protect business relationships rather than deep-dive into the greed and arrogance of those leagues. Among the teams that ignored local health edicts in March: the Golden State Warriors. Generating more than $3.5 million per game in the new Chase Center, owner Joe Lacob proceeded with a Saturday night game while posting signs that the team wouldn’t be liable for Covid-19 risks. And which network benefited from the national telecast?

ESPN, via ABC.

It explains why Passan often joins his ESPN senior insider brethren — NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski and NFL reporter Adam Schefter — on nighttime “SportsCenter’’ appearances as host Scott Van Pelt tries to extract the most most upbeat slant possible. “I’m not trying to be that negative guy,’’ said Van Pelt, as if dismissing objective news reporting as some sort of personality deficiency. Closer to the truth, Van Pelt is trying to breathe oxygen into the faltering stock of the company that pays him handsomely, Disney, which has been devastated by the closing of theme parks and inevitable mass layoffs, an inability to produce high-revenue movies, continued cable cord-cutting and the disappearance of live sports inventory from ESPN, which has seen advertising dry up beyond the virtual NFL Draft and the ongoing 10-part docu-series, “The Last Dance.’’ The three senior insiders no longer are journalists in this setting as much as company-men messengers for the leagues they cover, carrying on dutifully as Van Pelt cheers them on.

Do fans suffering from no-sports withdrawal actually want hopechests from media, regardless if the news is real or fantasy? Or do they want the cold truth from medical authorities not connected to leagues and networks?

Dr. Feelgood or Dr. Fauci?

I’m thinking most sensible people prefer Dr. Fauci.

What’s fascinating is that ESPN, once so aligned against President Trump that the White House called for the firing of host Jemele Hill, now is firmly in lockstep with his wish to resume sports. The flip is more about the network’s recent stick-to-sports edict than any embrace of all things Trump, but the in-house philosophical shakedown can’t be denied: the politically driven voices elevated during the network presidency of since-deposed John Skipper — Hill, Michael Smith, Will Cain, Bomani Jones, Pablo Torre, Dan Le Batard — either have been forced/weeded out of the company, removed from daily shows or, in Le Batard’s case, reportedly doomed to career limbo. The most prominent stars will be Van Pelt, Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith, none of whom will go near politics, not that they could discuss them anyway. In that sense, ESPN has become much like Michael Jordan, the network’s would-be savior, who never met an important social cause he couldn’t downplay or ignore.

I was among those cringing at Skipper’s radical attempt to shake up the planet via activism, as if Bristol was Berkeley. But I wish his successors in power, Jimmy Pitaro and Norby Williamson, would have found a middle ground in approaching Covid-19. ESPN doesn’t really cover the pandemic. It just hopes the virus goes away, and that sports magically returns to normal tomorrow when, of course, all normalcy is gone. “We Miss It, Too,’’ goes the concluding line in the heavy-rotation “There’s No Place Like Sports’’ commercial, which fills in some of the empty ad blanks.

No one was surprised when the cheery CBS play-by-play man, Jim Nantz, launched a sermon about the resumption of sports. He voiced the importance of “faith’’ during the HBO show, saying, “I do know this: If things do get back on track starting in September, you’re going to have a stretch of Grand Slam tennis, golf major championships, baseball, basketball, football, all converging. I mean, as far as programming real estate, it’s going to be a gold rush. It will be like the Wild, Wild West trying to find a place to put your major event on a calendar and fit it around any one of our network’s already full schedules.”

It all sounded interesting. Until he mentioned the V-word: Viacom.

And then I realized, Nantz is just like Jeff Passan, another corporate pawn with a different logo on his paycheck. See you on the dark side of the moon.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’

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How You Lead a Brand Matters, and KNBR is Finding Out the Hard Way

“How you act as a leader should be different than how you present yourself as a host. You’re no longer just representing a show, you are now repping the brand, company, and staff.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu

Let me start by saying, I don’t enjoy writing columns like this. I love the radio business, and see a lot of good in it. I prefer highlighting great performances and ideas or tackling issues that make people think or help them learn. Calling people out doesn’t excite me, but when someone acts immature, stains a brand’s image, questions my credibility, and costs me hours of time over an uninformed, moronic tweet, I’m going to respond.

I left San Francisco on May 31st of 2015, nearly nine years ago. My four years there were some of the best times of my personal and professional life. The sports scene was electric, the views across the Bay were spectacular, and the list of entertainment options were endless. Living in Walnut Creek remains the best place I’ve ever lived.

Professionally, it was great too. I established a lot of relationships in a competitive sports radio market. 95.7 The Game and KNBR were excellent brands with a lot of talent and quality programming. Each were run by large corporations with strong, executive support. I had a dynamite GM in Dwight Walker, which I felt gave us an advantage. Three years later though, Dwight left the business, and things evened out.

Since then, The Game and KNBR have battled frequently for local bragging rights as the market’s top rated outlet. I have no horse in the local radio race so I don’t spend time thinking about who’s doing better content, who’s producing more revenue or who has a better lineup. I’ll let local folks debate those things.

Based on what I’ve experienced and continue to see from afar, I believe both brands have quality talent and valuable play-by-play partnerships. However, Audacy has one major advantage – local leadership. Matt Nahigian is a strong PD. Stacey Kauffman is a sharp GM. That doesn’t guarantee ratings or revenue success but it assures the brand of not getting egg on its face. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for KNBR.

Last week, I was preparing for our upcoming rebrand on July 15th when a tweet came in to the BSM account. KNBR PD and afternoon host Adam Copeland wanted to know if we’d be reporting KNBR’s ratings win when the sports leader knocked off its counterpart. I was confused because I knew the spring book wasn’t over. Declaring victory over a monthly when there’s still two months left is an odd move, but if the signs are pointing that way for KNBR, good for Adam and all involved. I’m sure the return of Giants baseball is good for station business.

Trying to be professional, I responded to make sure he knew our approach to coverage. I’ve met Adam before on radio row and he’s been cordial. We’ve even featured him and others involved with KNBR on our website. There were zero issues on my end or so I thought.

But rather than moving on, Adam retweeted his initial remarks, and then used a public space to question my credibility. I understand that I competed competitively against KNBR from 2011-2015 but I’ve been fair to both outlets as a publisher since launching BSM in 2015. Hell, the person I worked closest with at The Game (Jeremiah Crowe) became KNBR’s PD for 5 years. The next PD after Jeremiah (Kevin Graham) was also a longtime industry friend. Instead of making an assumption, a simple search of KNBR on the BSM website or on social media would show prior ratings success stories and higher Top 20 finishes.

I have a few simple rules when it comes to ratings reports. First, we do full book reports not monthlies. Bonuses aren’t paid on monthly performance, so calling for media respect after one month shows a lack of knowledge of how things work. Secondly, turn in the Men 25-54 data in on time, and be consistent. Some folks show up in my inbox when the news is good but go into witness protection when it isn’t. Advertisers and media buyers aren’t stupid. They know if your brand is up or down. The people in your building and company know it too. It’s ridiculous to think you’re going to be celebrated when you win but not written about when you don’t.

The reason KNBR hasn’t earned positive ratings stories from BSM lately is because the station hasn’t won the local competition in a while. I feel no joy or sadness over that, those are simply the facts. To be fair, most of those results were before Adam became PD. He was promoted in November, which means he’s only led the station for one full book, the tight winter book loss to The Game. That made the public cry for credit more strange. If this is how you respond after one book and a monthly, what happens after two or three?

After wondering why Adam chose this approach, I looked at the tweet that stirred it up. I was beyond disappointed with other responses I saw. Humor or a sarcastic remark over the air or on the socials is fine. Heck, it makes things more fun sometimes. But insulting everyone who questions or criticizes you, is a bad look. If you just got promoted, and are trying to show you can lead, why would you push your audience away? Do you think people in the company are going to see this and say ‘we’re proud of our PD and the way he connects with our listeners?’

When you’re given the privilege of leading a respected brand like KNBR, the audience is going to tell you what they don’t like. They’ll question your decisions. They may even take a shot at you for things you say or that the company does. It comes with the position. If you act like a businessman, and focus on growing your fanbase and revenue, you’ll be fine. If you act like a host who isn’t thinking like a leader, this is what you do.

How you act as a brand leader should be different than how you act as a host. You’re no longer just representing yourself and your show, you are now repping the entire brand, company, and staff. Advertisers want to feel good about who they’re in business with. Professionals in your building and elsewhere in the market are watching to see how you conduct yourself. Your crew is depending on you to set a good example, and have their backs. You may think that stuff doesn’t matter, but it does.

Most large market stations don’t have success with on-air talent in program director roles. That’s because too often the individuals hired to do both jobs focus on hosting, not managing. GMs tend to look at the potential salary savings from combining roles rather than taking into account the importance of strong programming leadership.

Cumulus employs many great people. Some of them are on the air at KNBR, others like Bruce Gilbert, Dave Milner, Pierre Bouvard, Paul Mason, Dan Mandis, Pete Mundo, and Allison Warren are top notch professionals who I hold in high regard. They don’t operate this way nor would they condone it if it occurred on their watch.

I’ve disagreed with many industry people over the years, friends included. Regardless of the issue, I’m always accessible. My phone number and email address are at the bottom of my emails. I’m also on all social media platforms. A quick call or email is preferred to address issues but taking aim publicly on social media and not reaching out is fine too. Just understand that when you go that route, I will bite back.

I live in New York now but I know what it takes to do the PD job at a high level in the Bay Area. Beating your chest after a good month after two years of defeats, and insulting listeners, isn’t what I’d recommend. I disagree with Adam’s social media approach as a PD, but do consider him a good host, and if KNBR wins future books, and data is provided, we will share their story. I’m not excusing Adam’s poor decisions, but the GM’s office shares some blame here too. Behavior like this reflects on everyone involved with a brand, not just the PD. This didn’t just start last week. That means it’s either not been addressed or isn’t being taken seriously.

Hiring a first-time PD to run three radio stations in a top-5 market, and expecting them to also co-host a 4-hour afternoon show is asking a lot. Issues are going to come up. Bruce Gilbert is in the company, and one of the best human beings and developers of leaders in the business, but if a PD is going to embarrass themselves and the brand on social media, that’s not on him. People have to want to listen and adjust, and internal accountability needs to be prioritized.

KNBR is a great, legendary brand with decades of ratings and revenue success. There’s a standard expected from the station that calls itself ‘The Sports Leader’. Unfortunately, that standard isn’t being met. It’s being replaced by an approach that has people raising questions, and listeners wondering why they’re supporting a brand that doesn’t value them.

Barrett Media is Hiring

July 15th is when we officially change our URL to BarrettMedia.com and begin adding music radio, tech, and podcasting content. The additional content means we need more help. I’m going to add a features reporter to conduct conversations with broadcasters, a few experienced music radio columnists, and an editor to tackle daily news. I’m also planning to feature a few guest columns. If you work in music radio and love to write, send a resume and writing sample to [email protected].

Thumbs Up:

Doug Gottlieb/Fox Sports Radio: Dave and Garrett raised valid questions last week, but when else have we seen a college basketball coach do FT sports radio? We haven’t. That means there’s a chance for history to be made. Doug hosts a 2-hour daily national show. Can he do both well? Time will tell. But if I’m FSR, why wouldn’t I wait and see how it goes before moving on from a key talent? Doug used to work on a 6-hour nightly radio show while balancing TV work, travel, family, etc.. Maybe he’ll fail but he has tons of energy and knows how to engage an audience. I give him props for trying. Given the rise of remote broadcasts, if Gottlieb’s prepared, FSR will be just fine.

Pat McAfee: The level of entertainment from Pat and his team is impossible to not get sucked into. Earlier this week they bought a car through an Indianapolis auction, and on paper, it had nothing to do with anything relevant, but if you were watching, it was impossible to turn away from. It reminded me of Anchorman 2 when Ron Burgundy decides to do stories about America being the greatest country in the world. Sometimes, the entertainment is just really damn good. Last week, that was the case on the McAfee show.

Marc Ryan: How does a host ingratiate themselves effectively to a new city and audience? By leaning into the things that they appreciate. Ryan may be guilty of a Dave Portnoy imitation, but wisely took a simple moment and turned it into a smart, social connection with Detroit fans. Judging by the responses, he’s making new friends quickly. Great to see that.

Thumbs Down

ESPN NBA Broadcast Team: Individually, Mike Breen, Doris Burke, and JJ Redick are talented. Collectively, they lack chemistry. Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mark Jackson had it, and made NBA playoff games feel big and fun. If solid is the new standard, I guess this is fine, but I expect better from ESPN. The current crew is not on par with the network’s other broadcast teams for big sporting events. Hopefully it gets addressed during the NBA offseason.

NFL: VP of Broadcast Planning Mike North said this week that the league took into account Taylor Swift’s U.S. tour dates when making the 2024 season schedule. Having Taylor at games is good for league business. I get that. But this is the largest, most lucrative professional sports league in America with every television and streaming outlet interested in airing its product. The NFL shouldn’t be working around anyone or anything let alone admitting that publicly.

Google: If you’re not following what’s happening with the company’s plans for search, you need to educate yourself. Read this. The company’s plans are to incorporate AI into search, creating big issues for publishers. If search and social media continue to make it harder to find content, brands better embrace the outlets they own and operate (radio-television) and make sure a direct relationship is established with their audiences or they risk losing relevance.

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Eavesdropping: McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning, JOX 94.5

“Days like today are what social media is made for.”

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Graphic for an Eavesdropping feature on McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning

Greg McElroy and Cole Cubelic are two names that are very familiar to college football fans. McElroy led Alabama to a national championship, spent a few years in the NFL and then signed on at ESPN in 2014 and has become one of the top analysts in college football. Cubelic grew up in Homewood, Alabama and was a team captain at Auburn before making a name for himself in sports radio in Huntsville. He joined the Sun Belt Network in 2009, ESPN in 2011 and since then has risen to being one of the top field analysts in college football, working the SEC Network’s marquee matchup on Saturdays with Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers.

Both make several other appearances on ESPN properties throughout the year inside and outside of the college football season, which now extends well beyond the August through January timeframe.

Their weekday mornings are spent together and have since July 2021 when JOX Roundtable signed off and McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning became the new morning show on JOX 94.5 in the college football capital of Birmingham, Alabama. For college football fans, especially in the SEC, this show is the motherload. So, I eavesdropped in on the show as I was curious what it sounds like when there isn’t much going on in college football.

The day I chose to listen happened to be a very unique day and ultimately proved this show is much more than just college football talk. With the PGA Championship going on I expected a little golf talk, maybe some scoring updates. I certainly didn’t expect golf to take up almost the entire first half of the show. However, I nor anyone else expected to wake up to the news that the No. 1 player in the world had been arrested.

Immediately as the show began, they brought the listeners up to speed on what happened and continued to update the story, literally as it happened. Sometimes these stories are difficult to cover as you don’t have a lot of information, but these ‘football guys’ did one heck of a job of covering this breaking news.

As ESPN reporter Jeff Darlington posted a video with audio from the scene, the show turned the audio around quickly and played it as well as what Darlington was saying on SportsCenter. Like most people, McElroy and Cubelic, or ‘G-Mac and Cube’ as they are known, thought this was one of the most bizarre stories and believed a lot of the blame here was on the PGA of America and the golf course.

But they tried their best to look at this from all sides. McElroy pointed out in the video that the police officers were wearing raincoats and looked more like security at an event and also pointed out that due to the tragic accident that had occurred earlier, the people on the scene were most likely on high alert and a bit tense. They mentioned a few times that there was a lot of blame to go around and not to go too crazy blaming any one person or side.

When Scheffler’s mug shot was posted and he was listed as 6 foot 3, 170 pounds, the hosts were able to have some fun with that without losing the seriousness and insanity of what was happening. As the official charges came out, again it was interesting to hear the hosts respond in real-time to what was happening.

“Days like today are what social media is made for,” Cubelic said as he read some of the memes and jokes that were coming across.

As Scheffler was making his way back to the course, McElroy and Cubelic had a hilarious conversation about how now that Scheffler is a father, he has to get used to this kind of golf. “This is true ‘Dad golf’ that he is going to experience today,” McElroy said. “No warmup, no putting green, no breakfast, no stretching, no gym. Welcome to fatherhood, Scottie, this is what golf looks like when you have children.”

The show then brought on James Colgan, a writer from Golf.com who was live at Valhalla. Colgan gave great descriptions about the scene as far as the traffic even before the tragic accident had taken place. He made good points as well about being surprised the traffic was such a problem with Valhalla having hosted major tournaments before. I am always a fan of a strong guest who adds to the conversation, and this was a perfect example of it working out well.

Another great example of how well they covered the story was when Scheffler’s attorney, Steve Romines, was shown and Cubelic saw KSR host Matt Jones post about him on X. Cubelic texted Jones and asked what they should know about the attorney. Cubelic read Jones’ response, “Best lawyer in Kentucky for criminal defense. If I got arrested, he’s the first person I would call.”

As they started to wrap up their coverage of what was happening, Cubelic asked McElroy what his prediction was for Scheffler’s round that day. “Under 67.5,” was his answer. Scheffler would end up shooting 66.

I cannot stress enough how good of a job McElroy and Cubelic did covering a story for almost two hours when driving to the station that morning, they expected to spend most of the time talking about Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s thoughts on taking players out of the transfer portal. Pivoting the way they did and covering the ongoing story at the level they did, shows these guys are true pros. They even used their own experiences trying to get into busy football stadiums and the traffic issues that can arise. Sometimes the best live radio comes from unexpected topics and stories, and this was certainly the case here.

“It’s been absolutely mind blowing,” McElroy said about the show. “I can’t even believe how much there is to even discuss. Never in a million years did I think we were going to talk this much about golf.”

“Just an unbelievable situation,” Cubelic added.

The show would continue to keep an eye on Scheffler and the golf tournament as they moved on to other topics such as the hockey playoffs, which was the second biggest surprise of the day. Cubelic has adopted the New York Rangers as his team, and the guys had a fun discussion breaking down the team as well as all the potential Game 7’s that could happen in both the NHL and NBA.

Finally, they got to what I expected to mostly hear, a discussion about Dabo Swinney’s comments and a breakdown of the Clemson football schedule for the 2024 season. As you can imagine, McElroy and Cubelic talking college football is pure gold. It helps they have excellent chemistry and not many stations can say they have two of the best analysts of a single sport on the air together five days a week.

The show has plenty of laughs and quite a few endorsement ads, which is a sign of a healthy show. I like they do some of the ads together and play off one another. They have fun with the ads and work to tie them into programming.

A fun listen, I look forward to popping back into McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning during the heart of college football season. Hopefully on a day where nobody else ends up in handcuffs.

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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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