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The Last Dance: A Clinic in Michael Jordan’s Image Control

“Guest columnist Jay Mariotti says The Last Dance is presenting Michael Jordan’s story exactly how Jordan wants it perceived.”

Jay Mariotti

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Even as a rookie filmmaker, Michael Jordan is forever the badass dictator, controlling “The Last Dance’’ like a mash-up of Craig Ehlo, Bryon Russell, Jerry Krause, Steve Kerr’s chin, Reggie Miller’s eyeball and Isiah Thomas’ feelings. The 10-part documentary series finally addressed one of Jordan’s dirty deeds, his gambling missteps with various creeps and cocaine dealers, yet somehow, hints of an all-time American scandal were spun Sunday night into a profile in perseverance and a triumph over unscrupulous media.

“A hobby,’’ Jordan called it, never mind that the IRS found his $57,000 check in the account of a convicted drug trafficker and three checks totaling $108,000 were discovered in the briefcase of a murdered bail bondsman.

“Michael was betting on his golf game. But given Michael’s earnings, it never reached epic crisis levels in my belief,’’ said David Stern, then the NBA commissioner, who said he dismissed a possible gambling problem because Jordan’s wealth justified the extravagant amounts he was betting.

And this from Phil Jackson, who suggested criticism of Jordan’s infamous gambling trip to Atlantic City and other accusatory stories inspired the Chicago Bulls to their third NBA championship: “Respond, he did.’’

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As always, Jordan has slayed another challenge. He owns this production the way he owned sports and Planet Earth at the close of the 20th century. The badass smirks as he clutches the ball, waves it in the faces of mesmerized millions, peeks in at co-conspirator Scottie Pippen, allows superfreak Dennis Rodman his load management, lends a respectful ear to Jackson, imparts a master’s wisdom to Kobe Bryant, conquers popular culture and sneaker commerce, and, in the end, toys once again with every obstacle, real and imagined. And when the series wraps in two weeks, he will have taken that ball, soared through the mob like Jumpman himself and slammed his honed legacy into the grills of LeBron James — who foolishly anointed himself “the greatest player of all time’’ in 2018 — and an ignorant cult of LeBron-obsessed, recency-biased millennials and Gen Z-ers who’d buried Jordan as some cobwebbed myth.

The man has crushed all else. Why wouldn’t he take over Hollywood, too, not only controlling the narrative but enhancing it forevermore?

It should be clear now that “The Last Dance’’ — as approved, influenced, shape-shifted and executive produced by his Jump 23 company — is designed to maximize Jordan’s grandeur, minimize his flaws and leave no doubt about historical basketball supremacy. Because only he would survive with barely a smudge when, in the fifth episode, he defended his aversion to political commentary thusly: “I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player.” Jim Brown, a vocal critic of Jordan, would have provided a thoughtful counterpoint. Colin Kaepernick, too. Jordan has already succeeded, gloriously, in presenting his story as he wants it perceived. If Jordan didn’t brow-beat director Jason Hehir into exquisitely sculpting every nanosecond of the film, then his trusted business advisors, Estee Portnoy and Curtis Polk, have served as obedient gate-keepers for the first six episodes. He really should add his byline: “The Last Dance, by Michael Jordan.’’

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And don’t expect revelations in the final four shows, either, now that Hehir has pleased all parties: presenting the gambling subject in a way that satisfies Jordan and the NBA and answers media who thought the angle would be played down. Yet to be tackled is his father’s murder, which came amid the gambling stories and Stern’s investigation, a succession of events that rattled the land in the still-murky haze of 1993. The director could have broken new ground by interviewing Daniel Andre Green and Larry Demery, convicted of murdering James Jordan Sr. that July. We’ll likely only hear Jordan’s take and NBA-friendly comments with no attempt at definitive truth-telling.

See, none of the principles invested in “The Last Dance’’ — from Jordan to NBA Entertainment to ESPN — is interested in any lasting result beyond the advancement of the Jordan legend for posterity. Of course, he wouldn’t be participating without complete say-so over the content, no matter how much Hehir raves about access and his willingness to answer any and all questions. Jordan’s aim is to celebrate himself without warts. This drew the wrath of the acclaimed American documentarian, Ken Burns, who has refused to watch and told the Wall Street Journal that Jordan’s editorial influence has tilted the series into a journalistic sham.

“If you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made, it means that certain aspects that you don’t necessarily want in aren’t going to be in, period,’’ Burns said. “And that’s not the way you do good journalism … and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business.”

To which Jordan surely chuckled. Typically, he’s just trying to win the game — the documentary. Though he’ll never admit it, his purpose within the process is to win the Greatest Ever debate, as engaged by James, by beating LeBron at his own game: movie-making. Let’s not forget when Jordan decided to dust off and release footage of the Bulls’ final title, from the 1997-98 season, and present it to a new generation: the day after James and the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a 1-3 deficit in the 2016 Finals to upend the Golden State Warriors. The world was buzzing about LeBron as the G.O.A.T. and forgetting about Jordan, who had been mostly media-reclusive while suffering as owner of a nondescript franchise in Charlotte. As quickly as he said yes to the pitch of producer Mike Tollin, Jordan was armed with the leverage to circumvent All Things LeBron and make his own documentary in his own words, effectively bringing his pre-eminence back to life in a matter of five weekends in 2020.

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Notice how “The Last Dance’’ has yet to include any contribution from James. The series has featured basketball greats who have made Jordan’s case for him, augmented by video evidence that encompasses 500 minutes. As Magic Johnson put it, “Young fans that never got to see Michael play now understand why he’s the (G.O.A.T.) of basketball. For me? Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson and Beyonce are the three greatest entertainers of my lifetime, and you probably could throw Muhammad Ali in there.’’ Jordan never has involved himself in the James debate, preferring to take the high road. As a Chicago columnist, I cornered him in a United Center hallway during James’ rookie NBA season, just after Jordan had retired from the Washington Wizards, and asked what he thought of LeBron.

“What do you think?’’ said Jordan, refusing to go there.

As recently as four months ago in Paris, Jordan shrugged off a James-as-G.O.A.T. question before a Hornets-Milwaukee Bucks game, saying, “What was the name again? Pardon me, who? Oh, is he playing? I just think we’re playing in different eras. He’s an unbelievable player, one of the best players in the world, if not the best. … I’m a fan of his. I love watching him play. But when you start the (Jordan-James) comparisons, I think it is what it is. It’s just a standup measurement. I take it with a grain of salt.’’

It doesn’t require passive-aggressive expertise to translate. Jordan knew “The Last Dance’’ was coming. He also knew what James had said 13 months earlier in his own production, “More Than An Athlete,’’ claiming his title in his native northeast Ohio put him over the top. “That one right there made me the greatest player of all time. That’s what I felt,” James said. “I was super-super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year (title) drought. The first wave of emotion was how everyone saw me crying, like that was all 52 years of everything in sports going on in Cleveland. And after I stopped, i was like, `Shush, that one right there made you the greatest player of all time.’ … Everybody was just talking about how (the Warriors) were the greatest team of all time, like, it was the greatest team ever assembled. For us to come back the way we came back in that fashion, I was, like, ‘You did something special.’ ‘’

Special? Yes. Transcendent in the tiresome greatest-ever debate? No, not when James has lost six times in the Finals and not always maximized the talent around him as Jordan did. LeBron, who tends to whine at times, might claim Jordan has the advantage of a captive global documentary audience during a pandemic. I would suggest apologies are in order, along with an acknowledgment that James’ upcoming Space Jam project — assuming we’ve ever allowed to enter a theater without a Hazmat suit — was a ripoff of Jordan. As was the day he decided to wear No. 23. (My God, now I’m partaking in the debate.).

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The docu-series also has succeeded in using interview subjects who mostly buff Jordan like one of his $200,000 sports cars. To his credit, he didn’t nix Sam Smith, a longtime Bulls beat writer (and operative of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf) who wrote a seminal book, “The Jordan Rules,’’ that painted Jordan as a tyrant and presented a less-than-glowing look as he was rising as a global phenomenon. Sunday provided a glimpse into media-related dysfunction surrounding the team; Jordan said teammate Horace Grant was a prime Smith source for the book, which Grant denied while raising suspicions that Jackson and Reinsdorf provided leaks to Smith. Media politics were a central part of the story in that some who covered the team took sides — Smith was embedded separately with Reinsdorf and Jackson, prominent national columnist Michael Wilbon was a Jordan guy, and Chicago-based Rick Telander was a lightly opinionated bystander who wrote as-told-to-pieces for ESPN The Magazine from the mouths of Jackson and Jordan. Journalism students, if any still exist, are reminded to remain independent and avoid appearances of trying to make money by climbing into bed with the people you’re covering.

So far in the docu-series, no media person has been permitted to make Jordan look even remotely bad. Hehir chose to use Barack Obama to effectively smooth over the political controversy when Jordan uttered, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” Rather than presenting a Detroit side of his still-fiery feud with Thomas and the Bad Boys Pistons, Hehir allowed Jordan to condemn Thomas — “There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a—hole’’ — while showing 1991 video of Thomas and teammate Bill Laimbeer refusing to shake hands with the victorious Bulls. This gentle coverage of Jordan’s controversies has led influential basketball journalists of the time to wonder why they were omitted from the docu-series. Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum was front and center as an objective chronicler of Jordan dynasty. Where is he?

“I would be less than honest if I said it didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t interviewed for the doc, though over the years I have pontificated about Jordan and others of his generation on outlets too numerous to count,’’ McCallum wrote recently on the SI site. “I was scheduled on at least four occasions to talk on camera, but each was called off, one of them because, I was told, `We have to do J.T.’ ‘’

Justin Timberlake.

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And where is Peter Vecsey? His Bulls coverage was must-read material during a stretch when he was the ultimate NBA insider, dishing scoops in print and on NBC’s weekly coverage. “ESPN never called me about `The Last Dance,’ ” he told the Boston Globe. “It’s absolutely amazing to me that they could be that stupid. I had so many inside stories that were printed that they are not even going to address it. It’s amazing. They interviewed Sam Smith; they couldn’t avoid that. I was involved in all of that stuff.”

We’re also left to ask if Reinsdorf was allowed editorial approval, or if he leaned on his high-placed connections to protect him. As controlling owner, he had the power throughout the ‘90s to stop the never-ending madness — how Pippen and Jackson were woefully underpaid by market standards; how Jordan had to play out an eight-year, $24 million contract before he was paid his worth; Krause’s vengeance-fueled whim to run off Jackson and prematurely break up the Bulls; the decade-long tensions pitting Jordan, Pippen and Jackson against Krause. But Krause, who passed away in 2017 and unfairly can’t present rebuttals, is painted at every turn as the lone villain, with Reinsdorf allowed by Hehir to sit back as a narrator of the dysfunction rather than one who could have stopped it. As TNT analyst and former Jordan confidante Charles Barkley pointed out on Dan Patrick’s radio show, Reinsdorf was the owner, wasn’t he?

“(Krause) didn’t take that apart — anyone who thinks that is a fool. That thing was orchestrated by Jerry Reinsdorf,’’ Barkley said. “The notion that that little man broke up the Bulls is asinine and absurd … Jerry Reinsdorf broke up the Bulls ‘cause he didn’t want to pay anybody. You think about this — he let Horace Grant go because he became a free agent and they didn’t want to pay him. They probably don’t want to talk about that in the documentary. That’s why he went to Orlando. He only paid Michael the last two years. When he had Michael at a bargain, he was happy. To try to make Krause the bad guy, I thought that was very disingenuous of Reinsdorf.’’

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And why wouldn’t Jordan use the docu-series to crucify Reinsdorf, as he has done in conversations with a few media people, myself included? Oh, maybe because Jordan, as an NBA owner, prefers to smear Krause and protect a fellow owner who always could exact stealth revenge on Jordan in league circles. Even at 84, Reinsdorf keeps secrets. He would have been a much better private investigator than sports owner; beyond Jordan’s six titles, of which any owner could have rode the coattails, Reinsdorf’s dual ownership of the Bulls and Chicago White Sox has produced only one championship in almost eight decades of collective ownership.

Hehir won’t be winning an Oscar, not that he deserves one. Technically, “The Last Dance’’ isn’t eligible, says Dawn Hudson, CEO of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “If you meet our requirements for being a movie — you have been scheduled for a theatrical release, which the ESPN series is not, and you are presented in one sitting, which the ESPN series is not — then you are eligible for the Oscars. But that doesn’t apply to this series, even though it’s terrific content,’’ Hudson told the Hollywood Reporter. With Jordan running the show, “The Last Dance’’ can’t possibly have the same gravitas of ESPN’s Oscar-winning “O.J.: Made In America,’’ the five-part miniseries crafted by director Ezra Edelman that didn’t have O.J. Simpson as a creative overlord.

Gambling? There will be no investigative attempt to ask if the murder had anything to do with Jordan’s wagers and seedy North Carolina connections — including Slim Bouler, the cocaine trafficker who took Jordan’s money on golf courses. Another Jordan image cop, longtime agent David Falk, told WFAN Radio: “At the end of the day, Michael was almost Teflon. There’s very few things people criticized him for. The gambling thing was it. He loves to gamble. He’s an extremely competitive guy. If he loses $150,000 playing golf, big freaking deal. If I told him tomorrow, `Hey, I’ve got an appearance for you for five minutes for $150,000,’ he’d laugh at me. If it was $1.5 million, he wouldn’t do it. So yes, he lost money in gambling and it sort of had a little bit of a black eye for five minutes. He apologized and the thing went away. But any of these Oliver Stone conspiracy theories that somehow it pushed him out of basketball were ridiculous.”

Not so ridiculous: the possibility that Jordan, who was wagering obscene sums and was exposed by former San Diego sports executive Richard Esquinas in a book (“Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction — My Cry For Help!’’), was vulnerable to betting-line extortion if he was down a few million on another bad golfing day. Esquinas was the former president and general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena. Did it occur to Stern that the NBA Clippers, before moving to Los Angeles, played home games in that arena? That Esquinas had a direct connection to the league? Jordan denies betting on NBA games — “I only bet on myself,’’ he said, which is what Pete Rose said. The league constitution mandates a fine, suspension or expulsion for “any player who, directly or indirectly, wagers money or anything of value on the outcome of any game played by a team in the NBA.’’ But did the league truly conduct a legitimate and comprehensive investigation of Jordan in the summer of ’93, when he was threatening to retire because of the probe? And shouldn’t the probe, headed by former federal judge Frederick Lacey, have intensified after the murder of Jordan’s father? Wasn’t it peculiar when the NBA closed the probe only two days after Jordan announced he was leaving the Bulls? And why was Stern, before his 2019 death, so defensive and dismissive about Jordan’s gambling “hobby’’ instead of emphasizing public transparency, especially as baseball was coming off Rose’s gambling scandal?

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We won’t be getting more answers in the 10-part docu-series, even after 100-plus subjects were interviewed. “I found out later what kind of people I was dealing with. But the act of gambling, I didn’t do anything wrong,’’ Jordan said.

So this could be the biggest of all his victories, in a sense. He indeed has achieved Rare Air, somehow floating above the scrutiny of society’s biggest sports greats and celebrities. Jordan knows his audience wants celebration, not revelation. He also knows he’s lucky: The pandemic has created a hunger for the upbeat. Witness the lines Sunday inside and outside an Atlanta mall, where people waited to buy his newest sneaker model — “Air Jordan 5 Fire Red 2020’’ — that sold out outline. Were they even thinking about Covid-19?

The most majestic athlete of our lives finds himself nearing another fourth quarter, armed with the usual untouchable lead. He could relegate the final four episodes to the cutting-room floor and still know he has won again. Michael Jordan didn’t have to spend millions of dollars or plot deep strategies to control his image.

He just called ESPN.

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.’’

BSM Writers

Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass

“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”

Derek Futterman

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It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.

Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.

Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.

“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”

From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.

“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”

Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.

Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.

“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”

Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.

Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.

During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.

Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.

With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.

“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”

Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.

“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”

After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.

Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.

“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”

An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.

Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.

“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”

Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.

“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”

Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.

“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”

Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.

“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”

John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.

“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”

The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.

“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”

Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.

“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”

As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.

“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”

Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.

“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”

Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.

“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”

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BSM Writers

Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio

All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way. 

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Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.

The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.

Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way. 

The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.

McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.

As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.

A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.

Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.

At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.

It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own. 

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BSM Writers

5 Ideas For December Sales Success

How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?

Jeff Caves

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Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.

So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.

Cutting a year-end deal

Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.

5-day sale

Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.

Beat the bushes

Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.

Be gracious

From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.

Practice a new pitch

December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!

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Barrett Media Writers

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