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Who Is The Best Analyst In Each Sport?

“Not everyone is capable of leaving the field of play and entering the broadcast booth. It takes a special former athlete to make the conversion.”

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As I’ve discussed here before, it takes a village to put on a great television broadcast. It requires great production and direction, the right technical aspects, and of course the broadcast booth. Television is a different animal when it comes to the dynamic of play-by-play and color commentating.

The analyst is supposed to be the star on TV. There are so many opportunities to inject interesting, pointed commentary, during the action and a replay. The best play-by-play announcers across the country realize that their partner is the one with the expertise and knowledge of the sport he/she is calling. So, the best thing anyone can do is let the analyst do his/her job. 

Not everyone is capable of leaving the field of play and entering the broadcast booth. It takes a special former athlete to make the conversion. The timing in the booth is much different than it is on the field. The preparation is vastly different. The ability to convey a thought in an intelligent and concise manner seems like it would be easy, but it is not. There are a few though, that have managed to make it look easy and they are among the best of the best in their sport.

I’ve compiled a list of the best analysts in each of the 4 major sports, plus college football and basketball. The criteria is based on a national broadcast. These folks are quite often seen even if they aren’t with the “top broadcast team” on that network. Here we go.

NFL – Tony Romo 

This one may have seemed obvious to some, but it did cause a little debate in my mind. I really have enjoyed Tony Romo. I wasn’t sure when he first got into the broadcast arena, but he’s proven more than capable. The fact that he’s so fresh off the field, he still has the quarterback mentality and can still read defenses while on the air. How many times have you watched and seen him predict what is going to happen? Many, right? And many times he’s right. 

Romo’s personality compliments the broadcast. He’s not so giddy that it’s annoying, but he really sounds like he’s enjoying this phase of his life. I can almost picture him elbowing Jim Nantz in the booth during games when he’s right about a situation, or when he offers a humorous moment. He and Nantz go well together, with the play-by-play man offering the straight scoop on what’s going on and the analyst telling us how, what, when and why something happened. I can understand why Romo was such a commodity when his CBS deal was up. Good job by the folks at CBS to retain this star in the analyst chair. 

NBA – Doris Burke

I had to differentiate this one to just regular “game callers”, because otherwise it would have been a shared award between the Inside the NBA crew of Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. 

Burke is not such an obvious choice to the casual NBA fan, but listen to a broadcast and tell me that I’m off base. No, she didn’t play in the NBA, but she did play at a high level in college. Burke was a point guard at Providence and held assist records there, so she knows the game. You can tell that during any broadcast. 

Those that work with her know how knowledgeable she is. Burke has credibility with the players in the league as well, after serving as an in-game sideline reporter for many years. She’s interview the top players of a game and the questions were extremely professional. As a play-by-play announcer for ESPN as well, Burke knows the timing and flow of the broadcast. She self-edits and tries not to get too technical when explaining situations on the court.

Burke also admits to leaning a bit on co-analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who’s pretty darn good at this as well. She said in a November 2019 piece for Deadspin, she relies on Van Gundy to let her know when she misses the mark. She called him “a truth-teller” and referred to him basically as her in-game coach. 

MLB – John Smoltz

Smoltz gets what it is to be a top flight analyst. He was always known for his baseball “smarts” and it translates to the broadcast booth. I like his personality in meshing with whomever he’s working with. Mainly it’s Joe Buck and the two play off each other very well. Baseball is supposed to be fun and Smoltz sounds like he’s really enjoying himself every time he’s in the booth. 

The thing about Smoltz that maybe separates him from some of the others is his credentials. The man succeeded on the baseball field, not only personally but for his team as well. This gives him some pretty serious cache when it comes to his commentary. Yes, he was a pitcher, but he understands all facets of what is going on in the game. 

I really appreciate his candor. Smoltz isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. He also thinks through the games he’s covering and will make points about what might happen on a certain pitch if it’s thrown, BEFORE it’s actually headed to the plate. Those accounts are invaluable to a serious baseball fan watching the game he’s doing. 

NHL – Eddie Olczyk

In life of horses and hockey, Eddie Olczyk never faced odds like ...

This one was pretty easy. Olczyk is head and shoulders above all others in the NHL. He’s ahead of the play most of the time. Olczyk is a master at seeing things that not many others do from his broadcast position. While we’re watching the action, he’s on his intercom telling the producer to grab the ISO camera for a replay. Olczyk makes it pretty easy for the casual hockey fan to understand the game a little bit better by following along with him. 

Olczyk works mainly with Doc Emrick on the NBC and NBCSN telecasts of the NHL. The two have a great rapport. Olczyk has a terrific personality and never takes himself too seriously. It’s endearing because he doesn’t come off as a hockey robot, the analysis comes out with an easy-going tone. 

He has serious credentials as a former player and coach in the league. 

NCAA Football – Joel Klatt

The former Colorado quarterback has risen quickly up the ranks at Fox Sports. He’s been paired with Gus Johnson since 2015. The two now combine to call the Big Noon Saturday broadcast on the network. Klatt knows his football and has a very relatable style. He doesn’t talk down to the casual fan. 

Klatt is in a rare position to be working with a play-by-play announcer that is relied upon to be the personality of the booth. All Klatt has to do is focus on the field and telling the audience what he sees. He doesn’t add a lot of fanfare in his analysis, it’s not needed with Johnson in the booth.

Klatt has a good grip on the entire scope of the college game. He can talk intelligently about all aspects surrounding the game. He has a unique ability to relay the information in a very natural way. Seems like his early work as a studio host has served him well, having to prepare for all eventualities and learning how to work alongside other personalities. 

NCAA Basketball – Jay Bilas

Bilas has a tremendous understanding of the ins and outs of the game of basketball. That understanding along with his ability to describe what’s happening on the floor are still the best in the business. While he played the game at a high level, the explanations he gives are simple and easily understood. If you’re looking for a guy to tell you why certain strategies work and some don’t from game to game, he’s your guy. He is a steady force in the game of college basketball analysis. 

If you’re looking for a flamboyant, loud and sometimes overbearing color commentator, well Bilas is not your guy. He doesn’t use humor or exuberance to make his points because he doesn’t have to. Bilas can leave that to Vitale. 

Bilas provides excellent and insightful commentary on issues regarding college basketball, both on and off the court. I know it’s a pretty big college basketball game when Bilas is on the call. 

I just can’t wait until these folks are doing what they do best, analyzing actual games. 

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

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

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grant cohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

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

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

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

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

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

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

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

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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