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Tom Waddle Isn’t Running Out Of Ideas Or Incentive

“I think the growth has just been in our ability to try to share our life experiences on a day-in, day-out basis. I think the growth has gone from strictly an all sports type of presentation to more lifestyle and family life.”

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It’s funny how paths cross in the sports radio industry. Many moons ago I was at ESPN 1000 in Chicago to chat with former program director Adam Delevitt. As I walked around the downstairs area of that gigantic downtown building, former Chicago Bears wide receiver and ESPN 1000 radio host Tom Waddle walked by. He nodded his head at me and said hi. That interaction didn’t tell me everything about Waddle, but it told me a lot. It told me he didn’t have an ego. It told me he was actually — wait for it — nice.

O'Donnell: Even Dick Clark probably couldn't save Chicago's ESPN radio

Waddle spent 20+ years as a football player and has been in the sports broadcasting business for 25+ years. He’s learned many tricks of the trade and has fine-tuned his own style of mixing in fun and family life with sports. Waddle is highly respected not just because he’s great at his profession, but also because he shows other people the proper respect. Look, Yelp isn’t the only place someone can leave a bad review. That’s especially true in sports radio where colleagues can turn into enemies if you mistreat them.

There are several interesting topics that Waddle discusses below. He touches on Waddle & Silvy co-host Marc Silverman’s decision to announce his battle with cancer and the response of their listeners. Waddle also talks about the impact concussions have possibly had on his broadcasting career and how the personal criticism he received as a player has helped shape his approach behind the microphone now. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What’s it like doing sports radio right now with a pandemic going on?

Tom Waddle: I don’t mean to sound callous or take it for granted but quite frankly — there are no sports, there are no games, but we have not been devoid of conversation. The NFL obviously went about their business. They went through the draft and had their offseason and free agency, which provided us conversation. Every day there’s a new story about different leagues trying to get ramped up and what their plan is to try to get back to some sense of normalcy. While we haven’t had the opportunity on a day-in, day-out basis to recap NBA games or Major League Baseball games, we still have had a full complement of things to talk about.

So far — now the longer this lingers, the more difficult it may become. Maybe our listeners would argue with us about finding new, entertaining things to talk about, but we don’t sit around in our daily meetings and go oh, what are we going to do now? We’ve always had something to talk about. It hasn’t been ideal, but at the same time it hasn’t been the massive struggle that maybe some thought it would be.

BN: In what ways have you felt that the show has been different?

TW: I think that it’s been more of a personality-driven show. Silvy and I have been doing this together now for better than 13 years. We’ve been more than willing to welcome people into our personal lives. That’s always been the dynamic that’s existed with our show but now even more. We’re both working from home so there are times when you’ll hear my dog bark, or he’s got young kids, so one of his kids will come flying down the steps and have a breakdown that’ll get on the air. We’ve learned to deal with the humanity of it all. I think that there’s probably a larger element of your own personality and your own personal life in the show now than maybe there used to be.

BN: It doesn’t get much more personal than Silvy announcing that he has cancer. What are your thoughts on him making that announcement and the situation overall?

TW: Yeah, myself and Adam Abdalla, who’s our executive producer, and Jeff Meller, who’s also one of our producers and is our sound guy, we’ve been working together for so long that we all know where each other is coming from. We just took the approach that we were going to let Silvy lead the way with how he wanted to handle this. This is obviously his individual battle, but we’ve kind of looked at it as teammates of his to battle this together.

I’m not surprised at all what he wanted to do was to handle it head-on and to be very open about it. I think as long as I’ve known him and worked with him, he’s always been very much interested in developing a relationship with the different listeners. He’s always asked listeners to share their own private situations with us on the air whenever they’re comfortable, so I think he took the approach that it would be unnatural and it would be hypocritical if he didn’t do the same. I thought he handled it with tremendous grace and tremendous strength.

Waddle and Silvy - ESPN Chicago

I think also he’s got such a great relationship with all of our listeners in the greater Chicagoland community, I think he’ll derive some strength from knowing that he’s going through this battle in somewhat of a public arena. I thought he handled it great. I thought our listeners responded well. I think again the fact that he handled it the way he did will provide him some comfort and some strength.

BN: After 13 years on the air together, in what area do you think you and Silvy have grown the most?

TW: I think just our willingness to share our own personal lives. We’ve been at different stages in our lives despite being fairly similar in age. I think he’s 47 or 48. I’m 53, so I’m a little bit older, but I was married at 24 and had a kid at 25. I’ve got basically four adult daughters. I have a 27-year-old, a 24-year-old, a 22-year-old, and the 16-year-old is not an adult but I could argue she’s the most mature of all of us. I’ve always been in that father family environment for a very long time.

When we first started he was still single and obviously didn’t have any kids. He had a different approach and ran a little more red hot about certain things and was a little more red-assed about stuff. But I think as he got married to Allie and had kids I think it’s provided a different perspective for him. While you’re never going to take his edge away from him, we’ve kind of been able to round off and sand down some of the rough edges so to speak. I don’t feel I’m speaking out of turn. I think that he would agree to that as well.

We’ve always had kind of a brotherly relationship. A lot of times I’ve been the older brother because I was in a different stage of life. I’m proud to have been able to provide some advice at least at times with regard to being a husband or being a father. I think the growth has just been in our ability to try to share our life experiences on a day-in, day-out basis. I think the growth has gone from strictly an all sports type of presentation to more lifestyle and family life. I think we spend a lot more time trying to have a laugh and keep people entertained.

BN: Would it be boring to you if it was just sports, sports, sports without personality or life included?  

TW: It would for me. I come with a different experience, not a better experience, not a worse experience; it’s just a different experience. Having played all my life, I have such a huge passion for sports, but I’ve also found when I retired there’s more to life than sports. It’s given me this career in radio and television over the last 25 years. It’s given me an opportunity to branch out and do different things and speak about different things. I think you’re reluctant to do it when you’re first involved in the industry, but over the course of time you become more comfortable with letting people in and letting them know who you are other than just being somebody they used to watch on Saturdays or Sundays. 

I don’t want it to be all sports because I have a lot of life experiences that I like to share and like to talk about. This kind of stage gives me the closest thing to competing and performing as I think I possibly could find coming out of the sports world. Live television and a four-hour radio show is the closest thing that I’ll ever get to trying to recapture that adrenaline rush that comes on Sundays. I don’t want to focus just on football, basketball, and baseball. I think that at times you can drone on about that stuff and lose your audience. I’ve enjoyed branching out and being able to talk about different things.

BN: In the past you’ve joked around a little bit about the concussions you suffered during your career. Is there any impact from your playing days on what you do professionally now?

TW: I try not to make light of it because there are guys that have had to deal with stuff that is probably more significant than what I’ve had to deal with. I was a teammate of Dave Duerson. I played against other guys around the league that aren’t with us any longer. I maybe at times try to use humor as a way to deflect from what is the serious realization that it is such a real thing. I do have moments.

I’m fortunate that it hasn’t overwhelmed me, but I’d be lying if I told you that there aren’t moments occasionally over the course of a month where I’ll have a couple of days that I know exactly what I want to say but I struggle to be able to verbalize it. There are other times where verbally I’m okay but my mind is a little bit cloudy. I don’t know if it’s old age, if it’s what I used to do for a living, or it’s a combination of both. I’m aware of it and I take it seriously, but look I signed up for it, so I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t part of the job description.

BN: Is there a topic over the last 13 years in Chicago that has felt like Groundhog Day where you say, oh man, another day of talking about this?

TW: The Bears quarterback situation falls into that category. It’s not just Mitch Trubisky related. You could talk about the Bears struggles with the quarterback position for decades. Now I don’t have a problem with it because I’m a football-centric person. I have a huge passion for the game and for this team, but I can see how that would become tedious for some.

I think that the Cubs/Sox rivalry at times gets to be a bit manufactured especially when one team is good and the other team is not. It’s funny, I infrequently find myself going to work and saying, ahh shit, I got to talk about this again. You know? 

We’re fortunate because we have so many teams and there are so many different issues to talk about. I don’t think we get into that mundane type of mode at all because there are things on a day-in and day-out basis. The Bears quarterback situation is obviously one of those conversations. The Bulls struggles to be relevant over the last several years has been one that it does feel like Groundhog Day. At times you feel like they’ve been running in place. I would say those were probably the two that make you feel the most worn out.

BN: As far as The Last Dance goes, how much have you guys talked about it on your show?

TW: It’s been a huge focus for us. Obviously without games going on, it takes up a large portion of our show at least on Mondays. We’ve developed a nice relationship with Jason Hehir who’s the director. He comes on with us on Mondays to recap the previous episodes and previews the next couple of episodes. We’ve had a great relationship with him and a great response.

Silvy covered that second three-peat so he’s got a lot of insight and thoughts on it. For the fans my age it’s a great walk down memory lane and for the younger fans that didn’t really witness it, it’s a nice opportunity for them to see something that they weren’t aware of or were too young to really appreciate. Then come Monday and Tuesday it gives them an opportunity to participate as well. It certainly has come at the right time.

BN: What was your favorite part of The Last Dance?

TW: My memory isn’t great so for me the first thing I just wanted to be reminded of how great a player Michael was. To see him back in the early ‘90s and then the mid-to-late ‘90s, there are some things athletically that guys struggle to do now in 2020.

We always talk about on our show how sports evolve. In the world of football people get bigger, faster, and stronger. There weren’t any guys like Brandon Marshall playing wide receiver in my day. There weren’t 6’4”, 230-pound guys running 4.4’s. The game evolves. The athletic part of it becomes more impressive as time rolls on. Michael was doing that stuff back in the ‘90s. It was nice to just remind yourself that he was so far ahead of his time athletically and he was able to do some things then that guys can’t do now.

BN: As far as your future is concerned is there anything you would like to do within your current role, or beyond ESPN 1000 before you retire?

TW: I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had some great opportunities. I’ve done national television in Los Angeles with some great people at the NFL Network and worked with some of the greatest guys and best players in the world in Deion Sanders, Kurt Warner, Steve Mariucci, and Michael Irvin. I had the same great opportunity at ESPN to work for six years on the television side and obviously on the radio side, ESPN has given me a great opportunity both nationally and locally.

What I want to do is continue to do what I’m doing now with the people that I’m doing it with for as long as we have this passion and desire to do it. I’m not running out of ideas and I’m not running out of incentive. I’m not getting tired of participating in this job. I love the people that I’ve worked with. I love the old group with Jim Pastor and Adam Delevitt. Craig Karmazin took over when they purchased the station and we’re with Mike Thomas now who has such a great track record in this industry.

Waddle & Silvy Show - PodCenter - ESPN Radio

We’ve been surrounded by winning people. I haven’t hit the wall. I did in football but there’s only so far you can take 6’1” and 185 pounds. Fortunately in the world of sports broadcasting and more importantly in the radio industry — size, speed, and age really isn’t a factor. I’m still very much enthused with what I do and love the people I work with. I want to continue to keep doing this as long as we possibly can.

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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