Axl Rose, back in the jungle, is selling t-shirts for charity these days. “LIVE N’ LET DIE WITH COVID 45,’’ goes the message, which has nothing to do with a Guns N’ Roses remake of a James Bond-inspired movie tune and everything to do with the rowdy singer’s damning political platform: He blames the 45th U.S. president, Donald Trump, for a pandemic that soon will kill its 100,000th American.
Live and let die. Wealth over health. Economy over mortality. Such are the oblivious, hellbent mantras of a country that, in ample swaths, doesn’t care about the ongoing death toll as long as some semblance of normalcy returns — and physical distancing restrictions can be flouted by creepy COVID-iots in crowded swimming pools. There is little regard for human life and a mind-numbing absence of responsible thinking, as Rose notes. Hence, his rock band, citing “an abundance of caution,’’ postponed its North American and European tours in lockstep with a wary music and theater industry, which sees no sense in hosting live performances before 2021 — particularly if fresh coronavirus tidal waves are preparing to assault the planet.
I wish the same medical logic was being used by the $200-billion U.S. sports industry. But trumpeting a need to heal the national condition and psyche — translatIon: a desperate pack of wealthy titans unaccustomed to financial bloodletting are trying to recoup billions — the NBA and Major League Baseball are ready to live and let die themselves this summer. By that, I mean exactly how it sounds: Athletes, coaches and support staff will not be safe within various capsules of quarantine, regardless of self-serving assurances about advanced diagnostic testing and airtight daily protocols, assuming the leagues do execute their mad rush to resume live games. With no magical vaccine or mass immunity blanket in sight, even commissioners have been forced to acknowledge the health dangers and say they expect a number of in-season positive tests, increasing the risk of infectious breakouts and spread within the isolated frameworks and in greater communities beyond.
“Nothing is risk-free in this undertaking,’’ MLB boss Rob Manfred said.
“No decision we make will be risk-free,” NBA boss Adam Silver said in a teleconference with players, per the New York Times. “We’re going to be living with this virus for the foreseeable future.”
And you know what that means, given the potentially lethal impact of any COVID-19 trigger effect. People might die.
If anyone cares.
In the parlance missed by so many deprived fans, all of this feels like a hurry-up, no-huddle offense when sports should be in the ultimate prevent defense. The prudent, level-headed route would be a complete shutdown of the industry, NFL and college football included, until next year. Sports will have more answers then about the development and distribution of a vaccine and fewer worries about the bad optics of depleting the national testing supply, still very much a concern for extreme virus hotspots. Think I’m overstating a coronavirus death wish? Here’s what Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, told the Washington Post about the premature scramble to come back before the virus wants sports to come back.
“I think you’d end up with a lot of infected players and other personnel. If it isn’t done right, not only would people get sick and potentially die, but it would shut down the season,’’ Zuckerman said. “I don’t see a way around it. It would be a miracle if … it didn’t end up infecting people.’’
But the NBA marches on anyway, hopefully avoiding a Mickey Mouse setback as it explores a single-site proposal within ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World. The plan is to use three arenas and several luxury hotels on a “campus’’ where players will live, practice and resume competition in late July. As I’ve written, basketball is among the activities most vulnerable to an outbreak — players literally are dripping sweat on each other in an indoor environment, with every play involving close-up physical contact and a ball touched by as many as 10 players and at least one referee, not to mention incessant chatter that will discharge speech droplets for more than two hours. Then you hear Jared Dudley, a Players Association representative with the title-contending Los Angeles Lakers, say the so-called quarantine bubble won’t be as restrictive and secure as the NBA has led us to believe.
“You will be allowed to leave,’’ said Dudley, who has been on key group calls with Silver and union executive director Michele Roberts. “Now just because you leave, if we’re going to give you that leeway, if you come back with corona, you can’t play.’’
You can’t play? What about: How many people inside the bubble might be victimized by the one infected doofus — or doofuses — who needed to play golf or visit an Orlando strip club? And if family members or players are part of the social experiment … yikes. This cannot be anything short of an absolute, isolated lockdown involving as few people as possible. And the players need to know going in, from LeBron James to the last guy on the Brooklyn Nets’ bench, that the quarantine could extend for months, depending on whether the league tries to retrieve lost broadcast revenues and finish the regular season (bad idea) or immediately start the playoffs. And am I hearing this correctly? In a league where at least 10 players have tested positive for COVID-19, including three who faced each other in that instructive Utah Jazz-Pistons game in Detroit, players still prefer the less-accurate saliva test to the uncomfortable, full nasal swab test.
They aren’t taking this seriously, are they? They don’t grasp that 35 percent of virus carriers are asymptomatic, according to CDC studies, with the global number of infections jumping by a million-plus over the last 2 1/2 weeks. The thought process among millennials and Gen Zers, the NBA’s player demographics, continues to boggle the mind: They’re too young, strong and healthy to fall victim. They miss the point like an airball misses the rim. If someone has the virus, where else is he spreading it? And how many others are contracting it?
At least the NBA will need only a fraction of the 200,000-plus tests required by MLB, kits that could be used by sick patients who urgently need them. Even with such a massive inventory, baseball’s plan is to test players and personnel just “several’’ times a week when the sport’s best player, Mike Trout, has said he doesn’t see the season happening without testing every day. The strategy is beyond risky when Manfred says only those who test positive will be quarantined, never mind the possibility that the infected person already has spread the virus to others. The ballgames must go on, you see, with MLB preferring travel to existing ballparks to the NBA’s bubble concept. As for standard recommendation by health officials that an infected person stay isolated for 14 days? Dr. Manfred says otherwise, requiring a player — or, closer to the truth, a superstar — to pass only two subsequent tests in a 24-hour period to resume play.
Then consider the stifling restrictions within the daily MLB protocol. Players can live without handshakes, high-fives and clubhouse buffets, I suppose. But being spaced at least six feet apart at all times, wearing masks everywhere but on the field? No sunflower seeds or smokeless tobacco, which can be vices for players more than treats? No showers on the premises, a flashback to Mom picking you up from Little League? Hand-washing after every half-inning and every time equipment is touched (which is constant in baseball)? No saunas, pools or chambers to ease injuries? If social distancing is a mandate, can a runner still slide into home plate or a base if an opponent is tagging him? Can you still hold a runner? Attempt pickoff plays?
And that’s just at the ballpark. On road trips, no one can eat or drink in public. Preferably, you do not leave your room, and please use the hotel stairs to avoid elevator buttons. No one is allowed in the room but family members, so tell the groupie to stay home. When returning to personal residences after a home game, everyone is urged to isolate and not go anywhere — for months. Would a prison sentence be much worse?
None of which will happen, of course, if the owners and players can’t agree on a financial resolution. Never mind that baseball, already beset by numerous existential issues and lagging interest, could be committing long-term suicide if the season is canceled over a money dispute amid a pandemic. Per The Athletic, the owners have moved off a demand to split revenues 50-50 with players for an abbreviated 82-game regular season, but that is merely a starting point when players are the ones taking the life-and-death health risks. The union is disgusted, understandably, that owners would wage a public-relations battle amid a pandemic, when 40 million jobless Americans might not grasp why players wouldn’t return to lucrative gigs. But if I’m a player with a wife and children at home, I am assessing the laundry list of risks and having grave doubts. And if I’m Trout or another megastar with a nine-figure contract — and Trout’s wife is expecting their first child in August, remember — I’m not going anywhere near a field. And if I’m a player with an underlying medical condition — or a mental health issue exacerbated by the pandemic — the answer is simple: No, the virus risk is not worth it.
Ask golfers Adam Scott and Lee Westwood, who aren’t satisfied with PGA Tour protocols and won’t be traveling to the U.S. for events. If golfers are nervous in a no-contact, distance-protected sport, basketball players should be petrified, right? I can just hear the blowhard fan who doesn’t have empathy and wants athletes to “man up’’ and play. Please, try to get a life at some point. The wife of Oakland Athletics pitcher Jake Diekman, whose issues have included colitis, already has clapped back at critics.
“(Resuming the season) should not be coming at my husband’s expense,’’ Amanda Diekman tweeted. “No offense, but I really don’t care that Bob from wherever is bored at home with no sports and it’d be `good for him’ to watch.’’
Hell, every pro and college athlete should worry about protocol after Dana White showed the sports world how not to test for the virus, making a debacle of procedures at UFC 249 and forcing more stringent guidelines for the next event in Las Vegas. Two swab tests will be required of each fighter before competition, followed by self-isolation until the scheduled bout. “During this time, no athletes or cornermen will be permitted to leave the Athlete Hotel without express prior approval from the Nevada State Athletic Commission,” states a UFC memo to the fighters. “You also should not have physical contact with anyone other than the members of your camp.”
I’d say the Nevada commission just bombed White with a head kick.
So why do the leagues ignore common sense and power on? Ask Pink Floyd, the Notorious B.I.G., the O’Jays, Dire Straits, Donna Summer, the Steve Miller Band, Wu-Tang Clan, Cyndi Lauper, Ludacris, Randy Newman, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, AC/DC, Puff Daddy and the Beatles — MONEY!!!! When billionaire owners and broadcast behemoths see a way to stop drowning, any pangs of guilt and irresponsibility fade quickly. The NBA would lose more than $1 billion if the remainder of the season is canceled; the same applies to the NHL, which is eyeing a 24-team postseason in Vegas and a second hub city. MLB would suffer a $4 billion shortfall if its season is ditched. The NFL, which absurdly thinks its season will proceed with bodies in the stands, will lose $5.5 billion in revenue for a season without fans, or $14 billion if canceled altogether. College football would lose $4 billion — and that sport is a mess, with traditional Southern powers such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma prepared to march on without conference brethren. Ohio State is ready to do the same — in front of 50,000 fans if possible, says a hallucinating athletic director — as rival Michigan says it won’t play football at all if students aren’t on campus.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, sex dolls were placed in seats to make a soccer stadium seem less empty. If that isn’t a reminder of how far sports has strayed from normalcy, consider this jolt: The meatpacking plant that produces the legendary Dodger Stadium item, the Dodger Dog, was hit by an outbreak of 140 positive coronavirus tests among employees.
Not that sports addicts can’t find content to shoot into their veins: auto racing, UFC, professional bull riding, Mike Tyson in a wrestling ring — all without fans. None of it was half as fun as watching Tom Brady suck at golf in the Florida rain, playing so horribly that commentator/hopeless hacker Charles Barkley razzed him. Of course, Brady had a Hail Mary in him, holing out from from the fairway on No. 7 … as his microphone fell off. “Take a suck of that, Chuck,’’ Brady told Barkley, as a TV camera revealed Tompa Boy had split his pants. That was the coolest sports moment of our national shutdown, made better by the $20 million in virus relief raised by Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in an entertaining dude-fest called: “The Match: Champions For Charity.’’
We continue to venture into the unknown, the frivolity of games diving blindly into the poisoned pandemic pool. But this much is certain: I’m tired of mishmash that posits sports as a spiritual salve, a symbol of American rebirth, such as this from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell: “America needs baseball. It’s a sign of getting back to normal.’’ And this from prominent sports agent Scott Boras in a New York Times op-ed: “Time and time again, baseball has helped our country heal.’’
A pandemic is not an earthquake in the Bay Area, a bombing in Boston or even 9/11 in New York. A pandemic is invisible.
And the ghost lurks, furtive and dark, ready to end seasons that never should have been played and lives that never should have been risked.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
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.”
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.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
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.
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.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
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?
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.
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.
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!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.