Today is about pixie dust. We’re going to embrace a miracle. Let’s say dreams do come true, somehow, and that the NBA’s Trouble Bubble does become the Most Magical Place on Earth, a medical and social revelation, with no COVID-19 outbreaks, a minimum of calls to the snitch hotline and just enough stirring basketball to produce a champion and nominate Adam Silver to replace Anthony Fauci as America’s infectious disease guru.
You know what that means.
LeBron James might take a Fast Pass up Legacy Mountain, leaving an unprecedented historical footprint in what otherwise has been a year of comeuppance for sports.
Of all the audacious attempts to defy a pandemic and resume seasons, the NBA has the most realistic chance of avoiding a disaster on its Disney World bio-campus. I say that knowing the Bubble could burst at any time, knowing young men in their 20s might violate protocol and risk catching and spreading the coronavirus, knowing the possibility of serious injuries is higher than usual, knowing the attrition rate could leave the postseason in such tatters that the entire exercise will seem forced and bogus. Already, two players have tested positive DURING Florida quarantine, joining the 19 who’ve tested positive since July 1 and haven’t traveled to Orlando. Russell Westbrook is among the infected, cautioning legions of COVID-iots: “Please take this virus seriously. Mask up! #whynot.’’ And I’m still waiting for J.R. Smith to sabotage the grand experiment in ways only he could invent.
But maybe the Bubble is a small world, after all. Maybe the league’s deliberate and thoroughly underpublicized decision to not test players for marijuana and other recreational drugs — know how much pixie dust is being smoked in those hotel rooms? — will counteract the boredom. Maybe Kyle Lowry, defending a league title with the Raptors, is dead-on when he says, “This thing will work perfectly. The league, the players, the players association, have done a phenomenal job of making sure we’re doing everything we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and do our job at a high level.’’ And maybe, just maybe, a scientific wonder in central Florida will contain the virus and produce an event that truly would distract us from a hellish 2020, its economic ravages and an apocalyptic presidential election:
LeBron vs. Giannis.
Not sure about you, but I’d prefer seven games of Lakers-Bucks in early October over any vomit regurgitation involving Trump vs. Biden. And with all due reverence to Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose league takeover can wait a bit, the world’s collective eyeballs would shift to James. Not far from his 36th birthday, in his 17th NBA season, he might be viewing his final chance for a championship. While one might think — “Hey, what more does he have to prove?’’ — look, a fourth title under the most daunting circumstances, in spectator-less gyms while trying to ward off the damned virus for months, would provide unique closure to a magnificent, fascinating career.
He won’t be remembered as the Greatest Of All Time, with any lingering doubts rejected when a 10-part documentary series reminded holdouts of Michael Jordan’s preeminence. James still might think G.O.A.T. status is possible, letting this slip when talking about quarantine time spent with his family: “It gave me an opportunity to be home and make up a lot of time that I’ve lost over the years, because I’ve been playing in this league and striving to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to ever play this game.’’ But a place does remain on the sport’s proverbial Mount Rushmore, three rocks alongside Jordan. And if James hoists a trophy in the Bubble to conclude the Pandemic Season, amid a turbulent American moment when his ongoing social justice mission never has been more important, yes, it would be a triumph like no other in sports history.
Not once did he consider opting out of the season. As an observer of the world beyond sports, he grasps exactly what’s in front of him, and if he must remain sequestered from the outside world until Oct. 13, so be it.
“It never crossed my mind that we did not need to play this beautiful game of basketball that brings so many people together, that brings happiness, that brings joy to households, to so many families,’’ James waxed in a Zoom conference call, his first media interview since March. “I’m happy to have a platform where not only people will gain joy by the way I play the game and by the way our team plays the game, but also for what I’m able to do off the court as well.
“Being able to use my platform, use the NBA’s platform, to continue to talk about what’s going on — I will not stop until I see real change for us as Black America, for African Americans, for people of color. And I also believe I can do both. I can bring happiness to a lot of homes with the way I play the game and the way the Lakers are going to play the game, and I will continue to push the envelope and continue to keep my foot on the gas in creating real change for us as people of color in America.”
Besides, who ever said LeBron has to be Jordan? The world in 2020 is radically different than the world His Airness ruled in the 1990s. Jordan is unquestionably the best player ever, but as he acknowledges, he shrunk as a sneaker capitalist when asked to take significant social stances back then. James is a leading activist for the times, and if you understand his place in the ethos — not as demonstrative as Colin Kaepernick but forceful when necessary — you grasp why he isn’t wearing one of the league’s social justice messages on the back of his Lakers jersey. Why replace JAMES with “Black Lives Matter’’ or “I Can’t Breathe’’ when he has been preaching and wearing related t-shirts for years? I’m guessing he isn’t thrilled with the concept, and Silver should be whistled for a personal foul for not soliciting his advice.
“I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal,’’ James said. “I would have loved to have the say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey. I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is OK. I’m absolutely OK with that. Everything that I do has a purpose. It has a meaning. So I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.
“This is the mission I’ve been on for a long time now. And it’s great that a lot of people’s ears are opening, a lot of people are understanding, a lot of people are recognizing. A lot of people still don’t get it and are still afraid to talk about it, but the racism that goes on in America, especially for my people, people of color, it’s still here. But we have ears. We have some ears. And we will continue to push the envelope and let people know that we are human as well — no matter our skin color, no matter how we look, no matter how we sound. We don’t want to just be used for our God-given abilities as far as our talent on the floor, our talents in the music industry, our talents in the industry as far as clothing and things of that nature. We also want to be recognized for our talent and our brains because that’s what we are, just like everybody else. And we should be treated that way.’’
His social mission will carry on, of course, championship or otherwise. And winning it all might not happen. The Lakers are without Avery Bradley, who opted out because of coronavirus concerns, and won’t have Rajon Rondo and his broken right thumb for eight weeks. Why Smith is anywhere near this undertaking, I cannot explain, and it could be the Clippers — deeper and better defensively, with a rested Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — win the Western Conference. As they’ve always said in Los Angeles, it would take a cold day in hell or the throes of a pandemic for the Clippers to one-up the Lakers.
But James is rested, too, with the spectacular Anthony Davis by his side. And his teammates, who received his texts during the break — “Can’t wait to get back on the floor with you guys, finish what we started’’ — realize what’s at stake for the old man. Why do you think he left his personal chef at home? He wants to eat what his teammates are eating, hang out where they’re hanging out, smoke whatever … uh, not going there.
“LeBron knows it, being Year 17 for him at 35 years old,’’ Danny Green said. “Guys are getting older. Some guys might not be 100 percent healthy or be able to perform at the level they (want). Some guys may leave, free agency, things change, things happen. So we all know our team, with our experience, within the business, of what’s at risk. If you have a special group, you better take advantage of it this year.’’
It’s clear the contender with the fewest setbacks and injuries — to be blunt, the fewest positive tests — likely will win the title. Think any Lakers player, including Smith, would dare incur the wrath of LeBron? “I believe the NBA and Adam Silver took all precautionary measures to make sure that we as a league are as safe as we can be,’’ James said. “(Silver) has given me no reason to never not believe him since he took over. Obviously, there can be things that happen, but we’ll cross that line if it happens.’’
None of us is bigger than COVID-19. But some of us still can rise above the wretched, invisible foe and achieve the unthinkable. If we’re daring to wish upon a star anytime soon, wish upon LeBron James in a Bubble that doesn’t pop.
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.
Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’
“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”
After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.
That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.
“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio.
“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot. There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.”
Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.
After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.
With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.
“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”
After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.
In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In. In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.
And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.
“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”
Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.
“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard.
Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland. He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.
Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.
“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.”
So much for being just a basketball guy, right?
After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.
“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”
Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.
During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.
So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.
“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games. Ultimately that led to television.”
And the rest is history.
This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.
And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.
“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”
Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports.
From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.
“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”
He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners
Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.
From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.
Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”
And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”
Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.
It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.
It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.
It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!
It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.
But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.
Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™
And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.
Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.
Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?
“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”
Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.
How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts.
Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.
“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”
Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!
Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media.
She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.
“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”
Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.
“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”
Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.
TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.
I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.
“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”
That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.
Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.
“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”
Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.
“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”
What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content?
I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?
“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”
Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer.
Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.