What we’re about to experience, coronavirus permitting, are ballgames on mushrooms. It’s the best the pandemic can do to lift our battered beings from America’s daily morass, one that has left us alternately numb, angry and slap-happy. If NBA players aren’t being tested for recreational drugs in their Disney World Snitch Bubble, it’s only fair that fans get stoned as they warily enter the new sports twilight zone Thursday.
That’s when a COVID-19 testing site in Los Angeles, formerly known as Dodger Stadium, moonlights as an Opening Night TV studio.
Artificial crowd noise will be piped in from a video game and equipped with 75 effects and reactions, which is so typical of Major League Baseball, lying instead of embracing innovation and miking up players. Camera shots will be tight to avoid showing vacant caverns. The house organ and walk-up music will be eerie. And cardboard cutouts as fans? At least they won’t be hospitalized or killed by screaming foul balls, just pelted with holes. Wrigley Field looked like a vacant movie set Sunday night, sad and hollow, a reminder that sports never should take fans for granted in the live experience
But even if it seems like something Will Smith stumbled upon in “I Am Legend,’’ it’s still baseball of some sort. Not that it’s safe in the least, as underscored by the fears of Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, the most prominent of many players who’ve shuttled back and forth after battling the virus. “I was just scared to go to bed,’’ said Freeman, whose fever reached 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. “I was scared if I spiked even higher when I was sleeping, what would happen.’’ He was scared of dying, but, hey, get your ass out there and play ball! DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees called his positive test “a scary experience’’ though he had no symptoms. Know this going in: Chances are, the 60-game season will be shuttered by outbreaks because, unlike Bubble life, players will be vulnerable to virus transmission in the 18 hours they aren’t at the park daily.
The Canadian government is locking the Blue Jays out of Toronto, not wanting players to catch anything in the contaminated U.S. The geopolitical quagmire requires the club to play home games in … Buffalo? L.A. County still might force Dodgers players to quarantine 14 days — along with me and anyone else who lives here — if contact tracing so demands, meaning the World Series favorites would be at a competitive disadvantage in an area where more than 4,000 died last week from the virus. “It’s not going be to like anything else we’ve done,’’ said Clayton Kershaw, “but at the same time, we’re all going through it on an exactly level playing field.’’
Maybe not, big guy. How can MLB begin to stage a realistic season if the logistical field is uneven? Answer: the $4 billion that owners are frantically trying to recoup from desperate broadcast networks, with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — a man for whom few feel sorry — telling USA Today he has incurred losses “in the nine figures’’ from his MLB and NBA franchises. The face of baseball, Mike Trout, probably won’t play much, if at all, prioritizing his wife’s August pregnancy. Other major names are staying home; more will join them in coming weeks. Rosters will be so depleted, the season could become illegitimate before they even juice the balls. And given how the so-called commissioner, Rob Manfred, has been an abysmal failure in normal times, imagine what chaos awaits amid a health crisis. Yet, bastardized as it all is, we’re going to try and watch these games, if only for a few days, because, you know, we need a friggin’ escape hatch.
Oh, how we need a diversion from mask warfare, Daniel Snyder, the disturbing notion of Black anti-Semitism, the sin of athletes getting quick test results when many commoners cannot, a vomit-inducing NFL labor battle over still-absent virus protocols, wealthy coaches who push for a college football season while asking unpaid young men to assume health risks, the continuation of insensitive nicknames after “Redskins’’ was purged, the hypocrisy of prospective Mets owner Alex Rodriguez advocating an MLB salary cap after earning $450 million during his playing career, Tiger Woods’ balky back, upheaval in the media world and the creep who secretly recorded Rachel Nichols in her hotel room, the latest bit of madness from the burning house of ESPN, which actually seems nuttier than the White House.
“America needs baseball,’’ declared the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
Actually, America needs baseball to get away from President Trump, who created this godforsaken medical mess even as he tries to blame and stonewall the good doctor, Anthony Fauci. I’m not sure anyone cares what happens in these ballgames, but at least we have something to watch on ESPN, which actually ran two Eagles concerts in prime time, channeling Zach Ertz through Joe Walsh.
And America needs to get away from the evil Snyder, who finally faces a national reckoning as the derelict NFL owner who flouted a racist nickname and allowed a culture of sexual harassment and piggery. Somehow, in the nation’s capital, he employed enough cavemen in his hierarchy to prompt 15 women to voice serious allegations, leading to numerous firings in another dark moment for the Washington franchise. Alex Santos was dismissed as pro personnel director after Rhiannon Walker, a reporter for The Athletic, accused him of inappropriate advances, telling her she “had a little wagon for an ass’’ and that she “wore the f— out of the jeans’’ she wore one day. In what world is a man like this allowed to be gainfully employed?
In his usual weenie way, he recruited a female lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, and empowered her firm “to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations.’’ Then he recruited his wife, Tanya, to co-draft an apology that was emailed to all employees, saying the details in a Washington Post report have “no place in our franchise or society.’’ But it’s hard to believe an owner, even one as clueless as Snyder, didn’t have some idea of the toxic climate in his front office. As the man responsible for such abuses, Snyder should be forklifted out of his perch by league owners. That won’t happen; Snyder was not accused directly in the allegations, and the influential Jerry Jones, for one, is a Snyder pal who has indulged in his own piggery.
Though the league condemned the franchise in a statement — saying the alleged behavior is “serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values’’ — expect a fat fine, which is a wrist slap for a billionaire whose team is worth $3.1 billion. Settlements with victims will cost Snyder considerably more, and if he were smart, he would sell the team before he botches the next nickname. He’s fortunate to have a respected fixer in Ron Rivera, who is running the football operation and coaching the team and produced the defining quote of the debacle.
“My daughter works for the team,’’ he said, “and I sure as hell am not going to allow any of this!”
But then, the NFL is too busy playing loose and free with COVID-19, announcing that a couple of thousand players are due in training camps next week. There isn’t a health protocol in sight, a frightening thought in a close-contact sport with no chance of physical distancing, prompting players — including the increasingly vocal Patrick Mahomes — to blast the league in a tweeting ambush. “The league is in charge of opening and closing the plant. We ask, `Is it safe?’ ‘’, said J.C. Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association. “It’s up to the NFL to make those decisions on when we open. Every decision we make that doesn’t look at the long term of getting through the whole season will set us up for failure.’’ All of which is code for ugly negotiations ahead. I’d be shocked to see an NFL season.
Same goes for college football, with LSU coach Ed Orgeron declaring this during a roundtable discussion with — how’s this for a duo? — Vice President Mike Pence: “We need to play. This state needs it. This country needs it. This (the coronavirus) can be handled. I don’t think we can take this away from our players, take this away from our state and our country. We need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country.’’
America doesn’t need football. America needs to get well, to keep ICU beds from filling up, to stop people from dying. But don’t tell Coach O. He and Dabo Swinney think they’re bigger than any old pandemic.
Tensions also are inevitable inside the NBA Bubble, where players and coaches accustomed to the best in life are isolated for weeks and months. The Snitch Line — the league’s anonymous hotline used to report those breaking protocol — already is causing problems, with Dwight Howard upset to have received more attention for not wearing a mask and being the only player at a league party than social injustice crimes. “Breonna Taylor, the people who did the heinous incident against her, they’re still free,” said Howard, who had thought about not joining the Lakers in Orlando. “They’re out there living their best life. Instead of worrying about if I have my mask on or not, that’s something we should be discussing. Why haven’t these people been brought in? Why haven’t they been charged for anything or arrested for what they’ve done? Instead of the topics being about who’s not wearing a mask in the bubble, who was at the DJ party, who wasn’t — all of these things seem entertaining. But we’re not going to forget about what’s going on around our world.
“Those cops, one of the cops just posted a picture of himself at the beach. How could you have a conscience? You just killed somebody. And you’re out at the beach with women. You killed a woman. And you’re out at the beach with some more women having a good old time. You know, that’s not right. There’s families out there mourning, white and black who’ve been killed by cops. Been killed through different things. The topic of discussion is who doesn’t have a mask on and people snitching. Let’s not forget why we are here.’’ I echo his thoughts. Still, Howard must wear a mask.
Without much to cover since March, the sports media industry has gone gnarly, too, turning on each other within their own companies. We realize ESPN can be a petty place, but what prompted someone, presumably employed by the network, to record Nichols in her hotel room inside the NBA Bubble and send the audio to a sleazy site? This wacknut was trying to sabotage Nichols, host of “The Jump’’ program, and portray her as a backstabber as she discussed company affairs, including broadcasting assignments for the NBA postseason. Again, in what world is such a person allowed to be gainfully employed?
ESPN’s world. This in a week when the network’s NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, was suspended without pay for only two weeks after sending a “F— you’’ Woj Bomb to a Missouri senator. Insane place, Bristol. Anyone running the joint? Other major media organizations are dealing with internal coups, including the New York Times and L.A. Times, where the sports staff crafted a letter to the executive editor, Norman Pearlstine, outlining what it sees as ethical issues involving columnist Arash Markazi. The Times hired Markazi to emphasize, among other millennial subjects, social media — making him more Billy Bush than Bill Plaschke, which didn’t go over well with old-school writers and editors. Nor did it humor them that Markazi was getting more media attention than most of those old-schoolers, including praise from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who lauded him for losing 130 pounds.
The signees say Markazi’s work habits “negatively affected reporters’ relationships with the people, teams, and leagues that we cover, as well as our peers. During this time of deep newsroom reflection, we feel compelled to demand action in response to these transgressions. At stake here is not only the integrity and credibility of the sports staff, but of the entire Los Angeles Times.”
Key question: If The Terminator calls on Markazi’s behalf, will Pearlstine side with him or the sports staff?
While on leave, Markazi always can mask up and help Chico Herrera in the Dodger Stadium outfield. Who is Chico Herrera? He’s the clubhouse attendant who played left field during an intrasquad scrimmage, actually throwing out Chris Taylor at second base on a deep fly ball.
And why was Chico out there to begin with?
Because too many of the Dodgers were in quarantine.
Ronnie Lane’s Career Evolved Right Along With His Market
“I was going to apply for the Kentucky State Police Academy and a buddy of mine came to me and said, ‘Hey, how would you like to make more money and not get shot at?’. I said, ‘OK, I’m listening.’”
Before it was Champa Bay, it was the punchline to a joke.
Before Tom Brady, before Jon Gruden and before both the Lightning and the Rays, it was a one-sport town that was only identifiable by the orange creamsicle uniforms the Bucs used to wear during seemingly endless losing seasons. Coincidently, that’s also the time Ronnie “Night Train” Lane arrived in the city.
Tampa looks a lot different today than it did when Lane arrived in the mid-80’s. There’s a passion for the local teams that didn’t exist until recently. That’s to be expected when the city just enjoyed three championships in a 10-month span, after the Lightning went back-to-back with the Stanley Cup and the Bucs took down the Chiefs in last year’s Super Bowl. But when locals think about sports talk in the city, Lane is one of the first hosts that come to mind. He’s seen the bad times, the good times and everything in between.
“The city was nothing like it looks like today,” said Lane. “It was primarily all about the Buccaneers, because the Rays and Lightning weren’t here yet.”
Lane isn’t a lifetime Floridian. He’s from a small town in Tennessee near his alma mater of Murray State University. In fact, even though he’s the co-host of Ronnie and TKras at 95.3 WDAE in morning drive, some locals would be surprised to hear his career in radio actually started on the music side.
That’s where the infamous nickname of “Night Train” came from. Mason Dixon, a Tampa staple for decades at Q105, decided that Lane needed a nickname. When Lane was on the air at stations in Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, he had a nickname that sounded similar to Ronnie “The Dean of Rock N Roll” Lane. He can’t remember exactly what the nickname was, but “Night Train” stuck as soon as Dixon gave it to him. The thought behind the name was as simple as the fact Lane was doing the night shift at Q105 in Tampa. The nickname has stuck ever since.
“Q105 was a monster station that did 12-plus shares,” Lane said. “That’s where things really started to take off for me.”
Lane stayed at the station through both an ownership and a format change. CBS bought the station and switched the format from Top 40 to country. A lot of transformation was about to take place in Lane’s career.
“When CBS bought Q105, they already had a country station, so they asked if I wanted to stay in music or try something else,” Lane said. “I said, well, I’ve always been a crazy sports fan, so I’d love to try sports.”
Fortunately, the company had a very similar idea. The broadcast rights to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were owned by the same company, so they made him a nighttime DJ and gave him a job on the weekends with the Buccaneers Radio Network. Since then, he’s become synonymous with sports radio in Tampa, alongside his long-time co-host Tom Krasniqi.
Today, he’s living his best life. WDAE is seeing its best years as a station, the local interest is as high as it’s ever been and the three local teams are all having success. Lane says it’s, without a doubt, the best time he’s ever had on sports radio.
“Oh it’s at the top of the list and it’s not close,” Lane said. “When I was doing music radio, I rarely listened to sports talk radio. I think we had some stations and they had a hard time because none of the clubs were consistently good. It was mainly just people griping and bitching about how awful the teams were.”
If you’re looking for a city that’s evolved as a sports town over the past decade, Tampa would be a strong contender. The doom and gloom that used to surround the sports fans in the city has been replaced with optimism and pride for the city, as well as the catchy nickname of Champa Bay.
“It’s a completely different sports town and it’s galvanized the community,” Lane said. “There’s a lot of support for the Lightning, tons of support for the Buccaneers and that’s important.
When a city evolves as a sports town, that often means there’s more attention placed on the sports talk radio stations. Lane says there’s a mixture of feelings on if the listeners in Tampa have evolved over the years.
“Some would say they’ve evolved quite well and others would say, like my partner Tom Krasniqi, he’s from the New York area, and he still thinks the fans here have a long way to go,” Lane said. “He’s probably correct in that assessment, as far as educating themselves about the particular sports. There are others that feel the fans are becoming more educated and more savvy when it comes to sports radio, because we’re trying to educate them on our show and I think we do a good job on our show of giving people information but also being entertaining.”
There’s so much interest in the Bucs, both locally and nationally, that the team always seems to be in the headlines. That’s great for Lane and his show on WDAE, seeing as the Bucs have been a constant stream of content that everyone is interested in. That was very evident when Antonio Brown walked off the field in the Bucs’ Week 16 game at the New York Jets. It consumed all of the major networks and Lane’s show was no different.
“Every moment of the show was Antonio Brown and how the Bucs were going to get through this, so much so to the point where some listeners were like, are you guys forgetting we also have a hockey and baseball team? But it was just because the football team has gotten so popular that everyone was fixated on how they were going to get past the Antonio Brown saga.
“We all gave our opinions because none of us on the show thought they should’ve signed Antonio Brown in the first place. We took a lot of heat from fans saying, ‘well, do you not like the Bucs?’. How could someone even say that? Our company carries the Bucs games and the station supports the Bucs as much as we possibly can. We can’t agree with everything they do.”
Champa Bay is riding a sports heater that the city has never seen, and quite possibly, may never see again. Lane is enjoying the ride as much as he possibly can.
“I still run into people who are big sports fans that still remember me as a Top 40 DJ at Q105,” laughed Lane. “I guess I credit my education at Murray State University and also the guy that really got me into radio, because I was thinking about going into law enforcement. I was going to apply for the Kentucky State Police Academy and a buddy of mine came to me and said, ‘Hey, how would you like to make more money and not get shot at?’. I said, ‘OK, I’m listening.’”
There’s a lot to be proud of when Lane looks back at his career. He was successful in Top 40, he was successful in country music and now he’s a huge success at sports radio. It takes a certain talent to thrive over multiple formats. Few have done it to the level of Lane.
“I’m proud of what I did on the music side, particularly with country,” Lane said. “I’m just proud to be a communicator and someone that’s a voice for the fans.”
Sunday Night Baseball Is In The Right Hands With Karl Ravech
“In making the announcement of Ravech taking over, ESPN is saying that it trusts him to carry one of the network’s flagship broadcasts.”
Thank you, ESPN, for the revamp of the Sunday Night Baseball booth. The change excites me in a few ways. First, I’m a fan of whatever will get Alex Rodriguez off my television on Sunday nights. But truly that statement does a disservice to Karl Ravech. He was named the new play-by-play guy and is certainly not the lesser of the two evils. Ravech is a solid pro that’s getting a great opportunity at the network he’s served for almost 30 years.
Ravech is the primary host of ESPN’s MLB studio and pre-game show, Baseball Tonight and has been a regular part of the Monday Night Baseball team since the 2016 season. He has also been the voice of ESPN’s Home Run Derby telecast since 2017. He even did play-by-play for the KBO coverage during the 2020 season, while Major League Baseball was shut down.
In making the announcement of Ravech taking over, ESPN is saying that it trusts him to carry one of the network’s flagship broadcasts. He’s become the face of baseball at ESPN and was really the best choice to replace the outgoing Matt Vasgersian. Ravech has built up the name recognition and the association with the sport at ESPN.
“Karl Ravech, who has been our ‘Mr. Baseball’ for three decades, will lead the booth with the command and credibility that he’s displayed throughout his career.” said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive VP and executive editor of production.
His style is much more laid back than others that have held the role of Sunday Night Baseball’s main play-by-play guy. Listening to Karl Ravech call a game is nice because he isn’t shouting at you, he’s telling you what is going on. He also has the ability to make conversation about the game, which will be key in working with two former players in the same booth.
Ravech is ready to get started. In a conference call with the media last week, he laid out why the combination of himself, Eduardo Perez and David Cone will work.
“Having watched Cone forever and now listening to him on a podcast, there’s a conversational nature about him,” said Ravech. “I basically have covered both of their careers, certainly Eddie’s in its entirety and Cone for a long, long time, so I got to know them a little bit, but you get to know a different side of them broadcasting.
“To me baseball is a game that takes three hours to play, there’s all sorts of opportunities to dive into topics that may not be related to the game, if it’s 7-1 in the second inning, and these two guys are, in my mind, as good as any that I could have imagined sitting next to, to have that conversation, and whether it’s about history, whether it’s about the future, whether it’s about analytics, sabermetrics, David Cone’s pitching style, why Eduardo was a better hitter than he was a fielder, all these different subjects, these two guys are going to make it very, very easy and very compelling for the viewer to listen to.”
Consider also, that Disney (the parent company of ESPN) and Major League Baseball reached an agreement on a seven-year rights deal. That made it very important for the sports network to get this selection right, and it did.
That booth needed a fresh coat of paint. Vasgersian did his best to work with Alex Rodriguez, but the results were not always the best. Rodriguez seemed to drag Vasgersian down, along with the entire broadcast at times with some of the nonsense he would spew.
Hopefully Michael Kay will have a better go of it with A-Rod on the “Kay-Rod” Megacast planned for 8 games. I think Kay is a tremendous play-by-play guy. With his background as an accomplished sports talk host, he will be able to more easily reign in A-Rod and direct the flow of the broadcast better in that setting.
Congrats to Karl Ravech and ESPN, for knocking this new booth out of the park.
Radio Could Be The Backdoor To Sports Sponsorships
Not every business will have unlimited resources to be able to afford sponsorships directly with NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL teams themselves.
Sporting events have been entertainment for people since Roman times. Sports, especially in the USA, are closely linked to our society and American culture. As a business, sports are booming and growing at a rapid pace every year.
Now, with the rise of online gambling and sportsbooks popping up in just about every state, sports sponsorships will continue to provide tremendous value for brands moving forward. Don’t miss out on your chance to affiliate your brand with some of the most passionate, dedicated and loyal consumers you will ever have a chance to earn business from. Sports fans are also incredibly emotional and love supporting businesses that support the teams they love to cheer for; use that EMOTION to your advantage and help your business thrive!
Sports sponsorships will often include other key critical advantages that can help your business in many many ways: Access to team/station functions for networking, tickets to the game(s) for client and/or employee entertainment, ability to potentially use team logos and last but certainly not least, can often lead to a player or coach endorsement of your business.
TOP 5 ADVANTAGES Sports Radio & Sports Sponsorships can offer:
#1 REACH & FREQUENCY – tags in daily/weekly promos
#2 Opportunity to grow the affiliation with a Player or Coach
#3 Little to NO duplication in the market for content and Sponsorships
#4 Endorsements/Brand Ambassadors for product/service
#5 Team Affiliation
Yes, many of these things are very hard to quantify or gage performance based on an ROI evaluation. However, if done correctly, sports sponsorships can give your business a very unique and competitive edge over your competition in the marketplace because most are category-specific. Find the right affiliation at the right price point for your budget and I promise you won’t regret it.
Not every business will have unlimited resources to be able to afford sponsorships directly with NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL teams themselves. Sports radio partnerships with the team can often offer your business similar, if not more impactful, way to affiliate your company with a sports brand at a much better price point. Take advantage of this unique opportunity, get creative and find something that works for you. Trust me, if you don’t your competition certainly will!
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