If real estate is all about location, location, location, then life is all about timing, timing timing. For The Athletic and Stadium’s Shams Charania, you might think the timing couldn’t be better. Thanks to COVID-19 hitting the snooze button on the NBA season, the 26 year-old Charania’s contract with both entities ends at the end of the month – smack dab in the middle of the NBA playoffs.
In any other year, “Baby Woj” would have no shortage of suitors for his services because he’s one of the most respected insiders in the business. Now, however, he could become a free agent when millions of people have lost their jobs and sports media executives have begun to examine every facet of the industry in a desperate search to save money during this crisis.
Play-by-play crews are calling games off of TV monitors in a studio. Radio shows and podcasts are being hosted from bedrooms and finished basements across the country. It may simply be a matter of time before a company decides that it can live without a high-priced “insider,” and they wouldn’t be wrong.
The entire world has already been changed forever because of Covid-19, and while its effects on the sports industry are surely the least important of all the reverberations, they will nevertheless be just as permanent. When I was at ESPN in the early 2000s, they would fly different analysts into Bristol from around the country each week, and put them up at one of the many ultra-luxurious hotels in the Bristol, Connecticut area. Why would a company continue to swallow thousands of dollars in airfare and lodging when they’ve been successfully covering sports for months with everyone working remotely?
Professional sports franchises have been paying play-by-play crews to fly around the country in order to broadcast games from the opponent’s stadium. Has the quality of play-by-play dropped off significantly since road teams were calling games from the safety of a local facility? While anyone in the trenches of putting on a show will tell you that having everyone in the same room always leads to a better product, companies the world over have always been willing to sacrifice quality in the name of saving money.
One area that has always forced networks to open their wallets, however, is talent acquisition. Outlets need analysts, and they absolutely have to have insiders. Right?
Not so fast. As technology has changed and teams and players can now communicate directly with fans via social media, the juice that national insiders once had has been squeezed. Most of the content from the big “insiders” these days is actually something a team would release itself a few minutes later. NBC’s Mike Florio has referred to it on the air as “the five minute heads up.”
Take a look at the Twitter timelines of a national insider from any sport. How many of them tweeted or wrote a story about something that a team wouldn’t want people to know about? And while there are exceptions to every rule, do those rare instances justify the cost? The most famous insiders all have salaries that feature multiple commas. How much bang for their buck are networks really getting?
One exception to my blanket statement about national insiders is FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer, who appears to hibernate for most of the year, only to emerge from his cave to break a massive story that changes the NFL season before immediately turning around again and returning to hibernation.
I also keep saying, “national insiders” because I want to draw a clear distinction between the big name people we all know and the local reporters covering a beat. The locals often reveal things teams and players would prefer the public doesn’t know, which is why they’re awesome and I would never criticize them.
Now, I know that the agents of some of these insiders would say, “My guy gets that heads up first,” but here’s a hard truth for them: the only people that care about who breaks news first are other insiders and network executives. The fans don’t care. Hell, they don’t even remember who breaks the story first. When something happens, it appears in their social media feed about eight different times because they follow all the insiders across networks so they don’t miss anything.
When George Kittle agreed to his contract extension with the 49ers last week, the story appeared on my timeline from Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area, the NBC Sports Bay Area account itself, Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, Matt Barrows of The Athletic, Niners Nation, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Adam Schefter of ESPN, and a ton of other people pointing out that Pardon My Take actually had the story first. And no, I did not put those in any particular order. Furthermore, five minutes after the story hits Twitter all the other insiders confirm it via their own sources, and their networks go with a variation of, “insider X has confirmed that superstar Y has agreed to a deal with team Z.”
So if insiders are mostly passing along announcements that teams and players will make themselves, and fans don’t care or remember which insiders are passing along those announcements, what exactly are networks paying all that money for, again? Unless insiders take a much more investigatory bent towards their jobs, the market for their services could be shrinking.
Sports networks will soon realize that fan bases wouldn’t be any less informed without that five minute heads up. When that happens, executives will realize how much money they could save simply by making one fewer hire.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.