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Sports Still Filled With Glory, Eyeballs and…More $$$

“The broadcast networks remain bullish on the future of sports, even in a pandemic, which has motivated leagues to play seasons and forge exciting, historic moments despite ever-present health risks.”

Jay Mariotti

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We’ve had our first confetti sightings, blizzards swirling in the faces of LeBron James and the Lakers as “I Love L.A.’’ echoed through a Florida bio-tank. “I guess, as Frank Sinatra would say, I did it my way,’’ said James, before grabbing partner-in-title-crime Anthony Davis for last call at the Disney World lakefront bar, knowing a seventh failure in the NBA Finals wouldn’t be legacy-friendly.

The NFL continues to produce dazzling quarterbacking performances, propane offenses and to-the-wire games that rouse diehards, gamblers and casual folk, with Josh Allen and the Bills Mafia creeping in on the ongoing Russell Wilson/Patrick Mahomes/Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady/Cam Newton debates. Aaron Rodgers has returned to his wondrous self, too, kicked in the ass by Matt LaFleur. The Stanley Cup finals remind us why overtime hockey is a delightful mind-glaze, even inside an igloo with seats covered by tarps. Crazy Mike Leach marched into Baton Rouge, made fun of how the dorms in the stadium have been replaced by suites, then had fun by upsetting LSU, the team whose coach thinks all his players have achieved herd immunity. Ed Orgeron might want to work on herd pass defense after allowing 623 passing yards and five touchdown passes to Mississippi State’s Air Raid.

“It’s better than average, I’ll tell you that,” Leach said after reducing the defending national champions to kitty meat. “We played LSU because New England, Green Bay and the Chiefs had somebody scheduled. So we played these guys.’’

That wasn’t even the biggest story in Covid-infested college football, where a team ravaged by the coronavirus (Kansas State) beat a behemoth that isn’t truthful about which players have it (Oklahoma). “Knock on wood, because who knows who’s gonna be available next week, you know?’’ said winning coach Chris Klieman, in a keeper quote for 2020. “And that’s kind of what everybody has to realize on our team and across college football. I hate to say that, but that’s unfortunately the reality we’re living in.’’

Oh, and through it all, as 23 states report rising Covid numbers in a land paralyzed and frightened about its future, Turner Sports decided for some brain-cramped reason — does someone have naughty pictures? — to pump $3.74 billion into Major League Baseball for seven seasons starting in 2022, even if a troubled sport is shuttered at that point by a labor impasse. This as Fox Corp. decided to leak, though the media weren’t inquiring, that it will pay the NFL up to $2 billion a year to keep its NFC-heavy Sunday package. Think the NBA, concerned about a future that might not include in-arena revenues that constitute 40 percent of the league’s business, isn’t excited to see these heady developments?

“The NFL has asked, I think, all the broadcasters to think about every package, and to think how would we monetize packages that we currently have or other packages differently,” Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said in a call with investors. “So, we’re looking at all sorts of options.”

In.

A.

Pandemic.

Remember the scene in “I Am Legend’’ when the world stops? When Will Smith, survivor of an infection that turns humans into savage mutants and destroys most of the global population, stumbles through an apocalyptic Manhattan? Amid the rubble, the director should have made room for signs of life: namely, stadiums, ballparks and arenas. Because in our version of the sci-fi film, the demand for live sports by homebound America is bigger than anyone believed. That doesn’t mean the passion is the same, with many people simply trying to survive. Where I live, Los Angeles, I’m not seeing the gold t-shirts and purple car flags of Lakers championship runs past — though I suspect that will change the more James invokes Kobe Bryant. Point being, this stuff is being watched during an unprecedented 10-week run of championship events, which is why the only two entities thinking sensibly about Covid — the Big Ten and Pac-12 — flip-flopped and chose to attempt seasons. There was too much money to grab, you see, as President Trump badgered the Pac-12 in a tweet that smacked of passive-aggressive peer pressure. “You’re the only one now. Open up. Open up, Pac-12. Get going,’’ he wrote. “Said the same thing to Big Ten and they did, and now I’m saying it to Pac-12. You have time. Get going.’’

So, enabled by Trump, the Pac-12 also broke down. Only weeks earlier, University of Oregon president Michael Schill had expressed grave concern about Covid’s potential spread and aftereffects on athletes. Suddenly, advances in rapid testing made him and his brethren do the 180-degree Watusi? “Let me just say one thing it was not about,” Schill said. “This has nothing to do with money.’’ And the Oregon color scheme isn’t green, either.

If sports won’t achieve normalcy in this abnormal year, and maybe not for quite some time, it has stepped around the debris and somehow carried on. The attitude is business as usual even if athletes are infected by the virus, which runs counter to medical wisdom elsewhere in American life. If, say, anyone on the “Saturday Night Live’’ set tests positive for Covid when live shows start this weekend, executive producer Lorne Michaels will shut down all production and quarantine everyone for 14 days, including Alec Baldwin and Jim Carrey, meaning Trump and Joe Biden would be safe from humiliation for a chunk of October. When Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife tested positive, it was big news.

Yet when starting cornerback A.J. Terrell tested positive, the Atlanta Falcons simply placed him on the reserve/COVID-19 list. And they dutifully went on to host the Bears, with the NFL insisting that contact tracing and subsequent tests cleared all of Terrell’s teammates and coaches. I am having difficulty believing it — a week earlier, as the Washington Post reported, the NFL didn’t identify a player who was kept out of a game with Covid symptoms. As I’ve written and said often, the flouting of coronavirus transparency is beyond disturbing — do we really trust anything the pro leagues and college conferences tell us about test results? It’s a lost cause; because privacy laws protect the infected, sports isn’t required legally to be forthright. The leagues, supported by media partners that downplay Covid developments while hyping up the games, wish to create a soothing effect among the masses: “You know, we have this. We can play through any old virus. Keep watching and drive up our ratings.’’ The NFL, in particular, also wants its broadcast partners — and streaming interests — to be of a mindset that outrageous multi-billion-dollar rights bids are safe.

The league better beware. Whether it’s head coaches violating sideline protocols by refusing to wear masks or, as reported by ESPN, the Raiders allegedly allowing an unauthorized team employee in the locker room, too many people are playing loose and reckless with the virus. That’s a recipe for an outbreak — or two or five — in a sport with no social distancing on the field. Blame the NFL office, which continues to express no doubt that an entire season will be completed without a hitch and a champion will be crowned on Super Bowl Sunday.

Certainly, the games are delivering so far. The office hot takes, via Zoom these days: Brady is better off in Tampa Bay and Newton is a better idea in New England … Nick Foles rescues another team in Chicago … the Saints are out of sorts in possibly Drew Brees’ final season … who’s fired first, Adam Gase or Dan Quinn? … is Jimmy Garoppolo now expendable? …. always remember the Titans … why we should feel sorry for Joe Burrow … why DK Metcalf must grip the football until he reaches the end zone … the Eagles should be ashamed for punting with 19 seconds left in overtime and taking a tie instead of trying a 64-yard field goal … the Rams should stop whining about a late call when they benefited from one in Week 1 … and how about those chaotic, undisciplined, 1-2 Cowboys?

As for college football, can we page Dr. Fauci, Dr. Anthony Fauci? How many players — again, unpaid and taking long-term health risks — will be infected this season as the Power Five conferences are aligned again and playing in the spirit of money? Notice how many programs continue to play on as epidemiologists say prayers, knowing campuses will be raging Covid hotspots as long as students party and don’t wear masks? For every Notre Dame, which postponed its game against Wake Forest, you have 10 Kansas States that celebrate wins while infected players are vomiting somewhere. Virginia Tech was missing 23 players due to Covid, including the starting QB, yet played and beat North Carolina State. At least those people are being honest. Most are like Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who said he won’t release Covid particulars because he doesn’t want to give an advantage to opponents. How did that go, Lincoln? It’s typical of a sport that somehow will stage a lucrative four-team playoff despite uneven schedules that border on the absurd.

Ask baseball if it’s wise to be reckless or overconfident. Only now — with no new positive tests reported in September, assuming the data is legitimate — can MLB present actual playoff story lines after a shotgun regular season from Covid hell. Still, with 16 teams heading into a so-called Bubble that involves four rounds and as many as 65 games, don’t virus troubles still lurk? In this unusual October pecking order, baseball trails the NFL, an intriguing NBA Finals  — James vs. the Heat and the godfather he bolted, Pat Riley — and college football lunacy in general interest terms.

It would help if baseball rocked us with exciting drama, which will be difficult as games already longer than ever push toward four hours in the postseason. Yet two decades of industry erosion didn’t stop Turner from joining Fox, which has secured the World Series long-term, in making questionable investments. Networks pump money into baseball because it brings the consistent live inventory that attracts advertisers. Even if every cable cord is cut at some point, the streaming generation is why Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN will keep bringing wheelbarrows of money to the NFL table, and why Turner will gamble on baseball. I’d like to think the guarantee of freshly loaded coffers will cause the owners and union to calm down, find common negotiating ground and let us focus on the game, which this October will include: the Dodgers, trying to avoid another postseason fall, with Clayton Kershaw needing to be the G.O.A.T. this time and not the goat … the Padres, who will wake up the millennials and Gen-Zers with one Fernando Tatis Jr. swing and dance … the Rays, maybe best equipped to win it all despite a humble following and wretched ballpark … the Braves, who have a MVP candidate, Freddie Freeman, who thought he was on his death bed while fighting Covid in July … both Chicago teams, the Cubs and White Sox, who only could meet in a World Series during a pandemic in Arlington, Texas … the Astros, who give America a common villain … and Mike Trout, er, never mind, as the Angels continue to waste his career.

My rooting interest is the Marlins, not just because they’re the Marlins — what are they doing here? — but because they overcame baseball’s first Covid blitz. Is it possible Derek Jeter knows what he’s doing?

Notice how all of this commotion — multi-billion-dollar TV deals, LeBron pursuing more history, NFL thrillers, collegiate unpredictability, a hockey champion crowned — is happening with few or no fans in the stands. I miss the fans and never again will take for granted their energy and place in the in-game experience. Sports leagues will mumble something about missing the fans, too.

But they really don’t. Because sports, even when played in makeshift and otherwise empty studios, is still an entertainment spectacle worth watching … and bankrolling with multiple billions. Not long ago, America was obsessed with three topics: Covid, Black Lives Matter and Trump vs. Biden. Now, we at least can marvel at how Joe Montana and his wife stopped a female intruder from kidnapping their 9-month-old grandchild in their Malibu home. And we can thank the heavens that Mike Leach exists.

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Ryan Clark is Ready for ‘The Pivot’ to Grow with Channing Crowder, Fred Taylor and Fanatics

“We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are.”

Derek Futterman

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Ryan Clark
Courtesy: The Pivot

Answering a call from Emmy Award-winning producer Alicia Zubikowsi, Ryan Clark learned of a potential new media venture in a niche space. Zubikowski had produced the I Am Athlete podcast for nearly two years, which rapidly proliferated in size, scope and prominence. A financial dispute among the colleagues, however, led to the departures of Channing Crowder and Fred Taylor from the roster, along with Zubikowski, and they branched out on their own to actualize a new vision. After speaking with Zubikowski, Clark met with Crowder virtually and evinced compatibility that compelled him to become involved in the project.

Less than two years later, The Pivot Podcast has quickly amassed notoriety and prestige within sports media. The athlete-driven podcast contains weekly conversations with contemporaries and luminaries alike, to talk sports, music and entertainment. Clark, Crowder and Taylor possess an evident rapport and retains the audience while encouraging prospective listeners to hear the genuine endeavor.

“We felt like there was some synergy there, we thought we could do some good things and we decided to give it a try,” Clark said. “I had already been doing my own podcast that I was funding myself, editing myself and cutting promos myself just because I understood what the space was and I knew that that’s where a lot of media was going, and at the time I didn’t have a partnership or anyone kind of showing me the way, but I was like, ‘These people have already been successful.’”

Since its launch in the winter of 2022, The Pivot Podcast has amassed over 158 million views and 870,000 subscribers on YouTube alone. The show has welcomed guests across a variety of professions, some of whom have included Caleb Williams, Snoop Dogg, Gayle King and Travis Kelce. During its time in circulation, it has made an indelible impact on the landscape and recently agreed to a multi-year partnership with Fanatics.

Through the deal, The Pivot Podcast will feature Fanatics’ verticals surrounding commerce, betting, collectibles and events, and the Fanatics Sportsbook garnering the title of the “official sportsbook” of the show. Additionally, the program will be part of company events such as Fanatics Fest NYC and its annual Super Bowl party.

“Luckily for us, it’s been such a blessing,” Clark said. “Some of the stories we’ve been able to tell, the people we’ve been able to work with and have as guests on the show, and then obviously now having an opportunity to partner with Fanatics and be a part of Michael Rubin’s team and sort of head their media division, especially when you’re speaking of Alicia and what she’ll be able to do, it just makes so much sense.”

Fanatics itself had inked some deals in the sports media space over the last year, including agreements with Bleacher Report and Overtime, but they were largely under the aegis of merchandising and/or live events. The company also hired Ed Hartman as its chief strategy officer in media, trying to discover content that fits various key business sectors. For The Pivot, retaining creative control and autonomy over the content was essential and being involved in other ventures added more value to the proposition.

“To be a part of those things and bringing those things to the world, but also an opportunity to showcase the athletes and entertainers that are part of the Fanatics family – and I think that’s a different and a bigger opportunity than any podcast has ever had with any partnership, and that is why it was important for us to find the right partnership,” Clark said. “And if I’m being honest, our producer has turned down multiple deals saying that she believed that this was the one before this was ever even a thing that Michael Rubin was talking about.”

Reaching this point required hard work, consistency and confidence that The Pivot would ultimately resonate with audiences and establish a rapport in the space. Luckily for Clark, he had a viable fallback plan in that he was working at ESPN as an NFL analyst, a role he had positioned himself to attain while he was still an active player.

During his career, he had worked on 93.7 The Fan hosting a radio show from a hibachi restaurant in Pittsburgh and also appeared on local television. Clark played 13 years in the NFL as a safety and won a Super Bowl championship as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 season.

Although Clark had been told as a player that he had a chance to thrive in sports media, his formative years in the business broadened his understanding of the landscape and how to achieve success. Upon retiring from the NFL, he signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN to appear on NFL Live, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio shows and additional network programming.

Over the last several years, he has been a consistent part of NFL Live. Clark explained that the show contains underdogs who have crafted chemistry that has coalesced into an on-air product and meaningful friendships. Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, Mina Kimes and Adam Schefter work with Clark and blend their football knowledge and expertise with entertainment.

“I could see how much work they all put into their craft, and I respected that, and then once you get that respect and you start to work together, now you get to know the people,” Clark said. “You get to know about their kids, you get to know about their home life, you get to know about what makes them tick and what makes them themselves, and then we care about each other.”

As members of the show watch NFL games every week, they remain in constant communication through a group chat. Additionally, Clark ensures that he is actively listening to what his colleagues say on the air so he can disseminate informed, substantive opinions that play a part in the overall product.

“The smartest of analysts understand what they have to be on each show based on who they’re working with,” Clark said. “I think you just also have to be versatile enough to do that. You have to know when you’re on NFL Live, that show is so heavy X and O; that show is so heavy, ‘Let’s educate – let’s talk about the things that are important in ball, even if they aren’t the most popular things.’”

Starting last season, Clark was added to Monday Night Countdown as a studio analyst as part of a revamped iteration of the program hosted by Scott Van Pelt. Joining Clark as analysts on the show were his NFL Live colleague Marcus Spears and incumbent analyst Robert Griffin III. While there were some memorable moments both in studio and on site throughout the year though, Clark felt that the show struggled to capture an essence on the air.

“I think the show is just hard because it’s sort of like rolled over the entire infrastructure and changed the people, and it happened so late that I don’t think we ever got an opportunity to find our voices on that show, and we tried to work through that throughout the season,” Clark said. “….I think last year was a learning experience where if I’m being really honest, we did bad TV sometimes, which was new for me because I felt like I haven’t done bad TV in a very long time, and it was embarrassing for me because I put so much time into it.”

Former Philadelphia Eagles center and Super Bowl champion Jason Kelce is joining the show and was formally introduced this week. During a charity golf outing this offseason, Clark had a chance to meet Kelce and learn more about him as a person while also answering questions about ESPN and the sports media business.

“I told him to be himself because being himself is what got him here,” Clark said. “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion, so he has so much knowledge, experience and wisdom that people will crave, and he can give it to them uniquely with his personality, with his honesty [and] with the openness and vulnerability about who he is. Other than that, he’s going to have to learn.”

Akin to Clark hosting The Pivot and working at ESPN, Kelce hosts the New Heights podcast with his brother, and will now be joining Monday Night Countdown on ESPN. Clark anticipates that Kelce will be a huge addition, referring to him as the “hottest free agent ever,” and hopes to grant him longform chances to express himself on the air. Being on the show for a second season, however, nearly was not a reality for Clark amid an expiring contract at ESPN.

“I was gone,” Clark said. “I wasn’t considering – I was done. Normally they extend your contract until it gets done most times. I was out – my contract had ended.”

Clark took part in discussions with other people in the business, some of which included having his own show and organizations starting networks around him. Throughout the process, he was cognizant about the relationships and memories he had built at ESPN and was appreciative for various personalities speaking up for him, including Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith. In the end, Clark signed a multi-year extension with the network that implemented a raise and additional responsibility while also continuing his other projects.

“Obviously my family is the NFL Live crew,” Clark said. “Scott Van Pelt and I probably share one of the most memorable nights in television when Damar Hamlin went down. And so those relationships were things that I didn’t want to leave unless there was a good enough reason to leave, and I don’t think that’s just money.”

Clark started hosting Inside the NFL last season on The CW, a storied sports franchise that presents highlights, analysis and interviews every week during the NFL season. After spending approximately four decades on HBO and subsequent years on Showtime and Paramount+, the program moved to broadcast television for the first time. Clark conceptualizes his role as a point guard who is able to score when necessary and successfully facilitate his colleagues Jay Cutler, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Chris Long and The Pivot co-host Channing Crowder.

“I think that was the hardest adjustment with Inside the NFL initially was like, ‘Okay, how do I set these guys up for success while still doing something I’m really good at, which is analyzing football?,’” Clark said, “and it’s taken some time to really sort of find a space for it, but I think I did find that on Inside the NFL.”

In working on The Pivot, Clark built relationships organically through conversations surrounding strategy, content creation and lifestyle. One episode in particular that stands out to him is when the show interviewed former NBA forward Michael Beasley where he opened up about his mental health struggles and hardships he has endured throughout his life. Furthermore, he talked about struggling to find the right people and explained that everyone stole from him except his kids. Clark, Crowder and Taylor sympathized with Beasley and offered him assistance, underscoring the unscripted, genuine nature of the show.

“Everybody wants The Rock to be able to come on their show and talk about his battles with depression, but we also want Kevin Hart to be able to come on the show and invite him to nudist camp too,” Clark said. “We want to be a place where you can just be yourself and you can love yourself and truly tell your story and show people who you are. And I don’t necessarily know if it’s distinctive in effort or goal; I think it’s been distinctive in execution, which, in the end, is what we deliver to people.”

Through the new partnership with Fanatics, Clark looks forward to continuing to take part in candid conversations and storytelling on The Pivot while continuing to thrive in his work with ESPN and The CW. As someone who attained a successful NFL career after signing as an undrafted free agent, he maintains a mentality built on an indefatigable work ethic and resolute dedication towards his professional endeavors. Once the show signed the partnership with Fanatics, it had an opportunity to interview Tom Brady, who discussed topics including his experience being the subject of a Netflix roast and the lessons he learned playing in the NFL.

“Not everybody understands Tom Brady, right?,” Clark said. “Who knows that story? Who has ever lived that, ‘I’m the greatest to ever do something’? But everybody has understood what it’s like to struggle; what it’s like to doubt yourself, right? And so we bring them that story, and in bringing them that story, we talk about the things that Fanatics is doing and the ways that they are now moving in the sports world.”

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Christopher ‘Mad Dog’ Russo Making the Most of His Resurgence with the Help of ESPN

Far from a close-minded fuddy-duddy. He is an open-minded observer of sports, one of the greatest of all time.

John Molori

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Screengrab of First Take on ESPN with Chris Russo
Screengrab from ESPN/First Take

The true essence of Christopher ‘Mad Dog’ Russo, Version 2024 can be found in the open to the May 15 edition of First Take on ESPN.

In the aftermath of the Knicks defeating the Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, superstar showstopper Stephen A. Smith opened the program with an emotionally joyous soliloquy lauding his favorite New York basketball team. Smith was jubilant, ebullient, and thrilled.

The segment ended with Smith walking over to panelists Russo and Kendrick Perkins and hugging them in glee. After the show’s open, the Knick rapture continued, that is, until “Mad Dog” was let out of the kennel.

Russo brought things back down to earth, predicting that Indiana would win Game 6 of the series. He then went through a mental historical timeline of the Knicks choking in playoff games at home. This level of historic context is largely lost on modern sports fans, many of whom believe that nothing existed before LeBron James or Tom Brady.

Russo’s beautiful dose of reality ticked off the jovial Smith but set the discourse on a more levelheaded road. Russo is a talking history book, and let’s face it, not everybody likes history class. The difference, however, is that Christopher Russo lived this history, and indeed, made history himself. A 2022 National Radio Hall of Fame inductee, he has uniquely entertained sports fans for more than four decades, becoming one of the most memorable and imitated personalities ever.

He created Mad Dog Sports Radio on SiriusXM in 2008 and headlines the channel with his popular Mad Dog Unleashed show. In addition, he hosts the daily High Heat program on MLB Network. Still, it is one of Russo’s earliest and most recent gigs that set him apart.

Beginning in 1989 and for the next 19 years, Russo and Mike Francesa hosted the landmark Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon driveshow on WFAN radio in New York. It was a ratings mammoth and ensconced Russo as a stone-cold sports media legend.

I am going to make the case that Russo’s latest incarnation as a First Take Wednesday regular is just as significant. It has exposed a whole new audience to the Russo experience. On a more basic level, it is just really special to see a classic radio guy like Russo welcomed into the most progressive and popular sports talk show on the air right now.

Kudos to Stephen A. Smith for making Russo a regular on his program. You can tell that Smith, author of an historically significant media career himself, truly respects those who came before him and blazed the trail. In fact, to a certain extent, Smith is a media offspring of Russo. They both possess riveting personalities, unquestioned bravery, and on-air dominance. Like or dislike, agree or disagree, these are two men who must be listened to and respected.

With Max Kellerman’s 2021 exit from First Take, I was doubtful as to what would happen to the program. My worst thought was that Smith would bring in a bevy of co-hosts who would bow to his greatness – like Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ coaching hires since Jimmy Johnson. Thankfully, Smith went in the other direction. Russo has the same cache as Smith, so there is no hero worship. He says what he feels and talks straight – real talk in a colorful and exciting manner.

As the Knicks discussion continued, Smith wanted to tap into Russo’s New York sports sensibilities and emotion asking Russo if he felt Madison Square Garden shaking during the Knicks’ Game 5 win. It didn’t work. Russo responded that at 65 years-old, he has been in the Garden for many big games and then cautioned Smith to take it easy with the Knicks.

He again harkened back to New York’s less than sparkling history in big games and menacingly joked that it is his job to “spoil Stephen A’s fun.” Russo then spectacularly took the air out of the building with an ominous What If asking what the Knicks would do if it came down to a Game 7 and the game was tied with the clock winding down.

Russo is also self-deprecating. When host Molly Qerim asked him for a prediction on the Nuggets-Timberwolves series, Russo said that he predicted that the Bills would blow out the Giants in Super Bowl XXV – the famed Scott Norwood missed field goal game. Qerim, who does an excellent job in controlling Hurricane Christopher, acknowledged the obscure reference.

While Russo has a database of past stats and stars, he is not lost in history. In fact, on this edition of First Take, he made a bold statement that the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić has the greatest offensive skill set of any center in the history of the NBA. These are not the words of a stodgy curmudgeon whose mind cannot be changed.

Russo is an astute observer of our games. He sees greatness and gives that greatness credit. Far from a close-minded fuddy-duddy. He is an open-minded observer of sports, one of the greatest of all time. His opinions are not to be chided. They are to be listened to and appreciated.

During First Take’s Quick Takes segment, Russo ably put his encyclopedic knowledge to use. The question posed was whether the Celtics or Lakers are the greatest franchise in NBA history. Russo’s analysis was spot on and long overdue. First, he discounted the Minneapolis Lakers’ five titles as part of the pro-Lakers argument. He also cited the Celtics’ overall dominance when the two franchises have met in the NBA Finals over the decades.

Lastly, he remarked that the Celtics have had four eras of greatness: Russell in the 1960s, Havlicek-Cowens in the 1970s, Bird in the 1980s, and Pierce-Garnett in the late 2000s, while the Lakers have only two: Magic-Abdul-Jabbar in the ‘80s and Shaq-Kobe in the 2000s. It was the best analysis of a longtime debate.

In a debate about Bronny James and his NBA hopes, Russo again was the voice of reason giving a very realistic analysis of why he is not a top pro prospect. It is clear that Russo has nothing to prove, nobody to impress, and no apple to polish. He made his bones years ago, and his takes are refreshing and objective.

The cherry on top of Russo’s First Take sundae was his What Are You Mad About? segment. Viewers tuning into this part of the program are no doubt wondering who the hell, and at times, what the hell they are watching. Russo pushes the limits of his angst, heart rate, blood pressure, and decibel level picking apart several news items from the week in sports. At times, he closes his blurbs screaming to the heavens, “May God strike me down!”

In this particular segment, he went off on late NBA playoff start times, the intrigue surrounding the 2024 NFL schedule release, and his distaste towards the vulgar humor in the Tom Brady roast. Russo gets up close to the camera and goes off in a boisterous way. It is simultaneously fantastic and frightening.

In his last piece on the roast, Russo looked into the camera and yelled to Brady, “How stupid can you be!” This is the same question I will pose to anyone who dismisses Russo as an out of touch old guy. This cat is no curmudgeon. He is a killer. Elderly? No, epic. Bygone? How about straight up bad ass. That is Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, Version 2024.

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How to Renegotiate Your Annual Sports Radio Advertising Contract

Reducing expenses within an annual radio agreement takes a strategic negotiation and budget management approach.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic that shows two people negotiating
Graphic Courtesy: Soject.com

If you are a small to medium-sized business, there is no doubt you are facing rising costs, and making ends meet is a top priority. Sometimes, that means cutting expenses on things you have committed to via contract, like a 2024 annual radio advertising agreement with level monthly payments. You are on the air each month and appreciate the value of advertising consistently. You understand the necessity to maintain a market presence within the budget you laid out last year. You negotiated a win-win contract and are happy with it. However, with your costs spiraling to deliver your services, cost-cutting measures have become critical for financial viability in the long term and better cash flow in the short term. You are now tasked with the need to reduce expenses wherever you can, and your sports radio advertising is next on the list. The station doesn’t want to lessen your committed budget. It’s time for strategic negotiation and decision-making. Here are some effective strategies to accomplish this objective while keeping your annual budget intact:

Pricing and Rates

Initiate negotiations on pricing and rates for ad spots with the radio station. They know where they have more demand than supply and could even make more money by freeing up some of your commercials to be sold to other clients, sometimes at higher rates. This is typically during the weekday drive time periods; you probably got an annual rate for your commitment. If the station is willing, you could move into off-peak nighttime buys or weekends. Off-peak hours typically come at a lower cost and can still reach a substantial audience, enabling you to stretch your budget further. Give the station 30 days to see if they can accomplish this, and if not, go to plan ‘B.’

Longer Commitments

Consider committing to a longer-term contract, like a multi-year agreement, to potentially lower your monthly cash commitment. Maybe you could move off $2,000 per month from July to December and move it to the first six months of 2025. Emphasize your dedication to maintaining a consistent advertising presence over time, which can incentivize the radio station to continue the partnership.

Frequency and Unit Length

If the station allows you to reduce the monthly budget, focus on maximizing frequency by strategically choosing the length of ad units. Instead of running only thirty and sixty-second ads, opt for :15 slots to increase frequency without exceeding your budget. Shorter units are more cost-effective per spot and can deliver well-known messages repeatedly.

Budget Reallocation and Trade

Explore avenues for reallocating funds within your annual budget to optimize expenses. For instance, negotiate a reduction in the monthly budget and allocate the saved funds to months where your cash flow is strongest. Having a payment schedule that matches your cash flow will give you the best chance to meet expenses. Furthermore, explore opportunities for service or trade to offset your monthly bill, leveraging resources you have already paid for that may match up well with what the station needs.

Reducing expenses within an annual radio agreement takes a strategic negotiation and budget management approach. Concentrating on pricing, rates, contract length, frequency, and budget reallocation can keep your station relationship intact, honor your contract, and increase cash flow.

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