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Tabloid Conversations Derail Real Sports Talk

“Having served a brief moment in an NFL personnel department, I still find it odd that sports media will spend more time focusing on the theatrics and gossip surrounding a player than the teams do.”

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I have often wondered if we the fourth estate, are more regularly misusing our authority to the detriment of the very individuals whose labor we leverage for monetary gain. Are we perhaps, subconsciously even, perpetuating a timeless narrative regarding our sports figures? The narrative I am referencing, is the domestication and demonization of the black athlete in America. A dynamic I was introduced to as a student-athlete, within the African-American Studies discipline, at the University of Virginia.

The concept here is simple, how much entertainment value on and off the field would exist if, for example, every quarterback had a Russell Wilson type of personality? Therefore, we seek, provoke, and promote a Cam Newton type of personality for contrast. The masses have come to expect us to offer-up an Antonio Brown persona versus that of a Julio Jones. You with me?

I do not suggest these instances are exclusively motivated by race, bigotry, or prejudice, although these factors can contribute. I am merely citing an observation of our industry practices given the contemporary motivations to generate clicks, hashtags, retweets, and likes. Have we evolved too far from the origin of our civic responsibility, in the name of controversy and drama? I fear an unintended consequence approaching, “tabloid sports media” anyone?

What brought my attention here most recently, is the conversation surrounding Cam’s gameday attire, along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing of A.B. Although I view these two circumstances very differently, a commonality exists here; the unnecessary perpetuation of a twisted narrative.

As most of you know, Cam Newton was the victim of some appalling rhetoric spewed by retired NFL quarterback turned analyst, Jeff Garcia, after last Sunday’s loss to San Francisco. The notion of Cam’s ostentatious street clothes somehow impacting his recent poor performance is ridiculous! Many former players, pundits, and fans shared my sentiment throughout the week.

That said, what hasn’t been discussed is why an analyst felt the need to attack Newton’s threads in the first place? Could it be that Garcia was subconsciously feeding into a narrative and pandering to an audience because Cam has become an easy target? Would Garcia have made comparable remarks about Philip Rivers’ notorious bolo tie, or Brett Favre’s classic gameday attire consisting of a tee-shirt and jeans? Doubtful! Jeff, how about a little more respect for a former MVP rocking a really fashionable suit please!

Antonio Brown reuniting with Tom Brady in Tampa was a bit of a surprise to most of us. However, it wasn’t long afterwards the histrionics and past transgressions of the former All-Pro dominated the conversation. Why? We haven’t seen or heard from A.B. in months. What new information regarding his legal affairs was ultimately provided? None!

What I saw was wasted air-time spent on a narrative, which Brown has certainly aided in creating, yet has been continuously perpetuated by several of my fellow talking heads. What I believe would have been a better use of time, would’ve been the analysis of what route concepts best match his abilities within the offense, how his mere presence and well-renowned work ethic could elevate the performance of his fellow receivers, or how his significant playoff experience will impact the team moving forward. Instead, as much time was allocated to the prediction of him being a potential distraction as it was to his potential for high-level production.

Antonio Brown pokes back at NFL with funny helmet-related tweet

Obviously, I am aware that a player’s behavior and legal matters are grounds for conversation given the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy which could lead to further suspension. However, I would ask on–air talent to consider if the redundant discussion of these matters are relevant to the tone of the conversation at large, or add anything of value other than anticipated drama for audience consumption? 

Having served a brief moment in an NFL personnel department, I still find it odd that sports media will spend more time focusing on the theatrics and gossip surrounding a player than the teams do. Personnel people and coaches care much less about what a player is wearing, who they’re dating, or where they go vacay during the bye week. Are you compliant with organizational rules? Do you ball out in games? That is the order of the day!

Please do not mistake my position here; I am by no means exonerating the athletes entirely. It’s most certainly our duty to report and comment on pertinent player and team affairs whether positive or negative. I am simply challenging the motivation, frequency, and tone in which we do so. 

Professional integrity demands we be consistent with our recollection of player backgrounds as well. Too often we conveniently minimize past transgressions of certain players while routinely excoriating others for theirs. That’s a bad look for the home team, eh?

Many of you reading this piece have a platform and voice which viewers and listeners alike revere. They turn to us for information and guidance to help them formulate what to think and feel regarding these athletes. It is possible to perform our duties while being respectful and just in our critiques.

I implore you, brethren, to pause for a moment before you utter or write your next scathing or controversial take on an athlete’s life away from the playing surface, and consider if it’s tone appropriate and adding real value to the conversation. Then ask yourself, what is the true motivation behind your original impulse.

We are experienced and highly skilled writers and broadcasters! We don’t need gossip and controversy to highlight our work. Nor do the players, their performance should speak for itself.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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