Hank Aaron was a national treasure that lead by example. Every baseball fan knows what a master the man was at turning the other cheek, because by now the amount of racism and the number of death threats he received as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s home run record is common knowledge. Even weeks before his death, there was Hammerin’ Hank at an Atlanta-area hospital receiving the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. He was happy to have reporters and photographers follow him, in hopes that it would influence older members of the Black community to do the same.
You can’t really call Aaron’s passing a shock. The man was 86 after all. That doesn’t mean it didn’t cut a lot of us very deep.
Aaron and I share a hometown. It’s part of the reason that I named my son after the man. Baseball fans in Milwaukee mourned. Broadcasters from a variety of networks shared stories of their interactions with Aaron and their memories of watching him play. Nowhere was the loss felt deeper than Atlanta.
Hank Aaron was already a perennial all-star when the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1966. He had already won his only World Series title and his only NL MVP award. That didn’t matter. Atlanta threw its arms around Aaron. He was the icon of the franchise even long after Glavin, Maddux, and Smoltz made the team fixtures atop the NL East.
That means that on Friday, no station had more of a duty to tell Aaron’s story and grieve alongside their listeners than 680 the Fan. The Dickey-owned station is the Braves’ flagship and has been an institution for Atlanta sports fans since 1995, the last time the team won the World Series.
“Devastated,” morning co-host John Michaels answers when I asked him how Atlanta felt after the news of Aaron’s death was first reported.
“This is the 3rd person associated with the Braves to pass in the last few months and Aaron is the most painful. Everyone had a story or a moment where they met Mr. Aaron and you can tell how much he impacted everyone’s life in a positive way. What he did for this community and baseball in general cannot be understated. He is one of the great humans and ambassadors for the game of baseball.”
Chuck Oliver, who hosts the station’s afternoon show, Chuck & Chernoff, agrees that it is a city-wide tragedy. As someone born and raised in Atlanta, he says this feels like a truly personal loss to him.
“We’ve never not had Hank,” he told me in an email. “I interviewed him in 2004 and he and Jim Craig are the only two interviews I’ve ever been part of where I don’t think the person being interviewed really understood how important he was. Not talking ‘great at whatever sport’ or All Timer etc, but truly important to people in what he accomplished and what he meant.”
The world learned of Hank Aaron’s death on Friday afternoon. That meant Michaels and his co-hosts on The Front Row were long off the air by the time Fan hosts started talking about Aaron.
Hosts and producers worked their personal contacts to get on people that could speak poignantly about one of the greatest ballplayers to ever live. Being the Braves flagship helped that effort, Michaels says, because the franchise would never turn down the opportunity to glorify Hank Aaron’s contributions to his sport and his city.
“Our shows on Friday did an amazing job of bringing on guests ranging from Chipper Jones to Bob Costas to Al Downing and many others. With the relationship with the Braves we typically have a pretty big Rolodex of Braves guests lined up and no one was saying no on a day like this,” Michaels said.
Michaels and The Front Line would have to wait their turn. That meant that between the announcement of Aaron’s death and the next time the morning show cracked a mic on 680 the Fan, we would know who was playing in the Super Bowl, the Hawks had played twice, Arthur Smith added more coaches to his staff with the Falcons, and tons of mock drafts had come out predicting what the team would do with the 4th overall pick.
None of that mattered. This was Atlanta. Michaels says there is no way he could have come in on Monday morning and not talked about Hank Aaron.
“We absolutely carved out a segment to talk about Hank Aaron. Had it happened Friday while we were on the air, we would have dedicated the remaining portion of the show to talk about his life and memory, but it would’ve been a disservice to our listeners to not address his death as soon as we could. The NFL and the Super Bowl were front and center on a Monday morning but we didn’t forget about Hank .”
In a strange coincidence, Olive had already been thinking about Aaron’s legacy for a week before the Hall of Famer died.
On Wednesday of last week, Don Sutton passed away. While the four-time all-star never pitched for the Braves, he was part of the club’s broadcast team from 1989 until 2006. Sutton is part of the Braves’ Hall of Fame in addition to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Upon Sutton’s passing, Oliver sent his show staff an email that he was kind enough to share an excerpt from with me.
“I was sad yesterday, but I also was reminded again of a valuable opportunity we have,” he wrote “We need to make more about Hank Aaron. We need to celebrate that man, we need to come up with someway to honor him even more than we are already.”
Olive told me that program director Matt Edgar had already decided to dedicate February 5 to honoring Aaron and what he meant to both Atlanta and baseball.
The entire Friday edition of Chuck & Chernoff belonged to memories of Aaron from guests and callers alike. The hosts shared their personal feelings on the event. It might be too early to say it was a chance for the city to come together and heal, but it was certainly a shared moment of grief for the city’s sports fans.
I asked Chuck if he could ever see that sort of community mourning happen again. Hell, had he ever seen it happen before? Is there anyone in the history of Atlanta like Aaron, a man that the city would take a collective moment of silence and remembrance for?
“No, and not certain what would, surely nothing from a sports standpoint,” he said. “There are plenty of very real reasons Ted Turner should be celebrated, he played a huge role in us becoming a legitimate international city, he and Maynard with the airport. But Ted’s kinda different, personal interaction-wise, and also has almost no visability in Atlanta anymore. Last time I saw Ted he struck me as pretty much done with being famous, and it’s been at least a decade since he’s had any interest in talking about his time in sports in Atlanta.”
It is hard to think of a titan left in baseball after the passing of Hank Aaron. I mean, who is the biggest name from the sport’s history still alive and also with an untarnished reputation? Nolan Ryan? Cal Ripkin Jr? Ken Griffey Jr?That is probably why Aaron’s death resonated around the country the way it did. It felt like sports fans were losing something precious.
The staff of 680 the Fan deserves a tip of the cap. MLB Network, ESPN, SiriusXM, they all could do the day long tributes to Aaron. They all could go out and find former opponents and teammates to talk about what he was like on the field. The Fan took on a special challenge though. They found the right way to serve an audience that was mourning one of its own.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
What Does Bob Iger Back On Top At Disney Mean For Gambling At ESPN?
“Under Chapek, I think the company was willing to make moves like that, but Iger believes more in keeping Disney and all of its subsidiaries more family-friendly.”
Will the Mouse House continue to stray from its family-first image and expand its presence in the world of sports betting? After Bob Iger’s retirement set the stage for Bob Chapek’s role as chief executive officer, many wondered how it would impact Disney’s sports betting curiosities. While Iger said in 2019 that he couldn’t foresee Disney “facilitating gambling in any way,” things slowly changed under his successor’s leadership.
During Chapek’s tenure as Disney CEO, ESPN — arguably its biggest sub-brand — would announce partnerships with the likes of Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings, even owning a roughly 6% stake in the latter. The partnerships, in Chapek’s eyes, were needed so ESPN could look externally for help breaking into sports gambling.
“We at ESPN have the ability to do that. Now we’re going to need a partner to do that, because we’re never going to be a [sports] book, that’s never in the cards for the Walt Disney Company,” Chapek told CNBC in an interview last September. “But at the same time, to be able to partner with a well-respected third party can do that for us.”
Any further interest in Disney’s sports betting endeavors can yield a big payday for the entertainment behemoth. The Wall Street Journal speculated in August 2021 that an ESPN licensing deal would cost sports betting companies at least $3 billion over the course of several years, a figure that appears to hold weight with industry experts.
Josh Taylor, a content creator focused on the Walt Disney Company at his YouTube Channel @ModernMouse, believes that $3 billion could be the minimum amount that Disney charges its sports betting partner, which could be DraftKings. Last October, one month before Chapek was ousted as Disney CEO and replaced by Iger, Bloomberg reported that ESPN was nearing a large new partnership with DraftKings.
When Chapek was at the helm of Disney, Taylor thought that ESPN’s bevy of sports programming — SportsCenter and Fantasy Sports, to name a few — would mutually benefit both Disney and DraftKings in an expanded partnership.
“The internet provides stats, but shows on ESPN can provide more insight that you can’t get from stats necessarily,” Taylor wrote in an email. “Coverage of injuries, team shake ups, etc… are something that goes hand in hand with sports betting and fantasy leagues. A deal with DraftKings keeps people watching ESPN longer and more intently. On the flip side, a big brand like ESPN backing DraftKings gives it legitimacy and safety. Because ESPN is a trusted brand, gambling with them seems safer and will likely garner more people to do so.”
Following Chapek’s ouster at Disney however, there is some uncertainty about the latter’s sports betting future. While Iger has yet to comment on Disney’s gambling plans following his return as CEO, he might try to reverse Chapek moves that appeared to run antithetical to the company’s wholesome reputation.
“Iger now coming back does make the Draft Kings deal less likely,” Taylor said. “I almost think its a dead deal. Under Chapek, I think the company was willing to make moves like that, but Iger believes more in keeping Disney and all of its subsidiaries more family-friendly. He’s still someone who wants to bring in money for the company, but Bob Chapek was more about money than about the continued legacy of a brand.”
With Chapek revealing plans to lower Disney’s expenses through layoffs and hiring freezes prior to his departure, Iger might take it one step further. The rumored DraftKings mega-extension could also fall victim to Iger’s possible penny-pinching plans for Disney.
“With ESPN reportedly asking for $300mm a year per our channel checking, could DraftKings even afford to do that deal? Especially in light of its recent 3rd Quarter results and the investor reaction to its apparent inability to reduce costs?” said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming (EKG) Partner Emeritus Chris Grove in the most recent edition of the research firm’s weekly “EKG Line” report. “Bottom line, in the current market, we find it hard to see who would pay up for an exclusive ESPN deal—unless the price drops significantly.”
An increasingly competitive sports betting landscape might also make Iger less apt to expand Disney’s resources in that area. Of the United States’ 59 sports-betting operators in October, only three had double-digital market share. FanDuel leads the way at roughly 42%, followed by DraftKings and BetMGM. Fanduel CEO Amy Howe told CNBC on November 16th, that, “almost 90% of the operators have a sub-2% share of the market.”
Coincidentally or not, Howe’s comments came one day after Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin revealed plans to launch sports betting operations in January 2023 and to expand gambling nationwide by the start of next year’s NFL season.
“It should be clear that new entrants that are entering now at this point may face a real challenge taking on scale players who have more than a four-year head start,” Howe added.
Fanatics’s reveal was made just days apart from competitors like MaximBet and FuboTV sharing plans to shutter their respective sportsbook operations. That might give Iger more of a reason to weigh the pros and cons of Disney’s sports betting plans.
“If I am looking at ways to grow profits for shareholders, sports betting is not the easiest way of making that happen, at least yet,” John Holden, a business professor at Oklahoma State University, wrote in an email.
Iger’s second run at Disney has many wondering if it will be as successful as its first. Boomerang CEO success stories are few and far between in business. Outside of Steve Jobs’ second stint as CEO of Apple and Howard Schultz’s second run at Starbucks, returning CEOs and founders generally lead their companies to perform, “significantly worse than other types of CEOs,” management professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UC Irvine and Marquette University have found.
The researchers pointed to past experiences of boomerang CEOs’ performances at their companies. Xerox’s stock plummeted 60% after Paul Allaire was CEO between 2000 and 2001. Dell’s valuation dropped by 33% following the return of founder Michael Dell. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang took over as CEO of 2007 and, after struggling to compete with Google, stepped down in under two years.
Iger will be looking to recapture the magic at Disney that made him one of this country’s most successful CEOs. He led the acquisition of major Disney brands like Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. He also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox. He also spearheaded Disney’s efforts to dominate the streaming market through Disney+, which under Chapek’s leadership saw global subscribership swell to 164.2 million.
Within a day of Iger announcing his return to Disney, shares jumped as high as 6%. For now, it might be wise to watch how he handles Disney’s sports betting aspirations before making any assumptions, argues Holden.
“Perhaps Iger is the magician who can find all the profitability,” Holden said.
Eddie Moran is a sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He is a graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, and has previously written for Front Office Sports, The Basketball Tournament, the USGA, and BU’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press. He can be reached on Twitter @EddieMorannn.
ESPN Radio Dreams Came True For Amber Wilson
“I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was 12 years old. It’s quite literally my childhood dream realized.”
It feels like a dream come true, because that’s exactly what it is. Since Amber Wilson was 12 years old, she wanted to work for ESPN. On January 2nd, 2023, her dream will be realized when she takes the airwaves on Joe and Amber, with Joe Fortenbaugh, the newest show on ESPN Radio.
But what makes this opportunity even more special is what Wilson’s 12-year-old self didn’t know at the time. One day, she would find herself in a spotlight that few other women in sports radio have been.
“It feels like a dream come true, because it is,” said Wilson. “And it’s not just being a host, it’s being a named host with my own show. That was the ultimate dream to be able to do that. I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was 12 years old. It’s quite literally my childhood dream realized. It’s been a really long journey to get here, over 20 years, and there’s certainly been some twists and turns but I think that makes it all the sweeter, frankly.”
This is a huge opportunity for Wilson and her career, but she takes immense pride in showing women there’s more opportunities in sports than just television. The opportunity with ESPN Radio didn’t come without twists and turns in her career, but the most rewarding feeling is helping lead the charge for more women in sports radio.
“It means everything,” said Wilson. “I hope I don’t have the job because I’m a woman. I hope I have it because of my merit. I’m grateful they saw an opportunity here to maintain a woman in their lineup as a named host. I think that’s incredibly important, because Sarah Spain said on the Around the Horn when she talked about the end of her show and her run on ESPN Radio, I think Tony Reali said when Sarah was growing up there were no Sarah Spain’s on radio. That’s been something I’ve noticed even during my career.”
“I’ve had this dream since I was 12, but it was to go into television. I saw women on television in sports when I was 12, not many, but I didn’t know women in sports radio when I was growing up. So it wasn’t a medium I considered getting into. When I started my career it was all about TV. I sort of found my own way to sports radio and I was listening to it as a consumer all the time. I was listening to all men.
“It took me a long time to break into it, but I always loved it myself. I do think it’s important to show women that, hey, there’s other avenues here if you want to work in sports and there’s not just one way to do it. Hopefully my presence will do that. Just like Sarah Spain did. There’s still far too few, I’m the only named host in the lineup, so there’s far too few, but at least there’s some progress. But I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
There’s a lot of anticipation and excitement for the debut of Joe and Amber on ESPN Radio. Especially for those who have heard the duo work together in the past. For the past few years, their paths have crossed as fill-in hosts across the network. Naturally, that means there’s already a level of chemistry that’s been developed between Wilson and Fortenbaugh.
But there’s still a few weeks until the show debuts in early January, which means there’s time to further the chemistry even more. And that’s exactly what Wilson and Fortenbaugh are doing, because they both understand the value of chemistry on a radio show.
“We’re going to talk as much as we can leading up to the show to further develop that chemistry,” said Wilson. “We’re going to even pick out a sports subject, banter on it and do a mini show over the phone. We’ve both been in radio so long, he had a local show in San Francisco and I had a local show in Miami, so we’ve worked with different co hosts over the years and we know that, first and foremost, chemistry is everything when it comes to a radio relationship.
“It’s a very intimate relationship, I always say in sports radio with the host and the audience, because you’re really letting them in. There’s so much space with sports radio, which is what I love about it compared to television. There’s so much more space to bring your personality into it and certainly it helps if you have a report with your co-host and you have chemistry. That’s something that’s really important for us, for us to further develop that and we’re making an act to do so.”
The chemistry that’s already been established between Wilson and Fortenbaugh will undoubtedly help when the show debuts next month. But if you’ve heard the two together on air before, don’t necessarily expect an exact carbon copy of the shows you heard.
“We have to iron out the details and work with whoever our producer ends up being, as far as really structuring the show, but it’s certainly going to be our own flavor, since it’s our own show,” Wilson said. “Whereas before, we were filling in on other shows and trying to stay true to what they had developed and what they normally cover. It’ll probably be a little different, obviously Joe brings the better portion of things to the table, as well.
“We’ll definitely be doing some of that to get his expertise, although it’s not going to be a betting show, it’s going to be a talk show. They can still expect all the fun with sports talk and we really want to engage with the audience, as well, and put our own style and brand on it.”
Fortenbaugh is most notably known for his expertise in the sports betting space. And rightfully so, with how successful he’s been with sports betting content. However, you won’t find anybody that will doubt his ability to be more than just the ‘gambling guy’ on the show. He’ll get that opportunity on Joe and Amber. Wilson is eager and excited to be more involved in sports gambling and thinks it’s a great opportunity for her to learn from the best.
“I love that I get to work with someone with that expertise, because it’s not my expertise,” said Wilson. “It’s a growing space that I think is only going to continue to grow. I’m just so grateful to be able to learn it and absorb some of his knowledge, frankly. I think it will be invaluable to the listener and I’m pretty stoked to be able to work with someone who has that.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Should Baker Mayfield Start Thinking About A Media Career?
“What should he anticipate when that time comes? Here are a few things I would expect from Baker if he were my broadcast partner.”
“Coach wants to see you, oh and bring your playbook”. Words no professional football player ever wants to hear. That means you’re done with that team, and it’s on to the next, or in some cases, on to a new adventure altogether.
Athletes never know when that day will come. Some are better prepared to deal with sudden change than others. A few have a skill set that can make it an easy transition to coaching, front office work, or broadcasting.
Outspoken former players or managers seem like they have a leg up on the competition. Every network wants compelling characters that bring viewership. Most often times the player that’s been a great quote their entire career or the one that isn’t afraid to speak his or her mind that stands out in the booth or studio.
When the news broke Monday that Baker Mayfield was going to be released by the Carolina Panthers, it got me thinking. Mayfield was a top quarterback in college football, won a Heisman Trophy, and was the top pick in the NFL Draft just 4 years ago. His tale is a familiar one, great in college, so-so in the pros. Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow are a couple of Mayfield’s contemporaries that fit that same bill. So, what might be next for him? Television?
The two examples I cited, have found life after football as analysts for college football broadcasts. Leinart is part of the studio crew at Fox and Tebow once worked for ABC/ESPN. Could Mayfield succeed in a television role? Absolutely. Would it take a little work to get him ready? Absolutely. There could be some stumbling blocks though.
Mayfield has a reputation for being outspoken and irreverent. His personality has been called ‘toxic’ by some, ‘cocky’ by others and ‘brash’ to another audience. But, having a personality is half the battle to work in sports television. Even if the adjectives seem to fit, are they necessarily bad things? Maybe for a football team, but not for a guy that would be talking on television.
Polarizing is another word used to describe Mayfield. His sense of humor, puts one segment of an audience off, while another loves it. For example, over the last few seasons at some postgame press conferences, he interjected phrases and rap songs into his comments. He’s a little ‘off-beat’ too. A few years ago, he took to Twitter, declaring that he and his wife Emily believed they spotted a UFO during an offseason.
The fact he hasn’t turned into a ‘franchise quarterback’ makes his swagger a turnoff to a lot of people. When you’re the number one overall pick in the draft and the success on the field doesn’t equal that status, you’re prime for the picking.
Mayfield has shown a different side to his personality though in various commercials since he was drafted. Most notable are his “Progressive Insurance: At Home with Baker Mayfield” spots. The concept being that his home stadium (at the time First Energy Stadium in Cleveland) was his actual home. He and his wife experience typical homeowner issues in this giant empty stadium. It’s funny and he’s very good in them. Unfortunately, they are no more. He’s also starred in Hulu Live TV commercials, where his face is superimposed on a significantly smaller body. It’s strange, but he makes it work.
One of Mayfield’s harshest critics, Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd thinks the QB could make a career change work. On a recent show, the often-loud critic of Mayfield, was confident the former number one pick would be great on the air. “If I owned a network, I’d put Baker on as a college football announcer tomorrow,” he said. “Now he’s not (Joel) Klatt or (Kirk) Herbstreit, but I would put him on a college game. He’s got huge credibility collegiately, he’s totally outspoken.” Cowherd went on to say Mayfield could be in the #2 College Football booth in two years.
Not just anyone that’s outspoken can make it as an analyst. I think of Charles Barkley, Ozzie Guillen and even Randy Moss to an extent. Three guys that have made a good living after playing/managing by being who they always have been. All were on the highest stage and each was a noteworthy quote in their playing days and now in their roles on camera. That means something. Their opinions come from years of experience in what they did. They’ve seen things, learned things, and know how to translate those nuggets into rants and viral moments. It’s hard to fake and you either have it or you don’t.
What you see and hear is what you get with this trio. Like them or not, agree with them or not, it really doesn’t matter to them or the networks they work with. Barkley, Guillen and Moss are each the type of commentator that draws in an audience. It’s the old Howard Stern prophecy, people who didn’t like him listened almost as long or longer to him to hear what he’d say next.
Mayfield would have some cache in the college game. But thinking that just because he’s a good quote and an opinionated, and outspoken guy, he would automatically be able to work in media isn’t correct. Mayfield would need to put some work into it, not only in preparation, but in being a good teammate in a studio or booth setting.
Now, Baker Mayfield is spending at least the rest of this season still on an active NFL roster after signing with the Los Angeles Rams. That means there is time to get things right if and when he wants to try his hand at broadcasting.
What should he anticipate when that time comes? Here are a few things I would expect from Baker if he were my broadcast partner.
ACT LIKE A ROOKIE
It’s easy for those that played the game to think that they know everything there is to know about that sport. But there’s a lot to learn about the broadcasting game. There’s nothing worse than someone with little to no experience coming into an unfamiliar situation and acting like a know-it-all.
I would be hopeful that someone trying this for the first time would act like a rookie. They should be receptive to coaching and try to make a good impression. Just as in football, there are subtle nuances that need to be learned to make the relationship between a play-by-play announcer or host and his or her analyst.
Not unlike football, there’s a ton of preparation that goes into a broadcast. Not just knowing the teams, but understanding the flow of a broadcast. Prep and reps are critical in sports and in broadcasting.
As a play-by-play announcer, I expect my analyst to be prepared and not just with cliches and “when I played” moments. Believe it or not “Mr. Former Football Player”, for your first time around, we’re going to have practice too. Oh, and there’s game tape to watch in this job too. There are coaches and players to talk to as well. Don’t come into my house thinking this is easy.
A good relationship between a broadcaster and his or her analyst is probably the most critical aspect. It’s not so important that you be my friend, but teamwork is crucial.
Think about it in sports terms. I’m sure there were teammates that the player didn’t exactly get along with, but had to coexist to make the team better. Announcing and hosting is a team sport too. It takes numerous behind-the-scenes people, a director, producer, production assistants, stage managers and audio folks to make it all work. Does everybody go out to dinner every night? No. Does it matter? Not when the end game is to make it the best broadcast possible every single solitary night or day.
It is a demanding job. Yes, you won’t get hit every play, you might not get booed, but you’re going to have to work. If you come in understanding that, you’ll be fine. It’s going to be a short foray into the broadcasting world for you for anyone that doesn’t get that.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.