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What Can Sports Radio Learn From How The Chiefs Lost Super Bowl LV?

“We may not have distracted coaches or patchwork pass protection to overcome, but just like the Chiefs on Sunday evening, a show, a station, or a building is only as strong as its weakest link.”

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I keep thinking about the Super Bowl. Is it because I grew up a Buccaneers fan and I am utterly flabbergasted that my team won a second Super Bowl in my lifetime? Yeah, absolutely. But it is also one particular image. That shot of Patrick Mahomes, hanging in mid-air, parallel to the ground as he manages to throw a perfect spiral is among the most amazing things to come out of that game. How often do we look back on a championship game at any level of football and say undeniably, the best play was an incomplete pass?

You can say whatever you want about the Chiefs’ offensive performance on Sunday night. The game plan was predictable, clock management was abysmal, and the offensive line played like all five of them had money on the Bucs. One thing I have seen a lot on social media that is absolutely not true is people saying that Patrick Mahomes played like shit. Statistically, it was bad, but he did literally everything he could.

Look at that picture again! That isn’t “falling down”. To quote Jack Black, “that’s levitation, homes.” And Patrick Mahomes found a way to throw a dart to Tyreke Hill despite his lack of footing. It isn’t the quarterback’s fault that the receiver let the ball hit him in the facemask.

That realization made me think about our industry. We may not have distracted coaches or patchwork pass protection to overcome, but just like the Chiefs on Sunday evening, a show, a station, or a building is only as strong as its weakest link.

I asked people at various positions in the industry across a variety of stations. The “links” here are not metaphorical. I asked people what the strongest link between various positions and departments looks like in sports radio.

We’ll start with the link between production and programming. I asked Ryan Haney, program director of JOX 94.5 in Birmingham how good a station can be if it doesn’t have great imaging.

His answer? Imaging is where a station’s success begins.

“Your imaging needs to reflect the tone of how you want your station to be perceived,” he told me. “If there is a specific ask of the listener, it needs to be as precise as possible. And in turn your content needs to pay that off.”

What about the link between sales and programming? John Mamola, program director of WDAE in Tampa says everyone in the programming department has to have a relationship with the sales staff. He told me the best advice he was ever given for programmers getting the most out of sellers.

“You should kind of find your best three or four on your sales floor, whether that is physical or virtual, and get them the big ticket items. They can do the best with those. They know your product the most,” he says. “You communicate with everyone else constantly. Present new opportunities to new people and maybe you add someone to that three or four that can have serious success down the road.”

Mamola says that he is lucky to have an air staff that also wants to work with ad reps. If you go to work for John, he makes it clear that there are benefits to making yourself seen in the bullpen.

“Be open and never say no, because the minute you start saying no is the minute you’re not being asked anymore,” he says when I ask what he tells his air staff about interacting with sellers.

The relationship between a programmer and his air staff is of the utmost importance. That is the link that determines whether your on air product can evolve or if what your listeners hear will stay stagnant and eventually bore them.

I asked Jim Costa, who recently took over the night shift on 97.1 the Ticket in Detroit exactly that. How can a programmer help keep a host from losing relevance with his audience?

Jim is quick to point out how much he likes feedback. He says that it is easy to accept “if it’s coming from the right place and not an egg on Twitter.” The right place in Jim’s mind isn’t just a programmer he trusts wants to hear him succeed. It is a programmer he trusts has an idea of what Jim needs to do to make a difference.

“Formatics and mechanics are important but the real value is content selection and execution,” Jim says. “Even if we disagree it can be healthy and force me to reflect on if there is a better way to get the content to land. A trusted set of ears can push a host to be the best version of themselves.”

Josh Dover is part of the mid day show at Altitude Sports Radio in Denver. He is partnered with ex-Bronco Ryan Harris and ex-Nugget Scott Hastings. As the one guy on his show’s staff that is a lifelong broadcaster, his role is something akin to a ship’s captain.

When you’re steering things behind the mic, what sort of support and feedback do you need from the guy or gal steering the direction of the station as a whole?

“Open communication that goes both ways and honest, like brutally honest,” Josh answers. “I want my PD to be able to tell me what I’m not good at, ways to fix it and always tell me ways to improve. I’m a big fan of constructive criticism. But I want to be able to tell them if I have an issue with the show, production, sales, money, and with a great PD, personal struggles I may be going through.”

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Inside the studio, there are relationships that matter too. I know that sounds obvious and I have written a lot about this before, but the relationship between a producer and a host should be built on trust and respect.

Travis Hancock, best known as T-Bone to listeners of WFNZ in Charlotte, went from being the producer of the station’s morning show to its co-host. That is great experience to have. It also means that he has very clear expectations in terms of what he needs from the guy behind the board.

“A great producer prepares like a host would because you hope to one day be the guy in charge and when your time arrives you’ve been preparing for it well in advance. The top producers also anticipate well and know what a hosts wants or needs without having to ask”

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Erin Maloney is the producer of Doug & Wolfe on Arizona Sports 98.7. It’s important for a host to communicate their expectations to a producer. It is the best way to ensure everyone is happy and on the same page. Maloney says that it is also important to know she is making an impact.

I asked her what it meant to be empowered as a producer. When does she most feel like she is making the show better and the hosts’ jobs easier?

“To me, I feel the most empowered as a producer when I can use all of my resources to improve our listener’s experience,” she told me via text. “I make it a priority to bring creativity and innovative content that inspires my hosts which in turn grows our audience.”

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Looking back on Super Bowl LV, to me it is clear why the Chiefs lost. It isn’t some mythical “winner’s blood” that flows through Tom Brady. It isn’t even a single mistake or ticky tack penalty that started things rolling down hill at an unstoppable pace.

Patrick Mahomes tried playing like he always does. Eric Bienemy tried calling the same plays he always does. There was no adjustment to the new reality of a significantly depleted offensive line. That gave the Buccaneers every opportunity they needed to disrupt Kansas City’s game plan. Without acknowledging what was now their weakest link, Kansas City set itself up for failure.

A constant eye on improvement and making each other better is how we address and strengthen the weakest links at our stations and in our buildings. As John Mamola told me, it really is a team game. The individual members of the team may have their own goals, but the definition of success for the team should be pretty obvious.

“We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to have a good time, but at the same time make money and have ratings success and revenue success,” he says. “The more we can work as a team, the more success comes and the more money hopefully ends up in everyone’s pockets.”

BSM Writers

Broadcast Partnerships Can’t Get In The Way Of Reporting

“The practice of broadcast partners not contradicting information directly from the team has been going on for years.”

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Morning sports anchors count on alarm clocks and, 99 times out of 100, that no sports news actually happens during a typical shift.  Recap yesterday’s action, find 3 or 4 ways to say that Team X edged Team Y in overtime or some facsimile of that.

The two and a half weeks of Olympics every couple of years could change things for morning sports anchors.  Tuesday morning’s bombshell with US Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles was just the exception that proves many broadcasting rules.  Rightsholders have been beholden to the teams they are in business with, so the narrative is dictated by the team and not the network.

Simone Biles pulls out of team final citing mental stress | Financial Times
Courtesy: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

At 7 am eastern time on Tuesday, July 27th, I was anchoring morning sports when I saw on Twitter that Biles was pulling out of the overall team event.  Immediately, I went to NBC, the rightsholder for the Games, to see what the story was.  The Today Show was just starting.  Meanwhile, Peacock was airing the event live.

USA gymnastics immediately issued a statement that NBC followed diligently.  They said that Biles “has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue.”  Meanwhile, Peacock was interviewing Biles’ coach who said accurately that Biles had withdrawn due to a mental health situation.

Twitter jumped on the report that it was a mental health issue. Still, NBC was sticking to the medical issue. And they did what any rightsholder would do.

Could NBC have paid closer attention to their sister broadcast on Peacock?  Perhaps, but anyone who has worked on a high-stakes broadcast knows that control rooms and anchors focus on their own product. Also, if any official outlet of the Olympics gives them data, why wouldn’t they believe it.

I spoke off the record to two members of NFL broadcast crews. Both said, that if a star on a team left the game and the team gave the announcers an official statement, even if that statement is false, they wouldn’t contradict it on air. “Team X has just given us this information,” is how they would often phrase it.

Before NBC was corrected, they covered the story as if Biles had suffered some physical injury. They even spoke to Biles’ former teammates Laurie Hernandez, who was commentating for NBC, and Aly Raisman, who joined via Zoom.

My role for iHeartMedia that morning was to do sports reports in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, and a national report.  I usually feed my casts in the morning and head on my way. When the Biles news broke, I needed to get the facts right.  Many news outlets were reporting (accurately) what Peacock had revealed.  Good Morning America accurately reported on the story.

The difference between ABC and NBC is the billions that NBC pays for the rights.  The real question is, what is NBC paying for?

The practice of broadcast partners not contradicting information directly from the team has been going on for years. It is probably why there are so many attempts at hiding information.

Over my 27 year career, there have been plenty of occasions where an athlete couldn’t play for a personal reason. In one instance I saw a player find out his wife was cheating on him. Another situation was a player was dealing with a sick parent.  In both cases, the team issued statements with some vague injury.  The team statement has a lot of weight with the media, but to the rightsholder, it might as well be etched in stone.

truth-engraved-stone - Baptist & Reflector

That instinct to cover up is particularly disturbing. The coach had told the live Peacock broadcast the simple truth – that Biles was not mentally up to competing after she faulted on her previous attempt. 

Perhaps the initial statement was not a cover-up, but rather a miscommunication.  That simply cannot happen at this level.

The idea of a media cover-up has been used too often because institutions believe that they cannot sully the brand with less than positive information.  Memories of Penn State University and THE Ohio State University, come to mind. What is the mindset to cover up anything negative, whether it’s as big as an assault or as small as skipping a game or match?  The truth always comes out.

This brings up Simone Biles. She does not owe the public an explanation, and her mental health is more important than any competition. 

However, if the media scrutiny bothers her, it helps me understand those other players in wanting their truths to be hidden. Her withdrawal is a complicated issue, and while some of the takes I’ve heard this week have been outright disgusting, others have been rather profound.

The toxicity that surrounds social media in 2021 is perhaps unavoidable.  It’s just sad that this debate got so ugly when the Olympics are designed to unite.

The Tokyo Olympics have been tough to watch already, because of the time zone issues.  Losing star power like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka has made it even harder.

It’s only the first full week.

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BSM Writers

Barrett Sports Media’s Next Big Thing Draft

“I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next.”

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There was a time when draft night, no matter the sport, meant that we were gathering the sports media for a similar exercise here at Barrett Sports Media. Between the pandemic, a changing focus, and more work than we could have anticipated when this business was launched, that tradition fell unfortunately by the wayside.

Today though, I am bringing it back. I asked 30 established stars in the sports media world to join me in determining who is next. This is the Barrett Sports Media Next Big Thing Draft. Just like the NBA, we have an age limit. The difference is theirs is at the low end and ours is at the high end.

We have long discussed the 40s being the decade where most people in this business are established and make the bulk of their money. So, I set 40 as the top end.

Now, sure, there are plenty of names under 40 that are already established stars. They are fair game. They are already their networks’ franchise players. They can be the same for the theoretical teams we are forming.

So, in order of their picks (which were drawn at random), here are the TV, radio, and digital stars that agreed to be a part of the draft.

  1. Steve Levy (ESPN)
  2. Paul Finebaum (ESPN/SEC Network)
  3. Doug Gottlieb (FOX Sports)
  4. Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN)
  5. Gregg Giannotti (WFAN)
  6. Tim Brando (FOX Sports)
  7. Wes Durham (ACC Network)
  8. Bomani Jones (ESPN/HBO)
  9. Gary Parrish (CBS Sports)
  10. Linda Cohn (ESPN)
  11. Stugotz (Meadowlark Media)
  12. Damon Bruce (95.7 The Game)
  13. Chris Broussard (FOX Sports)
  14. Freddie Coleman (ESPN Radio)
  15. Ric Bucher (FOX Sports)
  16. Petros Papadakis (FOX Sports)
  17. Michael Eaves (ESPN)
  18. Jason Smith (FOX Sports)
  19. John Kincade (97.5 The Fanatic)
  20. Rob Parker (FOX Sports)
  21. Adnan Virk (DAZN/Meadowlark Media)
  22. Damon Amendolara (CBS Sports Radio)
  23. Danny Parkins (670 The Score)
  24. Mike Florio (Pro Football Talk)
  25. Chris Carlin (ESPN New York)
  26. Carl Dukes (92.9 The Game)
  27. Jason Fitz (ESPN)
  28. Adam Schein (SiriusXM/CBS Sports)
  29. Dave Dameshek (Extra Points)
  30. Arash Markazi (WWENXT)

This took a lot of time and effort to put together, but we got it done. Here is how the draft went.

Here are a few observations from the 2021 Next Big Thing Draft.

THE FUTURE IS FEMALE – The first three picks were all women. Half of the top ten were women. Whether it is TV or podcasting, some of the brightest up and coming stars in our industry are women and that is a good thing.

BRAND LOYALTY – It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but look at how many people chose up-and-coming stars at their own networks. Is that about job security and being a company man? Maybe, but look at Paul Finebaum choosing Laura Rutledge or Kirk Herbstreit choosing Pat McAfee or even Stugotz choosing Billy Gill. These people get to see their choices face to face with some regularity. I think it speaks to being able to recognize talent when you see it.

DAMON BRUCE KNOWS THE GAME – Bruce asked me to call him so he could make his pick over the phone. He wanted it to be clear. It was a crime that Shams Charania and his 1.2 million social media followers were still on the board at number eleven. “I want everyone to know how much they f***ed things up,” he told me.

A BIG IMPRESSION – I loved the story Jason Smith told me about why he took the versatile Morosi with the 18th pick. “When he comes on my show he likes to use Italian phrases (you know, him being Italian and all), so one time I challenged him that some time in the next week he had to do a media interview entirely in Italian and not explain why he was speaking Italian to the hosts. And he had to post it. Three days later he puts the interview on Twitter, and @’s me on it: It was a baseball interview he did with a TV station…wait for it…wait for it…in Italy. 3,000 miles and an early call time to win a dare. Well played, Jon-Paul.”

THE FREE AGENT MARKET – These people all went undrafted: Jason Bennetti, Big Cat, Domonique Foxworth, Mike Golic Jr, Cassidy Hubbarth, Mina Kimes, Joel Klatt, Katie Nolan, Danny Parkins, PFT Commenter, Brady Quinn, Taylor Rooks, Marcus Spears, and Joy Taylor. Some network or digital platform could build a hell of a roster with this draft’s leftovers. You could really see this playing out with the final picks. “I had 4 or 5 can’t miss picks that are already off the board,” Jason Fitz told me before he proceeded to waffle between three potential candidates for the 27th pick.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 37

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Demetri Ravanos is back to look at an interesting week in the sports media. He welcomes Seth Everett and Brian Noe to a show that touches on women in sports media, the Big 12’s impending demise, the way NBC covered Simone Biles, and where tape delay stands in 2021.

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