Was the NHL’s great success also a great failure?
“You can’t have success if you don’t risk failure,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman commented to Mike Tirico on Saturday as the sun made the league’s most picturesque outdoor game unplayable.
Instead of a 3 pm eastern time NBC telecast, the last two periods of the game between the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights was moved off NBC to the lame-duck NBC Sports Network at midnight EST. Sunday’s game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers moved from 3 pm to 2 pm to then 7 pm and back to NBCSN.
“I still think it was a big success given how unique it was once the ice situation was squared away,” NESN announcer Billy Jaffe told me. “How majestic it was, is what made it successful.”
The pictures alone were breathtaking. I found myself glued to the television. Unlike the 31 previous outdoor games, no fans could attend. They didn’t even build stands. Television was the only way to expose that scene to the masses.
Saturday’s first period averaged 1.398 million viewers on NBC. The final two periods on NBCSN averaged 394,000 viewers. That’s more than a million fewer viewers after the delay.
“The sunny weather and its impact on the weather was a bad break for the NHL in terms of lost windows and audience on NBC,” said John Kosner, President Kosner Media and former head of digital media at ESPN. “However, the weekend was a spectacle, it generated tons of attention and coverage and did produce very big audiences for NBCSN.”
“I thought it was spectacular,” NHL Network senior reporter EJ Hradek told me. “I think every time they go play an outdoor game there are always risks. I’ve covered almost all of them. I was not at this one, unfortunately, because nobody was really at this one. I’ve been in situations where games are moved and changed.”
Going into the weekend, the NHL’s decision to try to play at Lake Tahoe was one of the more innovative ones I’d seen. Certainly, during the year-long pandemic, it’s one of the most out-of-the-box ideas from any sport. Still, if a million people could not see the end of the game, what was it all done for?
“People will always talk about the sunny weather that delayed the NHL in Lake Tahoe,” said Kosner. “That’s not all bad in my book!”
“We’re in such a crazy unique environment right now that I think anything different is good. It’s worth risk-taking, but it’s also gonna have challenges presented. But I think when it was all said and done, especially the Flyers and Bruins showed itself beautifully.”
The Sunday night game between the Flyers and Bruins averaged 1 million viewers. The afternoon NBC replaced the game with a Washington Capitals-New Jersey Devils that only averaged 750,000 viewers. The debate rages how many more people would have watched a Lake Tahoe afternoon game on that Sunday.
The NHL was being bold in designing this unique event. Previous NHL outdoor games have been held in football or baseball stadiums with over 50,000 people.
“I still enjoyed the pageantry,” Jaffe added. “The whole ‘Mystery, Alaska’ type thing about it. But on the business side, which I’m not really qualified to speak about. I’m sure it wasn’t as much of a success as it could have been.”
One other issue with the event. The Colorado Avalanche uniforms received tons of praise for their version of the “Reverse Retro” jersey that every team has. The Avs wore the logo of their previous incarnation, the Quebec Nordiques. The Nordiques left Quebec in 1995 and became the Avalanche, winning the Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver.
I think the decision to use that logo, and for NBC to put that logo in their graphics is a direct insult to the fans in Quebec. Their team was taken from them. That does not celebrate their history. It rubs salt in the wound.
The Avalanche are not the only team that uses a previous incarnation of the franchise. The Carolina Hurricanes are wearing the Hartford Whalers logo as their Reverse Retro jersey. One Hartford fan told me it reminds him of the departure, a wound that is not fully healed.
I suggested that if the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder wore Seattle SuperSonics uniforms for some kind of retro night, there would be a legitimate mutiny in the Pacific Northwest. Relocation is a sad story in sports, and celebrating it, sends the wrong message.
“I mean, it is the same franchise,” Hradek said. “The franchise was sold and moved. I didn’t live in Hartford. I didn’t live in Quebec City. I could only tell you as a hockey fan. I mean, I enjoy seeing those jerseys because I don’t take offense to them, but again, I can’t speak for a fan in Hartford or a fan in Quebec City.”
The Avalanche could have used the old Colorado Rockies, hockey team. That franchise played in Denver but left to go to New Jersey in 1982. The difference is that Denver got a new team. The Wild honor the North Stars, but again nobody is left in the cold.
All in all, I applaud the NHL for trying the Lake Tahoe experience. Unfortunately, it had to hurt to lose a million viewers. If a picture is worth a thousand words then Lake Tahoe can write its own novel.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.