Why stop at basketball? Might Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt also save Tiger Woods? Cure the latest coronavirus variants? Stop anti-Asian hatred? Quell the maskless mobs on South Beach?
If you believe in fairy tales and Jim Nantz, yes, friends, this is a revolution. But if you’ve studied the sea changes in college hoops, you aren’t shocked in the least, realizing there are no one-percenter elites in the sport now — and that Loyola-Chicago and its 101-year-old team chaplain just might win it all. The have-nots are terrorizing the haves as they invade traditional mansions, water-board famed coaches, ransack their stuffed safes and spray-paint the fine artwork with their own names — Oral Roberts, Abilene Christian, Ohio, the Mean Green of North Texas and Oregon State, which reduced the NBA’s presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Cade Cunningham, to something ordinary.
And on their way out the front gates, owning all the cachet now, they are tweeting ha-ha-has back at the gamblers who legally bet against them.
Where’s Duke? Kentucky? North Carolina? Michigan State? Louisville? The NCAA tournament is being played in Indiana, but there are no Hoosiers. I see no Ohio State, where the players are being threatened online by psycho fans, but I do see Ohio, from Athens, where I remember once attending classes and find the personal triumph of Jason Preston more compelling than anything on Netflix. I see Illinois crashing because of inflated egos and porous coaching, embarrassed by the modest school tucked away in a North Side neighborhood, Loyola, thanks not only to Sister Jean’s faith but the precision and passion of leisure-wear-clad coach Porter Moser and a balding, mustachioed, harmonica-playing big man, Cameron Krutwig.
The No. 1-seeded Illini, you might say, were nun-and-done.
“The guys believed, and it’s amazing what happens when you have a group of young men who believe,” said Moser, who can name his next job, including governor of Illinois … or coach at Indiana.
This delicious portion of March Madness — oh, how we needed it as a virus-and-politics-weary country. Has the pandemic altered life to the point where, in a couple of Mondays, we finally might see some crazy, little team win it all? And I don’t mean Gonzaga, the crazy, little team that grew up and now stands nearly alone as a blueblood.
“We just beat the University of Texas. Little ol’ Abilene Christian out in West Texas built a program that went toe-to-toe with the University of Texas, and it’s an incredible story,” coach Joe Golding rhapsodized. “It’s what March is about. We needed March Madness, man. We needed some type of normalcy to our country. We needed people to fill out brackets. We needed people to cheer for the underdog.”
And Sister Jean? Somehow bigger in Americana at 101 than she was at 98, when Loyola reached the Final Four, she delivered these pre-game words to the team: “As we play the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great win. We hope to score early and make our opponents nervous. We have a great opportunity to convert rebounds as this team makes about 50 percent of layups and 30 percent of its (three-pointers). Our defense can take care of that.”
Maybe she should coach the Illini. Or the Bulls. Because the Ramblers held Illinois and its future NBA guard, Ayo Dosunmu, to 28.6 percent shooting from the three-point arc.”It’s been a whole season of that. That’s our defense,” said Krutwig, who resembles what a young Mike Ditka might have looked like if he’d played hoops. “It’s not just a 48-hour scout. We’ve been working our whole season for this. I guess people kind of forgot. We were the No. 1 defense in the country this year. People chalk it up to being a mid-major.”
Of course, there is no such creature as a mid-major anymore. My only issue is why Sister Jean, in her picks, had Loyola losing to West Virginia in the Elite Eight — when West Virginia (and Bob Huggins’ mullet) lost to Syracuse, a team Loyola should beat.
Yet for every broken bracket, every sweet disruption and every familiar adrenaline attack that cues the thunder of March, there are louder voices in Indianapolis — those of the athlete activists speaking hard truths, something you won’t see covered on CBS. This would be an insurrection.
They’ve already seen one game declared a no-contest due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with virus-ravaged VCU going home. The natural response is to ask who will be infected next and whether there’s a hole in the NCAA’s “controlled environment.” At what point should the tournament be shut down to protect players, coaches, officials and traveling parties, knowing five programs have been disrupted by COVID the past week? And if you view that as a Chicken Little reflex, consider how the sport’s obsession with money prompted the playing of needless conference tournaments that might have led to VCU’s outbreak and other positive tests?
“It just stinks,” said VCU coach Mike Rhoades. “I can’t sugarcoat it.”
The activists also have observed the anguish of Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, who received threatening tweets after a stunning loss to Oral Roberts, and wonder why players are subjected to such hatred. Is this what happens when the sports industry embraces legalized gambling — creeps who lose wagers threaten players? And the abuse isn’t limited to digital devices; an old-school coach stuck in the last century, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, grabbed a player and bullied him in full view of a national audience.
So, quite justifiably, the players wish to interject once again that they aren’t being paid a penny. Hundreds of young men, all but locked down in hotel rooms so the NCAA can make $1 billion from its basketball spectacle, do not get a crumb of compensation from the pie. They receive scholarships, nice places to live on campus and televised windows to showcase their skills, but in the biggest equation — advertisers paying broadcast networks that feed the NCAA monolith — what’s happening to them now, amid a pandemic, looks like slavery to them.
Symbolic of the slights: A multi-billion-dollar governing body that should care deeply about peak performance has whiffed on nutrition. Borrowing from former President Trump, who served junk food to Clemson players for their White House celebration, the NCAA asked its proud partners from Wendy’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Pizza Hut to provide massive quantities of burgers, chicken wings and pizzas. In essence, the players are eating no better than COVID-pudgy fans gorging at home. Said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s tournament poohbah: “That’s a lot of food for hungry student-athletes.”
His comment contains two lies: It is not food, and they are not students.
Which explains why this tournament ultimately could be remembered for much more than basketball. It might be defined by a historic boycott — the possible shutdown of games in the Elite Eight or Final Four, where America’s eyeballs are primarily glued — as guided by a movement that includes players from at least 15 schools with little to do but think and text in confinement. Heeding the powerful lessons of activists throughout professional sports, including LeBron James inside the NBA’s restrictive bubble, the players want change. They are treated like essential workers as the NCAA and its partners, CBS and Turner, try to shoehorn 67 games into three weeks in central Indiana. The sole mission is to complete the event on the night of April 5, this avoiding the substantial financial losses resulting from the canceled 2020 tournament.
It is an act of desperation and business survival in a sport burdened by two many existential issues to count. Yet, the players who’ve been asked to save the NCAA tournament aren’t paid a cent for it? That’s why some are talking boycott, fueled by a hashtag: #NotNCAA Property.
“This tournament is going to generate a billion dollars,” Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon told The Athletic. “And we’re not allowed to make a single dime off our own names … but they want to treat us like employees. … Maybe it’s protesting a game or delaying a game — because it would be a nightmare for the NCAA. I know they don’t want that. Right now, we certainly have the leverage to do it.”
Is it likely games will be boycotted and postponed? The answer depends on how many more games are canceled because of COVID-19. Three years ago, Michigan was at the forefront of a plotted Final Four-wide boycott but couldn’t gather consensus acceptance. Some players are thrilled to be living a dream, others intimidated by coaches who might try to ruin their lives. The difference this time is the pandemic. In life-and-death America, players haven’t been able to see loved ones, and now, VCU’s forfeit plants more doubt.
The NCAA has said that COVID-tainted games can proceed if five “eligible and healthy” players are available. But while Rhoades indicated he had at least five — “I was going up and down the hallway and saying, `We’re like a wounded animal. You don’t want to go against a wounded animal,’ ” he said — the NCAA played the caution card. In consultation with the local Marion County Public Health Department, it wisely determined, “With potential risks to all involved in the game, we could not guarantee or be comfortable that five or more players would be available without risk.”
Members of the VCU traveling party had been tested every day for three weeks. “But within the last 48 hours we’ve received multiple positive tests,” said Rhoades, which suggests the infections occurred during a period when the Rams were at the Atlantic 10 title game in Dayton, Ohio, before bussing to Indianapolis. How were the players infected? Was it during a walk on a rare occasion when teams are allowed to be outdoors? “I want to make sure it’s clear: This isn’t something where our team broke protocol and did the wrong thing,” VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin said. “We don’t know how this happened, but it certainly wasn’t bad behavior on our side whatsoever.”
Is it any wonder, then, why such a crisis plants burdensome seeds? The athletes want compensation for their work and health risks, as we all would in their situation. The core issue is the longstanding fight that athletes should be paid for names, images and likenesses, a mission that has progressed in some states but continues to clog Congress like a bad half-court offense. The disparity is magnified by their current accommodations, a hermetically sealed experience that allows for games, practices and an occasional outdoor exercise period. Unlike college football players, who played once a week, basketball players have engaged in multiple games a week and traveling since November — that is, when schedules weren’t paused by virus outbreaks.
Now here they are, in the heartland, hoarded together like so much cheap labor and subjected to abuse beyond the absence of pay. As I wrote last week, this NCAA tournament is the most heavily gambled sports event ever. Despite pandemic risks that wouldn’t make betting advisable — such as, hearing three hours before tipoff that Oregon was advancing — almost 50 million Americans are expected to invest $1.3 billion. And when a team loses unexpectedly, fans are known to turn wacko, perhaps because they lost a wager.
It’s repulsive that Ohio State had to contact police after Liddell was threatened on social media. One fan vowed to find Liddell and attack him. Another wrote: “You are such a f—— disgrace. Don’t ever show your face at Ohio State. We hate you. I hope you die I really do.”
Tweeted Liddell, after posting the screenshots: “What did I do to deserve this? I’m human.”
And an unpaid human, at that. We don’t know if the cowardly snipers were gamblers who’d lost an Ohio State bet. If they were, this is Exhibit A of the possible consequences when the sports industry — especially college sports, which purportedly is centered around higher education and “student-athletes” — embraces the legalized gambling craze. Of course, Ohio State’s athletic leadership rallied around Liddell, with coach Chris Holtmann saying, “These comments, while not from or representative of Ohio State fans, are vile, dangerous and reflect the worst of humanity. E.J. is an outstanding young man who had a tremendous sophomore season and he was instrumental in our team’s success.”
But don’t count on Ohio State or any other monster program to question the possible agenda of gambling. I’ll bring back a paragraph I wrote on the eve of the tournament: “And who cares that Indiana is enjoying a gambling boom that includes 14 physical sportsbooks thrilled to accept wagers of any size? That includes the Winner’s Circle Sports Pub and OTB right there on Pennsylvania Street, mere blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the six team hotels, according to the trusty Bookies.com website. No way a dirtball or two could infiltrate the NCAA Bubble and convince a teenager or two to fix a game, right? This is college basketball, so very clean and ethical, a sport that has responsibly steered clear of point-shaving scandals — except those at Arizona State, Boston College, Tulane, Northwestern, Auburn, Toledo, San Diego, etc. — and never, ever would allow a player or parent or coach or referee or agent or sneaker creep to be on the take or crawl under a table.”
Whatever the motive for the attacks on Liddell, it’s another reason athletes are wondering: Why are we playing for no pay?
The abuse also comes from coaches, the men who walk into living rooms and tell parents that their sons will be treated well. Izzo, 66, blistered forward Gabe Brown during an overtime loss to UCLA, grabbing him by the arm and jersey. Brown pulled away, causing Izzo to chase him through the tunnel in an uncomfortable scene. “A normal nothing,” Izzo called it. “It’s just that this day and age, everything’s something. He missed a play and I told him, and he walked away and so I told him to come back.”
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim should be a happier man than usual, watching ice-veined son Buddy lead the Orange to the Sweet 16. But the grumpy coach, who recently mocked a reporter as someone “who has never played basketball and is 5 foot 2,” continues to scold players even with big leads. Boeheim is 76.
Mike Krzyzewski, whose Duke team finished 13-11 and had its season ended by a COVID outbreak, is 74. North Carolina’s Roy Williams, routed by Wisconsin in the first round, is 70. John Calipari, coming off his most miserable season at Kentucky, is 62 and perhaps too old to be chasing around recruits in a private jet. Kansas’ Bill Self, 58 going on 70, was lucky to get by Eastern Washington.
This is a revolution, all right, and not a good one for college basketball. A future NBA superstar, such as Cunningham or Zion Williamson, now won’t bother to play even one season on campus when the NBA soon allows players to directly enter the league from high school. As it is, the league’s top rookies this season — LaMelo Ball, before his season-ending broken wrist, and James Wiseman — didn’t need a full college season to adjust. There is the NBA’s developmental option, the G League, and a new league offering $100,000 salaries. The kids can play in other countries, as Ball did.
All of which will dilute the level of talent in the NCAA tournament. Make no mistake, as long as CBS and Turner have broadcast rights to the event and pay the $1 billion annually — a $19.6 billion extension doesn’t end until 2032 — March Madness will exist. The gamblers have to gamble, after all, and the coaches have to coach so they can get rich and their schools can cash in. But once considered a jewel event on the American calendar, the tournament could fade in prestige for common fans and shift sideways into a gambling-centric mode. It’s the NFL’s world, after all, buoyed by more than $100 billion in new TV deals, and one can make the argument that everything else is niche now.
Thus, the NCAA will keep trying to fight the players. President Mark Emmert will give the Indianapolis activists an audience, as they’ve demanded, and the games likely will proceed as normal until “One Shining Moment” is played. “I’m certainly not unhappy that students are using their voices to describe what they think are issues of importance to them,” Emmert said. “That’s a good thing. They’re students. They’re supposed to do that.” But the NCAA is the biggest flim-flam group in sports, evidenced by the original disparities in weight room facilities at the men’s and women’s tournaments. Once the fresh revenues are deposited as usual, we won’t hear from the NCAA or the TV networks. Mission accomplished, Emmert would say.
In that sense, I’m hoping for an Elite Eight boycott. I’m rooting for chaos. “Am I concerned?” Gavitt asked. “I would be concerned about any potential disruption, I guess, of games.”
The tournament so far has been fun, invigorating. But the emerging stories aren’t on the makeshift courts of Indiana. They are inside those hotel rooms, which must feel like cages by now, inhabited by angry young men ready to raise necessary hell.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”
It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.
Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.
Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.
“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”
From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.
“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”
Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.
Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.
“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”
Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.
Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.
During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.
Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.
With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.
“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”
Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.
“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”
After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.
Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.
“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”
An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.
Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.
“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”
Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.
“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”
Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”
Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.
“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”
John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.
“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”
The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.
“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”
Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.
“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”
As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.
“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”
Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.
“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”
Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.
“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio
All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.
The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.
Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.
McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.
As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.
A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.
Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.
At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.
It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Ideas For December Sales Success
How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?
Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.
So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.
Cutting a year-end deal
Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.
Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.
Beat the bushes
Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.
From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.
Practice a new pitch
December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.