Mon. Apr 19th, 2021

Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who has been vaccinated and will be shredded for publicizing it.

THEY GET IT

Jim Nantz, CBS settler — Ian Eagle is wayyyyy more fun on the ears than Nantz. He’s quick with a quip, a playful jab at a broadcast partner or a prime slice of inside information, such as coach Andy Enfield’s tenuous job status before USC’s mad run in the NCAA tournament. I speak for many who think Eagle would have succeeded quite well as CBS’ lead sports voice, which helps explain why Nantz opted for common sense, backed down from his $18-million-a-year demands and re-upped with CBS for more than $10.5 million annually, which merely makes him the highest-paid non-ex-quarterback in sportscasting history. I understand Nantz helped create the Romonster out of the embryo and sought “Tony Romo money,’’ but as always in sports, the jock is worth much more than the media guy. Nantz’s currency comes in continuing to broadcast the events he loves — the Masters and March Madness — while remaining a prominent NFL game-caller in the Super Bowl rotation. And, friends, he’ll be with us for a long time, like it or not, as his new deal is said to extend to 2035, when he’d be calling his 50th Masters at 75. Can you imagine how schmaltzy he’ll be then? “I used to joke around in speaking engagements: I know my retirement date already. God willing, my health stays well, and CBS willing, that April 8, 2035, would be the way I would love to close out my career,” Nantz recently told the Associated Press. “But here we are all of a sudden and that’s now well within sight.’’ Now, if he’d just try to have some fun. The Capital One ads with Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee are a start.

Vegas Stats & Information Network — Apparently, I can’t repeat my anti-gambling mantra enough: There are many, many more sports enthusiasts in this country — myself included — who don’t bet on games than those who do. But as long as companies such as VSiN are in business, they might as well try to make their damned fortunes. The Musburgers successfully cashed out in selling their operation to DraftKings, which will disseminate VSiN’s wagering-based content while allowing the startup to maintain editorial independence. I’m not sure what that freedom entails when dealing with sports betting info — my mind is wrapped around potential in-house scandals — but at least Brian and Brent and my one-time sports editor, Bill Adee, can say they didn’t crash in a crowded climate ripe for failure.

Craig Carton, WFAN talk host — Let’s hope he isn’t giving lip service to his debt service. Because when Carton connects with problem gamblers, he’s the lone voice of realism in a mainstream media industry that embraces legalized wagering as a money grab while ignoring the disease. Still struggling after his betting addiction led to a Ponzi scheme and a year in the slammer, he tearfully pleaded with fragile listeners to seek help, saying, “If you’re feeling down in the dumps and you’re worrying how you’re going to get through it and is there a tomorrow — there is a tomorrow. There always is. So please, call somebody. I’m alive today because I called somebody. His name is Charod Williams.’’ He was referencing his former producer, who talked Carton off the suicidal ledge as he pondered jumping off a ski lift in 2017. There’s always a chance that Carton, after bilking investors with lies, can be orchestrating the sobbing to lift his ratings and justify his professional existence; after all, he still owes millions in restitution. But if one down-and-out person heeds his advice, it’s worth the continuing risk for WFAN to employ him as an afternoon drive host, even as the station disgraces itself — reflecting the desperation and grime of sports radio — with constant gambling-based advertising.

The Athletic — The sports site can’t be profitable as currently constituted, with an all-subscription, no-ads business model. As noted often here, a media consumer who wants only one sports paywall in his/her life likely will opt for streaming king ESPN+, which offers live games, shows, documentaries and premium analysis — as opposed to the Athletic’s daily bulk of written content at a similar price point. And free sites, such as ESPN.com and the Ringer, don’t make it any easier to sell subscriptions. So cheers to Alex Mather, co-founder of the Athletic, for approaching the successful news startup, Axios, about a merger. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, consolidation might mean the difference between surviving and crashing. Sports Illustrated, which continues to publish superior content to the Athletic at the elite levels, recently shifted to a paywall and lost impact and momentum. Much as I’d like to think sports readers will pay for all of these professional sites, especially with so much garbage out there, only diehards and industry people will buy more than one. At present, the Athletic is a niche alternative and needs a Plan B to appease investors who’ve poured almost $150 million into the company. Entering Year Six, they want results.

Jon Wertheim, multi-platform journalist — A shining light in SI’s talent pool, Wertheim doubles as a CBS correspondent on “60 Minutes.’’ His profile of sportswriting icon Dave Kindred, who has found peace in the troubled twilight of his life, was a staggering reminder of human fragility. Kindred has immersed himself in covering an Illinois high-school basketball team, the Morton Lady Potters. Explained Kindred: “Had a grandson who died. My mother died three months later. The next year, my wife had a catastrophic stroke that left her an invalid who cannot communicate. You know, so even in the hospital, one of the players’ mothers — I was debating whether I should leave my wife in the hospital unconscious and go to a Lady Potters game — and the mother said, `You gotta go. You gotta go.’ And she was right. You know, I went, and I — and what started as fun became life-affirming, you know? It’s what I am. It’s what I do.’’ When Wertheim asked if the Lady Potters saved his life, Kindred said, “This team did save me. This team became a community. It became my friends. My life had turned dark. You know, they were light. And I knew that that light was always gonna be there, you know, two or three times a week.’’ Only a writer would understand. But it took a gifted writer and reporter to extract the meaning from another.

Dick Stockton, Hall of Famer — Again, we have a sixth entry who gets it. I’ve never told him this, but as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, I watched him deliver nightly sportscasts on KDKA-TV. It was obvious, at least to me, that he’d be going far in the industry, but oddly, there were local dissenters who thought he was brash. The polarizing effect followed Stockton throughout his career, such as in Chicago, where Bears fans already bitter about life vented when he drew a Fox Sports play-by-play assignment. His portfolio far exceeds any parochial silliness, and I’m glad to see him retire after 55 years — and 1,545 televised sports events — before the yokels get the best of him.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Michael Rapaport, fool — Stung by one of life’s more humiliating indignities — a legal loss to scum site Barstool Sports when a New York judge tossed his defamation case — the actor/comedian/assclown turned his attention to Kevin Durant. Rapaport accuses the NBA star of firing misogynistic and homophobic insults at him on a profane series of Instagram DMs last year, posting the alleged thread Tuesday on his Twitter feed. “I receive threats and disgusting messages DAILY, but never in my wildest dreams did I think @KDTrey5 would be among them,’’ Rapaport wrote. “(Durant) is now threatening me, bringing up my wife and wants to fight. This is supposed to be America’s sweetheart right? KD didn’t get hacked either. Hold this L champ.’’ If the comments came directly from Durant, he’ll be hearing from commissioner Adam Silver. But as a crazed Knicks fan who must loath the rise of Durant and the Brooklyn Nets, Rapaport has no credibility. At this stage of his life and career, Durant should be moving on from his phone, particularly to avoid creeps like Rapaport.

Audacy — In a media world of flashy brand names such as ESPN, Fox and iHeart, Entercom always sounded dusty and last-century. So chairman David Field is rebranding his empire with a name that, to be polite, sounds clumsy — and, worse, reflects the company’s struggles to spin Wall Street positivity. Are we supposed to interpret the new Entercom as an Odyssey, with a twist on Audio? While driving an Audi? First and foremost, doesn’t a corporate name have to be pronounceable and spellable without staring at the word for 30 seconds? With the daily explosion of media deals, Field is using the name change to remind the masses of his company’s presence, with new podcasts arriving from RIch Eisen and Boomer Esiason along with the requisite gambling partnership with BetMGM. Explained Field: “We have transformed into a fundamentally different and dramatically enhanced organization and so it is time to embrace a new name and brand identity which better reflects who we have become and our vision for the future.’’ I’d have preferred Audacity. As in, the audacity of Field to think we’d buy into any of this.

Fox Sports — Amid the current avalanche of gambling madness, sports media companies don’t grasp the unprincipled disconnect: The actual game represents pure athletic competition, while the wagering component is a phony, treacherous and potentially life-threatening alternate universe. Fox isn’t even trying to be discreet anymore, with this mission statement from strategy and analytics executive Michael Mulvihill, per Sports Business Journal: “We’re evolving Fox Sports from being purely a media content brand into a content and gaming brand. In numerous ways, I feel like we’re now doing content that supports the gaming business and we’re doing deals in which wagering and media rights are intertwined.” As I choked on my lunch, Mulvihill added, “It’s part of an evolution that started for us three years ago and is now starting to be an impactful part of the business. It’s a very top-of-mind part of the thinking behind everything we’re trying to do right now.’’ I can’t wait for the day when ratings decreases in sports broadcasting are attributed to gambling overload. Networks, consider yourselves forewarned.

Field Yates, ESPN — When paid handsomely to contribute NFL commentary from home, an analyst should know a basic rule: Have someone take the dog out for a walk to ensure an uninterrupted broadcast. This formality didn’t happen in the Yates household, leaving his golden retriever, Cisco, to wander around the makeshift office studio … and vomit three feet from his owner during an “NFL Live’’ segment. The barf scene caused Yates’ screen to shake on air, with host Laura Rutledge in mid-thought about a Miami Dolphins topic. A still shot of Yates’ panicked face, as captured by the Awful Announcing site, is precious. “Still a very good boy,’’ Yates texted later of Cisco. Isn’t there a nearby field, Field?

Matt Vasgersian, Angels semi-broadcaster — Initially, I was excited to hear he’s joining the Halos in a three-man booth. Living in southern California for the better part of 10 years, I’ve wondered why the Angels’ crew was boring, which only contributed to the team’s secondary in-market status to the almighty Dodgers. But then the engaging Vasgersian, known for having even more fun on local broadcasts than in his uniform role on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,’’ related he’ll be doing much of his Angels’ voice work via a remote hookup due to ESPN and MLB Network responsibilities. So, to get this straight, he’ll be in some far-flung location while Mark Gubicza and Jose Mota are in the ballpark? And when Vasgersian is a no-go, Daron Sutton becomes the play-by-play man? Sounds like a half-assed arrangement for the franchise that still hasn’t figured out how to maximize Mike Trout.

Eamonn Brennan, The Athletic — An editor once told my 21-year-old self, “Son, you’re overwriting.’’ If college basketball media members were placed into March brackets, this prose masturbator would miss the NCAA and NIT fields entirely — and face deportment to Mars. Here’s the opening paragraph of his story about, gosh, I have no idea what: “How old are the constellations? Most scientists generally date the earliest human records of specific star groups to the ancient near east civilizations of Mesopotamia around 3,000 B.C., although it’s possible some 17,000-year-old cave paintings in France depict constellations later adopted by star-gazers in antiquity: Taurus, Orion’s Belt, the Pleiades. The names of the constellations we recognize today come from the Greeks and Romans, of course, but civilizations all over the world, from ancient China to North American tribes and everywhere in between, have peered into the night sky and seen gods, beings and forces of nature that weren’t actually there.’’ Maybe less weed and more sleep would help, Eamonn. Oh, that was my sixth entry? Hey, it was important to save sportswriting, if only for a day.

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