I have always liked the NFL Draft. As a college football fanatic, I have always viewed it as something of a graduation ceremony for my favorite sport’s biggest stars and a celebration of what they have more than earned through three, four, or five seasons of playing for free while the coaches and programs the represent earn millions each year.
Like so many others, I get caught up in “draft analysis”. I am a sucker for what Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay are hearing. I open a new web browser any time Trevor Sikkema, Jordan Reid, or any of their colleagues at The Draft Network drop a new mock. This is the time of year we get to see the fun cross section of the pro and college levels of football and hear just how dumb some of these GMs are…or perhaps how gullible and desperate for a scoop some reporters and analysts are.
This is the thing about the lead up to the NFL Draft, which I think we all need to remember: none of it means anything and none of what we hear can be trusted. From the second a team’s season comes to an end until the end of the three day event, teams are playing an extended game of poker. There’s deceit meant to get an opponent to act. There’s bluffing to throw other teams off the scent of your true intentions. The media is just another useful idiot in the scheme.
Mock drafts are like scavenger hunts. The masters behind them are using their knowledge and clues accumulated along the way to solve a puzzle. Everyone can put it together differently.
Just look at the way we are talking about the San Francisco 49ers trading up to get the third overall pick. Clearly, that is a move to get one of the better quarterbacks in this class. Consensus says that the Jacksonville Jaguars will take Trevor Lawrence with the first pick and then the New York Jets will use the second pick to take BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. That means that the 49ers would have their pick of Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, or Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Different mock drafts have predicted each one of those QBs will be San Francisco’s pick. It is all a guess.
That is the thing you have to remember about the NFL Draft. It is a single event. This isn’t NASCAR where we have concrete proof of who is in what position at this particular moment. It is what makes the over-analysis of Justin Fields so absurd and Dominique Foxworth’s point about the criticism of Ohio State’s quarterback feeling a little too familiar worth considering.
We posted this story at the end of last week and were met with dumb comments on Twitter like “oh, I guess now we can’t criticize any Black player”. That wasn’t every comment or even the majority of the comments, but those comments were there. The comments may be tinged with racism, but I don’t believe the people making them are abhorrent racists. I believe they are lazy and reactionary and not interested in doing any critical thinking. Dominique Foxworth even says that criticisms like not being able to go through his progressions or being able to read defenses may be fair when it comes to Fields. They just happen to be the same “concerns” we heard about Robert Griffin III, Lamar Jackson, Donovan McNabb, DeShaun Watson, and so on.
Guys like McShay and Daniel Jeremiah are in no-win situations. They have to report what teams are telling them. That is what gives credence to their “NFL Draft Insider” title and that title is what justifies their employment. But they also have to know that they are trying to report on an event built around smokescreens. It isn’t unfair to ask them to use some critical thinking in their reporting.
If “what I’m hearing” includes criticisms of Justin Fields that are the same things that we’ve heard for years about Black quarterbacks, isn’t it fair to give the audience that context? Isn’t it fair to wonder if a guy that just lead his team to a national championship game (although they didn’t deserve the chance to play for it) is really as inept as scouts say or is that criticism part of those scouts’ larger strategy to not give anything about what they are thinking away?
You aren’t going to meet many bigger Bama fans than me, and I will openly mock anyone that tries to sell me the idea of Mac Jones as a first round quarterback. It is amazing how a receiver like Devonta Smith, who can contort his body into any imaginable shape, can cover up a wildly inaccurate throw and how one of the best college offensive lines ever assembled can eliminate virtually any pressure in the backfield. I’m not telling you Mac Jones isn’t good. I am telling you no reasonable person would look at tape of Jones and then look at tape of Justin Fields and say Mac Jones is the one they want.
NFL Draft insiders absolutely do earn their money. This column is not meant to degrade the position. There aren’t a lot of roles in the sports media that require you be able to work sources with just as much expertise as you can breakdown film.
The position and their work should be approached in a totally unique way to anyone else on staff though. This, at least in my mind, is sort of what Foxworth was hinting at. A draft insider may be delivering news and reporting on what sources tell them, but they are reporting on something that is theoretical until it actually happens. In that way, the position is just as much about entertainment as it is about information. It isn’t too much to ask that that be acknowledged.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.
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