Charles Barkley has a way of making news. Is it calculated? Maybe not, but it sure seems like it. I mean, the guy always seems to make sure there is a camera or microphone around whenever he expresses a political opinion, and those opinions are all over the map. Honestly, both sides of the political aisle love half of what Charles Barkley says and would hail him as one of their own if they didn’t absolutely despise the other half of what he says.
So, should we be skeptical when he says that he was offered a role on Monday Night Football? Absolutely not. ESPN has made it clear that they are looking for someone in the booth that would make Monday Night Football appointment television even when they force-feed us a Texans/Jaguars garbage fire.
What is weird is the way the public first heard about this. We didn’t learn the news through some inside scoop reported by Bryan Curtis or Andrew Marchand. It was a throw away line from an interview Barkley did on the Jim Brockmire Podcast.
Barkley frames this as a dumb idea. How could he be what Monday Night Football is looking for? He never played. He doesn’t spend every Sunday consuming the all-22 from multiple games and the majority of Monday breaking down film.
ESPN already has that presence on Monday Night Football and the network still isn’t satisfied. Say whatever you want about his ability as a broadcaster, Jason Whitten knows football inside and out. Booger McFarland does too. Same with Brian Griese and Louis Riddick. ESPN didn’t call Charles Barkley because it wanted more of the same thing.
You can go back and look through my archives. I am on the record over and over again saying that I don’t think the voices in the booth on Monday Night Football matter to fans nearly as much as ESPN thinks they do. If you like the NFL, you are going to watch at least some of the game each week. The names we heard kicked around, Al Michels, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo, are interesting to sports fans, but no one else. They aren’t changing your mind about Monday Night Football if the NFL doesn’t mean anything to you.
ESPN should be commended here and should have worked harder to make this happen. Even if Barkley was steadfast about not wanting to be a part of the Monday Night Football booth, thinking outside the box and working beyond the confines of unimpeachable expertise is the only way ESPN was ever going to make the broadcast something more than it currently is.
Remember the Dennis Miller experiment? Plenty of people in our industry will say it was a failure, but Monday Night Football hasn’t had the same kind of pop culture recognition that it received in 2000 in a long time! Also, let’s be fair to Miller. We don’t really know if the experiment was a failure, because from day 1 Dan Fouts decided he hated this idea and wasn’t going to try and make it work.
Why would it be absurd to run it back and try bringing a fan into the booth? Sure, Tony Kornheiser was a sports journalist with a major weekday presence on ESPN, but wasn’t that just a single step above where Miller was coming in? It can work with the right mix of personalities, so long as everyone buys into the vision.
To make a “fan in the booth” scenario work, you must first commit to a three-man booth. You need the right fan – someone that immediately recognizes that literally everyone on the broadcast knows more about football than they do. It is why Barkley makes a lot of sense for a first call. He has plenty of TV experience. He isn’t going to operate from a place of having to get his jokes in. Most importantly, he loves the sport.
Next, your ex-player has to buy in. He will have a very specific role here, because so much of the conversation will rely on his expertise and analysis. He also has to understand that this isn’t a typical three-man booth. The fan is there to do something completely different than we are used to seeing in these situations.
Finally, you need a play-by-play man that is perfectly in sync with the producer and director in the truck. This kind of broadcast booth doesn’t have to be controlled chaos, but it will require ego management and a level of leadership that may be a bit uncommon. Both of the other voices are coming into the broadcast with their own individual goals, but it is up to the play-by-play man to provide the lanes necessary to help the individual goals merge to work as part of the overall common goal of putting on a great show.
When that is your task but you are also expected to provide the call of what is happening on the field, you are going to need to rely on other eyes and ears sometimes. To make a booth like the one I am describing work, a play-by-play guy has to trust the voice in his ear when it tells him what his teammates need in each moment.
The truth is that ESPN will probably never be done tinkering with Monday Night Football. If that’s the case, the network has to think about all the ways it can get the broadcast to where it is trying to go. Would one of the game’s biggest names draw more attention to the network? Sure, maybe for a couple of weeks. If the company is really trying to make a splash though, I would encourage everyone in Bristol not to give up on the idea of an outsider in the booth just because Charles Barkley said no. In fact, I’m just going to throw a name out there.
Look, it’s just a jumping off point. I’m not saying it’s perfect.
Now, it is possible that the pool ESPN would be allowed to win in here is so small that it just isn’t worth the time and effort to build a booth involving someone who’s only connection to the NFL is that they love watching it. After all, the league has so much more influence over its broadcast partners now than it did when Disney put Miller next to Fouts and Al Michaels. It’s not inconceivable that ESPN could come to the NFL with a home run name and the league could flat out shut it down for any number of dumb, short-sighted reasons.
There is a lesson worth learning, not just for TV play-by-play, but for all of us in the broadcast business. If you want to be special and stand out from your competition, you have to do something special and different. The pop-culture definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe the next time ESPN decides it needs to shake up the Monday Night Football booth, it would make more sense to start somewhere different than an eight-figure offer to Peyton Manning that is destined to be rejected just like everyone before it.
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.