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It’s Time For Monday Night Football To Embrace The Dennis Miller Era Again

“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.”

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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.

Q&A: Catching up with Dennis Miller | WTOP

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.

Snoop.

Snoop Dogg hailed for his boxing commentary | People | dailyprogress.com

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.

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5 Goals

5 Goals: Rob ‘World Wide Wob’ Perez

“I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA.”

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This month’s subject of five goals is Rob Perez, better known to NBA Twitter as World Wide Wob. The content creator and producer for FanDuel shared with me five things he wants to accomplish or see happen.

1. I want to make FanDuel, my licensing partner in content creation, as happy as possible.

My goal is to drive people to their web site or app, and spread the reach of the brand. I’m sure there’s a more formal word for that, but I want to organically integrate FanDuel into everything I do.

I don’t want to just be a commercial — hey 20% off, or here’s a free bet — because people are drowning in those across various forms of communication. All the content I do is naturally involved, and if someone’s asking about who’s favored it’s a very seamless type of content integration in which I can include them and drive them to FanDuel if they’d like to put their money where their mouth is. 

I would certainly love the opportunity to continue working with them — not just because they pay me to do so, but I do find value in working with a sportsbook of that size that is turning into a content company. Of course, they’re always gonna be a sportsbook. It makes them the most money. But, giving you additional reasons to engage with that brand, if you have an itch to bet on something, is what my job is.

I want to continue to be the face of the NBA for them, having a very casual conversation about the game itself — whether that’s off the court stuff, or all the coaching departures earlier this week. Integrating the FanDuel logo into all this feels much more real than a 30-second commercial between timeouts. I want you to enjoy the experience of the show, and gamble if you so choose.

2. NBA Red Zone.

I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA. It would work best on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Sunday, when there are 8-9 concurrent games.

That’s why I’m where I am today. I’m watching every single dribble of every single game. But, I would never expect any other normal human with responsibilities outside of NBA content creation to ever keep up with what’s going on between the Kings and Pistons while there’s seven other games on, one of which is nationally televised. 

So, if the NBA ever decides to have a true commitment to their version of the Red Zone — they’ve tried versions of it on NBATV, but I’ve never seen one hopping between games every 15-20 seconds, hot switching any time there’s a play stoppage — I’d love to do it. 

You’d have a Scott Hanson type host who is as integrated with the league as it gets. I hope maybe one day I have the opportunity where what I do on my own personal timeline merges with true rights partnership from the NBA. Just based on the feedback I get on my Twitter page, there would be demand for it. 

3. Do another NBA variety show.

In the past, I had a show called Buckets that I did with Cycle and ESPN. It had sketches, pre-produced talk segments, and interviews. Think of it like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon’s shows, but applied to the NBA. 

Inside the NBA is obviously the gold standard for an NBA talk show. But, those guys are going to retire at some point. What I do on Twitter Spaces, Twitch, and Periscope — I want the ability to blow that out with some more production resources. 

Photo Credit: TNT

Right now, I’m doing everything myself, from playing DJ to directing to taking calls to actually running the show and talking basketball and researching stats — I’m doing it all on the fly. While I’m certainly happy to do that, I know what we could create with a team around me because we’ve done it in the past. I would love to do a weekly variety show based around the NBA.

4. Some more work life balance.

My entire day for 11 months out of the year revolves around the NBA. It’s my job and I’m happy to. I love following it. At some point, I feel like I’m gonna get burned out, and I don’t want to ever get to the point where doing this feels like work

It felt a little bit like work this year, and that might be because I’m on Year 8 doing this. [RG note: at this point, I mentioned how last offseason was so condensed after the bubble, and how the energy felt partially zapped out of sports with a lack of fans]. I’m gonna watch regardless because I’m a crazy person, but I think a lot of people would agree with you that the return to normalcy is helping with the engagement on a mainstream scale.

This offseason will be condensed again. We have the Olympics, which of course I’m going to watch because stars will be playing. Summer League is in August. There’s free agency and the draft. There’s barely going to be one month — September — where there probably won’t be a whole lot of NBA news or events. 

But then we’re going back to the normal schedule from before the pandemic, which means Media Week will be the first week of October. There’s one month off before it all starts again, and I’m hoping I don’t get burned out by it. 

Being on the East Coast, it’s impossible to follow the NBA 24/7. I don’t know how people with kids and families do it. Getting back to the West Coast is a personal goal of mine, which will happen this summer when I move back to Los Angeles. These hours will allow me to get back to a more normal life.

5. I want the Knicks to win a championship in my lifetime.

Just being a die hard Knicks fan and not seeing a title in my lifetime, that’s a personal goal. I’ve put so much work into watching every effing game since I was eight years old with Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the NBA playoffs. 

I was young, but I was old enough to know that I wanted to stay up for those games. I was emotionally invested. I would even get to the point where I was putting towels underneath the door so my parents couldn’t see that the TV was on. They thought I was sleeping. 

Patrick Ewing New York Knicks NBA Posters for sale | eBay
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Of course I want my team to win a championship, and I don’t want to die without seeing that mountaintop. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a Red Sox or Cubs fan and going all those years without seeing them win, then having it happen. I want to experience it once. 

Whatever it takes to get there. I have too many gray hairs on my head, and every single one of them I can attribute to a single Knicks game from the past decade. Being a fan while trying to create objective NBA content will always be a challenge, but being a Knicks fan will always take precedent over a career because it means that much to me.

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BSM Writers

Forget the Email, Just Smile & Dial

“Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam.”

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Back in August of last year, the pandemic was still front and center, acting as a roadblock for business. Retailers were in business and at the stores, but what about the advertising buyers? Where were they?

Well, the ad-buying community, corporate employees, and most white-collar workers were still at home. So were most of us in radio sales. So, when it came to prospecting for new accounts, some of us gave up, most sent emails, and a few brave souls hit the phone. Earlier this year, I wrote about the sales trainer John Barrows and how he got to the top by cold calling 400 prospects a week! That’s not cold emailing. That’s cold CALLING. And to be exact, if Barrows was working a 10 hour day on the phones Monday through Friday, he would dial at least eight prospects an hour. 

Does that send a chill down your spine?   Or does it make you want to run to your keyboard to avoid rejection and send some more cold emails? Back in August, when most of our ad buyers were at home, not near a business phone, Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino were recording a podcast about why you should hit the phone, not the email. Both sales consultants and authors thought we could improve our connect rate immensely by working the phones over email. 

Both authors agreed that we need to have conversations with people about our stations, personalities, shows, and the sports world! We can hire an automated CRM service to send emails!

Now I am all for some well-crafted custom emails sent to targets that do not answer phones or listen to voice mails but not as the first activity in a sales sequence. Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam. Our job isn’t to create awareness for buying sports radio packages; it is to make the sale!

We are consultants offering custom solutions to the unique challenges your clients have. And consider that if you pick up the phone and connect with the advertising buyer and get the appointment, you won’t need an email!  

Both consultants agree that you don’t need email to warm up a client when using the phone to get the appointment! I recently tested this theory myself and decided that with the pandemic subsiding in most metropolitan areas and more buyers going back to the office, I could start hitting the phones more. 

It worked. I got more appointments faster and wasted less time. I even got help. I had a business owner who I reached out to via email with a custom approach. I offered a few excellent ideas on how I could help him. Crickets. I let 2.5 weeks go by before I picked up the phone to dial the business and ask for him. They told me he was out on vacation and asked me if I had personal interaction with him. I explained no I was looking to connect with him on an advertising idea. The receptionist said you need to talk to Jane, the ad buyer. I was connected immediately.

Erma Scholl working the Old Forge switchboard in 1971. Photo courtesy of the Goodsell Museum.
Courtesy: Goodsell Museum

I left a voice mail. The next day I received a return call indicating interest in my idea, and we set the appointment. Now, why didn’t I try that in the first place!

If you want a custom phone pitch that I wrote out for myself, send me an email at jeffcaves54@gmail.com. Now it’s time to smile and dial! 

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 33

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It has been a busy week at BSM. Demetri Ravanos talks about Domonique Foxworth and the future of commentary on ESPN. Kate Constable stops by to discuss her column on Sarah Spain and the sometimes ugly realities of life as a woman in sports media. Finally, Brian Noe and Demetri discuss Le’veon Bell’s Twitter rant and how depressingly relevant it is in the radio business.

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