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If Only All Sports Drama Matched Dodgers-Padres

As a disjointed NBA and other entities suffer ratings crashes, a thrilling first series in baseball’s new rivalry issued the industry a reminder: Games must entertain to guarantee audiences in an evolving America.

Jay Mariotti

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After midnight in L.A., when even the Jenners and Machine Gun Kelly are asleep, I realized why a ballgame had hijacked me as it cannonballed toward a sixth hour. It wasn’t about rivalry hype, a hopeful premise that the Dodgers — baseball’s corporate goliaths — suddenly are being challenged by a revived bottom-feeder in San Diego. It wasn’t the assembled starpower and affluence — the $365 million of Mookie Betts, the $300-million-plus deals of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, Trevor Bauer’s $40 million a year, the batboys making six figures with comped hotel suites (kidding, I think).

Betts Makes Diving Grab As Dodgers Beat Padres 2-0 | San Diego, CA Patch

It wasn’t even the startling element of raucous crowd noise, louder than 15,250 humans seem capable of generating in what surely was the decibels leader of sport’s pandemic era, Super Bowl and Wrestlemania included.

No, I was excited enough to keep watching because: (1) the players showed up for the weekend series, in uniform, even as Tatis, Machado and Betts have battled injuries; (2) they were excited to be at Petco Park, engaged in mid-April fury with the urgency of “a playoff game,” as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said afterward; (3) not a soul was taking the evening off due to  “rest” or a “minutes restriction” or “load management” or while tending to a “personal matter” or a “mental day;” and (4) the Friday night game was friggin’ great — all four hours and 57 minutes of it, including an incident that emptied dugouts and bullpens — proving that the length of an extra-innings classic doesn’t matter when intensity and quality are next-level and both teams actually are trying to win a championship.

And what happened the next night? Another thriller, crisp and low-scoring, featuring more animosity — a God-fearing Clayton Kershaw, firing f-bombs at Jurickson Profar, who fired them back — and ending with Betts racing 60 feet, laying out his delicate body and saving the 2-0 victory by slamming into the grass and securing a liner in the heel of his glove, an inch or two from a trap. Imagine, a player of that pay grade risking his health so early in a season.

“I just kind of blacked out,” said Betts, who celebrated by pounding his chest four times and shouting into the night. “I was kind of in the moment. I just knew when the ball went up, I had to catch it, and that’s what I did.”

If this is an indirect way of upbraiding the NBA for its disjointed regular season, so be it. Certainly, Major League Baseball is overloaded with its own problems — COVID-19 outbreaks, tanking teams, sexual harassment probes in front offices, ball-doctoring by pitchers such as Bauer, an abysmal percentage of Black players on rosters (7.6 percent) and the darkening clouds of a labor impasse at season’s end. The Minnesota Twins are the latest team to require game cancellations after multiple positive virus tests, making fans think twice about attending games while reminding the sports world that a pandemic still rages. “This is the unfortunate reality that we live in,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. But at least MLB, after weeks of promising special drama in these Dodgers-Padres tussles — “We’re going to get 19 World Series games this year,” the Dodgers’ Justin Turner said — delivered in the first of six series between teams separated by 120 miles of interstate highway.

I have no reason to trust the NBA and its careless competitive breaches. Unspoken tension between the players and commissioner Adam Silver, who insisted on starting a 72-game regular season only 71 days after last season ended, has resulted in an unwatchable mish-mash of athlete and franchise indifference, DNPs and suspicions that some stars aren’t injured as much as they’re being stashed away protectively for the playoffs. And those who are legitimately crippled — Denver’s Jamal Murray is out until next season with a torn ACL, ruining the Nuggets’ hopes — have every right to wonder if a short offseason increased the risk of serious injuries. After losing an estimated $2 billion in the Disney Bubble experiment, Silver saw financial advantages in a Christmas Week start, as encouraged by broadcast partners ESPN and Turner, while ending the postseason just before the Tokyo Olympics in late July.

The players aren’t happy, blaming the league for a spate of injuries both real and imagined. The Toronto Raptors, champions two years ago, are among those deeming “rest” more important than a playoff berth — even in a season when there are 10 qualifiers in each conference. “There’s certainly ups and downs to this thing more than I’ve ever experienced in my life. To be honest, this is probably the most un-pure year of basketball I’ve ever been a part of, just from the whole league and rushing the season back,” the Raptors’ Fred VanVleet said. “It’s pretty much all about business this year on every level and it’s hard to hide it, you know what I’m saying? … I think this year, the industry side has taken precedence over some of the love and joy.”

What Silver didn’t anticipate was an aesthetic disaster, the antithesis of the Dodgers-Padres masterpieces. If you doubt this, consider NBA ratings have dropped again, to the point a TNT doubleheader last week drew only 724,000 viewers, or less than we used to attract on ESPN’s “Around The Horn” during our peak years. The best potential story in Silver’s kingdom is across the bridge, in Brooklyn, where the Nets might be the most potent offensive team ever. Too bad we’ve yet to see the starting core — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Joe Harris — play more than a handful of minutes together. Durant, of course, is returning from a career-threatening right Achilles’ tendon rupture. But it happened almost two years ago. Two months after an unrelated hamstring injury in his left leg, the Nets routinely keep him out of games as a precaution more than a necessity. Harden is out with a hamstring strain, but he’d surely be playing on it in the postseason. Irving? He comes and goes as he pleases, the most maddening free bird in sports, capable of calling in sick or wigging out on a whim. Somehow, Nets general manager Sean Marks is fine with the flim-flamness, which prioritizes playoff health over all else, continuity and chemistry be damned.

Injuries and pandemic give Nets a healthy dose of lineup changes | Newsday

Anyone thinking about the fans in this equation? Last week, the NBA was poised for its potential version of a hot new rivalry: Nets vs. 76ers. ESPN was so juiced, it broadcast the game on its blowtorch feed and two other platforms, ESPN2 and ESPN+, which featured an all-gambling analytical focus for the first time. Hours before tipoff, the Nets announced Durant wouldn’t play, choosing to use him 27 minutes the previous night against the dismal Timberwolves to ensure at least one win in a back-to-back sequence. Across America, viewers flipped channels. The showcase game was a bust, producing numbers lower than AEW, pro wrestling’s junior-varsity brand.

“We want to get everyone healthy, and that’s just as important as circling the calendar for Philly,” Durant said.

“We’ve got to protect him,” coach Steve Nash said.

Ah, Nash. He was leading a comfortable life in Manhattan Beach as a soccer aficionado, an advisor to the Golden State Warriors and Canada’s Olympic team and a philanthropist who once was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Why did he take the Nets’ gig again? He has used 30 different starting units and is accustomed to games with 10 or fewer active players. Just when he was excited about acclimating big man LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting unit, the seven-time All-Star abruptly retired due to an irregular heartbeat. If that’s not random, how many times has Blake Griffin suited up compared to his frequent flannel-shirt sightings as a cheerleader?

“We may not get any games with our whole roster. Nothing is promised tomorrow,” Nash said. “I don’t want to worry about or be concerned about things that are out of our control. I also don’t want any excuses. You start playing that game where it’s like, well we haven’t had any games with our full roster. But in a sense, that’s irrelevant. We don’t control that.”

Irrelevant? The Nets are a title contender, not a playoff aspirant. “We just keep moving forward, keep trying to get better, and if we get a full roster that would be great and if we don’t we keep plugging away every day,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about when we’ll have the full roster. We’ll just chip away every day with whoever is available. Continue to build this thing and if we’re fortunate to have everyone back, that will be a blessing.”

Nash won’t say it. I will: The Nets are exploiting their fans, and Marks is on board to avoid a player mutiny. Sunday, Durant was in the starting lineup for an ESPN game against the Heat, who didn’t have star Jimmy Butler, out with what was called a sore ankle. Durant launched an immediate scoring burst — eight points in the first 93 seconds — then was lightly fouled by Trevor Ariza in the hip area. What happened next? Durant walked to the locker room with a “left thigh contusion” and didn’t return. Yet another hyped game was diluted, while NBA insiders asked: If Durant is this brittle, how are the Nets supposed to compete for a title? Or, is he simply a very good actor who’s distracted by his well-chronicled (and foolish) social-media wars?

“He’s sore,” said Nash, “but we don’t know how severe.”

Don’t mistake this as a claim that LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Paul George and Donovan Mitchell haven’t been dealing with daunting setbacks. But I do wonder how many of these cases are being slow-played by teams focused entirely on the postseason, which means the final weeks of the regular season are being tanked by contenders. How can Silver, a self-described integrity enforcer, ignore rampant surrender throughout the league? He’s fortunate ticket-buyers still are kept at a minimum number, or he’d be sued for consumer fraud. He still might be.

This is no way to keep fans watching on TV or luring them to arenas as COVID restrictions ease. The pandemic has jarred many Americans into a pragmatic perspective: Who has time, money or energy for sports when the bigger objective is survival in a swirling, evolving world? As the industry is painfully aware, the ratings continue to crater for the biggest events — the Masters sunk to its lowest spring viewership numbers since 1993. This follows all-time lows for the NBA Finals and World Series and the lowest Super Bowl ratings since 2007. The NCAA tournament title game, which saw Baylor upend Gonzaga’s unbeaten season, was the least-watched since 1982. Don’t accept the easy explanation and assume it’s about cable cord-cutting. Or the premise that politics and anthem-kneeling have killed ratings.

Sports is entertainment.

And if the entertainment sucks, or is unreliable, people won’t watch. That goes for Netflix, the Oscars or the Brooklyn Nets. The NFL is the only league that has stood the test of COVID and continues to expect substantial traffic, which explains why CBS, NBC, ESPN/ABC, Fox and Amazon plunged $113 billion into 11-year deals. When the NBA leaks that it wants $75 billion in the next rights rush, when its current deal doesn’t expire for four more years, I would point to the Nets and other teams in the pattern of sitting players and ask if fans have lost measures of interest. The Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz, already missing Mitchell, rested Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley Jr. and Derrick Favors for “injury recovery” purposes Saturday. Who wants to watch second-rate events? When fans return to games en masse, shouldn’t ticket and concession prices be slashed if roster dilution becomes business as usual?

Utah Jazz: When might Donovan Mitchell return from injury?

The NBA playoffs, starting a month later than usual on May 22, could be a ratings bust if watchability standards don’t improve markedly. This is the summer Americans have awaited for a very long time — free of isolation, who wants to sit at home watching basketball when no one knows who’s injured or not? The play-in format, meanwhile, already has been torched by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and star Luka Doncic, who suddenly realize Dallas’ No. 7 seeding would require an additional three-game series against Steph Curry, Gregg Popovich or Zion Williamson. Said Doncic: “You play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs. I don’t see the point.” Now that he mentions it, the fans might not see the point of tuning in.

I didn’t plan on watching more than an inning or two of Dodgers-Padres, Night One. The series seemed like a media creation that annoyed the World Series champions. “It’s just another division series,”  Corey Seager said.

“Obviously, we know they’re good,” Betts said of the Padres. “But everyone is good in the big leagues.”

Was this a case of the inferior neighbor to the south, envious of all things L.A. and Hollywood, trying to manufacture a challenge? The Petco DJ played “Dust in the Wind” and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as the Dodgers took batting practice. Really? Hours later, after four late lead changes and 17 total pitchers, Seager finally reminded us of the Dodgers’ supremacy with a modern novelty — a leadoff, two-run homer. Yes, the new extra-inning rules were in play, with a runner starting the half-inning on second base, and wasn’t it a treat watching the Padres finally succumb by using second baseman Jake Cronenworth in emergency relief? He allowed an RBI sacrifice fly to weak-hitting pitcher David Price, who flew out to … Joe Musgrove, last week’s no-hit wonder, who’d been inserted in left field. Later, Cronenworth struck out Betts, who went down swinging on an 89-mph fastball.

“I wanted to maybe throw a little harder,” he told reporters, “but they told me not to.”

All we wanted was more. It was the best baseball game I’ve seen since March 11, 2020 — the start of the COVID calendar — and probably the best wire-to-wire sports event. Night Two came close, with Kershaw and Yu Darvish dueling as a ripple of the sport’s best two pitching staffs. Kershaw smelled a farce when Profar let strike three whiz by him, then intentionally swung late, wanting home-plate umpire Tom Hallion to think he was checking his swing. When his bat grazed the glove of catcher Austin Barnes, Profar remained at home plate.

“That’s a (expletive) swing!” Kershaw shouted. 

“Shut the (expletive) up!” Profar replied.

Padres announcer has hilarious interpretation of Clayton Kershaw-Jurickson  Profar beef (Video)

Hallion, whose performance was wretched all night, somehow let the New York replay crew decide if Barnes committed catcher’s interference, as the Padres were claiming. Meanwhile, Kershaw was yelling and pointing his finger at Profar, who was standing on first base and had to be restrained by coach Wayne Kirby from attacking the regal pitcher. “That’s a little scary,” Kershaw said later. “Barnes could have been seriously injured on that play. He basically swung down and backwards. I’m not saying it was intentional, but that was not a big-league swing.”

Profar was allowed to stay on first — the replay crew, oddly, agreed the catcher had interfered. But Kershaw, as usual, won in the end. With Darvish starting to wobble after retiring the first 14 batters, Kershaw came to bat with the bases loaded … and coaxed an eight-pitch walk that drove in the only run the Dodgers needed. “I was just trying to be annoying, really,” Kershaw said. “I wasn’t going to get a hit off him. He has too good of stuff. I was just trying to be a nuisance to him, fouling off pitches.”

The Padres avoided the sweep Sunday against Bauer, who allowed only a solo home run and two singles with seven strikeouts in six innings. The bullpen let him down, giving the Padres oxygen … until the rivalry resumes Thursday night in L.A. The Dodgers are 13-3, best start ever by a defending World Series champion. Playing in a division with three stragglers and a league with only a smattering of real contenders, why can’t they surpass the 116-win regular seasons of the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs — and the 125 total wins of the 1998 Yankees? That team was the last to repeat as champs, part of a trifecta ending in 2000, and you sense the Dodgers, after years of falling short, are prepared to make the competition pay with a dynastic run.

“When it’s time to make a play or a pitch, we do it,” said Betts, whose 12-year contract extends through the 2032 season. “If we keep doing it, we’re going to be successful for a long time.”

That they rose to match the passion of the moment, with autumn so far off, is a tribute to the organization. The Dodgers are the gold standard in American sports, having mastered modern business practices and analytics and meshing them with MLB financial might matched only by the Yankees. Jerry Jones has the most valuable sports franchise on Planet Earth, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t reached a Super Bowl this century. The Yankees are second on the list, but they haven’t won the Series since 2009. This season, they are a toxic spill onto themselves, still struggling to beat the team they’ve subsidized in revenue sharing, the Tampa Bay Rays, as fans pelt the field with baseballs and turn the Stadium into a danger zone. The Dodgers are a colossus, the bluebloods who got it right, from the on-field product to a Chavez Ravine experience improved by a $100 million renovation of the outfield pavilion and beyond, including what team president Stan Kasten calls “an open-air baseball history museum.”

Every beast needs an adversary. In a pop-culture context, the Dodgers are the triumphant Godzilla and the Padres are the quashed Kong. Neither the movie nor the first three World Series games, as Turner put it, let us down. “Neither team wanted to lose,” Price said after Night One. “Everybody was playing extremely hard. This is a good rivalry, a fun rivalry to be a part of. Just a ton of really good players.”

“We knew it was going to be emotional and intense coming here,” Roberts said after Night Two. “It’s certainly lived up to the billing.”

Dodgers' Dave Roberts talks racism and George Floyd's death - Los Angeles  Times

“Really fun to watch,” Kershaw said.

By comparison, the NBA tankers remind me of Shaquille O’Neal in his TNT office chair last week, asleep as Dwyane Wade and Candace Parker lobbed grapes at him. They have five weeks to wake up.

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Meet The Bettors: Jeremy Stein, SportsGrid

“You know, when we first started SportsGrid, a lot of the opportunity that we’ve seen in the past year, are opportunities that we never would have dreamed about.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Meet the Bettors - Jeremy Stein

Remember when America was debating whether or not daily fantasy sports was a form of gambling? There was never much of a question for Jeremy Stein. He knew it was gambling, because he was playing all the time.

It’s hard to say whether or not he knew that his employer, Metamorphic Ventures, investing in one of these companies would lead him down a new career path. All he knew is that there was something to this business.

Stein was more than just kind of successful in the daily fantasy world. He became the first person to ever win a million-dollar prize twice in the same calendar year back in 2016. But that was in the early days. Soon, the DFS sites would become more popular, and the games would get a lot harder. 

Like many sharp players during that time, Stein leaned into data to set his lineups. It was something that he and his partner Lee Maione quickly recognized as an opportunity. If you had strong data and took it to a host that was entertaining, it would create a product every sports fan in the country might value.

And that is how SportsGrid was born.

Today, Stein is the company’s CEO. In our conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, we touch on the opportunities embracing FAST TV has created for the brand, what opportunities will arise from the growth of women’s sports, and so much more.

Demetri Ravanos: What is the hole that would exist in the market if SportsGrid went away tomorrow? What segment of bettors do you look at and say, “no one can serve them like we do”?

Jeremy Stein: That’s a really interesting question because, we had a few tailwinds at SportsGrid. The first was sports gambling, where the government flipped the switch and said, “go grow in ways that you never thought were imaginable,” right?           

The second tailwind that we have is connected TV. SportsGrid is on 95% of all connected TVs. We have over thirty different distribution partners throughout the United States. So, we have very considerable scale within our category, and what we kind of discovered very early on on TV is the bulk of content on connected TVs is playback. If you look at FAST channels, there’s probably 2000 or more of them at this point, a lot of them are single IP channels, meaning there’s been a very successful sitcom and that IP owner just has a 24/7 channel of that IP going.          

The real niche that we got early on is that we are the only live sports network on a lot of these platforms. So, while we do cater to gambling enthusiasts, if you will, we really have a viewership body that encompasses all sports fans. That’s part of how we have evolved over time, because we were able to pick up on that observation that our opportunity is just a little bit bigger than focusing on, you know, I’m not going to call it a narrow vertical, but sports betting in many respects is a little bit narrow. 

DR: It’s a niche vertical. I think all sports talk kind of is in that way. I was going to ask you about the appeal of FAST TV, but it seems like you laid it out perfectly there. So instead, let’s talk about the technology and future opportunities. I wonder if you look at what Roku has just done with Major League Baseball and think that opens up possibilities for SportsGrid that maybe you hadn’t considered before. 

JS: The simple answer to that is yes. You know, when we first started SportsGrid, a lot of the opportunity that we’ve seen in the past year, are opportunities that we never would have dreamed about. We have looked at live rights. We have looked at tier one live rights in the past year.           

It just goes back to the trend. Last year was the first year where homes that do not subscribe to cable outnumbered those that do. You know, now we don’t just have a term called cord cutters. We also have a term that’s called cord-nevers. I think that it is just the natural evolution of where the leagues are going to go.           

I mean, we just saw Netflix do a deal with the NFL. While I understand that that is not FAST. I do think that over time and, you know, this could be a decade in the future, but I do think that you will see, a lot more sports pop up on these platforms. 

DR: Yeah, I could totally see that, myself. What did Scott Ferrall bring to SportsGrid when he came in? Certainly name recognition, but what else, in a business sense, did he bring? 

JS: Scott is great and his show right now is sponsored by Bet MGM, and Bet MGM is a very important commercial partner for SportsGrid. Both sides are very happy with the way that that relationship is blossoming. So he’s very important in that respect.           

You know, SportsGrid is not just 18 hours of live video content on a daily basis. We’re 21 hours of live original audio. We have channel 159 on Sirius XM. And of course, Scott is by far and away our biggest talent in the audio category. He does have the Sirius XM audience. You know, he came from Howard Stern way back in the day. So, he’s a pretty dynamic talent, if you will, for SportsGrid. We’ve been very happy to leverage him in various ways. 

DR: Yeah. I sort of have a two-part question here, because doing what I do, when I go to SportsGrid.com, one of the first landing spots for me is industry news. How much do you think the average user of SportsGrid is interested in things like when states go legal, something like the pushback going on in Florida right now, and will that get to the Supreme Court from a media standpoint?           

I tell sports radio hosts all the time that people care far less about us than we think they do. What about in the gambling world? 

JS: News is a very big category, and obviously it’s broad, right? It’s not just general sports news. It is what is happening in the gambling industry. We are fortunate enough to have a lot of data on every show that we produce, and we have seen a lot of positive momentum uncovering specific industry news. So, a lot of what you actually see, on the web, for example, we believe that is largely a gap in the market based on our viewership.           

One thing you’re going to start to see on SportsGrid, you know, more and more is we launched a college transfer portal show. There is no major media outlet on broadcast television that is doing a dedicated show, relating specifically to the college transfer portal. It makes college football and college basketball year-round sports. We believe that that’s a big gap in the market. So, you’ll also see a lot of that content flowing through our website too, and not just on our website, but also a lot of our syndication partners like MSN.           

Everything we do here has a data driven focus. So if you’re seeing a lot of a specific vertical, there’s a reason for it. It’s largely because that’s what our viewers demand. 

DR: Interesting. So, from the standpoint of what is going on in the gambling industry, the idea of the Supreme Court taking up a case related to Florida is interesting because it is such a complicated issue there, as it involves the Indian Gaming Act. Do you think we’re going to see that go in front of the Supreme Court? 

JS: Look, I’m certainly not in a position to comment on a legal matter that, you know, I’m not really close to it, to be perfectly honest with you. But Florida is a very populous state, and that is, you know, another reason, to your point, why there is so much interest in it, right?           

I think it does speak to the fact that there is a real demand for sports wagering within the state of Florida. But look, the complexities and nuances behind all of the lobbying and a lot of the legal cases that are happening there are certainly beyond our scope. 

DR: Yeah. I was reading an article in the Miami Herald earlier this week that was talking about the effect Lionel Messi has had in betting markets around the world, because even if MLS isn’t on a country’s soccer radar, he certainly is. Can you think of any other athlete that has had that sort of effect on bettors or on his league, where he can get bettors to pay attention to something they usually would not? 

JS: I think the examples of that are probably few and far between. You know, soccer is one of the true international sports, and with that comes a very large betting market. I think it is certainly kind of unique in that sense, right? You’re not going to see that with an NBA player moving into the Chinese basketball league. You might see the media attention that kind of happens there. It’s certainly not going to drive the amount of betting handle that we have seen in soccer. 

DR: What about betting as the popularity of women’s sports and female athletes have increased? What has been the demand for content from you guys, whether it’s Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut, the women’s NCAA tournament, or whatever it might be? 

JS: There’s a ton of demand. We’ve always had an interest in women’s sports. We’ve produced, in the past, shows for the WNBA. And I think that that demand is only going to continue to grow. Women’s sports, from an economic standpoint, is a huge area of growth. Alongside of that comes all of the viewership. So, we’re very excited, about women’s sports. You’ll absolutely see a lot more coverage from SportsGrid going forward. 

DR: So I want to wrap here just sort of with a follow up to that, because the way you guys think about creating content with providing that data to talented people that can command attention, as women’s sports grow in popularity, and it then becomes more and more of a part of what you do, do you foresee the people you have now, because they have the talent, being able to intelligently cover it or would you  have to go out and hire people more versed in and live in that world? 

JS: It’s a little bit of both. You know, you always want to find a talent that resonates with the audience. We’re pretty confident that we have a few of those in our stable. But of course, we will always look to bring in fresh faces. Yeah, it’s a really dynamic market, and it’s something that we are incredibly excited about. 

To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.

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An Easy Way for Sports Radio Stations to Get Publicity for Their Talent and Brands

The truth is, we can do a much better job at our jobs with a little help from you.

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Stock photo of a person talking into a megaphone
Credit: Pexels.com

Having been in this role with Barrett Sports Media for almost six months, there is one thing that has really surprised me. I am shocked at how little we hear from some sports radio stations. There are some PDs and other executives out there who do a great job keeping us informed of any changes and one or two who send us information when they have something special going on, but the silence from the heavy majority of leaders in sports radio is shocking and confusing to me.

When I was running stations or sales teams, I would often say, “If we aren’t going to tell our story, who the heck else is going to do it for us?”

Well, in this case, we will do it for you if you let us know about it and it’s worthy of coverage. It’s like that other famous line in Jerry Maguire – “Help me, help you.”

Perhaps we just need to let you know what we are looking for. So, let me take this time and space to let you know and maybe we can work together more often moving forward.

Obviously, we will cover your major personnel changes. If you are adding someone to your team or giving someone a promotion for the hard work they have done, let us know about it. There are no stories we would like to tell more than ones about people in our industry advancing. We want to highlight those people and the stations and companies that are taking notice of what someone is doing and rewarding them for it.

Where are the rising stars? We profile many people in the industry and enjoy doing that so others can read about successful people and learn what it is that makes them stand out. This can be a weekday host, someone standing out during off-peak times or producers, digital or promotions staff. Let us know who is performing at a high level and perhaps we can feature them and tell their story so others can see who they are and the work they’ve done.

On the business side, I’d like to feature your top salespeople or sales leaders in one of my ‘Seller to Seller’ features. Let me know someone who is killing it out on the streets and let’s highlight their success. Personally, I’d love to write about some sellers who are fairly new to the industry but are really having success, whether that be a younger person hired or someone who had never been in the space before but has really caught on. Or who is your veteran seller who has done the best job of adapting to the new, digital world?

What is your station doing that is unique? There are a couple of stations, which you can probably figure out if you are paying attention, that are very good about sending us a quick note when they are doing something different or special. We may not always write a story about it, but several times we have, and we would not have known about it had the station management not given us a heads up.

I like to hear about the creative process, and I know other station managers appreciate learning what others are doing to creatively drive audience or revenue. Have someone in your building who is the creative brain behind many of your ideas? Let us know about them, let’s let everyone know about them.

We are here to cover the industry. It would be great if we could listen to all of your stations each and every day, but that would be impossible. Plus, you know what is about to happen so getting the information out to us beforehand can help us plan our coverage. The truth is, we can do a much better job at our jobs with a little help from you. I know everyone is busy but think about what it would mean to a staff member for someone to reach out and say, ‘Your boss told us about the great work you’ve been doing,’ or ‘We heard about the great idea you came up with, we want to tell the story about what you created.’

I’d also like to do more stories that relate to things you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, stories that can be written that others may look at and learn something from, maybe get a tip on how to handle a particular situation or just get your thoughts on a particular media story. I plan to reach out to more of you to get your thoughts on things happening in our industry. You are the leaders who are there to take this format into the future, I want to know what you think, and I believe that is what our readers want as well.

When you take a step back and think about what we get to do for a living, that we all get to be in and around sports coverage in our communities, that’s pretty cool. Let’s work together to help advance the format by keeping people up to date on the great things going on in sports radio.

I am not hard to reach. My email is [email protected] and while I know several of you, the majority I do not know, but I’d like to. Reach out, let me know what’s happening at your station, send over a topic you want to hear what others might think about or let’s just connect and next time I’m looking for someone to give their thoughts and opinions, perhaps I can reach out to you as a thought leader in the space.

The invitation is there to get your station, your people and your successes highlighted. I don’t think I can make it more clear or easier. I hope you take advantage of it.

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The Best Thing I Heard Recently

I was flipping through SiriusXM last week and caught Mike Florio talking on Pro Football Talk Live about the NFL schedule release and the topic was whether or not it is fair for certain teams to have so many stand-alone games.

Florio’s point was that these games have “an extra layer of stress and strain.” Despite the Chiefs winning the Super Bowl last year with a prime-time heavy schedule, Florio used the Jets early season schedule as the best example of the league making it very tough on a team with quick turnarounds, international travel and several stand-alone games.

The segment really made you think. You can listen to the show by clicking here. Look for Episode 1956.

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In Case You Missed It

Last week, Andy Masur weighed in on what might happen to Inside the NBA now that it appears TNT will lose the NBA media rights. Andy says he is convinced the show only works on TNT and others have agreed saying networks like NBC probably wouldn’t allow the show to have as much freedom as TNT has.

About the current show, Masur wrote, “This show is the envy of all other studio shows. Other networks have tried to copy the formula but have failed. It’s really hard to duplicate what this show brings to the viewer.”

You can read Andy’s article by clicking here.

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One Mistake by a Sports Broadcaster Should Not Define Their Career

Look, it doesn’t mean that these broadcasters are horrible human beings.

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Photos of Glen Kuiper, Charissa Thompson and Thom Brennaman

We’ve seen numerous broadcasters lose, his/her job over the years because of slip ups, hot mics and misspeaks. Situations that could have been avoided but happened. Some of these cases are more prominent than others, due to the profile of the job lost and the nature of the words said by the sports broadcaster.

I bring this up because of the dubious anniversary that just passed. It was a year ago, that Glen Kuiper was fired by the Oakland A’s for the use of the “N-word” during the opening of a telecast. The A’s were in Kansas City and Kuiper spoke about his trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with broadcast partner Dallas Braden during a pregame segment on NBC Sports California. Kuiper attempted to say, “We had a phenomenal day today, Negro League Museum and Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque,” but he mispronounced “negro,” in a way that sounded like a racial slur.

“A little bit earlier in the show, I said something that didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it to. I just wanted to apologize if it sounded different than I meant it to be said… I just wanted to apologize for that.” Kuiper said during the game.

After initially being suspended, Kuiper was let go May 22, 2023. This even after Negro League Museum President Bob Kendrick forgave him in a Tweet the night of the incident.

“I’m aware of the unfortunate slur made by Glen Kuiper. I welcomed Glen to the NLBM yesterday and know he was genuinely excited to be here,” Kendrick tweeted Saturday. “The word is painful and has no place in our society. And while I don’t pretend to know Glen’s heart, I do know that my heart is one of forgiveness. I hope all of you will find it in yourselves to do the same.”

Still teams don’t have a lot of choice but to suspend and/or fire the broadcaster in those cases. Slurs aren’t acceptable. Teams serve their entire fanbase, not just one specific race or gender. Offensive language about one is handled as offensive language about all. It’s a tough thing for teams to deal with for sure.

About 4 years ago, the Cincinnati Reds and their television flagship were put in a similar situation after an unfortunate on-air slip by broadcaster Thom Brennaman. The veteran announcer issued an on-air apology after he was caught uttering a gay slur on a mic he didn’t realize was on. Like with Kuiper, Brennaman was at first suspended and then fired. It also cost him his national job with Fox Sports.

Brennaman tried to grow from the experience and soon after he was pulled from the air, he heard from some folks in the LGBTQ+ community. From all over the country. Brennaman met with leaders of the community in Cincinnati. In one of those meetings, he encountered some who thought he was a fraud, just trying to get his job back. Brennaman was not. He has spent the last four years continuing to move forward.

He told me in 2022, “I don’t want the rest of my life or career to be defined by a lot of people as being a homophobe. That’s what I’ve tried to explain to my kids”. “There are going to be people and I’ve had a hard time coming to grips with this, because I know I am not a homophobe. I know I’m not. But I used a word that can put me in that category and some people are never going to let me out of that category. I wish they didn’t feel that way, and I know I’m not a homophobe, but you got to move on and keep doing the best you can, that’s all you can do.”

This is not a recent phenomenon either. Broadcasters in the 80’s, 90’s and into the 2000’s have also been let go for unsavory comments.

Many remember Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, who appeared as the ‘gambling expert’ on the early days of The NFL Today on CBS. He was let go in 1988 after making a racially insensitive comment to a reporter.

Steve Lyons, then of MLB on Fox was fired for a making a racially insensitive comment during Game 3 of the 2006 ALCS.

Danyelle Sargent dropped an F-bomb on national television after ESPNEWS experienced technical difficulties during her segment in 2006.

Emily Austen was a Fox Sports Reporter that was fired in 2016 for making insensitive remarks about Mexican, Jewish and Chinese people. She appeared on a Barstool sports podcast where she made the comments.

The list goes on and on.

Interestingly enough, Charissa Thompson wasn’t fired for admitting that she made up stories as part of her halftime reporting duties. She also appeared on a Barstool podcast and flippantly remarked how she did this early in her career. I know she didn’t insult a racial, religious or gender related group, but she certainly upset many in the industry. Especially those that cover the sidelines for various networks right now. Should ethics count the same as the other slip ups?

Some can get carried away when appearing on shows other than their own, like the example above with Austen and Thompson. There’s a callousness that pops up in the brain, saying, “this isn’t a network show, I can swear and be myself”. Dangerous thoughts to say the least. You are still representing your organization/network and yourself when appearing on these other shows and podcasts.  

Look, it doesn’t mean that these broadcasters are horrible human beings. Everybody makes a slip up. Broadcasters though are looked at in a different manner. They are the voices of our favorite sports and are supposed to be like a member of the family, right? We spend a lot of time with them during the season and feel like we get to know them.  So, it becomes that much more shocking when that person says something inappropriate.

The initial shock and awe of the situation causes many to rush to a certain judgement. There’s no getting around what was said, everybody heard it. Should a ‘slip up’ be a career death sentence though? I think that each should be taken into consideration separately. It also depends, to me, on the apology and what that broadcaster does to go beyond words to understand why the comments were hurtful.

I’m not sure what the correct answer is to all of this.

There are some that feel, instead of firing the broadcaster, suspend them and make them work to regain the trust of the team and network. They feel like there is a missed opportunity to maybe use these situations as an educational platform.

Broadcasters need to watch themselves much more closely these days. The second you say something incorrect, ridiculous or hurtful, it’s on social media. There is no escape. You are presumed guilty in the court of public opinion before you can even blink an eye.

In these moments, context and apology is everything. One slip up, mistake, misspeak or whatever you want to call them, is one too many. But, at the same time, long illustrious careers should not be defined by one incident.

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