“Who the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?” – Bob Irsay Indianapolis Colts
“I just don’t think the Jets understand the draft.” – Mel Kiper Jr.
When you hear the name Mel Kiper Jr, you know it’s time for the NFL Draft. Toiling in relative obscurity in the early days of the televised draft, Kiper’s sharp criticisms, befuddled looks after picks and cynicism have made him more of a household name recently. He’s appeared on ESPN’s draft coverage ever since 1984. His signature widow’s peak, gruff exterior and sharp tongue, have become as much of the experience as Jets fans booing whatever pick their team makes in the first round.
THE ROAD NFL DRAFT ANALYST
The story of how he came to be is pretty amazing. Kiper is a self-made man. The football scouting bug bit him early. While in high school he began writing scouting reports on players and he was so confident in them, he handed them to an NFL Executive. Ernie Accorsi, who was then with the Baltimore Colts, saw the first reports and encouraged Kiper to stop giving away his research and start selling it to fans. Accorsi told him that there was a market for draft information and suggested that Kiper convert his analysis into a business.
So, while in college he started a business and now Kiper is president of “Kiper Enterprises”, which he founded in 1981. He spent numerous hours on the phone with college coaches and NFL GM’s trying to soak up information on players as he could, and in front of televisions to glean every last tidbit about a defensive lineman’s hip swivel and an offensive tackle’s motor.
Kiper was one of the first, if not the first to do a mock draft. These aren’t just done a week before the draft begins, they are done months ahead. These “mocks” that are so commonplace now and done by so many writers and publications, were unheard of when he started evaluating players.
What he didn’t realize then and what America was about to find out, is that the information he gathered would eventually play on TV. Early on there wasn’t as much attention paid to the draft as there is now. It wasn’t even televised until 1980. ESPN was trying to expand and give credibility to its coverage and wanted experts to join the telecast. That’s were a 23-year-old Kiper got his break at least in the broadcasting world. He was paid $400 bucks to appear on the network in 1984. He brought that credibility in his research and knowledge. It wasn’t always as polished as it is now, but the info was amazing.
BEST KNOWN FOR?
Kiper has had some pretty well-known run ins with some organizations. He’s made comments about who they picked or didn’t when their turn came up. Perhaps the most famous was in 1994 between Kiper and then Colts executive Bill Tobin.
It all started when a discussion began about what the Colts should do with their 2 first round picks. The Colts owned the #2 pick and after a trade of Jeff George to the Falcons they acquired the number 7 pick. That trade left only Jim Harbaugh on the roster, so naturally Kiper believed the Colts should draft a quarterback, either Heath Shuler or Trent Dilfer.
When the Colts made their first selection, Tobin chose future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. Kiper offered a little light criticism, insisting that the Colts needed to take a QB. Tobin then chose to trade up to the #5 pick, Shuler was off the board, so naturally everyone thought it was going to be Dilfer. The Colts chose linebacker Trev Alberts and Kiper lost it.
“I think it was a typical Colts move,” Kiper said to host Chris Berman that night. “The Colts needed a quarterback. To pass up a Trent Dilfer when all you have is Jim Harbaugh — give me a break. That’s why the Colts are picking second every year in the draft and not battling for the Super Bowl like other clubs in the National Football League.”
The telecast then brought in reporter Chris Mortensen who was covering the Colts. He asked Tobin for his response to criticism during a post-draft interview, the Colts GM came ready to fire back. “Who in the hell is Mel Kiper anyway?” asks Tobin. “Here’s a guy that criticizes everybody, whoever they take. He’s got the answers to who you should take and who you shouldn’t take. And my knowledge of him: he’s never ever put on a jock strap, he’s never been a coach, he’s never been a scout, he’s been an administrator and all of a sudden he’s an expert.”
The best part was as the rant from Tobin was going on, Kiper was listening in to the insults.
“We don’t have to take anyone Mel Kiper says we have to take,” Tobin continues. “Mel Kiper has no more credentials to do what he’s doing than my neighbor, and my neighbor’s a postman, and he doesn’t even have season tickets to the NFL.” Talk about free attention for your draft analyst! Tobin was clearly trying to embarrass Kiper but the plan didn’t work. In fact, it only led to a rise in fame for Kiper. It actually helped to solidify Kiper as the authority when it came to the NFL Draft. Tobin was fired after the 1996 season.
The other one of the most well-known rants came in 1989. That’s when the Jets chose defensive lineman Jeff Lageman with the 14th overall pick. Kiper went on to say, “It’s obvious to me right now that the Jets just don’t understand what the draft is all about.” Those comments of course made it back to the Jets and sparked a mini-feud (by comparison to the Colts). Then the Jets director of college scouting Mike Hickey made Kiper a phenom by saying “‘Basically, who is this guy who works out of his basement in Baltimore?” Hickey was replaced the following year, and Kiper is still doing the draft on ESPN.
WHY IS HE GOOD?
He is the OG when it comes to draft analysis. This is his gig. He puts in the work and it shows. The research he does is meticulous and includes watching up to 25 college football games a week. This gives him a leg up on everyone, because he gains in-depth knowledge by actually getting eyes on the players he’s writing and talking about. He also spends a lot of time in talks with coaches, players, NFL team executives and folks in the league offices. Kiper creates his “big board“, which he ranks the top 25 players every week. During ESPN’s coverage of the draft, his board appears on the ticker and then updates as players are selected.
He is a frequent guest on radio and tv shows in the months and weeks leading up to the NFL draft. His information is so valuable that he does a conference call with members of the national media a few days before the first pick is announced. It’s that kind of authority that makes him the number one pick of every draft, since his first in 1984.
While he may come off as a know it all sometimes, there’s no denying he’s the best at what he does. I really can’t imagine draft coverage without him. It would be an empty broadcast. There’s nothing better than watching Kiper lament a terrible pick or gloat in his own way when a prediction comes through. He’s just intense and it works.
I can’t wait to hear Kiper and some of his buzz words. Beast mode runner. Burst. Coach killer. Fast riser. First kid off the bus. Mauler. Playmaker. Quicks. Space eater. Specimen. Throwback player. Velcro corner. Weightroom warrior. Finally, of course, best player available.
Kiper is atop the “Big Board” of draft analysts and that’s not a reach.
Gary Bettman Wants You To Have More Access
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly.”
In the wake of the NHL’s latest national television contract, Commissioner Gary Bettman has solidified the league’s broadcast future. Recent contracts dictate that the league will be appearing on ESPN and TNT/TBS next season after its relationship with NBC concludes after 10 years. Still, the key to both deals is streaming and Bettman explained how there is more work to be done.
“First and foremost whatever media package you’re going to do, particularly on a national basis, you want to make sure you’re getting the most exposure, the best possible production, the best possible promotion that you want to be able to give your fans as much access to the game as possible,” Bettman said on Episode 299 of my Sports with Friends podcast.
The deal with Turner is for seven years worth a reported $225 million. ESPN’s contract is also for seven years for more games than Turner and is reported to be more than $400 million.
The keys to these deals are the streaming apps. Both ESPN+ and HBO Max are key components to each deal that are making out-of-market games as well as exclusives available to subscribers. Still, the controversial decision made by the Regional Sports Networks to require cable subscriptions to stream the local teams is impacting cord-cutters across the US.
“Media distribution and the platforms are going to continue to evolve,” Bettman explained. “Frankly with new technology also represents improved camera coverage. The productions are better than they’ve ever been. You have HDTV, which didn’t exist decades ago. We use more technology, whether it’s player tracking or any of the other statistics that we use. With SAP and Amazon and Apple, the opportunities to get within the game, because there are more distribution platforms have never been greater.”
My takeaway from Bettman’s statements on the subject is that both he and the broadcast people in his office are well aware of the facts presented. While some fans are expecting a quick fix, these deals are complicated. Each team has its own contract with an RSN. Bettman can’t legislate a new way to circumvent those contracts. Plus, he still believes in linear television.
“There is some cord-cutting going on, but linear television still predominates, and more people are watching on a big screen TV in a large room with a couple of other family members or friends,” Bettman said. “Or when you go to a bar sports bar, you see what’s on in the background.”
Because I’ve known Bettman for over a decade, I take him at his word. We did discuss him coming back on the podcast for episode 399 (which would be in June 2023). I’d love to see progress made on the issue then.
“I think there is an evolution going on, but I think it’s easy to over-generalize,” Bettman said.”
The deal with NBC was profitable in many ways over the 10 years. Originally, games were aired on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), and now to NBC and NBC Sports Network, which be shutting down by the end of 2021.
The ESPN deal was signed in March. The Turner contract was made public in late April.
“Both of these partnerships we have are outstanding examples of being extraordinarily fan-friendly,” the commissioner said. “Giving more content than ever before in more places than ever before. We couldn’t be more excited to have the Walt Disney Company (ESPN) and Warner Media (Turner) working with us and the game. Our organization is excited and thrilled, and we know both of their organizations are thrilled as well. This is an exciting time for us.”
Other highlights from the 45-minute conversation had to do with competitive balance. Unlike the NBA, the NHL regularly has quality teams with records above .500 that don’t make the playoffs.
We talked about the impact that Covid-19 has had on the league. Bettman addressed the decision to create the “playoff bubble” in Toronto and Edmonton as opposed to an American city.
He also discussed the fact that the NHL and NHLPA extended their collective bargaining agreement by four years while negotiating the return to play in the summer of 2020. That’s with former MLBPA head Donald Fehr at the helm. My memories of the canceled World Series made the NHL extension seemingly impossible.
Finally, Bettman addressed his legacy. He takes being the first commissioner in modern sports to be openly booed as a badge of honor, noting that nowadays all commissioners get booed. “(NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell got booed at the draft last week,” Bettman said.
Still, he knows his legacy will always be connecting to canceling the 2004-2005 season. Yet, the growth of the league is unprecedented, and he has been the architect of that.
Bettman sees no end to his tenure, or at least wouldn’t admit it to me. Maybe we can address that in two years for episode 399.
Media Noise Podcast – Episode 27
Demetri Ravanos begins this week’s episode by looking at Thursday Night Football moving to Amazon exclusively in 2022 and what it means for future business deals with the NFL. Russ Heltman drops by next to offer his thoughts on Rob Parker and Chris Broussard’s heated discussion over Tim Tebow being the beneficiary of white privilege and his value to ESPN as a college football analyst. Seth Everett closes things out by weighing in on Gary Bettman’s legacy and the NHL’s recent deals with broadcast groups.
News & Sports Is A Perfect Marriage For Sales
“Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters.”
There are a lot of similarities in sports talk and news talk radio sales. And there are some differences, some of which are actually complementary and work to the sellers’ advantage. I was fortunate to sell news and sports talk as a combo for years.
As Jason Barrett recently announced, the Barrett Sports Media and News Media web sites have merged. Plenty of sellers have a news talk/sports talk combo to sell especially if they are in AM-heavy clusters. One of my 2021 resolutions was to seek out the positive in most situations so let’s look at the similarities the two formats offer to a salesperson.
- Both are foreground formats. For the most part, spoken word radio listeners are seeking to focus on what is being said. They don’t listen to podcasts or talk shows so they can free their mind up to think about other things. Plenty of music listeners have their minds completely elsewhere and don’t even hear what the air person has to say. In fact, most music jocks are told to shut up and play the music. Great selling point for live liners, spots and why our commercials are worth more money.
- We have very loyal customers. The best results for any advertiser comes from the heaviest users of a station- their “P1’s”. Most news/sports talk tsl comes from a much smaller % of the cume. Listeners to Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ben Shapiro, and Colin Cowherd stay put. Music listeners tend to chase the hottest song or diary responders to music stations will flip to the station with the contest to win concert tickets. Often this can lead to fewer spots needed in a schedule to achieve a better frequency.
- We got the dough. Nothing sells luxury goods and services like a news/sports talk radio station. Look at any consumer index survey and these two formats will always score near the top. Make sure you load up on luxury car dealers, independent import car repair, jewelers, stockbrokers, realtors and home services companies.
- Sports formats can skew younger especially with stations that have guy talk driven hosts. Some sports stations have local play by play and that can cume in a younger audience. News talk radio is heavy 55+ and especially 65+. Younger buyers will carry a bias at times vs news radio and the age of the listener.
- The news talk format is conservative and mostly anti-liberal/Democrat in general. Some national advertisers would not allow their commercials to fall into the Rush Limbaugh show for example. Sometimes, buyers will not place ads on a conservative station for personal reasons. In sports, at least traditionally, that doesn’t happen as often. Historically sports have steered away from conservative or liberal positions on any politics. We have a chance to change that. See below.
- Sports talk typically has 80/20 Male to Female audience. News talk skews much more female and can be a 60/40 split Male to Female. That opens the door to what a 45–64-year-old woman may be more interested in home services, jewelry and more!
A Happy Couple
- A sports and news talk combo buy provides a great one stop shop for anything with a male skew. And, make sure you point out the earning power differences. We used to have fun with a graphic that pointed out with our combo you get customers and with the rock stations you got convicts. Get it? Customers or Convicts?
- If you are selling to male store owner and he is over 40 years old there is a good chance he listens to one of your shows. Just ask him.
- It may be time to start talking politics. If you have a conservative news talk station loaded with local news and political talk in the morning and Shapiro, Savage, and Hannity at other times, you got a conservative station. If you have a local show or two on the sports station, why not encourage them to speak up? Occasionally, the talent will not be conservative Republicans and certainly most athletes who speak out on political matters and command attention are not republican conservatives. Seems like a perfect balance for buyers who object to one lean over the other.