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5 Who Get It, 5 Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives tweets from burner accounts belonging to media people.

Jay Mariotti

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THEY GET IT

Steve Kornacki, NBC — What began as a gimmick — let the Election Night “chart-throb’’ wear his Gap slacks and make sports picks — has rocketed into a full-scale credibility explosion. As the media industry plunges into the legal gambling craze, we know of at least one expert tout in Kornacki, who followed his NFL playoff successes as the only NBC prognosticator to nail the Kentucky Derby winner — 12-1 shot Medina Spirit — while 10 others were whiffing. Here was his pre-race rationale: “I scoured the board. I have 11 different theories, but here’s one: Bob Baffert, six-time Kentucky Derby winner, has a horse that can get at or near the front of this race and has double-digit odds. I can’t have my King Fury. I’ll take a shot on Baffert at 12-1, Medina Spirit.” Why would I buy a subscription to the Action Network or Vegas Stats & Information Network when Stevie Khakis provides winners for free? Damn, I just gave his bosses an idea: Kornacki subscriptions. Hope his agent has snagged him a big raise.

Nicole Auerbach, The Athletic — Why not grant parole to a serial killer? That was the approximate reaction in the collegiate sports community when NCAA president Mark Emmert, maybe the most inept in a long conga line of shoddy sports administrators, was given a two-year extension by the university presidents who’ve reaped mega-millions from his reign. Auerbach had worked hard to extricate him from office, reporting that more than two dozen Division I commissioners and athletic directors believed “Emmert’s tenure should end.’’ She was left to conclude: “This is the face that the NCAA’s highest governing body wants as its representative. It is not who athletic directors would choose. It is not who commissioners would choose. It is not who athletes themselves would choose. But in a system designed to stagnate, he was apparently the only viable option — which says more about the system than it does about Emmert himself. And that is what those who claim to love college sports will have to live with.’’ On a beat of toxic excess, Auerbach and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde continue to be the foremost must-reads.

Social media boycotters — The U.S. sports industry would be much happier and healthier if it adopted the bold lead of the English Premier League: Snub Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like. Shocking as it seems — think of the cold-turkey withdrawal, the gaping holes in the collective consciousness — the soccer league decided social media didn’t exist from Friday afternoon through Monday night … and survived just fine. Events have been messy there lately, from ongoing racist abuse of players to protests of American-based owners who failed spectacularly in trying to form a superleague. So, clubs and players pressured the companies by shutting them down, joined in silence by English sports such as cricket, rugby, tennis and horse racing. The men in white coats would have to put LeBron James in a straitjacket without his device, but as I always say, don’t let other tweeters’ problems become yours. A vacation from the Internet might be better than Bali at this point.

Mike Tirico, Bob Baffert, Bill Belichick — Before the Kentucky Derby, the trio shared a chat based on mutual admiration between Baffert and Belichick, both multiple winners of the premier events in their sports. Was I the only one who noticed how all three have survived major professional scandals? In scrubbing what went wrong, they must be doing something right, though none should be proud. Obviously, there was no mention of missteps as they laughed through the NBC interview. Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing …

Trevor Lawrence, professional — From the journalists who still exist in this business, here’s a thank you for putting a media charlatan in his place. On his first day in Duval County as would-be savior of the Jaguars — why does no one call it Jacksonville anymore? — the No. 1 overall pick deftly handled a hokey request by the NFL Network’s James Palmer. Armed with a football, Palmer said, “I want to catch the first pass you ever throw as an NFL player. What do you think, you ready?’’ Not knowing James Palmer from Jesse Palmer, Arnold Palmer or the Robert Palmer who sang “Addicted To Love’’ in front of android-like female models, Lawrence rejected the awkward ask and didn’t throw the ball, saying, “I don’t know, man. I think I’m going to save it for some of my new teammates.’’ What motivates working reporters to act like fanboys? Closer to the point, who hires them on the network level?

FoxSports.com — I’m still not convinced this site wants to compete in the highest reaches of sports content trafficking, recalling Fox’s various starts and stops in the website game. But this caught my attention: Pedro Moura left The Athletic, where he covered the Dodgers as a senior writer, to become national baseball writer at Fox. With The Athletic possibly headed for mass layoffs and strategy changes — such as emphasizing national coverage and minimizing (or dumping) local content — will we see more defections? Fox could use stronger commentary and enterprise components to offset its fan-heavy approach to live events and its ineffective debate shows. “We’re lucky to have him,’’ said the site’s managing editor, Kevin Jackson, who once had memorable fun as founding editor of Page 2 at ESPN.com. He’ll need big names before climbing into the daily Octagon — former ESPN personalty Trey Wingo hosted a draft party, I see — but Fox has the money to keep poaching, even after wasting $32 million on Skip Bayless. Should I just change the name of this column to Six Who Get It, Six Who Don’t?

THEY DON’T GET IT

Ted Leonsis, Washington Capitals owner — A tech mogul from way back, Leonsis should be the first to grasp the built-in responsibilities of a team’s social media account. It’s wretched enough that he allows Tom Wilson, the sickest of NHL thugs, to remain on the payroll. But after his double-jeopardy goonery the other night — sucker-punching the Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich, then appearing to grab Artemi Panerin’s hair while hurling him to the ice — Wilson’s criminal activity was celebrated by the Capitals’ social media site. “atCapitals chooses: Violence,’’ went the tweet, beside a photo of Wilson and a cryptic comment that he lives “rent-free’’ in the minds of others as “the best goal scorer in the league.’’ The tweet quickly was deleted, but the screenshots remain interminably while Leonsis ponders this question: Why would a sports franchise, worth three-quarters of a billion dollars, put creeps and losers in charge of its public image? Maybe because the NHL culture is enabled by a wishy-washy league office, which has suspended Wilson five times in eight years — including a seven-game ban in March — yet this time issued only a $5,000 fine, the most the players’ union allows via the collective bargaining agreement. Leonsis should lock Wilson and the guilty tweeter in the same rubberized room for a week, if not permanently.

ESPN — So here was a serious news story, building for two seasons: The electronic-sign-stealing, trash-can-banging Astros returning to the Bronx to catch hell from enraged Yankees fans. And how did ESPN handle the telecast? With play-by-play man Karl Ravech dressed as Luke Skywalker, analyst Tim Kurkjian as Yoda, analyst Eduardo Perez as a Jawa and host Steve Levy in the studio as Darth Vader. See, it was “May the fourth’’ — a nod to the “Star Wars’’ franchise — and nothing was getting in the way of Disney Company synergy. ESPN insists on cartooning-up sports events, even those with violent potential, with cross-promotional silliness. And this time, unlike the alternate NBA all-gambling broadcast and a Marvel-themed NBA cast, the schlock was on the blowtorch feed. Had a riot broken out, Ravech would have looked all-time-ridiculous as he reported the details. Apparently, I’ll have to keep cutting-and-pasting my thoughts of recent weeks: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. Meaning, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet.

Terry Bradshaw, Fox Sports — The appropriate response is to feel pity for Bradshaw more than disgust, knowing he was hit in the head quite often in his playing days. His crackling take on malcontent Aaron Rodgers, who is trying to politicize his way out of Green Bay, was noteworthy if not for one not-so-small detail: Bradshaw carried out a similar drama in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. This week on WFAN, Bradshaw said of Rodgers, “Him being upset shows me just how weak he is. Who the hell cares who you draft? I mean, he’s a three-time MVP and he’s worried about who they drafted last year No. 1? … Let him cry. Retire. You’re 38. Go ahead and retire. See you later.’’ If Bradshaw is familiar with a trove known as a newspaper archive, he might want to scroll back to 1984, when he ripped Steelers coach Chuck Noll for acquiring David Woodley from Miami. After hearing Noll express concern about Bradshaw’s injured elbow, Bradshaw shot back, “If he wants opinions, he ought to call me and ask me and stop making all these comments. He ought to just keep his mouth shut and pay attention to the draft and not make statements about me until he’s absolutely certain what he’s saying.’’ Such a hazy disconnect doesn’t bode well for Bradshaw’s long-term future at Fox, which should be pondering changes in a studio-show lineup that is showing wear and tear … and amnesia.

The Undefeated, ESPN — As long as media companies spin off websites to reflect racial divisions, we won’t progress as a society. I’ve never understood why The Undefeated explores “the intersection of sports, race and culture’’ with a predominantly Black staff when such a cultural convergence could be examined more effectively by a diverse group of writers and editors. I can just hear the “Mariotti is a racist’’ nonsense, but I’d rather unite than divide. ESPN missed an opportunity to merge its editorial initiatives when editor-in-chief Kevin Merida left this week to become executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, which, like many legacy news operations, struggles with a lame digital product. Merida quickly was replaced by Raina Kelley, The Undefeated’s managing editor, which means the site will continue on a private island that should be affixed to a larger continent.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN — I knew Greenberg long before Roger Goodell was calling him “Greeny,’’ back when we covered the Jordan dynasty years in Chicago. He has the mind to be Bob Costas, but I fear ESPN has turned him into another mush-and-gusher thrilled to be in the anchor seat. I was shocked to see him profusely thank the NFL commissioner for allowing him to host the Draft, which only reinforced the naked truth: ESPN is beholden to the league for a new 11-year rights deal that places Disney in the Super Bowl rotation. If Greenberg slobbered over Goodell any longer, I’d have suggested he get a room. Then he proceeded to shriek at high decibels about Kings of Leon, who jammed on stage for a half-hour when America just wanted the damned draft picks. Rich Eisen and Rece Davis were the Kings of Lake Erie. Greeny did too many greenies.

Max Kellerman, ESPN — I don’t see skin color. Kellerman does, shaming himself and his network with concerns before the NFL Draft that the stock of White quarterbacks was rising as the status of Black quarterbacks was falling — and that it has been happening for years, as if premeditated. “That’s why my antenna are up when I notice one, two and three this year — White guy, White guy, White guy,’’ said the “First Take’’ opinionist. Well, the third “White guy’’ turned out to be Trey Lance, who is Black, and the quarterback who dropped farthest in the first round was Mac Jones, who is White. Kellerman is one of these protected morning hosts who aren’t held accountable for outrageous and/or inaccurate takes. The audience does keep score, ESPN should know.

Richard Deitsch, The Athletic — I critique media as a weekly passion project, having performed the same gig out of college in Detroit. The job is aligned with the responsibilities of a movie critic or restaurant critic — you praise and pillory, based on honest and independent appraisals — and some sports media writers do it well, bringing heat with equal parts approval and disapproval. Deitsch broke down the NFL Draft by calling the lead production bosses, Disney’s Seth Markman and NFL Network’s Charlie Yook, and letting them extol the efforts of their respective crews in Cleveland. If sports was covered this way, we’d let managers and coaches write flowery stories and temper our personal assessments. It’s time Deitsch consider a beat change, as he wearily reminds us too often of his lengthy run covering sports media. I’ll give him this much: He counts better than I do, because Five Who Don’t Get It became Seven Who Don’t Get It. I could do nine or 10 this week, but, like John Lennon, I’ve got blisters on my fingers.

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Give Me Less College GameDay, More Game

“If you cut out all of Desmond Howard’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s fake laughter, you probably only have 90 minutes of content stretched out to twice that length.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The fate of Pat McAfee, as it relates to College GameDay, is uncertain. McAfee has his pride and almost certainly didn’t enjoy being nitpicked by fans for every little thing last season. The show does not absolutely have to have him, but I do think he is more of a net positive than negative for the show. Plus, as I have written before, the network put an awful lot of effort into building rapport between him and Nick Saban last year. It’s hard to imagine ESPN doesn’t find a way to ensure they are working together this season.

McAfee’s drama is what has fans and industry types speculating on the future of College GameDay right now, but there’s something else I have been thinking about lately. Let’s give McAfee a break. Lord knows he has spent enough time as the focus of everyone’s College GameDay criticisms for the last two years.

I want to know how much longer the show intends to stay at three hours. That’s too much pregame show. If you cut out all of Desmond Howard’s and Kirk Herbstreit’s fake laughter, you probably only have 90 minutes of content stretched out to twice that length.

College football is one of my favorite things in the world. It’s an easy thing to say when Bama is your alma matter, but I don’t just watch the Crimson Tide. I watch EVERYTHING on a Saturday and I still don’t think I get enough.

So I have a radical two-part proposal. In the morning, I need less GameDay and more games. I think the average fan would be just fine with a one-hour pregame show, but I don’t expect ESPN to cut a valuable property down that severely. Instead, let’s settle on a two-hour show. The party can still start at 9 am, just stop at 11 instead of noon.

For that last hour? Start an East Coast game an hour earlier. It shouldn’t be hard for the network that controls all of the SEC and ACC inventory. Just be fair about it. Make sure all of the home teams are in the Eastern time zone and none of the visitors are from the West Coast or Rocky Mountains.

Think of the list of teams that gives you access to: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee from the SEC, the entire ACC outside of the three new additions, and Cincinnati, West Virginia and UCF in the Big 12. 

Even if ESPN wanted to accommodate playoff contenders like Georgia and Tennessee, there’s still a rich inventory of games they could offer at 11 am. Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech will probably be a top 25 matchup, but it is Power Four conference football. Plus, those are schools that should be happy to be on TV at all, so if you are offering them a spotlight time slot on ESPN, who are they to complain? You can swap those names for just about anyone in the ACC or Big 12 and it still works.

There’s a big difference between star power and mass appeal. McAfee and Saban have star power. Football has mass appeal. GameDay cannot deliver the numbers live football can.

On top of that reality, there’s the fact that it’s a decided advantage ESPN has over it’s top competitor. FOX may have the most valuable league in college sports, but they have spent years branding their coverage around the noon hour. Big Noon Kickoff, Big Noon Saturday. That network could not make the same move to 11 am kickoffs without spending huge money on a new marketing campaign. 

Now, let’s talk about part two of this idea. Take Rece Davis, Saban and Howard and give me a meaningful, insightful recap show after the final game of the night on ESPN comes to an end. That, I think, would have even more value to fans than GameDay.

The NFL is and always will be king, but there is a very large population that isn’t ready to jump into fantasy advice the second we wake up on Sunday. Pro games don’t kick off until 1 pm on the East Coast. Why can’t we keep the college conversation going until like 10 am?

College Football Final is fine, but it isn’t at all dynamic. Think of it this way, that replay that’s looped on ESPNU Sunday mornings, if you’re just flipping around, are you more likely to stop if you see Dan Mullen offering an opinion or Nick Saban?

Ultimately, I don’t expect the decision makers at ESPN will consider my idea. Maybe they will, but they’ll dismiss it. It’s always easier to stick with business as usual, and to be fair, the current way of doing things has been very profitable for them, so who the hell am I, right?

However, this is sort of a continuation of the piece I wrote last week about how the network is approaching negotiations with Stephen A. Smith. If you’re building a media company for the future, you have to focus on getting more meaningful games on TV more often. They are the only things that truly move the needle. Football will always be more valuable than football talk.

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Seller to Seller: Sales Meeting

That passion can get you meetings, it can get you sales, it can get you referrals and it can make you rich.

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Graphic for a Seller to Seller feature

C’mon in everyone. Hope your week is off to a great start and you are excited for this week’s sales meeting. Chances are, you’ve already taken advantage of our topic today, which is technology. Some of you probably took out your phone today, looked at the weather forecast to figure out what to wear, or maybe you pulled up the Starbucks app and ordered your morning coffee, which you then paid for with Apple pay.

I still marvel every time I am watching my home cable system, through my phone, with a beautifully clear picture. I am old enough to remember my family having a small television in our kitchen with rabbit ears and sometimes you would have to smack the side of it to hope the picture got better. Now, I can whip out my phone, pull up anything I want in the universe to watch and see it clearly, even on an airplane.

Technology is great. Except for when it comes to sales.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are things about technology that have helped those of us in sales greatly. No more recording the ad on a reel and driving it over to the other station or ad agency that needs it. Just get it in your email and send it on over, or you can even text it over.

The problem is, like a lot of things when it comes to electronic forms of communication, too much gets lost when you are not face-to-face, and the worst part is the person on the other end can’t tell at all if you are passionate about what it is that you are selling. And that has been a huge negative when it comes to trying to communicate with people through email and text or by sliding into their DMs.

The biggest challenge most sellers face is setting appointments with new prospects. We used to call it cold calling but somehow a lot of places let the ‘calling’ part slip away and it became a game of how many emails and LinkedIn messages you could send in a day. And as we all know, the chance you have of someone getting back to you about a first-time meeting through one of those channels is slim. So, why waste the time?

Some would argue that people do not want to be cold called any longer and they would prefer you reach out to them electronically. Of course, that is because it’s easier for them to ignore you or say no to the meeting without actually talking to you. Which, when you think about it, is the exact opposite of what we as sellers want. We want to be in front of them.

So, this is where it gets challenging, but also where we separate the good sellers and the great sellers, or more importantly, the ones who make ok money and the ones who make big money. It is clearly much, much harder today to get that yes to that first meeting. So, we have to work that much harder to get it. And if you want to be successful in this industry, you have to be putting yourself in positions to be in front of people as often as possible.

Whether it is a networking group, Chamber of Commerce event, stopping into businesses, going to games and events or any other way you can be in front of a group of people, if you aren’t doing these sorts of things on a regular basis, you are missing out on a ton of new relationship opportunities.

If you have determined that you are going to meet your financial goals by emailing and sending LinkedIn messages all day, it is going to be a short career for you, and you might want to start looking up new ways to season your Ramen noodles. This is a people business and not many people stop by the studio or office to say hello and ask if anyone is in that can sell them some advertising.

The biggest part of this is the passion with which you sell your product. I believe that you have to have that passion to really make it big in the sports media sales business, and let’s face it, that is why most of us are in the business in the first place. We love it. Many of us eat, sleep and breathe sports. That passion comes out when you talk about what you do and how you can help a local business with the tools and resources you have at your disposal using sports radio as the catalyst. That passion can get you meetings, it can get you sales, it can get you referrals and it can make you rich.

Let people see it. Make a promise to yourself that you’re going to do x number of things every month to increase your time in front of the business community in your area. That is where you will make new connections.

Sales managers, I would encourage you to ask your team weekly in one-on-ones about this time and figure out who is putting in the work to really go out and make new relationships and who is doing the equivalent of ‘sitting by the fax machine waiting for orders.’

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Suzyn Waldman and WFAN Had a Lot to Prove 37 Years Ago

When Suzyn Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN on July 1st, 1987, there weren’t too many people who thought that the radio station would have sustainability.

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Photo of New York Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman
Screengrab: Newsday TV on YouTube

On July 1st, 1987, Suzyn Waldman was about to be the first voice heard on WFAN in New York, the first all-sports radio station ever.  As she settled in to do her first update, a moment that is played back every year when WFAN celebrates its birthday, Waldman could not help but look over on the other side of the glass into another studio and see people holding hands and crying.

It was the staff of WHN, the radio station that WFAN was replacing at 1050 on the AM dial.

“I’ll never forget this as long as I live,” said Waldman who has been in the Yankees radio booth since 2005. 

“I looked through the glass and all of a sudden it dawned on me that when I opened my mouth, they would cease to exist and it really hit me just by doing that.  People were crying and that picture is something that has stayed with me forever.”

Next Monday, WFAN turns 37 years old, and it all started with these words that resonated with Waldman as she drove by Yankee Stadium on her way to work that day.  The old Yankee Stadium had a message board on both sides of “The House That Ruth Built” and that day the message would become part of WFAN history.

“The sign on the message board says, ‘Vintage Guidry’”, said Waldman as she delivered the first words ever heard on WFAN.   “I think I remember what I was wearing…a white blouse with a black skirt.”

But, unfortunately, that’s not all that Waldman remembers about that day.  Her broadcasting career featured some rocky moments early on and it started with what she heard seconds after that first update.

“What I heard through the other side of the glass was get that smart-ass bitch with the Boston accent off my air in afternoon drive,” recalls Waldman.

That first horrible experience did not deter Waldman who would go on to become a pioneer for women in sports broadcasting and a resume that would land her in the Radio Hall of Fame.  There were those at WFAN who tried to move Waldman to overnights with the hope that she would quit.

She wasn’t about to quit.  Instead, she built a career doing things that many of the male employees didn’t want to do.  She covered teams like the Yankees, Knicks and Devils and with that she made a little history.

“What I had to do for that was create my own job which was the beat reporter,” said Waldman. “I was the one who did that.  I took assignments that the guys didn’t want to do.  I did not have an easy time.  I was not going to be defeated because some man thought I was stupid because I was female.”

While there were those who tried to take down Waldman and ruin her career, she did have people in her corner including her family and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

“The Boss” was initially tough on Waldman when she covered the Yankees but quickly grew into a big fan of hers.

Waldman isn’t so sure she would have enjoyed the career that she’s had without the support from Steinbrenner.

“My brother says I would have because I would have found a way,” said Waldman.  “I believed in what I was doing, and I was the one that was going to maybe make it safer for young girls to believe that they could do this or have some kind of career in sports.  George, except for my family, is the most important person in my life.”

In their early days, WFAN went through some growing pains.

They brought in a lot of on-air people from outside of New York and it really wasn’t until WFAN took over the 660 signal from WNBC on the AM dial that the station became a success.  By transforming from Sports Radio 1050 WFAN into Sports Radio 66 WFAN, the all-sports station assumed the iconic “Imus in the Morning” show from WNBC.  The station also created “Mike and the Mad Dog”, the most successful sports radio show in history, in afternoon drive and the rest, as they say, is history.

Waldman knew that WFAN could be a success before it started, but it had to be done the right way.

“Being the sports nut that I am and knowing that there were so many teams in New York,” said Waldman.  “What I did know was it was not going to work if they had national people.  Nobody in New York gives a damn about Nebraska football.”

It was during those early days doing updates at WFAN when Waldman would meet her longtime Yankees radio partner John Sterling.  One of the original hosts that WFAN had hired was legendary Cleveland sports talk host Pete Franklin to do afternoon drive.  But, Franklin’s arrival in New York was delayed because he had suffered a heart attack.

A number of people were brought into fill-in while Franklin recovered and one of them was Sterling, who retired from the Yankees radio booth earlier this season.

“I was John’s update person when he did a week at WFAN in 1987,” said Waldman.  “That’s how I met him.  We hit it off immediately.  I talk to him all the time and he’s very happy.”  

And now, as WFAN is set to turn 37 years old, Waldman is happy that the radio station continues to thrive even though the sports talk format may sound a bit different than it did in the early years.

“I’m not the demographic anymore,” said Waldman.  “It should change.  The times are very different.  I’m really glad I got to be at FAN when we were building something and I’m really proud of that.  Things change and the world changes and I have no problem with that.  It’s somebody else’s turn.”

When Suzyn Waldman became the first voice ever heard on WFAN on July 1st, 1987, there weren’t too many people who thought that the radio station would have sustainability.  There were also people who didn’t think that Suzyn Waldman should be on the air.

WFAN and Suzyn proved a lot of people wrong.

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