Imagine yourself tuning into an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon. You join the game midway into the second quarter and have no idea who is winning. I can remember those days pre-scorebug, when only once in a while was there a graphic showing the score, down and distance and time left in whatever quarter it was. Primitive right?
In some ways it was great, there was anticipation to see which team was winning. There wasn’t a lot of graphical information shouting at me and I was reliant on the broadcaster to give me the details on the game. Innocent and pure, but proven impractical.
Like it or not, the scorebug is a thing. So much so that debates rage on about what they show, where to show it and yeah, how they show it. What color the bug is, the font that is used how large the graphics are, all stir up feelings from sports fans. Sometimes the angst displayed on social media over the bug, is more than is directed at their team. It’s pretty amazing to think about how routine it’s become to know everything there is to know about a game whenever you tune in.
The scorebug has been around since the early 1990’s. Its origin has been traced back to televised soccer matches. David Hill, who was the head of Sky Sports in 1992, was dissatisfied over having to wait to see the score after dialing in a match in progress. The bug was introduced during Sky’s coverage of the newly formed English Premier League. Hill resisted countless requests by his boss to remove the graphic and the concept caught on in Europe. ITV introduced a bug the next year and the BBC did the same toward the end of 1993 for its’ football coverage.
The first use of the “always on” bug in the US was in 1994. ABC Sports and ESPN introduced the gadget to the American audience during the FIFA World Cup. Though the reasoning for it was not just to continuously show the score. It was used as a way to scroll through sponsor logos as a way to present the coverage without commercial interruption.
The more traditional use of the scorebug came as Hill left Sky Sports for Fox after the latter’s acquisition of the NFL. Hill branded the bug the “FoxBox” as part of its coverage in ’94. Fox’s inaugural box was very plain. White letters and numbers arranged at the top left of your tv screen. It only had the time and quarter in one part and the teams and score in the other. Very basic, yet a novel idea since it really hadn’t been done before. But the “FoxBox” was here to stay despite objections from some fans that were resisting change. The path was established and Fox began using it for its baseball coverage as well. Other networks would eventually follow suit, some were a little less willing to change than others.
There was an antiquated thought process in assuming that people would stay with a game longer, if they tuned in and didn’t know the score. This was definitely old school thinking. Technology was changing. As the 2000’s started to roll in, the internet, smart phones and tablets would take center stage, eliminating the “I wonder who’s winning, I better stick around to find out” way of life. People already knew, so you may as well get with the program and make it easy to see. Everyone eventually got on board, with networks developing their own version of the “FoxBox” in the years to follow.
Inherently there were issues. Some of the boxes were obtrusive, some were too small, some had too much information and some not enough. It seemed like networks, and eventually RSN’s, were experimenting through trial-and-error. A few networks took the feedback from the audience and threw it in the garbage. Others seemed genuinely interested and would change even in the middle of a season. Here in Chicago, the Cubs television home, Marquee Sports Network, was being criticized for only showing who was pitching in their box. Fans wanted to know who was batting as well and they got their wish a few games into this season.
Just think that this phenomenon is only 27 years old. The technology has grown exponentially and you can see the influence the video game age has had on the bug. Those gaming experiences have proven to be a good testing ground for different variations of the scorebug. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t work and what can be taken from the games and incorporated into a broadcast is always evolving. Networks can use feedback from gamers and also just use the eye test to see what looks good and is feasible to work into a telecast.
With that said, the scorebug is still not a perfect thing. Some people love it and some are just simply “bugged” by the bug. I personally think it’s a great addition to television, some are doing it right and some aren’t. Fans seem to generally like the use of the bug, but there are many complaints. Networks have had to pivot many times already as this always changing technology provides new and inventive ways to present the product.
Doing a quick social media search on the subject, there were several themes that popped up when it came to complaints by viewers. Placement of the bug, the font color of certain aspects, like the teams and information, and the size of the box.
I’ve often wondered where the perfect spot for the scorebug is. Across the top of the screen? The bottom? Tucked in a corner? Me, I’m for whatever doesn’t inhibit my viewing of whatever game I’m watching. When the box is in the top left during a football game, it needs to be more horizontal than vertical. Why? If it’s too “tall” you lose sight of the players at the top of your screen. Can’t see the cornerback or safety because they get blocked out. The top left location is also a problem in basketball when it comes to seeing the basket and again, players at the top of the screen. In baseball this location is fine.
Executives and producers need to keep in mind what sport is being broadcast when placement of the bug is discussed. Camera operators need to be aware of the location and keep it in mind, especially when it comes to following the action. It’s vital for fans viewing the game.
I was amazed at how many people complained about the color of certain things within the bug. Most of the complaints had to do with the color of the background when it came to identifying teams. Fans want an exact match of the team’s main color schemes so it’s easier to know who is playing. Trying to figure out who’s who has been an exasperating thing for some.
For example. Let’s say Loyola-Maryland is playing Marshall. Both team’s color schemes are green and black. Marshall is the home team and is wearing their white jerseys. Loyola-Maryland is donning its road greens. Now the scorebug shows a green background for Loyola and a black background for Marshall. Ok, the predominant colors from both teams are being featured and if you don’t know which team is wearing white, you’re left to wonder which team is which. How do you solve that problem if you are a network televising the game? Some, like the Big Ten Network will use a gray background for the home team to nearly match the team’s jersey color.
Also, when it came to colors, ESPN learned quickly that a change to its bug for the College Football Championships was confusing to some. That’s because the down-and-distance graphic was shown in a golden color which closely resembled that of the yellow used for penalties called on the field. They quickly made some changes.
Size was an issue, mainly when it came to font size and the ease of being able to read the bug. Some RSN’s have gone to the italics style for whatever reason, but that wasn’t a source of complaining. Fox’s more recent NFL bug has bigger names which is good. However, the team that has possession of the ball is shown by what looks like a “minus sign” so the score appears to be negative. Placement of “time outs” remains confuses some viewers, especially when the “slash marks” to indicate “TO’s” are oddly placed.
Clutter is a problem according to some. The new Bally’s Sports bug has gotten panned in this area. Many have called it “screen pollution” on some social media accounts and Reddit. People have complained about wasted space to the left of the screen, too much going on with the count and MPH of a pitch and the “dots” being used to count the outs. Many have bemoaned the large, sports ticker with other scores from baseball taking up a huge amount of space to the right of the screen. So newer isn’t always better.
With the popularity and legalization of gambling in most states it seems obvious that what is next is betting information. Point spreads, over/under, money lines and prop bets will probably be the next thing to appear. I would think that some of these gambling apps will work in a sponsorship of some sort and while the game is going on, give fans updated lines and props.
I’m not sure that there will ever be a perfect scorebug, one that pleases most if not all of the viewers. I don’t think it’s possible. With the RSN’s operating these days, it’s a cookie cutter approach. All Bally’s Sports bugs are the same, just like the old Fox Sports and Roots bugs were all designed by the same folks and used on all telecasts. Uniformity is important to them because they want you to know which network you’re watching, just by the bug. It’s kind of boring and corporate feeling, but I get it. In a perfect world, each team’s crew would be able to cater the bug toward the team, include things that are important to fans of that club. That’s just not seemingly part of the plan.
I’d much rather have the boring bug, than not have one at all. It’s important to me, that if I tune into a game that’s already in-progress, I know the score, the inning/quarter and how much time is left. I can’t imagine how it was before. I don’t want to go back to that period of time when the technology wouldn’t allow for it. But, at the same time, realizing what is really important, the game itself, should be at the top of the list. Just because you have access to “bells and whistles” doesn’t mean they are helping your production. Flashy is great sometimes, but don’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the game.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.