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Olympics On, Phil Swarmed, NBA Parties — Don’t Be Stupid, Sports

Be it staging the Summer Games in virus-ravaged Japan, allowing a dangerous scene for Mickelson’s coronation or NBA players clubbing as big crowds attend games, the industry must be careful in rushing toward normalcy.

Jay Mariotti

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David J. Phillips

It happens every weeknight newscast. Proud as a pimpin’ peacock, NBC has a disembodied voice praise the network as America’s most trusted information source. You almost want to bear-hug anchor Lester Holt when he warmly signs off, “Please take care of yourself … and each other.”

Yet, only recently, NBCUniversal hosted a public function and completely ignored the state of emergency in Japan. There, less than three percent of the population has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, hospitals are overwhelmed, infection and death rates remain high and, according to a survey, 83 percent of residents — some demonstrating in the streets — want the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled. Why the abrupt disconnect in news-gathering integrity? Seems the corporate suits at NBCUniversal were smooth-selling advertisers during a virtual “upfronts” presentation, gleefully detailing extensive plans to broadcast the Summer Games beginning July 23 — even if the event looms as a potential health catastrophe in a host nation that can’t afford more tragedy.

Tokyo Olympics Should Be Cancelled, Doctors Association Says : Coronavirus  Updates : NPR
Courtesy: AP

Not long ago, Japan was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami. It numbs the mind to think the Games could cause more pain and suffering, but, in 2021, the “Network Of The Olympics” has no conscience.

“NBC will be bringing it all to America,” proclaimed host Mike Tirico, who every year becomes less a journalist and more a puppet.

This as the State Department warns Americans to avoid all Japan travel, citing virus variants that make even double-vaccinated people vulnerable to infections. Only eight weeks from the scheduled opening ceremony, wouldn’t the advisory unnerve U.S. athletes already debating the point of competing in the most abnormal Olympiad ever staged? The Games are intended as a global festival uniting thousands in the spirit of sport. Tokyo will be the antithesis of that mission statement, with athletes required to reduce time in Japan to an isolated minimum while spectators from all other nations are banned and no one is certain if Japanese bodies will occupy any seats.

The competition will be diluted. The atmosphere will be lifeless. More than 11,000 athletes, only 60 percent vaccinated to date, will be vulnerable to virus outbreaks that could impact tens of thousands of officials, coaches, support staffers and media. Hell, not one karaoke bar is open. But Tirico tells us the Games must go on, and so does NBC’s partner in pandemic crime, the always-trustworthy International Olympic Committee, which ignores travel warnings and simple common sense — how many people might die? — in declaring these Olympics “absolutely” will proceed. With Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on record that all Games decisions are made by the IOC, it means Japan basically will be governed this summer by Thomas Bach, the governing body’s president, and Steve Burke, chairman of NBC Universal.

They have billions to protect, you see. Japan is spending more than $25 billion to organize the Games. The IOC depends largely on NBC to fund $4.2 billion in broadcast revenues every four years, which is 75 percent of Bach’s budget. The dominos cannot afford to fall. They’d rather have people die and athletes get sick than lose their windfall, with insurance covering only $3 billion for the government in the event of cancellation.

“The athletes definitely can make their Olympic dreams come true. We have to make some sacrifices to make this possible,” said Bach, coldly referring to Japanese citizens who thought the Games would symbolize a recovery. His comment is juxtaposed against an anti-Games petition signed by more than 300,000 residents, who ask, en masse, “Are we still going to hold the Tokyo Olympics, even if it puts lives and jobs in danger?”

The money grab is profoundly rude, insensitive and greedy. Rejecting every morsel of medical logic, including the pleas of 6,000 primary-care doctors to cancel the Games, the alphabet-soup boys are pushing their business-as-usual mandate as if the competition is more important than possible casualties. Said IOC vice president John Coates: “I know from my own athletes in Australia how appreciative they are of the efforts of the Japanese people to give them the opportunity to live their dream, despite the current situation.”

At least in the U.S., we can take some comfort that 40 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated and 49 percent have had at least one dose. But herd immunity isn’t happening in our divided land — no longer “one nation, under God, indivisible” — and as long as race and religion forge waves of anti-vaccine pockets, the coronavirus will linger as a national threat. You think Memorial Day weekend is the ultimate re-opening of life? Wait until the new case figures next week.

That’s why I was stunned by the lack of security Sunday at Kiawah Island. PGA Championship organizers were more interested in a classic TV moment — lubed-up loons in the thousands, swallowing Phil Mickelson in his 18th-fairway coronation — than protecting Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and the swarming mobs themselves from injuries and superspreads. Couldn’t officials have waited a year before continuing the tradition of collapsing galleries for monumental golfing moments? At 50, Mickelson became the oldest player to win a major, yet they could have killed him in the process, with a fan seen grabbing him above his shoulders.

“I’ve never had something like that,” said Mickelson, who admitted to being “unnerved” and actually pushed the fan away.

Said Koepka: “It would have been cool if I didn’t have a knee injury and got dinged a few times in the knee in that crowd, because no one gave a shit. But if I was fine, yeah, it would have been cool.”

South Carolina stupidity aside, last weekend felt like the grand reopening of sports in America. Stands are filling again at NBA playoff games, including the 15,000 fans who gathered without masks in Madison Square Garden to support the revived Knicks and heckle Atlanta star Trae Young, who had the last laugh. We still haven’t reached the point of Anything Goes at a sporting event, but to see and hear actual crowd noise in arenas — after the dystopian loneliness of the Bubble — was pulsating and reassuring in a sense. In Philadelphia, where 11,000 watched the 76ers, coach Doc Rivers said, “It felt like 30,000.”

In another sense, the NBA’s mad rush to normalcy was disturbing. Paying customers are expected to be responsible, but LeBron James and Kristaps Porzingis ruined the mood by flouting league rules. As it is, James has been negligent in refusing to say if he is vaccinated, which hurts commissioner Adam Silver’s efforts to achieve herd immunity in his league and the nation’s efforts to convince the African-American community to get shots. If James hasn’t had his two arm jabs, why would he attend a promotional event in Los Angeles for a tequila brand he is sponsoring?

He has yet to explain, but the league did cite him for a violation. If he hasn’t been vaccinated, shouldn’t the violation have led to a 10-to-14 day quarantine for James — which would have sunk the Lakers in a Phoenix series they might lose anyway? The NBA added to the confusion by adding this in a statement: “Vaccinated players are permitted to engage in outside activities.” So is LeBron vaccinated? Say something, Mr. Social Crusader.

“I’ll be ready for Game 2,” he said, when asked.

LeBron James has refused to divulge whether or not he has received COVID-19 vaccine.
Courtesy: AP

There was no doubt about Porzingis, fined $50,000 for attending an L.A. strip club last weekend and ignoring an edict prohibiting players from entering “any bar, club, lounge or similar establishment, regardless of the player’s vaccination status.” Yet the league didn’t force him to quarantine, either, saying his club appearance didn’t rise to the level of a spread risk. Why do I gather no NBA player, except maybe the last man on a bench, will miss playoff time for any COVID-related reason? It’s all a smokescreen, like so much else.

I trust the sports industry even less, moving forward, than I did in 2020. I’m not even sure I trust Lester Holt. When he says, “Please take care of yourself … and each other,” do you know where he ripped off the line?

From Jerry Springer. He said it first.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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