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Has Our Access To Players Changed Forever?

“I have felt for a long time that locker rooms will not be open to the media soon. I think zoom calls will be replaced by press conference rooms, but that idea of 30-40 reporters standing around Saquon Barkley after a New York Giants home game is not happening soon.”

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This week’s withdrawal from the French Open by Naomi Osaka was misread at least in part by many mainstream media outlets. Coming less than a day after she was fined $15,000 for missing a mandatory media session was a mere coincidence. Osaka’s heartfelt message posted on her social media revealed she had been battling anxiety since her controversial victory in the 2018 US Open. It did, however, raise the issue of the current state of press conferences and the lack of access mainstream media is currently receiving.  What are the media responsibilities of athletes going to be once the pandemic is no longer a factor?

Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers fielded questions from a  mob of reporters in the locker room after winning Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.
Getty Images

The issues Osaka has been dealing with are not new phenomena. In late 2018, I was working on some projects with Nissan and Osaka had recently become an ambassador for the company. I reached out to Nissan to see if I could welcome Naomi to my Sports with Friends podcast. In a heartfelt reply, my contacts at Nissan told me she was only doing mandatory media at that point. I noticed she was not comfortable talking to the media then, so her post didn’t surprise me at all.

If the French Open was trying to pressure Osaka into doing media zoom press conferences, it didn’t work. Not just because of her anxiety, but because she has a social media presence that is huge. Other athletes are likely to take notice.

Still, the Covid-19 issues have changed the way media members could interact with athletes.  Even before the March 2020 shutdown, the first move sports made was to ban reporters from the locker room/clubhouse/dressing room. After Rudy Gobert tested positive, all interviews took place specifically on Zoom (or equivalent software platforms). It hasn’t changed since.

That has had a huge impact on the media’s ability to do their job.  Using baseball as an example, there has been very small contact between media members and players since the beginning of spring training 2020.  Jon Paul Morosi, baseball insider for MLB Network and FOX Sports discussed that recently on Sports with Friends.

“The ability to be on the field and just have a baseball conversation (players and coaches) was incredible,” Morosi said. “It was just those spontaneous conversations. ‘Where’d you go to college, who’d you play with in college, who you played with in high school,’ those sorts of conversations were wonderful to have again. It’s important for me to constantly revive those contacts, whether it’s by reaching out to a college coach, an agent, or an executive.”

The biggest revelation that ties to both Osaka and social media, is that the players generally liked the separation between themselves and reporters.

Now that we are getting closer to ending all the restrictions, the question that was raised as Osaka withdrew was, will the media be given all their privileges back?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says yes.  He appeared on my Sports with Friends podcast nearly a month ago and said that the ban from locker rooms is only temporary. 

Courtesy: AP

“You’re gonna go back when things get back to normal,” Bettman told me. “ You will go back to the locker room when it’s safe.”

I have felt for a long time that locker rooms will not be open to the media soon.  I think zoom calls will be replaced by press conference rooms, but that idea of 30-40 reporters standing around Saquon Barkley after a New York Giants home game is not happening soon.

Morosi made a great point about not being able to establish relationships. It reminded me of the beginning of my career and how then the key to being in the sports world was relationships.

My first year out of Syracuse I was in Denver, Colorado working for KKFN The FAN.  Among my responsibilities, I was sent to cover the day-to-day operations of the Denver Broncos. I was 23 years old and did not know a soul. John Elway was already a soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer. I was young and did not do a single one-on-one interview for the first four weeks of the season.

Then, in week 5, I overhead defensive lineman (now radio host) Alfred Williams talking to his teammates about Madden NFL 97, which had recently been released.  I had a sudden moment of boldness and mentioned that I played that game too. It struck a conversation with Williams, Tyrone Braxton, and other players.

I was not looking for a story. I did not feel the need to take a selfie. I was not trying to break anything. I just befriended those guys like I had met any other friends in my life. 

Fast-forward a few weeks later, and we had set up a Madden league. (yes, I’m old moment – we had to connect to each other’s computers via a dial-up connection) (just typing it hurts me.)  We played throughout that season. Our Super Bowl was postponed because the BRONCOS were in San Diego playing in Super Bowl 32, defeating the Green Bay Packers. Relationships were forged.

Today, reporters can’t get that access. Players now consider their own brands.  They use their own social media to get statements made. 

Throw in the pandemic, and there are no profiles about a random player on a team. Reporters have to go through media relations to talk to anyone unless a reporter of Morosi’s stature had a phone number.

Shannon Drayer, Mariners’ field reporter for KIRO and the Mariners Radio Network, told me last winter that her whole access point is compromised.  Her job is based on how she communicates with players.  Now, she is relegated to Zoom, and while she continues to do her job well and sound great on the air, it is just not the same.

Morosi explained that one media relations executive proposed this as an outstanding compromise.

“One compromise could be that the clubhouse, or at least the field, would be open before the game for a period of time,” JP said, reiterating that this is only when protocols are fully lifted. “Maybe there’s like a field access time or a clubhouse access time before the game, but that possibly the clubhouse would be closed after the game.”

Osaka inadvertently started a debate on whether athletes should need to be in press conferences at all. I do believe that the media is simply a conduit to the fans.  It is also possible, that the days of “needing” the media are outdated.

Naomi Osaka
Courtesy: AP

As the country recovers from the Covid-19 restrictions, I wonder how many athletes will use Osaka’s bravery as a way to avoid the press.

Athletes may be able to control their message the way they want. There are still too many good journalists and broadcasters that tell great stories to not let them do their best work.

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5 Goals

5 Goals: Rob ‘World Wide Wob’ Perez

“I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA.”

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This month’s subject of five goals is Rob Perez, better known to NBA Twitter as World Wide Wob. The content creator and producer for FanDuel shared with me five things he wants to accomplish or see happen.

1. I want to make FanDuel, my licensing partner in content creation, as happy as possible.

My goal is to drive people to their web site or app, and spread the reach of the brand. I’m sure there’s a more formal word for that, but I want to organically integrate FanDuel into everything I do.

I don’t want to just be a commercial — hey 20% off, or here’s a free bet — because people are drowning in those across various forms of communication. All the content I do is naturally involved, and if someone’s asking about who’s favored it’s a very seamless type of content integration in which I can include them and drive them to FanDuel if they’d like to put their money where their mouth is. 

I would certainly love the opportunity to continue working with them — not just because they pay me to do so, but I do find value in working with a sportsbook of that size that is turning into a content company. Of course, they’re always gonna be a sportsbook. It makes them the most money. But, giving you additional reasons to engage with that brand, if you have an itch to bet on something, is what my job is.

I want to continue to be the face of the NBA for them, having a very casual conversation about the game itself — whether that’s off the court stuff, or all the coaching departures earlier this week. Integrating the FanDuel logo into all this feels much more real than a 30-second commercial between timeouts. I want you to enjoy the experience of the show, and gamble if you so choose.

2. NBA Red Zone.

I’ve always had aspirations, hopefully with FanDuel in collaboration with another network, to apply NFL Red Zone to the NBA. It would work best on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Sunday, when there are 8-9 concurrent games.

That’s why I’m where I am today. I’m watching every single dribble of every single game. But, I would never expect any other normal human with responsibilities outside of NBA content creation to ever keep up with what’s going on between the Kings and Pistons while there’s seven other games on, one of which is nationally televised. 

So, if the NBA ever decides to have a true commitment to their version of the Red Zone — they’ve tried versions of it on NBATV, but I’ve never seen one hopping between games every 15-20 seconds, hot switching any time there’s a play stoppage — I’d love to do it. 

You’d have a Scott Hanson type host who is as integrated with the league as it gets. I hope maybe one day I have the opportunity where what I do on my own personal timeline merges with true rights partnership from the NBA. Just based on the feedback I get on my Twitter page, there would be demand for it. 

3. Do another NBA variety show.

In the past, I had a show called Buckets that I did with Cycle and ESPN. It had sketches, pre-produced talk segments, and interviews. Think of it like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon’s shows, but applied to the NBA. 

Inside the NBA is obviously the gold standard for an NBA talk show. But, those guys are going to retire at some point. What I do on Twitter Spaces, Twitch, and Periscope — I want the ability to blow that out with some more production resources. 

Photo Credit: TNT

Right now, I’m doing everything myself, from playing DJ to directing to taking calls to actually running the show and talking basketball and researching stats — I’m doing it all on the fly. While I’m certainly happy to do that, I know what we could create with a team around me because we’ve done it in the past. I would love to do a weekly variety show based around the NBA.

4. Some more work life balance.

My entire day for 11 months out of the year revolves around the NBA. It’s my job and I’m happy to. I love following it. At some point, I feel like I’m gonna get burned out, and I don’t want to ever get to the point where doing this feels like work

It felt a little bit like work this year, and that might be because I’m on Year 8 doing this. [RG note: at this point, I mentioned how last offseason was so condensed after the bubble, and how the energy felt partially zapped out of sports with a lack of fans]. I’m gonna watch regardless because I’m a crazy person, but I think a lot of people would agree with you that the return to normalcy is helping with the engagement on a mainstream scale.

This offseason will be condensed again. We have the Olympics, which of course I’m going to watch because stars will be playing. Summer League is in August. There’s free agency and the draft. There’s barely going to be one month — September — where there probably won’t be a whole lot of NBA news or events. 

But then we’re going back to the normal schedule from before the pandemic, which means Media Week will be the first week of October. There’s one month off before it all starts again, and I’m hoping I don’t get burned out by it. 

Being on the East Coast, it’s impossible to follow the NBA 24/7. I don’t know how people with kids and families do it. Getting back to the West Coast is a personal goal of mine, which will happen this summer when I move back to Los Angeles. These hours will allow me to get back to a more normal life.

5. I want the Knicks to win a championship in my lifetime.

Just being a die hard Knicks fan and not seeing a title in my lifetime, that’s a personal goal. I’ve put so much work into watching every effing game since I was eight years old with Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the NBA playoffs. 

I was young, but I was old enough to know that I wanted to stay up for those games. I was emotionally invested. I would even get to the point where I was putting towels underneath the door so my parents couldn’t see that the TV was on. They thought I was sleeping. 

Patrick Ewing New York Knicks NBA Posters for sale | eBay
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Of course I want my team to win a championship, and I don’t want to die without seeing that mountaintop. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a Red Sox or Cubs fan and going all those years without seeing them win, then having it happen. I want to experience it once. 

Whatever it takes to get there. I have too many gray hairs on my head, and every single one of them I can attribute to a single Knicks game from the past decade. Being a fan while trying to create objective NBA content will always be a challenge, but being a Knicks fan will always take precedent over a career because it means that much to me.

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BSM Writers

Forget the Email, Just Smile & Dial

“Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam.”

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Back in August of last year, the pandemic was still front and center, acting as a roadblock for business. Retailers were in business and at the stores, but what about the advertising buyers? Where were they?

Well, the ad-buying community, corporate employees, and most white-collar workers were still at home. So were most of us in radio sales. So, when it came to prospecting for new accounts, some of us gave up, most sent emails, and a few brave souls hit the phone. Earlier this year, I wrote about the sales trainer John Barrows and how he got to the top by cold calling 400 prospects a week! That’s not cold emailing. That’s cold CALLING. And to be exact, if Barrows was working a 10 hour day on the phones Monday through Friday, he would dial at least eight prospects an hour. 

Does that send a chill down your spine?   Or does it make you want to run to your keyboard to avoid rejection and send some more cold emails? Back in August, when most of our ad buyers were at home, not near a business phone, Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino were recording a podcast about why you should hit the phone, not the email. Both sales consultants and authors thought we could improve our connect rate immensely by working the phones over email. 

Both authors agreed that we need to have conversations with people about our stations, personalities, shows, and the sports world! We can hire an automated CRM service to send emails!

Now I am all for some well-crafted custom emails sent to targets that do not answer phones or listen to voice mails but not as the first activity in a sales sequence. Don’t confuse marketing with sales. We are not human advertisements or, even worse, spam. Our job isn’t to create awareness for buying sports radio packages; it is to make the sale!

We are consultants offering custom solutions to the unique challenges your clients have. And consider that if you pick up the phone and connect with the advertising buyer and get the appointment, you won’t need an email!  

Both consultants agree that you don’t need email to warm up a client when using the phone to get the appointment! I recently tested this theory myself and decided that with the pandemic subsiding in most metropolitan areas and more buyers going back to the office, I could start hitting the phones more. 

It worked. I got more appointments faster and wasted less time. I even got help. I had a business owner who I reached out to via email with a custom approach. I offered a few excellent ideas on how I could help him. Crickets. I let 2.5 weeks go by before I picked up the phone to dial the business and ask for him. They told me he was out on vacation and asked me if I had personal interaction with him. I explained no I was looking to connect with him on an advertising idea. The receptionist said you need to talk to Jane, the ad buyer. I was connected immediately.

Erma Scholl working the Old Forge switchboard in 1971. Photo courtesy of the Goodsell Museum.
Courtesy: Goodsell Museum

I left a voice mail. The next day I received a return call indicating interest in my idea, and we set the appointment. Now, why didn’t I try that in the first place!

If you want a custom phone pitch that I wrote out for myself, send me an email at jeffcaves54@gmail.com. Now it’s time to smile and dial! 

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 33

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It has been a busy week at BSM. Demetri Ravanos talks about Domonique Foxworth and the future of commentary on ESPN. Kate Constable stops by to discuss her column on Sarah Spain and the sometimes ugly realities of life as a woman in sports media. Finally, Brian Noe and Demetri discuss Le’veon Bell’s Twitter rant and how depressingly relevant it is in the radio business.

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