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Listening, Entertaining and Grinding At The Center of Mark Schlereth’s Success

“I have a couple of different radio philosophies that I think just work. Ultimately I’m the one that turns on the mic so I’ve got to be comfortable with it. And it’s got to be authentic and entertaining.”

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There are three core ingredients that fuel Mark Schlereth’s success in broadcasting — grinding, listening, and teamwork. He’s a worker. Mark prepares by breaking down NFL film so he has the answers to the test. He also listens. It’s one of the most overlooked skills in broadcasting, but Mark knows that listening is mandatory in order to actually have a real conversation. Finally, the three-time Super Bowl champ fully understands the importance of team. That goes a long way in broadcasting. Mark knows that it’s not just about him; it’s also about his on-air partner and what the listeners want to hear.

Mark is having a blast calling NFL games and doing his morning show on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. He oozes enthusiasm and passion for his gigs. We cover a lot of ground in our chat below. Mark talks about how Jim Lampley played a significant role in his career. He mentions a piece of advice from Colin Cowherd that resonated with him. Mark has an interesting reaction to receiving criticism from Dan Le Batard. He also talks about acting, consulting, and even uses the word extemporaneous. I was impressed because it’s three syllables longer than 95 percent of the words I use. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Being from Alaska, what players or teams did you grow up rooting for?

Mark Schlereth: I grew up being a big football fan and rooting for the Steelers. That was my introduction. Funny enough when you grow up in Alaska, the Sunday morning game kicked off at like 7 a.m. It was kind of pre church. I’d get up early on Sunday mornings and pretty much every Sunday was the Steelers game; that’s the game we got. Then in the afternoons it was a Cowboy game. I’d watch the Steelers before we went to the church service. I just grew up watching Terry Bradshaw, Stallworth, Swann, Harris, Bleier, “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert. Those were my guys. I fell in love with professional football and the Steelers.

The funny thing is years ago when I was still with ESPN, I’m walking through the lobby in Arizona, and Mel Blount is standing in the lobby of the media hotel. I’m walking with Trey Wingo and I’m like, oh my God, that’s Mel Blount, that’s Mel Blount. I’m such a big Steeler fan, right? I’m trying to act cool, but I’m literally like fanboying out. Mel Blount is every bit of 6’4, 270 and looked good. Mel Blount is a huge man. And he’s not fat; he’s just a thick dude. So I’m trying not to geek out. We walk by and I’m like let’s just not saying anything. He looks over and goes, “Hey, Mark. Hey, Trey. How are you guys doing?” I walk over and say hey big man, it’s really good to meet you. I’m a huge Steeler fan, blah blah blah. Meanwhile deep down inside I’m like (singing) Mel Blount knows my name. I’m trying to act so cool on the outside but deep down inside, man, I was freaked out because that’s your childhood hero.

I’m a huge Steeler fan. In fact my dad took me to one of the last games that Bradshaw played in. We stayed at their hotel and just stood in the lobby and got autographs. I became that guy as a kid standing in the lobby that all the Steelers wanted to talk to because I grew up in Alaska and they all wanted to come up and fish. I got to talk to all of my childhood heroes. It was just a phenomenal experience for me. When the Seahawks came into existence in ‘76, that was really the team that Alaska adopted. It was the closest in proximity but I just remained an ardent Steelers fan.

BN: When you think about your media career, did you ever think you’d be doing what you’ve done?

MS: Funny enough, when I first retired, I thought I would take two years off and then figure it out. I got done and literally within two weeks my wife was like if you don’t find something to do, we’re getting divorced because you’re driving me crazy. I just like to have work. I like to be busy. I like to be in the yard. I’m just constantly working. I probably spend two hours a day watching film and studying formations and defensive fronts and how defensive fronts tie to secondary and coverage. I just kind of geek out on it. I always have something that I’m trying to do. I like being busy. My wife was like you need to find something to do.

I actually did an interview with HBO. It was Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Jim Lampley came out to the house to interview me. They were doing a segment on injuries and all of the stuff you have to put up with as a player. We did this whole interview and it was great. Lampley was awesome. It was a great three hours or whatever we spent chopping it up. You know how they have the little sit-down interview after the piece runs that they taped. Bryant Gumbel was like so what’s Mark going to do now? And Jim Lampley goes, I have no idea what he’s going to do, but he should get into broadcasting because the guy can speak.

I’m not kidding you — I had no agent or anything — literally my phone rang 10 minutes after that aired on HBO. It was an agent that said ‘hey man, I can get you work’. So I was like all right, what the heck. I already had a deal with FOX to go do an NFL Europe game. He got me that. Then three days later I was on a plane to Bristol. I literally auditioned for a half hour, had lunch and they hired me. It was just that fast. I put in 16 years there in studio.

BN: Before Lampley said that about you, were you even interested in doing media?

MS: I really hadn’t thought about it. I had done a lot of public speaking — a lot of corporate motivational speaking and other stuff. I traveled around from grade schools to high schools to junior high schools, and always had a flair for it. I always enjoyed getting up and entertaining. That part was easy. I did a lot of radio here like my last couple of years playing in the offseason and just had a blast doing it. At the time it was Dave Logan and Scott Hastings. I just really enjoyed that part of it. But I really didn’t have a plan. It was one of those things where I was just blessed to have some things fall into my lap, and also to realize that I couldn’t sit still. I just had to be doing something. I thought that after 12 years of playing and all the surgeries and everything else, I thought I could just chill. There’s just no way I could have done it.

BN: What was your most challenging role where you might have sat there and thought ‘I don’t actually know what I’m doing yet’?

MS: Yeah, the funniest thing was my first show; I went out for a show in July — at that point NFL Live only did Mondays in the offseason. We have our production meetings. Then they’re like come back at six for makeup. I’m like all right. I get back over there. We go down to the studio and I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no clue. We’re all sitting in our spots and the producer says ‘how are you doing’? Great, everything is good. Okay, we’re going to go into the A segment here; after the host tees you up, make your comments to camera one. I was like okay, there’s camera one, I see camera one. Okay I’m good. Then they’re like all right 10 seconds to live TV, good luck. And that was it, man. At that point we were just doing live TV.

Frankly you learn things over time. Initially I was trying to script things out. Eventually you figure out what works for you. For me it was to just listen. My thing is I’m always going to be prepared. I am the son of Herb Schlereth. That son of a bitch works like nobody I’ve ever met in my entire life. I have picked up that wonderful trait from my father. I’m going to grind. Then ultimately my big thing was I might put down one word on a rundown that I want to get to, but I’ve just found the best thing to do is listen. Somebody may say something that you completely disagree with or that changes your whole train of thought. You’ve got to be willing to be extemporaneous and make it work. That’s one of the things that I’ve always done is I’m going to sit down here and I’m going to listen to you, and to you, and to you. Then we’re going to have a conversation. That to me makes it the most organic and the most real. That’s how I’ve always approached it.

BN: At The Fan you went from Armen Williams, who is highly thought of in the industry, to a first-time PD in Raj [Sharan]. What was that transition like for you?

MS: It was great. Armen and I are very close friends and so are Raj and I. Ultimately the one thing that has remained the same — I mean pretty much everything has remained the same — but the thing that really has remained the same is kind of the open door policy. There were things that Armen and I disagreed on when we started together. I have a couple of different radio philosophies that I think just work. Ultimately I’m the one that turns on the mic so I’ve got to be comfortable with it. And it’s got to be authentic. My biggest thing with Armen and with Raj has been it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be entertaining.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons when I was working at ESPN with Colin Cowherd who I think does an incredible job. One of the things that Colin said to me years ago was my show is called The Herd, it’s not called the caller or the texter, it’s The Herd. It really resonated with me. I learned this from Colin; I won’t put a guest on if the guest isn’t more entertaining than I am, or if the guest doesn’t have a bigger name than me. Why would I bring somebody on and bog down the show if that guy doesn’t have great information or doesn’t have huge name value?

Content is important, but if I’m on at 6:15 in the morning, 90 percent of the people driving to work are going to a job they really don’t like. It’s my opportunity and honestly it’s my responsibility to entertain them. I always think about it this way; I want somebody to be at work as they’re putting together their 100th widget and they’re like, that dude just made me laugh or that dude’s an idiot. I think that’s important. We’ll have good content. When we’re talking football, there’s nobody that can talk football with our show. But it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be entertaining. It’s got to be something to me that everybody feels like they get to be a part of. That’s just kind of how I believe in radio.

Radio can be the funnest thing you do and it also can be the biggest pain in the ass of anything you do. If you have the right format and you have the right partner. And I do, Mike Evans — I’ve worked with Greenberg, I’ve worked with Colin Cowherd, I’ve worked with some of the great radio people in the history of this profession — there is nobody better at running a show than Mike Evans. The guy is phenomenal. He just knows how to run the show and push my buttons and does not let me get away with anything. He challenges me on a consistent basis. It’s a great fit. It’s the reason we’ve been so successful.

BN: How did Mike earn your respect?

MS: Well first and foremost from day one there was a camaraderie and connection, a mutual respect. We had a lot of the same philosophical points when it came to how to do a radio show. Ultimately one of the things I said to Mike on the first day we worked together, I said your job is to run the show so I can run around in it. When it comes to doing a show, Mike has zero ego. He’s not worried about getting his shine. He’s not worried about getting enough airtime. He looks at it truly like my job is to set my partner up and let my partner run.

The thing I respect about him is he has an opinion. There are so many times I say to him, have you not learned anything over all of these years doing radio with me? You still don’t know anything about football. I’ll just bust his balls and he’ll come right back at me with stuff. There’s been this mutual give and take. That’s the other thing; nobody at the end of the day has hurt feelings. We challenge each other, but we’re doing a show. There is no animosity and nobody is getting hurt feelings. If I tell you you’re an idiot and you have no clue what you’re talking about, he’ll come right back at me and challenge me on things. I’ll try to explain how it actually works versus the way he thinks it works. We get into it that way. At the end of the day it’s authentic, it’s real, and we have a blast doing it.

BN: Could you work with someone who got hurt feelings easily?

MS: No, I grew up in a locker room. I played at the University of Idaho. My guys, I meet with them every year. I’m going next month to our Vandal reunion; it’s like year 24 in a row. Ten to 15 of us get together and they are the wittiest, smartest, most sarcastic people on the face of the planet. It was kill or be killed. You better learn how to survive; otherwise you’re going to get destroyed. And that’s how we operated. That’s just how guys show love to one another. I would have no patience for somebody who can’t handle that type of atmosphere. That’s just the way I’ve grown up. That’s the way I approached adulthood through high school football, and college football, and in the pros. That’s just the way a locker room works. I would have a really hard time if I had to be careful about hurting somebody’s feelings.

BN: [Laughs] Sure. The Man 101 bits are hilarious. What do you think about Dan Le Batard taking shots at those bits of yours?

MS: Dan Le Batard, I don’t care, he can do whatever he wants. If that helps his show, great. It’s always funny because anytime I put a Man 101 up there, I see a bunch of people tagging Le Batard. [Laughs] But whatever, it doesn’t affect me. It’s kind of the old lions don’t concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. I don’t care. My hobby is landscaping. It’s what I do. I’m constantly in my yard working. I’m competitive. I’ll let all my neighbors know you’re getting your ass kicked in yard care right now. I’ve occasionally left notes on my neighbor’s doors from my lawn to their lawn. Like are you okay, you look sick over here. Things are great on my side. I’m a gracious loser but I’m a terrible winner. I’ll let you know about it. But Le Batard can do whatever he wants. I honestly, I’ve done his show once or twice, I don’t have a relationship with a guy, I don’t really know the guy. But whatever floats their boat is fine with me. If it gives me more views and more likes and more people watching my stuff, then that’s great.

BN: How did you get into consulting for various NFL teams?

MS: Teams have enough respect for what I do as a broadcaster and what I did as a player that I’ve had the opportunity to consult for a couple of different teams. I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of that. It’s like coaching. It still keeps you really tied into the game. That part has been really fun for me to just kind of sit and pick on the philosophes. It’s funny; I was with a team two weeks ago. They wanted to talk to me about running the ball better. I said to this particular team, I go everybody says they want to run it better, but are you actually going to commit to running it better? I go I don’t know what it is with you play callers but you guys are funny to me. You’ll run it three times and net two yards per attempt, and you’ll be like aww fuck it, we can’t run the ball. But you’ll throw six incompletions in a row, and you’ll keep throwing the damn thing. I go I don’t fuckin’ understand any of you guys. [Laughs] Like what is that? This particular coach just started laughing. He goes it is so true.

BN: How did the acting stuff come about and do you see yourself doing more of it in the future? 

MS: I do it if people ask me to do it. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I understand staying in my lane and being a football guy. I enjoy doing that. I’m not trying to become an actor. So I really don’t give a rip. If something like Ballers comes up, then great. I have a blast doing it. It’s fun. It’s one of those things that’s challenging because I know that’s not my wheelhouse. The Guiding Light stuff came up just because the guy who was the casting director was a big ESPN fan. He just liked me on TV. So he said hey will you come up and audition? I did and they booked me. I went on a two-year run for a recurring role. My big joke is that show was on air for 72 years, it took me two years to get it knocked off air. It was a soap opera on radio and then 50 years on television and I got it cancelled. But yeah if the opportunity came, I certainly would do it.

BN: When you look to the future do you have any goals or anything specific in mind that you would like to experience?

MS: Not really. I love doing games so much and being part of a team. That to me is what makes it exciting. Calling a game, there’s so much that goes into it. There’s so much work, so much preparation that goes into it. The coolest part is you get to be with the team. I love being part of a team. It intrigues me. That everybody has to sacrifice for one another for our team and our broadcast to be good. It’s very much the same way it was when I was playing. I’m a Christian and love Jesus; what’s the first thing Jesus did? When he started his ministry he got 12 guys together. He got his disciples and collected his team. I’m just a big believer in sacrificing and leaning on one another and working together. Every Thursday I get on a plane and I just am so excited to go be together. I love it. My dad told me something when I was a little kid, find something you love to do and you’ll never have to go to work. Shoot, I’m 55 years old. All I’ve been doing is playing and talking about football my entire adult life.

BSM Writers

Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC

“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”

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NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade.  A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well.  However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).

NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season.  NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.

NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.  

Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.

Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.

If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.

“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”

Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm. 

“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”

While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.

Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock. 

Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week. 

My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic.  When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV.  Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams.  After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England.  They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.

I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.

I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters. 

By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.

Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.

Global Is Cool': The Growing Appeal of Premier League Soccer in America
Courtesy: Morning Consult

This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.

Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.”  NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 45

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Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.

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BSM Writers

6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio

“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”

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For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.

Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?

A Pot of Gold Articles - Analyzing Metals
Courtesy: iStockphoto

Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?

Well, let’s go Digging for Gold. 

The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.

Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.

If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way?  I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:

  • Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
  • Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
  • Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
  • Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
  • FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $ 
  • Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months

The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details. 

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