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The Field Of Dreams Game Was Not a Home Run For MLB

“The league will pick cheap applause over innovation and evolution every day of the week and twice on Sundays.”

Demetri Ravanos

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FOX Sports

I know you all thought the Field of Dreams Game was cool. I agree that we could not have gotten a better ending if we had scripted one. There was a lot about it that absolutely worked, but I just keep turning the same question over in my head: who cares?

Aaron Judge
Courtesy: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images

A Major League Baseball game played in an Iowa cornfield is a weird, unique thing. A Major League Baseball game played in an Iowa cornfield because that is what happened in a 32 year old movie is exactly what the league has always done: pander to a group that already reveres the game and not offer younger or casual sports fans any reason to get excited about it.

Look, the environment and the production were both strong. FOX’s presentation earned every rave review it has received. I just wonder how many of those nearly 6 million fans that tuned in fell in love with baseball that night versus how many of them were fans long before the first pitch was thrown.

Unlike the NHL’s Winter Classic, the Field of Dreams Game has no room to grow. It is always going to be what it is – two teams in ol’ timey uniforms playing in front of vegetables. Moving it out of Iowa for a barnstorming tour of the country just isn’t an option. How can you play the Field of Dreams Game anywhere but the Field of Dreams?

So, I was already feeling this way on Thursday night. I just didn’t really see anything for Major League Baseball to build on. Then came JohnWallStreet’s report on Friday that Major League Baseball wants everyone to know that it does not and really never did have intentions of going into business with Barstool Sports that made me think “Ah, there’s the Major League Baseball I know!”. The league will pick cheap applause over innovation and evolution every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Ideally, I am sure Major League Baseball would prefer its nationally televised midweek games remain on ESPN. ESPN has said thanks but no thanks though. So with the rights on the market, Barstool picked up the phone and made their pitch. There was a story that talks were “significant,” that group of 60-something baseball fans complained, and so Major League Baseball bent over backwards to embarrass Barstool. After all, what does a 60-something love more than seeing someone younger than 60 or something people under 60 enjoy put in their/its place? Again, more cheap applause.

I am no Stoolie. Case in point, we hired Collin Lunsford to cover Barstool because frankly, I don’t know who any of these people are outside of Dave Portnoy, Erika Nardini and Pardon My Take. I don’t know what moves the needle with their audience.

Image
Courtesy: Michigan Sports Business Conference

I am someone that recognizes a missed opportunity though.

For all of the years that Major League Baseball has talked about trying to be more fan-friendly in order to court a younger audience, nothing I have ever heard seemed more like a slam dunk than partnering with Barstool Sports. Fans that can’t get enough baseball will always find it wherever it is broadcast or streamed, no matter what they might say. Fans of Barstool, some of whom may never have watched a full baseball game in their lives, would be locked in and go evangelize about the product. That is the kind of audience they would bring – the kind that MLB needs right now.

If someone at the MLB offices in New York looked at Barstool’s and Dave Portnoy’s history and said “that isn’t something we can afford to be involved with,” fine. I get that. Pima County made that decision last week and pulled money out of the Arizona Bowl. Other media outlets have made similar decisions in the past.

Dave Portnoy has said some gross stuff. I’m not really a fan, but I also do not think the guy is entirely irredeemable. Look at all of the charity work he and Barstool have done and consider the number of times he has mentioned regretting the way he conducted himself in a feud with ESPN’s Sam Ponder. It doesn’t erase what happened, but it does show that there are two sides of Portnoy.

You don’t have to forgive him, and if a business decides past sins outweigh any potential future benefits, that is its right. But there is plenty of evidence there that while he may have a long way to go, Dave Portnoy is willing to grow. Surely that is more than you can say for half of the population of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That is more than you can say for the fans that gave Josh Hader a standing ovation after homophobic and racist tweets he sent as a teenager resurfaced.

Now, all that being said, Major League Baseball did not say past transgressions by the company or its founder are why it would not seriously consider letting Barstool have the league’s midweek rights. It didn’t say why at all. It just wanted to make sure fans and the media knew that Barstool was not in baseball’s future plans.

Radio and television stations talk about playing the hits and keeping the P1s happy. It is a strategy that makes sense, unless your P1s are telling you that you are not allowed to do anything to create new fans. If that is whose guidance you are following, you are living in an echo chamber and on borrowed time.

More than two thirds of Barstool’s regular visitors are under 30. Meanwhile the average guy tuning in for Major League Baseball games is 57. What happens to the sport when the audience it has kowtowed to for decades dies?

A unique event like the Field of Dreams Game can be a stepping stone to opening up a new fanbase and creating new pop culture relevance for yourself, but there needs to be a meaningful second step coming right behind it. Major League Baseball can’t keep referencing movies that no one outside of their core audience knows forever. What is coming next? Will Jackie Earl Haley be tearing ass across the outfield on a dirt bike in the middle of a game? Will someone shoot Mike Trout in the stomach hours before we send him to the plate?

FSM Board: FATMAN, THOR, THE NATURAL
Courtesy: Delphi II Productions

A deal with Barstool may not have been the right answer, but Major League Baseball isn’t even interested in finding out if it is or not. Does that sound like an organization that has a meaningful second step ready to build on what we saw Thursday night?

If the answer is no, then I go back to where I started this column. The Field of Dreams Game was great, but who cares?

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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